Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Skins Games and other past events

It’s at this time of year that I think back to the other skins game that used to take place between Christmas and New Year. It was originally known as the GM Goodwrench Skins and was a local, Ontario event. It morphed into a bigger deal and was shown on Sportsnet and had a number of different sponsors over the years, including M&M Meats if memory serves me correctly. There were lots of great teams involved, many of whom had to fly to Toronto on Christmas Day in order to make the show. Paul Savage was the guy behind it.

Eventually, like many other curling events, the sponsorship dried up and it went away.

It got me to thinking about other events that have come and gone. Of course there have been many. My favourite was the old Royals Classic, which started off as a carspiel then turned into a cashspiel with some significant dough. This was one of the most effective spiels I’ve ever seen that combined serious curling with serious partying.

What other events that no longer exist do you miss?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Olympics fuel local growth

Here's my Globe column today on how curling associations are preparing for a surge in interest in playing the sport thanks to the Olympics.

I've often taken curling associations to task for their lack of preparedness to capture those who get interested in the sport thanks to it being seen on television. But this time, I think the CCA and USCA are ahead of the game. Now, of course, it's up to those at the club level to utilize the programs put in place and try to get people from in front of their televisions onto the ice.

Anyone have any examples of clubs that are taking advantage of the high profile the Olympics will give and using it to recruit?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Your help for the decade in curling

I usually do a Globe column on the best of the year but this time I’m looking back on the entire decade. So I’m welcoming your help in deciding some of the following:

* Team of the decade

* Game of the decade

* Shot of the decade

* Quote of the decade

* Story of the decade

Leave me your thoughts and you might seem them in my next column.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Globe column on John Benton

Here's my latest Globe column on American lead John Benton. What a great story and although I only interviewed him over the phone, he seems like a wonderful guy, someone you just can't help but cheer for.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Trials' wrap

I made it home to balmy Toronto (temp +2) today, wrapping up a good week in Edmonton. Some thoughts:

* Overall, the Trials was a great success. I think Jackie-Rae Greening (who is really one of the nicest people you'll ever meet) and her gang did a first-class job of hosting the biggest and easily the best Trials to date. And I've been to them all. Edmonton really is the centre of the curling universe.

* Talking to a number of players over the final weekend, it's clear that Kevin Martin and his team aren't going to win any popularity contests among their peers. Almost to a man, the players I talked to said the new Olympic squad isn't really a team in the true sense -- they are more a business. "I've never seen the four of them do anything together other than curl," said one Western Canadian curler. "I don't know if they really like each other." The betting is that if the team starts losing (which, admittedly is a long shot considering the way they played) at the Olympics, there will be lots of finger-pointing. That said, I have no problems with Kevin and the rest. They've been good to me from a professional standpoint and on the ice, they're mighty impressive.

* TSN pulled in its largest television audience for a curling event ever -- 1.2 million -- for the men's final. The 875k for the women's game was great too. Of course the men's game had the perfect ingredients. Two high-profile teams, one from audience-rich Southwestern Ontario and lots on the line. I don't think they'll surpass this for the gold medal game in Vancouver.

* Possibly the only people in Ontario happy that Glenn Howard lost are the organizers of the sponsorless Ontario men's final. Howard would have passed on the provincials if he'd won the Olympic berth. And the next highest-profile curler in the provincal, Wayne Middaugh, isn't entering so it would have been wide open.

* The CCA seems much better prepared to support its Olympic teams this time around. The winners got $50,000 to help out with travel and accommodation and tickets for family members. At the last Games, Russ Howard told me it cost him $24,000 to bring his family along for the trip to Italy. And there's a designated person -- the Great Jock Tyre -- to look after the needs and wants of the family members.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

One final done, one to play

One down and one to go. Yesterday, Cheryl Bernard finished off what’s been a great week for her Calgary squad by winning the Olympic berth with a victory over Shannon Kleibrink.

For the first five ends of that game, it looked like no one wanted to win. It was among the sloppiest big contests I’ve ever seen. I’m sure somewhere, Bingyu Wang and Anette Norberg were smiling watching the two teams make mistake after mistake.
But the second half was much better, or at least a lot more exciting. Right down to last shot, just like it should be.

To me, the difference seemed to be just how mentally prepared the Bernard team was. I mean, they were laughing and smiling throughout the match, no matter what the situation. They really seemed to be handling the situation with calm. Kleibrink looked tense to me, so did Amy Nixon, but she’s almost always wound up.

Interesting to note that after the game, you could see just how PO’ed Nixon was at the loss while Kleibrink, in the media scrum seemed to be “Oh well, we tried our best.”
I’d prefer an attitude like Nixon’s personally.

From a purely selfish point of view, Bernard is a better winner. She gives better quotes than Kleibrink, who is nice but usually a bit stilted in the scrums.


On the men’s side, I don’t think you could draw it up any better. The top two teams in the world going for the biggest prize. What’s the difference here? Probably just a shot somewhere along the line, either one made or one missed.

I think you had to be impressed with the Howard team’s performance in the semi against Jeff Stoughton. They were very, very good. For that reason I’m going to give them the edge today even though the record favours Martin.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Dumping Controversy

Dump-gate or Brush-gate or Broom-gate.

Call it whatever you want, but Richard Hart’s calling out Ben Hebert for dumping on Thursday night has the potential to colour the final should Glenn Howard get past Jeff Stoughton today (which is no sure thing).

Most folks know that in the ninth end of their round-robin game, Hart accused Hebert of breaking a rule by lifting his broom and leaving debris on the ice to slow down a Martin shot.

Hart was hot when he came off the ice, as much at losing as by Hebert’s alleged actions. But I caught up with him before he practiced Friday and he cleared the air.

“In no way was I trying to call them cheaters,” he stressed. “I perceived that a rule was broken and I said something about it. Whether that rule was broken or not, that’s not up to me to say. I thought I saw a rule get broken, I asked for them to look at the [replay].

“If a rule was broken, it should be addressed [by officials]. If it wasn’t then maybe they should say something to me to shut my mouth.”

Now despite the fact that Hebert denied dumping, a number of players I talked to said they were happy Hart called Big Ben out.

“It’s about time someone said something,” one player said to me. “He’s brutal, so obvious.”

I should point out that when I asked a couple of these players if Hebert was the only one who does this and they said no, but he was the most prominent rule violator.

The rulebook says that an official has to make the call and there are three options if the rule is broken. Leave the shot as is, remove the rock from play or replace it where you think it would have finished without the dump.

But trust me – no official anywhere is going to make that call, no way, no time. They don’t have the cojones.

Hart also said that there will undoubtedly be some uneasy feelings if the two teams meet. He said that he and Howard sat down at breakfast Friday morning and saw Hebert and Martin across the room. They waved. Hebert waved back. That was about it, though. There was a chill in the air.

The real problem here is a problem curling has had for some time. You don’t want officials to have the power to affect the game but you want the rules to be enforced.

The hog line umpires are a perfect example. When they were around the players raised bloody hell at the inability of the officials to do that job properly – just ask Randy Ferbey or Paul Savage. Yet they don’t want guys to break the rules by sliding over the hog line. The Eye on the Hog fixed that but I don’t see a solution for dumping.

Still, it will be interesting to see what happens if Howard gets past Stoughton today. That should be a good game, likely without any tension.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Wednesday at the Trials

Notes from Wednesday at the Trials:

** Here’s something I’ve never heard before. Just before the start of practice, an announcer comes on the PA system and says. “One minute to red practice. Players may cool their sliders but no practice slides.” Cool their sliders? Has anyone else ever heard this? For the record, the players seem to ignore the advice. Guess they cooled their sliders down back at the hotel in the mini-bar.

** Too bad the Martin-Ferbey match got out of hand so early. It really deflated the crowd who were looking for an edge-of-the-seat game rather than the one they got. For the record, Dave Nedohin’s shot in the second was a) really tough and b) almost perfect. A half-inch difference and he’s got the possibility of getting one.

** Ferbey, by the way, is the best quote among the curlers here. Although sometimes you can’t quote him. After yesterday’s game I asked him what he was thinking when he saw Martin take three. “Fuck,” he said, laughing. That didn’t make it into the Globe.

** The daily newspaper put out for the Trials is called The Morning Roar and it features a Q+A with two teams every day, one men’s. one women’s. The questions are the same everyday for each team and are a bit off the wall, making for interesting reading. For example, one question is Who is the most annoying celebrity. Jason Gunnlaugson’s choice? Linda Moore.

** Stupid Media Question of the Day: A guy asked Jennifer Jones if she thought the competition here this week was going to be tough.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Rating the Hurry Hard

So while spending the day watching the curling here, I decided to rate the sweeping-calls of the skips – and one third – on the women’s side of the draw. Here’s the scale I used --Vocal Strength represents how loud the player is. Sustainability is how long the person keeps the yell going. Repetition is a measure of how many times the player repeats the instruction. Whiney Factor is how annoying it is to listen to the instructions if you were a sweeper.

Jennifer Jones
Vocal Strength: 9
Sustainability: 7
Repetition: 7
Whiney Factor: 4
Notable: Uses the word “Really” a lot as in “Really Hard.”

Stefanie Lawton
Vocal Strength: 6.5
Sustainability: 8
Repetition: 3
Whiney Factor: 5

Shannon Kleibrink
Vocal Strength: 6
Sustainability: 4
Repetiion: 7
Whiney Factor: 7

Amy Nixon
Vocal Strength: 11
Sustainability: 11
Repetition: 11
Whiney Factor: 11
Notable: By far the loudest and the most urgent. Makes Russ Howard seem like a mute.

