Curling free agency season kicks off with a bang as some top teams announce splits

Players sweep a rock at the Tim Hortons Brier in Lethbridge, Alta., Sunday, March 6, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntos

When Reid Carruthers was a young curler on tour, he knew he’d have to do his own legwork when free agency season rolled around.

He got creative years ago and it paid off when he caught the eye of fellow Winnipegger Jeff Stoughton. Carruthers found out when the veteran skip would practise at the Granite Curling Club and made a point of training on a nearby sheet.

“I made sure that he saw that effort that I was willing to put in because I was also at the rink,” Carruthers said in a recent interview. “I knew he went on his lunch hour. It also happened to be the same curling club that had some of the best ice in the city.

“So (it) was killing two birds with one stone.”

Stoughton later reached out to Carruthers and they spent a quadrennial together as teammates, winning world gold in 2011.

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Since there are no general managers, agents or team owners on the sport’s domestic scene, curlers are on their own to facilitate interaction with an eye to the next four-year cycle.

READ MORE: With new Olympic quadrennial comes free agent frenzy, curling style

That process is already well underway now that the Beijing Games are complete and the focus has turned to the 2026 Milan Olympics.

Conversations have started and some high-profile names have already announced changes for next season. It’s the beginning of what’s expected to be a massive turnover period at the elite level.

So grab your popcorn and settle in, curling fans. Roster changes will be the norm for the Roaring Game over the coming days and weeks.

“This is probably the most you’ll ever see for changes on the men’s and women’s front,” said John Morris, who won Brier silver last week with Alberta skip Kevin Koe. “I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a bad thing because we’re getting beat by international teams right now on the women’s and men’s level.”

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In an Olympic year, curling free agency season unofficially kicks off after the Brier. Brad Gushue’s rink raised the tankard on Sunday night and within a day or two, team statements were rolling in from across the country.

READ MORE: Team Tracy Fleury splitting up after curling season finishes

Team Jennifer Jones got things started by announcing it would be splitting at the end of the season. Team Tracy Fleury, Team Brad Jacobs and Team Kevin Koe – also top-five teams in the world rankings – followed with similar news.

“There’s definitely a different feeling this year,” said curling broadcaster Mike Harris, who won Olympic silver in 1998. “It’s almost like an accepted thing now where every four years teams are going to split up and then we’ll see what happens.”

Jones was quick to make her next move. The 47-year-old announced Thursday that she’ll be joining forces next season with Team Mackenzie Zacharias, a young squad that won world junior gold in 2020.

Later in the day, Team Laura Walker announced its members would be going their separate ways this spring.

The remaining events on the curling calendar are shaping up to serve as a farewell tour for many Canadian teams. The Players’ Championship is on tap in mid-April and the Champions Cup is set for early May.

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Three different world championships will also help put a bow on the season.

READ MORE: Kerri Einarson impressed by Gushue’s short handed Brier win, but has alternate ready

Kerri Einarson’s team will wear the Maple Leaf at the women’s playdowns starting Saturday in Prince George, B.C., and Gushue’s side will represent Canada at the men’s championship beginning April 2 in Las Vegas.

Gushue’s teammate, Brett Gallant, will team with Jocelyn Peterman at the world mixed doubles championship in Geneva starting April 23.

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