Defending champion Charley Thomas is hoping he and his new-look rink can make history at the Canadian junior curling championships.
The 20-year-old Alberta skip is attempting to join Ontario's John Morris (1998 and 1999) as the only two-time, consecutive winner at the competition, which begins Saturday.
Thomas' coach J.D. Lind says his skip is up to the challenge.
"Being there last year will be a big help for him," he said. "Under pressure, he's very clutch and very confident and he's a great shot-maker."
Thomas arrives in St. Catharines with a vastly different squad than the one he led to Canadian and world championships last year. Lead Kyle Reynolds is back but third Brock Virtue and second Matt Ng are new. Both were on the rink that Thomas beat in last year's Alberta finals.
"They're two players were too old and our two players were too old so it made sense," said Thomas, a native of Victoria.
And it didn't hurt that Thomas was friends with both and had curled with them before at the juvenile level.
Virtue played third for Alberta skip Darren Moulding at 2003 Canadian juniors and lost in the final while Ng will be making his first appearance at the nationals.
"I think we're a very, very similar team," Thomas said. "Obviously we have different strengths and weaknesses but we're just as strong."
He describes his team as having a variety of characteristics.
"We're playing a little more aggressively this year but we're still controlled and patient."
Thomas believes the keys to repeating in St. Catharines are consistency, focus and keeping things in perspective.
"I know you have to bring your A game to every game because it's bound to happen that you will run into a hot team," he said.
Just having the chance to compete at the nationals is a bonus, says Thomas.
"I'm just so excited to repeat as Alberta champion," said the astro-physics student. "That's an amazing accomplishment in itself."
His rink roared out to a 5-0 record in preliminary-round play at the Alberta championships and one more win would have earned the team a berth in the final.
The rink lost its last two games to end up in the semifinals where the Calgary Curling Club rink gave up a steal of four in the first end before battling back to win. In the final, they were down by two heading into the sixth end before rallying for the victory.
"I knew going into the provincials that there was no way we were going to get an easy way out," he said.
The rink gets little practice time together.
Thomas and Reynolds live in Edmonton while Virtue attends university in Lethbridge and Ng is studying science at the University of Calgary.
"As a team, we play," said Lind, adding the team played four junior bonspiels and two men's bonspiels over the winter.
Alberta opens the defence of its title Saturday morning against the Steve Burgess rink from New Brunswick.