Monday, December 31, 2007

Highlights and Lowlights

Happy New Year

As we say good-bye to 2007 tonight, I’m taking a look back at the highlights and the lowlights of the year:

HIGHLIGHT – Dave Parkes resigns. He may have been good early in his career, but he was, in my opinion, a cancer for all of curling in the latter years.

LOWLIGHT -- He leaves the CCA almost $1.5 million in debt.

HIGHLIGHT – The Brier comes to Southern Ontario to Copps Coliseum to receive the Golden Touch.

LOWLIGHT – The crowds at the Brier in Hamilton were dismal, administering another body blow to championship curling in Southwestern Ontario.

HIGHLIGHT – Prime Minister Stephen Harper shows up to watch a draw in Hamilton, which is one more draw than Parkes did.

LOWLIGHT – Harper is one of the most uncomfortable, awkward human beings I’ve ever met (I went to high school with him and he was the same back then).

HIGHLIGHT – Casino Rama steps in to revive the TSN Skins Game in Orillia, Ont.

LOWLIGHT – The Continental Cup is held in Medicine Hat.

HIGHLIGHT – I co-authored a curling book with Russ Howard.

LOWLIGHT – The same year, books on or by the Ferbey Four, Colleen Jones, Brad Gushue and Vera Pezer are released, making for a crowded curling shelf at the local Chapters.

HIGHLIGHT – Capital One steps up to sponsor the Grand Slam of Curling, signing on for $5.2 million over five years.

LOWLIGHT – The purses for the Grand Slam stay at $100,000.

HIGHLIGHT – Dallas Bittle and Gerry Geurts release another edition of the Black Book of Curling.

LOWLIGHT – I’m not ranked anywhere.

HIGHLIGHT – Kelly Scott wins the Scott Tournament of Hearts.

LOWLIGHT – Reporters everywhere wince.

HIGHLIGHT – The Strauss Canada Cup of Curling is Held.

LOWLIGHT – Strauss hasn’t increased its budget for television ads.

All the best for 2008.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

One more day

Oops. You won't find my column on Kevin Martin in Monday's Globe, and that's because I'm a big boob. Normally, I try to write my column on Sunday morning and then file it by noon. I'm supposed to have it in by 2 p.m. This week I was a little ahead of schedule. With nothing much to do last night, I wrote the column and saved it. I woke up Sunday morning and made a few minor changes then sent it in. Or thought I did.
Actually I did send it but I sent it to the wrong address, put a .ca on the end instead of the .com. thinking everything was hunky-dory, I went out with my son, did a little shopping and then went to see the new National Treasure movie. Being a good guy, I left my Blackberry in the car. When I returned, there was a flurry of voice mails and e-mails wondering where my column was. Oops.
So you'll find it in Tuesday's paper and probably on the web site sometime Tuesday afternoon.
By the way, in the 19 years that I've written my Globe column, this is the first time I've done this.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Martin and Interviewing Curlers

Today I interviewed Kevin Martin for my Globe column on Monday. I called his cel phone and was surprised when he told me he was in Florida on a little family vacation. I guess going back to my previous post, this is one of the few times of the year a competitive curler can get away from the balmy temperatures of Edmonton.
I won’t scoop myself, but the column will deal with Martin’s streak of five consecutive Grand Slam wins.
Over the years, I’ve really found that Martin has really become a very good interview. In his early days, he was somewhat reticent to talk in anything other than clich├ęs or top-line comments. But over the years he’s better, more open and not afraid to speak the truth as blunt as that may be. He does, however, always do it in a positive way.
Most curlers are decent interviews. I’d say my Best Interview List would be made up of Ed Werenich, Wayne Middaugh, Glenn Howard, Martin, Randy Ferbey, Heather Houston and Marilyn Bodogh. I’m probably forgetting a few, but these folks always give you genuine answers that aren’t stock crap. Sometimes they give you something outrageous that just makes a writer’s day so easy. Other times it’s really just an honest answer.
In general most curlers are decent to interview and only a few that I’ve dealt with are really tough to get anything out of or are just plain boring or flat. I’m sure they’re not that way intentionally but it can make a writer’s job that tough.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Dead Week

