Please excuse Reid Carruthers, it’s been a while since he’s had to skip and throw last rocks outside of his Tuesday men’s fun league.
Carruthers normally throws third for Winnipeg’s Team McEwen but will be in command for the upcoming Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events at Calgary’s WinSport Arena beginning Thursday with the Humpty’s Champions Cup followed by the Princess Auto Players’ Championship next week. Skip Mike McEwen will miss both tournaments to be with his wife Dawn, who is expecting the couple’s second child.
Although Carruthers has skipped in the past, capturing the inaugural Humpty’s Champions Cup in 2016, he is expecting to be a bit rusty after playing a traditional third role for the past couple years.
“I’m definitely going to have a tough job but I’m looking forward to the opportunity,” Carruthers said. “I really wish Mike could be there for us but family comes first. With COVID, being safe, and more importantly, they’re expecting No. 2, he’s got to be there to help out. All of us gave him our blessing to go for the birth of their second child.”
Joining Carruthers and second Derek Samagalski is Tyler Tardi, who will be subbing at third. The 22-year-old Tardi, from Langley, B.C., skipped Canada to back-to-back world junior gold medals in 2018 and 2019 and has been on Carruthers’s radar for some time. (UPDATE: Lead Colin Hodgson has opted out of the bubble and the team will play as a trio.)
“It’s hard not to be impressed by his poise and overall shot-making ability,” Carruthers said. “For us, I feel like we’re bringing in a sharpshooter. He’s got a really tough job filling in. We’re missing Mike, so we had to bring in a really high-quality spare and we think we have it with him.”
Team McEwen is No. 7 in the world although points and rankings have been on hold since the end of last year and will continue to remain paused for the time being. Still, there’s a lot on the line in the two Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events from prize money to being able to showcase their sponsors and seeing how they stack up against the best teams in the world heading into an Olympic season. Team McEwen will obviously want to perform well in the Players’ Championship considering title sponsor Princess Auto is their main supporter too.
“When you’re playing with a spare, are we expecting to go in there and win it? No, not necessarily, but I know with the lineup we have we definitely can,” Carruthers said. “We’ll have to approach it a little bit differently than what we do when we have our normal lineup but I think we’re all optimistic we’re going to have a strong showing in our last two events.”
Team McEwen competed as Wild Card One in the Brier last month but a shaky 2-4 start — including an upset loss right off the bat to New Brunswick — put them in the danger zone early. They bounced back with big wins over Northwest Territories and Yukon to level their record but it wasn’t enough to advance to the championship pool.
Carruthers stuck around in the bubble to compete in the Canadian mixed doubles championship with Selena Njegovan, who also throws third for Team Fleury. The pair actually planned to play together last year and into this season but the pandemic delayed their debut until nationals – they didn’t even get an opportunity to practise previously. Njegovan and Carruthers finished pool play with three consecutive wins and a 4-2 record but ended up in a logjam without tiebreakers and were eliminated based on draw-to-the-button shootout totals.
“With no tiebreakers, that was unfortunate because I would have loved to have seen how we could have done in a tiebreaker game and playoffs if we won that one,” Carruthers said. “I know we’re planning on playing together again. Hopefully, we get a chance to get some events in and try to get our way into the mixed doubles trials.”
Njegovan said it was so much fun playing mixed doubles with Carruthers.
“Everyone knows Reid is just so kind and he was just so supportive out on the ice,” she said. “We hadn’t played mixed doubles before so again another learning curve for us in the bubble but it was good.”
Playing too much too soon wasn’t a concern for either of them and both saw it as an advantage.
“It was really good for Selena and I to get the games on the ice and it’ll help,” said Carruthers, who won mixed doubles national and silver at the worlds in 2017 with Joanne Courtney. “Both our Brier and Scotties runs weren’t as long as we were hoping for so to get those extra games in will hopefully pay dividends for the Slams.”
Njegovan cited the fact the ice makers are the same through all bubble events so that knowledge of the field of play will also carry over into the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events.
“Greg Ewasko is one of the best ice makers in the world and the ice was perfect,” she said. “It was for sure very beneficial to have another week on the ice and get to play with those rocks again. I’m looking forward to getting back on the ice for the Slams.”
Other than the lack of fans, Carruthers didn’t find the on-ice part of the bubble experience all that difficult to adjust to. It was the off-ice part that was the challenge.
“The experience on the ice wasn’t all that different but when you have to stay in your room it’s a little bit different,” Carruthers said. “Limited team visits once you’re deemed eligible to visit with your team, that’s one of the things that I found that was a little bit different. Those first few days when you’re awaiting your second and third test result having to stay isolated in your room aside from maybe a little balcony, it was quite a bit different and it was trying a little mentally for sure.”
Carruthers plans to load up his truck for the trip and bring more stuff like a book, some games and exercise-related equipment to pass the time.
“I brought an exercise bike to my last room for the bubble for both the Brier and the mixed and that was nice to have,” Carruthers said. “It’s not like regular access to the hotel gym, you have to book a slot, you’re in there alone. We drove, we were able to bring a few things to the bubble, which was nice. We’re planning on driving again so I’ll be packing the truck up again that’s for sure.”
Team McEwen’s first game of the Humpty’s Champions Cup is Thursday against Team Jacobs. Broadcast coverage of the event starts Thursday at 2 p.m. ET / Noon MT on Sportsnet.