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These kids want to rock

St. Albert Junior Elite Development program brings out the best in young curlers

The third year for the School of Rock at the St. Albert Curling Club is underway for 20 students of the roaring game.

The curlers are attending the St. Albert Junior Elite Development (STAJED) program to enhance their skills through instruction on and off the ice.

“It’s the learning. That’s the reason why I keep coming back,” said Carter Parenteau, a third-year STAJED for Success curler. “It has elements of fun and elements of difficulty in trying to learn certain things and if you’re not getting something then you pick it up pretty easily here.”

STAJED is designed for competitive U21 curlers.

“Emphasis is on the individual’s development over team-centred,” said Nicole Bellamy, manager of the St. Albert curling facility.

The STAJED initiative featured input from Marc Kennedy, an Olympic, world and Brier champion who grew up at the Taché Street rink where the southpaw threw his first rock at the age six and started competitive curling as a 12-year-old.

“Marc and I talked about how sometimes curling can be a lonely sport at the competitive level because for instance Marc doesn’t practice with his team, he practices on his own a lot, so you didn’t have to be a team to be here,” Bellamy said.

The origins of STAJED were based on accommodating juniors eager to continue in the sport and were without a team.

“The University of Alberta had farm teams for their Pandas and Golden Bears and they would have tryouts and often maybe a whole team would try out and only one or two or three of those players from that team made it so then we had these young curlers with a lot of experience and drive that didn’t make the program because there wasn’t enough space. They needed a place and that program at the U of A was all team based, there was no room for real individuals, it kind of stemmed from the Marc Kennedy Junior Classic when parents came to us saying, ‘Baby girl didn’t make it. What can I do with baby girl?’ So Marc and I sat down and said we’ve got to do something. We can’t have these people that are suddenly without a team and it's late in the season and teams have already formed,” Bellamy said. “Now they can come here for development.”

This year’s enrolment consists of 14- to 18-year-olds. Last year’s oldest student was 21.

Five curlers from the 2019 U18 provincials are also back for another season.

“We’re younger this year,” Bellamy said. “We had kids who were in university last year in the program and a bunch have aged out and went to the excel program (with Curling Alberta).”

Under the guidance of head coach Taina Smiley, with assistance by Braden Pelech, a STAJED alumnus, and Tyler Van Amsterdam, members of the 2019 Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association gold-medal winning Concordia Thunder men’s team coached by Smiley, the curlers train twice week in the afternoons from September to March for a total of 50 sessions overall.

Guest appearances over the years included world-class players like Kennedy, Laura and Geoff Walker and Joanne Courtney.

Doug deBruijn, a top-ranked umpire, attended Tuesday’s session to go over various competition rules in the provincial playdowns.

“The curlers also get taught sports psychology and nutrition. They work with a personal trainer. We have a one hour classroom where we’ll work on shot management, team dynamics, competition play and strategy, which is not just talking to the skips and the thirds, who are kind of the keepers of the playbook, but it will be leads and seconds that are engaged in that dialogue too,” Bellamy said.

St. Albert skip Rebecca Molberg slides into her third year with STAJED as a better curler.

“Before STAJED was a program there was a just a Thursday league for U18s and there wasn’t as much assistance, like assistants, so I wasn’t learning as much with the tactics and my technical wasn’t really improving very much. Now it’s improved a lot and I’m really happy there is this program because otherwise I wouldn’t be here and I probably wouldn’t have gone to provincials last year,” said Molberg, who qualified for the U18 Optimist championship by winning the Crestwood provincial qualifier with third Tori Hartwell, second Kristina Allen and lead Ashleigh McKinnon.

Molberg’s U18 rink this season on the Alberta Junior Curling Tour has newcomer Gabby Wood slotted at second and Brenna Bilassy, lead for Kristen Streifel’s 2017 bronze medallists at junior worlds and a STAJED original, is the coach.

Molberg, 17, credits the STAJED coaches for giving her that extra edge.

“Tina does technical with us at least every second week and makes sure our slides are the best they can be, which is awesome because that’s the fundamental thing about curling,” said the Grade 12 homeschool student. “We have Braden and Tyler this year who are really good at giving us tactics. We do little games where we learn all the strategies so when we go out and play actual games we know what we're doing and how to figure out when we need to change things and when the time is to make our move.”

Parenteau, 15, has also sharpened his skills through Smiley’s coaching.

“Taina is pretty good in helping me with the technical ability and the slide so she is a great coach with pretty much every aspect of technical,” said the Grade 10 Ecole Secondaire Sainte Marguerite d’Youville student.

Parenteau “fell in love with the sport” the first time he delivered a rock.

“I tried it out when I first moved here and I liked it and I got on a team pretty quickly and I’ve developed from then on,” said the pepper pot at third for the U18 rink skipped by Chase Lozinsky of St. Albert, with Mackenzie Charbonneau at second, lead Tyler Brodt and coach Jeff Wilson.

Last season, Parenteau curled with the St. Albert foursome of Nic Oake as skip, Lozinsky and Owen Pacholok and the U18 team finished 5-3 at provincials as semifinalists.

Jeff Hansen

About the Author: Jeff Hansen

Jeff Hansen joined the St. Albert Gazette in 1991. He writes about sports, athletes and teams from St. Albert and area.
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