Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Why Not An Outdoor Curling Classic?

Over at the (no longer Canadian) Curling News blog, there are some links to a fine story about ice God Hans Wuthrich’s work with the outdoor ice classic the NHL is running in Chicago on Jan. 1. If Hans has anything to do with it, the Red Wings and Blackhawks will have good ice.
But that got me wondering why we don’t stage a big outdoor curling event? Certainly there have been lots of outdoor exhibitions, including one at Rockefeller Plaza in NY, NY. A few years ago there was a big event at High Park in Toronto where they played on Grenadier Pond. There was even an attempt at throwing the longest rock, i.e. they built a strip of curling ice a few hundred feet in length and tried to see how far someone could throw it. I remember John Kawaja tossed it a pretty fair distance but I can’t remember if it was a record of any kind.
I also know there are lots of folks who curl outside for fun across the country. Gord Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies has a set of curling rocks at his cottage that he uses for an annual spiel.
But rather than some sort of fun exhibition, why not make it a televised event, with money on the line. A serious competition. How about moving the TSN Skins Game outside? Maybe you could hold a cash event outdoors? Sure some curlers would complain because the ice conditions wouldn’t be great if the weather was off, but imagine the attention and the notoriety it would give the game?
What have you got to lose?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Curling and the economy

I was asked on a radio show the other day how curling’s big events would be affected by the economic conditions of the day. To me, it’s a good news-bad news situation.
On one hand, both the Season of Champions and the Capital One Grand Slams have their title sponsors locked up for the next few years, at least through 2010. That’s good. So is the fact that there are solid television deals in place. The Season of Champions, exclusively on TSN is through 2016 (I believe), while the Slams on CBC have at least a couple more years. Again, that’s good.
Where these events, including the Trials next year, will get hammered is at the second and third tiers. The local sponsors who buy year by year, the folks who buy ticket packages such as corporate boxes, etc. They’re not locked into contracts and unless the offer is very attractive, they won’t buy. These are the sort of discretional dollars that get axed during the down times.
This line of thinking is also why the Asham World Curling Tour might be vulnerable as it depends largely on local sponsorship which doesn’t really offer much of the way in returns. Most cashspiel sponsors (not all though) put up the money not because they’re expecting notoriety or some kind of payoff, but because they’re a) curling fans or b) helping out the community. Again, that becomes tough to justify when the economy sucks.
Of course, it’s not so much a curling problem as a sports marketing problem.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Top 10 Curling Moments of 2008

As we near the end of the year, and as most mainstream media ignore curling as part of their year-end lists, I put together my top 10 curling stories of 2008:

1. CRA goes after Wayne Middaugh and friends
This one has actually been going on for some time, but it came to a head in ’08. The Canada Revenue Agency wants to tax the curling winnings of Middaugh and a number of other curlers saying they should be paying tax on the cash. Why is this the No. 1 story? Because if the gang loses, the effect on competitive curling could be devastating. Middaugh is just the test case. As one top-level curler told me: “If he loses, I’m going to have to declare bankruptcy.”

2. Kevin Martin finally wins a world title.
After all those attempts, all those misses, K-Mart finally gets his global crown. Good on him and his team.

3. China finishes second at Women’s worlds
Bingyu Wang and her team scared the heck out of Jennifer Jones and the rest of the women at the Ford World Curling Championships by rolling through the round robin before finally getting derailed in the final. While most of the top teams know how good Rockin’ Betty and her gals are (they train eight hours a day, six days a week, for crying out loud), the rest of the world had its eyes opened. China is now a force in world curling.

4. Glenn Howard wins six straight spiels to start cash season
He’s been in the Brier final the last three years and if there were any thoughts that perhaps he’d peaked, they were wiped away at the start of the ’08 Asham World Curling Tour as Howard along with Hart, Savill and Laing took top cash in six straight events. Howard missed the first one, the Shorty spiel in Brockville, due to a hernia, but Rich took over skipping duties and won.

5. Canadian Mixed held in Iqaluit
The first national sporting championship held in the northern territory, the CCA gets kudos for making the expensive trek to Nunavut. Those who played in it said it was an experience they’ll never forget.

6. CCA ends the year in the black
An impressive combination of belt-tightening and good timing allowed the national governing body of curling to wipe out the big deficit handed to it after some not-so-successful championships and legal costs. The new CEO Greg Stremlaw gets applause for putting some management to the association and Edmonton gets a bigger thanks for coughing up a $900,000 cheque for hosting the Canadian Curling Trials.

7. Passing of Don Wittman and Don Chevrier
Two legends of broadcasting left an indelible mark on the roaring game. Think back to every great championship, every great shot and the voices you hear in your memory bank are those of these two gentlemen. Not only did they put forth the true professional job in covering curling, they both truly had a passion for the sport and it showed in their work. They will be missed.

8. Return of the morning draws on TSN
Not only was this great for fans from coast to coast, but especially for the media covering the events, who could once again wake up in their hotel rooms, usually after a late night in the hostility suite, and watch the action avoiding a trip down to the rink where we spend waaaay tooo much time anyway.

9. Jennifer Jones wins the Canadian and world championship
An impressive performance by this Winnipeg team. Why do they win? Because they’re talented, they’re dedicated and they play to win, instead of not to lose.

10. Brazil announces it will challenge for the Americas spot at the WCC
Brazil? Here I thought the only Brazilian in curling was in that calendar. Now according to those who’ve seen them in action, the squad from Brazil would have a tough time winning the B flight in most steak spiels, but you have to start somewhere and these guys are going to take on the Americans for a spot at the worlds.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Continental Cup, RIP

The Continental Cup finally seemed to generate some excitement this time around. Even a guy like me who has always had problems with the event had to admit that there was some great curling, some genuine edge-of-the-seat stuff. There were reports of Kevin Martin running about behind the ice, pumping fists. Here’s what he told the Great Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun:
"It doesn't get any better than that!" he enthused.
"I mean, that was amazing! Sports doesn't get any better than that! Any sport! I don't care what sport you're talking.It was within a centimetre on every single sheet!"

And yes, there was all that nonsense of the lineup problems that just goes to show you how silly the rules are – I mean, if you have a rule stating that Americans have to play a certain number of games, what does that say about the Americans? It’s a slap in the face. Even the official WCF release on the event more or less buried the embarrassing controversy.
But I digress. As I said, I was intrigued by the play too. Those draws to the button were spectacular. As for the rest of it, well. . .
To me the Continental Cup was never properly set up. It’s a good idea that got twisted and turned into the event it is, something that doesn’t have the significance it should.
So what’s wrong? Well for starters, holding it every year is too much. It’s too much for the players, for the fans and, most importantly, for the build up of the event. It loses any sense of being something special, of being important. The Ryder Cup isn’t held every year and that allows for a build-up of the us-versus-them stuff, so necessary to making this work. Every second year would make sense.
Second are the formats being used. And I concede that this event is a great place to try things out, to test innovation. As well, for television, it can be interesting to do something different. But sometimes they work and sometimes the don’t and you have to admit that.
I’m OK with the regular games. And the Skins. Mixed skins? OK, but maybe too much of the same.
Mixed Doubles? Sorry, I just don’t buy this, especially after they got rid of the designated sweepers last year. Seeing great curlers like Carter Rycroft get up and run after his rock to sweep it looks like amateur hour. I used to do that in junior.
Singles? Maybe, and just maybe. But at least make the shots somewhat difficult. I mean that draw through the port – you could have driven a truck through that “port.” It’s entertaining but it’s not really curling, is it? It’s like having long-driving and closest-to-the-pin competitions at the Presidents Cup but I’ll give on this one.
The one event that’s missing is a two-team competition, once the staple of championship curling. Two teams, say a men’s and a women’s, play their opposite numbers in regular curling games and the total score counts.
So here’s the way I’d set it up. Day 1: Singles in the morning, followed by regular games in the afternoon; Day 2: Two-team in the morning and skins in the afternoon; Day 3: regular games in the morning and skins in the afternoon.
Third – and this is the biggest for me -- is the scoring. It’s just plain goofy and for the average fan, way too hard to follow. Maybe that’s why nowhere on the web site is the point allocation spelled out. Certain events are worth more than others skins games have different values depending on when they’re held. And there’s absolutely no consistency. For example, the first regular games are worth six points each. Teams play eight ends for a possible six points. Yet the singles, which is a grand total of six shots, is worth four points. Does that seem right? One skins game is worth 20 points and another is valued at 55.
I’m sure there must be an easier way to work the scoring into a simple easy-to-understand format while still allowing it all to come down to the final day.
Of course all this could be moot because it would appear the Continental Cup is dead or at least on life support. Right now, there’s no title sponsor for the event (however, there was a good lineup of lower-tier sponsors) and while there is a scheduled year off in 2009 owing to Olympic Trials, the future is somewhat bleak.
In truth, the event has been slipping. The purse went from $200,000 in the first year down to just under $90,000 the last two years; the winners got $2,000 while the runners-up took home $1,400 (that includes the coaches and captains, by the way).
I’d love to see the Continental Cup survive because I think it could even thrive under the right circumstances, but to me, this was an event that missed too many possibilities and opportunities.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Only three shopping days left!

