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Matt Dunstone feeling hungry, motivated heading into GSOC events

If you thought skip Matt Dunstone and his Saskatchewan teammates were feeling low heading home from the Brier with another set of bronze medals, think again.

Of course, Dunstone, third Braeden Moskowy, second Kirk Muyres and lead Dustin Kidby wanted to win and represent Canada at the world championship. That was the goal and losing stings, no doubt. After putting it into perspective though, Dunstone felt fortunate to even play after the COVID-19 pandemic brought an abrupt end to last season and kept his club out of action until the Canadian men’s curling championship in the bubble at Calgary’s WinSport Arena in March.

Team Dunstone, which calls Wadena, Sask., home this year, were also able to quickly recharge and refocus on heading back to the bubble for two Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events starting with the Humpty’s Champions Cup on Wednesday followed by the Princess Auto Players’ Championship.

“To be out there playing again, competing, feeling all the emotions of the game, I think we feel very grateful to have experienced that again,” Dunstone said in a phone interview last week. “It brought some sense of normality into our lives and just being around the guys, competing with them, with that group specifically.

“Obviously, we didn’t finish it off like we had planned, but this is such a fun group to be around and to continue to work with and grow with. I feel very grateful to have them by my side and look forward to doing it again. We proved we’re right there. It’s just a matter of continuing to put ourselves in that position.”

It was quite possibly the toughest Brier ever with 18 teams including two additional wild card entries and only three making the playoffs. When past champions like Brad Gushue, Brad Jacobs and Wayne Middaugh all miss the playoffs, you know it’s stacked. Dunstone posted a 9-3 round-robin record to finish in a tie for second in the standings and only missed the championship game after Alberta’s Brendan Bottcher made a Hail Mary angle-raise takeout in the semifinal with the last shot of the game to score two points to win 6-5.

“It made us believe we belonged in that group and we can win those big games, play those big teams and beat them,” said Muyres, who joined the team this season after skipping his own squad previously. “I think that was the biggest takeaway for us, to build that confidence knowing we belong among that group.”

There was little letdown after that semifinal loss knowing there was still more in store for Team Dunstone to continue to trend upwards with their eyes on the prize at the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events.

“We definitely want to take one of these home, two of them maybe, but the fields are so tough so to expect to win two of them is pretty tough to do, obviously,” Dunstone said. “We want to go out and show everybody what we’ve got. If we come out with a win or two it would be fantastic. There’s going to be no let up from this team after the Brier bronze. We’re still hungry and as motivated as ever to go out and compete and win. You’re not going to see us take the foot off the gas for these events.”

Consistency has been an issue for Team Dunstone in the past. After an emotional victory capturing his first Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling men’s title last season at the 2019 Masters, Dunstone missed the playoffs in the following three events in the series. The only way to shake that off is to just continue to go out there and play your best and that’s something they were able to do through the duration of the Brier. Moskowy earned first-team all-star honours at third, plus Dunstone and Muyres finished within the top five at their respective positions in shooting percentage.

“I think everyone knows that at the top of the game it’s about consistency,” Muyres said. “It’s about week in and week out playing well and usually the results will follow that. We’ve been talking about that since the team came together: How do we develop that consistency? We’ve implemented a few things within our team to help breed that going forward. It was awesome at the Brier to see us play that consistent way and hopefully we can keep that going into the next event.”

Dunstone has been known in the past to fire ridiculous runbacks and angle raises and he was a bit disappointed he was held off the Brier highlight reel. However, that speaks volumes to the strong play of his teammates who didn’t put him into a position where he needed to make those types of shots to bail them out.

“I can’t say enough about the three guys in front of me,” Dunstone said. “They’re so good at what they do. Braeden and what he does for me in the house and what he does for our team, the energy he brings for this team, he’s one of the best thirds in the game. Every single guy on this team is one of the best at their positions in the game and they all bring something unique to this team, something so valuable to this team, and it’s what makes this group so fun.

