Lesser-known Canadians standing tall at mixed doubles trials
Laura Crocker, Geoff Walker clinch first place in Pool B
PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE, Man. — Brad Gushue. Jennifer Jones. Kaitlyn Lawes. John Morris. Most Canadian curling fans recognize these names.
No question they were considered favourites going into the mixed doubles Olympic trials.
The field is chalked full of some of the most impressive players in curling but as the playoffs near some lesser known teams are atop the standings.
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With just a few games left in the round robin there is still a lot to be decided, though three teams have punched their tickets into the playoff round.
Laura Crocker and Geoff Walker have clinched first place in Pool B after winning seven consecutive games to start the bonspiel. There's nothing flashy about their game. They're not high profile skips. In fact, Walker is lead for Brad Gushue's team and Crocker is third on Kelsey Rocque's Alberta team.
"We've had a couple really good games and we've had a few where we've caught a few breaks and made a lot of big shots. Laura's made a lot of key shots when I've gotten us into trouble," said Walker.
The two are engaged and will be getting married in Mexico this coming May. They'd love nothing more than to play in the Olympics in February but they both know there's still a lot of work to do.
'Throwing it better than ever'
Dana Ferguson and Brendan Bottcher have found some magic at the trials. They've also locked up a playoff spot and clinched second place in Pool B, sitting with a 6-1 record. Their only loss came against Crocker and Walker.
Ferguson is the second for the team skipped by Val Sweeting of Edmonton.
Bottcher, who also hails from Edmonton, is the skip of his team.
The two have played mixed doubles together for the past two seasons but quickly admit their focus is on the traditional four-person game.
They both competed at the trials in Ottawa last month but after they were knocked out of that bonspiels, quickly shifted gears to mixed doubles. Over the holidays they spent a considerable amount of time practising together in Edmonton and are now on a roll in Portage la Prairie.
"I'm throwing it better than I ever have and Brendan's throwing it better than ever as well," Ferguson said.
She credits Bottcher for a lot of their success — Ferguson said he's such a student of the mixed doubles game and that's paying dividends for them both right now.
"He's coached it. He's watched a ton of it. He's been around it a lot and forces me to play the right shots," she said.
Bottcher said it's a completely different game, especially when it comes to throwing a rock without someone else holding the broom for a target at the other end of the ice for many of the shots.
"The key is you still have to pick a target. You have aim somewhere on the boards or another rock. Even on mine, I'm picking a spot on every rock I throw," Bottcher said.
As for being somewhat unknown at this event, Ferguson and Bottcher don't mind one bit. In fact they're relishing in playing the underdog role. They were ranked 16th out of the 18th teams coming into the trials.
"We're never in the conversation as being expected to win and I love that role. We'll just keep winning away. I think we can win it for sure."
Playoff spots up for grabs
Jocelyn Peterman and Brett Gallant are also into the playoffs, clinching Pool A with a 7-0 record. The two first met two years ago at the national championship in Saskatoon. They won that event, their first together, and have been dating ever since.
Peterman plays second for Chelsea Carey's Alberta team and Gallant is second for Gushue's team. Again, they aren't the most high-profile curlers in this country but are atop the standings.
After that there is a big question mark regarding what teams will join the other three in the playoffs. The top two teams in each pool advance. After that, the next best four records out all the teams advance.
After a slow start Gushue and Sweeting, who are playing together for the first time, have won four consecutive games and are heating up.
"Each and every game you're learning something different," Gushue said. "I think the game moves so fast you have to be patient and slow yourself down sometimes."
Sweeting credits Gushue's knowledge of the game for helping them find success as the week rolls on.
"Shot selection isn't an issue. You can make a bad decision out there but I think Brad knows the game very well."
Only one team will earn the right to represent Canada at the Olympics in February. This is the first time mixed doubles curling will be played at the Games.