By SEAN ROONEY on March 14, 2019.
There was no automatic spot for a home team at the Optimist Under-18 Provincial Championships at the Medicine Hat Curling Club this weekend, so Connor Zeidell and company know what a big deal it is to be among the eight teams vying for a spot at nationals.
“It feels like it’s here, the goosebumps are already going,” said the Gas City skip on the eve of his first Alberta finals draw. “It’s nice that we’re here, home ice.”
Zeidell, lead Kolby MacDonald, second Bryson Helmle and third Cole Lewis earned their spot last month in Calgary. They’re an interesting mix, with only Zeidell and Helmle calling the local club home and their ages ranging from Edmonton’s MacDonald – who’s just 14 – to Chestermere’s Lewis, who just turned 18.
But as Lewis – who’s been to four previous provincial championships, including the final of last year’s under-18’s in Okotoks – points out, they’ve meshed well.
“When it comes down to actually playing… you play the game,” said Lewis. “No matter how old you are you’re playing pretty much the same way.
“We all get along really well. Everyone being in a positive mindset, taking every shot with a grain of salt and seeing where it goes.”
Lewis got added to the team after his under-18 group graduated to under-21 after last season. MacDonald came on board just in time for district qualifiers and also brings curling IQ, given that his family includes dad Brent (who’s been to the Brier numerous times) and uncle Blake (who won the Brier with Kevin Koe’s rink in 2010).
“They’re really nice, a great group of guys,” noted MacDonald of his current teammates. “It’s like a family here.”
The family, under the guidance of Hat coach Terry DeValter, was focused on getting draw weight down for Lewis and MacDonald Wednesday night ahead of today’s 2:30 p.m. opening draw. Eight boys and eight girls teams will play what’s basically a triple knockout, with A and B-side winners playing one semifinal and the loser playing the winner of the two C finalists in the other semi. The final goes at 2:30 p.m. Sunday with winners advancing to nationals next month in Sherwood Park.
Zeidell and Helmle know there’s some home ice advantage to be had, but it’s far from the only factor determining how they do.
Helmle, for instance, is bringing his sense of humour to keep things stress-free.
“I just keep a smile on my face, give the team members a bump or a high-five, make them laugh with a joke,” he said. “Concentration and keeping our emotions intact pretty much (is the key).”
They played in the Hat’s men’s bonspiel this past weekend which also helped.
“We know we can beat anyone here,” said Zeidell. “The key is we just have to play well. If we play well we should be fine.”
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