Saskatoon's Kirk Muyres cut a deep swath across the globe this year, his broom bag and curling shoes flying high and long.
Saskatoon’s Kirk Muyres cut a deep swath across the globe this year, his broom bag and curling shoes flying high and long.
His last game of the 2018-19 curling season? In China. His first match of the current campaign? Japan.
“You know how curling is,” Muyres said Monday. “Ten years ago, you never had to leave Saskatchewan to play a full World Curling Tour circuit. Now that’s changed. It’s a different world than it used to be.”
Muyres, who skipped Saskatchewan’s entry at last season’s Brier, finished with a runner-up showing in mixed doubles (alongside Laura Walker) at a World Cup event in Beijing.
Fast-forward to the beginning of August, when his men’s foursome swept up a third-place finish at the Hokkaido Bank Curling Classic in their first action of the new season.
“They’re looking to build the sport over there and get more teams to travel over there, so we took the opportunity,” Muyres says. “I’m glad we did.
“There’s still that allure in the curling world: Canadian curlers. It seems anywhere we go, everyone says, ‘Oh, the Canadians are here; the Canadians are here.’ It’s kind of a novelty when we’re there, but I’ll tell you — the world teams are getting good. They play year-round, really good coaching, and they’ve been playing for a lot of years.
“Even 10 years ago, when you’d play a world or Asian team you knew you were going to win, but that’s certainly not the case anymore. They’re getting so good. The (Oakville, Ont. Fall Classic) spiel we were at last week, 11 of the 12 teams that qualified were world or Asian teams. The curling world’s changing, that’s for sure.”
Muyres’ team — which also includes siblings Kevin Marsh and Daniel Marsh at third and second, and Kirk’s brother Dallan Muyres at lead — has made the playoff round in two of their first three World Curling Tour events.
Like every other elite Canadian curling squad, they’re eying the 2021 Olympic trials, which will be held at home in Saskatoon. The jockeying begins in earnest this season, and it includes little touches like that trek to Japan — getting the quartet accustomed to things like jet-lag and culture changes, should they ever be called upon to represent their country internationally.
Muyres and Walker have acquitted themselves well on the mixed doubles scene, including a bronze medal at the 2018 world championships, so he has two potential Olympic paths. This year, he says, is a big one for his men’s team as they try to break into top-billing status.
“The Olympics has gotten to be really high on my priority list,” Muyres says. “I’m 29, so I’ve got a few more years until I hit my theoretical prime in curling. The Olympics are three years away, and there’s obviously two avenues for curlers to get there now. We’re getting better on the men’s side — we certainly aren’t favourites, there’s so much good competition in the country — and on the mixed doubles side, Laura and I have really been at the top of the game over the last couple of years.
“It’s important for us (as a men’s team) to make that next step into being top-10 in the world, or top-five in the world this year. If we’re serious about representing Canada at the Olympics the next time around, we really need to make that jump. We need to find that little bit more consistency; that’s the importance of this season, is to get into that top conversation, and start challenging the Koes and Gushues. That’s the goal this season, is to show ourselves we belong.”
Muyres is entering his second year as a skip after playing third most of his men’s career. He played at four Briers with Steve Laycock.
Making that transition from hard-sweeping third to hollering skip was hard. But he thinks he’s getting it figured out.
“I compared myself to Bambi last season out there,” he says. “At the start, I didn’t know what was going on. It’s so weird. The way you see the game from behind the house, versus from the other end, is crazy. And I hadn’t seen the game from behind the house before, so I didn’t know where to put the broom, I didn’t know how the guys were throwing at me, I didn’t know what shots to call. I was just trying to stay above water.
“This year, I told the guys after the weekend that I feel way more confident in controlling the game and understanding the game, and understanding where I want to take the play. That’s been one of the biggest positives this season, is I have confidence behind the sheet that I can skip and I can call line with some of the top players in the game.”
Next up for the Muyres foursome is the $38,000 StuSells Toronto Tankard, which runs Oct. 3-7, followed by the $56,000 Canad Inns Men’s Classic Oct. 11-14 in Portage la Prairie.
Muyres’ foursome has “nine or 10” WCT stops before Christmas, and he expects to play a couple of mixed doubles events with Walker, as well. It’s not easy finding a balance with two teams on the go, he says, but he’s enjoying it too much to drop one or the other.
“It’s tough to pick between the two teams, because your brain’s been hard-wired to always put the team first,” he says. “But at some point, one team has to be sacrificed for the other team. I’m lucky that Laura also plays women’s, and the Marsh boys and my brother are very understanding, as well. I’m lucky to have a really good supporting group on both sides that allows me to make those decisions, and no one to ostracize me when I have to pick one over the other.
“But it’s tough, quite honestly. I’ve had to give up some opportunities in mixed, and had to give up some opportunities in men’s. But as long as I can balance both … they’re both so much fun, and I don’t want to give either one of them up.”