Scottish curler Thomas Muirhead said he didn’t have much of a choice when it came to playing sports growing up. Curling has had an impact on his life since day one.
His father Gordon was away overseas when Thomas was born. Gordon had a pretty good excuse though as he was representing Scotland in the 1995 world championship in Brandon, Man.
Gordon’s team fell in the final to Team Canada, skipped by Winnipeg’s Kerry Burtnyk, and the loss led to a change in Thomas’ name.
“He said if he won the final against Kerry Burtnyk he would call me Brandon,” Thomas said. “Unfortunately he didn’t win so that’s why it’s my middle name.”
The Brandon world championship also influence his playing style on the ice as he has adopted the Manitoba tuck delivery and even holds a corn broom when sliding out of the hack ala Burtnyk and others from the province including Jeff Stoughton and Mike McEwen.
“I thought if the tuck delivery was good enough to beat dad I better copy Kerry Burtnyk,” he said with a smile. “I can remember when I was a bright young wee lad I used to always watch video back of dad playing Kerry and every time I watched Kerry would win. Both my brother [Glen] and I must have taken something out of Kerry because we slide and tuck. It seems to be doing the job so far.”
Thomas, who plays third on Team Kyle Smith, is the youngest of the three Muirhead siblings looking to make names for themselves. On top of his dad being a 1999 world champion, his brother Glen represented Scotland at the worlds earlier this year playing third with Team Brewster while his sister Eve is one of the top skips currently on tour having won an Olympic bronze medal, a world championship and four Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling titles.
Seeing everything Eve has accomplished already in her career has helped motivate Thomas to follow suit. His trophy case is filling up with hardware quickly including all three types of medals from the World Junior Men’s Championship plus silver and bronze from the Winter Universiade.
“We’re so competitive in the family so that drives us to be as successful as we can possibly be,” he said. “For me, being the youngest in the family, to see Eve go out and do what she’s done in juniors and then onto medal at the Olympics it’s given me a bit of a goal myself going forward to try and achieve what she’s done. We have a laugh at the house over who has the bragging rights and everything. I think Eve slightly pinches it at the moment but hopefully I can turn that around one day.”
“I think we’re all pretty competitive at the right time, but Eve can get pretty fiery at times,” he added with a laugh. “I wouldn’t want to cross her path but I think we all want it as badly as each other really.”
Thomas said things can get a bit tough when it is a “Battle of the Muirheads” on the ice. That was the case this past weekend when Team Brewster and Team Smith collided during the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard A-semifinals.
“Glen and I are both so competitive. We work together at home but it all changes when we’re out there on the ice,” said Thomas, whose team was victorious in the match 4-2. “Not many words are exchanged and we’re both gunning for each other.”
It might only be September but it’s already shaping up to be a breakout season on tour for the Stirling-based team of Smith, Muirhead, second Kyle Waddell and lead Cammy Smith. Team Smith tops the World Curling Tour’s year-to-date points rankings through the first four weeks of the season by qualifying for the playoffs at all three events they’ve competed in and capturing the Oakville OCT Fall Classic title.
“We’ve had a long, hard summer at it. We had three weeks training before we came here [to Canada] even,” Muirhead said. “We’re doing everything we can to have the best season possible and it’s been great to get off to a good start. We just need to keep it focused and keep it going.”
The curling family ties run deep through the team as well with Muirhead and Smith’s fathers having played together too. It’s helped develop a strong bond between them.
“We used to get driven to the ice rinks as wee kids. Kyle is in the same position as me, he hasn’t had much of a choice as well,” Muirhead said. “I think we’ve curled together for seven or eight years now and we’ve just stuck together. We’ve grinded it through, we’ve had our ups and downs, but I think it’s starting to pay off. We know each other inside out and same with the other two guys we play with. I think that’s actually paying off for us in a way.”
Muirhead also helps manage the family farm back home in Blair Atholl and during his time in Oakville, Ont., he had to make a few long distance phone calls across the pond to check in on the livestock.
“I have had to make the odd phone call home to dad to make sure the sheep are doing alright,” he said. “Dad’s pretty good that way. He’s more than happy to look after things at home when Glen and I are away. We’re lucky in that sense.”