Cheryl Bernard
Vocal Strength: 8
Sustainability: 5
Repetition: 7
Whiney Factor: 5
Notable: Her voice seems to drop and octave when she gets really into it.

Amber Holland
Vocal Strength: 5
Sustainability: 5
Repetition: 6
Whiney Factor: 2

Krista McCarville
Vocal Strength: 7
Sustainability: 4
Repetition: 7
Whiney Factor: 2

Crystal Webster
Vocal Strength: 5
Sustainability: 7
Repetition: 4
Whiney Factor: 6

Kelly Scott
Vocal Strength: 4
Sustainability: 4
Repetition: 6
Whiney Factor: 4

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Monday at the Trials

Some observations after my first day in Edmonton:

The women take warm up a lot more seriously than the men. I’m not talking about on the ice, but everything that happens before that. You seen them stretching and jumping around, doing something to get their heart rates up, I guess. The men mostly look around and tell jokes with each other.

Kevin Martin walked out for his second game today and quickly doffed his jacket to reveal that he’d put on Jules Owchar’s shirt with the name on the back. He walked around for about 10 minutes before someone pointed it out and he went and changed.

The day after I had a story on just how great Hans Wuthrich is at making ice, the guys came off after their draw saying how tough the ice is. “We’re better than this,” said Glenn Howard. It should be pointed out that he has full confidence that the guys will fix things up before long.
Oops. In fairness to me, I wrote the article on Hans well before anyone had curled on the ice here at Rexall Place. It was more of a general article on Hans and his past successes. Still, timing is everything isn’t it”

If you’re coming to Rexall Place to take in a game, eat beforehand. A slice of pizza is $6 – makes me think Rogers Centre is actually reasonable.

When we’ve been living in the balmy fall-early winter conditions in Ontario, it’s awfully tough to get used to -25 degree temps here in Edmonton. You have to dress in expedition wear just to walk over to the patch. I haven’t made it yet. Yes, I’m a wimp.

There are only eight teams in each draw. So why is it two of them get stuck wearing these bile-green coloured jackets?

Old curlers don’t fade away – they become reporters. Sitting on the bench behind me here in Edmonton is the reigning World Seniors champion Eugene Hritzuk, reporting for a radio station.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Follow Me on Twitter

OK, made it to Edmonton where it's a balmy -25 this afternoon.

And in other news, I've succumbed to pressure -- you can now follow me on Twitter at bwoncurling.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

What to expect at the Trials

The Trials start today and for the fourth time, the best teams in the country will gather to determine who gets to wear the Canadian uniforms at the Olympics. Here’s what you can expect to see this week:

The Great Play: As Glenn Howard said, this will be the greatest curling event ever. Hard to disagree with that. The qualifying format this time around is undoubtedly the best in the history of the Trials. All 16 teams are quality and it’s hard to call anyone an underdog.

The Unexpected: The trials have a history of producing some strange results (step right up, Mike Harris). There is one big reason for that – it’s because you get people who overload mentally, thinking too much about what’s at stake rather than the next shot. You can’t perform if you’re under pressure and there’s no more pressure-packed curling than the Trials. It’s a little tougher this time around since all the teams reached here the long way rather than in previous qualifying formats.

The Ice: Expect it to be perfect. Hans Wuthrich is in charge and he’s being blessed by cold weather in Edmonton (actually f&*&^ing freezing weather), which can only help. It will be a little less curl than the men would like or play in the Grans Slams, but be enough to make great come arounds.

The Dissension: Expect one or two teams who drop out of the race for the playoffs early to self-combust. Most of these teams are on a make-it-or-break-it plan, meaning if they don’t win the Trials, they’re history and history might get moved up for someone who goes 0-4.

The End of the Line: If they don’t win, will this be the end of the line for some players? Will Randy Ferbey keep playing? How about Wayne Middaugh? K-Park? Lorraine Lang? You could be watching the end of some great careers this week.

The Changing of the Guard: It’s clear that this time around – if it hadn’t happened already – that the Olympics has surpassed the Brier and Scotties as the most important event in the game. The Canadian championships are great events, but the best in the game now have their viewfinders focused on four-year cycles.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Trials Preview

Here's my preview of the Trials, as it appeared in the Globe yesterday. It was featured in a new Monday Olympics section. Later this week, I'll give you my fearless predictions on who I think will win.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Domion a HUGE hit

I got over to the finals of the Dominion Curling Club Championship yesterday and witnessed a couple of very good games, one with a rather strange conclusion.

First, the event. By all accounts – and I mean all accounts – this was a rip-roaring success. Every player I talked to simply gushed about the event, praising Dominion for its hospitality. There was wine tasting, beer tasting, a wings-and-beer night, dancing, carrying-on to the wee hours and more. It also looked as if Dominion gave every player a new broom too. Wow.

Also, host site St. George’s was done up to the hilt. They had the time clocks from the OCA above all six sheets and the rocks all had the hog line lights on the handles.
It was big time, all the way.

The finals were interesting. At first you forget these aren’t elite players as you’d expect in a national final. They’re talented club curlers and so there were some misses and some strange calls, but overall, the games were exciting.

The men’s final went to an extra end and Ontario’s Bob Stafford took the win in a close match.

The women’s was a wild affair. Ontario’s Kelly Cochrane got up 4-1, then surrendered a three when she decided not to peel off a corner guard (as I was saying about strategy). It ended up in an extra end and it was bizarre. One centre guard in play, that’s it. Cochrane throws her last rock, it looks a little hot, but it picks just as it goes over the hog line. All Manitoba’s Jackie Komyshyn has to do is find the paint.

She throws her rock and the red lights indicating hog line violation go off – even though it appeared she clearly let the stone go before the hog line (I was about 25 feet from her at the time).

In the second extra, Cochrane tries to go behind a corner with her last one but it hangs out. Komyshyn has an open hit and stick. She comes wide, it hangs and I’m thinking a hit and roll out and a third extra, but she hits it too thin and fails to remove it, rolling out her own. Ontario wins.

I suspect when all these teams head home this event will blossom. When news gets out about how well everyone was treated and great an event it was, there will be a scramble to try and get in it.

Good for Dominion for moving into the grass roots of the sport. There’s so much attention at the upper levels but this type of sponsorship is much more important these days in my opinion. A good event all around.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Do We Really Need Mixed Curling?

Mixed curling. I don’t get it.

I mean, I get the Friday night sweep-and-giggle stuff at the club. That’s fun and that’s obvious. I haven’t played mixed for some time, but I enjoyed it when I did. I even remember one guy in a league in which I once played who had a team comprised of his wife and his mistress. His wife didn’t know of course. She also didn’t know that his mistress was carrying his child. How’s that for cajones?

What I’m talking about today is the Canadian Mixed which just wrapped up a great week at the Burlington Golf and Country Club down the highway from where I live.
Former golf pro and now Timmies owner Mark Dacey skipped his Blue Nose rink to victory. By all accounts the week was a smashing success both on and off the ice. (although how someone wins the 2010 Mixed in 2009 is a bit of a mystery.)

I’m not trying to shoot down any of that, but I don’t get why we have a national mixed championship in the first place. I mean, other than those Friday night leagues at the club and some social bonspiels, no one curls mixed competitively. The only time there’s any sort of competitive mixed curling is. . . at the playdowns leading to the Canadian mixed. (I’m not including the newly created mixed doubles here which is another story -- enjoy Russia Mark and Heather!).

Every other national championship makes sense as guys and gals form competitive teams, play hard all year and then enter the playdowns. There are cash events for juniors, men’s, women’s and senior’s – but not for mixed.

I don’t want to be the bad guy who suggests this, but maybe we don’t really need a national mixed, which, by the way, hasn’t had a national sponsor since the days of the corn broom.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Globe column on Wayne Middaugh

Here’s today’s Globe column on Wayne Middaugh. I spoke to Wayne just after he won his spot in the Trials, which, by the way, marks his third trip – he was there in Brandon and Halifax and now Edmonton.

I think Wayne has mellowed slightly, not just in curling but in life. I’ve always found him to be a very accommodating guy and the odd time he’s blown by me after a big loss, he’s always come back later to talk. In some respects, I think he knew on those occasions that it would be better to say nothing than to say something out of frustration. So while it wasn’t that convenient for deadlines, it was wise.

As for that temper, well I remember something Wayne’s longtime third Graeme McCarrel said to me once: “I’d rather have a guy who gets pissed off at losing that a guy who doesn’t.”

Makes sense.

Monday, November 23, 2009

49er tries his hand at curling

They are a little off on some of the facts about the sport and the rules, but give the Associated Press full marks for arranging this. San Francisco 49er tight end Vernon Davis was brought out to try his hand at curling in San Jose, Calif., and became a convert to the sport.

Friday, November 20, 2009

New CCA Commercials

Unless you were running to the fridge to replace your brew or stocking up on more chips, you probably saw the new CCA television ads during the weekend’s broadcast of the pre-Trials-roaring-road thingy.

I thought they were excellent and very catchy, something that’s been needed for a long, long time.

If you didn’t see them, you can watch here. You’ll notice a few familiar faces as they zip past, none more prominent than Paul Savage. He along with John Pineo of CMG Marketing were behind the new spots that are intended to try and re-brand the culture of the game. That’s a wise move as to outsiders, the image is still that of a sport played by old white people.

The campaign also includes a call to action at the end to go to a web site, www.startcurling.ca which is also very well designed and looks like it’s intended to appeal to a younger audience.

