Dan Barnes, Edmonton Journal
Published January 27, 2017
NTC-affiliated teams skipped by Val Sweeting from the Saville Centre and Nadine Chyz from the Glencoe Club in Calgary are among the 12 women’s foursomes fighting for a ticket to the Scott Tournament of Hearts in St. Catharines, Ont., next month. Geri-Lynn Ramsay, whose youthful North Hill foursome from Calgary bounced Sweeting out of the A event on Thursday morning, has spent some quality time at the Glencoe NTC, so too has Casey Scheidegger’s young team from Lethbridge.
Kelsey Rocque’s 20-something foursome from the Saville isn’t here, but only because they’re representing Canada at the Winter Universiade in Almaty, Kazahkstan. Otherwise, the NTC contingent would be even deeper, its impact on the draw and the dropping demographics at this event more obvious.
“It’s becoming a younger woman’s game, and a younger man’s game too. I think that’s because we can help them reach that elite level sooner and a little more surely,” said Rob Krepps, head coach of the NTC at the Saville Centre. “We’ve got people who were in our little rockers program, so nine and 10, now moving onto the varsity teams. A kid can be with us for 10 to 15 years, so they’re not kids anymore. It’s the competitive lifespan model.”
It’s working because the best ice, coaching, competition, training facilities, sport medicine, science and technology are available at the Saville for about 10 months a year. The centre is churning out talent and piling up championship banners and is pretty much what Bruce Saville envisioned back in the formative stages of his 10-sheet labour of love on the U of A’s south campus.
“I wanted to do something for the sport that went beyond sponsoring bonspiels and teams. The one thing I had in the back of my mind, and I stuck to it each time they tried to trim the budget, was the quality of the facility,” he said Thursday. “We had to have the best ice plant you could buy. We had to have the best de-humidifier, or whatever that thing is called up in the rafters.
“We had to have it so we could attract the good players initially and then they would want to come here. Teams are coming from all over the country now.”
It’s a busy place, all right, but the elite teams take priority.
“The fact that we get to train there as a team collectively, with good ice conditions, every week, with an incredible coaching staff, that’s the difference,” said Lori Olson-Johns, who plays third for Sweeting. “That consistent practice with all eyes on us, that has really helped us with our games.”
In 2010, Sweeting won Alberta and was the youngest skip to represent the province at the Scotties. Rocque has world junior and national university titles. Having them on the Saville ice at the same time as much younger curlers helps development of the next generation, too.
“Any time you have champions around you, you raise the level of play. It’s nice that we have that. It’s nice that we have the depth,” said Olson-Johns.
If Paul Webster could export the Saville program model and infrastructure to the NTC he runs in Calgary, he would do it in a heartbeat.
“They are radically different models. From a pure development standpoint, I’m jealous of what they’re able to do in Edmonton, being integrated with the University of Alberta,” said Webster, who is also Curling Canada’s national development coach and a prime reason curlers knock on the Glencoe doors.
After spending about five years in the NTC program at the Glencoe, Chyz is a big believer in its impact.
“They’re able to provide ice and resources for teams to learn and grow with the game, to practice and be at their best. I think it’s done a really good job of contributing to teams’ success. You look at the studies on sweeping techniques, a lot of that was done through the national training centres, to allow those tests and training to be used by the top athletes.”
But there is only so much room after priority is given to carded and national team curlers, and Ramsay’s rink didn’t get a spot at the Calgary NTC this year. She skipped for the first time last season, the team didn’t make it to last year’s provincials, and has moved on to the North Hill club. She said it’s important that the NTCs continue to make room for young rinks.
“I hope its (focus is) to build on younger teams that are learning, moreso than just helping teams that are already great. So to get teams like ours and Scheidegger’s team, they got into the program this year and they’re having a great season. Chyz as well. So it’s good for teams that are not quite there to get that help. That will really benefit Alberta, I think.”