Mike Hutchings rose from the depths of C at northerns to the highest level of provincial men’s curling.
The Morinville Curling Club rink of Hutchings, third Roland Robinson, second Brian McPherson and lead Travis Cooper qualified for the Boston Pizza Cup with four wins in the C event during an eight-game run at northerns earlier this month at Lloydminster.
“It was a marathon for sure,” Hutchings said. “Our goal all season long was to get provincials so it was nice to fulfill it.”
The 12-team provincials start today at Grant Fuhr Arena in Spruce Grove and the first game for Hutchings is against Jeremy Harty of the Glencoe Club of Calgary at 9:30 a.m.
The winner plays Ted Appelman of Spruce Grove at 6:30 p.m. and the loser drops down into the B bracket for Thursday’s 2 p.m. game.
“If we put a good week together our goal is to try and make it to Saturday and get to the C qualifier and we’ll see what happens from there,” said Hutchings, a Bellerose Composite High School physics teacher and winner of four consecutive St. Albert men’s bonspiels before losing the 2013 final to a touring South Korean rink.
Visit www.2018bostonpizzacup.com for draw times and lines scores.
The last provincials for Hutchings was 2009 in Wainwright, curling with McPherson and the Skarban brothers, Kevin and Derek, and they finished 1-3.
“I don’t think we’re favourites going in but I do feel we’ve got more of a shot this time than we did in Wainwright,” Hutchings said. “Wainwright had Martin and Ferbey and Koe and if you got lucky and beat one of them you have to beat two more.”
Brendan Bottcher of the Saville Centre is the defending champion, Appleman is No. 2 on the Alberta Tour who lost last year’s final in an extra end and Charley Thomas of the Crestwood, the northern B qualifier, are considered the teams to beat to represent Alberta at the Tim Hortons Brier, March 3 to 11 in Regina.
“The big guys (Kevin Koe rink is the Team Canada rep at the Olympics) aren’t here this year but there is a lot of good teams,” Hutchings said.
Robinson, a Canadian and world junior champion in 2006 with Thomas as the skip, is curling in his seventh provincials and last year marked his first time as a skip out of Manning.
Cooper is also a familiar face on the competitive circuit.
On the Alberta Curling Federation tour, the newly-branded Team Hutchings lost out in the quarter-finals at the Avonair, lost the qualifying game for the playoffs in Calgary to Karsten Sturmay of the Alberta Golden Bears, a two-time U21 Alberta champion who is competing at provincials as the top team on the Alberta tour, and “had an off weekend” in Airdrie.
“We like to put lots of rocks in play. We do mix it up a little bit,” Hutchings said. “When the A game is going our lead will get the end going really well and then the two guys in the middle, if something goes wrong they can bail us out and make that big shot to kind of either get us back into the end or put the other team away, and then hopefully I can just finish it off as skip.”
Hutchings and his rinkmates saved their best for last at northerns after wins of 9-3 against Barry Chwedoruk of Lac La Biche and 9-4 against Ed Ehle of Lloydminster and the 9-4 semifinal loss to Thomas in seven ends in the A bracket and the 6-5 extra-end loss to Adam Norget of the Saville Centre in the B bracket.
“We had two tough ones early on and then we started playing better and the confidence started getting there and off we went,” Hutchings said. “We were fairly confident going into the last day that if we play like we can we should get a berth.”
In the C bracket, Hutchings posted wins of 9-3 against Shane Parcells of the Saville Centre and 9-8 against Corey Leach of Lac La Biche with a three-ender in 10 on Saturday and the next day defeated Norget 9-4 before polishing off Derek Miller of Strome 8-5 in the final.
“The other guys played fairly well but we had pretty good control of the whole game so we weren’t concerned. We were the better team. We should have won. We were favoured and we went out and did what we needed to do,” said Hutchings of his breakthrough performance at northerns after several close calls with a variety of different lineups.
“We’ve lost our fair share of finals so it’s nice to get one on the right side finally,” said the 1999 provincial high school champion representing Morinville Community High School.