Royal City rink wins with youth

For the defending provincial boys’ under-18 curling champions, the more things stay the same, the more they change.

The components of the team that’s based out of the Royal City Curling Club in New Westminster are the same, but how they’re used is different.

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Hayato Sato has slid into the leadership role, while former skip Dawson Ballard is now the second. Joshua Miki has moved up to third and Burnaby’s Troy Chong remains as the lead. The squad is still coached by Burnaby Sports Hall of Fame member and Miki’s father, Bryan.

Sato said coming off an otherwise successful season that somewhat fizzled when the team finished ninth at the Canadian U18 championships in Saint Andrews, N.B., last April, the members wanted to “try something new” for this season.

The revised mix seems to be paying off.

Team Sato recently finished third at the B.C. junior curling championships in Vernon two weeks ago, against older, more experienced curlers.

In fact, they narrowly missed qualifying for the final when they fell in the semifinal to Erik Colwell’s Vernon rink in an extra end, 11-10, after they had rallied to tie it in the 10th end.

The squad will soon begin regional playdowns leading to this year’s U18 provincial championships in Juan de Fuca, and at the end of February they’ll be representing British Columbia at the Canada Winter Games in Red Deer.

Sato said now that everyone on the team has settled into their new roles, they’re hitting their stride right when it matters most.

But, he added, changing the mix wasn’t just about results this season.

“We’re trying to become players who can do a bit of everything for our transition into men’s curling.”

For Sato and Ballard, who are both 18 years old, that elevation to junior men is imminent, while Miki and Chong are both 17.

Ballard, who received last year’s Gordon Hooey Memorial scholarship award, is a volunteer coach at RCCC.

Sato said his leadership style relies on communication while his playing style is conservative, awaiting opportunities to pounce on opponents’ mistakes.

Miki said those qualities have resonated with the team.

“We have a check-your-ego-at-the-door approach,” he said. “We’re all on board.”

Sato said talking out shots and strategies amongst the team as a game unfolds allows everyone to concentrate on curling’s fine details, like how the rock is rotating on turns or whether there’s any inconsistencies in the ice that can affect the trajectory of a shot, which can make or break a result.

“We all just do it as a group,” he said.

Miki said that’s helped keep the team together as a unit.

And it’s helped them weather disappointments like last spring’s nationals or their heartbreaking loss in Vernon.

In fact, Sato said, those setbacks will help them be better prepared this year.

“Knowing what it’s like to be at a national competition will really help us play the best,” he said.

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