Team Matt Dunstone considers relocation due to restrictions in Saskatchewan

Feeling hamstrung due to provincial COVID-19 restrictions that limit their ability to compete, the members of Team Matt Dunstone are considering moving out of Saskatchewan to try to salvage their season.

Frustration had been building since Saskatchewan-based curling teams were advised this month that they had to compete, train and practise within provincial boundaries due to the pandemic. Things hit a boiling point with the last-minute postponement of a men's tour event this weekend in Regina.

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It has become an untenable situation for the seventh-ranked Dunstone side, which won bronze at last season's Tim Hortons Brier. With the Olympic Trials just over a year away, the foursome is determined to build up for it with quality training and competition.

"We're being totally handcuffed in our ability to do so," Dunstone told The Canadian Press. "It seems like no matter what we do, we just find another brick wall to walk into.

"We're totally searching, just grasping for any sort of string that we can try to pull to make something happen at this point."

The team met Friday morning to discuss next steps. Vice-skip Braeden Moskowy said they explored all possible options for playing in Saskatchewan but that a move west - potentially to Alberta - was likely.

"Enough is enough," Moskowy said. "We've got to try to do what we think is best for our careers and gives us the best chance to get better. At this point, it looks like a move to Calgary is probably the only way to go about this."

CurlSask, the provincial curling association, said in a statement Friday that the men's event and women's tour stop in Martensville, Sask., were postponed "out of an abundance of caution."

"The decision was reached based on the advice of the Government of Saskatchewan’s Business Response Team and the recent increases in COVID-19 cases," the statement said. "We appreciate the understanding and co-operation of organizers, clubs and athletes who continue to do their part to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"We will continue to review protocols in consultation with health authorities to ensure that we are in the best possible position to keep our sport and our province safe."

Saskatchewan reported 33 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and has 511 active cases overall.

Several top domestic curling events have been cancelled or postponed due to the pandemic, forcing many elite teams to focus on regional events. Clubs and teams have been following return-to-play guidelines from Curling Canada while respecting any provincial/territorial or local restrictions.

"We're disappointed in not being able to play this weekend," Team Dunstone said in a Twitter post late Friday night. "But we are 100% committed to Saskatchewan, the public and our sport's safety. As a team, we have not made any decisions on how best to move forward this season as we consider different options."

With limited choices for competition, Team Dunstone spearheaded the creation of a five-team Vaderstad Saskatchewan Super Series event last weekend in Regina, an event that went off without a hitch.

A total of 24 teams were entered in this weekend's bonspiel at the Highland Curling Club. With six sheets at the facility, a maximum of 48 players would be in the rink at one time.

Provincial guidelines say that for sports where participants are unable to adhere to physical distancing, groupings or so-called mini-leagues should be formed. Mini-leagues can be comprised of multiple teams, but no more than 50 individuals.

Dunstone said the Saskatchewan Health Authority approved the 24-team event two weeks ago and he didn't understand why a postponement was needed the night before opening day.

"We feel like we're doing what we're told and doing it to the best of our abilities and yet when push comes to shove, I guess that's not good enough for them," he said.

It wasn't clear whether the fact that 96 curlers were set to participate over the weekend was a factor in the decision. A message left with the Saskatchewan Health Authority was not immediately returned.

"Every time we turn around there's a new rule that comes out of thin air being thrown at us with no real rhyme or reason," Moskowy said.

"A lot of people are left scratching their heads at this one," Dunstone added.

CurlSask executive director Ashley Howard was not available for an interview.

Adding to Moskowy's frustration was that while competitive curlers have been restricted, 12-sheet clubs have been running with full leagues and junior hockey is returning in the province.

The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League's pre-season is underway with 150 fans allowed to attend games. The Western Hockey League is set to begin Jan. 8.

"They're sharing sweat and blood and all that," Moskowy said. "We're curling. We're not even coming close or touching the other team. That's what's frustrating for us."

The Dunstone rink originally planned to play bonspiels this fall in Red Deer, Alta., and Penticton, B.C., but have been unable to confirm their participation.

Dunstone, Moskowy, second Kirk Muyres and lead Dustin Kidby all work from home and could continue remote work from out of province if needed, Moskowy said.

"We're not too sure on all the logistics but we know if we make the move out to Calgary in the next week or so, that we'll at least be guaranteeing ourselves a tour season up until Christmas," he said.

The event postponement also drew the ire of Saskatoon's Colton Flasch, who's skipping a new team this season after his departure from Team Kevin Koe.

Flasch said he was frustrated with the "lack of consistency within our government" and "the control they have over us."

"All I know as of now is they changed their minds on how many people are allowed at curling events," he said via text. "It was 10 per sheet and then all of a sudden they let us know the night before the event we cannot have more than 50 people.

"As you can see, my frustration (is) there is curling in every province but Saskatchewan and all curlers can travel but Saskatchewan. We are the only province doing this so it’s just frustrating."

The Saskatchewan Health Authority says that in addition to interprovincial travel not being permitted for competition, out-of-province teams are also not permitted to play in Saskatchewan bonspiels.

It wasn't clear whether a relocation would affect Team Dunstone's ability to defend its provincial title at the Feb. 3-7 SaskTel Tankard in Estevan, Sask. A message left with CurlSask on that subject wasn't immediately returned.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 23, 2020.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

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