The future is now for 24-year-old skip Korey Dropkin and his Young Bucks squad.
Dropkin’s club from Chaska, Minn., became the first American men’s team to win a title in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling when they captured the KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge Tier 2 in November.
That victory also earned them a promotion to compete against the world’s best next week at the Meridian Canadian Open in Yorkton, Sask.
“We are so, so happy and so thrilled to be able to have that opportunity right now,” Dropkin said after defeating Tanner Horgan 5-4 during the Tier 2 men’s final in Pictou County, N.S. “That’s what we were shooting for coming into this week. … We came here with the goal of winning and securing our berth into the Canadian Open. We’re so thrilled to have done that and we’re just looking forward now.”
Dropkin, third Tom Howell, second Mark Fenner and lead Alex Fenson captured silver for the U.S. at the world junior championships in 2016. After a couple of years apart, they reunited last season under USA Curling’s High Performance Program. Considering the other two men’s squads in the HPP are skipped by Olympic gold medallist John Shuster and two-time national champion Rich Ruohonen, Dropkin was happy to embrace the Young Bucks moniker amongst the established veterans.
“We’re all in our mid/early-20s and now we’ve got (37-year-old alternate) Joe Polo so he’s kind of like Uncle Buck,” Dropkin said with a laugh. “That’s how it sort of began and it stuck from there.”
Team Dropkin brushed aside some early-season jitters and found their footing in October reaching the final four of the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard alongside the likes of Brad Gushue, Brad Jacobs, and Kevin Koe to prove they belong.
“We’ve been coming on strong, getting a lot more practice rocks in and I think we just started really working on our dynamic out on the ice and bringing good energy,” Dropkin said after falling 9-5 to Koe in the semifinals. “I think it’s been working really well and it showed this weekend.”
The KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge Tier 2 was a grind for Team Dropkin as a 2-2 round-robin record meant a detour through the tiebreakers in order to advance to the playoffs. Dropkin snuck past Karsten Sturmay 6-5 to qualify and sparked the run to the final against Horgan, who was on fire riding a six-game undefeated streak. After trailing by two points at the break, Dropkin scored a deuce in the fifth end and stole one in the sixth to take the lead. Horgan was held to just a single in the seventh that tied it back up but handed Dropkin the hammer for the final frame. Dropkin just needed an open hit with his last rock to secure the championship and a berth in the Meridian Canadian Open.
“Tanner Horgan and those guys are just such a good team and they were hot coming into this week,” Dropkin said. “Lots of respect to them and hats off to them for such a great week. We knew we were going to have be on our game, on our A-game, I’m just happy that my guys were able to put together a really great game and give me an open hit for the last one. I’m definitely very grateful for that.”
They’ve put in the work to get to this point and Dropkin said it’s incredible and awesome seeing it paying off.
“We just have so much trust and belief on this team and it’s fun battling with these guys,” Dropkin said. “It’s pretty unbelievable right now.”
The Meridian Canadian Open starts Tuesday night at the Gallagher Centre. Team Dropkin hit the ice for their first game Wednesday morning against Bruce Mouat’s Scottish side.
NOTE: The Meridian Canadian Open is the fourth event and third major of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tour with 16 of the top men’s teams and 16 of the top women’s teams from around the world. … The event features a triple knockout format where teams must win three games before they lose three games in order to advance to the playoffs. … A $300,000 purse, split equally between the men’s and women’s divisions, is up for grabs with the winners earning $35,000 plus berths to the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup.