Brock Virtue and his supporting cast that includes Red Deer native Chris Schille stumbled out of the starting gate Friday, yet pulled out a win that — based on earlier cashspiel results — may indeed make for a successful weekend.
“Our bonspiel season last year was atrocious. I think we played seven ‘spiels and didn’t win a dollar,” Schille said after a sloppy 5-4 victory over Chang Min Kim of Korea in the opening men’s draw of the Red Deer Curling Classic at the Pidherney Centre.
“We could never win our first game last year. We were joking during our second ‘spiel of this year in Edmonton that we had finally won our first game in 11 ‘spiels. Then we won six in a row to make the final and lost to Kevin (Martin).
“So everything we did there was one step forward in itself.”
While the Virtue foursome was cash poor during the 2012 season, the Regina-based crew came alive during the Saskatchewan men’s playdowns, capturing the provincial title and earning a berth in the Brier at Edmonton, where they finished 5-6 and out of the playoffs.
“We put the team together with that in mind and that’s kind of what kept us going,” said Schille. “We just told each that that this is what we’ve teamed together for and let’s keep building . . . let’s take something positive out of all of these (cashspiel) losses. We were something like 10 and 23 (wins, losses) going into playdowns and we were 17-2 in the playdowns to get to the Brier.
“We geared toward that and thankfully for us it worked out that way. That’s where we finally started clicking and playing our best.”
The Virtue team was formed last year and also includes third Braeden Moskowy and lead D.J. Kidby, both from Regina. Skip Brock Virtue, a former Canadian and world junior champion, is from Lethbridge.
“I’ve played with D.J. for a total of five years on and off and I curled against Brock for the last dozen years or so,” said Schille, 30, who skipped his Red Deer team to the Alberta junior men’s title in 2004.
Schille lives in Red Deer during the summer and Regina in the winter. He helps operate a Carpet Superstore franchise in both cities.
The 2013 World Curling Tour season has so far been far more profitable than was the case one year ago, with the Virtue foursome sitting ninth on the men’s money list with earnings of $15,000.
“We’ve been on a pretty good roll,” said Schille. “We lost to Kevin in Edmonton and lost a semifinal to (Mike) McEwen at Portage la Prairie two weeks ago. I think we’re a step up from where we were at the Brier last spring. We were 5-6 at the Brier and lost last-rock games to teams like Martin, (Glen) Howard and (Jeff) Stoughton, so we were probably a grand total of six inches from being in the playoffs.
“To be playing one step better than that at this time is an encouraging sign.”
Schille, who also played in the 2007 and ‘08 Briers as the second for 2006 Olympic gold medalist Brad Gushue of Newfoundland, said the reigning Saskatchewan champs realize the importance of longevity as a team.
“You see so many teams who put something together that looks good on paper and it doesn’t work out right away so they shred it and start over,” said Schille. “When you look at the top teams, they’ve all been together for 10 years with few changes. They’re the teams who are winning every single week.
“We told ourselves last year that we can’t push the panic button after a few ‘spiels, that we have to keep going. The original plan was to put two years together and already we’ve started this year better than we ended off last spring.”
Whether the foursome will stay intact beyond the current season remains to be seen, but Schille doesn’t envision the union ending any time soon.
“All you can do is put the time and effort in and believe in each other,” he said. “From there, eveything else takes care of itself, hopefully for the better.”
Virtue fell 7-4 to Rob Schlender of Airdrie later in the day. Meanwhile, the Red Deer rink skipped by Dustin Eckstrand suffered a pair of losses, 6-3 to Kevin MacKenzie of Kelowna and 8-2 to Peter de Cruz of Switzerland.
On the women’s side, Jocelyn Peterman’s Red Deer foursome opened with a 6-4 win over Enjung Kim of Korea, then fell 7-1 to Teryn Hamilton of Calgary.
Each of the men’s and women’s divisons of the triple-knockout Red Deer Curling Classic offers $38,000 in prize money. The WCT event concludes Monday with the 3 p.m. championship finals.
9:30 a.m. — A event: White 7 Zou 2; Schlender 9 K.Park 5; Manners 8 de Cruz 3; Eriksson 6 Cross 3; J.Heidt 7 Maksymetz 5; MacKenzie 6 Eckstrand 3; Jordison 7 Blandford 5; Virtue 5 Kim 4.
1 p.m. — A event: Richard 5 Ross 2; Bitz 6 Koe 3; Stroh 5 Freiberger 4; Bottcher 5 Mabergs 3; Appelman 7 Jacobson 5; S.Park 6 Perepolkin 2; B.Heidt 9 O’Connor 8.
4:30 p.m. — A event: Jordison 9 White 1; Schlender 7 Virtue 4; Manners 6 MacKenzie 4; Eriksson 6 J.Heidt 5; B event: de Cruz 8 Eckstrand 2; Maksymetz 6 Cross 2; Kim 7 K.Park 2; Blandford 6 Zou 4.
8 p.m. — A event: Appelman 8 Bottcher 2; B.Heidt 5 Wang 4; Bitz 4 S.Park 3; Stroh 8 Richard 7; B event: Perepolkin 9 Koe 6; Ross 5 Freiberger 2; O’Connor 6 Willerton 5; Jacobson 6 Mabergs 5.
9:30 a.m. — A event: MacInnes 8 Paetz 4; Peterman 6 Kim 4; Paulson 6 Feltscher Beel 5; DeJong 7 Thurston 4.
1 p.m. — A event: Moore 5 Doyle 4; Ostlund 6 Kaufman 5; Nixon 4 Jaing 3.
4:30 p.m. — A event: Hamilton 7 Peterman 1; DeJong 8 Barber 3; MacInnes 8 Game 4; Paulson 5 Jensen 2.
8 p.m. — A event: Rogers 5 Scheidegger 3; B event: Thurston 5 Feltscher Beel 2; Kaufman 6 Doyle 3.