Monday, December 30, 2013

Buy a shirt, help an Olympian

Not long after Russ Howard helped Team Gushue win the gold medal at the Olympics, I had the privilege of helping him write his autobiography. Of course a great deal of it dealt with that run to the gold medal and the madness that ensued from the time the team defeated Jeff Stoughton’s squad at the trials until it stood on the top step of the podium in Torino.

One of the most interesting stories of that trip was in trying to make arrangements to get the families to the Italy. That entailed air fare, accommodation and tickets to the events.

First of all, it was a logistical nightmare and second, decisions had to be made within a few days of winning the trials.

There were other issues too, such as the fact that the Canadian Curling Association not making suitable arrangements for the families, but the biggest issue was cost. Without looking at my notes, I believe it cost Russ something like $26,000 for his wife and two kids to make the journey, start to finish.

That’s very expensive but obviously it was worth it.

So why am I telling you about this? Because Team Jones is going to auction off the jerseys they wore at the Olympic Trials with autographs on them to help defray some of the same expenses for their loved ones to come and watch them go for gold. It would be awful if they weren't able to go simply because they couldn't afford it.

Dawn McEwan’s jersey is up on eBay right now and you can own it outright and help her send some of her family members to Sochi. (I’m going to assume the other jerseys will follow but I don’t know that – anyone?)

As an added bonus, I understand the jerseys have been washed too before they were signed.

So get a rare piece of curling memorabilia and help the Olympicans.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

More cowbell needed as curling fever starting to hit the U.S. ahead of Sochi Games.

Once again, America is on Curling Watch. 

As the Sochi Games approach in just a few weeks, there are stories about the Roaring Game popping up in various U.S. media. The sport obviously intrigues people south of the border and the result is more people trying it out or getting ready to watch it. 

In Alaska, Olympican Jessica Schultz returned home to Anchorage, Alaska for the holidays but took time out to put on a clinic and sign autographs at her home club, as this story reveals: 

Schultz spent a snowy Sunday afternoon at the Anchorage Curling Club, giving lessons, signing autographs and spreading the word about curling, which even in a winter city like Anchorage remains a fringe sport. 
"It's nice to come back to the roots, especially before a huge event like the Olympics," Schultz said. "I can touch base with where I came from.

 Meanwhile, those who won't play, will watch, such as this columnist from the Virginian-Pilot, who, like many, caught the curling bug. 

During the 2010 Winter Olympics from Vancouver, my brief, guilty pleasure was curling.Women's curling, at that. 
As Sweden and Canada curled long and hard in one of the closest medal games in Olympic curling history, I sat motionless in front of my TV. Now it's true that I often sit motionless in front of my TV, but in this instance, I actually was awake. And caught up in the action, if that's what you call it. 
In fact, Sweden beating out Canada for the women's curling gold medal is all I remember about the Vancouver Games, though I still can't explain what kept me glued to the couch that day.
And then there were these two guys from Buzzfeed, one of the most popular web sites in the U.S., who were given a curling lesson from two U.S. Olympians, Ann Swisshelm and Sara Anderson, and learned what so many do: It's not that easy!

Last week Ann Swisshelm (left), the 2014 U.S. women’s Olympic curling team’s “lead,” and newcomer Sarah Anderson (right), an alternate for the 2014 squad, visited the BuzzFeed office and took us to a local curling club to teach us more about the sport. Like many casual fans, we assumed we could immediately pick it up and dominate. We were very wrong.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Team Howard spoils Christmas for every men's curling team in Ontario

Not that it was a big surprise, but Glenn Howard confirmed he and his rink will be in  Smiths Falls for the Travelers Insurance Tankard (Travelers took over from the Dominion), sending a shiver down the backs of every other competitive men's team in Ontario. 

And a few days ago Glenn Howard assured the organizing committee that Team Howard will be in Smiths Falls for the Tankard. That is wonderful news!! Given the Howard rink's success nationally and internationally in recent years, we are assured of at least one world class rink in the event.

Howard, who gets a bye into the final as defending champion, will be going for his 37th  eighth consecutive Ontario men's title. And at least one prognosticator thinks this might be the year the streak comes to an end. 

