With the crowd inside Budweiser Gardens firmly on their side, locals Jake Higgs and Brady St. Louis helped lead Team Nunavut to a historic win at the Tim Hortons Brier Saturday afternoon.
Nunavut secured its first-ever win at the men’s national curling championship by defeating Nathan Young’s Newfoundland and Labrador 7-4.
After the game, Higgs said he was emotional at getting not only the territory’s first-ever win but the first win for any of the team members, including himself.
“The crowd support was so great, and it just makes me want to tear up thinking about it,” said Higgs.
Since joining the Brier as its own team in 2018, Nunavut had previously gone 0-38 in round-robin play.
The back-and-forth game was closer than what the final score would tell. Newfoundland and Labrador jumped out to an early lead with a steal in the first end before Nunavut took two in the second to get their first lead of the game.
Second thrower St. Louis and third Sheldon Wettig both made critical shots throughout the game to keep Nunavut in it, with lead Christian Smitheram offering up some key guards when with the hammer.
The two teams – both playing their opening games – would trade singles for six straight ends, setting up a 5-4 lead for Nunavut entering the ninth end.
In the ninth, Newfoundland and Labrador were sitting with two rocks inside the 12-foot with a guard. Higgs knocked away both opposing rocks, leading to a steal when Young missed his draw with the final stone.
While Nunavut played for the blank in the 10th and final end, Newfoundland and Labrador held on until the final stone, shifting the lively crowd tense with anticipation of history.
After Higgs buried the shot-stone behind guards, Young’s attempt at a double-takeout didn’t work, leading the announced crowd of 4,858 to jump to their feet cheering while the team raised their brooms in the air to the spectators.
“There were so many people I know from across Ontario and Canada out there watching and cheering for us and it felt really genuine and awesome,” said Higgs.
“In front of this crowd today, it was the best moment of my curling life.”
The Strathroy native, who teaches math at Arthur Volden Secondary School in St. Thomas, is allowed to skip Nunavut thanks to a rule that allows one import player from outside a province or territory’s jurisdiction. St. Louis, who lives in St. Mary’s, was born in Iqaluit, making him eligible through birth.
“It’s nuts,” said St. Louis, describing the crowd’s atmosphere and support of the team.
“It’s nice looking up at the crowd and seeing people yelling my name.”
When asked about his and the team’s plans after winning, Higgs promptly replied, “we’re going to have a few beers.”
Higgs and company are back in action early Sunday morning to face Manitoba at 9 a.m. before playing Northern Ontario at 7 p.m.
While the victory was historic, Higgs says it does not change the team’s attitude for the rest of the Brier.
“The expectations moving forward is to just go out and be as competitive as we can be,” said Higgs.