Thursday, December 29, 2011

A look back at 2011

Herewith are the highlights and lowlights of my year in curling:

Game of the year: An easy one, really. The Scotties round-robin matchup between Cathy O and Jennifer Jones. Jones, of course, dropped Overton-Clapham at the end of the previous year after winning the Scotties, following which Cathy O put together her own team and won Manitoba. The game didn’t really mean anything other than bragging rights but it was clear who the fans were cheering for – the dumpee not the dumper. Overton-Clapham won the game and the fans loved it.

Fun-spoiler of the year: Every year for as long as I can remember, 79-year-old Jack Cox has run around Brier rinks and waved the Ontario flag at the top of a ball retriever, shouting “ON-TAR-I-OOOOO.” But the cranks at the John Labatt Centre told he couldn’t do it because of liability issues. Boo!

Much Ado About Nothing: The cowbell controversy, it turns out, was also about an over-zealous security guard. At the Canada Cup, Amber Holland’s cheering section was told to put away their cowbells or get punted from the rink. Al Cameron unearthed the fact that the CCA had a Fan Code of Conduct that basically stated that everyone has a right to watch the game in peace. But it turns out cowbells are OK; the facility in Cranbrook was the culprit, not the CCA.

Product of the Year: Developed out of the Olympic Games’ research, the EQ brush head proved wildly successful for most elite teams and club curlers everywhere. It made it easier to sweep, keep rocks straight and carry them farther. How popular were they? The top three finishers at the Scotties all used them. And by year’s end, several companies were offering knock-offs of the product licensed exclusively by Balance Plus. Expect some legal undertakings soon. 

Worst addition of the year: The CCA added bronze-medal games to both the Brier and Scotties, dragging out rinks that had just suffered the ends to their dreams to play a meaningless game. With a straight face, CCA officials emphatically stated that it wasn’t about adding another draw to the schedule and selling more tickets.

Best addition of the year: A number of fake curler Twitter accounts popped up during the year, providing a few laughs for those who know the real players. While some of the comments were, um, not suitable for family reading, here are a few examples:
Fake Kevin Martin: Practised a bit last night. Good news; I'm still the best.
Fake Amy Nixon:
Back from China with a piece of the Great Wall, possible case of typhoid and a child I smuggled in my suitcase.

Sad passages: Jim Sullivan left us too soon. Neil McCarl was one of the great curling writers of his era.

Looking forward to in 2012: The five-rock rule debuted at the Grand Slam in Kingston and was met with encouragement. Most of the top players are interested in trying it again. Most of the fans seemed to approve too as it meant exciting finishes.

Best curling headline of the year: In the Winnipeg Free Press on its relationships column: Is Curling Really Worth Your Marriage? Here's the story behind it.

Best use of curling in a commercial: No doubt about this one. . . it's Bic.

Best shot of the year by a guy weighing less than 110 pounds: Have to admit. . . this was pretty special. And he called it, right?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

May your Christmas be merry and may every shot in 2012 hit the broom with perfect weight! All the best to my readers and friends.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Five-rock feedback

So what was the final result of the five-rock rule used last week at the Grand Slam in Kingston? For the most part, it seems the players liked it or at the very least understood it was good for the fans. However no one is quite willing to say adopt it full bore. 

Winner Mike McEwen wasn’t overly enthusiastic about it, saying it made his head hurt thinking about the strategy in the early going, but conceded it was a positive in an interview with the CBC’s Scott Russell.

I contacted a couple of players from the competition via email and got support. First up was Brad Gushue:

“Even though we played horrible, I really enjoyed the rule,” said the gold medalist. “I think it provides a lot more interest for both players and fans. The teams have gotten so good that one mistake (three or four ender) in the four-rock rule and the game is essentially over or at least really boring. The five-rock rule allowed teams some hope if they got down three or four points.
“I would like to play it a few more times before deciding on whether I would like to see a permanent change. But I would definitely be in favour of playing a few events with the five-rock rule. It was really nice to have a change and see the varying ways teams tried to defend the rule. It was also nice to see the smoke coming from a few skips ears as they finally had to think with a three-point lead.”

Next, I wanted to speak to a front-ender to see how it changed things and reached Craig Savill of Team Howard. (Of course he was ecstatic that someone even asked for his opinion. Oh, the life of a lowly front-ender):

“It’s hard to get a full grasp of the new rule after one event but so far I love the five-rock rule,” he stated. “I think the rule promotes more rocks in play and keeps the team that is leading more aggressive. During the BDO Canadian Open, when we were down three or four it didn't seem like the game was over. With the hammer it seemed like twos and threes were wild. The five-rock rule certainly created some new situations, especially in the last couple ends. When up by two coming home without last rock you now have the mentality of just trying to hold the opposition to two and not give up three. That's certainly a different mentality that you have when playing the four-rock rule.”
In his column in the Toronto Sun, George Karrys had some comments from another Team Howard member, Wayne Middaugh and brought up the way the rule changes things for the front-enders.

“It really favours a team that has a strong lineup all the way through,” said Middaugh. “To quote John Kawaja 15 years ago, ‘You get a couple of plumbers to kick them down there for the first four rocks, then you have a great third and a great skip and win the Brier.’ Well, that sure won’t work anymore.”

