THE HOG LINE: Samagalski and Carruthers ready for Olympic Trials

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When Reid Carruthers, Derek Samagalski and Colin Hodgson welcomed Mike McEwen to their lineup in 2018, a trip to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing was the ultimate goal.

The rink out of the West St. Paul Curling Club is just days away from beginning their quest to compete on curling’s biggest stage, as they will compete against eight other men’s teams at the 2021 Canadian Olympic Curling Trials in Saskatoon.

“This is the biggest event that we’ll play in as a team, especially since it only happens once every four years,” Samagalski said. 

“There are some similarities with what you see at a Brier or a Scotties, but there’s a little more intensity at the trials. Everyone is a little more intense out there and there’s a little bit of a different atmosphere on the ice as we’re all trying to get that spot at the Olympics.”

This year’s trials — which run from Nov. 20 to 28 at the SaskTel Centre — will mark the second time that Samagalski and Hodgson have competed at the event, as they were the front end for Carruthers’ rink at the 2017 tournament in Ottawa.

That foursome, which featured Braeden Moskowy at vice, posted a 4-4 record and just missed out on forcing a tiebreaker after losing an 8-7 extra-end contest to Brendan Bottcher in the final round-robin draw.

“I thought we played really well four years ago but we just missed out on that playoff spot by one game,” Samagalski said. 

“It’s such a grind when you get to the trials and there’s going to be good teams on the men’s and women’s side that will be playing really well but are going to end up below .500 when the week’s over.”

Carruthers’ first trip to the trials came at the 2013 event in Winnipeg, as he was the second on Jeff Stoughton’s rink, which posted a 3-4 record and missed out on the playoffs.

“There’s a lot of experience on our team and the majority of that comes from our coach Rob Meakin,” Carruthers said. “He was a former teammate of Kerry Burtnyk’s and he’s been there and done that during his career.

“When you combine that with Mike’s experience over the years and what Colin, Derek and I have done together since we started playing as a group, we all have a lot of good ideas that we can bring to the table and put into the place as we prepare for the trials.”


Reid Carruthers delivers a stone during the 2019 Tim Hortons Brier at Westoba Place.

BRANDON SUN FILE PHOTO

Reid Carruthers delivers a stone during the 2019 Tim Hortons Brier at Westoba Place.

Like Carruthers, McEwen will be competing in his third trials.

His Fort Rouge Curling Club rink, which included B.J. Neufeld, Matt Wozniak and Denni Neufeld, finished in a tie for fourth place with Stoughton in 2013 and reached the final four years later, where they lost a 7-6 affair to Kevin Koe.

Since they didn’t finish in the top three of the Canadian Team Ranking System in 2019 or 2020, the McEwen rink had to compete in the Canadian Curling Trials Direct-Entry Event in Ottawa in September to earn a spot in Saskatoon.

The squad did that with ease as they posted a 5-1 record, which put them in a tie for first place with fellow qualifier Matt Dunstone.

“I think we went into the event with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder as we felt like we were deserved one of the spots to go straight into the trials,” Samaglaski said. “We definitely brought our ‘A’ game in Ottawa and we did what we wanted to do, as we didn’t want to go through the pre-trial process the following month.

“If we hadn’t qualified from the event in Ottawa, we would have had a crazy schedule with the pre-trials in (Liverpool) Nova Scotia coming in between a tour stop in Penticton, B.C., and the two Grand Slam events (which were held in Oakville, Ont., and Chestermere, Alta.),” Carruthers added. “That would have been a long time away from home and that’s not easy for anybody.

“We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to perform that week and I think we played some of our best curling of the year. We went out there and played well with some pressure on us and a major goal on the line … now we’re looking to have that same mindset in Saskatoon.”

The 2021-22 tour season has had its shares of ups and downs for the McEwen rink.

While they’ve reached the playoffs at three events, with their best finish being a semifinal result in Penticton last month where they lost to eventual champion Niklas Edin, they suffered ‘C’ final losses to Koe and Peter De Cruz at their two Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events. 

“I thought we played pretty well at the Masters and the National, but we just weren’t at our full potential there,” Samagalski said. “You need to bring your ‘A’ game when you are at the slams as you are going up against the best of the best there.”

“We came out flat in those ‘C’ finals and that was after we had bounced back from two losses to start the tournament both times,” Carruthers added. “We’ve had lots of chats about what caused that and where our performance went after we had played so well leading into those games.”

With McEwen and Carruthers living in Winnipeg, Samagalski residing in Carberry and Hodgson being based out of Red Lake, Ont., the quartet doesn’t practise together as much as they would like.


Derek Samagalski directs a throw during a game at the 2019 Tim Hortons Brier.

CHELSEA KEMP/THE BRANDON SUN

Derek Samagalski directs a throw during a game at the 2019 Tim Hortons Brier.

However, they’ve made sure to take advantage of their opportunities over the last couple of weeks as they’ve fine-tuned things before making the trip to Saskatoon.

“That was one of the big focuses for us once we clinched our spot in the trials,” Carruthers said. “There’s been a lot of planning and lot of practices here lately as we work through some of the finer details that we need to sort out.”

One of those details will be the fact that the rink will be playing in front of their first big crowds since the 2020 Tim Hortons Brier in Kingston, Ont. 

Last year’s season was held in a bubble in Calgary, while the cashspiel and Grand Slam events are held in much smaller venues.

“I think it’s going to be a welcome sight to have the big crowds again, as having to deal with no fans  was more of an adjustment for us last year in Calgary,” Carruthers said. “It doesn’t matter if they are cheering or booing us, we’ll be ready for anything the fans throw at us.”

“This year has definitely felt a little more normal with people being in the rinks again, and I think we’re all pretty thankful to have everyone back,” Samagalski said. “We love feeding off that energy and there’s going to be a ton of that in Saskatoon.” 

As always, the men’s field for the Trials is a stout one, with Koe, Bottcher, Brad Gushue, John Epping, Brad Jacobs, Jason Gunnlaugson and Tanner Horgan joining the aforementioned McEwen and Dunstone rinks. 

The women’s event is also strong as Rachel Homan, Kerri Einarson, Jennifer Jones, Tracy Fleury, Casey Scheidegger, Kelsey Rocque, Laura Walker, Krista McCarville and Jacqueline Harrison make up the field. 

“There’s going to be zero easy games this week,” Carruthers said. “I think whoever comes out of this event is going to be battle-tested and ready to go for the Olympics in February.”

“It’s a long grind and you just have to control what you can control and stay calm out there,” Samagalski added. 

“We’re just going to chip away one game at a time and hopefully Mike has that one shot in the final where he has to make a draw to the four-foot for the win and all of our dreams come true.”

EXTRA ENDS: Former Brier champion Jean-Michel Menard of Quebec captured his second Canadian Mixed championship Sunday with a 5-4 extra-end triumph over Ontario’s Mike McLean in Canmore, Alta. Menard, who curled with Marie-France Larouche, Ian Belleau and his wife Annie Lemay, had previously won the event in 2001. Jamie Koe of the Northwest Territories captured the bronze medal over New Brunswick’s James Grattan, while Manitoba’s Alex Forrest finished in a tie for sixth place with a 5-5 record. 

 

» lpunkari@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @lpunkari



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