Twenty-year-old hopes to help rink push for playoffs
Matthew Dunlop played at the 2016 and 2017 editions of the Manitoba junior men’s provincial curling championship, so missing out on a trip to Altona in 2018 stung.
One year later, the 21-year-old lead from Stonewall is grateful to be making his third appearance at provincials, especially since it’s his last year of junior eligibility before aging out.
“It was the monkey off the back,” he said. “It was nice to get over the hump after missing it last year, now we’ll try and wins as many games as we can at provincial
As such, Dunlop expects to soak it all when he and his East St. Paul Curling Club teammates Thomas Dunlop (skip), David Wilkinson (third) and Zack Bilawka (second) take to the ice in at the Heather club in Winnipeg from Jan. 3 to 7.
“I’m going to soak it all in probably quite a bit,” he told The Stonewall Argus & Teulon Times. “It’ll be pretty weird going from six years of junior curling and after that I probably won’t be curling competitively for a while.”
However, Matthew Dunlop isn’t the only member of the team competing one final time at junior provincials. Wilkinson will also be aging out after the event — unless they win and earn a berth at nationals in Prince Albert, Sask., from Jan. 19 to 27.
It’s something Dunlop and Wilkinson discussed this season.
“It’s the whole part of how him and I have been giving everything we have to curling and now it’s all coming to an end,” Dunlop said. “It’s just nice to go one more time and give David his last chance at it too.”
The team itself has had an OK season on the Manitoba Junior Curling Tour, with its best finish in the seven events it played coming at the Kyle Flett Memorial in Petersfield. Thomas Dunlop led the squad to five straight victories and a spot in the final, only to suffer a 5-4 loss to Ryan Wiebe in the final on Nov. 11.
Dunlop and company also reached three other quarter-finals, losing to either Wiebe or Carter Watkins.
Bilawka is the lone addition to the team that was swept by Josh Maisey and his Winnipeg Beach Curling Club team in a best-of-three series, losing 7-4 and 9-4, during last year’s Interlake regional qualifier.
Bilawka replaced Emerson Klimpke of Stonewall, who joined Brandon’s Brayden Payette this season.
“This year our team chemistry has been really goodm” Matthew Dunlop said. “All of us get along really well on and off the ice
His team will match up against Wiebe, Brett Walter, Thomas Tichkosky, Jack Hykaway, Tyson Beyak, Zachary Wasylik and Joshua Friesen, who features Shawn Thidrickson of Petersfield at lead, in one eight-team pool.
Two-time defending champion J.T. Ryan is in the other pool and he is looking to become the first skip to ever win three consecutive Manitoba junior men’s titles. Ghislain Courcelles, who has Narol product Liam Slukynsky at lead, Maisey, who features Stonewall’s Sebastien Pruneau at lead, and Payette are among those in the other pool.
If Wilkinson, Bilawka and the Dunlops want to contend for a playoff spot, Matthew knows it will come down to one thing.
“We’ve just got to curl consistently, that’s all it us,” Dunlop said. “If we come out and we play like how we can then we are going to be doing fine and we’ll have a good crack at playoffs.”
The last time an Interlake team won junior men’s provincials was in 2011 when the Stonewall Curling Club foursome of Sam Good, Riley Smith, Taylor McIntyre and Dillon Bednarek accomplished the feat, downing Daniel Birchard 4-3 in an extra end in the championship final.