The doors of opportunity just keep opening for an overabundance of local curling talent.
Three Sudbury based rinks were recently informed of their acceptance within the Next Gen Program of support, as doled out courtesy of the Ontario Curling Council. The Nickel City contingent includes:
Megan Smith U21 team - Kira Brunton, Sara Guy, Kate Sherry
Bella Croisier U18 team - Jamie Smith, Piper Croisier, Lauren Raajala
Tanner Horgan U21 team - Jacob Horgan, Nicholas Bissonnette, Maxime Blais
With Krysta Burns and Laura Masters both having aged out from the junior team that competed at nationals last year, the timing of this announcement was paticularly fortuitous for Smith and company.
"To have so many resources from that program is huge, especially with the new team we are building," said Smith, helping out with the Amethyst Camp last week. "Fitness training, sports psychologists, a nutrionist, a mentor coach (Morris Wilson), he's working with me this week."
Though there is a 50 per cent turnover in the roster of the squad that donned the Northern Ontario colours last January, Smith is confident that the current quartet can reach the same heights. "We're lucky that we have played together a little bit," she explained.
"The work will be building that new team dynamic, deciding what our lineup is going to look like, what's the best lineup for us going forward. Rodney (coach Rod Guy) will have two new players that he's never worked with before."
The transition is somewhat similar for the Croisier rink, another team that sees two new faces added to the mix from the roster that competed together in 2016-2017. "I like the fact that we all have similar goals, and that we're going to be very driven to attain those goals," said Croisier.
Throwing last stones again this year, she is more than willing to share some of the responsibility, especially in-game, for the benefit of the entire team. "We're trying to get a consistency going this year, especially with regards to weight control and learning the ice better," said Croisier.
"I think learning the ice should be everyone's job. I think everybody should be a student of the game, trying to learn different things." Though the will be competing in the U18 bracket, the Croisier rink remains a very young bantam team, with Bella Croisier and Jamie Smith both 16 by the end of this month, and Piper Croisier and Lauren Raajala both two years younger.
Already part of the Next Gen program this past campaign, the Horgan rink have been tapped for the enhanced Next Gen - Elite version, offering even more benefit in the mind of their long-time coach.
"The biggest thing is half the time will be spent with national people, a little more specialized," outlined Gerry Horgan. "When we started two years ago, the end goal was a long process to the national program. We're kind of formally halfway there now."
Horgan did acknowledge that given the level of precision required in the technical aspect of the two time medal winning team at the Canadian Junior Curling Championships, detecting a tangible effect of the support program might not be easy, especially in game settings.
"The benefit could well be there, but I don't know that it will be recognizable," he said. "We had a lot more to learn two years ago and that was very valuable, mostly because we had specialists. We're at the level now where little bits matter. We're still tweaking our release."
With Smooth Rock Falls native Max Blais now in town, attending Laurentian University, the coach is looking forward to a schedule that sees the young team up the ante when it comes to selecting the exact events which are most likely to help this foursome improve.
"Two years ago, we did one men's event," said Horgan. "Last year, we did seven or eight, and we did only four junior events. We had a lot of success in the first couple of weeks, and then we got into a point chase. Next year, we're planning on just one junior event, and a few more men's events mixed in."
"We also might pick and choose a little tougher schedule of the men's events." Many of the top end local curlers will be on the road as early as August, and certainly no later than September, getting practice and bonspiel play under their collective belts almost a full month before the earliest of ice pads is installed in local clubs.