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Jason Gunnlaugson targeting elite ranks with fresh new crew

Winnipeg skip Jason Gunnlaugson is adjusting quite well to his new role as the veteran leader.

The 32-year-old from Winnipeg is calling the shots with a talented trio of young gunslingers fresh out of juniors. Colton Lott, Kyle Doering and Robbie Gordon had a sensational season last year with their former skip, Matt Dunstone, winning the Canadian junior men’s championship and bronze at the world juniors. They also went on a remarkable run at the Manitoba provincial men’s championship ousting top rinks like Team Lyburn and Team Carruthers en route to a runner-up finish.

Netting those top prospects is the equivalent in other sports to holding three lottery draft picks and Gunnlaugson has been having a blast with his new crew despite the roughly 10-year age difference.

“On the ice it’s fantastic, off the ice I feel really old,” Gunnlaugson said with a laugh. “No, it’s a lot of excitement and that makes it fun to put in all the practice you need.”

This season isn’t actually the first time they’ve played together. Gunnlaugson had taken a hiatus from competitive curling and first linked up with the team as a gun-for-hire spare skip at the 2015 provincials when Dunstone was occupied overseas representing Canada at the Winter Universiade in Spain. Of course Gunnlaugson stole the show blowing up a quarry of granite with his trademark hard-throwing takeout and the chemistry they established helped sow the seeds for their eventual union this season.

“They obviously had a tremendous season last year,” Gunnlaugson said. “Two years ago their old skip, Matt Dunstone, went to the Universiade. I wasn’t playing so they got me to skip them in men’s provincials. We had a decent run and all became friends, so when Matt was moving on to a different team, they gave me the call and I was all too quick to get to lead a talented squad that I currently have.”

They also faced off this past season at provincials with Gunnlaugson, who returned to full-time competition playing third for Team Lyburn, falling to Team Dunstone in the Page Playoffs 3 vs. 4 game.

“We got them the first time and then they got us when it mattered in the playoffs,” Gunnlaugson said. “I think I just had a high level of respect for their game and that made it easy to want to become a teammate.”

Team Gunnlaugson set up shop in Hamilton to start the season and have already played four events in three weeks across Ontario highlighted with their first title win at the Performance Spider Mid-Week Special in Waterloo and a qualifying finish against the top teams in the world at the Shorty Jenkins Classic in Cornwall.

“We’ve played a ton but we thought if you’re taking that time off work or off school and those sort of things you might as well try and bank as many points as humanly possible,” Gunnlaugson explained. “We rented a house in Hamilton and we’ve had a great trip. It’s been a lot of fun.”

So far it’s all going according to plan with Team Gunnlaugson leading the 2016-17 Canadian Team Ranking System (CTRS) standings with 92.383 points amid a crucial season for qualifying to next year’s Canadian Olympic Curling Trials.

Gunnlaugson’s goal for now is to work his way back into the elite ranks and return to the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling. He last played in the series at the 2013 Players’ Championship when he threw third stones for Team Cotter of Vernon, B.C. While it varies from event to event, the top 14 teams on the World Curling Tour’s Order of Merit are usually guaranteed invites to the Grand Slams and Gunnlaugson is currently on the outside looking in sitting 19th.

“We’re working really hard to try and make sure we’re in the Slams and getting those opportunities,” Gunnlaugson said. “I think we’ve moved up to 19th now and we’ll be battling for the next month to try and get in the first if not the second Slam.”

Team Gunnlaugson return home this weekend for the Mother Club Fall Curling Classic in Winnipeg.