Luc Violette is making one last foray to the World Junior Curling Championships.
But this time Violette is calling the shots. And this time he’s determined to finally bring home the gold.
Violette, one of the most highly decorated junior curlers in U.S. history, is skipping the American team that’s competing at worlds, which begin Saturday and run through Feb. 22 in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. That means it’s the Lake Stevens High School graduate’s responsibility to guide the Americans to the top of the podium.
Violette, currently a junior at the University of Washington who’s majoring in civil engineering, is 20 years old. Therefore, this is the last year of junior eligibility for a player who is a five-time junior national champion — including the past four straight — and was a silver medalist at junior worlds in 2017.
But all his previous accolades, both at nationals and worlds, came in a support role. The previous three years Violette served as vice-skip and threw third under Andrew Stopera, who as skip determined strategy and threw the last two rocks in each end. But with Stopera aging out of juniors, Violette inherited the leadership position, and he’s loving life as a skip.
“Once we got into a groove I liked it,” Violette said about taking over his team’s skip role. “We’ve played pretty well and it’s been a lot of fun since.”
Violette comes from a curling family. His father, Tom, is a former men’s national champion who first had Violette on the ice at 5 years old. When Violette wasn’t playing hockey, he and his dad were making evening commutes, first from Granite Falls and then from Lake Stevens, to the Granite Curling Club in north Seattle, where Violette learned to play the sport with stones about half the weight of the regulation 42-pounders.
“One of the things I’ll always remember was him constantly saying, ‘Dad, I want to throw the big stones. Can I?’” Tom Violette said.
“He was really more into hockey at that point, but the more we went out to curl I could see it was in his blood. It was just a matter of time, and when he finally got on a competitive junior curling team it took off from there.”
Violette won his first junior national championship in 2014 as part of a team based out of the Granite Curling Club. That caught the attention of USA Curling, and Violette was recruited to be a part of the national setup. He became the third on a team skipped by Stopera, with Ben Richardson and Graem Fenson rounding out the squad. That quartet won three straight junior national titles, also claiming silver at worlds in 2017.
That raised the bar of expectation, but the team was unable to match its 2017 performance at worlds, losing the bronze-medal match in 2018 and just missing the playoffs in 2019. Then Stopera aged out of juniors. But that opened the door for Violette to step into the leadership position.
“Andrew and I had an understanding of one another, but we weren’t necessarily on the same page strategically,” Violette said. “This year the team is more aggressive.
“I’ve also realized that chemistry, and the soft skills of being a good teammate, are so important,” Violette added. “I think a lot of it comes down to accountability and self-awareness. Don’t be afraid of owning up when you make mistakes. Sometimes you don’t have the awareness that you’re playing bad or generating negative energy, and I had a little of that when I was younger. I’ve realized I need to find a way to have a good time with my teammates out there.”
Richardson and Fenson also returned this season, helping ease Violette’s transition, while Jon Harstad filled the open position. Under Violette’s guidance the team went a perfect 8-0 at nationals on Jan. 12-18 in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, with Violette executing the winning draw shot with the final rock of the 10th end in the championship match. The trio of Violette, Richardson and Fenson completed their junior nationals careers having won 30 consecutive matches.
“Luc is a very consistent shooter,” said Olympic gold medalist Tyler George, who took over as the team’s coach this season. “He doesn’t have down games very often, which is very unusual at the junior level, where there’s a lot of peaks and valleys. … And I can’t say how impressed I’ve been in his adjustment to being the leader of the team. It’s a mental adjustment being the guy running the game, reading the ice, taking strategy into account more, and making the team his. He’s done a fantastic job with that.”
Violette departs for Russia on Tuesday, but regardless of how the team performs he intends to move straight into the men’s ranks following his junior career. He’s not certain how that will manifest itself, as USA Curling is undergoing a leadership transition, and Violette doesn’t know how that will impact player selection for the High Performance Program. He’d love to find his way onto the team that represents the U.S. at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, though he acknowledges that the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan are a more realistic target.
But for now, he wants to complete his junior career with the one achievement that’s eluded him: Gold at worlds.
“I’m going to play like this is my last world championships,” Violette said. “I’m going to savor the pressure moments more than I did in previous years. We want to enjoy ourselves and find ways to be better curlers and better teammates, but deep down I’m really hungry for a championship.”
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