Former Minden curler goes for gold at Ontario Winter Games
By Darren Lum
Published Feb. 6, 2018
Going undefeated at the Ontario Winter Games qualifier is sending a former Minden curler to new heights.
Alyssa Denyer, a former Red Hawks curler and current Laurentian University student in Sudbury, with her teammate Max Blais of Smooth Rock Falls, earned the berth at the Ontario Winter Games Under-21 Mixed Doubles Qualifier B event from Jan. 27 to 28 in Lindsay with a 4-0 record (9-4, 9-8, 8-7 and 9-8).
Denyer said it will allow her to grow as an athlete.
“The berth means a lot of new and exciting things, and a whole lot of learning! Max and I only started curling together this year, when we realized it’s our last chance to be able to qualify for Ontario, and then Canadian Winter Games,” she wrote in an email. “The secret to our success mostly revolves around our positive attitude and never doubting our abilities to come back when we’re down or keep a lead when we’re up. In a game like mixed doubles, the score can go in any direction at any time, but we were able to pull through undefeated with great shot making and incredible sweeping.”
Representing Sudbury Curl, the curling club in Sudbury, they were one of six teams to qualify for the Winter Games, which will be hosted in Orillia in March.
Denyer ranks this among her high school curling achievements, which include a trip to the all-provincials after winning a Central Ontario Secondary School Athletics championship title in 2016. In the same year, she skipped a team that included Tori Hawley, Alanna Casper and Emily Parish, who won the Gore Mutual Schoolgirl Provincial Championships title.
The Haliburton Highlands Secondary School alumnus started curling with the Minden Curling Club when she was 12.
Studying sports psychology, Denyer said her education has made her aware of the importance of team dynamics, confidence and focus.
“I’m able to notice when myself or a teammate is slipping. It’s made everything a whole lot more interesting as I’m able to understand why we do what we do sometimes. I certainly think it has made me a better curler and teammate,” she wrote.
Blais has had curling success on the national level.
Just a few weeks ago, he won silver at the 2018 New Holland Canadian Juniors with his team, Northern Ontario.
Denyer said she saw Blais at Sudbury Curl. Then she had a class with him at Laurentian and the two became friends.
She said they get along well, on and off the ice, as they share personality traits such as being “easygoing and supportive.”
A strong partner in mixed doubles is essential for success, Denyer wrote.
“With mixed doubles you have to be confident in your choice in teammate because you really only have each other to fall back on,” she wrote. “Max is also a very well rounded player, playing lead for Tanner Horgan, he’s become very experienced after being to nationals so many times. He has a great concept of angles, which is helpful in a cluttered game like mixed doubles, and is able to throw any shot called. Not to mention having him as a sweeper definitely makes a lot of shots.”
Denyer appreciates the support she has received and credited Russ Duhaime in the past for her game.
Duhaime, who has coached Denyer for years and was there for her achievements, was happy for the pair’s achievement.
The mixed doubles category is new and has become more popular since it was added to the Winter Olympics, he points out. The last curler from this area to qualify for the Ontario Winter Games was his son, Owen Duhaime, who won silver with his team in 2010.
He said the field at the qualifier was “pretty solid” so it all came down to composure.
“I think the main difference was their ability to stay calm even when things weren’t going their way. They’ve had a ton of competitive experience this season and they play with nerves of steel. Twice, they had to fight back from big deficits to salvage wins,” he wrote in an email.