HIBBING — Under normal circumstances, Shawn Rojeski would be getting the chance to defend his Last Chance International Bonspiel title.
The Chisholm native became only the second person to win it four times, and this season, he could have become the only player to have won it five times.
But when the City of Hibbing closed its doors until May 1 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), that meant the Hibbing Curling Club and Hibbing Memorial Arena wouldn’t be available to host the event.
The 2020 version of Last Chance International Bonspiel has been canceled for the first time in the history of the event.
Even so, I got the chance to interview Rojeski just before the event was called off, and he was looking forward to defending his title with Alex Fenson and Mark Fenner.
When Shawn Rojeski was a little kid, he always looked forward to the Last Chance Bonspiel, but never did he think he’d become a part of the history of the event.
Last year, that happened when Rojeski became a four-time winner of the event, the only the person in the history of the event to do that. Rob Ramage was the other.
Rojeski, along with Alex Fenson and Mark Fenner were primed to return for that fifth title when the 63rd annual Last Chance was supposed to begin today at the Hibbing Curling Club and Hibbing Memorial Arena, but the corona-virus (COVID-19) canceled the event for the first time in the long-running spiel.
Obviously it was disappointing, but Rojeski looked on the positive-side of things.
“It’s one of the premier events and most fun to play in,” Rojeski said. “Everytime, around this time of the season, it’s fun to think that it’s coming around the corner, with all of the preparation the club is doing and all of the volunteers here to make the event go, it’s a good time.
“This event wraps up the season. It’s one of the events where you can put the curling season to bed. It’s fun seeing a lot of the teams that you don’t see the rest of the year because you’re on the competitive scene.”
The bonspiel has always drawn in top-tier teams, but a lot of those teams now are club teams that have upped their games to another level.
“It’s a lot of the teams we grew up with that we can continue to play at the Last Chance every year,” Rojeski said. “A lot of the teams that consider themselves as club teams now, are great. They’re as good as any of the others.
“They might not be the top-tier teams like everybody thinks, but they’re good. There’s so many teams that have ice for so long and they’re playing for so long, that they’re naturally getting better.”
What kind of run has Rojeski been on?
His teams have been to the finals for five-straight years.
“It’s been different teams on each of those, and this one will be different, too,” Rojeski said. “I’ve been on a super run.”
Not quite as good of a run as team Rojeski remembers in the mid-1980’s, the Glen Isaacson Rink, which won back-to-back-to-back titles from 1984 to 1986.
“They ran off 25 games in a row,” Rojeski said. “We’ve done 12 and 13 in a row twice. I can only imagine having to try and double that. It shows the magnitude of the incredible run that they had.
“Even the one that I’ve been on is one for the record books, but how could I ever get to that point?”
Right now, Rojeski is only on a six-match winning streak.
“It shows you how long of a streak they actually had,” Rojeski said. “Back then, they were up to the 120-team mark, which got into that full draw Wednesday night. A lot of Canadian teams came down for it.
“Now we only have a handful of Canadian teams. The geographics of the teams that come are different than it was back then. We pull teams out of Minneapolis and St. Paul areas now and around the state vs. the Winnipeg and Thunder Bay-type teams.”
It takes four-straight days of solid play to win the title.
“There’s probably going to be one of those games, somewhere during the weekend, that you probably shouldn’t have won, but you squeak by it and won,” Rojeski said. “It’s four days of playing good to get to that point again.”
It helps that Rojeski has team chemistry with Fenson and Fenner. Joe Polo was supposed to play with the team, but after he won the mixed doubles title, he was scheduled to miss the spiel.
“I have a lot of experience with both Alex and Mark,” Rojeski said. “I played with them in competition a couple of years ago. Both of them have been on the team that I have been coaching the last couple of years.
“I know them well. I know how they perform. I feel we should do well. We get along well, so it’s not like a new team or anything like that. The hope is there to try to get into that next level of passing the four and getting to the five-crown group and go from there.”
Rojeski would be the lone curler to reach that group, and with this team, his chances were as good as anybody in the spiel.
“Going into the first game, there’s no surprises,” Rojeski said. “We’ve been playing together for so long that we just have to focus on the game shots instead of anything with new-type players.”