MIddaugh added that the rule keeps things interesting throughout the contest.
“We gave up four in the first end; in a regular game, the game is over,” said Middaugh. “You just can’t (come back), Jeff is going to give us two every end and then score his one with the hammer, and we just can’t catch him. But with this rule, we felt the whole time that we had the chance to come back and right up until the last end, we did.”
Overall, it seems the players like the new rule but still want a little more time to digest the changes. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Full Contact Curling

Have to love Rick Mercer. Here's his take on adding a little contact to the Roaring Game. If this was allowed, who would you want on your team?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Curling Etc. on sale

I received some good news and some bad news this week in regard to my books. My publisher, John Wiley & Sons, called to say they were remaindering my last book, Curling Etc. That's the bad news. It's always a sad day for an author as it means the sales in stores have effectively dried up and the book is being put out to pasture.
The good news is that I was allowed to buy a bunch of copies at a discounted rate and they're now for sale here. For $25 you get the book, signed by me (personalized if you'd like) and sent to you. That's for North American orders, by the way. European orders need to add $10.
Curling Etc. is a fun-filled collection of facts and stories about curling. Think of it as the Uncle John's Bathroom reader for the roaring game.
I wish I'd been able to get this done a little earlier so you'd have them for Christmas, but I promise to send the books out as soon as humanely possible if you're interested.
Here's the link for Curling Etc.
Of course I still have copies of The Brier as well which go for the same price.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday Morning Observer

It’s all about Eve. At least it is as far as Scottish curling is concerned. Eve Muirhead led her team to the European women’s title and the Scots are raving about it. It’s the first time since 1975 for a Scottish team.  Muirhead told The Scotsman she built this team with an eye on the Olympics: 
“I put together this young team looking forward to Sochi, and so far this season we couldn’t have done much better,” she explained. “I played with a lot of these girls in juniors and I know what good players they are. They all played fantastic in Moscow.”

Even the good old Beeb noticed. 

The St. Albert Gazette has a nice piece on local boy Marc Kennedy after he won the Canada Cup. And he has a full admission about his play there: 
“At the Canada Cup I was probably the weakest link. I didn’t play awful but I can definitely play a little better,” Kennedy said. “We’ve all had our ups and downs this year. We haven’t had all four of us playing our best at the same time, but that was probably Kevin and John’s best weekend of the year, which is nice to see."

I’m not sure about the headline in this piece. Sounds as if Randy Dutiaume was shot after losing the game or something. In any case, seems as if the Manitoba veteran missed out on a chance to get to the provincial finals. He has another shot in regional qualifying this weekend. If he’s still breathing that is. 

Monty Mosher has the rundown of teams qualified for the Nova Scota Scotties playdowns led by last year’s bronze medalists Heather Smith-Dacey. There's one particular 15-time champ who hasn't made it yet. 

And in Saskatchewan Steve Laycock has qualified for the men’s provincials by winning the Sask Curling Tour. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

101 Curling Excuses

If you’re looking for a great Christmas gift for that curler on your list, Frank McCourt, Canada’s Curling Cartoonist, has put out 101 Curling Excuses.
It’s a fun book filled with his cartoons and situations that we’ve all been in on the curling ice. Some of the drawings feature people you might recognize too.
Frank is a bit of a crazy man, as you might expect from reading the cartoons. He’s also a pretty darned good curler who has won the Canadian Firefighters in the past.
To get your copy, you can send an email here: or you can go to and use this link although I think this might only be for the U.S.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Don't put those cowbells away

According to the boss guy of the Canadian Curling Association, there really isn’t a cowbell controversy. At least, not one that’s of the CCA’s doing.

Reached yesterday in Moscow where he was attending the World Curling Federation’s semi-annual meeting, Greg Stremlaw, the CCA’s chief executive officer, said that while the CCA does have general guidelines, it doesn’t prohibit folks from making noise and having fun at the association’s events.

“Quite honestly, it’s a lot to do about nothing,” he said down the line from Moscow. “I’ve been away but it sounds like there’s some items that don’t have facts behind them.”

Stremlaw said that in most cases when it comes to noisemakers, the CCA has to abide by the regulations of the venue. Each one has different rules and as renters, the CCA must follow those.

He used last year’s Tim Hortons Brier as an example. The John Labatt Centre in London, Ont., was quite strict in its rules. Not only does it ban items such as laser pointers and air horns, but it doesn’t even want running in the halls. That led to the unpopular move to restrict Jack Cox, the older fellow with the Ontario flag who traditionally runs around the rink shouting encouragement to his team, to his seat.  

As for what happened at the Canada Cup, he said that the incident reportedly revolved around one by-the-book arena employee, who took the rules too far.

“In relation to the Canada Cup my understanding is that there was potentially an overzealous security official that interpreted the noisemaker restriction which is specific to most venues,” he stated. “All have venue restrictions, specific about laser pointers, weapons and noisemakers, specifically mechanically operated or enhanced noisemakers. Therefore I think the security officially interpreted it to mean everything and anything including cowbells.

“That’s a security official that’s venue-employed that asked somebody to put their cowbell away. There’s no intention to take away someone’s cowbell. The only reason we would is if the venue we went to wouldn’t allow it.”

Stremlaw added that the last thing the CCA wants is to have quiet venues. He said the noisier, the better, within reason of course. The bottom line is the enjoyment of everyone in attendance.

“We have an obligation to ensure we create a safe, comfortable and enjoyable experience.”

But he said that anyone who wants to ring a cowbell at the Brier or the Scotties this year (attention: Team Holland supporters) can ring away. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Gunner Down

As many of the top rock-tossers in the land battled it out at the Canada Cup with a trials berth on line, one guy from the last trials is sitting at home and, for all intents and purposes, taking a break from the Olympic hunt.

Jason Gunnlaugson skipped an upstart team at the last quadrennial, making it to the pre-trials and then the trials. And he was impressive enough that many pegged him as a player for the future. Of course so did the Russians, who hired him on to play for them, asking him to take out citizenship.
As most of us know by now, that was a short-lived adventure after the Ruskies pulled a fast one and dumped J-Gunn and hit compatriots early on.

