Monday, February 10, 2014

Homan wins Scotties, Harper looks on and Montreal as a host site

Rachel Homan and her rink defended their title at the Maurice Richard Arena in front of dozens, scores, hundreds, a couple of thousand or so people. Homan became the first team since Linda Moore’s rink back in 1985.

This was more like the team we saw a year ago at the Scotties, not the one that showed up at the Olympic Trials earlier this season. The rink was dominant, using its tremendous big-weight hitting ability to run the table.

Now understandably, with the focus of the sporting and curling world on Sochi, there wasn’t much in the way of media covering the women’s final. The fact it was in the curling hotbed of Montreal didn’t help either.

However a few of the stalwarts were in attendance. Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun noted that the Ottawa foursome was clearly the best team not at the Olympics and won its title in front of uber-curling fan and my old high school pal Stephen Harper:

“It’s unbelievable,” an elated Homan, just 24, said as the traditional bagpipes wailed around her, moments after the win. “We ran the table. It’s an unbelievable feeling. My teammates... I can’tbe more proud of them. To be repeat champions, it’s something that we’recrazy-proud of. It’s hard to believe right now.”  
With Prime Minister Stephen Harper inattendance at his first Scotties — cheering for his home province? The teamfrom Ottawa? — Homan didn’t leave any room for argument about the identity ofCanada’s best team not in Sochi.

And what about holding this event in Montreal? A city and province that have never really been big on curling?

While the final day drew a few spectators, there weren’t many in the stands during the week, but clearly the CCA and Kruger knew going in that this wasn’t going to be a money-maker; it was more about taking it to Quebec because . . . well, no one is quite sure, but there were lots of smiles from the folks hosting. 

The Winnipeg Free Press’s Melissa Martin put in a good story on the atmosphere and the event itself.

And for the most part, the 2014 show ran smoothly, staffed by an energetic troop of over 400 volunteers. These were mostly avid curlers who've been throwing away at the sport for years, keeping it alive in a province where it has a far weaker foothold than the granite-happy Prairies: "Ummm," was the most common response when we asked volunteers about the curling scene on this part of the St. Lawrence River.

In terms of actual numbers, Martin said there were not expectations going in.

Indeed, attendance for the whole week didn't exactly smash projections, though there were robust crowds for the opening weekend, some of the week's draws and the semifinal game. After that last one -- which drew 2,639 fans -- the event sat at 33,941 through the week. Organizers decided not to set specific expectations. The last time Montreal hosted a ladies' curling championship was 1979, before it was the Scotties, and it was too different back then to guess.

And then, finally, there were limitations to – horror or horrors – the Heart Stop Lounge!

The Maurice Richard Arena has no room for a party, so the HeartStop Lounge -- you know, "the patch" -- had to be moved to a gymnasium up the street. That facility didn't have a restaurant, so they were limited to selling things that could go in a toaster, or be served cold. And -- according to some Scotties vets -- the turnout didn't compare to the rollicking patches that spring up at some events.

And, of course, before we go, another look at the most ridiculous curling game of any championship -- that bronze medal contest. Manitoba’s Chelsey Carey took home the bronze and she once again echoed the feelings of just about every curler in the game when she talked about having to play this contest after the system already determines the third-place finisher.

"The disappointment doesn't go away, but you want to at least salvage what you can out of it," said Carey. "I don't agree with this even being a game. I never have. 
"The Page (playoff)system builds in a bronze medallist. But, as much as I disagree with the game, it's nice to win a game to get there."

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