Here's my shameless plug for that Christmas present for the curler on your list. Easy reading and lots of fun (if I don't say so myself).
It's available at most major bookstores from coast to coast!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Interesting comment

Just watching the Continental Cup (rant still to come). It's the seventh end of the mixed skins (mixed skins!?!?!) and there are eight points available. Linda Moore just made this comment:

"I thought we might see some lower-risk play as well with this many points available. You don't want to take a chance in giving up a skin."

Wow! This may tell you all you need to know about the difference between men and women's curling.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Talking with The Boss

I had a conversation yesterday with Greg Stremlaw for an upcoming article I'm doing and was once again refreshed with his honesty, professionalism and dedication. It's quite refreshing (if you know what I mean!).

We discussed many things, including the CCA's financial status, which is back in the black thanks to his attention to details, some cutting, belt-tightening and a big cheque from the folks in Edmonton who are hosting the Trials. What I really liked about his thoughts on this topic was that it's no time to rest. Yes, the CCA corrected the problem it had, but there's no reason why it should stop there. It needs to keep watching the bottome line so it can invest in the future.

Stremlaw said the association is well-positioned from now until 2010 but he's thinking long-term, past the Olympics when the dew will be gone. There's a real need to get more people tossing rocks and he acknowledges that. IT will take money and effort to bring new people into the game -- folks from non-traditional curling backgrounds, i.e. new Canadians, and that means starting from ground zero.

He also said that many of the provincial association are working with the CCA to see where they can save funds by ending duplication of services. Wow -- what a novel idea (that's sarcasm there, folks). Why didn't this happen, oh, about 500 years ago?

Anyway, the full story will be in the Ontario Curling Report in a few weeks.

Until then, the Continental Cup. Tomorrow I'll give my annual rant on this silly event.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Thoughts on The National

I had a chance to watch the final of The National today and enjoyed the game even though the match was decided on misses rather than makes. I think you’d be hard pressed to remember a weekend where there were so many big misses that decided games. Both semi-finals were decided on big misses – one by Kevin Martin that was almost a whiff, and one by Dave Nedohin that was a draw that came up short.
But in the final, the last three rocks were misses, Gushue with two and Middaugh with one. I’m sure no one was more surprised at winning than Middaugh, at least after he threw his last rock. Gushue had a rock at the back of the four-foot to come to but came heavy. I think his explanation of what happened is something that a lot of curlers, both at the WCT level and the club level, fall into.
“On that type of shot you can’t really use the backing,” said Gushue, the reigning Olympic gold medallist. “If you throw weight to get to the backing it’s not going to curl which is what happened. I really just had to throw T-line weight and I threw back four, back eight weight and that’s the reason we missed the shot.”

So a few questions on the weekend:
* When did Kevin Martin add Uncle Ben’s to his sponsor list? Uncle Ben’s?
* Was I the only one who noticed this came down to a battle of meat sponsors? Gushue with Maple Leaf and Middaugh with M&M Meat Shops.
* How much do you think Wayne and the boys gave Max?
* Is everyone as impressed with Bruce Rainnie as I am? He knows that sometimes the less said, the better.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Grey Power for Players

Great news that Grey Power Insurance has assumed title of the Players Championship. This is a perfect fit for a curling event, which traditionally attracts an older demographic. In past, those out selling the sport have complained that because the demographic is so old, that it’s hard to attract sponsors. But these 50-plus folks still spend money and still need things so to me, that was always more of an excuse. Sure, it’s tougher to find the right fit, but that’s what selling is all about, right?
The funny thing about Grey Power is that about seven or eight years ago, it got into the sponsorship game and gave its money and name to several senior golfing events as well as a few curling events. Soon after, the organization was sold to ING and all the sports sponsorships were ended. Now it’s back in the game, which is good news for curling but you have to wonder what took these folks so long.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

CBC Bold?

OK, the first person to explain BOLD to me will win my undying appreciation. I missed Glenn, Gushue and my golfing pal King Korab and all the boys because a) I couldn't figure out what BOLD was and b) although CBC.ca said it was on the web, I couldn't find that either.
Oh, for the days when everything was simple with Country Canada.

Friday, November 14, 2008

New Globe column

My first Globe and Mail story of the year appeared this morning.
You can read it here:

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ontario's playdown format

I’ve been working this week on a story about Ontario’s playdown system, which seems archaic by comparison with other jurisdictions.
Ontario is the only province that doesn’t give some sort of leg up for the top competitive teams. For instance, Glenn Howard goes all the way to the Brier final for the third year in a row, wins two of the four Grand Slams and banks tons o’ cash, yet he starts at the same level as the knee-sliders from the Legion.
Now some might say that’s not a bad thing, that it’s one of the pure parts about what makes the Brier (or the Scotties for that matter), the event it is.
But in this day and age when guys are grinding almost full time, it’s just plain stupid. Other provinces have altered their formats in various ways. In some cases the defending champion gets a pass, in other cases, winning certain events gets you in or if you’re the top team in the CTRS or other tour from your region.
Doug Bakes, the very capable ED of the Ontario Curling Association, said the OCA isn’t against change, it’s just that the competitive curlers haven’t made a formal presentation or request. In other words, they’re not really sure what the curlers want. Do they want a bye for the defending champ? The top Ontario team in the CTRS? The Ontario Curling Tour? I can Bakes’ side of things, but if you’re trying to run an event and ensure you have the best teams there, I would think the onus would be on the organizers rather than the participants. I mean, the folks hosting the provincial final would love to be able to have a Howard or a Middaugh in their pocket at the start of the year to boost ticket sales and marketing efforts.
At the very least, perhaps it would be worthwhile getting the OCA board, maybe Gerry Geurts from the Ontario Curling Tour and maybe a rep from a few teams such as Middaugh and Howard around a table for an hour or two to hash it out. Right now, they’re playing with fire, especially if a Howard and/or a Middaugh get stuck on some back ice in their zones and lose to the knee-sliders. Ask Glenn and Wayne – it’s happened before.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Stats update

It seems there's been a flurry of clarification and explanation and e-mails and phone calls about this Lynn Hunt stuff since my last post. I was out of the loop, having spent Thursday and Friday in New York (where I interviewed Justin Timberlake, now a Callaway Golf staffer -- he's a really good golfer).

First the clarification: The old CCA website had two different types of stats -- the records stuff where you could find out the highest score in a Brier game or who has the record for the most wins at the Scotties, etc. That stuff is apparently going back up on the site, according to an e-mail I got from Jim "Hollywood" Henderson, the president of the Canadian Curling Reporters (Yes, Virginia, there really is such an organization) who was in touch with The Boss, Greg Stremlaw.

What isn't going back up is the game/stats/shooting percentage stuff. That's the stuff CCA Director of High Performance Gerry Peckham wants to keep in the Top Secret file, lest any prying nation try to figure out how many in-turns draws Rudy Ramcharan missed in the '97 Brier. Hey, here's a thought: if you really wanted to keep all those other nations at a disadvantage, why not prohibit Canadian coaches from teaching them?

The saga continues. . . .

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Paranoia setting in for CCA web-heads

I was forwarded an e-mail train by Lynn Hunt, who wrote to the CCA to ask why the new website didn’t include the records and stats section that was on the previous site. Glenn van Gulik, the Manager of Information Technology responded as follows:
While I understand your desire to be able to view the records and statistics that we have accumulated, the decision to temporarily remove them from our website was made by our Manager of High Performance in light of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Access to that type of information to international competitors without our ability to access that information about their teams forced the decision to be made.