The period between Christmas and New Year’s used to be a vibrant one for curling. As a junior curler, I used to revel in the old CFRB bonspiel held at Thornhill Country Club. It was always a good chance to have a great party. And the party was really why we were all there.
There was also a family bonspiel held at my curling club, Weston. It used to be on Boxing Day, but that’s long since changed to allow staff a little longer well-deserved break.
But more recently, there was a televised Skins Game during this time, usually featuring a West-versus-East format with four top teams on each side playing down. It actually started as more of a local event in Toronto, or Oshawa to be exact. It was known at the GM Goodwrench Skins and was a battle of top GTA rinks. That morphed into the M+M Skins Game and it was aired on Sportsnet. While the event was popular, it never really worked from a business standpoint and the plug was pulled a few years ago.
It’s a bit strange to me that there aren’t any events during this week between Christmas and New Years. The calendar is certainly jammed all the rest of the year and you wonder why someone hasn’t tried to start something – maybe an outdoor event like the hockey game that’s happening in Buffalo on New Year’s Day. They did have an outdoor exhibition at Rockefeller Centre a while back, but why not a one game exhibition between Ferbey and Martin or Howard and Middaugh or Russ Howard and Brad Gushue? It would be fun.
For now, I’m left to find my curling fix elsewhere.

Monday, December 24, 2007

New Globe Column

Here's today's column from the Globe and Mail.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Martin's fifth

Kevin Martin is quite amazing, isn’t he? He wins his fifth consecutive Grand Slam (oops, sorry, Capital One Grand Slam) event which to me is remarkable. I mean, what are the odds of this happening? It’s not quite up there with winning the Grand Slam in golf (in my opinion), but more should be made of this streak.
Also, it should be noted that it was a big finale for Wild Rows Pump & Compression which sponsored both teams in the final. I'm sure there's a big celebration going on back at the Pump & Compression store. Sorry, I digress again.
In some ways, I think this is more of an achievement than winning four Briers. Granted he did play fewer games, and every game was on good ice, which you don’t always get in a playdown run, but Martin faced significantly more difficult competition to get the job done. Think about it – he’s defeated the best teams in the game five consecutive times. That’s a pretty tough job.
Unfortunately, it won’t get the coverage it deserves or even the recognition among curlers who have yet to fully embrace the Grand Slams for what they are (that time will come, but I digress). But these events are as good as curling gets and for Martin to win five straight just boggles my mind.
I think the Players’ Association is smart to enact a new rule that prevents teams from picking up players from teams that take a pass on a Slam event. This weekend, both Craig Savill and Brent Laing played for teams other than their regular (Glenn Howard). You know both these guys have good intentions but there’s definitely the possibility for abuse down the line.
The necessity of this rule really points to just how crowded the curling calendar is. Howard passed on this weekend because he had already played the last three and around Christmas, that Beer Store no doubt gets a little busy. While this is certainly the peak of the season, you have to think it would be in the Slam’s best interests to spread these events out a bit, especially these first two which were just three weeks apart. Why not have one early in the year, say late October? I’m sure scheduling isn’t quite as easy as all that, what with arena deals, and not stepping on the toes of existing spiels, etc., but this is a small problem that should be overcome with enough planning.
Kudos to the folks running the web site for The National. Probably the best curling web site I’ve ever seen.
Although he's certainly well known on the circuit, it was interesting today to hear the mangled pronunciations of Kevin Koe's name. At the curling club where I was, I heard a lot of "coe" and some "coe-ee" but not many "coo-ee." Also, during the semi-final, one older gentleman kept getting Koe and Jon Mead mixed up.
Oh well, if the team keeps playing like the are, they'll eventually get it right.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The passing of a great man

Hard to believe that he's gone. He truly was one of the funniest guys out there.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ferby and toe-sliders

