East St. Paul’s Zack Bilawka and Stonewall’s Thomas Dunlop can now call themselves world curling champions.
Bilawka and Dunlop, lead and alternate, respectively, for Jacques Gauthier’s team from the Assiniboine Memorial Curling Club in Winnipeg, won Canada’s third straight world junior men’s curling title with a 7-2 win over Switzerland’s Marco Hösli in the final at the 2020 World Junior Curling Championship in Krasnoyarsk, Russia on Feb. 22.
It is the 21st time Canada has won the world junior men’s title and Gauthier’s team is the fourth Manitoban rink to do so after Bob Ursel in 1985, David Hamblin in 2002 and Braden Calvert in 2015. Gauthier’s cousin Tyler Tardi had won the previous two events for Canada.
The team, which also included third Jordan Peters, second Brayden Payette and coach John Lund, have also qualified for the Grand Slam of Curling’s Champions Cup in Olds, Alta. from April 29 to May 3.
“It’s absolutely incredible. Just so crazy to think about. It’s definitely going to take some time to sink in that we won the (Worlds). We’re all just so happy that we were able to pull this off,” Bilawka wrote in an email to The Selkirk Journal.
After losing its opening game to the United States, Gauthier’s team won seven straight games before dropping its final game of the round robin to Scotland’s James Craik 6-5 in an extra end. Seeded second, Canada defeated Germany’s Sixten Totzek 7-4 in the semifinals.
In the gold medal game, Canada scored one in the second end and stole another in the fourth for a 2-0 lead. After the Swiss scored one in the fifth, Canada scored two in the sixth, stole another two in the seventh and another point in the eighth for a 7-1 lead. After Hösli scored one in the ninth, the Swiss conceded the match.
“We sit back, play smart and capitalize on misses. We did a great job of that this week,” Bilawka wrote. “We had to play a really good Switzerland team that makes a lot of shots. We made the big ones that we needed to and got some luck along the way.”
He was also thankful for his teammates, including Dunlop despite him not playing all week. He was picked up as an alternate for Worlds after playing for Brett Walter’s provincial junior men’s championship rink.
“All of the guys are awesome. Brayden’s a heck of a sweeper. Jordan, I believe had the best percentage of anyone on the ice this week and Jacques has just been so clutch all year. Thomas was an incredible addition as well. He fit great with the guys and was a very valuable fifth,” Bilawka added.
Last October, Bilawka’s older brother Brendan became a world champion in his own right, winning gold for Canada as second for Colin Kurz’s rink at the 2019 World Mixed Curling Championship in Aberdeen, Scotland.
“I’m so happy for him and for all his accomplishments. It’s so hard just to get to a world championship, and we were both able to capitalize and win worlds in the same year. He’s been a great role model for me and continues to give me more goals to try and achieve,” Zack wrote.
Altona’s Mackenzie Zacharias completed a Manitoba sweep by defeating South Korea’s Min-Ji Kim 7-5 in the women’s final on Feb. 22.