The men's provincial championship is just down the road this season in Smiths Falls Jan. 27 to Feb. 7. But psychologically, it may be too far for Glenn Howard. After his huge, dispiriting disappointment at the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings, can his heart be in yet another trip to the Tim Hortons Brier? He has been the Ontario Brier rep for the last eight tournaments.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

End-of-the-year lists -- what would you add?

Here's a rather basic, Canadian-focused rundown of the stories of the year in curling from the Canadian Press via the Globe and Mail. Lots of attention given -- rightly so -- to Brad Jacobs and his rink.

“Brad Jacobs might be the hottest curler in the world,” said Russ Howard, a two-time world champion and curling broadcaster. “They were very impressive. To go through the Olympic trials 8-0, that’s a pretty tough bonspiel.”

So what stories would you add?

In addition to the CP list, mine would also include:

** Nicolas Edin winning the world championship.

** The U.S. men having to fight for a spot in the Olympics.

** Russ Howard being inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.

** The announced changes to the Brier and Scotties format.

** Eve Muirhead and Team Scotland winning the world championship

** Holding a world championship in Latvia.

** Al Cameron leaving the Calgary Herald for the CCA

Monday, December 23, 2013

Muirhead gets the NY Times treatement

Eve Muirhead gets the New York Times treatment ahead of the Olympics. It's a good story although a bit basic in some of the descriptions of the game, even for a non-traditional curling audience. Still, it talks about the pressure facing the rock-tosser who will represent GB in Sochi:
She will arrive as a reigning world champion, but also as the focus of a newfound Olympic interest in Britain, and particularly in Scotland, which claims to have originated curling on its frozen lochs and rivers in the middle of the 16th century. 
“Everything’s now focused on the Olympics,” Muirhead said recently after her daily routine of strength training and ice practice in the Stirling gym. Her profile, and the stakes, have never been higher.
There's even a tangent on the upcoming Scottish referendum about independence and attempts to draw Muirhead and other Scottish athletes into the politics. 

Alex Salmond, the nationalist leader and Scotland’s first minister, has worked hard, without notable success, to recruit Scotland’s top sports figures to his cause. Last summer, he ruffled feathers at Wimbledon by unfurling Scotland’s blue-and-white flag, the Saltire, at his seat in the Royal Box at the moment of Andy Murray’s victory in the men’s singles final, the first championship by a British man there in 77 years. 
Academic studies in Scotland over the past decade have aided the nationalist cause, at least indirectly, by finding a link between Scotland’s perceived underperformance in sports and a culture of defeatism among Scottish athletes, a pattern some have attributed to the centuries that Scotland has spent as a dependent part of Britain. 
But Murray and other top Scottish athletes, including Chris Hoy, a cyclist with six Olympic gold medals, have resisted the nationalists’ call. So, too, have the curlers. Although she speaks of Scotland as her country — “It’s nice to know that we have the whole country, Scotland, behind us”  — Muirhead shrugs off any suggestion of nationalist leanings.
“Right now, I’m just trying to get on with my life,” she said. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Shortage of ice technicians threatens the game

By request, here is my story from the most recent edition of the Ontario Curling Report on the looming crisis in curling -- the shortage of ice technicians. 


Curling crisis: Who is going to make the ice?

