RockFest success!

U-15 curlers celebrate the weekend at U-15 RockFest West at Sherwood Park, Alta. (Photo, Curling Canada/Infinite Eye Photography)

Hundreds of youth curlers develop their skills at four RockFest events across Canada this season

While during a season featuring the best Canadian curlers competing for national and international titles, over 300 youth curlers were also honing their skills across Canada, many with hopes of one day following the same slide paths as the Canadian champions they watched this year at events such as the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and Montana’s Brier.

Four locations hosted the inaugural U-15 RockFest throughout March: Yorkton, Sask. (Prairies), Sherwood Park, Alta. (West), Niagara Falls, Ont. (East) and Moncton, N.B. (Atlantic). The regional events help youth curlers develop skills and compete against neighbouring provinces/territories in singles and triples curling. The events aim to create a well-rounded skillset in all aspects of the game while balancing competitiveness and fun for the athletes.

Hundreds of youth across the country had the chance to develop their skills at the U-15 RockFest events. (Photo, Curling Canada/Images by Bruno)

Triples, in particular, is a superb discipline for training well-rounded athletes as it allows the curlers to throw, sweep, call the line, and dictate strategy, something that cannot be emulated in the four-player game.

In total, 312 15-and-under athletes participated in the U-15 RockFest events across the country, allowing them to gain confidence in their abilities as curlers while also adding an element of competitiveness to the events.

“A huge part of the event is the amazing social opportunity for the curlers to meet each other from all across their home province or territory and then meet other kids from across the region. That’s the biggest positive that everybody commented on: it was just a great social opportunity to connect,” said Curling Canada’s Manager, Youth & Program Development, Dustin Mikush.

Claire and Evelyn Fish had the opportunity to compete at the U-15 RockFest East event in their hometown of Niagara Falls. They didn’t miss the opportunity to compete and meet new people.

“I had a great time meeting new friends and trying new curling formats,” Evelyn said.

“It was a fun weekend! It was great to meet new friends and learn more about curling. The instructors were really helpful,” said Claire.

Helpful and quite famous.

Five-time Scotties champion Shannon Birchard was one of numerous high-profile curlers to coach at U-15 RockFest. (Photo, Curling Canada/Ashley Morrison)

Some of the biggest names in Canadian curling took time out of their schedules to work with the youth at the events, including Shannon Birchard, Steve Laycock Team Myla Plett, Brendan Bottcher, Marc Kennedy, David & Heather Nedohin, Hollie Duncan, Jill Brothers and Luke Saunders, to name a few.

Heather Nedohin, who also ran the event hosted at Sherwood Park, could see the excitement on everyone’s faces when the youth had opportunities to meet some of the biggest names in curling at the Alberta event. She aimed to ensure her host committee could make the event memorable and give the young curlers every reason to stick with the sport going forward.

“It was energetic and rejuvenating, just to see the amount of energy from the athletes from all different parts of the west to the parents that got engaged and involved as fans in the stands and volunteers,” Nedohin said. “I thought we engaged the youth athletes right from the start with our opening ceremony that was interactive and led by a few of our junior coordinators, so we really had a youth mindset. It was electrifying and I absolutely loved it.”

U-15 RockFest West was a curling carnival with energetic opening and closing ceremonies, dances, on-ice seating, and a bucket of cowbells, clappers, and other noisemakers nearby to cheer on the youth.

Jill Officer, right, met the U-15 RockFest athletes during their visit to the 2024 Montana’s Brier. (Photo, Curling Canada)

The events coincided with some major events on the curling schedule. The U-15 RockFest Prairies event in Yorkton was on at the same time as the 2024 Montana’s Brier in Regina. All youth at the event were offered tickets to a draw and the majority of them took advantage. Curling Canada provided over 200 tickets to youth curlers and their families to take in a draw and have a fantastic experience. Eventual champion Brad Gushue and his team stayed behind to sign every autograph request. During the game TSN featured the group on the national broadcast. Jill Officer was in the venue and showed the kids her 2014 Olympic gold medal. 

At the U-15 RockFest Atlantic event, the athletes dawned red and white in support of Team Gushue at the 2024 LGT World Men’s Curling Championship, which was taking place simultaneously. 

“RockFest Atlantic was awesome! Organizing and executing a first-time and very unique event is no small feat. Curling Canada, CurlNB and Curl Moncton did a fantastic job working together to keep the participants organized and active. It was great to see some of the curlers go all-in on their red and white costumes and really have fun with the event,” said Brothers, who was one of the on-ice coaches for the event and is also technical director with the Nova Scotia Curling Association.

Parents are seeing the long-term value of the U-15 RockFest program as well. Youth are getting opportunities to meet new curlers from across the country while learning from some of the best to play the game.

“The chance to learn from some of today’s best curlers as well as champions from the past is a unique experience,” said parent and coach Chris Stockdale. “The introduction of singles and triples curling to this age group will provide greater options for competition and learning and will help grow the sport of curling in the next generation of athletes.”

U-15 RockFest events are part of the final framework of the Foundational Stages within Curling Canada’s Long Term Curler Development, a strategy designed to develop curlers’ skills for all aspects of the game, from recreational to high performance. This Train-to-Train stage prepares U-15 curlers for both the competitive and recreational pathways. After this stage, youth curlers generally decide to follow the recreational path or go down the competitive pathway.

The U-15 RockFest events also give youth a taste of that competitive aspect through its singles competition. Here are the regional winners from each event:

U-15 RockFest Prairies

U-15 RockFest Prairie winners. (Photo, Curling Canada)

1. Marisa Lilienskold (SK)
2. Elizabeth Pope (SK)
3. Tiffany Brown (MB)

1. Kade Comfort (SK)
2. Evan Boutet (MB)
3. Jake Kowalchuk (MB)

U-15 RockFest West

U-15 RockFest West winners. (Photo, Curling Canada/Infinite Eye Photography)

1. Molly Whitbread (AB)
2. Sydney Taylor-Hunt (BC)
3. Sophie Chapman (AB)

1. Jack Odeen (AB)
2. Parker Harris (AB)
3. Andrew Southworth (AB)

U-15 RockFest East

U-15 RockFest East winners. (Photo, Curling Canada/Images by Bruno)

1. Amelia Benning (ON)
2. Charlotte Wilson (ON)
3. Raina Phillips (ON)

1. Trent Newport (ON)
2. Isaac Cram (ON)
3. Phynn Gallacher (ON)

U-15 RockFest Atlantic

U-15 RockFest East winners. (Photo, Curling Canada/Michael Boulay)

1. Mia Botten (NS)
2. Mya Ivany (NL)
3. Veronica Pater (PE)

1. Nathan Murphy (NL)
2. Nathan Mayo (NS)
3. Michael Hughes (NB)

Stay tuned for more information on the upcoming locations and dates for the 2025 U-15 RockFest season. More information will be available soon!

Curling Canada