Tri-City curlers eye success at national championship

Hayato Sato didn’t have to look far to assemble a curling team built to win.

When two members of his former team out of the Royal City Curling Club in New Westminster, which had previously won gold and silver at the U18 provincial championships and triumphed at the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer, Alta., indicated they wanted to go in another direction, Sato and second Joshua Miki invited fellow RCCC curlers — and frequent rivals — Matthew McCrady and Jacob Umbach to join them for the step up to junior competition.

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The new squad makeup has paid immediate dividends.

Beginning Saturday, Sato’s foursome will take to the pebbled ice at the George Preston recreation centre in Langley as B.C. champions at the Canadian junior men’s championships.

Sato, Miki, McCrady and Umbach — all of them from Coquitlam or Port Coquitlam — swept through the provincial championships in Victoria earlier this month, culminating with a 9-3 win in the final over Johnson Tao’s team out of Richmond, Vancouver and Port Moody. (Tao’s team will also be at the national championships as a second representative from the host province after Nunavut ceded its position.)

Sato said McCrady and Umbach have been a good complement to his six-year association with Miki, whose father, Bryan, is also the team’s coach, along with Brent Pierce.

“We already knew each other, we all wanted to compete, so we just took it from there,” Sato said.

That commitment to winning took hold as soon as the new foursome formed at the end of last season, with a summer of fitness training in the gym and a fall schedule heavy with tournaments to test their mettle at the junior level, which comprises curlers under the age of 21.

“The level of competition is getting harder, there’s less mistakes,” said Sato, who’s 19. “We have to step up our game.”

McCrady, who used to curl with former junior men’s world champion Zachary Curtis at the Coquitlam Curling Club, said a frank discussion about everyone’s aspirations in the sport played a key role in forming the new team.

“We set guidelines of what we needed to do to get to our goals,” he said.

With the team’s primary target to be B.C.’s top junior men’s team already achieved, Sato said the group is eager to apply the lessons they learned along the way to the next level of competition.

“It was our first experience at a high-stakes game,” Sato said of the provincial final. “We performed well under pressure, we kept up our communication.”

Joshua Miki said the team came together just as planned.

“It’s like all the practice we put into it was set into place,”

Bryan MIki, himself a former world champion, said his young charges have all the right ingredients to go as far as they desire in the sport.

“They’ve got experience, they’re driven and they get along,” Miki said. “They do have the talent.”

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