British Columbia skip Tyler Tardi and vice Sterling Middleton accomplished something that no curlers have ever done Sunday.
The long-time teammates became the first players to win three straight New Holland Canadian Junior titles as they won the 2019 men’s championship in a thrilling 7-5 affair against J.T. Ryan of Manitoba at the Art Hauser Centre.
“It’s such an incredible feeling,” Tardi said. “To be able to do this with one of my best friends makes this extra special.”
“When I started curling with Tyler about five or six years ago now, our goal was just to make it to the Canada Winter Games,” Middleton added. “It’s been unreal to see how far we’ve come, not just as curlers but as friends.”
Of the pair’s three championship wins, Sunday’s was easily the most dramatic, as Ryan scored five unanswered points to lead after seven ends after he gave up a three-ender in the second.
Tardi made a fantastic takeout to score two points in the eighth to tie the game and moved back out in front after stealing a point in nine when Ryan was unable to clear the house in an attempt to keep the hammer coming home.
“Going into the ninth end, we were going to be pretty happy if we forced him to a single or if we stole a point, considering we were just down by two,” Tardi said.
“Our chances weren’t exactly 50/50, but I knew the guys were going to fight hard.”
Tardi made a picture-perfect freeze on his last shot in the final end to sit shot stone, with Ryan electing to throw back-eight weight to try and get inside Tardi’s rock on his last, but the Manitoba’s skip shot ended up crashing off a guard.
“I thought we were a little wide and heavy so I called for the guys to curl it in there, but we overdid it,” Ryan said. “That one’s on me. I called it a little early and I didn’t give it a chance.”
“I never thought that rock would curl like it did,” Middleton said. “It’s tough to see him lose like that.”
For Ryan, who curls out of the Assiniboine Memorial Curling Club in Winnipeg and is joined on his rink by third Jacques Gauthier, second Jordan Peters and Cole Chandler, Sunday’s result marked his best finish at the Canadian Juniors in the 21-year-old’s third and final trip to the event.
“That was one of our best games that we’ve played as a team, especially with how we battled back after giving up three early,” said Ryan, who lost to Tardi in last year’s semifinal.
“B.C. played unreal and it was just an inch here or an inch there that decided the game.”
Sunday’s win also marked the first junior title for British Columbia lead Alex Horvath and second Matthew Hall.
Hall had come close to winning a national championship as a skip for Ontario in 2017, but lost to Tardi in the final.
“The way they reacted was similar to what Tyler and I were like when we won for the first time,” Middleton said. “I’m really happy for both of them.”
The Langley Curling Club and Victoria Curling Club based quartet will now prepare to defend their world junior men’s championship in Liverpool, N.S. from Feb. 16-23.
“I think we might have a few more fans on our side than we did last year in Scotland,” Middleton joked.
Before that though, the team will head out to Quesnel, B.C. to take part in the provincial men’s playdowns starting Tuesday.
“I don’t think we’re going to get any sleep,” Tardi joked. “We leave our hotel at 3 a.m. and then we’re flying straight to the provincials.
“We might get some sleep if the jitters go away, but I doubt it. We’ll see how it goes.”