It was almost exactly 12 months ago that Jacques Gauthier made one of the toughest decisions of his life.
Fresh off losing to his cousin, Langley-based player Tyler Tardi from Cloverdale, in the men’s gold-medal game of the 2019 New Holland Canadian Junior Men’s and Women’s Curling Championships, Gauthier was asked if he would serve as the alternate for Team Tardi at the 2019 World Juniors — a role he had in 2018, resulting in a gold medal.
But Gauthier told his cousin “thanks, but no” — if he was going to win another world junior championship, he wanted to do it as a player, not an alternate.
Gauthier will get that chance; backed up by vice-skip Jordan Peters, second Brayden Payette, lead Zack Bilawka and coach John Lund, Gauthier skipped the Manitoba #2 team from Winnipeg to an 8-6 win over Newfoundland/Labrador’s Daniel Bruce in the men’s gold medal game at the New Holland Canadian Junior Curling Championships Sunday at the George Preston Recreation Centre.
“When we won the worlds in Scotland, I didn’t touch the trophy,” said Gauthier, with the Canadian championship gold medal around his neck. “I was very proud of the accomplishment by the boys, and I felt like I played a role in it. But it still wasn’t mine, you know what I mean? So coming back here, and winning this, and having a chance to win to pick up that (world championship trophy), that’s what means the world to me.”
Gauthier’s team will get the chance to follow up on the two gold medals won by his cousin when the 2020 World Junior Curling Championships get underway Feb. 15 in Krasnoyarsk, Russia.
Manitoba had two teams in the 2020 New Holland Canadian Juniors because Nunavut and the Yukon couldn’t field teams; B.C. got a second team as the host province, while Manitoba got a second team as the 2019 runner-up.
Congratulations to @curlmanitoba's Jacques Gauthier, Jordan Peters, Brayden Payette, Zack Bilawka and coach John Lund on winning the 2020 @NHAgriculture Canadian Junior Men's Curling Championship!#CJCC2020 pic.twitter.com/pGymqpMGjv
— Curling Canada (@CurlingCanada) January 27, 2020
Manitoba #2 never trailed on Sunday, taking one in the first end, stealing two in the third and one more in the fourth.
Bruce made a game of it with a magnificent angle-raise takeout to score two in the seventh end and cut the lead to 6-4, but Manitoba #2 replied with a deuce of its own in the eighth end and never looked back.
There were two significant wake-up calls along the path to gold for Gauthier’s team; the first came in the Manitoba junior men’s final a few weeks ago in Dauphin, where Gauthier entered the final against former teammate Brett Walter with an unbeaten record, but lost his first game when it mattered most.
“That was a wake-up call for how to play in a championship game,” acknowledged Lund. “Today it showed that they knew how to do it.”
The second came in the team’s first game in Langley, during which Manitoba #2 fell behind 6-0 after three ends to Quebec’s Greg Cheal before rallying for a 10-9 extra-end victory.
“You need breaks to win, right?” said Gauthier of that dramatic win. “We just took it a shot at a time, made it a close game and ended up winning in an extra. So who knows how our week goes if we don’t win that one?”
Sunday afternoon’s victory capped a magnificent day for Gauthier and the province of Manitoba; earlier, Mackenzie Zacharias skipped Manitoba to victory in the women’s gold-medal game, with Gauthier’s girlfriend, Karlee Burgess, throwing third rocks for the winners.
“Oh, it’s awesome,” said Gauthier. “I was an absolute wreck watching their game this morning; I was screaming at the TV like a psychopath. Obviously I wanted to go to Siberia with them, but the biggest thing with me was making sure she won, and she did that.”
Having experienced a gold-medal victory at the world level, and by virtue of wearing the Maple Leaf on his back in Russia, Gauthier’s team will be among the favourites next month. But the 21-year-old University of Manitoba student said nothing will change from the approach he took entering the New Holland Canadian Juniors.
“It doesn’t change my mindset at all,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s another tournament, and we just have to try to win it. We won’t have to try any harder than we did here; we just have to play really well and we’ll see what happens.”
It was an 11th Canadian junior men’s gold medal for Manitoba, behind only Alberta with 16 and Saskatchewan with 14, and the province’s first since Matt Dunstone prevailed in 2016.
The last time one member association swept both the men’s and women’s titles was in 2012 when Alberta’s Brendan Bottcher and Jocelyn Peterman claimed gold.
More pictures can be viewed online.