First-ever Brier win puts Nunavut curlers on ‘Cloud 9,’ team lead says

Team ends 44-game losing streak with 7-4 win over Newfoundland and Labrador at men’s national curling championship

Nunavut curler Sheldon Wettig throws a stone while other members of the team get ready to play it during the team’s 7-4 Brier tournament win over Newfoundland and Labrador on Saturday in London, Ont. The win was Nunavut’s first-ever at the men’s national curling championship. (Photo by Ed Klajman, special to Nunatsiaq News)

By Ed Klajman, special to Nunatsiaq News

LONDON, Ont. – Saturday will go down in Nunavut sports history.

For the first time, a team representing the territory won a game at the Brier, the signature event of Canadian men’s curling.

The team representing the Iqaluit Curling Club — featuring skip Jake Higgs, third Sheldon Wettig, second Brady St. Louis, lead Christian Smitheram and alternate Terry Lichty — defeated skip Nathan Young and his team from Newfoundland and Labrador.

Nunavut’s team at the Brier curling tournament, underway in London, Ont., is made of players with strong ties to both the territory they represent and Ontario. Team members include from left, coach Blair Evans, skip Jake Higgs, Sheldon Wettig, Brady St. Louis, Christian Smitheram, and alternate Terry Lichty. (Photo by Ed Klajman, special to Nunatsiaq News)

The 7-4 win was a close, back-and-forth game that was decided by a delicate hit-and-roll executed by Higgs on the second-last shot.

When the victory was clinched, the team erupted in joy, lifting their brooms high into the air to acknowledge the crowd of 4,858 at Budweiser Gardens, who gave the Nunavut players a lengthy and loud standing ovation.

After the game, Smitheram said the win was like “being on Cloud 9.”

Nunavut’s Brier curling team lead Christian Smitheram (Photo by Ed Klajman, special to Nunatsiaq News)

“To have this play out the way it did today was exhilarating,” said the 30-year-old Iqaluit resident, who is a Canadian North pilot, husband to Stephanie, and father of 11-year-old Hayden and eight-year-old Jared.

“When we wear this patch, we carry every community, every person in Nunavut, with us,” Smitheram said.

“We don’t get to play together a whole lot. We’re all spread out geographically. It’s similar to Nunavut, where so many communities are also spread far apart. To get together, and come together to represent the territory like this, it’s just super special.”

Nunavut first competed at the Brier in 2016, when a new format was introduced. The team had to battle other lower-ranked provinces and territories to get into the main draw. In 2016 and 2017, the team lost all six of those qualifying games.

Curling Canada changed the format in 2018, giving all provinces and territories an automatic entry. In the five years of that arrangement, Nunavut’s foursomes not only lost every one of their 38 contests, there had only been a handful of games in which they were not blown out.

“Well, we’re one and 44 now, I think,” said Higgs, 47, who is from Strathroy, just outside London, and serves as the team’s designated import, following a long curling career as a player and a coach.

Higgs may be an Ontarian, but he feels a close connection to the people of Nunavut, and doing this for them made the experience extra special.

Jake Higgs, skip of Nunavut’s team at the Brier curling tournament. (Photo by Ed Klajman, special to Nunatsiaq News)

“I think this will do nothing but help curling up there. They’ve got a good junior program going up there. They’re going to get more involvement and a win like this maybe drags a few more people out to the rink.”

The 47-year-old high school teacher and father of two fought back tears as he thought about how much the win meant to him personally — particularly the support of the crowd.

“I’ve been a competitive curler for a long time,” he said. “I’ve gone to the Olympics as a coach. I’ve done a lot of things. But this, in front of this crowd today, it was the best moment of my curling life. This is number one.”

Wettig said he was feeling “just pride” after the win.

“We’ve had to work so hard individually at our own rinks without being able to get together as a team very much, but we know how badly we’ve all wanted this – not just for ourselves but for that crest on our back, that Inukshuk on our back. It’s a pretty proud moment right now,” said the 42-year-old, who was born in Iqaluit, but now lives in Brandon, Man.

Next up is a game Sunday morning against the tournament’s number-one ranked team, Manitoba, led by skip Matt Dunstone, a former world junior champion. That is followed by a match-up at night with Northern Ontario, another talented team of up-and-comers.

Team Nunavut is in a four-way tie with Northern Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta for first place in their pool, with a 1-0 record. They say they will go into Sunday’s games with the same positive, stress-free approach they had on Saturday.

“We came out hot today and hopefully we’ll come out hot again tomorrow,” said 25-year-old St. Louis, who was born and raised in Iqaluit, but now lives in St. Mary’s, Ont., near London, with his wife Allison and four-year-old son Layton.

The biggest challenge for the team might be finding the right balance between a much-deserved celebration and getting enough rest ahead of a long day. Saturday night’s agenda included an autograph session at the renowned Brier Patch, where fans gather to do some serious partying each night of the bonspiel.

Higgs said the team will be having “a few beers,” but he promised not to stay too late.

Added Smitheram: “My wife is in town so she’ll make sure I behave.”

Share This Story

(13) Comments:

    • Posted by OK on

      **Go people with “relations” to Nunavut Go!!** there fixed it for ya

      • Posted by Keep It Up! on

        Keep up that mindset and watch things stay the same.

      • Posted by Flags on

        TIL that flags of convenience are a thing in shipping AND curling.

  1. Posted by Bill Flowers on

    Go Nunavut! I am glad they got the win early in the tournament. This is a confidence booster and can only work to the team’s benefit, as opposed to trying to get a win later in the week after a string of losses.

  2. Posted by Snowl on

    so how many members of this team actually live in Nunavut?

  3. Posted by Here we go…. on

    Here comes the bashing because these men are not Inuit, and not from here. If it’s such an issue, the ones complaining should form a team to their own suiting. Did you go play or try out for the team? It never ends!
    Congratulations to the men that went out, practiced as a team and won! You did Nunavut proud! You deserve to be recognized! 👏👏👏👍

    • Posted by Entitled YT on

      To 867,too : nobody was complaining about the lack of representation until you brought it up. But now that you have…
      This sport has always been a colonizers sport. What Inuk has ever been made to feel comfortable surrounded by privileged YT.
      Any Inuk previously involved in this sport probably had YTness in their family.

      • Posted by Umingmak on

        What an absolutely ignorant, out-of-touch comment. Have some respect and dignity.

        Hockey is also a “YT” (did you never learn how to spell “white”?) sport, yet Inuk children, teens and adults absolutely love the game, grow up playing the game, and sport NHL patches on their home-made parkas across the territory. Is Jordin Tootoo just a product of “YouTubeness” in his family? Should he and his positive influence just be discarded as the result of “whiteness”?

  4. Posted by mik on

    the amount of hate comments is ridiculous, as a inuk for me , reading these poor comments is embarrassing . You should thank people that want to represent NU in sports. Curling is and always has been open to anyone in Iqaluit that wants to play . they made a a team and chose to represent NU .

    bravo to those that represent NU and bring more eyes to our location


Join the Conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *