A St. Albert curler swept his way into the winner’s circle for the second time in five years at the senior men’s provincial championship.
Dan Holowaychuk, the second for the Wade White rink, returns to the Canadian 50-plus championships after a five-game winning streak at provincials, culminating with a tight 3-2 tussle against Kurt Balderston in last month’s final at the Dawson Creek Curling Club.
The Saville Centre team, with Barry Chwedoruk at third and George White at lead, will wear the Alberta colours at nationals, starting Monday at Fredericton, N.B.
“I’m glad for Barry and George. They haven’t been to a Canadians before,” said Holowaychuk, a bronze medallist with the St. Albert rink of White, Doug McLennan at third and lead George Parsons at the 2013 nationals at Summerside, P.E.I.
“That was my first trip and it’s kind of hard to beat that one. You always remember that one,” Holowaychuk added. “This was with a couple of guys who hadn’t been there so I’m more excited for them than myself. I know what they’re feeling right now because they don’t know what to expect yet.”
Nationals is now a 14-rink draw split into two pools compared to the 12-team round robin in 2013 when the White foursome finished 9-3 overall.
“There is definitely some comfort in being there before. It’s a long week and you’re not going to win every game and you’re not going to win every end so you’ve got to pace yourself and you’ve got to pace yourself in a lot of other things too,” said Holowaychuk, a valuable alternate on the legendary Ferbey Four, five-time Alberta champions, four-time Brier winners and three-time world gold medalists as the Alberta Curling Federations’ Team of the Century.
The six-day national event is not your average bonspiel.
“You’re playing two games a day all week long so you’re not used to being in an event for that long of a time, plus all the other things that come along with it. You get bagpiped marching out onto the ice (for the opening ceremonies) and you’re not used to that when you go to a bonspiel,” Holowaychuk said.
The lineup of rinks at nationals includes Mark Noseworthy, a skip for the Newfoundland/Labrador entry from St. John’s who has Brier experience, and Mike Kennedy, third for the Terry Odishaw rink of Moncton, N.B. who skipped his hometown provincial rink at the recent Brier.
Last year’s Alberta rep at nationals was Ed Lukowich, a former two-time Brier champion.
“Some of these guys will stick with the game as they get older and you’ll see them there,” said Holowaychuk of the calibre of the senior division that has spanned past and present Brier competitors over the years.
Holowaychuk, 54, has been a familiar face in the senior ranks since entering the quinquagenarian era of his life while curling with White, his longtime skip in the men’s playdowns and bonspiel circuit.
“When we haven’t been there at nationals we’ve been banging on the door and we’ve either lost the final or lost the semifinal so we’re either going or we’re close to going,” Holowaychuk said. “You’ve got to remember we’re not the rookies in the seniors anymore. There is a new batch coming in every year and the new teams that are coming up are, some of them are younger and fresh into it.”
The road to nationals started in the depths of the C bracket at northerns in January after White lost the first two games in the triple knockout at the Ottewell.
“The pressure came early in the northerns. We basically had one foot out the door where we struggled with the ice early at the Ottewell,” Holowaychuk said. “We were down 4-0 (to John Basarab) after five ends, we had given up a steal in almost each end, and then we cracked a five ender (in six) and then we forced them to one and then took one in the eighth to bail ourselves out.
“We had a little bit of a scare there.”
White would then rattle off five in a row, including a 6-3 decision in seven ends against Mark Pouliot in the C final.
At the eight-team provincials, White overcame another slow start with two wins in four games before catching lightning in a bottle.
The semifinal against Scott Egger of Calgary was decided by a last-rock steal by White.
“Once we got a little more accustomed with the ice we ran the table,” Holowaychuk said.
The final against the Balderston, third Terry Meek, second Rob Bucholz and lead Del Shaughnessy was too close to call throughout the low-scoring affair until White scored a pivotal deuce in six to go up 2-1 after forcing Balderston to settle for only one in the previous end.
Balderston tied it in seven and without the hammer coming home was left with a tough tap back and roll to the button, which would have forced White into a Hail Mary raise or perfect draw to the pin, but his shot was slightly heavy and didn’t curl enough, leaving White with the victory without having to throw the brick.
Leading up to skip’s stones, Meek’s double tap to the back of the button and Chwedoruk angle-raise peel added to the suspense.
“It was a well played game by both teams,” Holowaychuk said of the defensive battle. “A lot of our other games were close too.”
The provincial title was another notch on the belt for the St. Albert Curling Club wall of fame inductee in 2014.
Holowaychuk’s introduction to the sport started at age five at the Lancaster Park club and while his parents would socialize following their mixed games he would toss rocks down the ice.
In Grade 11, Holowaychuk and his cohorts at Archbishop O’Leary curled in a high school league at the old Sportex and Buddy Belly, the current president of the St. Albert Curling Club, was his first skip.
Curling became more than a hobby for Holowaychuk when he moved to St. Albert in 1983.
“I started out in what I kind of call the B circuit, all the small town bonspiels, and then I got into the competitive play. I like the competitiveness and as long as I still feel I can compete I will,” said the six-time club champion and skip for the winning St. Albert men’s rink at the 1989 Edmonton and area Tournament of Champions.
“We (White rink) still enter into the tour events and we play once a week only in the Super League and then we basically do bonspiels and then go for the playdowns,” said the 1993/94 provincial mixed finalists. “As long as we can still go out there and compete and make a buck we’ll keep doing it.
“You’ve got to play somewhere and you’ve got to practice somewhere and it’s good to have that experience playing against really good teams on the tour. It kind of gives you a good gauge and maybe that’s been part of our success with the seniors. It doesn’t matter who we’re going to play because we played some of the better teams around already.”