Written by: Matt Johnson for Sask Sport
Photo credit: Curling Canada/Michael Burns (Ben Hebert)
The best curlers in the country are descending on the Prairies with Saskatoon set to play host to the 2021 Canadian Olympic Trials later this month.
The 18-team event, which features nine teams on both the men’s and women’s sides, will determine which teams will represent Canada at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing in February. Returning to the tournament are 2018 Olympic rinks in Rachel Homan and Kevin Koe, as well as 2021 Brier champion Team Brendan Bottcher and 2020 and 2021 Scotties champion Team Kerri Einarson.
The Trials have no shortage in Saskatchewan flavour. Regina product and two-time Olympian Ben Hebert is set to reprise his recurring role as lead on Koe’s rink. Also in the mix is Matt Dunstone’s rink, which has represented Saskatchewan at the 2020 and 2021 Briers, winning bronze medals in both. While Dunstone is from Kamloops, B.C., alongside him are a trio of Saskatchewan curlers in Braden Moskowsky, Kirk Muyres and Dustin Kidby. The group curls out of Regina.
For Muyres, who joined Team Dunstone prior to the 2020 season, it’s hard to ignore entering the week with a realistic chance of competing on the biggest stage in sport.
“To get the chance to have an opportunity to do that is unlike anything else. There would be no words to explain how cool it would be to be able to represent Canada at the Olympics,” said Muyres, who is also a contender to represent Canada in mixed curling. “We’ve put ourselves in a position with the realistic chance that we could be one of the teams that do it. We’ve shown that we can beat any team in Canada. We’ve shown we can compete and win on the highest stages.”
It’s the best. I think Saskatchewan is the best sporting province in the country. I’m lucky to be from there and have some great roots still there in Saskatchewan.Ben Hebert
That sentiment is also echoed by Hebert, an Olympic gold medallist in Vancouver with the Kevin Martin rink and four-time Brier champion.
“It’s obviously a really good opportunity. Anytime you get to qualify for the Olympic Trials to go represent your country at the Olympic Games is obviously a crazy experience,” said Hebert. “It’s going to take a great team effort to be able to come through the Canadian field. It’s always the toughest field in the world to get through to go represent your country. There’s lots of good teams, but I really like where our team is at.”
Despite the eyes being on the Olympic prize, the opportunity to qualify in their home province isn’t something lost on the two. Hebert notes he’ll have a fair share of friends and family from Regina in the stands.
“It’s the best. I think Saskatchewan is the best sporting province in the country. I’m lucky to be from there and have some great roots still there in Saskatchewan,” said Hebert. “I grew up playing hockey, baseball, football, lacrosse, everything in Saskatchewan. There’s certainly some diehard sports fans there.”
Muyres is from St. Gregor, Sask., just outside of Humboldt, but he went to school at the University of Saskatchewan and can’t wait to play on one of the biggest stages in his curling career in a city he lived in for 11 years.
And as for how ‘Olympian Kirk Muyres’ might sound?
“Getting to do it in Saskatoon, it’s so cool. I grew up watching Briers in 2000 and 2004 in that building and it was packed and people were cheering for Saskatchewan,” said Muyres. “So to get to do that in Saskatchewan in front of a full building at SaskTel Centre, is going to be pretty exciting. I’ve never got to play there before, it’s always been a dream of mine. So as the days get closer, I get more and more excited.”
“To be honest, I don’t even think it holds a lot of weight yet. It’s so hard to fathom that I could be an Olympian. So I honestly don’t know if I really grasp what that can possibly feel like, but I mean it’d be so cool,” said Muyres. “You’re talking Catriona Le May Doan and Hayley Wickenheiser, all of these huge athletes that you just don’t ever think you could ever be in that conversation with. To be named an Olympian alongside those athletes would be unlike anything else.”
But before the Trials begin on Nov. 20, Team Dunstone and Team Koe have some preparation to do. Both rinks were in Chestermere, Alta. competing in their final tune-up prior to the Trials, with the two teams squaring off in the opening round of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling Event.
Team Dunstone upstaged Team Koe by a score of 8-7, but the two rinks won’t have to wait long to see each other again as they will meet-up in Draw 6 of the Trials.
You’re talking Catriona Le May Doan and Hayley Wickenheiser, all of these huge athletes that you just don’t ever think you could ever be in that conversation with. To be named an Olympian alongside those athletes would be unlike anything else.Kirk Muyres – Team Dunstone
The Colton Flasch, Sherry Anderson and Penny Barker rinks were also all attempting to join Muyres and Dunstone at a last-chance qualifier this past week in Nova Scotia, but unfortunately none of the teams were able to snag one of the final four spots at the Trials.
Nonetheless, Hebert and Muyres will represent the province with pride in one of the sport’s biggest events.
“I hope that we can put on a good show on TSN and in Saskatoon for everybody and hopefully we’re there at the end of the week,” said Hebert.
The Canadian Olympic Curling Trials are Nov. 20-28 at SaskTel Centre. The Dunstone and Koe rinks both open the Trials on Nov. 20 in Draw 2 at 7 p.m.
For tickets, draw information and more visit, curling.ca