Gino Sonego isn’t sure his Northern Ontario squad is ready to dethrone Saskatchewan and capture the Canadian Wheelchair Curling Championship next week in Ottawa.
But the Thunder Bay skip isn’t ruling out a medal finish.
“Anything can happen. Our expectation right now is to at least be on the podium in the final and then anything can happen after that,” said Sonego, who will join lead Lola Graham, second Richard Dawid and third Doug Dean in the nation’s capital.
He credited the growth of the game in Thunder Bay for their success.
Sonego said there are two national-class wheelchair curling teams in the city, which helps keep their games sharp.
But they could always use a little more competition, he said.
“We’re always looking for new players who are interested in coming out. But it’s a challenge,” he said.
“Some people will be interested for three or four years and then they’ll move on and then you lose that continuity.
“And then there’s female curlers. There aren’t that many female curlers that are out there that want to try the sport. It’s always a challenge, but we’re out there trying to grow the sport,” Sonego said.
Northern Ontario coach Michael Bergquist said he’s already losing sleep at the thought of the start of competition, wondering what he can do to help the team win.
“It’s been an uphill climb for us, but we finally made it there and it’s exciting beyond words,” Bergquist said.
“They put a lot of practice in. This team has really dedicated to improving their game. They spend a lot of time on the ice, a lot of their own time.”
They practice twice a week, play once and several team members are at Fort William Curling Club two or three more times a week working on their game.
“We’ve been curling for six years and we’ve really gotten our game together. At Kenora you could see it all coming together as the weekend kept going. We felt we were on a roll. We’ve played a few men’s league games since we came back and we’re still on a roll, still doing things right. We want to carry that on.”
Northern Ontario opens play Monday morning at the RA Centre in Ottawa against Manitoba, followed by an afternoon duel with Nova Scotia.
Round robin play wraps up Friday, with playoffs scheduled to begin on Saturday morning, if no tiebreakers are required.
The final is slotted for March 31 at 3 p.m.
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