Rink heads north in search of mixed gold

STEVE GREEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:55 AM ET

They may have "done that" in terms of winning a provincial mixed curling title, but they've never "been there" when it comes to playing for a national championship in Nunavut.

Yet that's what 12 teams will be doing -- including Wayne Tuck's Ontario champions -- starting Saturday at the Arniatok Arena in Iqaluit, capital of Canada's newest Arctic territory, carved out of the eastern half of the Northwest Territories in 1999.

This will be the first national championship in any sport to be staged in Nunavut.

Tuck and his rink of wife Kim at third, Jake Higgs at second and his wife, Sara Gatchell, at lead, all live in Strathroy, but curled out of the Brantford Golf and Country Club when they won the provincial title last April. It's their second nationals, having finished third in 2002 in Halifax.

And a familiar face awaits up north -- 2002 champ Mark Dacey of Nova Scotia, who begins as the heavy favourite.

The fact the Ontario rink has been there before should make it a cinch to make the final, but not so fast, Wayne Tuck said yesterday.

"We don't even think that," Tuck said. There's a really hot team in Alberta (Tom Appelman) that qualified. They've played three spiels this year and won them all.

"The last time, you could pick any team and it had someone who'd been to a Hearts or a Brier. This time, it's a much younger field."

Still, there's no discounting the experience gleaned six years ago, Kim Tuck acknowledged.

"The big thing is going to be going with the flow," she said. "We're going to a place none of us have ever been. The surroundings are going to be different, there's maybe five hours of daylight and not a lot else going on, so you have to deal with that.

"It's going to be a long week, we know that from last time. But I'm super-excited about going there. It's somewhere I'd probably never get to visit otherwise.

"And I've played in provincial finals when they've been in smaller communities in Northern Ontario that are a bit like Iqaluit and they completely embrace the championship. The whole town's going to be in on this."

Some things are different from 2002, a big one being the championship's timing.

"The last time we went, it was in January. Then we'd have our own men's and women's rinks and maybe practise once a week together through October and November and then do more in December," Wayne Tuck said. "This time, about a month ago, we sat down and it was like, 'We're here already.' It's not like last time when you could start the season and not have to worry about the mixed right away."

Another change is the fact the Page playoff system that has been used for several years now isn't being used, mainly because the event isn't being televised. Instead, the top three (after any tiebreakers) make it, with the first-place team in the round-robin getting a berth in the final.

As well, last rock isn't predetermined. Instead, one player from each team will draw to the button before each game, making it possible that a team could start all of its games with the hammer.

One thing hasn't changed, though, and that's the chemistry on the Tuck rink.

"It's a combination that's won in the past," Kim said. "Even though we hadn't played together since 2003, the first game in zones (last February) it was like it always was.

"You're not going to find four more individually competitive people than us, but because we are such good friends, if something happens on the ice, we can deal with it right away."


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