Reid Carruthers entered the Canadian mixed doubles curling championship just looking to perform well enough to earn a berth for the Olympic Trials. Now it’s up to Carruthers and teammate Joanne Courtney to ensure those trials even happen at all.
Carruthers and Courtney, who posted a perfect 10-0 record last month en route to gold, will represent Canada at the world mixed doubles curling championship starting Saturday in Lethbridge, Alta. The pair also earned a mixed doubles trials spot, a tournament to determine the nation’s Olympic team, but Canada still has to qualify for the 2018 Winter Games.
It’s a process similar to how men’s and women’s curling spots are decided. The results of last season’s world championship and this year’s worlds are added to determine the seven countries (plus host South Korea) who will compete in the Winter Games. Marliese Kasner and Dustin Kalthoff represented Canada last year at the worlds and came in fifth place. A repeat finish may not necessarily guarantee an Olympic berth depending on how the event unfolds especially with a whopping 39 countries from Australia to Wales competing this year.
The Winnipeg native Carruthers, whose men’s team is ranked No. 3 on the World Curling Tour, welcomes the high-pressure opportunity.
“It’s definitely going to be a lot of pressure but at the same time at the start of the week [at nationals] I thought, hey if we can win this I definitely want to be the team that has to get the job done for Canada,” Carruthers said. “It’s something that I think will only benefit us in the long run, in both of our curling careers, having that pressure and being put in those situations that you can only get put into. You can’t just recreate that in a normal tournament atmosphere, so for us it’s going to be a great learning experience and hopefully in a good way.”
Neither Carruthers nor Courtney are strangers to wearing the Maple Leaf on their backs. Carruthers captured the Tim Hortons Brier in 2011, during his stint tossing second stones for legendary skip Jeff Stoughton, and claimed the gold medal at the world men’s championship that year. The Edmonton native Courtney, who throws second for Ottawa’s Rachel Homan, earned her first career Scotties Tournament of Hearts title just two months ago and also returned home with gold from the worlds.
While their full-time teams remain their bread-and-butter, mixed doubles has opened up another avenue for Carruthers and Courtney to play for their country on the global stage.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Carruthers said. “It’s been a few years since I’ve done that with a men’s team. I’ve been pursuing that dream [but] each year it seems like it’s getting harder and harder to try to get back there. This gives me an opportunity to have a bit of what that feeling would be like. Obviously there’s going to be big pressure because we have to do really well otherwise Canada will not be in the Olympics.”
Mixed doubles has a few differences from regular curling other than the fact it’s two people instead of four. Teams have a total of six rocks per end with one stone already in the house at the back of the button (with hammer) or guarding up top (without hammer). One player throws the first and fifth rocks while the other throws the second, third and fourth stones. The non-throwing player can either call line from the house (with the thrower getting up and sweeping their own stone) or help sweep the rock down the sheet during delivery.
Canada is at the top of the mountain in men’s and women’s curling as the reigning world champions and Olympic gold medallists there, but mixed doubles is a different story. Canada has medalled just once in the nine previous years at the world championship with a lone bronze from 2009. Switzerland (five), Russia (two) and Hungary (yes Hungary, with two gold medals) have owned the top of the podium. While the perennial powerhouses appear in the medal round, Sweden has four silvers and a bronze, you’ll also see the occasional New Zealand or Spain creep in with some hardware.
It’s that worldwide appeal that led to mixed doubles curling’s inclusion on the Olympic itinerary for 2018 with the discipline set to make its full-medal debut in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The lure of representing one’s country and chasing gold at the Olympics is too much for even those committed to their full-time teams.
Of course there is a conflict with the world mixed doubles championship coinciding with the Humpty’s Champions Cup, which starts Tuesday in Calgary.
Sarah Wilkes subs for Courtney on Team Homan for the final Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event of the season while Team Carruthers, sans Carruthers, will be making a roster shuffle as they look to defend the men’s title. Third Braeden Moskowy, second Derek Samagalski and lead Colin Hodgson are all moving up in the lineup and alternate/adviser Craig Savill, a two-time world and 12-time Grand Slam champion, makes his Team Carruthers debut throwing lead stones.
Carruthers is confident Moskowy, who skipped Saskatchewan to the Canadian junior title in 2011, will do well in the captain’s chair even if it has been a while since he’s called the shots.
“I think he’s going to do well. He has a pretty darn good resume as a skip in his junior career,” Carruthers said. “It has been a few years, I think he was saying it’s been five or six years since he’s actually skipped, but at the same time being a third you’re very much involved in all of the decision-making. The biggest thing I guess for him will be throwing the last rock and having all of that weight on his shoulders. When he has his confidence going he’s one of the best out there, so I like their chances of doing well there.”