As learning experiences go this one could be tough to beat.
Okotokian Kyler Kleibrink and new teammate Chaelynn Kitz teamed up to finish with a 2-4 record in a tough field at the 2021 Home Hardware Canadian Mixed Doubles Curling Championships inside the Calgary Curling Bubble March 18-25 at WinSport.
“It was nice to play with a new player and get to know a new person, she was really good,” said Kleibrink, a University of Calgary mechanical engineering grad. “And even if I have to spare for a team, that team building before the event, the ice, matching rocks, a lot of the elite teams matched their rocks really well.
“There’s so many different things, the scale of the event was massive, the pressure of the event, after you win you get to do a media scrum knowing you can be on TSN at any point.
“It’s a whole new world and very exciting to make the jump to that next step, even if it was just for a week or so. And now we really want to get back to an event like that, you definitely have a thirst to get back to it in the future.”
In what was Kleibrink and Kitz’ maiden voyage as mixed doubles partners, with Kleibrink added to the team due to Kitz’ partner Brayden Stewart unable to attend the competition due to commitments as a teacher, the fledgling duo got off to an auspicious start in Pool C.
A three-ender in the seventh clinched the 7-3 win over Victoria’s Stephanie Jackson-Baier and Corey Chester on day one.
They followed it up with a convincing 8-2 triumph over P.E.I.’s Lauren and Alex MacFadyen aided significantly from a four-spot in the second end.
“Chaelynn and I were super competitive going into those first two games,” Kleibrink said. “We waited so long to play, we went in there firing hot and nothing could really stop us at that point.
“Both teams played a good game against us, but we were just so excited to be playing and nothing really got us off balance.”
The momentum halted when faced with one of the pre-tournament favourites.
The formidable duo of Laura Walker and Kirk Muyres, the 2018 national champions, handed Kleibrink and Kitz an 11-4 loss.
“We knew they were really good going into it and we came out super hot, same as we were in the first two games,” he said. “We scored three points and were up 3-0 on Walker-Muyres and I don’t know what happened, a switch flipped and they started playing like I’ve never seen before and we started just being on the wrong side of the inch.
“After the game we were just shocked, we didn’t even really know what happened, but they played amazing and we thought they would end up winning the event.”
Another tough match-up with the No. 2 rated Nancy Martin, Kitz’ teammate on Team Saskatchewan’s Sherry Anderson rink in four person curling, and Tyrel Griffith saw the veteran duo take it by a 9-2 count.
Following a 6-3 defeat to Manitoba’s Selena Njegovan and Reid Carruthers, Kleibrink and Kitz wrapped up pool play in a narrow 8-7 loss to Briane Meilleur and Mark Nichols, decorated multi-time Scotties and Brier champions as members of the Kerri Einarson and Brad Gushue, respectively.
Einarson and Gushue, in their debut competition together, edged Manitoba’s Kadriana Sahaidak and Colton Lott 9-6 to take the 2021 championship.
The Mixed Doubles Championships was the third national event held inside the Calgary curling bubble and came on the heels of Team Einarson’s victory at the Scotties and Team Brendan Bottcher’s triumph in the Brier.
Many of the 35 teams had players well used to the ice by the time the mixed doubles competition got underway.
“We got a one hour pre-event practice and during that it was catching up for sure, I don’t feel like I fully caught up in that one hour,” he said. “The first two games went really well and we were super confident and I felt pretty caught up after those first two games.
“For the last four games, the ice changes all the time and I’m not really used to that at a club level. There was a lot of different paths and changing ice readings to know and people that were in the Scotties and Brier definitely picked it up a little bit quicker than I did.”
Living within the bubble brought its challenges from a lack of available opportunities to meet and practice with a new teammate to living out of a hotel room.
“We had one game a day, in the evenings usually, so it was a long time to stir and think between games,” Kleibrink said. “Luckily I got to work during this all so that really filled the time for me, but my partner, she might have been pretty bored.
“We got to go to the restaurant after the first few days of quarantine and that added a bit of a sense of normalcy.”
The odd surroundings were also felt within the venue. With no fans in attendance, the games that were not broadcasted on television were accompanied by music.
“It was a little weird,” Kleibrink said. “I was throwing a runback to Backstreet Boys one time. It was definitely an experience.
“I definitely wanted to be there the whole time and get the experience and learn the ice, learn the rocks.”
He added Curling Canada did a terrific job to keep everyone safe and up-to-speed within the bubble.
The 2021 competition was the Foothills Composite grad’s second trip through the Canadian Mixed Doubles Championships having posted a 4-3 mark at the 2019 event with teammate Chantele Broderson. The Alberta duo had qualified for the 2020 championships as well prior to the cancellation at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last March.