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Wolf Pack on the prowl early at CIS-Curling Canada Championships

By Grayson Leahy

The 2016 CIS / Curling Canada University Championships opening draw at the Kelowna Curling Club had the host UBC Okanagan Heat men taking on the Sir Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks. While the Heat earned an automatic bid as the host team, and have few competitive games under their proverbial belt, the Golden Hawks are considered to be one of the favourites in the tournament.

Laurier, led by skip Aaron Squires, took a sizeable lead in their contest against the host school, going up 6-2 after the fourth end. Despite their relative lack of competitive CIS experience, though, the UBC Okanagan men, led by skip Justin Nillson, did not go down without a fight. Nillson’s squad took two in the seventh end to pull within three, at 8-5.

UBC Okanagan Skip - Justin Nillson

UBC Okanagan Skip – Justin Nillson (Photo, Ken Reid/Greystoke Photography)

The game concluded after eight ends, with Laurier winning by a final score of 11-5. After the loss, Nillson said of his team’s performance, “[it’s our] first game of nationals, the boys are really psyched, and pumped, and I think we communicated really well actually, and that’s what we gotta build on the next few games.” The Heat skip continued, “we stayed as a unit, and that’s one of the big goals of the weekend, so that was a good showing.”

Other opening round games in the men’s first draw had the Saint Mary’s Huskies falling 9-1 after eight ends against the University of Victoria Vikes.

The Brock Badgers scored two in the tenth end to beat the Waterloo Warriors 10-8 in all OUA match-up.

In the final game to finish in the first draw, the University of Alberta Golden Bears beat the Dalhousie Tigers 8-4, after scoring three in the final end following a missed attempt at a raise takeout with the final rock of the game by Dalhousie skip Matthew Manuel.

In first round play in the women’s round robin, the Thompson Rivers WolfPack, a sort of de facto host of the women’s draw, as UBC Okanagan has no women’s curling team, started their tournament at the Kelowna Curling Club against the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds.

The WolfPack led by 2013 Canadian Junior Women’s champion Corynn Brown, face the UNB Varsity Reds in a tight game, with TRU up 3-2 through six ends. Behind skipper Samantha Crook, the Reds pulled within one again after the eighth end, scoring one to make it 4-3 in favour of the Corynn Brown-led ‘Pack.

TRU jumped out to a big 6-3 lead, scoring two in the ninth end, and that would be the final score after the WolfPack put it away in the tenth end.

In a significant upset on sheet three of the first draw, the Dalhousie Tigers, led by Kristin Clarke, who this year won the World Junior Women’s championship as the third for Nova Scotia’s Mary Fay, defeated the University of Alberta Pandas, 10-6, a game conceded after nine ends. The Pandas are led by Kelsey Rocque, who was a two time World Junior Women’s champion at skip in 2014 and 2015. While the Tigers are a relatively new team, the Pandas come into the national tournament as a projected top finish.

Another upset came on sheet eight, with the Brandon Bobcats, who haven’t competed with top teams for the last few years, defeating the Sir Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks, a school consistently among the best in the country, 5-4 after an eleventh end.

In the final game, the Guelph Gryphons beat the Brock Badgers 5-3, with the game ending when Guelph skip Jestin Murphy ran Samantha Crook’s squad out of stones in the final end.

Round robin play continues through to Tuesday followed by semi finals and gold and bronze medal games on Wednesday, March 23. Four teams from each 8 team round robin will advance to those respective medal rounds. The winners of the CIS / Curling Canada University championships will represent Canada at the 2017 World University Games in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Full scores, standings and team rosters  can be found here:
Women: http://www.curling.ca/scoreboard/#!/competitions/2061
Men: http://www.curling.ca/scoreboard/#!/competitions/2062