New kids on the block!

Nathan Young and his youthful team from Newfoundland/Labrador picked up valuable experience at the 2022 Tim Hortons Brier. (Photo, Curling Canada/Michael Burns)

Junior team for The Rock impresses at first Tim Hortons Brier

Kerry Burtnyk was 22 years old when he travelled to Halifax to play in his first Tim Hortons Brier.

Back then, Burtnyk and his teammates from Winnipeg were considered just ‘kids’ as they went on to win the 1981 Canadian men’s curling championships.

Kids? Then what can be made of the players from Team Newfoundland and Labrador, who just wrapped up play in their first Tim Hortons Brier in Lethbridge? The team, skipped by 19-year-old Nathan Young and curling out of the RE/MAX Centre in St. John’s, N.L, is junior aged and has on its roster a 15-year-old alternate whose lone appearance at the ENMAX Centre made him the youngest curler to play in the Tim Hortons Brier.

Nicholas Codner made history as the youngest player in Tim Hortons Brier history. (Photo, Curling Canada/Michael Burns)

Five years after he first picking up a rock, high school student Nick Codner has already appeared in a Tim Hortons Brier.

Young, a 2020 World Youth Olympic Games mixed doubles gold medallist, is joined by third Sam Follett (19), second Nathan Locke (18), lead Ben Stringer (20) and Codner. The team is coached by Toby McDonald and Jeff Thomas.

They earned the trip to Lethbridge after going undefeated in the provincial men’s playdowns in St. John’s.

The cycle of life plays out in the curling world every year. Established players will eventually be overtaken by younger stars, and it’s clear that, if they stick together, this team will be around for a long time and eventually supplant skip Brad Gushue and his three-time Canadian champions from St. John’s N.L.

“It’s been a dream to come to the Brier,” said Young, a Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Arts student at Memorial University in St. John’s, whose team posted a 1-7 record and were competitive in all of their games in their Tim Hortons Brier debut. “To have the chance to come and represent New foundland and Labrador this early in our curling career is so exciting.”

Right now the young men are just learning, and learning a lot.

“This (Tim Hortons Brier) is the best place to learn if you want to be a top curler,” said Young. “I think in two weeks’ time we’ll look back and think we learned more than we thought. Playing these teams, the positioning of the stones. So precise. How they manage the stones, the sweeping. Learning where we have to get to. That will be very valuable to us.

“Strategy at this level is different than at the junior level,” he added. “That’s something I need to get better at. The more we play these kind of teams, the better we will get.” 

Defending Tim Hortons Brier champion Brendan Bottcher of Edmonton was impressed by what he saw this week from the Young team.

“That was awesome to see,” he said. “They were very impressive. They’ve got a couple of Olympic coaches helping them. I can’t say enough good things about them and I think they have a bright future.”

Young’s team is now headed to Stratford, Ont., for the 2022 New Holland Canadian Under-21 Championships, March 25-April 1. Earlier this season, in Saskatoon, the team just fell short of a berth in this year’s World Junior Championships when it lost in the final of the New Holland World Junior Qualifying Event in Saskatoon.

“Can you think of a better practise event for the juniors than the Brier?” Young grinned. “The men’s nationals? We’re really looking forward to that tournament now.”

Young said Gushue has been a big inspiration for him and his teammates.

“To see them and the amount of work they put in, and to see the results, is very inspiring and we’ll work towards that,” he said.

Codner was a Future Star in 2016 in St. John’s when Gushue won his first Tim Hortons Brier. He got to meet John Morris, one of Canada’s most decorated players.

“That was the moment I knew curling was for me,” he said. “That whole Brier was amazing.” 

His ‘youngest ever player’ status at the Tim Hortons Brier was “surreal” but he has bigger plans in the sport.

“It doesn’t define a curling career at all,” he said. “Obviously it’s pretty good. I’ve got a lot of junior stuff I want to establish.”