Aha! So there are spies perusing the CCA web site, looking for ways to locate the Achilles’ Heel of our as-of-yet unnamed/undecided Olympic representatives. I can’t say I was a regular viewer of the stats that appeared on the old Web site – in fact, I can’t even remember them being there. But let’s say there were the regular game reports from the national championships. They include such things as win-loss, in-turns-out-turns, etc. Perhaps there’s some things that could be gleaned from that info, but let’s be serious here: Do you really think the Chinese or the New Zealand teams are going to be pouring over year-old records to look for a weakness in Glenn Howard’s team, for example?
And if this info was of some use, wouldn’t it make more sense to buy a copy of the Black Book of Curling where it appears in far more detail? (or have they never heard of Google Cache?) I can understand trying to get an edge, but this is just pure paranoia.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A few Sunday thoughts

Finally! After months of waiting on the edge of our collective seat, the announcement has come that Brazil and the USA will duke it out at the end of January for the right to go to the Ford World Championships.
Not a moment too soon. My fingernails were down to the quick.
The two sides will lock horns in Bismark, N.D., Jan. 30-Feb. 1. According to those who’ve seen the Brazilians (which has nothing to do with that curling calendar, btw), the Yanks have nothing to fear.
OK, so it’s easy to poke fun at the team from South America, which is reportedly not good enough for the B flight at most clubs, but kudos for them for trying. It wasn’t that long ago we were chuckling about the Aussies curling, in the same way we thought about the Jamaican bobsled team of the 1988 Olympics. Same can be said for the Japanese and the Chinese. But the sport has expanded to different parts of the world that haven’t traditionally embraced curling and the teams are good and getting better. The only disappointment is the fact that the game hasn’t developed at the grass roots level, something that would impress me a whole lot more.

* Kudos to Scott Taylor at Balance Plus, a guy who probably does more for the game in different ways than anyone. He’s once again promoting the Movember moustache-growing event among the top players in the game. It’s a way to draw attention to prostate cancer. I urge anyone who sees a curler with a moustache over the course of the next month to go here and make a donation. Even $10 would go a long way. Another great move by Scott.

*I think CurlTV is a great site and I love the coverage it provides. Evidence comes in the way of games from this week’s Cactus Pheasant Classic, where a broadcast of every draw is available. I also like the interviews with the teams (except that set makes it look a little like Wayne’s World, the Curling Edition) – informative, fun and showing another side of the top players.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

New-look CCA Web Site

Maybe I’ve been in the dark, but today I stumbled across the Canadian Curling Association’s new-look website and IMHO it’s impressive. Welcome to the 1990s CCA! It’s about time you upgraded.
The new site is attractive, colourful and inviting. Glad to see some of the staff are blogging/writing, especially Danny Lamoureux (who got his start by penning a regular column for the Ontario Curling Report a way back when) and his Business of Curling column.
Smart stuff: selling event merchandise online in one location; the aforementioned blogs; a regular schedule of events in one place; and the Club Finder.
Stuff That Could Be Improved (this is meant as constructive criticism): a more prominent position for the Go Curling! link – right now it’s just text on a navigation bar; some connection to the World Curling Tour (they’re all friends now, right?), better video interviews – the ones up there now have awful angles, light and sound; make the CCA logo at the top of the page a clickable link back to the home page (like every other web site known to man).
As well, the club finder is a great start, but it’s also a bit awkward. For example, if I live in Weston, Ont., and enter Weston and Ontario in the appropriate boxes, I get the information on the Weston G&CC. Well, information is a bit of a stretch. I get the address and a link to Google Maps. How about a link to the club’s web site? How about a phone number? More info please.
Hopefully this will all come in time. For now, it’s a decent improvement.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Stagnating Purses

One of the more remarkable things in competitive curling, to me, at least, is that the size of purses has been relatively stagnant even from those days so many moons ago when I used to curl for dollars.
With the exception of the Grand Slams, most of the “big” events on the World Curling Tour (oops, sorry, the Asham World Curling Tour) offer up an average purse somewhere between $30,000 to $50,000.
There are some exceptions such as the Cactus Pheasant at 70K, but if purses have grown, it hasn’t been at a rate consistent with the profile of the sport.
One of the main reasons, of course, is the difficulty in attracting sponsors. Curling sponsors are rare beasts, in spite of the fact that those that take a solid stance often report good results in getting support from curlers. Curlers are definitely loyal beasts.
Most curling sponsors get involved because the guy/gal controlling the dollars is a curling fan, not always because it makes good business sense. That’s not always the case, but it does seem to happen more often than not.
Why is that? Because in many cases, local bonspiels are run by volunteers who aren’t pros at selling sponsorships. It’s easier to hit up Bill at the Garage down the street than Fred at the Car Dealership because Bill is a curler. In many cases, Fred doesn’t even get a proposal.
It’s tough for local spiels to justify to a company such as Fred’s why it should put up $20,000. Is there a return on the investment? There can be, but trying to convince people of that is a difficult task if you're a curler talking to a non-curler.

Monday, October 13, 2008

At the BDO

Stopped in at the BDO Classic in Oakville today to see some rock throwing and got there in time for the semis (couldn't stay for the final as Turkey Dinner was a-waiting).
On one sheet was Glenn "Hernia-Hard" Howard against his old buddy Wayne Middaugh. It was a good game, but the Howard rink was simply too much on this day. I do like the look of the Middaugh rink, though, with John Epping on board. If they get enthused, they could do some damage.
Strangest thing, however. Game ends, boys are sitting around having a drink and some pizza and organizers Rick Chittley-Young and Bill Mackay come by to give Middaugh his semi-finalist cheque. Middaugh promptly endorses it and hands it to Howard. My mind races . . . pot splitting? A bad bet?
"Glenn's wife is my banker," said Middaugh. Oh, direct deposit then.
By the way, this was Glenn's first foray onto the ice since his hernia operation. He threw a few days prior to playing at the BDO, but said there was no pain and he felt good -- a month to the day of the operation. He looked like his old self and the team looked impressive once again -- they'll be tough to beat.
The other semi was between Sarnia's Mark Bice and Mike McEwan of Winnipeg. The McEwan team looked impressive at first but man, they threw away several good chances to put this one on ice. The skip had an open hit for four in the fourth and to me, at least, he threw too much weight down a straight spot and rolled out. Bice rallied several times in a gritty performance, but McEwan still had a chance with his last rock to win. He was trying to play a delicate tap back on a Bice stone on the side of the button but the rock fudged about two feet before reaching its target.
Howard eventually beat Bice in the final.
One thing I also learned in Oakville is that fudged is so last year. The new word is "mucked." So, in a sentance, that would be: "McEwan's last rock really mucked."
Hmmm. . . can't wait to see if I can get that one past the editors at the Globe.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Learning from Cactus Pheasant

In my business, I get a lot of folks who ask me who they can get more coverage for their bonspiels, both big and small. The local club spiel wants some mention in the Ontario Curling Report and the bigger events would like the Globe to cover it.
Well if those folks took a page from the gang at the Cactus Pheasant Classic, they’d be a lot better off. Those guys do the best job at promoting their event and creating awareness (outside of something like the CCA or the WCT who have staff to do that) than anyone in curling. I think I’ve received half a dozen releases already, including one this week about the band Chilliwack playing at the big bash.
Now I haven’t been to this event, probably couldn’t even find Brooks on a map, but I will be looking for the results of this event, following it online as best I can.
In this era of cutbacks and consolidation to the media, you have to be aggressive in promoting your event. Give the press gang as much info as you can – sure some of it won’t make it past the Delete button, but you have a better chance of getting coverage if the writers and broadcasters know about it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Curlers on Facebook

One of the most interesting developments on the curling front over the summer came not on the ice or the CCA boardroom or in planning for the Grand Slam.
No, this summer curlers – at least those of a certain vintage as well as a media interloper – found Facebook. Yup, over the course of the summer some of the Legends of the Game began to get ‘booked and then search out friends. Actually I have been on there for a while and I’m sure some of the others have too, but there was this flurry of friend requests between everyone.
So now I’m friends with Al Hackner and Randy Ferbey and Pat McCallum and Guy Hemmings and Don Bartlett and Neil Harrison and more.
And thanks to all this, of course, you get to know really cool stuff. Like that Ferbey was off building a deck at the end of September. And that Guy’s home page picture is that of a monkey who seems to have the same hair stylist as the real Guy. I saw some amazing pics of the fish that Hack caught this summer. You know, real hard core newsy stuff.
I also know that Podcaster extraordinaire Dean Gemmell has a virus because I keep getting these messages from him saying he knows someone who has a big crush on me. Earlier this summer, Patti Lank sent me the same message and I was foolish enough to think that she really did know someone who was warm for my form. Oops.
Now I’m sure that some of the younger curlers out there are cringing when they read this, realizing just how low-tech some of us are. Ya, I know, welcome to the 1990s. So what? We’re having fun.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

