Okotoks tandem mixed up in roaring game

Alberta Winter Games: Locals competing in new two-person curling format

By: Remy Greer

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 06:00 am

Nicole Vachon and Miki Becker pose at the Okotoks Curling Club as they prepare to compete in the two-person mixed curling event at the 2014 Alberta Winter Games in Banff/Canmore.
Nicole Vachon and Miki Becker pose at the Okotoks Curling Club as they prepare to compete in the two-person mixed curling event at the 2014 Alberta Winter Games in Banff/Canmore.
Jordan Verlage/OWW

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Two Okotoks curlers decided to mix things up this winter.

Okotokians Nicole Vachon and Miki Becker will be the amongst the first to shoot for provincial gold in the burgeoning sport of two-person mixed doubles curling as the new format makes its debut at the 2014 Alberta Winter Games in Banff/Canmore.

“I feel lucky to be able to go to it,” said Becker, a Grade 8 student at John Paul II Collegiate. “I’m doing something that some kids only get to dream about. I’m pretty excited for it.”

Two-person mixed curling, also a demonstration sport at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, is unique from traditional curling in many facets. There are two stationary rocks in play before each end and are only five stones for each team to play with.

Vachon shoots the first and the fifth and final rock with Becker chucking the second, third and fourth stone. Through training sessions, the team determined Vachon’s superior sweeping will be used on every shot with Becker’s aptitude for calling the line in use on all five throws as well.

The new squad made its competitive debut at the zone trials at the Glencoe Curling Club in November where it swept its way through Calgary’s Team MacKinnon and Team Nixon to qualify through the 24-team event as Zone 2, or Big Country, representatives.

“It was really interesting because it was the first time we played other teams in this kind of setting,” said Vachon, a Grade 10 student at Foothills Composite High School. “I was surprised at how well we did, I thought we wouldn’t do very well, but I think we’re a good team.”

The 15-year-old Vachon, who skips a Calgary-based team competing in the Juvenile Southerns this weekend, is a five-year veteran of the Okotoks Junior Curling Academy. Becker, 13, is in his fourth year with the program.

Both have been under the tutelage of academy head instructor Taylor Ardiel, a source of aspiration for the young twosome as Alberta’s current Junior provincial champion.

“It’s very inspirational,” Vachon said.

Needing a qualified coach to instruct the team at the Winter Games level, Okotoks’ Neal Coskey stepped up to the plate to lead Vachon and Becker at the eleventh hour.

“I literally met them a week before the district playdowns and we had about three practices,” said Coskey, a certified level-2 coach. “They’re very mature for their age, they’re great kids to coach, they listen well and practice well.”

The Okotoks Junior Curling Academy products have made the most of their weekly sessions since qualifying for the Games through trials, emphasizing strategy and communication on the ice.

“They know how to curl so now is not the time to change anything,” the coach added. “But because it’s a different game with only two curlers, the main thing is there’s a little bit different strategy they have to apply.”

“You start with two stationary rocks, one at the back of the button and one centre guard, so I think it’s really important to control that four-foot button area. It’s more like a skins game all the play is in the middle of the rink. It’s a race to the button.”

Coach Coskey, whose been through the games first hand as a coach and volunteer with his children Hannah and Graham competing in curling and volleyball, said taking the time to smell the roses is a vital component to the Winter Games.

“There is so much to do and so much to see, you want to take it all in,” Coskey said. “You have to focus when you get to the curling rink, but the rest of the time I want them to enjoy the experience because it will never happen again.”

Becker is heeding the advice.

“(The key) is just to relax and have an open mind,” Becker said. “ And I want to win that gold medal.”

The 2014 Alberta Winter Games run Feb 6-9 with the curling competition held at the Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre, where Becker expects to trade tips with his competition.

“Since I know a lot of them I’ll ask them how the ice was in their previous games,” Becker said. “Usually they tell me and I try it out and how my weights will work.”

For the full list of events and schedules log on to 2014awg.ca


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