YORKTON - The curling landscape in Canada has definitely changed heading into the new season with many of the top teams changing their line-ups.
The changes include Steve Laycock, originally from Saltcoats and now in Saskatoon, assembling a fresh foursome including Chris Haichert, Shaun Meachem, and Brayden Stewart.
Laycock said team changes are a natural as teams readjust in the first year leading up to the next Olympics.
And, he said it’s likely there will be more changes after this season as some of the new configurations hit some bumps in terms of on-ice success, or off-ice compatibility.
In assembling his new team Laycock said skill of course mattered.
“At a minimum they have to be good,” he said.
But, he also wanted to be sure the players had the same vision in terms of goals.
“Are we compatible to play together?” he asked, reminding you need commonalities beyond curling because you can only talk about the game over breakfast, lunch and supper when on the road at events all winter, so much, and then you need other topics of interest.
And road time is on the upswing as the season has just progressively gotten longer and longer. Now it goes right into April.
For players such as Laycock there is also juggling the season between skipping his traditional four-player team and throwing stones in the new mixed doubles world.
“There’s starting to be a lot of mixed doubles events too,” said Laycock.
While playing both means more events to get to, Laycock said he finds it a refreshing change, noting in mixed-doubles much of the responsibility of sweeping falls to him, a completely different skill set and even muscle set being used, compared to holding the broom as skip in four-player game.
“It’s a nice switch between the two,” he said.
In time Laycock said players are likely to be forced to pick one game to focus on, but that time is not quite yet.
“There ‘s enough difference between mixed doubles and four-person,” he said. “It’s tough to be effective in both.”
In addition to different skill sets, qualifying for world and Olympic events and based on points, and that is likely to push players to compete only in one of the two disciplines, said Laycock.
Even in the off season Laycock said teams aren’t that far away from the game either. He said players spend a chunk of the time “trying to get the body into good shape.”
And then of course there are the off-ice efforts which go into securing sponsorships to help make it possible to be on the road through the actual curling season, added Laycock.
While the season has changed, so too has the game with the free guard rule making the game much more strategic.
“The shots used to be a lot more simple and straight forward,” offered Laycock.
As for the season now under way, the chance to top the province might be a little easier because perennial favourite Matt Dunstone is now curling out in Manitoba, but that still leaves defending champ Colton Flasch team to deal with.
“We definitely have the capability to knock them off,” said Laycock. “I’m really excited about our chances.”
That said Laycock admitted “maybe we’re underdogs,” which he added is not a bad thing.
“There have been years where it was win, or bust,” he said.
This year going into provincial playdowns a bit below the radar with Team Flasch at the top will be a good motivator, and also means playing with a little less pressure in the team, said Laycock.
To ready for the bigger games in the new year Laycock said his team plans to go at it a bit differently, playing less big events, while still getting into enough action to hone things.