St. Albert Gazette
Published: Jeff Hanson – March 31, 2018
Last year’s long shots are this year’s front-runners at the Canadian Open Stick Curling Championship.
“I was hoping they would give us big bright red Team Canada jackets so the people would know who we were,” said Milt Larsen, who teamed up with Jim Russell to win the 2017 Sure-Shot Stick Trophy. “I figured if we had Team Canada Jackets we would put a target on our backs and away we go.”
The second nationals together in two-person stick curling starts Monday in St. Albert for the pair of 71-year-olds from the Mayflower Curling Club in Halifax.
“We just want to make sure that we’re as good as we can be at our age,” Larsen said.
“We’re excited,” Russell added. “We just played this past weekend. We were the runner up in our Maritimes championship. That was a good warm-up for us. We were 6-1 and it gave us some positive feedback that we’re ready to go.”
The top four teams in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island received invites into the Maritime Classic.
“We just barely got in. We didn’t do very well in our provincials, we finished sixth I think, but a couple of teams couldn’t make it so they called us at the last minute to be Nova Scotia number four so we managed to squeeze our way in but once we got there we worked hard and started to play reasonably well,” Russell said.
The duo were also the last-minute entry into the 2017 nationals, hosted by the Bluenose Curling Club in New Glasgow, N.S.
“We were kind of dark horses. We just barely got in as the 48th team,” Russell said. “We won a few games and we got into the final eight and then we just had a really good Sunday and won all three games.
“We really hadn’t won anything before last year so it was a great surprise.”
The goal was “Let’s just curl the best we can and see what comes out of it,” Larsen said. “We had I guess you could call it a magical day on Sunday and we won all three. At the end we sort of said, ‘Well that worked out really well,’ but we had no expectations because we didn’t know what kind of competition we would face.”
It didn’t take long for the retired Maritime Telegraph and Telephone Company employees to realize they belonged at nationals.
“We’ve got some good stick teams here in Nova Scotia. We’ve played them in provincials a couple of times and we’ve played them in cash spiels and we were holding our own and we were winning so we weren’t overwhelmed,” Larsen said. “We went into it with a relaxed frame of mind. We didn’t put any pressure on ourselves and that’s the key thing.
“It worked out fine for us.”
Larsen is a relative newcomer to stick curling while Russell started nine years ago after his knees gave out. They remain longtime rink mates in four-person curling.
“I was looking for someone to go into the competitive side of stick curling with and I asked Milt if he would like to go in with me about four years ago and he said sure,” Russell said. “We had to get him trained up, he’s a good athlete generally, so we just started playing in these stick events.”
It’s been a satisfying work in progress for Larsen.
“Stick is good. I can still curl conventionally and I probably will until my knees don’t work anymore but the stick is something new to learn and that’s how I approached it. It’s a new challenge and I went from there,” said the president of the Nova Scotia grandmasters (70-plus) curling association. “I started to get a bit more serious about the whole thing. I put a little extra effort into it this year practicing once a week and I also found an opportunity to play once a week with stick.”
The hardest part, according to Larsen, is draw weight.
“Conventional curling you sort of get the feel for it with your leg kick and with stick curling it’s more or less trying to judge speed,” Larsen said.
The biggest challenge for Russell is “driving hard enough out of the hack on the hits” as a slider.
“I push out of the hack and slide with the other foot, the same as regular curling so you don’t want to end up pushing the rock off line and it’s a constant struggle. Milt’s a slider as well and he is much better at the hit game than I am. He drives out hard and he just releases the rock really smoothly and does well,” Russell said. “A lot of guys and girls that are walkers do it because they can’t slide for various medical reasons. They feel uncomfortable, they feel their balance is off and they’re going to fall if they slide.
“There are a lot more walkers than sliders but I find that sliding is better. It’s a personal preference I guess.”
Russell threw his rock at age 15 and after competing at the 2009 Canadian masters (60-plus) championship with Larsen switched to the stick.
“My knees blew that summer and that fall I couldn’t do it so I started playing with a stick and Milt and the guys were good enough to let me continue on with the team that I’ve been playing on,” said Russell, who knew Larsen as cubicle neighbours at work (“He would throw spit balls at me”) before they started curling together. “I was pretty awful with the stick the first few years but I’ve been working hard at it and hopefully getting better as the years went on.”
There is no stick league at the Mayflower and Russell is the only stick thrower on Larsen’s four-man rink.
“You play five minutes with a stick. You throw the rocks and then you sweep,” said Russell, who curls three days a week plus weekend bonspiels.
“Stick is really a growth sport. People are getting older, the boomers are getting older, so more and more people are getting into it. It’s great,” said the grandfather of five.
Larsen agreed. “It’s growing in some areas in Nova Scotia and it’s not older curlers involved in it either. There are some that like stick instead of learning how to throw a rock,” said the grandfather of four.
As for the two-person stick curling format, “I would to see it be an Olympic sport like mixed doubles,” Larsen said.