No worries. They would re-group and make another run at getting to the Olympic Trials, using much the same methodology as last time. That was to play a heavy schedule and pick up point after point, no matter how small, hoping that in the end it would be enough.

But that’s all ended now. Gunner and his squad of Justin Richter, Jason Ackerman and David Kraichy had a horrible start to the season, collecting just $300 in five starts. Needless to say, the team wasn’t living the high live as it had in the previous few years and it just splintered.

“We never came back to the same level we played at before we went to Russia,” Gunnlaugson told me. “It just really wasn’t working out.”

Adding to the conflicts was the fact that Richter got engaged and had to keep up with the demands of the upcoming wedding.

Gunnlaugson said the Russian experience was one he would do over again in a minute, despite having it cut short.

“It was tough,” he admitted. “One minute you’re 99 per cent sure you’re going to be in the Olympics and the next you’re back home.”

The skip called playing for Team Russia one of the coolest things in his life and felt there were absolutely no negatives to it. But it’s clear the team returned without the popular underdogs of the last trials.

Since returning and with the splintering of his team, he’s joined forces with the Bohn brothers and is playing a more regional schedule for the time being.

He’s also helping out Curl Manitoba at some clinics around the province.

But, he said, a run to the Trials isn’t in the cards.

“You have to curl full time or close to it to have a chance,” he stated. “Right now, that run is geared towards about 10 or 12 teams.

“That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It means we’ll have a good team at the Olympics. It’s just the way things are.”

There is not one iota of remorse or regret in Gunnlaugson’s voice concerning Russia or the breakup of his team. He seems content with where he is and where the game is heading. It’s just too bad that top talent such he is, will be on the sidelines.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Cow Bell Controversy, First Hand

I know not everyone reads the comments that are posted after I spout off, but I think one from yesterday is particularly interesting. It came from a fan who was told to put his cow bell away during the Canada Cup. I reprint it here in its entirety as it shows, first hand, the fan's perspective of this nonsense the CCA is enforcing. Here it is:

At this year’s Canada Cup, I was asked to put my cowbell away or get tossed. Yes all because of a CCA policy. What have we become: the PGA where camera shutter noises distract the field of prima donnas? Although the Canada Cup in Cranbrook showed the real depth of Canada’s curling talent; it was one of the most boring events I have been to. Curling needs to attract greater interest and new fans to support its long term viability and growth potential. How ironic that the CCA’s newest slogan is “you gotta be there” yet they are doing nothing to ensure their events are memorable or fun for the fans. Why do I “gotta be there”?
Ask yourself, why do these teams play and why do they earn money? It’s because of the fans that support the events and the sponsors. Fans have choices. They need a reason to show up at the arena otherwise they can sit at home and watch it on TV or watch something else altogether. The CCA must remember who supports curling and more importantly, who supports the sponsors. It isn’t the CCA and it isn’t the players. It’s the fans.
When you speak to the players; couldn’t care less about the noise. In fact many of the teams actually like their fans cheering them on using their voices, clappers or cowbells. The experience of these curlers and their ability to focus on the game and their shot make them oblivious to the noise makers or chants from the stands. These athletes are able to set aside the noise; why can’t the CCA?
When you attend a World Championship or an Olympics, the noise level is constant and significant, yet the teams play and play well. If our National champions can play under these conditions why can’t all of the slam, provincial and national events embrace the spirit of the fans and allow our athletes to get use to these so-called distractions before they compete on the world stage.
We need to continue to put fun back into this game or we risk players and fans moving down the road and supporting other activities that permit the fans to feel part of the event.

Monday, December 5, 2011

On the Canada Cup

Thoughts on the Canada Cup:

It’s hard to make any money betting on curling these days. If, at the start of the week, you’d had to put down a bob on which two teams would win the Canada Cup, I’d bet the favourites would have been the Martin and Jones rinks. No long shots here. And while it’s still early, you’d have to think they’ll be among the favourites to go to Sochi, too.

On that same topic, isn’t it about time to start talking about the Kevin Martin rink as the best? Ever? It would be pretty hard to come up with a team that has won more big games and big events than these guys. Olympics, Briers, Worlds, cash. . . and they just seem to have a knack of playing their best when the games mean the most. Certainly you can argue this point but it’s a good discussion topic.

Is it just me or did 10 ends seem really long? Wow, it felt as if the men’s final really dragged on. The women’s dragged but more because it was so lopsided. I’m really starting to like those eight-end, Grand Slam games. Neat, clean, tidy and quick. I know the CCA feels that an eight-end game doesn’t give a team as much of a chance to come back if it gets behind early, but I think 10 ends goes too far the other way. I can’t imagine what it was like in those first few Briers where they played 14 ends!

Not sure what the teams felt about it but the Think Time, timing used over the weekend was refreshing and logical. The original system seems quite unfair if you get into a hit-vs-draw type game. This one doesn’t count the time used to play the shot, just the time in between. If it’s adopted, it will likely take some time for the players to know when they have a lot of time left or not so much. You could see a few teams wondering if two minutes was a lot to play and end or not. Nothing will happen in the near future regarding this – the Canada Cup was being used as a test. Of course when it comes to rule changes in curling, nothing ever happens quickly.

Speaking of rules, I’ve never heard of this one (probably because it’s not really in the rule book), but Eve Muirhead was told by an official at the European Championships that she had to play her rocks in numerical order, from one to eight. Really. Sometimes I wonder where they get these officials from but it wouldn't surprise me if a few like this were in Sochi. 