That calendar again

I’m not a prude, nor am I a guy who doesn’t like to have a peak at the odd centerfold, but I’ve never really understood the whole women of curling risqué calendar thing.
Let me correct that. I understand the calendar and the fact that it raises money for worthwhile causes. Great idea. What I don’t get is the absolute media frenzy that occurs when it comes out. I do have a theory, however, and it’s not a nice one.
You see, to non-curlers, there’s this image of us brick-throwers as being toothless overweight, stogie-smoking hicks from the back 40 or the trailer park who wear big sweaters and swill beer between shots. Lots of people still laugh when they hear curlers are in the Olympics as athletes. This calendar defies that image to such an extent that the regular press goes overboard in reporting the story.
“What? There are hot chicks in curling? How can this be?”
If it helps to change that image that’s great, but I suspect this will remain more a novelty to the non-curlers out there.
For curlers, it's a fun item and a chance to see a couple of Canuck girls in the buff. Frankly, outside of Christene Keshen and Chrissy Cadorin, most people will have never heard of the others. Might as well put Pam Anderson in there. She'd sell more than the Polish curler -- bet you didn't even know there was curling in Poland.
That said, I think the calendar is a good buy to support the cause and that should probably be the bottom line.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Earle Hushagen: RIP

I received an e-mail over the weekend about the passing of Earle Hushagen, a legend in GTA curling circles. Earle is probably best known as the guy who ran Humber Highland, a 16-sheet facility in Toronto’s west end. He held court there from 1961 to 1990 when he retired and moved to Peterborough.
I played at Humber for a brief period in the early 1980s and competed in the Toronto Major League there for years. Earle was always front and centre either behind the counter or on the ice. He was always competitive and generally had good teams, and won the Ontario men’s once competing in the Brier in 1955, playing out of the Royals.
There was always a joke that when important games were played at Humber, Earle arranged the draws so he played on one of the same two sheets (I can’t remember which they were anymore) which came to be known as E and H.
Earle also won the mixed a number of times and then blossomed as a senior, too. He also ran a great pro shop, one of the biggest and best in the early days. People would come from all over the city to buy stuff there because you were generally assured of getting it.
With Humber being the home of the rental league and rental ice, it’s safe to say that Earle taught thousands of people how to play the game. He was a good teacher although I never really liked his slide; he always seemed to be riding out on the outside edge of his shoe with his weight too far back. But it was obviously effective.
Humber died a slow death not long after Earle left. I remember him telling me that he tried to help the owners get the City of Etobicoke (now part of the amalgamated GTA) to buy the place and it came close a number of times, but it never materialized. The place was sold to a religious group who turned it into a place of worship. Finally, a couple of years ago, it was torn down.
It’s gone and now, so too is Earle. His contributions, however, will live on.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Starting off the new season with a personal plug

With Labour Day behind us and with most (not all, certainly) but most of my golf work behind me for the year, curling comes to the forefront.
I read today that the first event of the season on Curl TV at the Saville Centre starts Sept. 18. Yikes. I remember when it wouldn’t be until Thanksgiving before we’d even think about looking for our curling shoes.
So time to blow the dust off the blog and get it ramped up once again. And what better way to start off than with a self-serving, promotional plug. Just this week, my new curling book arrived in stores across the country. Curling Etcetera: A Whole Bunch of Stuff About the Roaring Game is out and I’m hoping will help pad my RRSP and maybe pay for a new broom or two.
The book is a random compilation of all sorts of trivial and unusual facts about curling and the folks who play the game. It’s an easy read; you can pick it up and flip to any page and start reading as the items are all less than a page or two in length. I love the photo on the cover. I wish I could tell you I had something to do with it but one of the editors at Wiley, the publishing company behind the book, found that.
I hope you’ll pick it up at your local book store or perhaps order it online.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

More on the Tax Man

After yesterday’s story in the Globe about Wayne Middaugh’s tax problems, there have been a lot of questions raised, mostly on curlingzone.com. Let me answer a few in brief here:
 Middaugh didn’t claim any bonspiel winnings nor did he have the team run like a business in any formal way. As far as I know, like every curler, he just went along assuming bonspiel winnings would be tax free because the CRA would lose money on the deal with all the write offs. I don’t know of any curler who has ever claimed cashspiel earnings.
 There is some speculation that someone went to the CRA and “squealed” on Middaugh which started this entire episode. That person, by the way, is not a curler and has nothing to do with curling. That is an unproven allegation and Middaugh doesn’t really know anything about that. It was information provided to me by a third party.
 In the past, the CRA has said that is would only allow expenses to be claimed by teams that “had a legitimate chance at winning prize money.” So every Tom, Dick and Harry can’t enter a spiel and claim the expenses, according to the agency. I’m not sure how they’d make that distinction.
 In a previous life, I used to work for the Ontario Lottery Corporation (now called the OLGC) and in the CRA, lottery winnings are not the same as bonspiel winnings because lottery winnings are earned by chance where as curling winnings are gained by skill.
 No other curlers have been tagged, but it’s expected this could be a precedent-setting case, if rumours are true.
 Wendy Kane from the WCT was contacted to comment on the story but she never returned my call. In my mind, the PA HAS to take up this case and go as far as possible with it or the cashspiel scene and the Grand Slams will change drastically.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Taxman Cometh

Here's my latest Globe story. The paper decided to move it to the news section, which is an interesting spot for it.

I've actually known about this predicament for some time but Middaugh wouldn't comment on it until he'd exhausted all his avenues of appeal. That came last Friday. Not sure what happens next but you have to wonder if the CRA will come after other curlers. I've heard through the grapevine that more than a few are a little nervous.

I'm also a little surprised the WCPA/Tour hasn't come to the financial defense of Middaugh and the boys as that would seem to be precisely the thing for which it was created.

One thing I found out that isn't in the story is that this won't affect any Sport Canada funding. The Athlete Assistance Plan doesn't stop if a player earns money or is a professional. Athletes in beach volleyball, tennis and basketball are all professional and all get AAP money (rest easy Jennifer Jones and Kevin Martin). Athletes are allowed to turn down the money, so when the NHL players make the Olympic team, they opt out as they simply don't need the money.

I think this is probably just the start of this story.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Brier to Toronto with MLSE support in major deal

The Brier is coming to Toronto. Word late last night came to me that the CCA has announced Toronto as the site of the 2010 Tim Hortons Brier. What’s more, thanks to an arrangement with uber-sports group Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the Canadian men’s curling championship will be coming to Toronto on a regular basis.
The deal, to be announced later this week, will see the Brier held in Toronto on even years through 2020. The championship will be held at the Air Canada Centre in 2010 with it moving to the Ricoh Coliseum after that. MLSE has the option to move back to the ACC if it sees fit.

MLSE, which owns the Leafs, Raptors and soccer club Toronto FC, has been hoping to add more sports franchises to its stable and believes it can make the Brier run in Canada’s largest city. It has reportedly guaranteed the CCA $2 million for each year of hosting. The arrangement also sees MLSE put up a $5 million payment on signing the deal. The CCA board is apparently ecstatic with that as it will allow it to get out of debt.

One source said MLSE originally wanted a five-year consecutive deal, but the CCA declined saying it still needed to take the event to other locales in Canada.
With the deal, the CCA gets security and MLSE gets some continuity to build on. Its marketing power in the Toronto area makes it possible to sell the event to corporate Canada.

“We see this as a huge opportunity,” said Lawrence Christbaum of MLSE. “Curling is a growth sport with the Olympics and we believe we can make it work in Toronto.”
Whether the Toronto community will support this is another matter, but with MLSE behind it, it’s a good start.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Worlds a record for TSN

The Women's world championships set a viewing record for TSN. Not surprising with Jennifer Jones on her run and the Cinderella story of the Chinese curlers. Here's the release from TSN.

TSN’s coverage of the 2008 Ford World Women’s Curling Championship was the network’s most-watched World Curling event ever with an overall average audience of 381,000 viewers, as Team Canada skip Jennifer Jones clinched gold on home soil.

The previous high for a World Curling Championship on TSN was 366,000 viewers in 1996.

TSN’s prime time telecasts during this year's Worlds averaged 487,000 viewers. The most-watched telecast was Friday evening’s Page Playoff game (March 28) which drew 613,000 viewers as China defeated Canada 7-5.

TSN televised all 11 of Team Canada’s round robin games, as well as the Page Playoffs.

TSN.ca had live coverage of 6 World Curling Championship draws, while all 13 draws were available on-demand. The website averaged nearly 8,000 unique visitors per draw, marking a 160% increase over last year’s World Curling Championship.

China still the story

Take nothing away from Jennifer Jones and her fine rink from Winnipeg, but the real story of the Women’s World Championship is still the Chinese team, silver medalists.
Let’s face it – five years ago if you said you had to beat Japan and China to win the world championship, people would laugh at you.

