Ontario curling championships notebook: McDonald loving it at top

Scott McDonald shoots a stone during the Tour Challenge Tier 2 men's final on Nov. 11, 2018, in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Anil Mungal)

ELMIRA, Ont. — If you’re surprised by Scott McDonald’s successful run on the World Curling Tour and in the Ontario Tankard, you’re not alone.

McDonald himself said it’s a little bit surreal to see how well his team has done in their first season together.

You can tell McDonald is loving it at the top of the table in the men’s provincial curling championships though with his team currently undefeated.

“With a new team, you never know how things are going to go,” McDonald said Wednesday night at Woolwich Memorial Centre after picking up his sixth consecutive victory.

“You have high expectations and we put a lot of work and set our goals pretty high for the year. It’s nice to see that work has paid off and it’s really rewarding to see that effort can translate into results on the ice.”

McDonald, who lives in London, played with second Wesley Forget last season on Team Codey Maus while third Jonathan Beuk and lead Scott Chadwick spent the past couple seasons with Team Greg Balsdon.

Forget, Beuk and Chadwick are all based in Kingston and also played together a few years ago but meshing that chemistry into a game plan for McDonald to conduct could have been the key challenge. The first season of the Olympic cycle is often a rebuilding year for most teams and McDonald said it’s neat that it’s coming together for them as it appears they’ve opted for a more open concept.

“There are some times where it’s decision-by-committee, it’s not ever a dictatorship out there, but we have different styles of play that we’ve incorporated in,” McDonald said. “With the five-rock rule it’s taken some adjusting to and we’re constantly evolving our game plan whether it’s ice conditions or the team we’re playing against and trying new things to see what works.”

Team McDonald has risen to No. 15 on the World Curling Tour’s year-to-date standings with a title victory in Gatineau, Que., and competed in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling Tour Challenge Tier 2 event for a chance to move up into the elite ranks. Although they fell just short losing to Team Kirk Muyres in the final, they accumulated enough points on tour to earn a promotion regardless and competed in the Boost National and Meridian Canadian Open major events.

McDonald relished the opportunity competing against the world’s best and didn’t feel out of place.

“It’s nice to be out there with the fans in the stands and playing against the top teams in the world,” McDonald said. “The nice thing is we can tell there’s that mutual respect out there on the ice. It doesn’t feel like we’re the new team. It feels like we’re established and that we have the respect of the other teams and we know we’re going to give them a good game and vice versa. So it’s pretty cool.”

Team McDonald added an impressive seventh victory Thursday morning doubling up on Balsdon 8-4.

The impact of the five-rock rule

McDonald referred to the five-rock rule, which the World Curling Federation implemented across the board this season.

The rule is a modification to the pre-existing four-rock free guard zone, preventing teams from eliminating guards early, only now they have to wait until five rocks have been thrown. Having an extra pesky guard in the way can help the team with the hammer generate offence and can lead to more aggressive play.

It’s actually old news for teams who play in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling as the series got a head start and made the full-time switch to five-rock in 2014. What is different for them is adjusting to playing that style from eight ends (the norm on tour) to 10 ends here in provincial playdowns.

Team Jacqueline Harrison second Lynn Kreviazuk said teams have just got to stay in there mentally, especially when some games can go up to 11 ends.

“I find it’s more of a mental game now and it always has been with 10 ends,” she said following her team’s extra-end loss Wednesday morning to Team Hollie Duncan. “When we’re playing eight ends on tour, it’s really getting into the mind frame that we’re going to be out there even longer.

“It’s a cold arena out here, so it’s little things like wearing extra layers and just being mentally prepared for 10 ends. How long were we out there today? Three hours, so that was a long one.”

If anyone knows a thing or two about five-rock it’s Team Rachel Homan, winners of eight Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling titles since the rule change. Homan played Harrison during Wednesday’s evening draw and had to battle back a couple times until prevailing in the extra end.

“It doesn’t completely change the strategy but if the game isn’t going as well, you just want to make sure you keep it within reach as opposed to having to go all-out in an eight-end game to try to catch up,” Team Homan third Emma Miskew said. “We were down a little bit there but we still had a few ends left and we figured if we just manage the scoreboard properly, we could come out on top.”

As we saw in the Manitoba Scotties final Sunday, anything is possible. Team Kerri Einarson scored a five-ender in the second end but Team Tracy Fleury was able to rally right back and win the provincial title 13-7.

Homecoming week for Golden Hawks

Wilfrid Laurier University’s Golden Hawks have been a factory producing elite curlers left and right. Several of them are competing here this week just 20 minutes up the road from campus and although the school named 12 alumni, that number may actually be higher, which speaks volumes to the strength of the program.

“I think we were counting and there were a few that were missed,” Team Duncan second Cheryl Kreviazuk said. “There’s at least 13 or 14 that were alumni. It’s representing itself pretty well. I think Laurier’s got a pretty good program.”

Kreviazuk captured consecutive Canadian university championships in 2011 and 2012 during her time at Laurier while two of her current teammates, skip Hollie Duncan and third Laura Hickey, also earned back-to-back national titles for the Golden Hawks in 2008 and 2009.

Duncan was the first female curler elected to the Golden Hawks Hall of Fame in 2014.

Kreviazuk loves that provincial playdowns are so close to her old stomping grounds.

“I actually really want to try and get out to Kitchener-Waterloo. It was my home club when I was at university and Jim was the manager and he’s phenomenal so I really want to go and say hi to him,” Kreviazuk said. “I haven’t been back since I graduated, I don’t think. Way back when I helped out at the Elmira Little Rocks once so it’s nice to be back.”

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