I wonder if there’s any movement afoot to change the qualifying for the Canada Cup? It seems that basing the entire field on results from a year ago and leaving out current hot teams is a bit silly. To not have Sherry Middaugh’s rink in the spiel after her remarkable start is ridiculous. At least one spot should be opened up for the leader in CTRS points for the first part of the WCT season.

I haven’t actually counted yet, but there seem to be more fake curler Twitter accounts than real ones. It started with Fake Kevin Martin, but now there’s Fake Jeff Stoughton, Fake Glenn Howard, Fake Amy Nixon, Fake John Morris, Fake Steve Gould, even a Fake Vic Rauter, known as Make The Final. Not sure who is behind them all but there are a few Tweets that are have me laughing.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Fan code?

In case you didn't see this, Al Cameron has a great piece on the CCA's Fan Code of Conduct.

You can read the story here but apparently the CCA has been telling fans to leave their cow bells and air horns at home. Over the past few years, the Gang in Red Jackets has had complaints from fans who sit near the noisemakers, in some cases having to move them or refund tickets.

Wouldn't it just be easier to tell the complainers to turn their hearing aids down?

Is the CCA trying to turn curling into golf? And will it even ban those cool moose call cans?

This is a very, very, very silly move.

Friday, December 2, 2011

More on the Canada Cup

I've started my 23rd year of writing on curling for the Globe and Mail with today's column on the Canada Cup.

The 2014 Olympics are still a long way off, but an important first step toward reaching that event is being played out in Cranbrook, B.C., this week at the Capital One Canada Cup of Curling.
The rest is here: 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On the Canada Cup

I’ve never been a big fan of the Canada Cup, (which goes tomorrow in Cranbrook) primarily because I don’t think the Canadian Curling Association should be in the business of running cashspiels.

It’s a great event with great curling but it crosses the line as far as I’m concerned.

Years ago, the CCA said it would leave events with cash to the World Curling Tour while it concentrated on national championships. It’s one reason the CCA still won’t refer to the money it ponies up for the Brier and Scotties winners as prize money.

But when the Boys of Brooms decided to boycott the Brier back at the turn of the century, the CCA figured it would stick it to them by offering up a bucket full of money for play, perhaps hoping a few would crack and take a run at the cash. The first Canada Cup went in 2003 and Randy Ferbey collected.

It’s interesting that the purse for that first shootout was a whopping $220,000 or $110,000 per gender. It’s continued to drop since the inaugural run and this year, there’s $70,000 each for the men and the women. 

That’s still a big purse but it’s not up there with the Slams which offer up $100,000. There are even a few regular Tour events with bigger purses.

There’s also the Incredible Shrinking Field this year. It’s dropped to seven rinks from 10. I’m assuming that’s to cut down on expenses. Fewer teams means fewer games, less ice rental time, not as many lovely parting gifts and less Timbits in the locker room. And while all seven are talented, they aren’t necessarily the teams that have played the best up to this point of the 2011 campaign.

No Sherry MIddaugh, the leading women’s money winner as I tap this out. No, Cathy O, who is one of the hottest team in the land. On the men’s side there’s no Ferbey, ranked fourth in earnings, or John Epping, who sits ninth.

All this is not to say it won’t be a heck of a curling event. The 14 teams there are all very talented and the purse is still significant. All the Olympic gongs that come with winning this make it a huge spiel. Just wonder if it wouldn’t be better if it was the Tour running it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Monday Morning Observations

Monday Morning Observations:

Talk about both ends of the age spectrum. Young gun Braeden Moskowy won the Dekalb Superspiel over the weekend while in Switzerland, ageless wonder Andrea Schopp won an international event. Schopp won her first world championship two years before Moskowy was born.

Speaking of young guns, Moskowy wasn’t the only one to win. Brett Gallant of Charlottetown knocked off Brad Gushue to capture the Challenge Casino de Charlevoix and a $12,000 payday. Great to see this young team play so well. Quick question: when was the last time a team from PEI won a significant WCT stop? Anyone?

Apparently the Kiwi men’s curling team is pleased about its runner-up result at the Pacific Curling Championships. At least, that’s what I conclude from this quote from skip Peter de Boer:

“So we're really chuffed about New Zealand curling being back on the world stage."
Chuffed? That's good, right? The finish means the New Zealand team has qualified for the world championships this year and possible Olympic points.
China won both the men’s and women’s titles – no surprise there – with Korea taking silver in the women’s. Looking over the finish, though, there were only four nations entered in the women's competition: China, Japan, New Zealand and Korea. What happened to that big Olympic push?
One final note: speaking of ageless, Australia’s Hugh Milliken finished fourth. Here's the full report. 

Next election, the voters in Toronto should make curling experience a ballot question. Two city councilors will play an exhibition match against each other as part of the High Park Curling Club’s 100th anniversary celebration. Turns out neither Sarah Doucette nor Gord Perks have ever thrown a rock. This should be interesting.

Seems those McCuskers can do more than just slide rocks. Christina is a round-baller with some hops according to this.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Where would you take the Brier next?

So after Edmonton, what’s next?

That’s the question I’m sure a lot of folks in the Canadian Curling Association’s bunker in Ottawa are asking these days as curling’s deep thinkers look for locations that will support a major curling event such as the Tim Hortons Brier. Of course Edmonton was announced as site for the 2013 edition. 

The problem is actually a success story. The Brier has become so big that those small arenas of days gone by just don’t cut it anymore. At least, not with any regularity. Couple that with the need to take over a major arena for some 11 days and the sites willing to welcome the event are few and far between. Hockey teams don't like those long road trips. 

