Two Dalhousie University curlers and their coach will lead Canada’s effort to win a world junior curling championship in March.
Skip Owen Purcell, second Adam McEachren and coach Anthony Purcell, Owen’s father, captured first place for Nova Scotia at the 2021 Curling Canada World Junior Qualifier last November. The Halifax-based rink defeated Newfoundland and Labrador 10-9 in the final to qualify for the worlds in Jönköping, Sweden.
“It still feels really fresh,” Owen said earlier in January, over a month since the big win. “We’re thinking lots about it and really looking forward to the next couple of months.”
Neither player has ever travelled outside of Canada to compete. McEachren, putting that into perspective, said the feeling of now doing so is “surreal.”
“It was a bit unimaginable at the beginning,” he said. “As we get closer and closer, work more with Curling Canada, get our gear and stuff like that, it’s feeling more realistic.”
Strong 2021 season
The win at the qualifier tournament in Saskatoon, Sask. capped off a phenomenal 2021 season for the Purcell rink. Their seven wins in the tournament, in which they went undefeated, pushed their win total on the year to 44.
The team, also featuring lead Scott Weagle and third Joel Krats, only lost four matches in 2021.
Among their several years curling together, Owen and McEachren helped the Tigers to an AUS banner in 2020, the men’s team’s third straight. Owen also played on the 2019 edition of the team.
Owen and McEachren aren’t the only Dal curlers to play at a world junior event recently. Kaitlyn Jones, Kristin Clarke, Karlee Burgess and Lindsey Burgess led Canada to gold at the women’s world juniors in 2018 just weeks after capturing the AUS championship with the Tigers. Future Dal curler Lauren Lenentine also represented Canada.
With pandemic breaks providing the team with plenty of time to mesh, the pair feel they’ve developed the system to bring in the big wins.
“A lot of it is mutual respect for each other. What comes with that is a lot of trust. On the ice, the chemistry is fantastic,” Owen said.
McEachren noted this year was the last chance for him, along with Owen and Weagle, to make a run at the world juniors tournament.
That drove the squad extra hard this season. Between tournaments, the team often practiced up to six days a week.
“The biggest thing is we’re all hard workers. I don’t think anyone wanted to win more than us,” McEachren said. “We knew it was our last chance and [we had] the best group of guys to do it with. We’re all friends.”
Anthony agreed the team’s camaraderie and training have been the perfect combination for success.
“I feel this team is incredibly prepared,” the coach said. “We’ve done everything we possibly can to be ready and I believe when we went to nationals, the best team won. I think they’ll represent Canada very, very well.”
A busy two months ahead
Pending changes resulting from recent COVID-19 restrictions, McEachren and Owen will back Dal in their drive for a fourth consecutive AUS banner in February before putting on the maple leaf in March.
Should the Tigers win and earn a berth at the U Sports championships in Sudbury, Ont., the team could run into a tight schedule. While the world juniors run from March 5-12, the U Sports tournament is from March 15-19.
If you add in the roughly 10-hour flight from Sweden to Ontario, the team could have fewer than two days of rest after a week-long tournament before jumping into another.
“If we lost a close final or something [at worlds], it’s going to be a very short turnaround time to shake that off,” McEachren said. “Same thing if we won, we have to say, ‘Okay, you’re off cloud nine now. You’re in a different province playing another national championship.’ We’d have to reset and refocus.”
The shift may be gruelling. Owen mentioned, however, few teams have that opportunity to start with.
“Being in a situation like that always helps develop your curling career and will help us in the future,” he said. “That transition from worlds to [U Sports], something like that doesn’t happen too often.”
Along with Dal’s season, Owen, Anthony and the rest of Team Canada will prepare for worlds with another major tournament: the Nova Scotia Tankard. Regarded as the biggest event on the Nova Scotia men’s curling calendar, the tournament’s winner earns the right to represent the province at the Tim Hortons Brier, the Canadian senior championships.
The group expects a competitive pool will show up at the Tankard from Jan. 25-30. If they win, however, the team won’t be able to represent Nova Scotia nationally. The Brier runs from March 4-13, overlapping with the world juniors.
Once all is said and done, the team could play up to four major tournaments in two months. The preparation taken during the pandemic breaks has been critical so far, but this heavy competition schedule will be a different animal.
“Having all this time off since nationals, I know the guys will get their rest,” Anthony said of the break from play because of the holidays and the Omicron variant’s outbreak in Nova Scotia. “For Owen and Adam, they’re going to be worked really hard with three straight weeks of international and national championships to play.”
Through that grind, it will be equally important to take in lessons and experiences that come with playing in a tournament with the magnitude of the worlds.
“Any time you can put the maple leaf on your back and represent your country, that’s a dream come true,” McEachren said. “Win or lose, we’re going to learn something from the experience no matter what.”