At the best of times, handicapping the field for an event like the Canadian Mixed Curling Championships, months ahead of the event, is pure folly. In 1997, this was certainly the case, ten fold.
In fact, when the Northern Ontario playdowns began, the eventual national championship team of Chris Johnson, Barb McKinty, Drew Eloranta and Lisa Gauvreau did not even exist, at least not as a curling unit.
With the skip stepping away midway through the process, Johnson would ascend from second to skip, making way for Eloranta to slide in at second.
"It was a team that was not planned," said Eloranta last week, as he and Johnson attended the breakfast gathering in honour of the Class of 2018 additions to the Sudbury Sports Hall of Fame.
"Even for me, personally, I was a hired gun," he said. "Who knew that we would go all the way and win nationals."
That said, there was both at least some level of familiarity within the foursome, and some track record of success for portions of the team.
"Barb and I had been teammates back in 1987, with Corrine Zahorouski and Gord Tokaryk," said Eloranta. "We were runners up at nationals. This team (1997) was a bit a-typical. They had already qualified through one round of playdowns with the original team."
While the event itself pre-dated the compilation of thorough records on-line, detailing each and every encounter the team would played, both Eloranta and Johnson reminisced about a key 10th end game winning shot, versus New Brunswick, as providing a major momentum swing for the Sudbury Curling Club quartet.
"We had a draw for one to tie, or a cross house double for the win," said Eloranta, whose line call would be pivotal to victory. "I had known Drew through men's play and he's a pure second," said Johnson.
"He knows his angles. My shot made contact and was travelling across the house and Drew says, that's a good one. I think he knew when the rock was halfway down the ice."
The Johnson rink would become just the third NOCA championship crew to move on and capture gold at nationals, a feat that was not duplicated again until twenty years later when Trevor Bonot, Jackie McCormick, Kory Carr and Megan Carr of Thunder Bay turned the trick at the 2017 Canadian playdowns in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.