Tardi aiming for three-peat at Canadian junior men’s curling playdowns

B.C. skip Tyler Tardi is always on the lookout for any morsel of knowledge that will help him move closer to his goal of a professional curling career.

The 20-year-old from Langley, B.C., also is learning from experience. A second straight national title, his first world junior crown, and a valuable Grand Slam appearance last season have all served as important building blocks.

Next up is a return to the Canadian junior playdowns and a chance to make history as the first skip to win three straight titles at the event.

“It’s always lingering in the back of your mind,” Tardi said. “We’d like to take it as a process and not look too far ahead.”

Tardi, vice-skip Sterling Middleton, second Matthew Hall and lead Alex Horvath headline the 14-team men’s field at the nine-day competition in Prince Albert, Sask. Nova Scotia’s Kaitlyn Jones is one of the favourites in the 14-team women’s field.

Round-robin play begins Saturday at the Art Hauser Centre and the Prince Albert Golf and Curling Club.

Tardi recently won his fourth straight provincial junior title with a 9-2 rout of Team Erik Colwell in Vernon, B.C. Tardi’s first national crown came in Victoria in 2017 and he defended the title last year in Shawinigan, Que.

“I like to learn, I want to do whatever it takes to get any knowledge possible,” Tardi said. “I tend to like to reach out to people that I know have a lot of knowledge and are willing to share that even if I have to dig deep to find it from them.”

His father and coach Paul Tardi has helped him along with input from Team Brad Jacobs coach Adam Kingsbury and national coaches Elaine Dagg-Jackson and Helen Ranford.

“They’re all willing to reach out and give me assistance and that’s been a huge part of my game,” Tardi said. “I think for the most part it’s that I want to learn and I’m willing to learn.

“I think that’s just who I am in the sport of curling.”

Tardi first met Kingsbury at a clinic last spring and they have kept in touch throughout this season. Kingsbury, who also coached Team Rachel Homan for three years, is a PhD candidate in clinical psychology who specializes in mental preparation.

“It actually quite heavily improved our game, even with some very minute changes,” Tardi said this week from Langley. “He knows his stuff.”

Tardi’s big-game experience has also proven invaluable.

He nailed a draw in an extra end to win the world junior title last March. That gave his team a berth in the Champions Cup last April and matchups against elite men’s teams skipped by Jacobs, Brad Gushue and Reid Carruthers.

Tardi also took a turn in the national television spotlight that week, picking up a 5-4 victory over American champion Team Greg Persinger.

“When you’re playing teams like those, it makes you realize how much there is to still learn,” Tardi said. “The Grand Slam has always been my main goal — to be a Slam team. To get there and to play in that was quite inspiring and made us work a little harder.

“My policy has always been the more you know, the more you don’t know. At that event, it really made us learn that there’s so much more for us to do. We can’t ease off the pedal at all. We’ve just got to hunker down and keep on working.”

Middleton also is looking for a third straight under-21 title while Hall and Horvath are in their first season with the team.

“We’re starting to climb the ladder a bit and hopefully we’re peaking at the right time,” Tardi said. “I think it kind of clicked at provincials. We’re feeling a lot more confidence now than we did a few months ago. We’re feeling good.”

Other men’s teams to watch include two-time national finalist Tanner Horgan of Northern Ontario and 2018 under-18 Canadian champion Graeme Weagle of Nova Scotia.

Like Tardi, Jones also is returning as a reigning national and world junior champion.

In addition, her second, Karlee Burgess, is looking for a record third women’s junior title after winning last year and in 2016 with skip Mary Fay.

Jones is expected to be challenged by 2017 Canadian U18 champion Kira Brunton of Northern Ontario, 2016 national finalist Sarah Daniels of B.C., and Saskatchewan’s Sara England, the daughter of the late Sandra Schmirler.

Teams will be split into pools of seven and the top four rinks in each pool will make the playoffs. Semifinals are set for Jan. 26 and the finals will be played Jan. 27.

The winners will represent Canada at the Feb. 16-23 world junior curling championship in Liverpool, N.S.

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Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

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