The whole program is a huge step up from the horrid My First End campaign where a bunch of zombie-like people talk about playing for the first time. There was zero excitement in the ads and it made going curling about as attractive as getting kicked in the groin.

These new ads, however, are great. Now here’s the complaint (you knew there’d be one, right?). If you go to the CCA’s web site (curling.ca), you won’t find any mention of the Start Curling campaign. There’s no link to the micro-site, no mention of the commercials, nada. In fact there’s still a link to My First End.

Here’s hoping that when the Trials get underway that’s changed. This is a great chance to get new people into the sport and every resource available should be used.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

TV numbers for the Roar

The numbers for last weekend’s Road to the Roar were solid once again, drawing substantial numbers for TSN. Saturday afternoon’s match drew an audience of 455,000 while the evening game, going head to head with Hockey Night in Canada, had 378,000.
I can only imagine what the numbers will be for the Trials in Edmonton.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Granite Club

Last weekend I went into my first bonspiel in some time. As I may have mentioned, I’ve been away from regularly playing the game until this year due to injuries and a hockey-playing son who required a chauffeur.

So our squad headed over to the Granite Club for the 53rd annual men’s invitational. That’s pretty darn impressive – 53 years. The event started in the old Granite Club, which was located at St. Clair and Yonge, and is now, of course at the new Granite Club.

Now the new Granite Club is easily, to me, the most impressive curling club in the world. There aren’t many places where you drive in and the parking lot attendant tells you: “The curling is on the third floor.” Heck, there aren’t many curling clubs that have a parking lot attendant.

But the Granite Club is about as swank as they get. It’s a massive fitness, figure skating, badminton, squash, swimming and tennis facility. I’ve probably left a few sports out too. There's also computer courses, a speaker's series, music lessons, wine-tasting and more. Just walking around the place is like being in an art gallery as there are some fabulous pieces on display.

The curling facility is on the third floor and there’s a lounge in the centre that looks out on the sheets on one side and then on other side, looks down on the figure skating ice a floor below. While we were there, the stars of Battle of the Blades were all training for the big finale.

I'm betting that a lot of the current members don't have a clue that the club's name comes from the material out of which curling rocks are made. They may not even know the grand history of the place.

Of course the Granite Club has an amazing history – it was the site of the first 13 Briers, from 1927-39 and then again in ’41, the last time it was held in Toronto. The club has done a good job at preserving that history. But the club goes back way before then. In fact, on the ice are numerous banners for winning provincial championships including one that stretches back to 1889 – wow!

The club put on a remarkable event – I think there were about five meals over three days, including a dinner-dance on Saturday night where you could bring your wife or girlfriend (but not both), lots of free drinks, and some curling. I’m not really sure how they did it all for the entry fee – good sponsors, I assume – but it was quite amazing.

Oh yes, we managed to keep our head above the water line long enough to grab the fifth event and win a nice bottle of scotch.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Trials Wrap/Two Globe stories

Before some comments on the pre-trials, here are two stories I wrote that appeared in Saturday’s Globe. My regular column featured Jennifer Jones, who passed through Toronto making an appearance for Scotties. She’s always a delight to talk to and I really respect her drive, her commitment and the way she balances here life, being one of the few world-class curlers to maintain a career (as opposed to just a job) and curling. I had to laugh -- after filing the story, I called the desk to ask if there were any questions and the editor said any time he can get a Jennifer Jones picture in the paper, he jumps at it.

The other feature was for the Globe’s Fully Focused feature, which is a section that profiles athletes going to the Olympics and Paralympics. It’s on Jim Armstrong, who is also a wonderful guy and back enjoying curling.


An interesting wrap-up to the pre-trials in Prince George, B.C. I think it’s fair to say that on both men’s and women’s sides of the draw, there were some favourites who made it through and a few surprises too. About what you’d expect in something like this.

First the women: Crystal Webster – surprised me, but in a good way; Krista McCarville – what I expected; Kelly Scott – only surprise was that she needed a C-side berth; Amber Holland – didn’t have her in my picks but she was impressive.

The men: Jeff Stoughton – no surprise at all; Pat Simmons – ditto; Jason Gunnlaugson – will play the role of Mike Harris at this Trials; Wayne Middaugh – still has all the shots.

So of all eight of these teams, which has the best chance of actually winning the Trials? I’d say it would be Stoughton, who has experience, talent and is obviously playing well.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Another day at the Roar

Two days down and lots of great possibilities at the Road to Roar. Top seeds were getting dusted – but that’s no surprise as the seeding was way off to begin with based on recent performance.

Same sort of thing on the men’s side. In C, there’s Jordison, Gunnlaugson, Burtnyk and McAuley. A lot of cashspiel organzers wouldn’t mind those teams as the final four.

I thought Burtnyk might fare better but again, is it a real surprise that these teams are here? This is a tough, tough field and the one in Edmonton will be even tougher.

Sort of goes to prove that the method of selecting the teams is probably pretty good.

So today’s A finals: Kelly Scott vs. Crystal Webster. I’m going with Scott because she’s got more experience.

On the men’s half, I’ll take Stoughton although this one is very evenly matched.

The game that I think is most interesting today is Middaugh vs. Ursel. That will be a barn-burner.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Day 1 at the Pre-Trials

Day 1 of the Pre-Trials is over and there were a few surprises, I’d say.

On the men’s side, I’d say the biggest surprise was McEwan beating Burtnyk. Now it’s not a jaw-dropping shock (I'm not sure anything can be with this field), but it was still somewhat of an upset, I’d say

The other games went pretty much to form – I’d say the Ursel-Stoughton match could have gone either way with those two squads among the hottest of any going in.

Another interesting development is the possible A final between Stoughton and Gushue. Stoughton, who has a great sense of humour, quipped to the Calgary Herald's Al Cameron “Of COURSE (Gushue) has a chance.” You can read Cameron's full piece which focuses on Brad Gushue here.

What’s also interesting is that lower bracket on the B side which has Ursel, Burtnyk, McAuley and Middaugh all grouped. I will be interesting to see who comes out of that quadrant

On the women’s side, The Scott and Anderson teams are about what most expected although I thought Heather Rankin might advance there too. One the bottom half, those crazy kids, Team Homan are pretty amazing. I’d LOVE to see them make it to the Trials and I’m sure the CCA would too.

Today should be another interesting day.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Pre-Trials (Ugh!)

The Pre-Trials get underway today in beautiful downtown Prince George and it’s the last chance for the 12 teams on each side of the draw to make it to the Roar of the

This qualifying system was put into place for this Olympic period after a lot of consultation with all stakeholders, but the loudest voice was obviously the players themselves. It gave the curlers a second chance to make it to the Trials just a few weeks before the event, which means a team can get on a roll heading to Edmonton.

That’s opposed to a team that might have qualified a year prior and gone flat in the

Of course if you are a conspiracy theorist, there’s also a monetary reason here. The Pre-Trials (which just sounds very strange, doesn’t it?) is another event at which the Canadian Curling Association can make money – hopefully. When this was planned out, don’t forget, the national body was looking for dough, big time.

So once we get past that, we can look on the ice. This is being run like a big cashspiel with a triple KO format. A and B winners and the C finalists all get to go to Edmonton.

The major difference between this and a cashspiel is that there’s a heck of a lot more on the line than a cheque.

I think the women’s side is a lot harder to handicap than the men’s. My thinking is that Kelly Scott, Cathy King and Sherry Middaugh will make it through with the final spot going to either Krista McCarville or Eve Belisle. The dark horse would be the junior team of Rachel Homan.

On the men’s half, I think Brad Gushue, Bob Ursel and Jeff Stoughton advance with Wayne Middaugh, Mike McEwan and Kerry Burtnyk fighting it out for the third spot. The dark horse will be Ted Appelman.

One final note: I’m not sure who came up with the name Road to the Roar, but it’s positively, utterly stupid. Sort of like Pre-Trials.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A story on Shorty

On the eve of the Pre-Trials in Prince George, B.C., let’s pause a minute and take in a wonderful story in yesterday’s Toronto Star on the great Shorty Jenkins.
You can read the story here.
It’s a wonderful piece highlight the Short Man’s contributions and innovations to the sport. It also mentions Shorty’s battle with Alzheimer’s, which, according to many I know who’ve stopped in to see him, isn’t too severe.


Just a reminder that I'm selling off the last of my Brier books after recently discovering several unopened boxes. They are moving quickly but there's still some left. If you want one, just use the tool on the right side of the screen to put in your order.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The hunt for new gear

Today is a big day for me. I’m heading out to buy curling pants. Whoo-hooo.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, after a three-year absence from the ice due to injuries and driving my hockey-playing son all over Southwestern Ontario, I’m back throwing rocks. And I need new, updated gear.

At the Hershey Centre a couple of weeks back, they had a media game (only myself and Brian Mudryk showed up) and after I threw on the ice and was walking back towards the dressing room, Scott Taylor noticed my shoes and almost broke out into laughter.

“We haven’t made those in 10 years,” he said of my generation 1 Balance Plus dogs. A few years ago, Scott graciously gave me a broom but I lost that in the divorce (don’t ask). So I’m ordering up new shoes and a new broom from Balance Plus. Only the best for me.

Now also in that three-year interim, my waistline has shrunk significantly (thanks to me taking up running and laying off the wings) and so the old pants won’t stay up.

Those pants, by the way, were purchased from Earle Hushagen’s pro shop at Humber Highland, so those in Toronto have an idea of how old they are.

