Northwest Territories teams put the junior in Canadian juniors

Both Northwest Territories teams are certainly among them.

At a combined age of 53 years, the NWT, ahem, men’s team, is one of the youngest ever to compete at the national championships.

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Skip Sawer Kaeser, 14, is joined by third Tristan MacPherson, 13, second Joe Sturgeon, 13, and lead Garrett Minute, 12. The first three list their “occupations” in the player profiles as Grade 8 students, with Minute in Grade 7.

They play out of the Fort Smith Curling Centre.

“There’s only one boys’ team in our town, so it’s mostly playing against adults. Here, it’s like these guys compete against professionals [on tour] and we’re much further back than they are,” said Kaeser, who has curled for seven years, but not against the competition most are seeing here at Archie Browning Sports Centre and the Esquimalt Curling Club.

“Our goal is to have fun and learn, because we know we aren’t going to win many games, unless we do run into another young team. It doesn’t frustrate me much, I just use it as a positive.”

The four play in a men’s league on Wednesdays with four teams and Friday is a fun night, where players randomly make up teams.

The NWT women are in a similar dilemma, only with a twist.

Skip Zoey Walsh, third Julie Squires-Rowe and second Nicole Griffiths are all 14-years-old and lead Katherine Lenoir is 16. Their added difficulty is their home Hay River Curling Club has faced renovations this year and will not be ready until next December.

That means a lengthy drive to and from any form of practice, venturing to the Fort Smith club.

“It’s two and a half to three hours through ice and snow [each way]. It’s dark when we leave and it’s dark when we come back,” said coach Trudie Walsh. “We get two hours of practice, maybe once a week. But it really hasn’t been once a week because of Christmas and New Year’s in there. We try and make it as much as possible, but it’s not a lot of ice time.

“It’s looking like next December, so we won’t have any ice time till then either,” she said of the three-sheet facility, which required a major refit. “It had timed out, really, and needed a rebuild. They held a plebiscite with the town on whether they wanted to rebuild on a new site or tear this one down and rebuild on the old site.

“The majority wanted it kept where it was, so that’s what ended up happening. They tore down and we ended up losing two seasons.”

The women had played just six games this season, which were essentially their playdowns.

So, like the young men, this championship becomes a valuable learning tool.

“Considering with what we’ve had to work with this year, I’m pleased with what they’re doing. We came to learn and we’re accomplishing the goals we had set,” said coach Walsh.

“It’s tough, but we’re having a good time and learning,” said her daughter, Zoey, the skip.

While Kaeser’s rink was winless on the junior men’s side, Walsh scored two in an extra end against Newfoundland on Tuesday night to win 7-5 and pick up her first win of the event. Both teams now head into the seeding portion of the championship, used to determine the pools for the 2018 Canadian juniors in Shawinigan, Que.

mannicchiarico@timescolonist.com

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