Pre-Trials in sight!

From right: Colin Kurz, Brendan Bilawka, Joey Hart and JT Ryan are one win away from a spot in the Home Hardware Curling Pre-Trials. (Photo, Curling Canada/Claudette Bockstael)

JT Ryan making the most of a season that almost never was at Pre-Trials Direct-Entry event

This wasn’t how JT Ryan and his team had planned out the 2021-22 curling season, but they’re certainly not complaining. 

The team from the Assiniboine Memorial Curling Club in Winnipeg was preparing for a mini-sabbatical this season to focus on school and work.

Ryan, working at a mine in northern Ontario, and his team didn’t believe they could balance the commitments of life with the practice and the competing it takes to play against the top teams in Canada.

However, an invitation to the Canadian Pre-Trials Direct-Entry Event at the RA Centre in Ottawa changed those plans. The event, which had two berths to the Home Hardware Curling Pre-Trials on the line, was too good to pass up. It’s not every day your team is selected to become part of the process for determining Canada’s four-player men’s curling team at the Olympic Winter Games. 

“We weren’t really planning on doing anything until we got the e-mail about Ottawa. And even then, we’re all working or in school,” said Ryan. “We only had three guys so we were kind of sitting around and thinking we shouldn’t do it, but then we had a couple ‘pops’ and thought it would be fun to have one last kick at the cat.”

Skip Ryan, vice-skip Colin Kurz, second Joey Hart, and lead Brendan Bilawka find themselves Saturday afternoon. Team Ryan (4-1) has not one, but two, cracks at securing a ticket to the pre-trials event in Liverpool, N.S., after winning the B-Event final against Corey Chambers (2-2; Winnipeg) by a score of 6-2.

Hart, son of Tim Hortons Brier and world men’s champion Richard Hart, received a last-minute text from Ryan’s team to play with them because regular second Tyler Forrest couldn’t make the trip due to family and work commitments.

Jessie Hunkin and her team from North Battleford, Sask., advance to the A-B final at the Pre-Trials Direct-Entry event. (Photo, Curling Canada/Claudette Bockstael)

Ryan maintained control of the game against Chambers from wire to wire. Chambers missed a hit-and-roll freeze attempt in the second end, and Ryan had a draw for two.

Chambers once again tried a hit and roll in the fourth end, but hit it on the nose. Once again, Ryan dialled in his draw weight and put his last rock on the button for another score of two and 4-1 lead. 

Chambers had an opportunity to score a deuce in the fifth end, but his draw was just heavy, and he only took one for a 4-2 deficit at the halfway point of the game. After three blank ends, Ryan sealed the deal with a runback takeout to score two.

The outcome for the team that almost did not compete is impressive. Team Ryan lost to Chambers 7-1 in the A-Event semifinal but looked loose and having fun out on the ice Saturday.

“I think that’s just the mindset of how we’re happy to be here, especially with Covid and everything too. Even in the first few games, we were missing shots but still smiling because it’s just nice to be out here,” Ryan said.

Ryan, who owns silver and bronze medals from the Canadian juniors, has dreamed of an opportunity to represent Canada at an Olympic Winter Games, and the next step of the process is within grasp. 

All that stands between him and that goal is Quebec’s Vincent Roberge (3-0; Etchemin, Que.), who qualified for the A-B final through the A-side. At 9 p.m. (all times ET), the winner of tonight’s game earns a Home Hardware Curling Pre-Trials spot, while the loser gets another opportunity to qualify with a game against the C-Event winner.

But will Team Ryan be able to balance work and school with a few more events this year in hopes of representing Canada at the Olympics?

“It would be a nice problem to have,” Ryan said, with a presumed smirk on his face under his mask.

In other action, Team Sean Grassie (3-2; Winnipeg) eliminated Shaun Meachem (2-3; Swift Current, Sask.) from the C-Event with a 7-5 win. Grassie now takes on Chambers in the C-Event final, with the winner playing the loser of Team Roberge and Team Ryan. 

Team Jessie Hunkin (3-1; North Battleford, Sask.) advances to the A-B final for a rematch against Kerry Galusha (3-0; Yellowknife, N.W.T.) with a pre-trials spot on the line. Hunkin defeated Kaitlyn Jones (3-2; Assiniboine, Man.) 11-3 in the B-Event final.

On the women’s C-side Team Jill Brothers (3-2; Halifax) remains alive after defeating Team Lauren Mann (2-3; Ottawa) by 10-6. Brothers now play Jones in the C-Event final, with the winner playing the loser of the Galusha and Hunkin game.

The Canadian Trials and Pre-Trials Direct-Entry events continue on Saturday with draws at 1 p.m., 5 p.m., and 9 p.m.

For playoffs and rankings scenarios associated with the men’s Trials Direct-Entry event, click here. 

For playoffs and rankings scenarios associated with the women’s Trials Direct-Entry event, click here.

For the men’s Pre-Trials Direct-Entry tournament bracket, click here.

For the women’s Pre-Trials Direct-Entry tournament bracket, click here

Live scoring and standings for the events are available here.

Live streaming for all draws is available on Curling Canada’s YouTube page.

This story will be published in French as soon as possible here.

Curling Canada