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 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. . .