Young Team Yukon building toward bright Brier future
There were no grandiose ambitions for Team Yukon heading into this year’s Brier.
By Freelancer on March 13, 2023
LONDON – There were no grandiose ambitions for Team Yukon heading into this year’s Brier.
“We weren’t here to win this,” admitted skip Thomas Scoffin. “That’s a reality for us, and it’s a reality for a lot of teams here. It’s not even about wins and losses for us. But that doesn’t mean we go home without some successes and having played really well.”
On Thursday night, Scoffin and his Whitehorse Curling Club teammates – lead Evan Latos, second Joe Wallingham, third Trygg Jensen and alternate and coach Wade Scoffin, Thomas’ father – lost their final game of the event. They fell 8-3 in eight ends to defending Brier champion Brad Gushue, to finish with a 2-6 record at the annual event that crowns Canada’s men’s curling champions.
That’s one win more than last year’s Brier, when this same team representing the Yukon went 1-7.
Most important, insisted Scoffin, is the value of this past week in the long-term evolution of his talented young team, with each member of the foursome still under the age of 30.
Scoffin explained that at the bonspiel’s outset, the team set realistic, process-oriented goals for themselves – improving at key moments within games on how they handled challenging situations, figuring out the subtleties of what it takes to be competitive against the world’s top squads, and getting increasingly comfortable with everything that
comes with a long week that is like no other in the sport.
“We’re playing against teams that have a ton of experience. They’ve got great throwers. We know that. We just accept that reality full on, and work the best we can with what we’ve got. It’s really great to see the guys working so hard and to see that pay off with how they’ve performed,” he said,
After a rough first game last Saturday – a decisive 8-2 loss to Quebec – the team had a wild 10-8 win in its next outing the following afternoon against British Columbia, which proved to the highlight of the week.
Down 6-1 after five ends, and with Wallingham having to leave the game because of a quad strain, it looked like the event was certain to begin with two demoralizing losses. But with 56-year-old Wade Scoffin filling in to appear in his seventh Brier for Yukon, the team fought all the way back. The victory was clinched, as Wade swept a calmly delivered final stone by his son.
“We were very disappointed to be down 6-1, but one of our themes this week was resiliency,” said the younger Scoffin, the 28-year-old former Winter Youth Olympics gold medallist. “We knew that there were going to be games where we’re down on the scoreboard. We know that the scoreboard doesn’t mean everything and we have to continue to play our game. When we do that, good things can happen.”
After the game, there was quite the celebration, as family and friends came down to ice level to share in the special moment.
“The old man stepped in and played great,” said Thomas, reflecting back on a day the Scoffin family will never forget.
“Any Brier win is special but to get to play with my dad on the ice, that’s pretty cool.”
Added Wade: “I’m just super, super proud. I am so happy to be part of this team. These are great guys and I just want to help them get stronger and stronger.”
The first thing Thomas did after the win was cuddle his four-month-old daughter, Malia, who came to the Brier with Thomas’ wife Kim. To be at this Brier as a new father, he said, made him appreciate the experience even more.
“It’s all about perspective for me. It’s been such a blessing for me to have her as part of my life this year, and it’s changed my approach to the game. I know what’s important. I know that I’m always going to have a family to go home to, that are always rooting for me. Sharing a win with them, it was certainly something that I had hoped would happen this week and I am so happy it did.”
The squad’s other win came Tuesday, an impressive 9-2 drubbing over Prince Edward Island. And despite no other wins the rest of the way, they did have some other highlight moments, such as scoring four points in one end versus former Brier champion Brendan Bottcher.
Now the team’s attention turns to next year, and expectations of even more improvement at the 2024 Brier in Regina.
In looking at future possibilities for the team, consider the upside potential of Jensen. There was no other player like him in the field. The first time the 25-year-old ever threw a stone he was 17. At that time, his good friend Wallingham only had three players to represent Yukon at junior nationals, so he convinced Jensen to give curling a try by joining the team. A gifted athlete, he took to the sport naturally, from the very first rock he threw, and moved on quickly to excel at the collegiate level.
“I hate him a little bit for that,” joked the 26-year-old Wallingham. “I got him into curling and then he just became like a phenom. He just got right into it and it didn’t take him any time whatsoever to catch on. He started tuck delivering right off the hop. I don’t know how that is even possible. He’s just a great curler and he’s a beast out there sweeping too. The rest of us have to do this for our whole lives to get that good.”
As for Wallingham, a First Nation education advocate and father to one-year-old James with fiancée Ashley, his focus will be on getting healthy for next season, as the quad issue that forced him out of the B.C. game has been plaguing him for the last couple of months. He was happy to get through the rest of the games at the Brier thanks to the help of the Bottcher team, who travelled to the event with a physiotherapist. They encouraged that expert to treat Wallingham.
Scoffin, Wallingham and Jensen have now been together for three Briers. All of that experience enhances an already strong bond that comes from their shared roots growing up in Whitehorse. It’s a team that expects to be coming back to the Brier to represent Yukon year after year.
“I think we all have similar mindsets,” explained Jensen, who, like Thomas, works as an accountant. “With Thomas, I knew his family growing up. I played soccer with his brother Andrew a lot. So, I knew his dad through that. It’s just been a really easy fit.”
Wallington said the one issue the team has is that they cannot curl much together during the season, because while he and Scoffin remain based in Whitehorse, Jensen now lives in Red Deer and Latos – a 28-year-old in his second Brier with the team – is in Saskatoon. To overcome that, he said, the team finds a way to gel extra quickly whenever they get together.
“We just love battling out there and we’re always going to give it our all every game and I think that has shown at this Brier. The boys played great and we’re right there in our development,” he said.
By Ed Klajman
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