Coaching Profile: Chris Neufeld
We’ve all seen them at the curling club. Some cover their eyes and hold their breath as their daughter leaves the hack. Others pace back and forth while their son figures out how to steal a point in the extra end. They’re parents at the curling club.Even Chris Neufeld, the father of Denni and B.J. Neufeld from Mike McEwen’s team, remembers those days. “You wish so badly that they’ll be successful, but you knew they were going to make mistakes,” Chris said of watching his sons curl at a young age. Chris is now coaching his sons at the highest level of curling level and it’s much easier to watch. Mistakes are few and far between and the McEwen team can keep pace with the best in the country. Chris wasn’t asked to coach simply because he has two sons on the team. He also comes with a curling resume that most would envy. Chris was third for Vic Peters when they won the Brier, three provincial championships and a senior men’s provincial championship. His son B.J. was seven years old when his father won the Brier and it’s one of the most significant memories he has of his father curling. “It was pretty cool. I didn’t really know the magnitude of what was going but, but it was cool to see him on TV,” B.J. said. Now, Chris has raised three sons who’ve played at the national level of curling in juniors. This year the Neufelds will try to expand their curling resume. They hope to represent Canada at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The McEwen team has never worn Canada’s colours at a world or Olympic event. In fact, they have yet to represent Manitoba at the men’s national level. The 2013 Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings will be the largest event the McEwen team has participated in. Playing for an Olympic spot is exciting in itself, but the McEwen team will also be one of the hometown favourites and is expecting a lot of support. Chris has gotten his team to visualize what it will be like to play for a spot in their hometown. He has the players believing that come the final they will be victorious. Even though the McEwen team might be the only one there with no Brier experience, Chris doesn’t think they should be counted out. Mike Harris won the silver medal at the 1998 Olympics; his first Brier appearance wasn’t until 2004. Brad Gushue was a young curler, merely years out of junior competition, when his team won gold at the 2006 Olympics. Chris, and the rest of the McEwen team for that matter, believe they can follow suit. “We’re hoping we can fly a little bit under the radar, at least for the first three or four games. If we can have three wins out of the first four, we’d be in a great spot,” Chris said. B.J. believes his dad is the missing piece to their team and doesn’t think he or Denni would be where they are today without their father. “It’s propelled me into competitive sports and he’s definitely a huge reason why we are where we are,” B.J. said. B.J. was originally a hockey player but as the other players continued to grow, B.J. stopped and the sport wasn’t as fun anymore. Chris sat him down one day and said: “You know what B.J? You can go into curling and probably make a lot more money at curling than you ever will with hockey.” It wasn’t the last time B.J. would hear a motivational speech from his father either. B.J. said the McEwen team doesn’t have a designated player who gets them pumped up for game time. That’s his father’s role. “We don’t really have that dynamic amongst the four players on the team. He knows how to get us pumped up and ready to go before games and competitions to help us out,” B.J. said. And that’s what he’ll continue to do. Chris usually only travels with the team four or five times a year, but in an effort to peak at the Trials, Chris will on the road with them more often as they prepare. Chris is excited for the McEwen team at the Roar of the Rings. The closest he ever was to being a hometown favourite was when he won the Brier in the neighboring province of Saskatchewan. But Team McEwen, and even Chris, will get to experience the thrill of being hometown heroes this December.