So. . . any recommendations on the best kind of curling pants to get?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Scott Taylor, curling’s busiest man, dropped me a note yesterday reminding me to help promote Movember. This is a great promotion that helps raise funds for Prostate Cancer Canada.
Prostate Cancer Canada raises funds for the development of programs related to awareness, public education, advocacy, support of those affected, and research into the prevention, detection, treatment and cure of prostate cancer.
Right now, one in six Canadian men will suffer from prostate cancer and that’s expected to grow to one in four by the end of the decade.
Please help by going here and making a donation.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Howard wins Brooks

It’s been a good couple of weeks for Glenn Howard and his team. The boys took home $22,000 for winning the Brooks Cactus Pheasant for the second straight year, knocking off Kevin Martin in the final.
This has become – in a very short time – one of the most popular stops on the Asham World Curling Tour.
However, in the release sent out last night to announce the Howard win, I noted this paragraph at the end:

For organizers, they now have to start looking at next year. It wasn’t easy getting this one off, considering the downturn in the economy. The City of Brooks, County of Newell and Alberta Government came through with grants to give the event a kick start. The success of the event also takes a strong commitment from the many local sponsors, along with a board of directors, headed up this year by Chairman Lawrence Block, and over 100 volunteers which make the Cactus Pheasant Classic a major event for the City of Brooks and the County of Newell. For the curling fraternity in Brooks, it is an important event locally , and for the curlers across Canada, they have put their names on a waiting list to get in.

I have no problem with government grants going to help an event like this, since it probably results in a great deal of money flowing back into the community through hotels, meals, drinks, etc., from the curlers. That's not to mention the excitement int he community. And since governments seem to be giving money to anyone with a hat out these days, why not an event that can help the community.
Your tax dollars at work? Sure, why not? (As long as there’s no Conservative logo on the cheque!)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

How about a Brier in Toronto?

I’m writing a column on whether or not the success of the Grand Slam event last week at the Hershey Centre means Toronto could host a Tim Hortons Brier. Plus side: great arena and facility (patch attached!) at the Ricoh Centre, media centre of Canada so lots of attention, 23 curling clubs in TCA, most of any city in the country. Negative side: Has to compete with Leafs, Raps, et al, Canada’s most culturally diverse city with lots of folks who have no clue about curling, expensive for marketing and for folks to come from out of town.
What do you think?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Curlers getting in shape

Here is a link to today's Globe column. It's on the fitness levels of the curlers.
I've been impressed with how hard the curlers are working at this and of course Dean Gemmell's book with John Morris, Fit To Curl, is proof that this isn't just a flash in the pan.
I sort of liken it to when Tiger Woods came into golf and sent everyone running for their personal trainers. Can you play good golf without being in great shape? Sure, but you can play even better if you are. Same thing, it seems, is going on in curling.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Grand Slam TV Numbers

According to Chris Zelkovich of the Toronto Star, the Grand Slam of Curling drew some decent numbers for the recent broadcast from the Hershey Centre.

The quarter-final on Saturday drew 483,000 viewers while Sunday’s final was watched by 441,000.

Considering it was up against the NFL, the CFL and MLB playoffs, I think those numbers are respectable.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Who will have a tougher time winning gold?

So a few of us knee-sliders were sitting around yesterday talking about the Olympics and curling. A question was posed: do you think the Canadian men or Canadian women will face stiffer opposition in Vancouver?

Interesting question, don’t you think?
In three Olympics, Canadian curlers have never failed to medal but only won gold twice, once for the men, once for the women.

My answer was that I think the women’s field is deeper and therefore they will have a tougher time winning a gold medal. I think there is a higher quality of teams on the women’s side and more returning top players. I would say that I think there’s more of a gap between the most talented team and the least talented, but still, it will be difficult to win a medal no matter who you are.

That doesn’t mean the Canadian women won’t win or that the Canadian men won’t have a tough time winning, but just the margin is tighter on the women’s side.
Thoughts anyone?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Brier Books for Sale!

So over the weekend I was helping my parents clean out the homestead where they've lived for the past 35+ years and I made an interesting discovery -- About seven boxes of my first curling book, The Brier: The History of Canada's Most Celebrated Curling Championship.
This book was my real baby, a labour of love that took me two years to write. It's a comprehensive history of the Canadian championship that examines how the event was started up through the 1995 championship. In addition to some great history, there are lots of great tales from some of the best in the game and (IMHO) loads of behind-the-scenes stories about the top players of the era.
So I'm going to clear these out for $25 which includes tax and shipping. If you look at the top right corner of the blog, I've set up a Pay Pal Buy Now button that will allow you to use Pay Pal or a credit card to pay. You can also send me a cheque if you'd prefer. Address is Ontario Curling Report, P.O. Box 143, Stn. D, Etobicoke, Ont., M9A 4X1. And if you want it personalized, I'll do that too, for free!!! Just send me a note with what you want me to write.
These are, by the way, in brand new condition. Never been opened, never been out of the box.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Howard wins Grey Power

Here's a link to my report of the Grey Power World Cup of Curling final in today's Globe. And here are some thoughts about the final. Note the picture -- it's of the cheque that never got handed out.
• Glenn Howard’s team may one of the best at mid-game adjustments. After getting off to a slow start, they really turned the game around yesterday with some second-half improvements. They didn’t miss very much from the fourth end on. That’s harder to do that it might seem, especially mentally.

• Although they didn’t look that good in the last half of the game – especially Blake MacDonald – I think Koe’s team will be tough come the Trials. They are a pretty solid squad.

• You could see the exasperation on Koe’s face after the loss. Part of it was no doubt due to the fact it was the sixth consecutive loss in a Grand Slam final. The other part was that this was a game the team could have won if it had showed up in the second half.

• Spotted up in the rafters behind the game sheet: a member of the Chinese delegation with a video camera recording the game.

• The crowd was decent yesterday, but not jam-packed as I expected it would be. The fact that it was an absolutely perfect day outside might have had something to do with that. Still, there were about 3,700 people there and 41,701 fans came through for the week, which should end any doubts of whether Toronto can host a Brier.

• The Toronto Curling Association earned more than $80,000 in revenue from ticket sales which will go back into the group’s pot to promote the game in the big city.

• Speaking of the crowd, I can’t say is was the most knowledgeable group of fans I’ve seen in a curling rink. Too often they cheered half-shots and some misses, thinking they were good. Oh well, at least they showed up.

• I like CBC’s move to interview more than just the skips. Scott Russell’s chat with Howard lead Craig Savill before the start of the seventh end was revealing when Savill said the team had been getting tricked on the ice early on but now seemed to have it figured out.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Finals thoughts and a crazy video

Today we get a final at the Grey Power World Cup that should be quite interesting. Either Glenn Howard will get his first win of the year or Kevin Koe will finally get a Grand Slam victory.

In the quarters, to take nothing away from Brad Gushue's team, but I can't remember when I've seen Kevin Martin's team play such a mediocre game throughout the lineup. The top end was certainly not their best in that match.

Gushue then didn't have his best stuff in the evening against Koe, who looks really solid. I liked it when he threw two great doubles in one end and you could hear one team member say: "I like curling on your team."

On the other side, I continue to be impressed by Thomas Ulsrud, but the Howard rink is clearly not quite at their best but is still in the final so what does that say?

It sets up for an interesting day at the Hershey Centre.


I was directed to this video of the men’s final of the U.S. Olympic Trials by a friend while out at the Hershey Centre and if you’ve never seen it, you have to take a look. I’ve seen a lot of crazy games in my day but in terms of wild games with a lot on the line, this almost takes the cake.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Globe Column: Howard vs. Martin

Here’s my Globe and Mail column for Saturday. It’s a feature on Glenn Howard and Kevin Martin, and how those two may be the favourites heading to the Trials, but strange things have happened at that event in the past.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Day 2 at the Grey Power

Day 2 at the Grey Power World Cup of Curling was another good one with what I would say are decent crowds. Again, I had to miss the evening draw (for my own curling game) but the afternoon draw was about 1/3 to ½ full.
Some thoughts from the day:

• I ran into Dean Gemmell and he gave me a copy of his new book, Fit To Curl, which he wrote with John Morris. I haven’t yet delved into the book in depth, but a glance through shows it to be thorough and interesting. Lots of great reading and a virtual bible for anyone considering competitive curling. I’ll have more once I’ve read through it.

• So, Brad Gushue, how’s your team playing? “Horrible.” That was his quote after he eked out a win in the afternoon draw yesterday. He says that his team didn’t have ice to practice on back home until last week so that’s hampered their tuning. Despite that, the Gushues have two wins already this year but the skipper chalked that up to just making the right shots at the right time.

• Spoke at length with Chinese coach Dan Rafael yesterday and asked him how the team could run out of time – in the seventh end, no less! – in the first draw in Wednesday night. He said the timekeeper came up to him and asked if he knew they were low on time and if he should warn the curlers. When Rafael asked how much time they had left, he was told two minutes. No point, he said. He hoped the boys learned a lesson. “It was the first time I think they’ve seen me visably upset.” He said the team can be a bit frustrating in that one game they’ll go out and beat Kevin Martin and the next look like knee-sliders from the Legion League.

• As one former world champion pointed out to me yesterday, this may be the easiest Grand Slam field in history. Hard to disagree.