Jones won the global crown yesterday with a nice showing, a dominant one. As they did at the Scotties, the put in a gritty performance to earn the title which eluded them last time around. They finally took the easy road in this game, which for this squad this year has definitely been a road less traveled. Applause all around.

But let’s face it – China stunned everyone, many who weren’t even aware the country had a curling program (although they’ve been in the worlds a few times now). Their performance even surprised themselves, never thinking they’d reach the world finals. Guess eight to 10 hours a day of training pays off, huh?

Check out the Google new clippings of Sunday’s final and you’ll see that a vast majority talk as much about the Chinese team as the Canadians. Everyone is simply amazed as well they should be. In eight short years, Bingyu Wang went from being a hockey coach’s daughter to a dazzling skip.

Perhaps the only thing that prevented her from winning yesterday was a lack of experience. It was clear the Chinese team didn’t perform as they had all week. They admitted to being nervous. To me, it was obvious they probably have no idea just how good they are. With that killer draw weight Wang exhibited all week, she could have played a much more aggressive game against Team Canada in the final and maybe come out on top but the inexperience showed. There were a few questionable strategy decisions, but still, the execution was exceptional.

So here’s to Team China, what a week. And here’s to Team Canada, on top of the world at last.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

China's no surprise

Should we really be surprised by the play of the Chinese curlers in Kelowna? To me, the only thing surprising is just how short a time it took for them to reach the world-class level. The fact they did it is not that shocking.

If you pour the resources, the time, the money into a program as the Chinese have done, then I think you can expect results. Don’t forget, the Chinese team does nothing but curl. They don’t have to work to put food on the table or pay the hotel bill at the next Tour stop. They are 100 per cent curling, 100 per cent of the time.

In some ways, it shows what an antiquated system we have in Canada where the curlers are, for the most part, left to their own until they become national champions. There is some funding from Sport Canada, obviously, and some sponsorship, but most try to juggle full or close to fulltime jobs which puts them at a disadvantage.

Canadian curlers are really the only athletes in an Olympic sport who do continue to work (there are others, I know, but I’m generalizing here). Think of the ski team which competes in Europe and North America. Erik Guay isn’t going back between races to put in a few hours at the Beer Store or the lawyer’s office.

Now I don’t think our system is terribly flawed by any means and I don’t think you’re seeing any kind of seismic shift here just yet that’s going to knock Canada or any other curling power off the top step. It’s more that China has joined the party in a legitimate way.

Friday, March 28, 2008

I'm taking my rock and going home!

Back to blogging here after a few days off due to an injury. While coaching my son’s hockey game the other night, I took a puck to the face, good for a few broken chiclets and a beauty of a shiner. I should have taught him to curl.

Anyway, in all my years of covering curling, can’t say I’ve seen anything as wild as the performance of the Scottish women. They have to go with three when their team mutinies?

The only thing I’ve seen close was in 1990 at the Brier in Sault Ste. Marie when Harold Breckenridge pulled himself late in the week because of what he described as “mental anguish.”

However in that situation, the fifth agreed to play.

So from what I understand, the Scottish coach elects to pull the skip in favour of the fifth. The skip grudgingly accepts. Then the second says if the skip isn’t playing, she isn’t playing. So the coach asks the skip back and she says no. So the skip and the second sit in the stands while the remaining three play – and win.

Is this really the world championships or the high school league? What kind of player quits on their team because the coach makes a change? This is a huge embarrassment for the Scots. I can imagine there are a few steamed Scots back home.

I love this statement released by the RCCC.
"The Royal Club regrets this situation but supports and stands by the decisions taken by its coaches."

So formal, so proper, it almost makes you laugh, but I suppose they don’t have many other ways of dealing with it.

I looked on a few of the Scottish newspaper sites but they didn’t have much in the way of details. I was expecting some juicy stuff, but they just picked up the wire feed for the most part.

I can’t honestly remember any athlete in any situation ever refusing to play. All I can say is I’m pretty sure we’ve seen the last of these two in international play.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

New countries come to the fore

A few years ago, you would have laughed if someone told you Canada had a string of games involving Czech Republic, Italy, Russia and China. But not any more. If you ever wanted any evidence the Olympics are helping curling, see these countries. And these aren’t the hapless throw-ins we used to see once in a while at world championships. You know, the odd time a team from some almost-non-curling country would qualify for the worlds and would show up look very much like a team from the C league at your club. That made it all the worse when they’d win a game.

I think Russ Howard lost to France in ’93 and I think Al Hackner lost to Italy in ’82 – I might have the years wrong and perhaps the countries reversed, but back in the day, it was unheard of for this to happen. I don’t even think the Italians curled indoors at that time – of course much has changed. That doesn’t happen any more – these teams are all legit, really only lacking a little experience.

I watched a little bit last night with Canada taking on Russia and I was really impressed with the Russian skip. My only question is are there any other players in Russia of this caliber? Or is Ludmilla Privovkova another Dordi Nordby, someone we’re going to see at the world championship for the next 20 years?

I have to say that the Canadians looked good (What’s with the curly hair Jennifer? Did you have time to put curls in it or did you not have time to straighten it? Inquiring minds want to know) even though they were playing somewhat poorly. What I mean by that is when you can win games when you don’t have your best stuff, it shows some fortitude and clearly the Canadians weren’t at their best last night. Somehow they gutted it out and won which you have to do during a week like this. (I heard Cathy O has the flu which may be part of the story.) An impressive, non-impressive display if that makes any sense.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Advantage of the Maple Leaf

There is always a lot of talk about the growth of curling outside of Canada and how the best teams in the world are just as good as the best teams in Canada. That’s probably true to a certain extent, although it’s very clear we have a lot more depth than anywhere else.
But what is still present in any international competition is the presence of the Maple Leaf. Canada is still the big Kahuna at these tourneys and teams definitely either gear up to play them or perhaps fear playing them. Sometimes both.
Now that might not be the case with every team, but it is for most whether they admit it or not. And it was certainly in play yesterday when Jennifer Jones took on the Czech Republic, whose skip, Katerina Urbanova, admitted her nerves got the best of her. Here’s what she told Jim Bender of the Winnipeg Sun:
"It was the first time against Canada, so I was excited and nervous, both," Urbanova said. "We knew that it would be difficult and we would have to play a risky game against a team like that, and we did. But we didn't play very well."
In fairness, here’s this kid, playing on the world stage for the first time in front of what’s probably the biggest crowd she’s seen in curling and possibly for the first time in an arena. Welcome to the big leagues.
I was pretty impressed with the deliveries of the Czech gals – fundamentally, they were pretty solid. Strategy. . . not so much. But they’ll learn.
You have to believe that even against the most seasoned of teams, the Maple Leaf provides a mental advantage. Whether the Canadian curlers take advantage of that is another matter.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Questions after Day 1 at the WWC

Managed to catch the last few ends of the Canada vs. Switzerland match last night and a few questions went through my mind:

• What is with Mirjam Ott’s delivery? She fishtails to the left so badly that after she lets go of the rock, she has to paddle with her hand to stop from going way off to the side. You wonder how good she’d be if Lino DiIorio could work with her

• Why is it so many European teams have that strange release where as soon as they let go of the rock, they whip their arm back towards their body? It’s as if they’re trying not to get caught going over the hog line. Has anyone told them about the Eye on the Hog?

• Is Team Canada playing as well as it can? I thought the Canadian rink played well, not great but OK. Of course as I mentioned, I only saw a few ends. You can bet they don’t want to get into a position where they have to win eight in a row again.

• The Russian team is doing ads for Strauss? What up with that?

• When did the Czech Republic start curling?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Setting up the women's worlds

The women’s world championships get underway today and it’s a chance for Jennifer Jones to make up for that disaster in Paisley, Scotland in her last trip to the world championships. Not a stretch to say that event was probably the worst in the history of the world championships. There have been some pretty crazy world championships over the years, but that may take the cake and it’s hard to fault Jones for her poor performance there. Although the conditions were the same for everyone, that became not much more than a crapshoot and hardly a reflection of good curling.

To prepare for this week, Jones and her team spent a lot of time last week throwing rocks on the ice at the Brier, practicing on the arena conditions.

In the old days, any Canadian team would go into the world final as the favourite. I think Jones will do that this week, but the era of just walking through most of the field are over. Long gone. The other countries don’t have the depth Canada does, but they do have a remarkably talented team or two. I think Switzerland’s Mirjam Ott and Debbie McCormick of the U.S. will be the main contenders but there are a number of others who’ve benefited from the Olympic money being poured into the training of these players. The Russians and the Chinese are perfect examples of this.