By Bob Weeks

In the market for a new job? Here’s one for you: It has long, irregular hours, you have to work in the cold and the pay is average at best. You hear from your clients regularly, usually when they blame their faults on your handiwork. But on the plus side, you do get the summers off.
Doesn’t quite sound like your dream job? You’re not alone. Across the country and especially in Ontario, there is a shortage of qualified ice technicians, the folks who flood and pebble and scrape your curling ice. The long hours and low pay have combined to chase people away from careers on the curling ice to the point where the potential for a drastic shortage in qualified individuals is looming. Right now, if you have a good, young ice technician in your club, then he or she is worth his or her weight in gold.
“It’s definitely a chaotic life,” admitted Dave Padgett, who tends to the sheets at the Bayview Country Club in Toronto and has been making ice since the late 1960s. “It’s not for everyone. But in the next few years, as guys retire, it’s going to be a problem if something isn’t done.”
“Dishwashers make more than ice technicians if you look at it on a per hour basis,” added Don Powell, who teaches ice making courses for the Ontario Curling Association as well as looking after the playing surface at the Weston Golf & Country Club and at major provincial and national championships.
The problem is one that’s apparent in the industry. Both the OCA and the Canadian Curling Association have been looking at ways to attract more people to the business but so far haven’t been able to come up with any solutions.
“There’s a definite shortage,” said Danny Lamoureux, the head of curling club development for the CCA. “We’ve known that for a couple of years.”
Lamoureux highlighted a couple of examples of the problem that made their way to the association’s office. A club that was advertising for a new icemaker received applications from six people. The club contacted the CCA to verify the experience of the six. Not one was known to anyone at the Ottawa national office or local curling officials. Six applicants, none qualified.
In another situation, a club in Saskatchewan advertised for an ice technician with the job including subsidized housing as well as a guaranteed employment in the summer months.
Not one application was received.
The reasons the industry has failed to attract newcomers are plentiful. First up, the hours can be long and tedious. Powell said for his work, he arrives at the club two hours before the first draw to prepare the ice, which means a 7:30 start for a 9:30 game. And his day ends when the 9 p.m. draw takes to the sheets meaning close to a 14-hour day.
His work varies between busy periods where he’s scraping or pebbling, and times when he’s waiting for curlers to finish their games.
“The schedule changes a bit but there aren’t any days at our club when there isn’t any curling. It’s seven days a week, ” he said, acknowledging he has a part-time staff that helps make the workload manageable.
The duties of an ice technician vary from club to club, depending on how busy a certain facility is, how many sheets there are and how many players. Some clubs have moved to volunteers to care for the ice, a trend that worries the community of ice technicians, more for the inconsistent and possibly unplayable conditions that result than the effect on paid jobs.
“It’s not good for curling,” said Padgett, a second-generation ice technician. “But what are these clubs going to do? There’s just no money.”
That’s the second problem. Ice technicians are not paid all that well. While there are some at private clubs that can draw a decent salary, most just eke out a living or need to supplement their curling work with other duties.
Doug Bakes, the general manager of the Ontario Curling Association, estimates that about a third of the roughly 200 clubs in the province have a full time ice technician, which includes those who are employed seasonally and some who are given other jobs at a facility when the curling season is over, such as on a golf course.
This summer, there were 16 jobs that opened up for one reason or another; it caused a shuffle of ice techs from club to club to club and left a few position unfilled. In those cases either volunteers pick up the slack or an ice tech may end up taking over more than one club. In all cases, services get stretched and conditions suffered.
If there is one trend seen by those taking up the pebbling can, it’s the number of retired people getting into the business. At an OCA clinic in the fall, there were nine participants: eight were retired from various careers.
“The new people coming into the job tend to be retired folks, who are looking for a way to supplement their income in retirement,” said Bakes. “That’s good but we would still like to get younger folks in [the job].”
Powell said that while he’s seen a number of younger people start down the path to a career as an ice technician, many give up the business when they see the hours and the compensation.
Padgett agreed and added that it’s a tough work schedule for those with a family.
“I know one young guy in the business who said that he never sees his kids because he leaves for work before they get up and comes home after they’ve gone to bed,” he stated. “It’s a hard life if you have kids.”
There don’t seem to be any easy answers to getting more people into the business although the CCA is looking at options, as is the OCA.
Ontario currently runs clinics ranging from a Level I, which covers the basics, up to Level III that deals with the intricacies of everything to do with ice and rocks.
“Level 1 courses are jam-packed,” said Powell. “In fact we turn people away. Level 2 there is a significant drop off, nowhere near as many and for level 3, again another big drop off.
“I also see the same clubs sending a different person to level 1 year after year.”
Those tend to be volunteers, Powell said.
With so few people getting into the business the future is downright scary. Padgett predicts that it might become a bidding war as clubs that have financial resources scramble to get qualified individuals. That doesn’t mean the pay will go up significantly, Padgett predicted. That will take time.
“I’ve been talking to the OCA for a long time about the problem,” he said. “I think they should hire a qualified guy to go around and work at each club with the staff for a few days. At least that would help with the conditions.”
Both Bakes and Lamoureux acknowledge that this is a problem without any easy answers.
“The CCA has some ideas on how to attract people into the job as a career,” said Lamoureux. “We’re targeting younger people. We’ve also been talking to a lot of golf people to see how superintendents attract people as well as if they can combine jobs.”
Bakes said the OCA is looking at a re-vamp of the ice technicians’ courses as a way to assist. But he knows the situation has no quick solutions.
Both associations spend a lot of money on coaching and on improving players, but without good ice, it won’t matter how good the curlers are. It’s a problem that needs attention. Now.