So you have Edmonton and Winnipeg, two sure things. There’s Saskatoon, Regina and Calgary, which are also sure bets. And then? Well Halifax has been pretty good.

Hmmm. . . .

Ottawa? Hamilton? London? Victoria?

If you want to really walk a tightrope, what about Vancouver or Toronto? I used to think they were possibilities, but I’m less inclined these days.

The problem is you can only go back to the same watering holes so many times. The CCA has shown its willingness to go to smaller centres such as London even if the profits are quite as bountiful as say, Edmonton. But it can’t keep doing that and continue to operate in the black. The Brier (as well as the Olympic Trials) is the cash cow that keeps events such as the Mixed and the Senior alive.

So if you were in charge, to what city would you deliver the Brier? Where should it go? Where can it go?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Surprise! Edmonton gets the Brier

To the surprise of no one, the Brier is going back to Edmonton. And the Canadian Curling Association is already preparing an expansion to its vault to handle all the profits.

As Con Grikowsky states in his story, Edmonton is rightly the curling capital of the world. And Warren Hansen offers up a reason why:

“The fact teams from Edmonton, on the men’s side, have been very successful over the last 10-15 years has had a huge impact on the sport in this area,” said Warren Hansen, director of event operations for the Canadian Curling Association.

True, but come on Warren, just 10 or 15 years? Edmonton's dominance has to go back all the way to 1974, doesn't it? That was when it all started to roll. 

Seriously, there’s little doubt that when it comes to hosting big events, Edmonton is the centre of curling’s universe. It hosts the attendance record for the Brier, hosted a tremendous Olympic Trials and has has welcomed the world final too. But I might argue that when it comes to curling seeping into the culture of the community, Winnipeg might still lay claim to top spot. Or certainly a tie.

But back to Edmonton, which has owned the provincial spot in the Brier since back when Ed Lukowich was chewing on straw. With Ferbey, Martin and Koe all dominating for a period, it’s probably a good bet that the 2013 Brier will feature an Edmonton rink. I know, I’m going out on a limb there, right Ferbey?

“I’ll go on record and say it’ll probably be an Edmonton team at that Brier,” said Ferbey. “There’s still two great teams here. Koe’s still playing competitively. Martin’s still playing competitively. They ain’t getting any weaker than they were a couple of years ago."

It will also be the last Brier for one of the city’s own – if he makes it – Kevin Martin. He’s said he’ll retire after 2014 and the Olympics, should he make that again. That would put the date for hanging up his slider February 2014, meaning he wouldn’t play the 2014 Brier in March. Now if he doesn't make the Olympics? Perhaps he might change his timing. But 2013 would certainly would be a great Brier farewell for probably the best to ever toss a rock. 

With an Edmonton team in the fold, attendance records are possible. In Curtis Stock's piece in the Journal, Hansen even points to a number, saying he'd like to get to 300,000. The current record is 281,985. That really shouldn't be a problem. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tips from Cheryl

***  I will now dominate the Thursday night men’s league thanks to the info from Cheryl Bernard in this radio interview

*** A great story about the re-birth of the curling club in Corner Brook, NL. They'll be stepping on to the ice any day now in the new facility. George Spracklin, the club president, outlines just how happy he'll be not only with the new club, but to see the old one go. 

“We no longer have roof problems like we had in the old place and we no longer have a dinosaur of a plant that you went into in October, turned it on and said a prayer and hoped that it would start and wouldn’t cost you $4,000 or $5,000,”he said.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Middaugh wins another one

*** Who’s the hottest team in the land? It’s the Sherry Middaugh rink, which captured the SunLife Classic yesterday for its fifth win of the season (even though the Post says it’s only the third). You can read the details here. Can’t wait to see her team in action at the Canada Cup. Oh wait a minute . . . .

 *** The life of a drawmaster is never easy. Doug Graham in theKingston Whig-Standard outlines how Pierre Charette is juggling the draw for the BDO Canadian Open in Kingston.

 *** The first line in this story says it all.

*** The answer to the trivia question that will be asked years from now is Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Nunavut and Yukon. Those are the first four teams to drop into the relegation that will take place next year ahead of the Canadian Mixed. That event and the Seniors are being tested to see if relegation will work at major curling events. It’s all because the combined Territories team doesn’t sit well with the three separate territories which each want its own entry. But 14 teams doesn’t work, hence the relegation.

Do you think this is good for curling or not? What's the best way to accommodate all the teams? Or should all the teams get in? Would you watch a Brier in which -- horror of horrors -- a team such as Manitoba, Alberta or Ontario was not playing due to relegation?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Do we really need the Mixed?

In case you were busy picking the lint from between your toes or some other worthwhile endeavour, you may have missed the fact that the Canadian Mixed is on in Sudbury.

Didn’t realize that? I’m sure you’re not alone. The Canadian Mixed is, in my humble opinion, the least important of our national curling championships.


No one plays competitive mixed. There are no mixed cashspiels on the World Curling Tour. And I’d wager that most teams kind of slap their squads together after their men’s and women’s competitive seasons end.

While there are some talented curlers who are playing this year and have played in the past, it’s the sweep-and-giggle we all enjoy at our club on Friday night on a bigger scale.
Now there are some good things about this event for sure. Some of the northern territories get their own entry. That’s good. And it goes to areas that might not be able to host a Brier or Scotties.

But if you were going to save some money and lighten the load on the operations staff of the CCA, this might be the one event that gets snuffed out.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

More on Jim Sullivan

The curling fraternity is still stunned by the loss of Jim Sullivan if the comments, emails and posts on curling web sites are any indication.

