Junior spiel a Kennedy Classic

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Forty U18 rinks competed at the inaugural Marc Kennedy Junior Classic at the St. Albert and Jasper Place curling clubs last weekend

The stars of tomorrow shone bright at the Marc Kennedy Curling Classic.

The future of curling was on display at the U18 bonspiel, as 40 male, female and mixed rinks showcased their skills last weekend at the St. Albert and Jasper Place curling clubs.

“It was a lot of fun,” said a beaming Evan Van Amsterdam of Edmonton, the winning skip in Sunday’s well-played competitive final against Kelsey Dixon of Calgary.

“They really put on a great spiel,” Dixon added. “It’s a lot of fun because it’s the end of the year. It’s a good wrap up. You see all your friends. Some people aren’t going to be here next year and it’s a good chance to see everyone before the season is over.”

The inaugural Kennedy Classic, presented by Sarasota Homes & Realty, replaced the Kevin Martin Junior Bonspiel at the Saville Centre, which ended after a lengthy and successful run.

“We had a great group of people that said, ‘Let’s do this.’ I’ve been so busy and I can’t do it but the people around me have made this work and it’s wonderful,” said Kennedy, the third for the Brier champion Kevin Koe rink at worlds, starting Saturday in Basel, Switzerland. “I remember playing in some great spiels when I was a kid. Kevin’s junior spiel was one of them and having that experience is why we did this so the kids can have something to remember.

“It’s come together wonderfully and what a perfect club to have it in. St. Albert Curling Club is just the perfect venue. It has the perfect history behind it for me and I hope the kids get a nice taste of it.”

The guest of honour at the Kennedy Classic was the coveted Brier Tankard.

“It’s cool in a fun way because really it’s about giving back and getting to see the kids with the trophy. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do,” said Kennedy, who won his third Brier in seven trips to the Canadian curling championship March 13 in London, Ont. “I’ve got great teammates and we had a great week at the Brier. We’ve enjoyed every minute of it so it’s nice to be able to come out here and share it with a lot of people that were a big part of me growing up. There are people here that have been around since I was a young kid so it feels great.”

So, how did Kennedy get to be the keeper of the Brier on Saturday?

“You know what? I asked a favour,” he explained. “After we won, I sat down with (my wife) Nicole and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have the trophy for the junior spiel?’ So I sent an email to Curl Canada and I asked a favour from Danny Lamoureux, the director of competition. Danny wrote me back right away and said where can I send it so that was super nice. The kids will get a kick out of it.”

The Brier arrived at Kennedy’s door in two crates.

“I signed for it. Took the crates apart. It comes in a couple of metal boxes. It comes with screws and a couple of wrenches and you put it together yourself,” said Kennedy, who had the Brier “hanging out in my home” before and will ship it back after worlds.

The junior bonspiel brought back memories for the three-time U20 Alberta champion and national silver medallist as the second for Carter Rycroft in 1998.

“Winning those three junior provincials were awesome. A couple with Jeff Erickson (1999 and 2001) were really special and winning with Carter Rycroft, I was pretty young so I don’t think I realized what we had won at the time.

“There was also the Canada Winter Games (in 1999 in Corner Brook, Nfld.) and that was the only one where I actually represented St. Albert with Mark Pfeifer and Kevin Skarban and Aaron Sarafinchan so those were pretty incredible memories that set me up for a wonderful career in curling,” said the 2010 Olympic gold medallist and one of eight curlers on the St. Albert Curling Club’s wall of fame in the Hec Gervais Lounge.

The next provincial, Brier and world champion, or Olympian, rocked the ice at the Kennedy Classic. The curlers, ranging in age from 10 to 17, formed 10 competitive and eight intermediate male rinks, eight competitive and five intermediate female rinks, one competitive and three intermediate mixed rinks and five recreation rinks.

The three-day event consisted of eight pools of five rinks apiece to determine the playoff pairings.

The competitive final featured the Van Amsterdam foursome of Jared Scharff, Benjamin Helston and Andres Van Amsterdam of the Saville/Crestwood/Calgary Garrison clubs against the Dixon lineup of Ryan Parent, Kathryn Lepine and Lisa Parent of the North Hill club.

Van Amsterdam counted two in the first end and Dixon replied with singles in two and three. A deuce in four made it 4-2 for Van Amsterdam and after the fifth end was blanked Dixon counted one in six. Van Amsterdam answered with one in seven and the 5-3 lead remained intact.

“We just stuck together,” Van Amsterdam said. “We kept it close the whole way. We got lucky breaks here and there and when we got that deuce (in four) that was pretty clutch.”

It was the first loss for Team Dixon after six wins.

“It was close but I wish it was a little bit closer. Overall, it was a good effort,” Dixon said. “It wasn’t our best game this weekend but we definitely showed up.”

“They played really well,” Van Amsterdam added. “They had good draw weight throughout and were making every come around. They made it tough for us.”

Team Van Amsterdam also finished 6-1 and one of the victories was in the semifinals against Ryan Jacques, the 2016 U18 juvenile provincial champion from the Saville Centre.

“We were arguably in the toughest pool and we were still able to pull through. We were then able to beat the Alberta champions in the semis and we played really good in that one,” said Van Amsterdam, 17, who won a recent Alberta Schools’ Athletic Association men’s championship with Scharff for the Strathcona Lords.

Dixon, 16, who competed at the junior and juvenile provincials this year with Lepine and Parent as her front-end, is passionate about the Roaring Game.

“I just fell in love with the sport and the people I play with. It just wants me to keep coming back.”

HOG LINES: The winner of the intermediate final was Team Louie of the North Hills club over Team Crough of the Huntington Hills club of Calgary.

The recreation final was decided on the last shot for a young Team Nedohin of Sherwood Park, as Alyssa Nedohin drew for three in eight to edge Team Lozinsky of St. Albert 6-5.

The special guests at the Go Auto Hot Shots on Saturday night were Nolan Thiessen, a former Brier and world champion, and Dana Ferguson and Rachel Brown, former provincial champions with the Val Sweeting rink.

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Jeff Hansen

Jeff Hansen joined the St. Albert Gazette in 1991. He writes about sports, athletes and teams from St. Albert and area.