Team Sluchinski gets serious, feels 'legit' in bid to win curling provincials

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The drive is alive in Aaron Sluchinski.

After years of casual concern for competitive curling, the Airdrie skip has upped the ante in his regard for the sport, checking in these days to commit like never before in the chase for glory …

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Both at the men’s and mixed levels of the games.

“Yeah … I’d say until about last year, I was more of just a casual curler,” Sluchinski said. “Like I played competitive but just kind of three or four events a year.

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“But last year was kind of when I decided I wanted to give it a real run,” continued the 2008 Alberta junior champion. “So we put together a team and we’ve been putting in a lot of hours and a lot of practice and a lot of events.”

It has meant a seismic shift for Team Sluchinski, having reared its head the last two winters to become an Alberta ‘contender’ in men’s circles.

Their hope is that status changes to ‘champion’ this week in Hinton, where the 2024 Alberta Boston Pizza Cup runs Wednesday through Sunday to crown a provincial king and representative for the Montana’s Brier, March 1-10 in Regina.

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And with such victory among 12 provincial rivals, Sluchinski and his Airdrie Curling Club crew — also comprised of third Jeremy Harty, second Kerr Drummond. lead Dylan Webster and coach Mickey Pendergast — can insert themselves into élite company, with those who have dominated the event in the last 23 years.

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We’re talking those fearsome foursomes skipped by Kevin Koe, Kevin Martin, Randy Ferbey and Brendan Bottcher — the only Alberta kings since 2000, with eight, seven, five and four titles respectively.

“Before, when you had all those top teams there, you were coming into the event just trying to keep your head above water,” said Sluchinski, heading into his 11th Boston Pizza Cup.

“Like, when I first started playing men’s, you got Martin and Ferbey and Koe, and then all sudden, you’ve got Bottcher and (Karsten) Sturmay,” continued the Drayton Valley native. “Everybody’s just so good that you have to bring your best just to win any of those games and then there was always so many other good teams around, too.

“Now a lot of those other teams are older and out of it. So Alberta now at the provincial level is pretty young, actually. I’ll be one of the older skips there.”

So he’s saying there’s a chance.

OK, Koe and Bottcher are still on the scene.

But regardless of their finish in Hinton, the reigning two-time title-holders skipped by Koe are already assured of a Brier berth based on a fourth-place standing in last season’s Canadian Team Ranking System points board.

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And Bottcher won’t even be at provincials, having already punched a ticket to the Brier based on finishing second on that CTRS ladder.

“Without both of them there, we feel we have a legitimate chance to win,” Sluchinski said. “I mean … you only have to beat Koe this year.”

Of course, Sluchinski knows first-hand that’s still quite the tall task, reminded by the fact he lost to The Glencoe Club skip and his squad in the semifinals last year at the provincials in Enoch.

And it’s not like the other 10 teams at provincials are pushovers, either.

Kitscoty’s Sturmay — a perennial contender — joins Koe and Sluchinski as qualifiers from their respective success on the World Curling Tour, while Calgary Curling Club’s Ryan Parent and Edmonton’s Johnson Tao — repping the ever-successful Saville Community Sports Centre — are there on Alberta Curling Tour points.

The other seven rinks — Calgary’s Cole Adams (CCC), Calgary’s Jared Jenkins (North Hill) Edmonton’s Andrew Dunbar (Crestwood CC), Edmonton’s Jacob Libbus (Ellerslie), Edmonton’s Ryan Jacques (Saville), Sexsmith’s Daylan Vavrek and Grande Prairie’s Scott Webb — fought their way through quality playdown action to qualify.

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Make no mistake about it, the 12-team B.P. Cup field features the usual array of top-shelf talent.

“I’ve always felt like we had the talent to compete, but then we weren’t consistent enough,” Sluchinski said. “When you go against those top guys, they just don’t take a shot off or an end off.”

So Sluchinski & Co. got serious.

They have upped their focus the last two years, coming together quickly to find success this season, by winning a couple of Curling Stadium Alberta Tour stops in Leduc and Beaumont and competing in three Grand Slam of Curling events, in which they gained invaluable big-game experience.

“We go into every game expecting to win now, so that’s a big improvement,” added Sluchinski. “It helped that I played some mixed doubles with Brittany Tran (winning provincials last year) and we ended up playing against lots of those top curlers. When you’re playing against them and you’re going toe to toe with them, it was a fun. It brought back some more interest in playing at a higher level. So then I started taking it more serious.

“And now, on the men’s side, we’ve made our way up in the world ranking. So now I feel like we can legit compete against these top teams.”

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EXTRA ENDS

The provincials at Bill Thomson Arena begin Wednesday with the opening draw at 1 p.m. … The format is triple-knockout, with four playoff combatants decided after qualifying through A-, B- and C-event action … Sunday’s 3 p.m. finale crowns a champion.

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SCHEDULE

Wednesday’s games

Draw 1, 1 p.m.

A Event

Webb vs. Libbus

Tao vs. Vavrek

Jacques vs. Dunbar

Adams vs. Jenkins

Draw 2, 6:30 p.m.

A Event

Koe vs. Webb-Libbus winner

Parent vs. Tao-Vavrek winner

Sluchinski vs. Jacques-Dunbar winner

Sturmay vs. Adams-Jenkins winner

Thursday’s games

Draw 3, 9 a.m.

Games TBD

Draw 4, 2 p.m.

Games TBD

Draw 5, 7 p.m.

Games TBD (including A qualifier)

Friday’s games

Draw 6, 8:30 a.m.

Games TBD

Draw 7, 1 p.m.

Games TBD

Draw 8, 5:30 p.m.

Games TBD (including B qualifier)

Saturday’s games

Draw 9, 1:30 p.m.

Games TBD (including C qualifiers)

Draw 10, 6:30 p.m.

Page Playoff games

Sunday’s games

Draw 11, 10 a.m.

Semifinal

Draw 12, 3 p.m.

Championship

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