Right from when the Canadian Wheelchair Curling Championship was first awarded to Moose Jaw back in 2020, the goal -- and even the dream -- was to see a Saskatchewan team win a national title on home ice.
Saskatchewan 1, with skip Gil Dash, third Marie Wright, second Darwin Bender and lead Moose Gibson, battled to a 6-2 victory over Northern Ontario’s Douglas Dean on Friday afternoon to win the 2023 championship at the Moose Jaw Curling Centre.
It was an incredible finish to an amazing week for the local crew, as they lost only a pair of games through the event and progressively improved right from their first game.
“What can you say?" Dash said in between receiving a steady stream of congratulations from fans and supporters. “On home ice? Huge. Marie coming up with her best game in the final? Huge. Then there were all the volunteers and fans that were here all week, it was great facility, and it was just a great week.”
Dash and crew wasted little time getting going in the final, with steals in the first three ends staking Saskatchewan to a 4-0 lead. After the sixth end it was 6-1 edge, and after they held Dean to a single point in the seventh, it was just a matter of running Northern Ontario out of rocks and letting the celebration begin.
“Oh, it feels so good, we had so many fans the whole week,” said Wright, who like Bender and Dash is now a four-time Canadian champion .”You look up in the crowd and you see them waving and sometimes they were even doing the wave, the support was just amazing.”
Dash, Wright and Bender had previously won titles in 2012, 2016 and 2018, while Gibson was a member of the latter two Canadian championship teams.
“It never gets old, and now we’ve tied B.C. for the most championships,” Bender said. “I didn’t even realize we were getting that close, and it’s great knowing that and winning another one. And then winning at home in front of people cheering for you, we did that in 2016 in Regina and there’s so much support and you really want to show what you can do.”
Saskatchewan 1 definitely did that, especially as the event progressed. They won their final two must-win games prior to the final in comfortable fashion and looked like they were getting better each and every game.
That wasn’t too much of a surprise given their constant work to improve things with coach Lorraine Arguin even as the tournament progressed.
“There were little things we had to change, and we did those little things and came out more focussed each time,” said Bender, who skipped Team Sask to titles in 2012 and 2016. “It was little things here and there, talking before the games and after the games about strategy we wanted to change and it all came together, it worked and it showed.”
Just getting to play the event was important in itself -- after being initially awarded, the tournament was cancelled twice due to the pandemic, leaving organizers and players alike wondering if the chance to play would ever come.
“This championship has been in the works but delayed and delayed and delayed because of the pandemic, and to have a chance to play the game you love in front of your friends and family, it’s huge,” Dash said.
No one knows more about what went into the process of hosting the event and the delays than Gibson, who served as the chair of the organizing committee in addition to his playing duties.
“The heartache, it’s all worth it,” Gibson said prior to pausing to gather his thoughts. “I’m just so proud of my teammates, and I’m a little emotional, but we have the best coach in Canada, the best curling fans, the best facility, the best volunteer base anywhere, and I’m very thankful.”
Now, the focus turns to a year from now, when Moose Jaw once again hosts the Canadian Wheelchair Curling Championship and will once again be going for gold.
“Everybody, get ready for 2024, because Saskatchewan is the place to be," Gibson said.