EVERETT — It began with the bagpipes, then concluded with one of Snohomish County’s sons helping sweep the ceremonial first stone to the button.
The opening ceremonies for the USA Curling national championships took place Saturday night at Xfinity Arena, with Lake Stevens’ Luc Violette helping open an event that brought the best curlers in the nation to Everett to compete over the next seven days.
The opening ceremonies included all the pomp and pageantry usually associated with major events. In addition to the bagpiper in full Scottish dress leading the procession of participants, there were speeches from dignitaries acknowledging everything from the local politicians who helped bring the curling nationals to Everett, all the way down to those who made the ice.
The surface at Xfinity Arena itself has a new look, having been transformed into five side-by-side curling ice sheets from its usual hockey configuration.
But the ceremonies weren’t complete until Violette, a 17-year-old Lake Stevens resident and a member of the current men’s junior national championship team, helped usher in the first major curling event ever to take place in his home county.
“It’s really cool to have nationals here,” Violette, a senior at Lake Stevens High School, said. “I was really happy and fortunate to be part of this event while it’s here at home.”
Violette was part of a four-person team of local curling luminaries put together to throw the ceremonial first stone. Concrete’s Nancy Richard, a four-time women’s national champion and member of the USA Curling hall of Fame, acted as skip. Ken Trask of Seattle, a member of the 2015 senior world championship team, threw the stone. Violette and Issaquah’s Ben Richardson, Violette’s junior national championship teammate, served as the sweepers. All four are members of the Seattle’s Granite Curling Club, which is hosting the event, and they combined for a perfect delivery to the button.
Under different circumstances Violette, rather than being part of the opening ceremonies, would instead have been one of the participants. Violette, who’s been a competitive curler since he was 11, participated in the 2015 men’s national championships, and there’s a good chance his team — which is part of USA Curling’s High Performance Program and includes Richardson, Chicago’s Andrew Stopera and Graem Fenson from Bemidji, Minn. — would have been a discretionary selection to compete this week.
But winning the junior national championships last month in Fargo, N.D., defeating fellow Granite Curling Club member and good friend Nick Connolly 5-4 in the championship match, scuttled those plans. Instead, Violette and his team are competing in next week’s world junior championships in PyeongChang, South Korea. Violette had just enough time to participate in the opening ceremonies before departing for South Korea on Sunday.
Not that Violette is complaining.
“It’s huge to play in the world championships,” Violette said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity.
“Every year there’s a lot of ebbs and flows in junior curling because kids age out when they’re 21, so you never know any given year exactly what the competition is like,” Violette added about his team’s chances at worlds. “I actually happen to know the Canadian team extremely well because they’re based out of Langley, B.C., and we used to go up there and play there. We measure up really well against them and usually Canada is one of the favorites to win it, so I like our chances. It’s all about how you play in the moment, right? But if we play well we can definitely medal and have a chance to win it.”
But while Violette will be fully present in his competition in Korea, a small piece of his heart will remain back home in Snohomish County and with the national championships taking place at Xfinity Arena.
“I’m excited for Snohomish County and Everett to have this event,” Violette said. “I’d like to be here, being a part of it. But it’s really cool and I’m happy to see curling here in the Everett area. Hopefully lots of people come out and watch.”
For more on the Seattle sports scene, check out Nick Patterson’s Seattle Sidelines blog at www.heraldnet.com/tag/seattle-sidelines, or follow him on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.