Former Red Hawks curler advances to nationals
By Darren Lum
Published March 12, 2019
Minden’s Alyssa Denyer is going to the Maritimes with her Laurentian University Voyageurs teammates to pursue a national university championship title with the support and inspiration of her hometown.
Denyer, a former Red Hawks curler, is proud to call Minden her hometown and to call the Haliburton and Minden curling clubs her home clubs. She learned how to curl with Minden, but both clubs have been supportive of her in her development and continue to be now, as she savours her silver medal earned at the OUA Curling Championships from Feb. 14 to 18 at the K-W Granite Club.
The second place finish earned her and her teammates Megan Smith, Kira Brunton and Mikaela Cheslock (and alternate Emma Johnson) a chance to represent Ontario at the upcoming 2019 U Sports/Curling Canada University Championships from March 15 to 19 in Fredericton, New Brunswick. The Voyageurs are one of three teams from Ontario, who will compete at the nationals.
To earn the national berth, Denyer’s Voyageur rink had to earn their spot in the provincial final after finishing the round-robin with a 4-3 record and were the fourth seed out of pool B.
The Voyaguers obviously weren’t at the top of the board, but they believed in their ability to improve. This belief manifested itself in a comeback win during the quarter-finals against the University of Toronto Blues, who had entered that game as the top seed of pool A with a record of 7-0.
The Blues were up 4-1 through the first five ends when Denyer’s rink scored two in the sixth to narrow the deficit to one. Down 4-3, the Blues responded with two points in the seventh and took a 6-3 lead into the final end. It’s reported that Voyageur skip, Kira Brunton scored three with a double-takeout to tie up the game and force extra ends. Laurentian University stole a single in the ninth end when the Blues (with three attempts) could not remove a stone on the button, which was buried by cover.
The Voyageurs hung on and won 7-6 to advance to the semi-finals.
In discussions with her coach, Ryan Lafraniere made them believe.
He told her team there is always a chance to win because of the team’s resilience.
“Coming back is like never impossible. Especially we have ... our skip Kira Brunton is super, super clutch and she’ll make any shot you ask her to,” Denyer said.
After the 6-4 semi-final win over the Brock Badgers, the Voyaguers found themselves in a similar situation during the final against the Queen’s Gaels, whose skip, Mary Fay is a 2016 Youth Olympic gold medallist, a 2016 Canadian Junior Championship winner and 2016 Junior World Champion. They pushed the Gaels to the final end.
Down by three, the Voyageurs had three in the house and looked poised to narrow the gap or tie.
The team was down 4-1 to the Queen’s Gaels at the fourth end break, Denyer and her teammates still believed.
However Voyageur skip Brunton was not able to score the necessary points to narrow the deficit when the rock she threw was affected by a pick, which is when a curling rock’s trajectory is disrupted by debris on the ice.
Fay didn’t need much to take advantage of the unusual turn of events, Denyer said.
“She just had to hit any rock and we lost so that’s what happened there, but we couldn’t be that upset. They were a super good team and super nice too,” she said.
The Gaels closed out the game and won 6-4.
Laurentian University has had strong results recently.
Denyer said it feels good to know she is part of the continuing success for the Voyageurs, who won the provincial championship and a national championship last year. It had been 14 years since the women’s curling team had won a provincial championships title and the last time the women had won a national title was in the 1990-1991 season.
At the start of the season, Denyer felt really good to just make the team, as it has a pool of really talented curlers to pick from.
To make the team, she submitted a resume and endured a “hotshot focus” session – points allocated to curlers based on shot making. She said the resume portion was interesting since her teammates who tried out for the team all won a gold medal at the age of 16 during the Canada Winter Games.
“I’m not that accomplished, but I’m a good curler,” she said.
The strength of this team, she said, was how well they came together this year despite not playing together before (with the exception of Denyer and alternate Emma Johnson).
“We knew that no matter [what]. From the start that we were going to get along,” she said.
Denyer said with a new team there are always differences related to how things like a practice is run and the way each other interact with another. When it came to this team it didn’t take much effort to iron out those details.
“It was as simple as a conversation,” she said.
The team is still growing together and is improving, Denyer said.
The third-year sports psychology student is a few years away from playing in high school, but holds strongly to something her former high school and club coach Russ Duhaime used to do before games.
So following a pair of losses during the OUA championship round-robin play, she repeated the often used mantra by Duhaime: Don’t you just love curling? The smell and the feel and the sound?
“He’d get all hyped up and try to get us hyped up. Sometimes I think about that and like, ‘Wow, I really do love this and he’s right. The smell, the feel and the sound. It all does just feel super good. That’s a way of like perking myself up when I’m not as energized going into the game,” she said.
She said usually she remains even-keeled during competition, but really needed to alter her attitude and the mantra did the trick.
Duhaime was Denyer’s coach for club competitions and for the high school teams, which included an OFSAA berth and winning the GORE Provincials Championships.
Even with the nationals still coming up to play, she is proud of her achievements thus far this season.
She was proud of making the team and being part of a group of talented and skilled curlers, which were chosen from a field of very talented curlers who are from the area near the university.
It’s an achievement to earn a university national berth, Denyer lists it as the best achievement of her curling career.
“This is definitely the most exciting ... I feel is most accomplished thing I’ve done,” she said.