Kirk Muyres summed up the importance of winning the KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge Tier 2 in one word: Huge.
His Saskatoon-based squad — featuring his brother Dallan Muyres at lead plus twins Daniel and Kevin Marsh at second and third, respectively — went undefeated through the event last season to earn a promotion into the top ranks of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling.
Considering it was not only the first season for the team but also for Muyres switching positions to skip on the men’s tour, the victory provided a significant boost across the board.
“When you talk about a team that’s growing and trying to get better, to be able to play against the best teams in the world at the Grand Slams, on TV, in arenas, that experience you just can’t beat it,” Muyres said during a phone interview earlier this month. “For us to be able to win that Tier 2 event and get into a few of those Grand Slams in our first season together, it was huge for our growth.
“I think it gave us a lot of confidence moving forward knowing that we could compete at the top level.”
Muyres, currently No. 18 in the world, is targeting a return to the top flight as his team headlines next week’s KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge Tier 2 men’s division in Pictou County, N.S.
Both men’s and women’s divisions feature 16 teams with 10 teams selected from the World Curling Tour’s Order of Merit rankings (after the Tier 1 divisions have been set) plus six teams from Atlantic Canada. Tier 2 winners collect $10,000 from the prize purse and are guaranteed a spot against the world’s best in the 2020 Meridian Canadian Open in Yorkton, Sask.
That gives Muyres extra motivation to compete in a home-province Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event. Not that he needs it.
“I think every time we go out and play an event we try and win it,” Muyres said. “It doesn’t matter what event it is — whether it’s Portage [Canad Inns Men’s Classic] or a Grand Slam event or a Tier 2 event — we want to win it.
“For us, we’re going to head out to Pictou County there I think as the No. 1 seed, so we’ll have a target on our backs to win that Tier 2, but I think we can do it. We get a nice paycheque, we get to experience playing in Grand Slams and then we’ll be invited back to a few of the other Grand Slams that we’re just on the fringe of. It would be huge to win it and I think it would solidify our spot into those Slams for the near future anyway.”
The “win or bust” mentality is one of the reasons why failing to repeat will be seen as a letdown.
“We go into an event planning to win it; We go into the SaskTel Tankard provincials every year planning to win it,” said Muyres, who represented Saskatchewan at the Brier last season. “If you don’t win it you’re disappointed and you go back to the drawing board to figure out what you need to do better.”
That isn’t going to be easy though as Muyres acknowledged there are some other really good teams his squad will have to face.
“The difference between Tier 1 and Tier 2 to some level is very minimal, so we’re going to have to be really good obviously to win it,” Muyres said. “But we expect ourselves to go out there and perform and give ourselves a chance to win it. Sometimes that’s all you can do. Sometimes you’re on the right side of the inch and sometimes you aren’t, but hopefully, we are.”
Typically a slow starter, Muyres is in good spirits heading into the KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge as his team has bucked the usual trend by qualifying for the playoffs in three of four events to start the year.
“I don’t know when was the last time I qualified in three events before Oct. 1,” Muyres said with a laugh. “Normally, we have a slower start but we’re feeling pretty good, to be honest. We’ve qualified, we’re playing some really good curling, we’ve made a little bit of cash to pay for some of the season. …
“The teams I’ve been a part of over the last few years, we really ramp it up mid-October or November. To start early and get that momentum going, build up some points and that sort of thing to go into these events later in the season, we’re feeling really good. Hopefully, we can continue that trend as the season progresses.”
That bodes well for Muyres’s chances at the KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge Tier 2 with the stiff competition they’ll face.
“It’s kind of on that same trend,” Muyres said. “You slowly get better and better and ride that wave for a few months and get some of the valuable points and get yourself into the top 15 in the world, which is the ultimate goal for most teams that play.”
Muyres added another playoff appearance since this interview reaching the semifinals at the Medicine Hat Charity Classic.
The KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge begins Tuesday night at Pictou County Wellness Centre with Team Muyres kicking off their Tier 2 men’s title defence Wednesday morning against Team Bryce.
NOTES: The KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge is the second of six Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events on the season and the largest in the series with 62 teams in action. … Winners of the Tier 1 divisions receive $30,000 plus berths towards the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup taking place April 29 to May 3, 2020, in Olds, Alta. … Also up for grabs in the Tier 1 divisions are Pinty’s Cup bonus points. The leaders following the conclusion of the Players’ Championship in April will capture the Pinty’s Cup with additional prize money awarded.