As I’ve written before, I think Jones is probably the most determined and focused curler in the game today. She seems to have a Tiger-like drive in her. That will put her in good position to finally win a world title, but it won’t come easily. And as we saw in the Brier final last week, bad ice doesn’t just happen in countries outside of Canada. No matter how good you are, there’s always an element of luck in any championship.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

University Curling Takes Off

While the big boys were knocking heads in Winnipeg, a bunch of University students were in Guelph, Ont., creating a bit of history. For the first time, there was a sanctioned Canadian University Curling Championship.

It was organized by the CCA with the help of the CIS. I probably wouldn’t have known about it had I not bumped into Danny Lamoureux in the airport in Toronto while making my way from Orlando to Winnipeg. Danny had popped into Guelph to see the action and by all accounts, it was a good show. Two teams from Laurier won the event.

When I was in university, we curled, but it was an Ontario-only thing. Still, there were a lot of good players. In my years of representing the University of Windsor, we played against John Kawaja and Graeme McCarrell (York) and Glenn Howard (Waterloo) to name a few.

I can actually remember the game against Glenn. His team was made up of a guy who I don’t think had ever curled before and another player who was so drunk when we played, he just threw his rocks and then sat on the backboards, well, lay there actually. I believe he finally passed out about the seventh end. And yes, we managed to win. In fact, I think we won the whole thing that year, but my memory is fading and I’m too lazy to go over and look at the trophy shelf.

As you can no doubt tell, in those days, it was a pretty good party. And I’m sure it was in Guelph too, although I think the curling was a little more serious. Seeing as how this was the first year of the event, they ran it like a bonspiel with 19 men’s teams and 17 women’s (sadly, my alma matter, Windsor, wasn’t there. Maybe that ban on curling we caused is still in effect.). There were some pretty talented curlers in the field, too. Charley Thomas skipped Calgary and Cody Maus did the same for Western. There were even coaches with every team! (When we played, our coach was famous curler Peter DeKoning, who was in charge of getting the beer and filling out the taxi chits).

Good on the CCA and especially Danny L. for putting this all together. It’s a noble venture.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Final, final Brier thoughts

Here are a few leftover thoughts from the Brier:
• I wrote a column that appeared in some editions of the Globe this past Saturday. It was on the need for the CCA to fix the draw at the Brier and Scotties so big games are held at appropriate times during Brier week. This year’s bad example was the Alberta-Ontario titlt at 9:30 Thursday morning. I interviewed Warren Hansen about this issue and listened intently but I still think there is a way around his problem. It just doesn’t seem like it could be that hard to arrange this. The column is here.

• I think one of the problems with the Brier’s aging demographic is that the event is treated like something for old folks. Before the start of the final, there was a brass quartet playing. Now it was nice and everything, but when I go down and see the Raptors, I’m not hearing Glenn Gould during the shoot-around. And the opening is great with tradition and bag pipes and all, but perhaps it should be jazzed up just a little. Maybe some spotlights for the players’ introductions or something. Even the entertainment during the commercial breaks. While Disco Stu was quite good most of the time, doing things like The Twist made it seem like Geritol time. I guess it’s a chicken-egg thing – do you keep it old because the old people are there or do you make it young in hopes of bringing younger people in?

• Congrats to Sweep!’s Jim Henderson who won his second consecutive Scotty Harper Award for the best curling story of 2007. This is the top prize for the curling media. Next year, we’re banning all photographers from the writing contest (lest they keep kicking us writers’ butts).

• Great to see Jack Matheson at the closing banquet. The CCA did a nice thing by paying tribute to Matty and Bob Picken, who has covered his last Brier. I have two ever-lasting memories of Pick – the first is that booming voice dominating any scrum into which he stepped. The second is from the ’97 Trials. After every draw, Pick would get on the PA and read off the results of every local spiel in Manitoba. Unfortunate part was the only people left in the building were us scribblers – everyone else had gone to the Patch.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Brier bust

Final Brier thoughts:
* You can read the game story I wrote in the Globe here, but safe to say of the 20 or so Briers I’ve been to, this was one of the worst, even than some of those in the pre-free guard zone days.
Full credit to Kevin and his team for winning. They were the better team on this day, but it was a real slog out there and you have to think that John Morris’s doggy style finish to every throw had something to do with it.
In my humble opinion, with the ice as crucial as it is, a new part of curling etiquette is going to be to treat the sheet just like a putting green in golf. You don’t walk across someone’s line on the green and you shouldn’t leave melt spots on the curling sheet. In fact, if I was the CCA, I’d consider putting something in the rule book about this.
* I was asked to vote for the Hec Gervais award last night, which goes to the all-star in the playoffs. Each voter picked three people and for the first time, none of my picks was a skip. I had Craig Savill first, Marc Kennedy second and then the eventual winner, Johnny Mo.

* For the record, I left the Patch at 1:30 on Saturday night and Morris was still there, dancing away the night. (So was his dad for that matter.) In what other sport would that happen?
* Winnipeg put on a good show this week. It was well organized, the Patch was close and the town seemed to have a buzz. Too bad the final didn’t live up to advance billing. Too bad also that more fans didn’t show up, especially for the final between these two (maybe people had a premonition of what was to come). The announced number was 9,223. While 160,000 for the week is still a pretty good number, I know the organizers are a little disappointed.
* Russ Howard got lots of positive comments about his work on TSN. I spoke to several high mucky-mucks in television and curling, and everyone thought he was superb. The only dissenter appeared to be the woman sitting beside Jim “Hollywood” Henderson of Sweep! on the plane home this morning. She thought he was too negative. I’m thinking Russ will likely be around for a while.
* So the CBC didn’t announce the big $1 million shoot out; I heard there may have been some legal issues to sort out still, but I received an e-mail this morning stating that it will indeed still be taking place. I also heard the TSN is well down the road in organizing its own million-dollar draw, this one to take place at the Brier next year. I wonder if the same guy/gal could win both? In any case, there won’t be any shortage of dramatics next year.
* I ran into Jeff Stoughton in the media room yesterday (not sure how a curler got in there, but I digress) and he told me that some time ago he helped out a guy who had one a chance to draw the button for $25,000. The guy wasn’t a curler per se, an so Jeff gave the guy a bunch of pointers and in the end, the fellow got his shot in the four-foot, good enough for $10,000.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Draw the button, earn $1 million

How’d you like to throw one rock for $1 million?
You’ll have the chance next year and the details will be announced tonight on the CBC’s broadcast of the Tim Hortons Brier final.
Scooping TSN’s series of million dollar opportunities (i.e. the Kick for a Million and the Shoot for a Million), the CBC, Capital One and the Grand Slam are going to announce a Draw to the Button for $1 Million. I don’t know exactly how it will work, but from what I can tell, there will be a nationwide contest to find a curler who will attempt – probably at the Players Championship – to throw one rock with the chance of winning the cool million.
This type of event has been popular for the last few years. I was at the Argo game a few years back when some fellow kicked a field goal to win the million. The crowd reaction and the news of the feat went across the continent.
Then earlier this year, TSN did the same thing for hockey where a fellow put 16 pucks in the net from the far blue line to earn the money.
Now the same thing is coming to curling. Stay tuned to the broadcast tonight for the news.

A day at the semi

A day at the Brier without a column to write:

* I leave the hotel at 11:30 and see Pat Simmons waiting in the lobby. He doesn’t appear to have any bandages anywhere.

* First end: Simmons makes his first two shots and the suicide watch is downgraded to yellow.

*Second end: Jill Officer is shown on the Smooch Cam all by herself. Somewhere in Finland, George Karrys is crying.

* Third end: Ontario fifth Steve Bice disappears for a few minutes, returning with five cookies. He and coach Scott Taylor being to chow down.

* Four of the five cookies are gone by the end of the fourth end.

* I miss the CBC track cam. All they have now is a big boom camera, conveniently located at the exit to the media room forcing the ink-stained wretches to duck and dodge while trying to get a coffee as this large metal arm zips overhead. Bob Picken never leaves the bench.

*At the fifth-end break, former CCA president and Dave Parkes fan Zivan Saper comes by the press bench with a bucket to collect money from the press for the Sandra Schmirler Foundation. He sees me and says: “The Globe flew Bob Weeks in for the final weekend to be the enemy.” Huh?

* Taylor eats the last of the five cookies but Bice disappears again and brings out a plate for the team. Howard, Hart and Savill chow down.

* The CBC brings Don Duguid into the booth to call the action for an end as part of its farewell to the Brier which provides the awkward moment of the week when the cameras show Dugie and Mike Harris shaking hands. That, of course, means Harris squeezes the famous baby finger of Dugie, the one that holds more curling knowledge than Harris supposedly knows.