Friday, December 13, 2013

U.S. men's Olympic hopes rest on tiebreaker

The Olympic hopes of the American men’s curling team is resting on a tiebreaker it will play on Saturday against Korea.

The U.S. has to win that game and then defeat the loser of the 1 vs. 2 match between Germany and the Czech Republic. The winner of that latter contest moves on to Sochi.

All four of those teams finished the round-robin at 5-2. Based on round-records, Germany was awarded first place, Czech Republic second and the U.S. and Korea tied for third.

The position of the teams, playing in Fussen, Germany, wasn’t determined until the final stone of an extra end in the final game of the round robin, according to this WCF press release.
The dramatic climax came in the game between Japan and Germany. The Japanese men were already out of contention but that did not stop them fighting all the way, forcing an extra end with a single steal in the tenth end to level the game at 7-7. 
When Germany's fourth player Felix Schiulze came to play his last stone, he had to out-draw a Japanese stone partly frozen on the eight-foot ring. To his relief he managed it, much to the delight of the home crowd. 
The result of this was that Germany, the Czech Republic, Korea and the USA all shared the same won five, lost two record. 
Using their win-loss record among these four, Germany ranked first and the Czech Republic, who beat New Zealand by 7-6, ranked second, meaning that these two will play the 1v2 Play-off game on Saturday night at 20:00 (CET).

In women’s play, China and Japan have earned spots in the 1 vs. 2 game despite there being one more round-robin game remaining.

Calgary to host first Brier pre-qualifying and non-US Continental Cup

It's pretty hard to keep secrets these days and so just about everyone already knew that the 2015 Tim Hortons Brier was headed to . . . Calgary. That also means Cowtown will be the site of the first pre-qualifying for the men's national championship as the format change comes into play for that edition. 

No longer will there be the 10 provinces, Northern Ontario and Territories rinks which seems to have worked well for everyone but the 11 curlers in Nunavut. Now there will be a playdown for the final spots and we'll also see a Team Canada and a Northern Ontario team for the first time. 

But back to Calgary, which Warren Hansen said in this Calgary Sun story, offers up the perfect combination of what the CCA looks for in a host site: money and even more money  and history. 

“We know the economy of Calgary is very strong, we know the curling history of Calgary is fantastic,” said Warren Hansen, the CCA’s director of event operations. “If there was anything that was going to help us make what we’re planning here for 2015 work, it would be the city. We’re confident that’s going to take place.”

Not only is Calgary getting the Brier, but it's also going to host the Continental Cup the very same year. That's a first and a bit of a shocker. That event is also changing formats. The CCA recently announced it was taking the Cup over from the WCF and so it's going to punt the Americans to the side and just have Canada take on a team from Europe one year and then the World the next.  That makes a heck of a lot of sense.

“We’ve always had this nagging thing, with our own athletes even, that they wanted to have Canada playing against the rest of Europe,” Hansen said. “Having it be Canada that’s going against first Europe, and then the world (it will rotate every year) will make it a little more attractive.”

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

U.S. off to slow start at the Olympic Qualifying

Over in Fussen, Germany, the last two spots in the Olympic field are being decided this week. While you might expect to find some of the also-ran nations here vying for a spot, there are some countries with good curling programs and legacies in the battle.

Most notable, of course, is the U.S., bronze medallists in 2006. It really is hard to understand that the second biggest curling nation in the world -- in terms of numbers and facilities -- can't produce a really world-class men's team. No offence to all the Pete Fensons and John Shusters out there who are very good and work hard, but when was the last time an American men's curling team really was a threat to win a world championship? While European countries and Asian countries rise up the world ranking, the Americans just seem to struggle to get players and teams who can compete at a consistently high level.

