Sports

New Westminster's Bilesky off to The Brier

Andrew Bilesky of the Royal City Curling Club delivers a shot in the B.C. men
Andrew Bilesky of the Royal City Curling Club delivers a shot in the B.C. men's final against another RCCC team skipped by fellow New Westminster resident Brent Pierce.
— image credit: CurlBC

After months of bad luck Andrew Bilesky wasn't about to risk giving it a chance to spring up and bite him once again with his dream of reaching The Brier a shot away.

The New Westminster resident was about to throw his last rock in the B.C. men's curling championship final against Royal City clubmate Brent Pierce in Parksville on Sunday. He had a choice of drawing or making a hit and stick for the win.

He was a bit nervous, though. Not about his ability, but about lady luck. All through the provincial playdowns, Bilesky and his teammates had been the victims of many untimely picks, where their shots picked up debris underneath the rocks they threw. If that happened again, they wouldn't be going to Edmonton for the Canadian championship, aka The Brier, starting March 2.

Another despicable pick would ruin all he and third Steve Kopf, 24, second Derek Errington, 24, and lead Aaron Watson, 34, had worked all winter for. At least on a hit, reasoned Bilesky, if it picked there was a good chance the stone would at least get rid of the rock they were shooting for and if his shooter rolled out of the rings they'd still be tied.

Bilesky, however, cleanly hit the target on the nose for a 7-4 victory avoiding an extra end.

"It's amazing. Everyone as a junior curler has a dream of going to the Brier and not everyone gets to go so to get to the Brier is really amazing. It still hasn't really sunk in," said Bilesky on Tuesday.

The road to The Brier is rarely smooth, but it was big-time bumpy for the Bilesky bunch. During the regional playdowns they were in the B and C finals in which if they'd won either game they would have received a berth in the provincials. Then at Curl BC's last chance bonspiel they lost the A and B final before they finally punched their ticket to Parksville with a win in a C event final when a loss would have ended their dreams for this year.

Their high-wire act continued in Parksville where they lost the A final to get into the page playoff system, 9-4, to another Royal City team skipped by Sean Geall, and then the B final to Pierce, 7-6. They finally made it on their final chance, of course, defeating a former RCCC young gun Jay Wakefield 9-8. In the playoffs, they then beat Tom Buchy of Kimberley 8-3 in the quarter-final and Geall 8-4 in the semifinal.

"We did have a lot of picks and bad luck, we must have had 20 picks in the playdowns," said Bilesky. "It was very frustrating because you work all year for things and you get picks and it's out of your control. It was definitely a grind."

After surviving the playdowns, the adversity they faced in the provincials wasn't anything they couldn't handle. So they were prepared to grind it out even further when Geall nailed a tough run back for fourth in the eighth end of the A final and Pierce "made an amazing shot" with an angle slash for three to win the B qualifying game.

"If anything we were more prepared than others because of all the games we played," said Bileskey, who works as an avionics technician on water bombers at Conair at the Abbotsford airport. "We had that fight in us to battle us through that thick and thin.

"It wasn't easy. You're playing good, we were still playing good to get to those qualifying games but we just weren't able to get to those.

His team will be the first from Royal City to go to The Brier since 2009 when Geall was the skip and Pierce played third. After he'd won a provincial junior title in 2001, Bilesky played third for Pierce, who won a world championship in 2000 playing for Greg McAulay, for three seasons.

"Making it to junior nationals is still a huge accomplishment, but when you get to men's it's a whole different game. It takes a lot more mental energy and dedication," said Bilesky.

Playing in a tiny arena in Parksville is a lot different than Edmonton's Rexall Place which can hold nearly 17,000 spectators.

"The atmosphere, it'll be a huge, huge difference. It'll be exciting," said Bilesky.

If the prospect of playing before all those people in addition to a national television audience wasn't daunting enough, the opposition includes three of the sport's superstars in Ontario's Glenn Howard, Jeff Stoughton of Manitoba and former world champion and reigning Olympic champ Kevin Martin of Alberta, along with 2006 Olympic champion Brad Gushue from Newfoundland and 2006 Brier winner Jean-Michel Ménard of Quebec.

"It's one of the stronger [fields]. There's a lot of good teams, but that's not how we're going out thinking about it. We're just going to go out there playing our game," he said.

At least the team goes into The Brier knowing they can compete with the big boys having taken Martin right down to the last shot in the final of the Westcoast Curling Classic at the Royal City Curling Club on Thanksgiving Day.

They'll be tested right off the bat with their first game March 2 being against Howard, the defending world champion, before facing Martin on the second day.

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