Canadian curling teams open strong in Sochi


Al Cameron

(ISN) – It was a perfect opening day Saturday for the three Canadian teams competing at the World Mixed Doubles, World Senior Men’s and World Senior Women’s Curling Championships in Sochi, Russia.

The Calgary duo of Charley Thomas and Kalynn Park beat a former world champion in their mixed doubles debut, while the Canadian senior teams, skipped by Lois Fowler of Brandon, Man., and Alan O’Leary of Halifax, also were victorious.

Playing against 2013 world mixed doubles champions Zsolt Kiss and Dorottya Palancsa of Hungary, Thomas and Park set the tone early with a first-end steal of three at the Ice Cube Curling Center.

Hungary had a chance to even the score with an open takeout in two, but Kiss’s shooter rolled out, leaving only two rocks in play, and an end later, Park bailed out the Canadians with a wonderful short runback to score one, looking at three Hungarian counters in the four-foot.

Hungary crept back into the game with a draw for three in the fifth end, but Park threw a big-weight take-out in six to score another deuce and take a 9-5 lead. A deuce by Hungary in seven wasn’t enough, and the game ended with a 9-7 win for the Canadians.

Park and Thomas, supported by coach Jim Waite, outshot their Hungarian opponents: Park had an 88 per cent shooting average and Thomas shot an impressive 93 per cent. But both players felt there was room for improvement.

“A lot of preparation went into this,” said Thomas after the match. “We’re pretty happy, but we have a little ways to go as far as performance goes.”

“We want to be a little bit sharper next game, and keep it going,” said Park.

On Sunday, the Canadian duo will play England’s Lana Watson and Alan Macdougall (1 a.m. ET) and Estonia’s Maile Moelder and Erkki Lill (10:45 a.m. ET).

Selected games from the World Mixed Doubles Championship will be streamed live online. Go to the event website,, to see the games and broadcast schedule. Canada’s games against Spain (Monday, April 20, 5:30 a.m. ET) and Scotland (Tuesday, April 21, 7:30 a.m. ET) will be televised.

In World Seniors play at the adjacent Iceberg Skating Palace, meanwhile, it took O’Leary and his team of third Andrew Dauphinee, second Danny Christianson, lead Harold McCarthy and coach Bill Tschirhart a few ends to get rolling against Latvia’s Ansis Regza. Trailing 3-0 after three ends, the Canadians got on track in four, scoring one and then stealing the next two ends on the way to a 5-3 victory.

“This is a sigh of relief,” said O’Leary afterwards. “We came out just a little nervous more than anything. Latvia played great for the first few ends, but our coach (Tschirhart) gave us a tough talk at the fourth end break, so we just got focused and had a couple of breaks.”

On the women’s side, Fowler, with third Maureen Bonar, second Cathy Gauthier and lead Allyson Stewart and coach Tschirhart, stole a huge six points in the fifth end for an 11-1 win over Italy’s Fiona Grace Simpson.

“We’re very pleased,” said Fowler. “We started a little slow, but overall we’re very comfortable. We just need to stay focused on the broom.”

The World Seniors competition is taking place at the same arena that housed the figure skating training facility during the 2014 Winter Olympics.

“We’re absolutely enthralled by Sochi,” Fowler said about the experience of competing at the former Olympic site. “It’s unbelievable to see all the infrastructure left from the Olympics. The opening ceremony was amazing — beautiful with all the costumes.

“We’re just enjoying every moment,” she added.

On Sunday, the men have two games, facing Kazakhstan’s Viktor Kim and Czech Republic’s Matej Neznal, while Fowler will play only one game, against New Zealand’s Wendy Becker.

The round-robin draws for the World Seniors and Mixed Doubles will run through to April 23 before the playoffs get underway. There are 24 senior men’s teams, split into three eight-team pools; 13 senior women’s teams, split into two pools (one seven-team pool, one six-team pool); and 30 mixed doubles teams split into three pools of 10.

On April 24, the senior men’s and women’s gold-medal and bronze-medal games are scheduled for 6 a.m. Eastern, with the mixed doubles gold-medal and bronze-medal games at 8:30 a.m. Eastern.