Ian MacAulay of P.E.I. recently faced off against some of the best curlers in the world at the World Senior Men's Curling Championship in Lethbridge, Alberta. The team finished with the silver medal.
"Representing Canada is pretty special," said MacAulay, who is back on P.E.I. at his cottage near Souris for a couple of weeks.
"Putting on the jacket the first time, I got choked up a bit and to see all of your family out there it's pretty special."
There was a large contingent from P.E.I. at the Worlds to cheer him on. Not surprising considering MacAulay has 42 first cousins on his mother's side, and even more on his father's.
Steep learning curve
MacAulay got his start at the Souris Curling Club as a teenager, working as a volunteer to the club's ice makers.
He moved to Ottawa as a mechanic, but needed to find another career after injuring his back. He found it making curling ice.
"Passion for the game, I guess," recalled MacAulay about what attracted him.
"I really loved making ice and turned it into a full-time career."
He admitted he learned the hard way, having many disasters along the way.
"Every mistake I made, I tried to learn from it and I made plenty of mistakes," said MacAulay.
Major melt down
One of the biggest disasters was in making ice in Scotland for the Women's World Curling Championship, a last minute assignment just two months before the event.
"I said to the ice maker, 'Do you know that building?' He goes, 'No.' I said, 'I think we should go see the building,' and he said, 'No, we'll be all right.' We got over there and it was an absolute nightmare," MacAulay said.
"I was up for a 72 hour stretch trying to get the ice in, lost the ice for the first draw, it was all water but we got through it."
Keep it clean
Ice making also took him to Bulgaria, Switzerland, Italy and "every small town in Ontario."
"My secret is keep the ice level and clean and pure ice."
MacAulay is currently the ice maker for two clubs in Ottawa, where he sometimes comes in at 6 a.m. to get in some practice time.
He has also helped to get curling up and running again in Souris, on a makeshift curling sheet at the local rink.
"My son and I came down to help Colin LaVie," he explained.
Islanders take the world
MacAulay joins an impressive list of Prince Edward Islanders who have curled at world championships, including the Bill Jenkins rink, world junior champions in 1977.
Suzanne Gaudet of Summerside, P.E.I. skipped her team to gold the 2001 World Juniors.
Brett Gallant and his teammates won silver at the 2009 World Junior Curling Championships.
Last month, Gallant won world gold as part of Team Canada.
Is there something in the water?
"We've always been a factory at producing really talented young curlers," said well-known curling coach Al Ledgerwood.
He has coached more than 30 P.E.I. teams at the national level and has watched Islanders excel on the world stage.
"We had Doug Cameron, George Dillon and Allan Smith in the 1960s," said Ledgerwood.
"They were spectacular and from that you had all kinds of junior curlers say that must be the standard then, if that's the standard we have to be really really good."
While curlers in other provinces could live long distances from the best curlers, on P.E.I., they shared the ice.
"It is the natural advantage of a junior on P.E.I.," said Ledgerwood.
"If you were a young junior team, you got to play the best."
President of the P.E.I. Curling Hall of Fame and Museum Jerry Muzika has also watched world champions emerge on P.E.I.
"The curlers from P.E.I. who have been successful on the wider curling stage know the game well, they practice, they take advantage of learning opportunities," said Muzika.
"I believe they have the love and dedication to their sport."
'A little bit more passion'
P.E.I.'s newest world silver medallist has his own theory.
"It's not just Islanders, I find it's people from small towns I think," said MacAulay.
"People from small towns have a little bit more passion for whatever they do, whether it's curling, hockey."
MacAulay thinks there is also something about life on P.E.I.
"In sport, you need the ability to get in the zone or a state of calm," he said.
"In order to achieve this, I belive you need to be in the zone in life itself or it certainly helps."
A zone that he finds when he's back on P.E.I.
"Maybe the lifestyle on the Island is the reason," he said. "I'm not sure, but it's a great question."
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