With a new curling season opening up this week, it’s going to be a new experience as well for Sault Ste. Marie’s Ryan Harnden.
A mainstay as the lead for Team Jacobs over the years, Harnden is set to play the role with a new team this season after the Jacobs rink parted ways at the end of last season.
Harnden has joined skip Matt Dunstone on one of a number of new foursomes on the Canadian curling scene this season and the local product said joining the new team has been a good adjustment so far.
“It was obviously a little different at the beginning,” Harnden said. “The summer’s been great. We’ve had constant communication with our new team through a group chat and Zoom meetings.”
“We’re ready to get going and get back into the groove of things,” Harnden added.
For Harnden, the decision to join Dunstone was an easy one.
“He’s extremely skilled,” Harnden said. “The maturity he shows for his age (stands out) and just his willingness to learn. Those are very attractive for me. At this point in my career, with how much sacrifice and time away from family and friend and work, it needed to make sense for me. To be able to play with someone with Matt’s calibre was a no-brainer.”
The Dunstone rink features a completely revamped roster with B.J. Neufeld taking over at third and Colton Lott at second.
Harnden added that he’s excited to play with Neufeld.
“We’ve played against each other and battled each other for so many years, he’s won a Brier and seven slams as well, I’ve always respected B.J., his skill and just him as a person,” Harnden said. “I’m really excited to play with him. We’ve actually joked in the past about playing with one another and now it’s become a reality.”
In Lott, Harnden had high praise for the 27-year-old as well.
“Colton hasn’t really had the opportunity to be on a top three or top five team until now and his skill level is through the roof,” Harnden said. “He’s one of the most talented curlers I’ve ever seen. He’s young and he’s hungry. He’s very quiet, but he’s extremely talented.”
The new foursome was set to practice together for the first time this week ahead of their tournament opener on Thursday morning at the ATB Classic in Okotoks, Alta.
Harnden traveled west on Monday and got some practice time in with Dunstone on Monday before meeting the rest of the team on Tuesday for practice.
“We came early so we can get on the ice together,” Harnden said. “It’s a brand-new team, so we’re starting fresh here so we’re going to have to learn everyone’s deliveries and systems that we all were using the last few years with our other teams.”
Harnden said the summer preparation didn’t change much leading into the season with a new team.
“With all these new teams, it’s easy to get sucked into almost focusing or worrying about other teams,” Harnden said. “We just have to worry about ourselves because we’re a fresh team. We’re new. We’ve got a lot of growing we need to do as a team. It’s going to be important to just focus in on ourselves.”
After years spent playing with his brother E.J. on Team Jacobs, Harnden admitted it will be a different feeling when the two meet up to face each other for the first time as opponents.
“It’s going to be a little bit weird,” Harnden said. “We never really played each other in a competitive game other than maybe a skins game where it was all fun and games.”
“I’m sure the first game will be awkward, but after that, I’m sure it will be okay,” Harnden said.
Jacobs stepped away from competitive men’s curling at the end of last season while E.J. joined Team Gushue for this season. The other member of the Jacobs rink, third Marc Kennedy, joined Team Bottcher.
The summer was one of major change in both men’s and women’s curling. On the men’s side, 10 teams underwent significant changes in the off-season and it’s something that Harnden feels will be a little more common going forward.
“I think it’s something you’re going to see four years from now and you might even see some teams make some changes at some point between these four years,” Harnden said. “It’s just kind of where our sport is at now.”
“It wasn’t too hard on me,” Harnden added. “We kind of formed our team pretty quickly once everything went down. It’s just going to be kind of the norm moving forward for curling.”