Sullivan passed away suddenly on Saturday and his funeral will take place on Friday.

Here are a few more articles on Sullivan, all of them showing the passion the skip had for curling and life.

Russ Howard weighs in with his thoughts in the Moncton Timesand Transcript:
"I am just devastated and shocked," said Russ Howard of Moncton, an Olympic gold medallist and two-time world curling champion. "Jim was a wonderful guy with a great sense of humour, but a lot of people have forgotten how exceptional a curler he was.

A story on has the story of his career.

The Charlottetown Guardian offers up more perspective, including a comment from former teammate Paul Power.
“It’s a sad day for curling.”

And the Daily Gleaner makes the story its lead editorial

Monday, November 14, 2011

The sudden passing of Jim Sullivan

Jim Sullivan, the 1987 Canadian Junior and 1988 World Junior curling champion, passed away suddenly on Saturday at his parents home in Fredericton. No cause of death has been released. 

Sullivan, who lived in Saint John, was a marvelous curler in his day, a joy to watch, sliding with a rock in his hand.

The second Brier I covered was in 1990, up in the Sault, when Jim and his rink managed to get past Al Harnden in the semi-final and reach a dominant Ed Werenich team in the final.

I remember talking to him after that semi-final and despite the accomplishment, he was quiet in his enthusiasm, smiling but not exactly whoop-whoop-whooping it up. That was Jim, as I came to learn. He never stopped smiling, was always friendly, but preferred actions to words.

They didn’t get past the Wrench that year, but for an unheralded New Brunswick team to reach the Brier final was quite an something. Big things were expected for the young squad and the skip who had a World Junior title to his credit as well.

The obituary is located here.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Brantford might try five

The Sun Life Classic, slated for next week in Brantford, Ont., is close to becoming the first significant curling event to try out the five-rock free-guard zone. Apparently organizers have contacted all the teams and if there's unanimous consent, they'll bring it in for next week's stop on the World Curling Tour.
The five-rock rule will be in play at the next Grand Slam event, the BDO Canadian Open in Kingston in December. But very few teams have actually played it and the Sun Life may be their first chance.
Speaking at an engagement at the Granite Club in Toronto, Kevin Martin, who will be in the field in Brantford, said he was looking forward to giving the rule a test. But he wasn't sure how it would turn out.
"We won't know if we don't give it a try," the skip told the audience at the club's 55th annual men's invitational bonspiel.
UPDATE: Apparently the organizers are now leaning towards not using the five-rock rule.

Team Martin at the Granite Club

Last night at the Granite Club, I was part of a tremendous evening with Team Kevin Martin. The club, which was the site of the first 13 Briers and is one of the more remarkable sports complexes in Canada, brought Martin, John Morris, Ben Hebert and Marc Kennedy in for three days in which they participated in clinics, some meet and greets and last night, the first of two presentations about their Olympic experience. They’ll do that all over again tonight for the first night of the men’s invitational bonspiel, which starts today.

The boys gave a great slide show of their Olympic experience, taking the 150 or so folks in attendance behind the scenes in Vancouver 2010.

Among the things the folks in attendance learned was that the team almost didn’t have a place to stay during the Olympics (outside of the village where they were before and after their competition), didn’t know quite what to do on that infamous night the fans spontaneously broke into Oh Canada, and the team’s coach, Jules Owchar may have infected the Russian hockey team with the flu

Oh we also found out that one of Ben’s nickname’s is Field Mouse.

It's amazing how, almost two years after the event, the memories still stir up strong emotions in Canadians, as evidenced in the standing ovation the boys received. 

There aren’t many curling clubs that would have the ability to bring in a team of this notoriety to their club but kudos to Gareth Watson and his group for making it happen. For anyone who watched Team Martin at the Olympics, whether live or on TV, it was a wonderful evening,

Thursday, November 10, 2011

CCA will sanction 5-rock rule but . . .

Here's the statement from the CCA in regard to the Grand Slam's decision to use the five-rock rule in Kingston in December. Basically, as long as there is unanimous consent among the players, the points will count. 


The Grand Slam scheduled in Kingston this December, has been allocated and will therefore potentially contribute a significant amount of points to the 2011-12 Canadian Team Ranking System (CTRS). In turn, the CTRS plays a critical role in, and contributes significantly to the 2014 Olympic Qualification System. The CCA, as the sole recognized governing body of curling within Canada, has the ultimate jurisdictional role within the aforesaid qualification process. As the custodians of the Olympic Qualification Process (OQP), the CCA is solely responsible for the accountability and overall integrity of the process and therefore all potential appeals would go through us. With that in mind, we need to do our best to ensure the OQP is in fact risk adverse such that it can properly withstand any potential challenge.  Any initiative to modify the rules of engagement, on the field of play, part way through the Olympic Quadrennial requires the pre-approval of the CCA.

Given the fact that this did not occur in advance of going public with the proposed five (5) rock rule field test at the Kingston Slam, the CCA was put in a difficult position.

That aside, the CCA does sincerely appreciate that the objective is to enhance the marketability of the 8-end game by potentially introducing more offence into what some stakeholders believe has become a defensive-oriented, lower scoring game. However, in doing so this may impact the final outcome of the event and the CTRS points that will be awarded accordingly. It should also be noted that since the inception of this quadrennial, and as posted on the CCA’s website, that the CTRS eligibility criteria states that the four (4) rock rule must be used.

Having said that, we are however prepared to continue to sanction the Kingston event, and ensure CTRS points are still eligible with the following conditions;

* All participating Canadian Teams in the Grand Slam in Kingston will need to sign individual player waivers indicating their unanimous support of this rule modification initiative at the event.

