By Zachary Cormier
Curling fans in Lacombe are in for a treat this weekend as the 2016 Optimist U18 (Juvenile) Alberta Championships roll into town.
“We have 12 of the best young teams in Alberta in attendance,” said Don Gullekson, the chair of the three day long tournament, which will be hosted at the Lacombe Curling Club.
The weekend’s curling action will feature both the boys and girls competitions, with each side featuring six of the top teams in the province.
The tournament, Gullekson said, is part of a package that the Lacombe Curling Club had with the Alberta Curling Federation that saw them host the Boston Pizza Cup Men’s Provincials in 2014 and the Alberta Scotties Tournament of Hearts last year.
“You get three events when you take on that project of hosting provincial championships, so this is our final one,” he said, adding this event was quite a bit easier to plan than the previous two.
“This is the least amount of work for us. It’s held in our own curling rink and it certainly is lower key than the other events.”
This year’s field of competitors includes the top two teams from each of the province’s three curling associations. Those six teams then compete in a round robin-style tournament and the one with the best record at the end of the weekend is crowned the provincial champions and go on to represent Alberta at the Optimist U18 International Curling Championships in Edmonton at the end of the month.
“The curling’s going to be outstanding. From this stage they go onto other championships. Past juvenile champions have gone on to the Scotties and the Briar and those sorts of things, so it’s a stepping stone for them to that next level,” Gullekson said.
He also noted because the curling is at such a high level, he hopes that the event will be able to draw a large amount of spectators.
“We get to showcase some of the best young curlers in the province. We’re hoping that young people come in, take a look at it and say, ‘I can do that.’ So we’re hoping it will encourage people to take up the sport.”
Eryn Love-Hollman, Emily Plett, Mackenzie Johnson and Sasha Tran of the Red Deer Curling Centre make up the only team from Central Alberta in the tournament this year, as they compete as the Southern Alberta Curling Association A team on the girls’ side this weekend.
“There is the team out of Red Deer that’s competing and certainly we have past champions that were in our local club here too, so certainly Central Alberta has good representation in this event,” Gullekson said.
Teams from Edmonton, St. Albert, Falher, Fort St. John, Manning, Black Diamond and Calgary will also make the trip out to Lacombe this weekend to participate.
“We’re encouraging people to come out and take a look and take an opportunity to take a look at the arena. I mean, there’s a major renovation happening here so it’s the last time you’ll see it like this, it’s going to change. So it’s a good time to come down and take advantage of it.”
The Optimist U18 Alberta Championships run at the Lacombe Curling Club from Friday through Sunday this week. Draws are at noon and 4 p.m. on Friday and Saturday with one draw at 9 a.m. and any necessary playoffs on Sunday. Admission is free and a full draw schedule and list of teams and standings can be found at www.curlingprovincials.com.