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New Zealand national curling team staying at retirement residence while training in Calgary

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New Zealand curlers struck a deal to live at the Chartwell Colonel Belcher Retirement Residence for their four-month stay in Calgary.

The team is practising and playing against Canadian teams to learn all they can about the game.

Their downtime is spent at the Belcher with its 175 independent living residents.

Cassandra Murray, the facility's retirement living consultant, saw a social media post by the New Zealand team looking for accommodations.

"I'm a competitive curler myself -- in my younger days in Ontario -- and I still follow curling social media pages and I saw that the team was looking for short-term residency," she said.

"We found a great plan and reached out to Chartwell and made sure we could do it respectfully and safely for our residents as well -- furnishing the suite, making sure we were ready for their arrival -- and it all just fell into place."

Three members of the team arrived Sept. 1 and their coach and fourth member will join the group in October.

Ben Smith, the team's third, wasn't sure about the deal at the retirement residence at first.

"It was funny, initially. We made a few jokes and then sort of thought about it seriously, like this is a great option," he said.

"Now that we're here, just the sense of, I guess, community, like leaving home, leaving friends and family to come here and have all the support from people, if you were having a rough day and you ran into someone in the hall and then you cheered up immediately."

Anton Hood, the team's skip, says he's amazed at all the people in the facility who have curled in the past.

"We're getting a little bit of advice," he said.

"Everyone's got these stories. Lots of them have been longtime curlers -- a lot longer than us, for sure -- and yeah, it's quite cool just to hear about where they come from in the sport and how they progressed through their careers and where they got to and why they've done so."

Brett Sargon, who curls in second position for the team, says it's great to chat with some of the seniors.

"A lot of them are ex-curlers themselves, so we'll hear stories about their travels to New Zealand," he said.

"It's just a really cool added extra to just come over here, in a new country, not knowing anybody. ... Having those kinds of connections is a really cool thing."

Murray says having the team live with residents for so many months is a win-win.

"We've worked out a little agreement," she said.

"To spend time with the residents, engage in some programs and in turn, they can stay here for four months."

The team is focusing on playing in the ATB Classic hosted by the Okotoks Curling Club, which has teams from all over Canada as well as a number of international teams.

"In New Zealand, because we don't have the depth of competition, you can learn strategy in a textbook but it's never the same," Hood said.

"So for us, going to international events was where we got lots of our teaching from and obviously, wasn't progressing quick enough, so that's what gave us a move to Canada to play those better teams week in and week out, learn those minute details of the sport and just hone our game."

Smith says time in the gym is no replacement for playing on the ice.

"For me as a sweeper, just to be sweeping all the time," he said.

"The best way to get fit for sweeping is to sweep, so that's going to be really good for us and then the experience, strategy-wise, for us as a team and that's where we expect to learn the most, I think."

Sargon says it will be an intense four months learning all they can and when they head home, they'll share what they've learned in Canada.

"One of our goals is that (curling) will continue to pick up and grow back home," he said.

"We had our nationals in July and we had eight men's teams entered and that was an open-entry system and so we're hoping if we can kind of get a little bit of success and help to potentially grow the sport back home, that's one of the big goals of ours."

Linda Smith, a resident, joined a dozen others from the Belcher to see the team in action in Okotoks.

I'm a big curling fan -- very enthusiastic about it -- and I followed the teams for years," she said.

"We're playing (Mike) McEwen -- great team -- (and) Kevin Koe is on the next sheet over. I mean, you couldn't ask for better to watch. I hope that they can finesse their game and they can learn from the best because Canada has some of the best curlers and if they want to compete at the Olympics, they've got to be competitive."

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