Perhaps the Iceman, Al Hackner, who is working with the U.S. program these days, can bring some chops to the team.

Now the Yanks, led by Shuster and his gang, are over in Fussen and didn't get off to a very good start, dropping the opening contest to the Czech Republic yesterday. Here's a report from the World Curling Federation on the first round of men's play and another one for the women's. Surprising to see names such as Bingyu Wang and her Chinese team along with Germany's Andrea Schoepp (is she really the only woman curler in Germany capable of skipping a team or does it just seem like that?) in the field.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Fans not roaring to the Trials

The halcyon days of sellout crowds at major curling events seem to be a thing of the past. Once again, another major event is apparently going to fall short of projections as Paul Friesen pointed out today in the Winnipeg Sun.

Total tickets sales for the event should come in at around 136,000, shy of the 150,000 to 160,000 organizers predicted. 
In fact, there are concerns the Trials might not turn a profit. 
"Better attendance always helps the bottom line," event manager Rob Dewhirst said, Saturday. 
Organizers had to put up $1 million to host the event.

Last night’s women’s final – featuring the hometown Jennifer Jones – was not a sellout. And the expectations are that the men’s final won’t fill the arena either.
Of course the frigid temps may have kept many at home. Or maybe it was Ron Burgundy?

Jones: from the Olympic media bench to the ice

Four years ago in Vancouver, Jennifer Jones sat beside me on the media bench covering the Olympic curling for Yahoo! It was a fun week, getting to know her better and enjoying the Vancouver Olympic experience. But one thing was very clear: Jones didn’t want to be on the bench; she wanted to be curling. You could tell it was eating her up to be watching, rather than calling shots.
Now finally, she’ll get that chance in Sochi, Russia.

Jones, to me, is the ultimate competitor. She loves to curl and loves to win. That’s what drove her to change her team, dropping Cathy Overton-Clapham in favour of Kaitlyn Lawes, a move that saw her become Public Enemy No. 1 for many curling fans. I can still remember the boos she received at the Scotties in Charlottetown as she faced off against her former third.

We’ll never know if Jones would have won the Trials with Overton-Clapham, but she felt she had a better chance with Lawes. She made a tough move with one goal in mind and it worked out for her.

Of course after a tough week, the lawyer who now lives in Horseshoe Valley, Ont., will have an even tougher one at the Olympics.

The lead up will be smothering and the competition in the women’s field will be exceptionally tough. As good as Jones is, it would be hard to consider her and the squad the outright favourites. Her international record isn’t stellar and every game will be do or die.

Somehow, I think she’ll be up for the task in Russia.

In the papers, Paul Wiecek noted that, remarkably, the Jones rink is the first one from curling-mad Manitoba (you know, the province with curling licence plates) to make it to the Olympics in curling.

For the first time since curling became a full medal sport in Nagano in 1998, a team from Manitoba will represent Canada in Olympic curling and it will be Winnipeg's Jones, who saw a lifelong dream culminate spectacularly Saturday night at the MTS Centre in an 8-4 win over Sherry Middaugh in the women's final of the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings. 
"I can't even describe it," Jones sobbed afterward. "You dream of it since you're a little kid and we've had many dreams come true. But this is so rare, this opportunity. Our dreams came truetoday -- and in the most amazing way. It's unbelievable."

In the Sun, Jim Bender relates why seven is Jones’ favourite number and how the Curling Gods smiled down on the skip in the seventh end on the seventh day.

Jennifer Jones was born on the seventh day of the seventh month, and readily admits that her lucky number is seven.  
In fact, the Manitoba skip wears 77 on her regular uniform. 
And it was in the seventh end that Jones cracked a three to take a 7-3 lead en route to an 8-4 victory over Ontario's Sherry Middaugh in the women's final of the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings Canadian Curling Trials before 8,565 fans at the MTS Centre on Saturday night. 
On the seventh day of the 12th month.

