Matt Wozniak returning to men’s curling with Team Gunnlaugson

Jason Gunnlaugson leads his rink to the big upset of 3-time Manitoba champ Mike McEwen to claim their first provincial title, and book their spot at the Brier.

Matt Wozniak is making a comeback to men’s curling joining Jason Gunnlaugson’s club at second stones for next season.

The news comes just days after third Alex Forrest decided to step away from the reigning Manitoba championship squad to devote more time with his family. Second Adam Casey, who was already handling vice skip duties, will move up to third while Connor Njegovan rounds out the lineup at lead.

In a way, Gunnlaugson looked to his past for his future teammate as he played alongside Wozniak in juniors and funny enough, so too did Njegovan’s older brother.

“The three of us have known each other, been friends and all of our parents have watched us play together and against each other over the years,” Gunnlaugson said during a phone interview Monday. “For us, it’s going to bring another person who’s similar. He’s self-employed and has a similar lifestyle to what Connor and I have in Winnipeg. I think that’s going to really help us. He’s a great teammate, always just been a very supportive teammate and I think we knew that was going to be something we were going to lose with Alex going.”

Wozniak captured seven Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling men’s titles and two provincial championships during his 13 seasons with skip Mike McEwen and also finished runner-up at the 2017 Canadian Olympic curling trials. The 37-year-old from Winnipeg has focused on mixed doubles with Marlene Albrecht during the past couple of seasons but has also made a handful of super spare appearances in men’s play including one tournament with Team Gunnlaugson.

The timing for a new teammate worked out perfectly as Gunnlaugson said it seemed like Wozniak was ready to return to men’s curling when he came calling.

“I also think he’s coming with a refreshed mindset because he’s had those two years off from men’s and just playing mixed doubles with Marlene,” Gunnlaugson said. “I think he has both the experience but also a little bit of the new excitement whereas some of these other players coming off of the last Olympic cycle were maybe just a little less fresh and excited about the sport for a bunch of teams.” 

Gunnlaugson will have to wait to see what Wozniak will bring to the team, however. A strong tour season vaulted Team Gunnlaugson to No. 12 in the world — and earned them the final Princess Auto Players’ Championship invitation — but the season came to an abrupt finish due to the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the cancellation of all remaining events.

“It’s a bit of a weird time but I think we’d be really, really excited if we knew we’ll be starting in a couple of months because there’s so much unknown right now,” Gunnlaugson said. “We’re excited and we want to keep building. We’ve been pretty steadily building now for, I want to say this will be my fourth year with Connor, and just been getting better and better, winning more and more, and all of that fun stuff. I think it’s all based on a ton of hard work and that was one of the things we saw in Matt.

“We saw Matt at the gym; the same trainer we use. We saw him at the curling club practising. Even though he was playing mixed doubles, he was still at the club every day working on his game. We really liked that and we think that’ll be a great fit.”

Gunnlaugson believes it’ll be a minimal adjustment for Casey to switch from second to third as the journeyman import from P.E.I. has pretty much done it all during his career.

“I never look at Casey as a set position kind of guy,” Gunnlaugson said. “He’s played a lot of different positions, he’s a good shooter and he’s going to bring that to the team no matter what. He’s a great influence for me in the house so I think it’s going to be perfect with him at third.”

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