Zawada good enough to win

JIM BENDER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:49 AM ET

It was just a short year ago that Braden Zawada was preparing to play in his last Manitoba junior men's championship as a third.

He followed that up by skipping a squad into his first men's provincial playdowns. Last week, Zawada was one of the top seconds at the Canadian Curling Pre-Trials in Prince George, B.C., helping Manitoba's Jason Gunnlaugson earn one of the last four available berths into the Canadian Curling Trials in Edmonton next month. And suddenly, Zawada and his teammates are not that far away from realizing their dream of competing in the Olympics. All they have to do is win the trials facing the top seven teams in Canada right now.

"I just turned 21 and it's crazy to even think of the Olympics," Zawada said late Monday. "Sure, we may be huge longshots but the same thing happened with (Newfoundland's Brad) Gushue at the last trials. If we're good enough to be there, we're good enough to win.

"We know our capabilities and there is no doubt in our minds that we can beat the teams there."

Yowza, Mr. Zawada. Them could be brash bulletin-board words.

Gushue, who was given little chance to emerge victorious, surprised everyone and went on to win the gold medal at the 2006 Olympics.

Gunnlaugson has already beaten all kinds of odds. This is his first year skipping and he just picked up Zawada at the end of last season after parting ways with skip Daley Peters. Lead Tyler Forrest is the only member of the team that had ever competed at a national competition (2003 juniors) and they were seeded No. 12 in a 12-team field in Prince George.

"It's a great feeling when you're an underdog team and you have as much confidence as we do," said Zawada.

Zawada and Forrest impressed with their composure and skills on the ice during such a pressure-packed event.

"The front end was just phenomenal," said Gunnlaugson, also supported by third Justin Richter. "And for a guy who just turned 21, Braden was just unbelievable."

Even their opponents were impressed.

"Zawada is a really good, solid player," said Jon Mead, third for Ontario's Wayne Middaugh. "He's really cool and has a head on his shoulders. That means Justin and Jason don't have to bail guys out and they can be more aggressive."

Although he competed on arena ice at the Safeway Championship in Selkirk last year, Zawada had never competed in such a major event before so many people.

"That being the biggest event I've ever played in, I have no doubt I can play well in that setting," he said. "I have confidence in my ability and that showed last week."

Now, with the ghost of Gushue on their minds, the more elite teams in Edmonton are not about to take Gunnlaugson lightly.

"I don't think we'll inspire fear in too many," said Gunnlaugson, who has beaten Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton twice, Ontario's Glenn Howard and Middaugh and Alberta's Kevin Koe once each this year -- and they will all be in Edmonton.

"Our chances are much better on that huge stage than they would be in a bonspiel because, like in Prince George, there will be so much pressure on everyone else," said Gunnlaugson, who is 0-2 versus Alberta's Kevin Martin and has not played the other two.

"We've played against great competition all year and when you play the best, you play your best," said Zawada, a University of Manitoba forensic anthropology student who plans to be a police officer. "It's a huge event and the outcome would be to be Team Canada at the Olympics. If we can't do it this year, maybe we can for the next Olympics, or the Olympics after that."

jim.bender@sunmedia.ca


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