Bronze-medal winning Canadian curlers at World University Games navigate busy start to year

Rory Sumner · CBC Sports · Posted: Jan 31, 2023 8:18 AM EST

Curlers Owen Purcell and Adam McEachren of Dalhousie University have had an eventful — and dramatic — start to the calendar year.

Purcell, a skip from Halifax, N.S., and second McEachren, of Truro, N.S., compete on both the Dalhousie men’s curling team that won bronze for Canada at the 2023 FISU Winter World University Games in Lake Placid, N.Y., earlier this month, as well as Team Purcell.

The latter is a Halifax Curling Club rink that fell just short of qualifying for the Tim Hortons Brier in March with its second-place finish at the 2023 Tankard Provincial Championship on Monday in New Glasgow, N.S.

“It’s difficult [to manage and play with the Dalhousie curling team] considering I’m still a full-time student and curling with [Team Purcell] on the side as well,” McEachren told CBC Sports.

“It definitely takes up a lot of my time but I think it’s given me some really good skills managing people, and having to email people. … good communication and interpersonal skills.”

Drawing on experience at World University Games

The duo began a busy month south of the border by representing Canada from Jan. 13-20 at the World University Games alongside Dalhousie teammates in lead David McCurdy, of Truro, third Jeffrey Meagher and alternate Caelan McPherson, both from Halifax.

While this was the first international experience for McCurdy, Meagher and McPherson, Purcell and McEachren first represented Canada at the 2022 world junior curling championships in May where they walked away with a bronze medal.

The pair were joined in that tournament by Joel Kratz and Scott Weagle — who play third and lead, respectively, now for Team Purcell — as well as alternate Scott Mitchell.

“I think that the experience in Sweden was extremely helpful for us going into [the World University Games],” Purcell told CBC Sports. “[It was helpful] just knowing what to expect from the other teams and just the general atmosphere.”

The Canadian team put that experience to good use in Lake Placid, winning six straight games in the round robin portion of the tournament after dropping its opener to Switzerland.

“I think this year we actually managed to not quite start as slow as we did in Sweden,” Purcell said. “That’s one thing that we were really making sure that we wanted to do, because getting behind in those first couple of games, it’s very difficult to come back.”

Canada finished its six-game win streak with victories over Sweden, Korea and Norway — an identical path that they followed in the round robin in May.

While the Swedish and Norwegian squads were completely different in terms of personnel in Lake Placid, Canada’s experience against Korea proved to be fruitful in a 9-4 win.

“The Korean team was the exact same team that we’d seen in Sweden,” said McEachren of the Korean squad his team dispatched 7-4 at the world junior championships.

“We kind of knew before we played them, and also from just scouting them out in Lake Placid, how we had to play against them in order to do well, and we executed that perfectly.”

After dropping matches to the United States and Great Britain to set up a bronze-medal match against Switzerland, the Canadian team faced a challenge it had no roadmap for surmounting given they had been defeated by the Swiss 7-5 in Sweden, as well as 7-4 in the World University Games’ opener.

Finding themselves deadlocked at two in the eighth and final end, the brief history between the squads didn’t mean anything. When it counted, Purcell pulled off an early contender for shot of the year to set up the win.

“We knew that when we played that team before we put ourselves in a position to win and that we’d have a good chance to do it again for bronze,” McEachren said.

All-Dalhousie battle at Nova Scotia Tankard

Just five days later, Purcell and McEachren linked up with Kratz and Weagle at the Tankard in New Glasgow, with sights set on a berth in the Brier.

The quartet last played together in mid-December at the Superstore Monctonian Challenge, where they placed fifth.

“It’s kind of like business as usual [to play with Kratz and Weagle] because we’ve been playing together for the last two years,” said Purcell after defeating Team Deagle 9-2 in their opening game.

Team Purcell found a groove quickly at the Tankard, winning its first four matches and qualifying for a playoff against skip Matthew Manuel with a spot in the Brier on the line.

Manuel, Purcell and McEachren were all part of the Dalhousie team that won silver at the U Sports curling championships in 2020, but the university ties run even deeper than those three. Meagher, the third on the Canadian team that just won bronze alongside Purcell and McEachren, operates as a second on Team Manuel.

“I’ve played with Jeff for quite a while now, on and off,” said Purcell heading into the Tankard event. “I feel extremely proud of Jeff for putting everything that he had into [the Dalhousie curling team].

“He was one of the best players that I played with that never exactly got rewarded for what he was able to put into my teams. So it’s really nice to get to see him put the medal around his neck and just see him finally get rewarded for playing extremely well.”

The two did battle in a must-win game on Sunday night, as Team Purcell rallied from a 7-4 deficit after the eighth end to steal an 8-7 win.

The two teams found themselves back at the Bluenose Curling Club for a winner-take-all showdown.

Despite Meagher missing the final game due to illness, Team Manuel was able to win the match by a razor-thin 5-4 margin to take the Provincial title along with a Brier berth.

It certainly wasn’t the result Team Purcell was hoping for, but the future is bright for the foursome.

“[Qualifying for the Brier has been] the goal for us ever since we formed our team,” McEachren said heading into the provincial championship.

Participation in this year’s Brier is now off the table for McEachren & Co., but Team Purcell figures to be a contender in the Maritimes curling scene for the foreseeable future.

While Purcell won’t be curling with Dalhousie to close out this U Sports season, the turnaround for McEachren is swift with the Atlantic University Sport championships taking place later this week in Fredericton, N.B., with a spot in the Curling Canada College Championships Mar. 15-19 in Sudbury, Ont., on the line.

“It’s a lot of curling in a short period of time but the guys are excited and [McCurdy and McPherson] are super pumped to get back out there with a chance to go to another national championship,” McEachren said.

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