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.