Sports

Pat Simmons heads young 'Toba team

Paul Friesen

Pat Simmons delivers during the provincial men's curling championship in Winkler, Man., on Wed., Jan. 31, 2018. Kevin King/Winnipeg Sun

Pat Simmons delivers during the provincial men's curling championship in Winkler, Man., on Wed., Jan. 31, 2018. Kevin King/Winnipeg Sun

WINKLER - 

It was a shot in the dark, aimed over the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border.

And it brought a zombie-killing, Brier-winning skip to this province, where he’s trying to take a team young enough to be his kids to a national championship.

Pat Simmons, the two-time Brier winner and five-time Saskatchewan champ, is skipping former Manitoba and Canadian junior champs Colton Lott, Kyle Doering and Rob Gordon in the provincial men’s championship here, this week.

“I’ve enjoyed it,” Simmons, 42, said of the team’s first season together. “Obviously, we’re at totally different stages of life. It’s been great, except for them not being able to rent vehicles and stuff like that… it’s lots of fun.

“You’d be surprised -- I honestly don’t act my age all the time, either.”

How this debut season of My Three Sons even got into production is one of those stories that could only happen in curling.

Lott, Doering and Gordon were sitting around at the end of last season, realizing that for the second straight year they had to find a new skip, as Jason Gunnlaugson was moving on.

Not far removed from a Canadian junior title with skip Matt Dunstone, the threesome set the bar rather high.

“We had a few guys in mind, a few guys from our province,” Doering said. “And then we had Pat in mind. We didn’t really think he was going to say yes, to be honest. Because he’s Pat Simmons and we were three 21-year-old kids.

“And much to our surprise, Pat Simmons, of all people, said yes. It was a really surreal day.”

Gordon puts it another way.

“I mean, first full season out of juniors and we’re playing with a two-time Brier champ, one of the legends of the game – you can’t really ask for more than that,” Gordon said.

The three had actually touched base with Simmons a year earlier, again, just on a lark. But the Moose Jaw native hooked up with Edmonton-based Brendan Bottcher that season.

That experiment didn’t even last an entire season, and Simmons, Brier champ with Alberta’s Kevin Koe in 2014 and as a co-skip with John Morris in ‘15, was without a team.

“It was neat that they would try again,” Simmons said of the ‘Tobans. “They just kind of threw out a feeler and I was uncertain at that stage what I wanted to do.

“I thought it would be a cool thing, and it has been.”

Even if it does provide ripe fodder for jokes on the tour.

Like the time the three “kids” showed up at the Slam event in Lloydminster, Sask., a day before Simmons.

“Brent Laing came up to us,” Gordon recalled. “And said, ‘Oh, you boys are here without your dad.’ We don’t care. It might bug him a little bit.”

Simmons shrugs it off the way he seems to shrug off pressure.

“He’s very mellow,” Lott said of his skip. “Doesn’t show much emotion. He’s always got a sharp focus. It also brings all of us together and focusing on our goal.”

That’s one of the things the kids are picking up: how to stay cool under fire.

“Very few people in our sport have his demeanour,” Doering said. “So just to kind of echo his characteristics... plus all his strategic ability -- we’re kind of like sponges.”

As Simmons said, he’s at a very different stage of life than his teammates.

A chiropractor, he’s had to step back from his profession for more than a year because of a shoulder problem.

Doering and Gordon are university students, while Lott is studying to become an apprentice carpenter.

They find more common ground than you might think.

“It’s like he’s been 22 with us,” Doering said. “He goes to bed maybe a little bit earlier, but other than that there’s really been no difference.”

A kid at heart, Gordon calls him.

“We keep him young, and he keeps us in line sometimes.”

Sometimes the kids can’t get the old guy off the PlayStation.

“We got into a game where you shoot zombies,” Gordon recalled. “And Pat loves it more than any of us. He’ll sit in the hotel room and shoot zombies for hours. He’s taken on that role with us, too, and embraced it.”

Simmons just shrugs.

“You’ve got to adapt, right?”

If he rolls over opponents with the same ease this week, the My Three Sons tour will make its next stop in Regina.

pfriesen@postmedia.com