Haliburton’s Owen Nicholls will test himself against some of the best up-and-coming curling talent in Canada next month when he takes to the ice for the U18 national curling championships.

Taking place in Ottawa Feb. 5 to 10, the competition will feature 21 of the nation’s top performing teams – with representatives from all provinces and territories, apart from Nunavut.

It will be a second successive appearance at the competition for Nicholls. Last year, he was a member of the Ontario champion, Team Stratton, while this year he will fly the flag as skip on Team Nicholls.

“At the end of last season, Team Stratton all went our separate ways. I started a U20 team with a former teammate, but I knew in the back of my mind I still had another year of U18 eligibility,” Nicholls said.

Having relocated to Ottawa in the fall, Nicholls said he didn’t know many locals from the Rideau Curling Club, where he is now a member, interested in competing. He had almost given up hope of putting a team together when he remembered a young curler, Kole O’Connor, who had reached out to him last year asking how to break into the competitive circuit.

“Turns out he had another year of eligibility, so he became my lead. We connected mid-November and the qualifiers for provincials was in early December. So, it was a week of scrambling trying to find players,” Nicholls said.

They recruited the team’s third, Drew Zettler, after Nicholls connected with a friend from Nova Scotia he met at last year’s tournament who knew someone looking for a team in Ontario, while their second, Tye McCutcheon, is friends with O’Connor.

The team was able to practice together once before going 3-0 at the provincial qualifier in Ottawa Dec. 1 to 3. That qualified them for the Ontario championships, which were also in Ottawa Jan. 10 to 14.

Team Nicholls went 5-2 in round robin play and beat Team MacDougall 6-4 in the semi-finals. They lost the final 6-3 to Team MacTavish from Waterloo, though claimed silver, and a spot at nationals, by again defeating Team MacDougall in the ‘B Final’, this time 10-5.

“It’s a huge accomplishment, especially given our team’s circumstances and how late we came together. It’s really special for me, because I’m skipping the team this time,” Nicholls said. “Getting back to nationals again so soon is amazing. It’s very special for me to get back. If we put a few games together, we all make some shots, I think we have a decent chance of at least making the playoffs.”