When members of the Canadian Wheelchair Curling Team journeyed to Boucherville, Que., Oct. 3-6 for a weekend on the ice with 2013 Canadian champions, Team Quebec, the focus was on training techniques and skill-sharing, but it was also on building strong connections among high-performance wheelchair curlers across Canada.
The reigning world champion National Team contingent – Jim Armstrong, Dennis Thiessen, Ina Forrest, Sonja Gaudet and Mark Ideson, as well as coach Joe Rea, Team Leader Wendy Morgan and Mental Performance Consultant Dr. Laura Farres – used this opportunity to firm up team positions and continue pre-Paralympic training (the final team will be announced in November), as well as to showcase their skills and share their knowledge and experience with the Canadian champions.
Team Quebec – skip Benoit Lessard, third Carl Marquis, second Sebastien Boisvert, lead Johanne Daly and coach Germain Tremblay – won the national championship last March at the RA Centre in Ottawa, defeating Team B.C. with a decisive 10-2 score. Their weekend on and off the ice with Team Canada at the Boucherville Curling Club allowed them to show off their skills too, something that Morgan says is part of the National Team’s goals for identifying and developing elite wheelchair curlers across the country.
“Even though we won all of the games and some quite handily,” she said about the four games that took place on the ice Friday and Saturday, “the competition was great. Quebec played well and have unlimited potential, but the National Team simply got stronger as the weekend went on.”
Quebec’s Lessard admitted that although he was eager to learn how the world champions prepare and perform in a game situation, he also wanted to see how well his own team could compete.
“I won’t lie,” he said. “We also wanted to know where we stand against them. Turns out we still have lots to learn. These guys are so good and well organized. But we are on the right track.”
Identifying talented curlers is on the National Team agenda – Lessard is training with the national team as an alternate – and the Quebec players were able to benefit from the dialogue with Morgan, Rea and the other athletes. The goal is to nurture overall improved performance down the road for teams representing their province or territory at the national level.
“As a team I think we all got better-defined goals for the season and beyond,” said Lessard. “It is not only a one-year thing. Experience can’t be bought.”
As well as competition on the ice, the weekend included sessions on mental skills, practice planning, game-plan development and national-team protocols. Rea, as the national team coach, made observations and suggestions to the Quebec foursome, and according to Morgan, both teams benefited from their willingness to share and receive feedback.
“It was an opportunity to continue to develop our Canadian athletes,” said Morgan. “Nothing that the national team does was off limits to share with Team Quebec.”
For Lessard, one of the highlights was sharing the house with Armstrong, even though Team Quebec came up short on the scoreboard.
“Skipping games against Jim with team Quebec was a great experience since we rarely have the chance to play against them,” he said. “I wish I had called better games, but losing can be a good thing if you learn from it. And I did.”
Morgan says the weekend also allowed players and staff to develop a stronger relationship, a benefit with which Lessard agrees.
“Most important, everyone had the chance to get to know one another,” he said about the connection forged between players and coaches on both teams during the weekend sessions. “We made friends.”
Team Quebec isn’t the only team benefiting from the interaction with Canada’s high-performance wheelchair curling athletes and coaches, however. In preparation for the Cathy Kerr Memorial Bonspiel taking place Nov. 28 to Dec. 1 at the RA Centre in Ottawa, Team Ontario will be spending some time on the ice with the National Team “to hone their skills,” said Morgan.
“[Team Ontario] is looking to delve into the national team process to enhance their game,” she added.
Canada holds the current World and Paralympic titles, and Morgan said Canada is in “great shape” heading into the next quadrennial. The strength of the Canadian wheelchair curling program means that the national team knew the weekend in Boucherville with Team Quebec would be beneficial, without having to travel abroad to find games.
“We felt we could continue to develop our Canadian athletes and teams and still get meaningful competition, by staying in Canada,” said Morgan. “It was very rewarding from a big picture perspective.”