• In my 21 years of covering curling for the Globe and Mail there was a first yesterday: three – count ‘em – three writers at a single curling event. Columnist Jeff Blair and writer Bev Smith joined me in the press box. The Olympics will do that.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Day 1 at the Grey Power World Cup

I spent much of yesterday at the Hershey Centre, watching the teams practice in preparation for the Grey Power World Cup event. Actually, I got to through a few rocks too. There was a media “event” that allowed us ink-stained wretches to toss some granite prior to the practice and I’m proud to say, I won it. Actually, all I did was beat Brian Mudryk of TSN; we were the only two to show up with our gear.
So, some observations:

• Randy Ferbey is still the best interview in curling. The guy just makes me howl with his honesty. He says what so many other people are thinking but won’t say and he’s been around the game so long, he’s seen it all and then some. Much of the stuff I can’t put down here, unfortunately. He did tell me all about the new bar he opened five weeks ago, Randy Ferbey’s The Rink. When I pointed out that he was a lot slimmer than the last time I saw him, he told me he was even thinner before the bar opened.

• Team Ferbey is, by the way, the first squad I know of to arrive with an “entourage.” Well, it’s not really an entourage unless one person counts, I guess but they have brought their therapist/chiropractor along for the trip. They’re using this event as a dry run for the Trials, trying to see if their plan will work. I spoke with this guy for a few minutes and he told me how players at different positions have different ailments. For instance, Pfeifer and Rocque, because of their sweeping, have lots of aches and pains in their arms, triceps and shoulders. They are also asymmetrical in that the muscles on one side of their body are much stronger compared to the other due to sweeping. For Ferby, it’s all about his knee. It’s interesting to see a team go this route, something that’s very common in golf where a player will have a therapist, trainer, psychologist and caddie at big events.

• It seems that almost every top team is taking it easier this year leading into the Trials. Fewer events, some by design, some by happenstance (Lloydminster being canceled), is the order of the day. Most of the rinks will spend more time in the gym than on the ice. Almost all of them have been to the Trials before and they know what to expect.

• Speaking of working out, man these guys are in good shape. With the exception of a couple, they all seem to be lean, mean fighting machines.

• Glenn Howard told me yesterday that he believes the Trials will be the greatest curling event in history because of the strength of the teams. Hard to disagree.

• While there’s lots of focus on Martin and Howard owing to their success over the last three years, neither has a win this year and more than one curler mentioned that the hottest team in the nation so far this year is Bob Ursel.

• The ice seemed pretty good when I was throwing (not that I’m any great judge). There was a big swing – edge of the 12-foot got you the far side of the four-foot -- but later in the day some doors at the arena were mistakenly opened and because of the rainy, warm conditions outside, the humidity came in and everything got frosty. I wasn’t able to attend last night’s opening draw so I can’t report on what happened in Draw 1.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A chat with Murdoch

I had a chance to speak with David Murdoch yesterday in advance of the Grey Power World Cup of Curling and you can read the results of the interview here. (By the way, this marks the start of my 21st year as the Globe's curling columnist.)
I think Murdoch and his team are exceptional talents and in a country where we are so focused on Kevin Martin and Glenn Howard and the rest, you might underestimate just how good the Scots are (I know the Canadian curlers don't). They are two-time world champs and the reigning kings of the ice. They are legit contenders for the gold medal.
I was impressed with the hard work they've put in -- training six days a week with only a couple of weeks off after the worlds -- and the schedule they've put together this year to prepare for Vancouver. Of course, being selected so far in advance (hello? CCA, are you listening?) has made planning that much easier. They won't go through the madness that will fall on the Canadian teams who will have 10 weeks to prepare after winning the Trials.
One interesting note that didn't make it into the column was that a colleague of mine who covers the Olympics told me that Murdoch was being considered to carry the British flag in the opening ceremonies. I'm not sure where a guy gets information like this but when you think about it, it probably makes perfect sense -- it's not like the Brits have a great wealth of athletes on ice and snow. When I told him, Murdoch seemed a bit shocked but certainly saw it as a big honour. We'll have to wait and see if this is just a rumour or if there's some meat to it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Getting Ready for the Hershey Centre

I was back on the ice for a regular curling game the other night, my first in three years. Owing to injuries and a son who played hockey all over hell’s half acre, I haven’t slipped the slider on for some time and it showed – my poor skipper!

Anyway, several of the guys on the ice are involved in the Grey Power World Cup and said things are going along swimmingly except that the icemakers aren’t getting in quite as soon as they hoped. They will be about eight to 10 hours behind sked when they get the surface so you wonder if that will affect the early draws.

Aside from that, I hear ticket sales are quite strong with lots of interest in recent weeks.

The last curling event in the Hershey Centre was the 2003 Ontario men’s final and from an attendance standpoint, it flopped. (From a financial standpoint, it was a winner as there was great sponsorship in place.) But that was during the era of the boycott and there was no star power to speak of. This time, with five top Canadian men’s teams in place, it’s nice to see the Toronto curling community – one of the biggest in Canada, if not the biggest – responding.

I’ll bet that outside of David Murdoch, however, not many of the international teams are known personally, just by the fact they’re representing a country.

It’s also nice to see that the folks behind the event have gone where no Brier has dared go and scheduled matches at times that will draw the biggest crowds. For instance, all five Canadian teams are on the ice for the opening draw, none playing each other. Thursday night you have Gushue vs. Howard; Friday night it’s Martin vs. Ferbey.

I talked to Glenn Howard about the shootout last week and he’s pumped for it as I imagine all the players are.

It’s all pointing towards a great event.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Debut of Season of Champions TV

I finally managed to get through the CCA’s Season of Champions TV special which was supposed to go live last week, but ended up with a whack of technical difficulties and had to be taped and posted for re-broadcast.

Overall, I thought it was a pretty good effort and there was a lot of interesting content from the seven guests.

But as someone with some experience in this field through my golf work, here are my thoughts on this debut:

• Waaaaaaaaaay too long. I wouldn’t sit through an hour and 40 minutes-plus program like this if it was on regular TV and I’m not going to do it on my computer. It could have easily been broken up into two different shows, one for the men and one for the women. Web TV is not regular TV and shows over about 10 minutes results in people clicking away. I suspect very few people sat down and watched this from start to finish.

• The content was quite good, especially the men, I thought. There were lots of candid answers, such as Kevin Martin talking about how poorly his team handled things at the 1992 Games.

• It may have been wise to screen the guests on the questions. On the women’s side, the first two questions drew awkward pauses and blank stares from the four women.

• The hosts Jackie-Rae Greening and Jim Jerome did a great job at drawing good answers out of the players.

• But in the opening. . . . Jackie-Rae. . . jeans? This isn’t radio, you know.

• The audio in the women’s segment was all over the map. I especially had a tough time hearing Jackie-Rae, who sounded a bit as if she was in a tin can.

A good start and with some polishing, this could be a great addition to the CCA, not just for the road to Vancouver but for all the events.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Big Jim gets Olympic nod

Nice to see that Jim Armstrong is going to lead the Canadian team at the Paralympics. The announcement of the team, which also includes third Darryl Neighbour, second Ina Forrest, lead Sonja Gaudet, Coach Joe Rea of and alternate is Bruno Yizek of Calgary, came down today from the CCA.

Canada is the defending Games champions but won only its first world title last spring when Armstrong skipped the rink to victory.

The curling competition will take place March 13-20.

My favourite memory of Armstrong, who was a much-feared Brier competitor and competitive curler in the 1980s and early ‘90s, was at one particular Brier where if he won his final game, it avoided an onslaught of tiebreakers. Us media-types went to him before the game and mockingly told him that we’d by him a big bottle of his favourite liquid if he could manage a win. That’s because it meant we had the night and the next morning free (this being in the days before the Page System). About eight ends into the contest, Armstrong made a great shot to count a big end and take control of the game. He looked up at the media bench and held up two fingers, mouthing the words “Two bottles, two bottles.” We all roared with laughter, of course.
And yes, Jim did win the game and he did get his bottle.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Thief makes off with Aussie curling rocks

This one is pretty hard to believe, but some person has stolen almost all the curling rocks in Australia. Here's the story from Garth Woolsey in the Toronto Star:

It might not have been the crime of the century, but in the annals of sport what happened this past week in Australia amounts to the granite gem of the week, Down Under division, at least.

Authorities are leaving no stone unturned after thieves made off with a refrigerated trailer containing 58 curling rocks, which amounts to more than a third of the supply in the entire country. (Imagine, by way of a very poor comparison, the trauma if a third of the genuine Aussie rules footballs in Canada went missing. Imagine.)

"They are useless to anyone else except for us, apart from as a doorstop or propping up a coffee table," curler Paul Meissner told The Associated Press of these rocky times. "They might be valuable ... but that won't do you any good. They could sell them to the Canadians, but they've got their own rocks."

Yes we do. Loads of them.

Curling is an afterthought on the Australian sporting scene, even though its best compete at the world level and are ranked in the top 12. The Age newspaper described it in stone-cold terms as "the obscure winter sport that involves sweeping ice."