By now, many of you know about the injury to Randy Ferbey. He’s reportedly injured his Achilles tendon, which can be a real bad injury, especially for a curler. He and the team are out of this week's Grand Slam.
According to one person I talked to, there was no injury moment – i.e. Ferbey didn’t jam his foot or bang it on anything – he just woke up and it was swollen. That’s a weird one, but then I’ve heard lots of weird ones, such as a guy on the PGA Tour who broke a rib sneezing and missed six weeks.
You have to wonder if something like this is a result of his delivery, all those years of riding on his toe. Or if it’s something that will hamper his delivery in years to come.
I’ve always wondered if the old Manitoba tuck delivery will eventually peter out since it’s not really something that’s taught. I’ve heard that there are still a handful of youngsters in Winnipeg that slide this way, but you have to think that eventually, we’ll see the last of the toe-sliders.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

RIP Chevy

The news was surprising, considering he was just in Toronto recently during Grey Cup week. Don Chevrier passed away earlier today and the country has lost one of its best announcers.
Most of the obits lead with the fact that Chevy was the original play-by-play man with the Blue Jays, but curlers will always know him as the voice of CBC curling for many, many years.
Chevy partnered with Don Duguid in the years before the all-encompassing coverage the Brier and the Scott. Back in the day, Chevy and Dugy would provide 15-minute daily highlight packages that aired after the late news – about 11:45 as I recall – and then show the final game of the round robin. Later that evolved into the semi-finals and finals. He also did the CBC Curling Classic from 1972 to 1981.
After he left Canada to work in the United States, Chevy got the call to work on the Olympic curling for NBC. He did that in 2002 and 2006.
One of my great memories of Chevy wasn’t of him calling curling, but playing it. As a teen-ager growing up in Toronto, I used to watch Chevy curl at Humber Highland. He played on a team with the late Doug Maxwell and CFL legend Russ Jackson. I have a vivid memory of him wearing a pair of those old Bauer shoes that had the little heal, white ones. He had a sort of wobbly delivery but generally, he was pretty good.
I had the chance to meet him once or twice, but never to pick his brain on his great career. You can find obits here and here that go into detail about his great work.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Continental Cup has Jumped the Shark

It started out with good intentions, but let's face it -- the Continental Cup is little more than an exhibition that has about as much intensity as a family barbecue. Players are laughing and joking around, often times in mid-game. This has gone from being an international competition to Friday night mixed.
The problems, as I see it, are plentiful. But here are the main ones:
* Adjust the Calendar. Having this event every year just kills any build-up. If, as the press releases from the CCA and WCF and the banner on the event's web site likes to remind us, this was patterned after golf's Ryder Cup (the web site actually says "The Ryder Cup of Curling"), then use that format of every other year. Even that might be too much but every year just makes it another curling event, nothing special.
* Fix the points system. Could there be a more convoluted point system? Do you think Bill and Betty from Weyburn have any idea of what's going on? I mean why allow actual points from games count towards the total? You're just asking for trouble and you got it this year with North America clinching heading into the final day. Sunday is now a waste, when it should, at the very least, provide some sort of stage for a remarkable comeback (again, see Ryder Cup of Brookline, Mass.) There should be no possible way a team can clinch before Sunday and the way to do that is to put a value on a game won as opposed to the scores of that game. Win a Skins Game, get 5 points, or something like that. Not only will that provide a proper finish on Sunday, but it might actually allow people watching to understand just how the scoring works.
* Add a third team. Hey, did you notice that China just won the Pacific championships. . . both men's and women's? And Korea and New Zealand and Australia are legit teams? Why not bring in a Pacific squad to vie for the title? Sure it might get a little confusing in the scheduling department, but the benefits are plentiful.
* Adjust the format. OK, you need to get rid of mixed doubles (sorry, but you ain't getting into the Olympics folks) and singles. In their place, add a double-rink competition. That's where two teams play two teams with the total score of both games deciding the outcome. So imagine the Randy Ferbey and Jennifer Jones teams playing against Andy Kapp and Ludmila Privovkova. This is a format that's been played in curling for, oh, about 100 years or so and it's much better than this goofy mixed doubles stuff.

Right now, the Continental Cup is in that same category as the Mixed. An event that happens, but without anyone really caring all that much.