While it wasn’t the finish he was hoping for, Airdrie curler Aaron Sluchinski is still pleased with his showing at the 2021 Home Hardware Mixed-Doubles Canadian Championship, hosted in Calgary from March 18 to 25.
Competing alongside Brittany Tran at the Markin MacPhail Centre “curling bubble,” Sluchinski went out of the competition with a 9-8 loss in the round of 12 against eventual winners Brad Gushue and Kerri Einarson. Sluchinski and Tran ultimately ended the tournament with a 4-3 record.
“I’m pretty proud of what we accomplished in the week, considering we were ranked 25th out of 35 teams and ended up in the top nine,” Sluchinski said. “At the same time…I feel every game we played, we had a shot at winning.”
Representing the host province, Sluchinski and Tran got off to a solid start in pool play on March 18, defeating Team New Brunswick 7-3, before losing 8-5 in their next battle against Kadriana Sahaidak and Colton Lott. The Alberta pair rallied back from that setback to win their next two matches – 8-6 over Clance Grandy and Patrick Janssen and 14-1 over Team Nunavut.
Following that blowout was a tournament highlight for Sluchinski – a game against Jocelyn Peterman and Brent Gallant, which was broadcast on TSN. While Sluchinski and Tran ultimately lost the match by one point, he said playing on TV was a terrific experience.
He and Tran then wrapped up round-robin play with a 1-0 victory over Joanne Courtney and Darren Moulding to advance to the round of 12.
After advancing to the knockout stages with a 4-2 record, their round-of-12 defeat to Gushue and Einarson was a game of inches, according to Sluchinski, and almost ended in a dramatic comeback. After being down 4-0 after the first end and 7-2 after the fourth, he and Tran crawled their way back into contention, bringing the score to 8-8 after seven ends.
“They played two really good ends at the start,” he said. “We couldn’t keep up and they got a lead on us. After that, I thought for the next six ends, we controlled the play each end and made it close.”
Unfortunately for Sluchinski and Tran, Gushue and Einarson picked up a single point in the final end to claim the 9-8 victory.
“We ended up losing by three inches – [Einarson] hung a draw at the back of the house just in time to beat us,” Sluchinski said. “It was national competition and a lot of fun to see how we stacked up against the best in Canada.”
While the competition itself was fierce and a great experience, Sluchinski acknowledged competing in a bubble was a bit anticlimactic. Like other professional athletes amid the COVID-19 pandemic, curlers have competed in empty arenas, with no spectators watching the competitions in-person and the athletes being confined to their hotel rooms when they are not competing.
“You had to rely on [video chats] with the family and stuff like that,” Sluchinski said. “It was good I could hang out and play games with my partner, but that was pretty much the extent of social interactions.”
With nothing left on his curling calendar this season, Sluchinski said he will hang up the broom until next fall.
“It sounds like Alberta is going backwards again, here [with our COVID-19 cases],” he said. "I think there are four more bubble events in Calgary, but none of those are for mixed doubles. Our next event will be in September, probably.”
By winning the tournament, Gushue and Einarson will represent Canada at the world mixed-doubles championship May 17 to 23 in Scotland.