Rock on, Oz. Rock on.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

China wins . . . big whoop

Maybe I’m the lone guy in this, but I’m not one who thinks the world of curling changed when Bingyu Wang won yesterday’s (today’s) women’s world championship.
Yes, it’s marvelous that China grabbed its first global crown. And it’s stunning just how quickly this team became world-class. And yes, it’s great that the final was beamed into China on state-run television.
But wake me up when China has more than a few dozen curlers.
For some reason, I’m skeptical that this win will open the floodgates for the sport in Mao’s old home as some are suggesting. First, there’s still no curling culture in China so even if people were watching, so how many viewers had a clue as to what was going on?
Second, there are no facilities to speak of in China for folks to go and try things out. These gals live, train and curl in Canada. Why? Because we have the facilities. Nothing is going to change until they start building curling rinks in China and this win might help that a bit, but I don’t see six-sheeters springing up like daisies any time soon.
Here’s what I compare this to: remember when Myriam Bedard won a gold in the biathlon? There wasn’t a sudden rush of folks to that sport. Now it’s not a fair comparison because you don’t go out Friday night for some mixed biathlon. But to the Chinese, curling is nothing more than an obscure sport which they’ll never play nor have any desire to play.
My point is for curling to grow in any way, shape or form in China, there has to be more grass roots development. Maybe this will be the start of a long road towards that goal, but I have my doubts.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The World is Changing. . . or changed

I don’t know why I’m still surprised whenever Canada loses in a world curling championship, but I am.
So when Jennifer Jones lost to Anette Norberg yesterday (or is it today?), in the 3-vs-4 game, it was news. I’m still living in the last century when Canada always seemed to win the worlds. Of course, it didn’t back then either, but it sure seemed like it.
Some day soon, we in Canada are going to realize that when a team like China, comes to Canada, spends six days a week, eight hours a day training and practicing, they are eventually going to catch up and pass our top players who have to put in long hours at the salt mine before they get to go and throw rocks. Actually, they’ve already done the catching up part and the passing will come soon at this rate.
By the way, I know it’s great to take the world championships all over the place and expose curling to new folks, but when no one bothers to show up what’s the point? Looking at James Bisson’s piece from Korea makes you wonder who in the WCF got the smart idea that one of curling’s biggest events should be held in a country where the sport is virtually unknown.
I mean, is the point of all this so some folks can stand up at the next WCF meeting and say, “Aren’t we great? We held a world championship in Korea.” Then they can all hold hands and sing “We Are The World.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Capital One steps up again

Recession? What recession? Capital One steps up again and sponsors the world championships. This further legitimizes the Ontario Curling Report’s listing of Ian Cunningham has the most influential guy in curling. Capital One now has deals with the Grand Slam, CCA and WCF – they practically own the sport.

Zug, Switzerland, 25 March 2009 - Infront Sports & Media, exclusive media and marketing partner of the World Curling Federation (WCF) has secured Capital One Canada as an Official Partner of the WCF. As a result, the Canadian financial services company will be the Presenting Sponsor of the Mount Titlis World's Women Curling Championship in Korea in 2009 and the Title Sponsor of the Men’s and Women’s World Championships beginning in 2010.

Capital One Canada is committed to the sport of curling and is the Title Sponsor of the Capital One Grand Slam of Curling, which features eight annual men’s and women’s events. Capital One is also an Official Partner to the Canadian Curling Association.

A new direct relationship
Capital One will take on the Official Title Sponsor role beginning in 2010, including naming rights (“Capital One World (Women’s/Men’s) Curling Championship”). This will be supported by in-ice advertising, perimeter board and team uniform advertising, website integration and promotional spots on television.

As part of Infront’s new marketing programme, Capital One will be joined by three other long-term Official Partners of the WCF. The new programme connects partners directly with the WCF, who is curling’s governing body and an Olympic sport federation.

Ian Cunningham, Chief Marketing Officer of Capital One Canada said: “We have built our commitment to curling over the last few years with great success and this new partnership with the WCF gives us a platform to reach even more curling fans. Capital One is excited to be a presenting sponsor at this year’s world championship event and we look forward to taking it to the next level in 2010 as title sponsor.”

WCF President Les Harrison added: “Capital One is an ideal partner for the World Curling Federation. The company is active in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada – all important curling countries – and experienced in activating curling as a sponsorship platform. For us, it’s an ideal relationship.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

22 Minutes goes to the Brier

A very funny take on the Brier from the gang at 22 Minutes K-Mart has the best come-back.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Brier TV numbers

I was able to get some viewership numbers for the Brier final weekend:

The tiebreaker between Quebec and Manitoba: 271,000

The 1 vs. 2 game between Ontario and Alberta: 587,000 (1,000 more than the game between the same teams the night before)

The Brier final (drum roll please): 873,000

Interesting to note that the Scotties final outdrew the Brier final.

Brier final -- thanks for coming out

Now wasn’t that too bad?
After a great week filled with some amazing shotmaking, some absolutely engaging playoff games, the final turns into a blowout. Pretty much all said and done after the fourth, really. Sad, especially for TSN which was showing its first final.
I thought the TSN gang did a great job building up the game. The preview show was well done although what was with the guy doing the voice over on the Koe profile? He sounded very weird, as if he was some sort of villain in a Batman movie. I’m also not sure the five minutes on the Territories was warranted considering this was the Brier final.
The opening tease with Russ Howard doing the voice over was excellent, the build-up with Ray, Linda and Vic well done. I thought Cathy Gauthier’s comment that “This has been the best Brier ice in the history of curling” might have been a little over the top though. All in all, not a bad job for a first stab at the big game.

* I’ve never given much credibility to the shooting stats they put out at the Brier because I’ve seen the people who do the marking, but. . . it was interesting to note that Steve Gould was listed at 100 per cent for the game. But if you think that’s amazing, Kevin Martin was marked at 97 per cent. For a skip, that is just off the charts.

* Is it possible that Jeff Stoughton will be the last of the toe-sliders in the Brier? They are definitely a rarity these days and not that many youngsters feature that style.

* A noted difference between Kevin Martin and Glenn Howard: K-Mart is much better at bringing the heat.

* Can’t remember the last time I read a reference to “the bouquet from a glass of Montcharet 1978” in the lede of a curling story. But you can read it here. Oh and just a clarification: Marc Kennedy is actually the Alberta second.

* In my Globe column on Saturday that dealt with possible changes to the Brier format that would allow for separate entries for each of the Territories and add a Team Canada, one idea was to keep the number of teams at 12 and have a relegation system where the bottom two teams would drop down into a challenge against those not in. So if that was in place for this year, would there need to be a playoff at the bottom because three teams tied at 2-9 (N.S., PEI and Territories)?

* While you were watching the Brier, Canada was finishing second in both World junior finals. Scotland won the women’s crown and Denmark – Denmark, for crying out loud! – won the men’s.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Semi-final notes

* The difference between good ice and crappy ice was in full view last night. Take nothing away from the Manitoba team but it was sad to see the performance of the two squads compared to the previous two previous games. Can’t think back to a time when there were so many glaring misses, especially by the skips.
It wasn’t as much fun to watch, although in a weird kind of way I was intrigued to see how bad it could get. Seeing Jeff Stoughton miss three open shots for extra points was stunning. Seeing the Ontario team wreck on guard after guard was equally shocking. But at least the Manitoba skipper made his last rock to win – always like to see that.

* I have little knowledge of icemaking, so it’s unfair to criticize the work of the team, but how does a sheet go from almost perfect, all week and into the playoffs, to what we saw last night? I'm confused.

* Funny how Stoughton was almost overlooked coming into this Brier with so much focus on Howard and Martin. I think he was a little ticked at that and rightly so. He’s a world-class player with a world-class team. It’s not a surprise that he’s in the final, not by a long shot.

* As far as I know, Kevin Park is the only curler to ever visit the media’s hospitality suite (or as we call it, the hostility suite) at a Brier. It happened years ago late, late at night. K-Park, who was a different person back then, showed up as we were still carrying on, stunning most of us, since he was still in the running for the Tankard. But he knew that with the bars closed, we would probably still give him a beer. We did and joined right in with the rest of us. That was then and I’m exceptionally happy that Kevin’s been sober for three years now – he is truly one of the great people in this game and I'm glad he's on the right path.

* Great work by the TSN crew to dig up the stat that the only time Glenn Howard had lost three consecutive games in a Brier was in 1991 when he was playing for his brother. But they missed the next obvious link in that stat – that it was Martin who won the ’91 event.

* Speaking of TSN, they’ll do the Brier’s first pre-game show today before the big finale.

* I’m thinking that Alberta wins the game tonight, but I’m hoping that the ice allows these two talented teams to play their best.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Notes from another night of watching curling

So last night I had to go out for the evening so I PVRed the game. It was neat to be able to fast forward through all the commercials and even put the first few rocks of every end on fast speed. I wonder if TSN has thought about Brier Game-In-An-Hour like they do with the Raptors. Hard to imagine they boys could top Thursday night’s game, but Friday’s was another classic.

Speaking of commercials, what do the folks in charge of promoting future curling events do when they decide to make theirs? Call up the local high school TV production class? It’s embarrassing, really. Shots of old fat people in eight-year-old fleece sweaters sitting in their seats clapping makes me want to rush to the phone and order tickets for the Scotties/Brier/Worlds/Trials.

Gal who impressed me last night: Linda Moore. She was spot-on in her comments throughout the evening.

Here’s a link to this morning’s Globe column I wrote. It’s on a subject that’s extremely emotional for some, changes to the Brier. All you Northern Ontario folks be very afraid.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Ont-Alta game draws big numbers

The game between Martin and Howard last night drew an audience of 586,000. At first, I was disappointed by that number but when you realize that Thursday is one of the biggest nights for television viewing (Survivor, CSI all draw more than one million and Grey's Anatomy, ER picked up more than two million) so that number is actually remarkable (so I'm told).

Notes from watching a classic game

Notes I made while watching the game, easily one of the most memorable in my years of watching rocks go up and down a sheet:

* Guy who really impressed me last night: Marc Kennedy, man that guy can curl.

* Why oh why do people wave when they see themselves in the shot on the Jumbotron? Don’t they realize they look like idiots?

* Toughest job in the building: Cathy Gauthier – she had to watch the other three games.

