WESTLOCK - After months of preparation and five days of high-calibre curling action, the Rotary Spirit Centre and the Town of Westlock are coming down from a high that may not be matched for some time to come.
The 2020 Boston Pizza Cup Provincial Men’s Curling Championship wrapped up early Sunday evening with Brendan Bottcher’s Sherwood Park rink using the hammer in the last end and the skip’s last rock to secure a 7-6 win over Karsten Sturmay’s Edmonton rink and a spot at the Tim Horton’s Brier in Kingston, Ont. in March.
The Feb. 5-9 event saw a few thousand spectators, all of them fans of Canada’s second most popular sport, fill the seats at the Spirit Centre, to personally see who would represent Alberta in the Brier, the national men’s championship, one of the world’s biggest stages for the sport.
Organizing committee chair Stephane Gervais, who was likely running on fumes by the time the final concluded called the five-day event “spectacular.”
He estimated attendance to be 15-20 per cent higher than the 2017 event, but it was too soon to confirm actual numbers.
“I don’t know if people expected it to be what it was (in 2017) and how big of an event it is. When they saw it, they came back this time,” said Gervais, adding that having the Bottcher rink back in town to compete was also a big draw.
The work of more than 200 volunteers came to fruition, as all aspects of putting on such a large event, came together just right, starting with the Westlock Curling Club members who organized the second such event of this kind since 2017.
“We had volunteers from Edmonton, up north, who were just curling fans. I’ve lived here for 18 years and I’ve been meeting volunteers who were coming out of the woodwork. It was great,” said Gervais.
The opening ceremonies, MC’d by CFCW’s Jackie Rae, took place Wednesday evening, with all 12 teams lining up to be introduced and take part in the spectacle of an elite sporting event.
With the traditional bagpiper leading the way, each team that followed was led by a different young curler.
Kadin Chamzuk was out in front of the Bottcher team, proudly carrying their placard.
“I just signed up to carry a sign and they put me with Bottcher,” the St. Mary School student said afterwards. “It was pretty nerve-wracking, I didn’t want to fall.”
He also had the opportunity to mingle with the players and maybe pick up a few tips for his own game.
“I got to talk to some of the players and I was out of the ice a couple times to talk about how they were going to do in the tournament,” said Chamzuk on the memories he won’t soon forget.
Westlock mayor Ralph Leriger, Westlock County reeve Lou Hall and Athabasca-Barrhead-Westlock MLA Glenn van Dijken all said a few words to welcome the curlers, their family and friends and the assembled crowd.
The ceremonial first stone was thrown by long-time curler Dan Shank, who after 61 years of taking part in the sport, both competitively and for fun, delivered the rock right to the button, on what was likely the largest sporting stage he has ever been on.
“I was very nervous,” said Shank, who threw his first curling rock at the age of 10.
Sweepers Carter Clark and Carter Taylor played their part in making sure the stone arrived at its preferred destination.
“I threw the right weight and was pretty close … The biggest thing was to get on the ice and make sure I didn’t fall,” said Shank.
Following the opening ceremonies, it was time to get down to the business at hand. While the crowd to watch the procession of curlers was relatively sparse, numbers grew greater and greater throughout the week until the final draw on Sunday afternoon, where the audible gasps of cheering fans and the sound of their cowbells was even louder than the calls to ‘Hurry hard!’ on the ice.
It was packed.
All sides of the facility were crammed with vehicles, including the open space adjacent to Keller Field, which was plowed for the occasion.
As you came closer to the venue, you may have been directed where to park by a member or friend of the Westlock Taekwondo Club, who volunteered to do shift work throughout the weekend to make sure everyone found a parking spot.
Julie Peterson was out there Saturday afternoon and thankfully the sun was shining that day.
“I have five great-grandchildren that are in taekwondo and they needed help with parking today, so that’s what I’m doing,” she said.
Peterson had already covered several two-hour shifts outside conducting traffic, but was also able to help out inside. She volunteered at the meet-and-greet with all the curlers that took place Tuesday, was at the social event as well and was scheduled to work inside on Sunday.
“I’m helping everybody and I love it. And I love curling, I’m a huge fan,” she said.
Her young counterparts were eager to help out as well. Audyn Ewaskiw and Sierra Fedyna are both part of the taekwondo club and thought it was “cool” for the town to be hosting such an elite event.
“I wanted to do something besides sitting at home and watching TV,” said Ewaskiw. “It’s fun, besides the part where everybody tries to park where they’re not supposed to park. It’s fun because we get to be the boss.”
“It couldn’t happen to a better town,” said Peterson. “We support our town very much and we support our children, that’s the huge thing, making sure our children are out doing what they need to do.”
Once inside, blue vests identified the volunteers, each doing their own small part for the event, whether it was taking tickets, serving food or drinks, directing people to their seats or handing out passes to other volunteers, media and VIPs.
Joe Kuhar’s job was to schedule and keep track of volunteers and what they were doing at any particular time. He was tucked away in a dressing room Saturday afternoon where Shirley Pierce and Sharon Kryvenchuk were handing out passes.
Pierce said she volunteered at the event in 2017 and “had a blast.”
An avid curling fan herself, Pierce said she just enjoys working with people.
“I enjoy everything about it,” she said.
Kryvenchuk isn’t the biggest fan of the sport, but instead came out in support of the community.
“I volunteer because, especially in a small community, the only way things happen is if you volunteer,” she said.
“It’s just what we do in a community,” said Kuhar. “If you want things to happen you have to step up and make things happen. That’s why I do it. In a community, success only comes by everyone doing their part to make things happen and I think you’re always proud of the community from which you come so you want to be involved in the success of any event that happens.”
So, how about one more time in 2023?
Gervais isn’t exactly ready to commit just yet.
“We’ll have to take a little break before we figure that one out,” he laughed. “It’s a lot of work.”