* Seventh end: The in-house announcer gets everyone up to do the twist. Somehow, I imagine this is how exercise hour at the retirement home looks.

*Eighth end: The wave breaks out in the MTS Centre, proving that curling fans really are stuck in the ‘70s.

* As soon as the last rock in the eighth – an open hit – leaves Simmons’ hand, the crowd yells out “Clean, clean.”

* Ninth end: Team Howard calls a time out. Isn’t it amazing how when a team calls a time out, they never know where to signal. They all make the T sign and then do 360s, hoping to attract the attention of the mysterious clock master.

* The crowd located by the boom starts to get angry when the camera continually blocks their view. “Move the Camera” they yell. At the least the CBC is going out like it came in.

* How good are Savill’s two chips in the 11th? They easily allow Ontario to win the game.

* Pat Simmons comes into the scrum and his eyes get watery and his voice cracks. He stays there and answers questions though. There isn’t anyone anywhere who doesn’t feel for this guy.

* Sunday, Martin vs. Howard. Does it get any better?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Simmons still classy in defeat

Have to hand it to Pat Simmons. After what was easily the most devastating finish to a curling game in his career, Simmons came and chatted with the press – I know a few curlers who wouldn’t have done that. In fact, there was a rather strange situation that developed in the scrum area of the MTS Centre. First off was Kevin Martin who was swarmed by the assembled masses, myself included. After a few of Kevin’s answers, I looked over my shoulder and there, standing by himself with no one around him, was Simmons, glumly staring at the ground, almost as if awaiting the executioners. It was a strange sight – Martin surrounded by 40 or 50 people, Simmons all alone.
On a selfish note, Simmons’ horrible pick left me scrambling. I had two stories written, one with Saskatchewan winning and the other with Martin coming out on top, but when the end came as it did, I had to move to Plan C and put together a new piece in about, oh, eight minutes. That was the time I had until deadline.
The game last night was an odd one and not just because of the ending. How often do you see Kevin Martin miss two big-weight hits – his missed one in the first end and another in the fifth, both times leading to steals of two for Sask.
And I thought there were some odd calls in the game too. Why was Martin guarding in the fifth? Why not peel the Sask rock out of the rings and force him to one?
After that end was over, there was some heavy talking behind the sheet between Martin and Marc Kennedy, over what I presume was that call.
And why did Simmons throw away that shot in the 10th? Why not at least peel off the corner guard? If you don’t have confidence in your team to make a peel at this point, what does that say?
The worst miss of the night had to be Simmons’ shot in nine. It’s his bread-and-butter – nose hit and he wins the game. From my vantage point behind the sheet it sure looked as if he flipped it wide. Nothing but ugly there.
So after writing the eight-minute story, I headed over to the Patch and caught Streetheart. Somehow I remember them being better. I don’t think I recognized any songs until they did the Stones’ Under My Thumb. The Patch was definitely rocking last night but I must be getting old. Standing around and yelling in people’s ears to try and have a conversation isn’t as much fun as it used to be. I left and shared a van home with Ontario coach extraordinaire Scott Taylor who was going to rally his troops for a 9:30 a.m. practice this morning.
For those interested, I have an extra column in the paper this morning about the scheduling of games. You’ll find it here. While I have sympathy for Warren Hansen on this issue and respect for his answers, somehow I think this is something that could – and should – be worked out.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Thursday impressions

Finally made it to Winnipeg late Thursday, in time for the evening draw. Most of the excitement was over by then, of course, with the exception of the Saskatchewan-Manitoba tilt, which didn’t last long. Burtnyk sure didn’t look his normal self. As many folks pointed out, his losses came to all the playoff teams. I don’t think his play at the Canada Cup last week where he went 1-4 helped his confidence coming in here. While he didn’t get much help in front of him, Burtynk threw two stinkers in the fifth, one that came up way short and the next that wrecked on a guard. Sure you can blame frost or whatever, but he missed nonetheless and although he came down the ice stone-faced after the second miss, you could tell he knew it was over.
Some general observations about what I saw here:
• Crowds are a little thin and from what I read in the local bugles, the walk-up is somewhat disappointing. I think I saw that organizers are hoping to get to 165,000.
• An interesting and well done story in this morning’s Free Press about the age of the fans at the Brier. It’s no secret that curling attracts an older audience, but hasn’t this story been written for about 15 years now? So either the fan base is getting really old or newer, older people are coming in. There won’t be any shortage of older people over the next 20 years as the baby boomers hit retirement age so maybe the sky really isn’t falling. Maybe curling should embrace the older generation.
• After flying all day and having to carve out a story for the Globe, I took a pass on the Patch last night. But I’ll ensure to provide a full report after tonight’s visit.
• Pat Simmons had the quote of the night when he was asked what he’d have to do to beat Kevin Martin tonight: “My team is going to have to play very, very well and I’m going to have to be perfect.” Even that might not be enough.
• The Alberta team, with nothing on the line, looked loose, relaxed and almost cavalier last night against the Territories. They seemed to spend a lot of time watching the Howard-Rafuse game on the next sheet and also casting an eye to the Jumbotron to watch the Manitoba-Saskatchewan tilt. For the record, the Territories didn’t play too poorly.

Got a chance to hear more of Russ Howard this morning in the tiebreaker and he really is excellent with his insight. In the first end, when Gushue’s draw shot with his first one came up short, Howard pointed out that in practice, players tend to aim at the middle of the 12 foot and draw to the button. Not many, Howard said, will draw to the side of the button. As a result, there was a lot of pebble down the path where he threw and he ended up coming light. That’s the type of thinking that will make Howard an excellent broadcaster.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Brier beats Leafs

Hard to follow the Brier from here in Orlando, but I did pick up one interesting note: Tuesday night's broadcast on TSN drew an audience of 490,000, which by itself if impressive but here's the other part of the story: the Leafs vs. Philly brought in 460,000, meaning curling beats the Leaf Nation. Please, insert your Leaf/Toronto joke here.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Opening weekend at the Brier

Some observations about the opening weekend’s play at the Timmies Brier:

• Let the records show that it was in the third end of the second draw that Linda Moore broke the seal and talked about the various possibilities of causes of rocks picking. She mentioned carpet fibres, ceiling ash and disintegrating grippers. The players are reportedly stepping on a sticky surface prior to the ice, with the idea being the sticky surface grabs anything from the shoes.

• Linda, Ray and Vic have mentioned several times how the Brier this week might be won by the front ends. I’ll state right now that the best lead-second combo – when you consider shot-making and sweeping m-- is from Ontario. Savill and Laing are remarkably talented and extremely underrated.

• Caught Russ Howard’s debut on Sunday afternoon and I’d have to say he was very good. He was concise but extremely informative, not only looking at shots being played but two or three shots down the line. He also had intimate knowledge of many of the players on the ice, noting tendencies such as inexperience of the New Brunswick team on arena ice. If he can put a little more passion in his voice, he’ll be great.

• Watching BC – Sask. . . . Yikes! Does anyone want to win?

• Outside of the performance of the Newfoundland and Labrador squad, are there any real surprises so far? Maybe Quebec, but that’s about all I can see.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

New Globe Column

Here's my Globe column for today, a look at the end of an era with CBC's farewell to the Brier after more than 60 years.
In this column, I never got into the differences between TSN and CBC but it's safe to say that the broadcasts are varied, mostly because the CBC is there for two games while TSN does a week of shows. As a viewer, I think you get comfortable with TSN, you develop more of a relationship with its broadcast because it goes on all week. It's somewhat more casual than the CBC and that's a good thing. When the CBC comes in, it becomes a big show, an event if you will. Nothing wrong with that -- it is, after all, the final (and semi). It will be interesting to see if TSN does anything different for the final next year. I suspect it will. I would also hazard a guess that most people prefer TSN's commentators to the CBC's. Again, I think a lot of that is familiarity. I actually like the CBC's team and I especially think Mike Harris is superb because he isn't afraid to criticize when it's necessary. Some weird synchro lady doesn't like him as you can read here, but judging by what she wrote, it's pretty clear she doesn't know much about curling. Or the real world.
And I love Linda, Ray and Vic, too. Hey, it's just one big love-in at this blog.
Interesting to see some of the picks for this year's championship. In the Globe this morning, I went way out on a limb and said Glenn Howard will beat Kevin Martin in the final. Al Cameron thinks Brad Gushue will get it done. www.pinnaclesports.com says Martin is the betting favourite. Murray McCormick says it's Howard.
With the blizzard-like conditions raging outside here in the T-Dot, it's going to be a good day to spend with Linda, Vic and Ray.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Pre-Brier ramblings

A few rambling thoughts from my alleged mind:

• Here’s another example of a too-crowded-curling calendar. I’m flipping through the paper this morning and I see a headline about the Canadian gals going to a tiebreaker for the playoffs at the World Junior. Is that on?