* I was very disappointed to hear Glenn say after the game that it was the most fun he'd ever had in a curling game. I can't believe he'd rank that game ahead of our famous 1982 Ontario University Curling matchup where one of his players was so drunk he literally fell sideways out of the hack before he threw.

* Think the players were excited? Did you see K-Mart jump up and point out that chance for two in the fifth? Glenn’s shot had barely stopped moving when he was up indicating the tap for two.

* I loved after Glenn’s try in six (where he was trying to come around the high guard for two or possibly three) that K-Mart gave him the broom wave indicating a hell of a shot, and then Glenn came down the ice and talked to Hebert. Do these guys love this game or what?

* Have to give credit to the icemaker, Jamie Bourassa, for giving these guys the fabulous conditions on which to perform. Would have been disappointing to have this one on crappy ice.

* Worst line of the night: Linda Moore describing a shot by Richard Hart -- “The electrical contractor is trying to plug it up.” Gag.

* I have never seen Hart play two bad games in a row. That’s why I’m expecting him to be almost flawless tonight.

* Guy who got almost as much TV time as Martin or Howard – Jim “Hollywood” Henderson and his camera.

* Best part about all of this is that we get to do it all again tonight!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Attention CCA: Seeding the Brier draw might work

After returning home from four days in Florida chasing Tiger Woods around Doral, I’m home and writing this during the early ends of the Ontario-Alberta matchup and it’s already proving to be a sensational contest. (yes, for the first time since 1990, I'm not in attendance at the Brier -- the facial ticks are really taking hold about now.)
And the fact that this game is happening on Thursday night in front of a packed Saddledome is huge. I’d like to think that the CCA, in its wisdom, recognized that the possibility of such a gigantic matchup was possible when it made the draw. If you’re a reader of this blog (or my other columns in print) you know that I’ve railed for years about how the CCA had to seed the draw. How, for marketing and ticket sales, it needed to set the draw after the provincial/territorial champions had been decided to provide for the maximum sales/viewership.
I’ve been told for years that it simply wasn’t possible to do it that late and was given all sorts of reasons why. I still don’t buy any of those, and I hope that the CCA now sees that it needs to schedule marquee matchups at premium times. Having Alberta play Ontario in the final game of the round robin, on a Thursday night, in prime time, is simply magic. I’m predicting a television audience in excess of one million (I will post the overnights tomorrow at some point). Heck, as I was taping some stuff with Mike Weir in Doral yesterday, some guy yelled over at us, asking who I thought would win tonight. Obviously, he was some transplanted Canuck, but even Weir wanted to know what was going on, not that he’d been following it, just what all the hype was about.
Time to sit back and watch this game, which has all the makings of a classic.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Hart on his sleeve

I’ve always liked Richard Hart as a straight-up guy. He’s about as honest as they come. The fact that he’s one of the best rock-tossers in the world is a bonus, but you won’t find many nicer folks on this planet than Richie. He’s always been one of my favourites to talk curling (or golf for that matter) with.
To those who don’t know him, this article by superscribe Al Cameron (my pick for the 2008 Scotty Harpers, by the way) might surprise, but not me. Hart talks about how Martin has received more attention this year, despite the Howard rink having a better season. He doesn’t disparage the Alberta team as much as ask why they don’t at the very least share top spot on the attention podium.
I’m really not sure that’s the case in Ontario, obviously, where the home-province squad is front and centre. But there is that sense that Martin is The Guy or The Team this year. That might have something to do with the fact that he’s the defending champion of the Brier and world championship. The average guy out there still doesn’t pay attention to the World Curling Tour results, unfortunately. That becomes obvious at this time of year when folks like me do media interviews. Many of the folks asking the questions haven’t got a clue what’s going on and they default to the world championship from a year earlier. “Who won? Oh, that guy must be the best then.”
In one interview on Friday, a questioner had no idea that all four players took turns throwing the rocks – that person thought two people did nothing but sweep. And this was someone from Alberta, the heart of curling country.
Anyway, I don’t blame Rich for feeling ripped off. His team has had a banner year and probably deserves to share the top billing. Which is all he was really saying in the first place.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Brier Preview

Here's my Brier preview story for Saturday's Globe.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Influence in Ontario

The latest edition of the Ontario Curling Report is out and in it is our first compilation of the most influential people in Ontario curling. I’m hoping this list will generate lots of discussion in clubs around the province.
I want folks to pick up the paper, but here are the top five.
Ian Cunningham
Scott Taylor
Glenn Howard
Greg Stremlaw
Gerry Geurts
I should point out that no members of the media were included. And our list is really about who has influence on Ontario curling, although some of the names have a national focus that ultimately affects curlers in this province.
It was an interesting exercise, to be sure, and there were some names on the list that I never would have thought of starting out.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Interviewing K-Mart

I had a good interview with Kevin Martin yesterday in preparation for my Brier preview for this Saturday’s Globe.
K-Mart was his usual self, full of good comments and observations. I talked to him about how much he’s changed since his first trip to the Brier a way back in 1991 – that, by the way, is almost 20 years ago. Aside from the fact that he has far less hair, he said that when he first got there and on the men’s circuit, he was pretty much a single-talent curler – a good hitter. He realized after playing against Russ Howard, Ed Werenich and Ed Lukowich, to name just a few, that he was going to need touch shots to survive. Don’t forget this is in the era of the old, boring rules.
And, of course, Martin did just that and is now one of the most complete curlers in the history of the game.
We also talked about the rivalry with Glenn Howard. These two, in my mind, are the best two teams in the game and I’ll be surprised if one of them doesn’t end up representing Canada at the Olympics.
From my own selfish, journalistic point of view, it’s not nearly as much fun as the Ferbey-Martin tete-a-tete, but on ice, it doesn’t get much better than these two.
There are lots of tie-ins between the two teams, of course, with Brent Laing and Craig Savill having played with John Morris in the junior days. But as Martin said, the rivalry is all about winning on the ice. He believes the teams are about 50-50 in wins and losses over the years although Howard has had the edge this season (where’s the Black Book when you need it?)
And just as Martin has matured and evolved as a curler, he has also grown savvy in dealing with the media. In the early days, he felt that his side of the story was not always portrayed as accurate and there was a period where I don’t think he viewed the press as anything but the enemy. He used to half-jokingly call me his favourite fiction writer. But he’s much better and clearly more comfortable in talking to the ink-stained wretches although he can be a bit more guarded and careful in what he says, especially in scrums where he might not know all the guys scribbling. In one-on-one situations, such as yesterday, I’ve found him very open and opinionated.
This will be K-Mart’s 10th trip to the Brier and it would be no surprise if he defended his title, much as Jennifer Jones did last week.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

5 Questions With . . .

The next installment of 5 Questions With. . .
This week, it's Richard Hart. Enjoy.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Curling Catch Up

Now that I’m back in the land of the ice and snow following a California business trip, it’s time to play catch-up. A few thoughts:

• I was deeply disappointed but not really surprised to find out the big pre-Olympic shoot-out has been moved from the Air Canada Centre to the Hershey Centre. I’m sure from an economic standpoint it makes sense, but the real cache of this event was the fact it was going to be held in the Big Arena in the Big City. Moving it to a smaller centre out in the west end of the city brings this down into just another event. When this extravaganza was first announced, Insight Sports CEO Kevin Albrecht told me that this was going to be an opportunity to show the big Toronto business community (what’s left of it) what curling was all about. Do you think you’ll be able to get these guys to head to Mississauga for this? Sure some will come, but not as many as would have been there if it was at the ACC. This is a white flag move, and I can understand the financial realities of it. It was probably the only real solution, but it’s still disappointing.

• Russ Howard wins N.B. That’s good for Russ but I’m sure TSN producer Scott Higgins is now scrambling to fill holes since Russ was supposed to be commentating all week. It’s going to provide an interesting perspective when Russ does get in behind the microphone, sort of like Peyton Manning playing the first half and then broadcasting the second.

• Hey Manitoba. . . get your schedules fixed. This is way too late to be holding your provincial championship.

• Most amazing story at the Scotties: Lorraine Lang is back for another spin. She won her first Canadian championship more than 20 years ago alongside Heather Houston. Of course she was 15 when that happened. Right? Now she’s playing lead for Krista McCarville.

• I managed to pop in to the Spinal Tap at Thornhill last weekend. Ryan Durham should get some sort of award for running this spiel, now in its 18th year. The curling lounge was full of energy and life. Normally, these things start to peter out after this long, but Durham has kept it going and even made it bigger and better. A whole bunch of world champions and curling heroes were on hand to help out. So was Ian Cunningham, head marketing honcho for Capital One. Does anyone do more for curling than Capital One?

• Had dinner with the great John Kawaja while in Carlsbad, Calif., this week. JK is now the head honcho of adidas Golf, part of the TaylorMade empire. He looks to be close to game shape but says he hasn’t thrown a rock in about a decade. His world curling championship hardware is on display at his new abode – albeit quietly. He was also recently “outed” as a curler to his staff. During a sales meeting, the entire staff was shown a video of a piece I fronted on TSN when I showed some old curling pictures to the likes of Mike Weir and Sergio Garcia who were shocked to see the guy they knew as a golf person, as a curler. That piece was followed by about 45 seconds of Kawaja screaming sweeping instructions – he had one of the great yells in the history of the game, as I can fully attest. Everyone had a good laugh at JK’s expense.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The premiere of 5 Questions With . . .

Today I'm starting a new semi-irregular feature called 5 Questions With. . .
The first edition, with Glenn Howard, is here.