“Kirk’s fit in on this squad like a glove, just a seamless transition. The world saw what Kirk brought to our team at the Brier: the energy, the positivity and who he is as a person in those big moments. It speaks for himself what he can do out on the curling ice. [Kidby] is Mr. Automatic. He’s far and away the most underrated lead in the game by a mile and every single day he goes out there, competes his butt off and he’s the best lead on the sheet every time no matter who we play as far as I’m concerned.”

Muyres said he had a boatload of fun finally getting to play his first event with Team Dunstone, in the Brier no less, after the anticipation of a year doing nothing but planning and preparing.

“To see the dynamic on the team, we just seem to be really good personalities for each other and we seem to know how to really bring out the best in each other and work together as a unit,” Muyres said. “For us to go out there and do that, it was really exciting.”

Normally based in Regina, Team Dunstone banded together and headed north to the small town of Wadena to practise prior to the Brier. For two weeks they did nothing but eat, sleep, curl and bond together. Dunstone said it was like “curling fantasy land” as they practically had the Wadena Re/Max Curling Club all to themselves and ice makers Scott Comfort and Dustin Mikush were on call to prep the ice for them ahead of time. Team Dunstone just had to walk five minutes to the club and even shut off the lights and locked up the doors when they were done. Once word got out Team Saskatchewan was in town, the community rallied around them dropping off meals.

“It was a phenomenal experience, something we’re going to remember forever,” Dunstone said. “It’s something you don’t ever think you’re going to experience by any stretch of the matter but to have that training camp after not being on the ice leading up to the Brier, I couldn’t ask for a much better situation for our team.”

While other teams were nervous hitting the ice at the Brier, dealing with rust and speed wobbles from the long layoff, Team Dunstone were all tuned up.

“We did two weeks of really intense training on good ice and good hospitality,” Muyres said. “That was an amazing experience too. We were ready for the Brier and our bodies were ready for the task.”

Team Dunstone also relied upon mental performance coach Adam Kingsbury. You can see Kingsbury’s influence in action with Dunstone pausing for that extra second in the hack to focus and take a deep breath to cool his heart rate before lining up a high-pressure shot. They’ve bonded as friends too, and Dunstone called Kingsbury one of the most unbelievable people he’s ever met.

“To have that sort of friendship outside of curling where you can talk with Adam about literally all things life, we’re just so appreciative to have him,” Dunstone said. “He brings so much to the table about perspective and how the game should be played. … The bond between us five is unbreakable, to be honest, and it’s a tribute to Adam, what he’s done and the culture he’s built on our team. We’ve all bought into it, want to continue that culture moving forward and continue to grow it. Adam is one of the best guys in our game and we’re pretty lucky to have him on our side.”

Muyres also appreciated having Kingsbury with them in the bubble to help them navigate through that uncharted territory and called him one of the best mental coaches in the game right now.

“It’s very isolating and a lot of factors go into that just from a mental health standpoint, so having him there for that was huge,” Muyres said. “His ability to get the team around and build a good culture in the room is just amazing. It’s the first time I’ve been a part of that with Adam but to see the way he conducts himself, get the best out of his players and get the whole team to come together as a unit, it was just amazing. I’m lucky to know him as a person and a friend.”

Playing in the bubble might be the new abnormal for now, but as Team Dunstone heads into the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events, the skip credited Curling Canada and the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling for doing a great job of keeping everyone informed and knowing what they’re getting into, which in turn makes him stoked to play.

“The information being given to us, very clear about what’s necessary and whatnot in the bubble,” Dunstone said. “Everybody’s done such a good job of it and I can’t say enough about all the work [GSOC] has put in, Curling Canada has put in to make this all happen. … Having to get your temperature checked every day, the testing obviously, the checking in and out of the hotel and at the arena and changing before you go. Outside of those little things it feels like a regular event, all things considered. There were no real curve balls thrown our way or nothing that we experienced that we already didn’t know going into it and that’s just hats off to everybody who’s organized this, everybody who’s put in blood, sweat and tears to make this all happen.”

Team Dunstone begin their Humpty’s Champions Cup run Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. MT against Team Gushue. Broadcast coverage of the event starts Thursday at 2 p.m. ET / noon MT on Sportsnet.