Heirs to Ontario's curling throne? McDonald rink on a roll in Brier debut
Path to qualifying for national championship always seemed to go through juggernaut Glenn Howard
BRANDON, Man. — When you think about Ontario and curling there's one name that quickly comes to mind — Glenn Howard.
One of the greatest to play the game (and still playing), Howard has been in 17 Briers, including a record eight straight Ontario provincial wins (2006-2013). He's won the national championship four times, is a four-time world champion and has 14 Slam wins.
So when a new team emerges from Ontario to compete at the Brier, fans immediately want to know: Who dethroned curling king Howard?
Scott McDonald, skip, is a 32-year-old accident benefits claims adjuster. He lives in London, Ont.
The rest of his team lives in Kingston, Ont. Third Johnathan Beuk, 35, is a psychometrist. Wes Forget, 27, is a residence life co-ordinator at Queen's University. And lead Scott Chadwick, 28, is a shift manager for an industrial air handling company.
McDonald spends a lot of time practising on his own in London while the other three hit the ice together in Kingston. Every so often they'll meet up in Toronto for training camps to practise together. It's their first year together, a different iteration of the team that placed third in Ontario provincials last year.
"This is the most dedicated curling team I've ever been on," Forget said.
They have six university degrees between them all.
"You know what, that's what we are. It's a university team gone right and stayed together. And then we picked up our import from Western [McDonald] to be our fearless leader."
"I remember when we won the Ontario Tankard, looking at the names on that trophy, it's such a storied history from the Howards to the Werenichs to the Middaughs," McDonald said. "They're people you've heard about in legend and to be able to share that trophy with them meant a lot to us."
They're a humble bunch, almost giddy as they soak up their first Brier.
"We're four guys who love to curl," McDonald said. "We've played a lot this year and have put ourselves in a lot of pressure situations."
Rising up the rankings
The team set out with the goal this season to play as much curling as possible and they certainly have. They wanted to become battle-tested for this exact moment. They've been all in, all season. And it's been a break-out year because of it.
They played nine tour events in their first two months together. They even won an early bonspiel to punch a ticket to the Slam in Newfoundland and Labrador in December. All of it catapulted McDonald's team into the top-10 World Curling Tour rankings.
"We're getting to that level we want to be at. We set the goal of getting to the Brier. But getting here isn't good enough any more," McDonald said.
So what did they get for a welcome to their first-ever national championship?
First, they had to start against the two-time defending champion Brad Gushue. Then their next game was against three-time Brier champion Kevin Koe. McDonald lost both games.
"We were hoping for a split," he said. "We know we're competitive with both of those two teams."
They didn't panic and have been on a roll since those opening two losses. With three straight wins, they're now in line to advance to the championship round with a solid final day of pool play.
"We're here to play well and make shots and hopefully at the end of the week we're in the conversation," McDonald said.
Dream come true
Whatever happens the rest of the way this team is squeezing everything they can out of the Brier experience. This is what they've been dreaming of for years — always in the shadow of Glenn Howard and now finally stepping into their light.
"We all want to impress Glenn," Forget said. "Because when you get the nod from Glenn Howard that's when you know you've done right. People ask me about the backswing I throw on peels and I throw that because of guys named Wayne, Rich, Russ and Glenn."
And in the process of this first-ever Brier journey, McDonald hopes he can begin to carve out his own space in becoming the skip the next generation in Ontario curling looks up to.
"We've enjoyed this journey. The Brier is a celebration of curling and we're here to win but the Brier is so much more than winning," he said.
"It's meant to inspire everyone. Whether you're a child trying to get into the game or an adult who still wants to get to this point."