BTW, just as I was about to post this, Dean Gemmell send me a couple of notes about the draw at the Brier. As usual, the ridiculously long planning schedule means some great games will be played early in the morning instead of in prime time. A long rant on that to follow.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

New Rule for Ontario Curling

After lots of talk and consideration, after listening to all sorts of suggestions, there’s a new rule being instituted into Ontario curling.
Here it is.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Olympic Timing

In Monday’s Globe, I wrote a story about the timing of the Olympic Trials and how many athletes are now questioning the merits of holding it just 10 weeks or so before the actual Games.
Well here’s another example of why the timing is bad. In this morning’s Globe, there’s a wonderful section profiling the athletes who’ll compete at the Games, with great photography and bios. There are short-track speed-skaters, alpine skiers, figure skaters, aerial skiers, hockey players and skeletoners or skeletonites or skeletonians or whatever you call them.
But no curlers.
Despite the fact that Canada will be a gold medal favourite, there are no curlers profiled and there’s a good reason – we don’t know who will represent Canada in Vancouver.
To me, it is becoming more and more obvious that the Trials need to move to the Spring of the year before the Games. When I wrote the book Hurry Hard with Russ Howard last year, his depiction of those weeks between winning the Trials and staring the Games as utter madness. Not really the best way to prepare.
For the article in the Globe, I spoke with Gerry Peckham, the CCA’s director of high performance, who said that they’d consulted with experts about timing and such stuff and that what they had in place was no just by chance.
He also said, however, that there was a marketability side to the event. That’s pretty clear when you see that the fine folks in Edmonton who are hosting the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings dropped a $900,000 cheque into the CCA’s coffers. It would be tougher to sell a Trials event, some say, on the heels of a Scotties, Brier and World Championship despite the fact that would be better timing.
But if the profile of the athletes and, ergo, the sport, has any bearing on this at all, then I think the current slot on the calendar is far too late.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ontario plan follow-up

So lots of comments about yesterday's post, most made directly to me via e-mail rather than being posted here.
OCA CEO Doug Bakes clarified that contrary to what I wrote and what I've been told, almost every Ontario championship makes money for the local committee. Glad to know that and know I understand why there are many communities that want to host this event. I was part of a committee (a very small part) that hosted one during the boycott years and I know that even though we drew flies, we had enough sponsorship backing that we turned a significant profit on the event. It all went back into fixing up the curling facility, which I suspect is what happens at most of these.
Second, was a note from my old pal Paul Boutilier, who, among other things, mentioned that another good way to save time is to move to eight ends. I think that's inevitable that will happen and it certainly makes it easier to play three games in a day with that length of match.
I know in conversations with the CCA folk that some are thinking eight ends is inevitable at national championships too. These big championships are just too costly and time consuming on so many fronts.
Drew Macklin's post on the site was also well thought out, and my only disagreement with it is that I don't think you can have independent bonspiels awarding provincial spots. My only reasoning is that these spiels don't always last. What if the XYZ Championship was designated as a provincial qualifier spiel and two years later the XYZ Corporation drops its sponsorhip and the host committee says, thanks but we're not running the event anymore. I suppose its simple to just designate another spiel, at the start of the year, but I think it's easier to have one big Challenge Round operated by the OCA.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

My Ontario Format

At the risk of piling on, I have a few more comments for the playdown change being discussed in Ontario. There was a meeting on Saturday that was well attended and delivered a lot of good ideas for the OCA to consider. There’s also a good thread on curlingzone.com on the topic with many of the top players involved. I tell you there are more permutations and considerations being bandied about, it's enough to make you go crazy.
My two cents is that the following needs to be accomplished:
Shorten the week at the provincials: That means moving away from the 10-team round robin and into some sort of pool system. I don’t think triple-knockout would be right for a provincial final as it makes promoting games ahead of time next to impossible. You want that Howard-Middaugh match-up on Thursday night to draw a bigger crowd.
Don’t use the provincials to promote the Ontario Curling Tour: There’s been talk about giving a multitude of entries via the Ontario Curling Tour standings and about using individual bonspiels to reward entries. I don’t think either system works. Perhaps the overall leader on the OCT should get a spot but that’s about it. This is about getting your best teams into the provincials and hopefully on to the Brier and the best teams will be more likely to show up on the CTRS. That’s who you want there. For instance, would you rather have the second place Ontario-based team on the CTRS or the fourth-place OCT team?
And bonspiels are dangerous if they’re not run by the OCA as you have no way of knowing if they’ll last. Cashspiels come and go so to designate an OCT stop as providing the winner with a spot in the provincials shouldn’t happen.
Reward the Defending Champion: Sure, every once in a blue moon you get a surprise winner, but look at the list of champions over the last 25 years and there is only a couple you wouldn’t really, really want back.
Challenge Round. I was originally against this, but I think based on the possibility of getting bad ice, illness or other conflicts, there should be a last-chance spiel. And I would open it up to any team not already qualified, whether it played in the playdowns or not. But you only need one, not two of these, if the number of entries from the past two years is any indication. Two teams emerge from this.
So my thinking? A 14-team, two-pool seeded format based on the following:
Defending champion (1)
CTRS leaders (2)
OCT leader (1)
Regional winners (8)
Challenge Round (2)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Weekend wrap up; new column

Congrats to Glenn Howard and team for winning another Ontario crown. The victory brings up lots of questions:
* Is Howard really that good or is the quality of curling in Ontario slipping?
* Is this version of Team Howard now the best Ontario team ever?
* Will Howard have to go through zone and regional playdowns again next year?
* Are Savill and Laing the most underrated front end in curling history?
* Can Howard reach the Brier final for a fourth consecutive year?
* Did the revelation coming out of the big Saturday free-for-all meeting that most Ontario championships lose money surprise anyone else?

Part II
Congrats to Brett Gallant and team for winning only the second national junior curling crown for PEI. The victory brings up lots of questions:
* Is Brett Gallant really that calm, cool and collected? He looked totally unflappable during that final game, as if he had no pulse.
* Do you think the CCA folks were secretly cheering for Gallant because they were nervous about Dylan Johnson, a guy with green and yellow in his hair, representing Canada?
* Were those tears I saw in the eyes of proud papa Peter Gallant after his son drew the winning stone into the house?

Part III
Today's Globe column, part of a one-year-to-go Olympic section.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Change is coming to . . . Ontario

Have to hand it to the Ontario Curling Association – it appears it’s heard loud and clear that there is a demand for change. It’s hosting an open forum for just about anyone – the invitation even includes the media! – to come and discuss the format of OCA events.
Although I’m not in Woodstock (having just returned from two weeks of traveling) I do know that a number of folks are going to go to this meeting with concrete proposals for revisions.
I’ve previously posted the Dale Matchett plan and I know there’s another that will look at having 14 teams in the provincial final divided into two pools of seven.
I’m not sure what will happen after this meeting with those or any other nuggets that come from the talk, but it sounds an awful lot like the start of change. And that’s needed.
Somehow, what’s requred is a more inclusive Ontario final with passes for teams that perform well on the Grand Slam, WCT and OCT as well as a traditional qualifying process, all accomplished within a reasonable budget.
Timing is also a question. Can this be done in time for next year? How will it affect the host committee’s plans that may already be in place in regard to everything from ice availability to events?
Like I said, it’s a start.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Curling makes the New York Times

While I'm working down in the US of A, I came across this article in the New York Times . . . yup, the New York Times.

Until I return to the cold and snow. . .

Friday, January 16, 2009

The No. 1 consideration for change to Ontario's playdown system

Since my posting of Dale Matchett’s plan for the Ontario playdowns went up, I’ve had lots e-mails and phone conversations with people who are full of ideas of how to make changes to the archaic process currently in use.
Quite obviously, the folks who are playing the game at the highest levels aren’t really happy with the current system. That’s obvious and understandable.
That means there are two questions to be answered. The first is whether they can come to an agreement about how it should be changed. The second is whether the Ontario Curling Association is willing to make a change (and how quickly such a change could be enacted).
I’ve seen a few e-mail strings and some conversations on curlingzone.com about proposed ideas and frankly, I’m not sure I know what’s best. There are some deep thinkers out there who've spent a lot of time considering this. But I can offer up one certainty that need to considered before making a final decision.
The primary mandate for the changes should be to give the best teams the best chance to represent Ontario at the Brier.
This means the teams that are playing the best should have the easiest time getting to the Tankard.
Glenn Howard should not have to play zone playdowns. Wayne Middaugh should not have to play zone playdowns. Neither should have to play regions. The fact that Middaugh is not going to be in Woodstock should be setting off alarm bells in the OCA offices in Pickering.
We’re not talking about a free pass here – we’re talking about rewarding teams who have played at a high level all year. In what other sport do teams that have played the best all year long have to start off at the same level as teams that quite possibly haven't won or even played a single game? It's mind-boggling. Imagine the Tennessee Titans starting this year's NFL playdowns at the same rung as the Detroit Lions? I know it's not quite a fair comparison but it serves to illustrate what's going on.
Very simply, at least one team should get a bye as determined by its position on the Canadian Team Ranking System list.
And contrary to what others believe, I’d say include points earned in Grand Slams and don’t limit it to events played in Ontario. If you’re playing in a Grand Slam, you’re playing against the best teams in the world. And if you’re playing in Brooks and Medicine Hat, then you have to be awfully good. Those are the teams we want at the Tankard. Don’t penalize a team because it’s playing the A tour – reward it!
So in discussing any changes – which have to include format, number of teams and length of time it takes to play the event (and not just the eight-day provincial but the weekends leading up to that) – make sure that the focus is on sending Ontario’s best to the Brier.