Meanwhile Cam Cole points out in Post Media that the country is about to get a lot more Jennifer Jones and deservedly so, after a game in which there wasn’t much fanfare – just a lot of good shotmaking.

To those who think Jennifer Jones has been overexposed as the face of women’s curling in Canada, tough luck. 
The 39-year-old Winnipeg skip and her photogenic team, relentlessly marketed by the Canadian Curling Association, is about to get an even higher profile after dispatching the Sherry Middaugh rink of Coldwater, Ont., 8-4 in the final of the Roar Of The Rings. 
It was a strangely quiet, clinical performance,punctuated only occasionally by a roar for a theatrical shot, as the Jones rink choked off any thoughts of a Middaugh upset from the very first end. That’s when second Jill Officer made a triple takeout en route to blanking the end.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Middaugh stuns Homan, now looking for breakthrough

The curling gods have never been kind to her. She has been a tremendous player, skipped great teams and come close to winning lots of big titles but never been able to grab the big one.

That might be the bio of Cheryl Bernard before she won the Olympic Trials four years ago in Edmonton.

But it might also be the story of Sherry Middaugh, the Ontario skip who shocked province-mate and defending Canadian champion Rachel Homan to earn a spot in the final. She discussed her curling past in this story by the Canadian Press:

“In the past it’s been normally like a missed shot on my behalf, maybe nerves, but the fact (is) that maybe all those experiences have helped,” Middaugh said of her record of stumbling before the finish line was in sight. 
“I’d certainly give all of those away to win tomorrow.”

Don Landry echoed those sentiments in his blog at Yahoo!, talking about how many tries Middaugh has made at winning a Canadian championship, only to come up short.

Will Sherry Middaugh finallyget that maple leaf? That long sought after maple leaf? 
Six times she's been to the national championships, five as a skip. Denied everytime, although she has four Scotties bronze medals hanging somewhere at home. 
Now, 17 years after she had her first chance to win a Canadian flag for the back of her jacket, Middaugh is one win away from getting it.For the Olympic Games, no less.

However as Paul Wiecek points out in the Winnipeg Free Press, Jones, despite multiple national and international titles, is no a stranger to losing the big game either

And Jones is hoping she can pull some hometown support out of the Winnipeg crowds who have been freezing cheering all week. She's trying to take a page from the Jets fans as she told Jim Bender in the Winnipeg Sun.

Jones also urged the hometown fans to wear white, imitating a Winnipeg Jets-like whiteout. 
"Come out in a sea of white, that's what we're known for," she said. "Let's get it on … It's like having an extra person out there for you, which keeps the energy high, which is key and it's for us now. We've played against it a lot of times. 
"We're in Winnipeg. Have you seen the fans? It's so exciting to play at home and we were just saying how much fun we've had this week. We were so calm and having fun, enjoying the moment and I think that's one of our keys to success. We're gonna try to do that tomorrow, so hopefully, many people come out tomorrow and cheer us on and it's a dream come true just to play in Winnipeg, never mind what's at stake." 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Mixed Doubles is all the rage

Kind of hard to figure if this is just hyperbole or utter BS, but World Curling Federation president Kate Caithness seems to think mixed doubles is all the rage at curling clubs around the world. 

El Presidente’s words come as the WCF tries once again to have Mixed Doubles included on the Olympic itinerary and obviously having the non-curling world think this is the biggest thing since the snowboard is important. She could just be trying to sway some of those important IOC votes from curling-mad countries such as Qatar and Indonesia.

In this AP story, Caithness tries to sway voters.

However, WCF president Kate Caithness said "mixed doubles is part of our sport that has taken off around the world," with the governing body spending the last eight years developing the spread to meet the technical requirements for Olympic admission

Of course by “taken off around the world” she really means “played only it at the Continental Cup.”

Then, the president throws out this interesting line:

"It would allow other countries who wouldn't perhaps have the chance of going to the Olympics with a full men's team and full women's team to take part in the Olympics," Caithness told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

So does that mean that no real curling country has anyone who is any good actually playing Mixed Doubles or that the countries participating in Mixed Doubles don’t actually have enough curlers to form real teams?

