Max Kirkpatrick's Swift Current Curling Club rink are enjoying their wild card status as they prepare for the SaskTel Provincial Men's Championship in Melfort on Jan. 30 to Feb. 3.
In the first year of a new qualifying format for a 16-team men's provincial championship bonspiel, the Kirkpatrick rink captured the lone wild card pre-qualifying spot in the field of competitors. The top two rinks on both the the Sask Curling Tour and the Canadian Team Ranking System were pre-qualified, as was the winner of the Players' Championship bonspiel. Kirkpatrick earned the wild card team qualifying spot from the next highest accumulated points from both theSask Curling Tour and the Canadian Team Ranking System. The remaining field at provincials consists of five qualifiers from the SaskTel Southern Men's Playdowns and five from the SaskTel Northern Men's Playdowns.
Kirkpatrick opens play in Wednesday's opening 3 p.m. draw against Jamie Schneider, the 1990 Provincial Mens Champion.
Skips in the 16-rink field boast an impressive list of accomplishments. The Championship features five former provincial champions in Darrell McKee (2010), Bruce Korte (2000 and 2004), Brad Heidt (1982, 1995), Randy Woytowich (1993, 1993), and Jamie Schneider (1990). Steve Laycock is skipping his own rink after winning provincials at third with the Pat Simmons rink in 2011, and as lead for the Simmons foursome in both 2007 and 2008.
The impressive roster also features a number of Provincial Junior Mens Championship winners in Mitch Heidt (2006), Steve Laycock (2003), William Coutts (2001), Randy Bryden (1987, 1988, 1989), while Justin Mihalicz threw third rocks for the 2005 Canadian and World Junior Mens Championship rink.
Lots of attention will be given to the Brock Virtue rink from the Callie Curling Club, with the team members boasting a combined eight national junior titles.
Virtue recently moved from Alberta where he was third on the 2007 Canadian junior and world junior mens championship rink. Third Braeden Moskowy boasts a 2010 and 2011 Provincial Junior Men's Champion, with the team winning the Canadian championship in 2011. Second Chris Schille skipped his way to a 2004 Alberta Junior Men's Title, but when he moved to Newfoundland he curled with Brad Gushue and enjoyed a runner-up performance at the 2007 Brier while throwing second rocks. Lead DJ Kidby(threw second stones for Saskatchewan's 2005 and 2008 junior championship teams, and he boasts a world junior mens championship from 2005.
"We made an effort at the start of the year to pre-qualify," Kirkpatrick admitted. "We decided we would play four spiels and give ourselves a chance. We actually had a good run, we qualified in all four spiels, lost two finals, and got the wild card berth by accumulated enough points."
The rink of Kirkpatrick, Shaun Meachem, Jeff Chambers and Shawn Hiebert placed fifth at the Swift Current Men's Cash Spiel, third in the Assiniboia Men's Cash Spiel, and were runners-up at both the Humboldt Cash Spiel and the Sifto Sask Players' Association Championship. While Darrell McKee earned the Sask Players Championship pre-qualifying spot, Kirkpatrick's rink won five straight games against some of the top teams in the province during an impressive bonspiel performance.
"We worked a little bit harder, and this was our second year together as a full team, and I think that's really started to show up, we're really starting to gel."
After not having to advance through this past weekend's SaskTel Southern Men's Playdowns, the Kirkpatrick rink has enlisted the help of renown high performance curling coach Ron Meyers to work with them as they prepare for provincials.
"I thought that would throw us off a little but, but actually with Ron now its been great because the practices we've had have been so good," Kirkpatrick said after a Saturday practice with Meyers. "He's just got so much experience. And he's helping us a lot too with the off ice stuff, what to expect, how to be prepared mentally, how to practice properly, not just go out and throw and throw and throw."
"The guys really like it that he brings a new look at a lot of stuff, maybe fine-tuning deliveries and technique," he added. "Plus, you've got that outside voice there if there's any critique it's nice to have it come from someone outside of the team."
Meyers is enjoying the opportunity to work with a local rink and help them get to the next level in their play.
"It's good to be able to come out here and help them out a little bit, and hopefully I can give them some help. They're well on their way to a good team and I look forward to the doing really well in the provincials," Meyers said following their weekend practice.
"These guys can throw, there's no question about that. They have all the skills. They just have to watch they don't get back into some of the bad habits," he said. "It's more how to play, and what to look for and the kinds of things that are going to crop up when you get to a higher level of competition."
Meyers has a long list of curling credentials, having been inducted into Saskatchewan Curling Association's Legends of Curling Honour Roll in April 2012 for his lengthy coaching success. In 1984 Ron received the Curl Canada Instructor of the Year and in 2008 he received the CCA Award of Achievement.
"Curling is like any other sport, as soon as you start doing things wrong, you've got to come back and go back to the basics. If you start forgetting that, and start to correct in mid stream, then you get completely fooled, you start doing other things, and other things crop in. So you've got to go back to the basics and start with the same old weight distribution, proper release, keep the shoulder high, all those kinds of thing."