* The CCA would be responsible to design said waiver and would set a deadline date to have such returned to by each participant athlete.

* As agreed between the President of the Players Association and the CCA’s Director, High Performance, if unanimous support is not received then the proposed rule modification would be withdrawn to ensure the availability of CTRS points and consistent athlete acceptance of the existing paramtres for the OQP.

* It is also understood that any and all events with CTRS status, that are contemplating any rule modification, will require pre-approval from the CCA.

We believe the aforementioned is a very reasonable compromise. 

Last call

If you're in the GTA and you want to spend some time with Kevin Martin's gold medal winning team, hear about their Olympic exploits and get an autograph or photo, you can do so tonight at the Granite Club. A limited number of tickets are still available by calling 416-446-4462.

Officer set to deliver

Paul Wiecek has a nice story on the very pregnant Jill Officer, who is just a few weeks away from giving birth to her first child. And, as he points out, in her absence, the Jennifer Jones team hasn't exactly been burning up the Tour.

 With a combination of longtime fifth Jennifer Clark-Rouire and former Quebec champion Joelle Sabourin playing in place of Officer, the Jones juggernaut has left a lot of money on the table through six events. While they've qualified in four out of those six events, they've only won once -- way back in September at a European event in Oslo.
 Meanwhile, the skipper is seeing nothing but blue sky, which isn't unusual for her.

"We're really happy with where we are," Jones said. "We didn't have any expectations -- we never do -- and we feel like we're getting better with each weekend and we're in a really good spot."
Right now, Officer is hoping to get back on the ice by the end of the year and re-join her squad in time for the playdowns. That won't be an easy route for the rink, considering the fine play of Cathy Overton-Clapham's squad.

Oh and just wondering . . . in the picture with the article, are those little curling rocks on the wall in the baby's room?

CCA documentary to appear on Biography

Perhaps the folks in Ottawa were busy with this video and that's the reason we didn't get the release about the five-rock rule yesterday as promised. So the CCA says this is a coup, to get this documentary on Biography with Joan Lunden. For an audience that knows nothing about the game, I guess this is OK. It's definitely Curling 101. For anyone who has thrown a rock, however, it's a bit of a yawner. And is there any proof of this one million curlers number? We keep using it but I somehow think it's a bit high. Maybe I'm wrong, but I'd love to see some proof.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

CCA to clarify position on 5-rock rule Slam

I'm told the CCA is going to make a statement on the use of the five-rock rule at the BDO Canadian Open Grand Slam event in Kingston later today. There were rumours that it might not allocate CTRS points for the event because of this change of rules but I'm told that's not going to happen. 

However, there is going to be one hitch to what the CCA announcement. Not sure what that will be so we'll just have to wait and see. . . 

Why video editors get paid so much

Here's a very cool video from the Grand Slam of Curling. It features still from Anil Mungal and editing by Jesse Wachter.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Howard after his Slam victory

I had a chance to chat with Glenn Howard yesterday. He was back at work at the Beer Store after grabbing his first win of the season at the GP Home and Car World Cup of Curling.

To say the team was ecstatic after the win would be an understatement.

“It’s awesome,” stated Howard, who won the event of for the fifth time. “It’s just what we needed. We’ve been winning lots of games, some quarters and semis, but this just got us over that hump.

“And the fact it was in a Slam is great. I think these are the toughest events to win.”

It’s the first title for the team with Wayne Middaugh on board. As most know by now, he replaced Richard Hart this year after Hart retired. I asked Howard the difference between the two players and he said that Middaugh brings the high hard one while Hart maybe has a better touch. But he added that the difference was so minimal it was almost negligible.

He also said that the adjustment period in bringing Middaugh in wasn’t that long. That’s not only because Howard and Middaugh have played together in the past, but also because they have a regular once-a-week game with their wives in the local mixed league.

“I know how he throws, his tendencies and all from mixed,” Howard chuckled. (By the way, that’s a pretty stacked mixed team for club play!)

Middaugh seems pumped to be playing regularly once again. It's safe to say that while he never really stopped competing, his intensity probably waned over the past few years.

“I haven’t seen him this excited to play in 10 years," Howard stated. “He’s just 100 per cent into it. You can see he wants to win.”

Of course it was tough for Howard to play against his son, Scott, in the final. There were mixed emotions throughout.

“I wanted him to have a perfect game but for us to win,” Howard said.

By the way, Team Howard drove home from the Soo, but Scott took the plane. Guess he didn’t want to listen to six hours of gloating.

And finally, he hasn’t yet played the five-rock free guard zone, which will be used at the next Grand Slam.

There was some discussion on the ride home about the tactics that might come into play, but he’s really unsure of how it will play out. The general consensus in the car was, he said, that no lead is going to be safe and the best defense might have to be offense.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Monday Morning Observer

The local paper, the Sault Star, does a nice job wrapping up the coverage from the year’s first Grand Slam, the GP World Cup. And writer Peter Ruicci makes a good point acknowledging that the boys add more than money to their coffers:
Howard, with third Wayne Middaugh, second Brent Laing and lead Craig Savill, pocketed $22,500 in prize money Sunday and gained 40 Canadian Team Ranking System (CTRS) points.

 I know people in glass houses and all that, but I couldn’t help but chuckle at this typo from the CP story on the GP World Cup:
"We seem to like the first clam of the year, again we seemed to play well enough to win," said Howard.
Ah yes, that first clam of the year. You can make up your own joke.


 Here's Mike Harris talking to Wayne Middaugh after the win. Most interesting point? He hasn't thought yet about the five-rock rule coming to Kingston.