In any case, the official decision will be made after the Sochi Games and a decision will be likely be made in 2015.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Apparently there are other countries in the running for a gold medal

If the boys in Winnipeg think that a win on Sunday will mean an automatic gold medal, they might want to read this fro the Estevan Mercury.

Liu Rui of China defeated Bruce Korte of Saskatoon 5-2 in the Weatherford Curling Classic final on Sunday. It marks another big step for the Chinese team, which is being coached by former Randy Ferbey lead Marcel Rocque. While they might not be up to the standards of Bingyu Wang, they are improving. The world isn't the same any more. 

"The way our team works, every year (we) come (to) Canada for training, games tournaments (to get better)," said coach Hong Chen Li. 
The team also receives instruction from former Randy Ferbey lead Marcel Rocque, who is now a coach with the Chinese national program. 
TheLiu rink has seven or eight tournaments on its schedule for this season and has already played the likes of Glenn Howard, Kevin Martin, Mike McEwen and Kevin Koe, Li said.

Hey Jennifer. . . you're in the final, you know

Jennifer Jones made it into the final at the Roar of the Rings, slipping past Rachel Homan with a 10th-end steal. Of course she’s been so focused on watching Team Howard other things here this week she wasn’t even aware that she’d advanced to the final contest, as Jim Bender reported in the Winnipeg Free Press. 
"Are we in the final? Wow, I had no idea," Jones responded after the match. "That's awesome. I mean, we battled back and really hung in there and made a couple of great shots in the last end and made her make a draw (attempt), and it worked out well for us. 
"I knew for sure that we clinched a playoff spot … Those are the kind you have to grind out to win in order to be successful this week. You just want to hang in and make them make the last shot and it worked out for us."
 The game between Homan and Jones, a re-match of last year’s Scotties final, wasn’t going to be replayed on YouTube any time soon, as Paul Wiecek pointed out in the Free Press, it wasn’t a classic. And despite losing Homan was still talking loud. Was that perhaps due to the, um, overly boisterous celebration by the Jones team after the Homan miss? If she does make it into a rematch with Jones, it does set up some interesting tensions between the two squads.  
After Jones used her final rock of the game to make a perfect freeze to two Homan rocks nestled on the four-foot, the Ontario skip sailed a draw attempt into the back rings to hand Jones the game-winning steal. 
It’s the second time this week Homan missed agame-winning draw — and just like the first time she did it, she once again blamed ice conditions. 
"We deserved that win," Homanprotested. "But that’s all right. They got away with one. And we’ll get them back." 
All of which is bold talk from a woman who hasyet to secure a playoff spot at this event, much less a berth in the final against Jones.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Jennifer Jones is the Lebron of women's curling

Thanks to reader LD for passing this on -- and I have to admit it's pretty funny. A Hater's Guide to Curling: The 2013 Roar of the Rings is a look at the Canadian Olympic Trials from the blog Carrie Hunt and the Spoonerisms (if you don't know what a spoonerism is, look it up and then Carrie Hunt will make sense).

This is a lengthy look at the teams along with some predictions for the competition from someone who obviously knows a lot about what's going on but relates it to people who probably don't (FakeCCA?).

There are some funny descriptions of players such as:

Jennifer Jones: The biggest team in women's curling over the past decade. Also one of the most beloved. Also one of the most intensely hated. Jennifer can't help it. She's the fucking Lebron of women's curling.

Kevin Martin looks like: Officer Lahey going through meth withdrawal

What Brad Jacobs gave Northern Ontario curling fans: Before Brad Jacobs taught them to be proud of their curlers, Northern Ontarians just spent their days mining for nickel, getting drunk in Tim Hortons parking lots listening to BTO.

John Morris, complete with a link to some weird web site: Johnny Mo is the hunkiest man in curling. Look at him, working out! Look at him here, featured on some sort of gay hunk admiration website! God, he's handsome. Not a bad curler, either.

It's worth a read if you want something a little off the wall. 

"That's the worst loss of my life, right there"

 Yup. It’s hard to argue with that description coming from the Ontario skipper as reported by Canadian Press, after coughing up what looked like a sure win against rival Kevin Martin.

