Newfoundland is headed to the men’s final of the New Holland Canadian Junior Men’s Curling Championship in Langley. (Curling Canada/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

Newfoundland is headed to the men’s final of the New Holland Canadian Junior Men’s Curling Championship in Langley. (Curling Canada/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

Gold medal games get underway at the New Holland Canadian Junior Curling Championship in Langley

In men’s play, Newfoundland/Labrador takes on Manitoba #2; in women’s action, Alberta plays Manitoba

Playing in his third New Holland Canadian Junior Men’s Curling Championship, Daniel Bruce had enough veteran savvy to understand the virtue of patience.

Five ends into Saturday’s men’s semifinal at the George Preston Recreation Centre, Bruce’s Newfoundland/Labrador team from St. John’s was down 3-2 to a Saskatchewan team skipped by Rylan Kleiter that seemingly had all the momentum going its way — twice forcing its opponents to settle for single points, while scoring a deuce of its own and stealing a single.

But this being junior curling, it’s a given that momentum is a tenuous concept at best, and the sixth end confirmed that; Bruce, backed up by third Ryan McNeil Lamswood, second/vice-skip Joel Krats, lead Nathan King and coach/dad Dennis Bruce, manufactured a wonderful sixth end that resulted in a game-turning steal of two.

And just over an hour later, it was Bruce celebrating his first trip to the gold-medal game with a 9-8 victory.

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“This is my third year here, and you see it all the time — other teams get up, but the game’s never over,” said Daniel Bruce, a 21-year-old communications student at Memorial University in St. John’s, who grew up in Corner Brook. “We just kept playing hard, hoped for a couple misses, and we were lucky enough to get them.”

They did indeed; in the sixth, Newfoundland-Labrador forced Kleiter (backed by vice-skip Trevor Johnson, second Joshua Mattern, lead Matthieu Taillon and coach/dad Dean Kleiter) to attempt a testy draw to bite the button looking at three opposing counters.

The draw was just inches heavy — and suddenly the one-point Saskatchewan lead was a one-point deficit.

“That draw just went a couple inches too far, and that was the difference,” said Kleiter, who also wopn a bronze medal at the 2019 New Holland Canadian Juniors in Prince Albert, Sask. “We had trouble getting the momentum back after that. We came here with a goal in mind and didn’t quite accomplish it, but we have a lot to be proud of.”

Saskatchewan was forced to take one in the seventh to tie the game, but Newfoundland/Labrador turned up the heat in the eighth, and it paid off with a count of five that all but sealed the victory.

“Our philosophy all week was patience equals podium,” said Dennis Bruce. “We knew we were still in the game, and we were loose. We were loose all week, and to some extent, we knew we had nothing to lose. So that’s the way we played. The key thing was that we hadn’t put their skip under any pressure, so we had to change that up, and it worked.”

With the win, Newfoundland/Labrador advances to Sunday’s 2 p.m. gold-medal men’s game against the Manitoba #2 team skipped by Jacques Gauthier, a silver-medallist last year with JT Ryan, who aged out of juniors.

It is the first time Newfoundland/Labrador has had a team in the men’s final since 2004 when Matthew Blandford lost to New Brunswick’s Ryan Sherrard at Victoria. Three years earlier, Brad Gushue captured Newfoundland/Labrador’s only Canadian junior men’s gold medal to date.

“It would mean everything — for Newfoundland, for us, for all of our hard work,” said Bruce, who also skipped Memorial University to a silver medal at the 2019 U SPORTS Championships. “We all deserve it. It would be nice to bring (the championship) back to the Rock.

“I didn’t see this coming. Well, I did — we’re definitely good enough, actually seeing it play out is kind of amazing. I’m kind of starstruck in a way. I mean, we’re definitely good enough, and everybody played amazing today.”

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In women’s play, Alberta is to play for back-to-back women’s gold .

It almost didn’t happen.

Abby Marks; the 20-year-old skip for Team Alberta at the 2020 New Holland Canadian Junior Curling Championships had a reasonably open tap to score what should have been a game-turning deuce in the ninth end of Saturday’s women’s semifinal against Nova Scotia’s Taylour Stevens (Halifax) at the George Preston Recreation Centre.

But her shooter would roll too far and Alberta would settle for a single and a 5-4 lead, giving last-rock advantage to Nova Scotia.

Fortunately for Marks, she would shake off that miss, and rally the troops to hold Nova Scotia to a single point in the 10th, and then score the winning point in the extra end without having to throw her final stone in a 6-5 victory.

With the win, Marks and her team from the Saville Community Sports Centre in Edmonton —vice-skip Catherine Clifford, second Paige Papley, lead Jamie Scott and coach/dad Doug Marks — advance to Sunday’s 9 a.m. women’s gold-medal game against undefeated MacKenzie Zacharias of Manitoba (Winnipeg).

It will be a chance for Abby Marks and Papley to win back-to-back gold medals after they played vice-skip and lead respectively for the Selena Sturmay-skipped Alberta team that prevailed last year in Prince Albert, Sask.

The relief on Marks’ face after the game was obvious.

“It was hard,” said Marks of the ninth-end miscue. “We just had to put that end behind us and move on, and take it shot by shot. It may have taken me a shot or two to get over it, but my teammates were super supportive; I couldn’t ask for better teammates.”

From Papley’s perspective, there was never a question that her skip would come back strong.

“She’s a pretty self-sufficient individual, and I think she knows that we don’t need to say anything to her because we know she’s making the next one,” said Papley.

While Alberta is going for back-to-back gold medals, Manitoba will be seeking its first Canadian junior women’s title since Kaitlyn Lawes won consecutive championships in 2008 and 2009.

The winners of Sunday’s gold-medal games will represent Canada at the 2020 World Junior Curling Championships, beginning Feb. 15 in Krasnoyarsk, Russia.

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