 And while Wayne was cashing in over in the Soo, wife Sherry was doing the same in Ottawa, knocking off Jenn Hanna in the final of the Royal LePage OVCA Women’s Fall Classic. Here's the story. That was worth $5,000. Just one question – who was watching the kids? I guess they can afford a baby-sitter.


Hey. . . did you know they started curling at the University of Oklahoma? Yes, the Sooners took to the ice for the first time over the weekend.  Check it out here.


Variety, that longstanding Hollywood publication, has a review of Kong Curling. Here’s a snippet of what they saw:
Screenplay utterly conforms to the traditional loser-to-winner story template, but as with a sonnet or a three-minute pop song, structural originality is never the point; it's all in the details, the running gags and the timing.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Howard vs. Howard

This is why I love covering curling. Father and son having a good laugh.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Five-rock rule for Kingston

First it was the three-rock rule, then the four-rock and now, apparently it’s going to be the five-rock rule. 

The Grand Slam of Curling will be the first significant organization to experiment with a five-rock free guard zone. The organization will use it at the BDO Canadian Open in Kingston, Ont., in December.
Pierre Charette, president of the World Curling Players Association, reportedly polled all the skips this week and received unanimous support for putting it in play. 

The five-rock rule has only recently been debated as a possible system and a way to add even more offense to the game. The reason some are anxious to try it is that it would give the advantage back to the team with the last rock, much as the three-rock rule did when it was used during its brief life span.

I can’t really see a downside except if it creates a race to the centre of the sheet in every end. Give the Slams credit for again taking the lead in innovation and trial. It's done the eight-end change, the thinking-time clock, and on and on. Will this be another coup for the players?

Is curling really worth your marriage?

That was the headline on an article in the Winnipeg Free Press and it certainly is enough to make some folks stop and think. It's not like a lot of us hard-core curling lovers haven't asked ourselves this question oh, about 1,000 times over the years. And, of course, some have chosen curling over marriage.

Sometimes more than once.

Now this article wasn't in the sports section -- it was from the advice section. You know, like Ann Landers or Dear Abbey. The Free Pree version is Ms Lonelyhearts. Only in Winnipeg. Seems a woman loved curling. Her husband hated it. When she went out to play, so did he, only his game wasn't on the sheets, but in between them.

You can read the rest here.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Who's a club curler?

The Ontario rep for the Dominion championship was declared over the weekend and it’s a name you might recognize – Greg Balsdon, the same guy who lost the Ontario men’s final to Glenn Howard last February.

Understandably, that’s created some uproar. How can a guy get to the Ontario final and still play in the Dominion, a competition that’s supposed to be for the club curler?

The answer might be contained in a post on by one of the players on Balsdon’s team, Jordon Keon. He points out that the team easily meets the rules of the competition which state that no more than one player on the team can have been to a provincial final or played in a Grand Slam in the last four years. Yes, Balsdon plays at a higher level but the other three are club curlers, albeit very good club curlers. They also won the Energizer, the big city of Toronto event for club curlers.

But as Keon points out, a year earlier, the same team lost out early on in the zone playdown (we happened to be one of the teams that beat them). I was in the zone playdowns again this year and I heard some grumbling from other players in the playdowns about Balsdon being there (actually Sunday morning he was only half there -- he slept in and missed the first few ends of his game!). One chap suggested that Balsdon should “know better” and should never have entered. Hmmmm. I think there was a full vine of sour grapes in the Granite Club by Sunday for some folks.

But it’s hard to fault him (or any of the other competitive players who entered; Balsdon wasn’t the only notable competitive curler in the event in Ontario) when his team meets the qualifications. I had no problem with them being there.

So really, if there’s an issue here, it’s in the Dominion’s definition of a club curler as Keon also points out. I don’t know how you make a rule that clearly defines the difference between a club curler and an elite curler as long as a player such as Balsdon plays in a club. Do you want to rule out every competitive curler instead of making an allowance for one? That might be the only alternative.

For now, some people really need to relax. It’s just a game. Balsdon met the rules of the competition, he and his team won the playdown. Good luck to Team Balsdon at the Canadian final. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

More on the rules

I heard back from Doug Bakes, the head of the Ontario Curling Association, in response to the blog I posted last week about the Rules problem we experienced playing The Dominion. You can read about the problems here.

Here's what Bakes told me:
 " . .. . . let's quickly visit the rule that you have made mention of that states " . . . teams will conduct a coin toss to determine choice of stone colour or first practice." The OCA Rules Committee meets annually to consider all the rule suggestions that we get over the course of a curling season. This particular section was put into place for the coming season as a result of a number of requests from players of all skill levels that preferred the skill based opportunity to decide last stone advantage as opposed to the traditional coin flip. As the OCA does not have on ice officials at zone, region and some provincial events, the OCA Executive passed the guidelines mentioned in # 3 under Pre-Game Team Meeting & Practice section in the OCA Rules Supplement that would have the players do the measuring.  "If the Rules Committee considers the guidelines currently in place to be a wording error, then they can quickly make a recommendation to the OCA Board and Executive to consider approval of an adjustment such as " . . . choice of stone colour or choice of practice." A change could potentially be in place prior to the start of zone playdowns for a number of events in November. The Dominion Curling Club Provincial event  to be played this weekend is not effected as colour is pre-determined for the round robin pool games."

As I mentioned, it wasn't that big a deal with us knee-sliders in the zones, but it's obviously an error, one the OCA should deal with quickly in the manner Bakes describes. 

Anyone have any similar wacky Rules experiences out there? And what rule would you change if you could?