The Howard rink collapsed in the ninth end to give up four, losing a game that appeared to be locked up. It was just cruel to watch that one fall apart and see the team drop to 1-3. Martin remained perfect at 4-0.

Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun described it as the most shocking loss in a history of losses.

Four years ago in Edmonton at the Roar of the Rings, Glenn Howard lost the final to Kevin Martin. 
Again and again Howard has lost finals of the Brier to the Old Bear. But never, ever, ever, ever has the Ontario skip lost one like that to the most decorated curler in the history of the game or anybody else.
So what do you do if you lose a tough one like that? And what do you do if you know your Olympic dreams are on life support? Well, if you're a member of Team Howard or Team Stoughton, you get the cards out and hope you have better luck.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the standings, Brad Jacobs has found his stride, the one that he and his teammates had last March at the Brier but haven't had since, as quoted in this Paul Friesen article in the Winnipeg Sun. 

"This is the best we've played in the last year. Thisis pretty close to how we played throughout the Brier playoffs. So, like Isaid, it's a long week and we need to get these games going. I think we've gota little momentum going right now, so it feels great."
Despite rolling along, Jacobs is of the mind that going perfect in a round-robin of this field will be next to impossible. Both he and Martin are the only two in the men's field that can accomplish that, both siting at 4-0. 

Competitors have said this week it’s doubtful any team will go undefeated, and Jacobs was still believing that. 
“Obviously, anybody can beat anyone out there and it’s happening,” said Jacobs, 28, who got his spot in Winnipeg out ofthe pre-trials event. 
“Everyone sees it, so real tough to goundefeated. I totally agree with that statement. It’s virtually impossible, I’d say, but there is a slight chance and right now we’re undefeated.”
And our Tweet of the day goes out to NolanThiessen, a member of the Kevin Koe rink that sits at 0-4 (h/t Jonesy)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Jones heads up Winnipeg slide

So was that the most shocking loss you’ve ever seen from a team skipped by Jennifer Jones? Seven points stolen? Four of those in one end?


As the Canadian Press detailed, it was pretty ugly, yet the lawyer from Horseshoe Valley Winnipeg kept her outlook positive.

“We just missed a couple of bad shots and lost control of the game,” said Jones, who istrying to claim the one prize that has eluded her team, the right to represent Canada at the Olympics.
“We battled back and won one today, this morning and kind of let one slip away tonight but we’ll come beck sharper tomorrow.”

The loss was another kick in the groin to the hometown rinks, who, as Paul Wiecek points out in the Winnipeg Free Press, are not exactly lighting it up. And all this coming just as the province unveiled a new curling-themed licence plate:

The dominating home ice advantage the four Winnipeg teams were hoping the MTS Centre would provide at the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings has mostly failed to materialize. 
With a record of 4-6 through the first 10 games, the four Winnipeg teams skipped byJennifer Jones, Chelsea Carey, Jeff Stoughton and Mike McEwen have hardly been dominating their out-of-province competition despite the advantage of large partisan crowds. 
But the two Manitoba-based women's teams have at least been finding other ways to win, something their 0-4 male counterparts cannot claim this morning. 
And while the locals are struggling, it seems just about everyone is battling the ice, which has not up to standards. Rachel Homan pointed that out in Wiecek’s piece:

"You can't play in the middle the last end -- I had to throw it to the wings," said Homan. 
"It's just sludge, you can't throw it hard enough. But that's alright --we'll learn from that and move on the next game."

On the men’s side, the defending gold medalist is off to a fast start at 2-0. According to Cam Cole in PostMedia, the new relationship between Kevin Martin and Dave Nedohin is working out primarily because Nedohin has been doing his Marcel Marceau routine.

“Getting along has been really easy. Because Dave, like when he curled with Randy, doesn’t say much,” Martin said. 
“If you watch, he’s always at the other end. If I need him to look at angles or whatever, it’s ‘Dave!’ And I wave him to come down, but otherwise … maybe there’s even a little less (feedback) than I’d like sometimes.” 
The Morris relationship was noisier. 
“Well, not at the start. But near the end, yeah,” said Martin. “You don’t want too much chatter, I don’t think.”