Saskatchewan curlers make adjustments due to limitations from provincial rules

Braeden Moskowy has a new roommate in skip Matt Dunstone thanks to provincial rules that have limited the Saskatchewan curling team's options this season.

Dunstone, who bought a home with his girlfriend last month in Kamloops, B.C., arrived in Regina this week to begin preparations for a campaign loaded with question marks.

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Saskatchewan Health Authority guidelines say that interprovincial travel is not permitted for competition at this time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That has forced Team Dunstone and other elite Saskatchewan teams to focus on in-province events until changes are made.

"I'm definitely one of those people still scratching my head about it," Dunstone said Friday.

The Regina-based rink originally planned to include fall bonspiels in Red Deer, Alta., and Penticton, B.C., on their schedule but they are unable to confirm their participation after being told of the provincial rules last week.

"It's devastating, it was incredibly difficult to even relay the message to the teams," said Ashley Howard, the executive director of Saskatchewan's curling association. "Because I'm a competitive curler myself, I know how disruptive it is to their season. So that was definitely a very difficult conversation.

"We've continued to work with each individual in the situation and try and find ways for them to work around it and work within the guidelines."

Under the current rules, the winners of Saskatchewan's playdowns also wouldn't be able to compete at national championships like the Scotties Tournament of Hearts or Tim Hortons Brier.

"To me, it's an absolutely unacceptable consequence that Saskatchewan would not be represented at a national championship," Howard said. "So we'll be doing everything we can to make sure that our teams can go to those events if we're able to host those events (in Canada) this year."

Team Dunstone arranged a new five-team event for this weekend in Regina and plans to play a few Saskatchewan tour events starting next weekend.

Although the purses aren't as strong, it will at least allow the foursome to play some quality games against good competition.

After a third-place finish at the Brier, Dunstone's team was looking for big things this season with just over a year out until the Olympic Trials. However, matchups against the likes of Kevin Koe, Brendan Bottcher and others will have to wait.

"You've got to play the best and you've got to beat the best to be the best," said Moskowy. "And that's the whole goal of our team. And obviously with the restrictions that are in place right now, it definitely makes it challenging to get that competition in and stay sharp."

Four Grand Slams were cancelled this season and the top events in early 2021 are on uncertain footing. Teams across the country have recently resumed play but primarily on a regional basis due to various provincial and territorial restrictions as well as travel concerns.

Howard said that provincial sport guidelines in Saskatchewan differ from general travel, which is not recommended but still possible.

"How it was explained to me was I could go and have a meeting with the executive director of Curling Alberta in Edmonton," she said. "That would be not recommended, but allowed.

"If I stop to throw rocks at the Saville Centre on my way home, that activity was prohibited."

In some cases teams like Dunstone's rink or the side skipped by Robyn Silvernagle have additional hurdles to clear with rosters that include players who are imports or use birthright status. In addition to travel limitations for events, the rules can impact their practice plans and training locations.

Moskowy said the entire situation has left him frustrated.

"We can go golf with Koe's team in Alberta, we can go houseboating with a bunch of other teams in B.C., but we can't go play a 'spiel?" he said. "I feel like it doesn't really add up to me."

Players like Dunstone who come in to play in Saskatchewan must follow a number of extra protocols upon arrival, Howard said, including using the COVID Alert app and having a COVID-19 test result come back negative.

Provincial championships are set to begin in late January at Estevan, Sask., a few weeks before the Scotties and the Brier.

"By the letter of the law, we're not permitted to travel for sport," Howard said. "We are though preparing documentation and an approach to explain the safety protocols that we would be willing to go through to get our athletes out to a championship or back in.

"I'm hopeful and I would say cautiously optimistic that we can make that pitch to the Ministry of Health. And we can also ensure public safety when we do that. So it's kind of in the queue, so to speak, it's something we're working on."

A message left with the Saskatchewan Health Authority was returned later Friday via a reply from the Ministry of Health. In an email, it said it could not speculate on possible exemptions, but would review any proposals received from Curling Canada or CurlSask regarding requests to compete out of province.

Dunstone's team added Kirk Muyres at second this season to a lineup that includes Dustin Kidby at lead. The players practised as a foursome for the first time this week.

"It's been a lot of Zoom calls over the summer and not a whole lot of rock throwing," Dunstone said. "So it's been really nice to get out there with the guys and continue to stay motivated."

Dunstone, who's on the cover of the 2021 Curling Cares Calendar with girlfriend Erin Pincott, usually stays with Moskowy when in Regina. The difference this time is the visit could last weeks or even months.

"Nothing like enjoying a nice Saskatchewan winter," Moskowy said. "I mean he's a Winnipeg boy so he'll be fine. He's definitely been getting spoiled out in the Okanagan the last two years."

"So this'll bring him back to Earth a little bit, which will be good for him." he added with a laugh.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 16, 2020.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

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