• Good to see the fine folks in Winnipeg have started to buy tickets. Still, surprised they’re not yet at the break-even point, especially with this field. It brings up two good points: 1) I think it’s safe to officially move the centre of curling’s universe to Edmonton and 2) the CCA has to start making the draw after the teams have been decided so you avoid Manitoba vs. Ontario Monday at 2 p.m. and Ontario vs. Alberta Thursday at 9:30 a.m. What possible reason could there be for making the draw prior to knowing who is representing what province? Putting the big games in the evening can only bring more bums into the seats.

• The Tim Hortons Brier starts tomorrow and I won’t be there. In fact, I won’t be getting to Winnipeg until Thursday afternoon due to my other job taking me in the other direction, Florida and the PGA Tour. There’s a trade-off here: better weather but the athletes aren’t quite as accommodating.

• Three tired story lines I hope I don’t see this week: the Saskatchewan drought (is this really a drought? Take the great Richardsons out of the equation and it’s won a grand total of three Briers. Where are the stories on the great Northern Ontario drought?); theories on why rocks pick (hair, carpet fibres, dust from the ceiling, grippers falling apart, exploding rocks); the Territories long, difficult journey to get here.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

That "Curler" Burtnyk

Traveling home from Calgary today I picked up the National Post, a fine journal which I don’t read that often.
There was a story in the paper about Kerry Burtnyk by Chris Cariou of the Winnipeg Free Press. It was well done and outlined Burtnyk’s preparations as the home-province favourite for the Tim Hortons Brier.
What caught my eye, however, was the headline. It read: “Curler Burtnyk Right On The Money.”
Why, I wondered, did the headline writer (the person who writes the story doesn’t write the headline) feel it necessary to include the word “Curler?”
They didn’t use the word “Footballer” when talking about Bret Favre’s retirement or “Baseballer” when discussing Geku Taguchi’s signing with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Now perhaps I’m reading too much into this and it was a space issue – they needed to fill an extra line – but to me it just smacks of ignorance. It’s as if they person writing the headline believed that no one would know the name Burtnyk and so it was necessary to precede it with the word curler.
I really think the non-curlers at some media outlets underestimate the star power of the biggest names in the game. I think most sport fans would recognize the name Burtnyk. It’s almost insulting to see “Curler Burtnyk” there, but perhaps I should be thankful there was a curling story at all in the Post.

Monday, March 3, 2008

New Globe column

My Globe column for today is here.

Have to say that after watching yesterday's Strauss Canada Cup final, it's amazing how the game changes when there's no curl. Yesterday's ice was not only quite straight but had the odd fall here and there -- just like the bad old days (and what ever happened to Don Lewis anyway?). Both finals were low-scoring, both were a bit dry although there were some good ends. The bottom line is the free-guard zone is nothing without good ice.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Canada Cup in the News?

What a difference a week makes.
Last week, paper, television, radio and the internet were full of curling coverage of the Scotties.
This week, with another supposedly big event on – the Strauss Canada Cup – there scant little news about who is doing what.
A search of web sites of the national media revealed little: There was nothing in the Toronto Star, nothing in the National Post, nothing in the Sun, a small mention in the Globe and Mail. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that at the Winnipeg Free Press site, the landing page headline was "Jones in Playoff Against Scott." That was the overall home page, not just the sports page. Oh you curling-crazy 'Tobans. (I should point out that beside that headline was a story on Winnipeg in the running for a monopoly square!)
Without getting into a discussion about what sports get covered and what don’t, it says a great deal about the Strauss Canada Cup as an event, at least to the outside world. It doesn’t have any appeal to sports-directors who apparently just view it as another curling event. Because it isn't a national championship, no one seems to care. Coming as it does a week before the Brier starts and a week after the Scotties finishes more or less assures it will get lost.
If you’re a curler, you probably know where to go to find the information, but if not, you probably wouldn’t even know this event it on. There is just no buzz about it at all.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Canada Cup

Wow. We’re hardly done with one big championship and another one is on the way. The Strauss Canada Cup started today and if you’re a competitive curler, it’s either the start (men) or women (end) of a busy period.
The Canada Cup is an event that has always confused me. Although no one in Ottawa will admit it, the event was started out of the fires of the Grand Slam boycott era. The CCA got nervous when the original Grand Slams came out and felt it needed a cash event to keep the top curlers on its side.
Prior to that, there was always this clear divide that the CCA ran the championships and the Tour (or all its forerunners) ran the cashspiels. But that ended when the Canada Cup was created.
In the early days, the CCA got around this by merely “sanctioning” the Canada Cup. It was actually run by a group in Kamloops. At least that was the spin. But no one with any modicum of sense really believed that the CCA wasn’t pulling all the strings.
To be honest, I’ve never really seen the need for the CCA to be involved in this event. It doesn’t fit into its mandate.
Having said all that, this has become a pretty important part of the curling schedule and the Olympic qualifying process. And really, anytime you can get the big boys and girls together, knocking heads, all the better. The teams look forward to this event except for the fact that it's jammed into the schedule right around the Brier/Scotties. There's a decent payout for the teams with $25,000 for the win and $800 per game won in the round robin. In my mind, it should be before Christmas or early January with most of the other big cash events.
Another issue I don't know is whether this is a cash-positive or cash-negative event for the CCA. You have to know they're looking at bottom lines these days. Although I doubt anything would happen to this event before the next Olympics, I'm sure it will be reviewed, especially since it doesn't have a title sponsor next year with the move to Yorkton.
For now, enjoy some good curling.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Scotties - final thoughts

As my Globe column will point out on Monday, this wasn’t the best of games when it comes to shotmaking, but it was definitely an entertaining match. Some thoughts:

* What a time for Amy Nixon to throw a mediocre game. She was easily the best player all week, but not in the final. Her triple in 10 was about the only decent shot she had all game. She missed more shots Sunday than the rest of the week combined. Or it seemed like that anyway.

* While she missed some shots, she seemed to also miss the sweeping call on that final rock. I’m still trying to understand why they were sweeping it. I read in Al Cameron’s blog that Kleibrink swears the shot backed up near the end. I don’t buy it – she’s just protecting Nixon.

* That wasn’t the only missed sweeping call either. The Alberta team was brutal with the brushes. None was worse than the eighth end when three extra licks would have given them shot on that corner freeze.

* Listening to the broadcast, it’s interesting to note how many times what Joan thinks is a perfect shot, Mike believes is only a good shot. I tend to agree more with Mike’s assessment.

* Wow – I haven’t seen Brent Syme in a long time, didn’t realize he was the Alberta coach. He’s playing in a different weight class these days than when he was winning the world championship with Ed Lukowich as a flyweight but I love his coaching thoughts when I heard them. It’s none of this pussy-footing around – he tells them what the right shot is and why.

* Jennifer Jones is going to be leaving her opponents raise-back doubles for the rest of her life – two games, two tries, two misses, two stolen wins.

On to the final

So it’s Manitoba and Alberta in the final. At the start of the week, if you’d picked this as a final, no one would have batted an eye. If you said the same thing mid-week at the Scotties, you would have been committed. Manitoba was given up for dead by almost all observers, especially the media from the Buffalo province, who like to eat their own (to be fair, we all do that). The Jones team rally has been nothing short of miraculous.
The win over Ontario yesterday was a hard-fought affair that in my opinion was more about Ontario losing than Manitoba winning. Unfortunately, once again, the Ontario gals weren’t able to close the door when they had the chance. The final end was shaping up well for Middaugh and company. I mean, how good were those first two shots thrown by Andra Harmark? Not one but two perfect chips. That was some of the most remarkable shotmaking I’ve seen by a lead in a long time. But it was compromised by the nose hit from Kim Moore and the almost-nose hit by Middaugh on her first one.
Still, I thought she’d make that last-shot double. You wonder how many men’s teams would have thrown the hit? I think Middaugh made the right call, for her. She played some great takeouts during the game.
The loss is too bad because Middaugh is a great person who probably deserves better. She is always accommodating, always pleasantly up and never has a bad word to say about anyone, not even Wayne.
If there is a curling god, Middaugh might win something bigger, perhaps the Olympic Trials?
Have to give credit, too, to Jennifer Jones for her last shot. It was absolutely perfect.
Now we get Kleibrink and Jones. Not sure who will get this one, but it should be an interesting game.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Ontario-Manitoba an entertaining game

That was about as entertaining a curling game as I’ve seen in a long while. Ontario and Alberta put on quite a display in the one-two game. There were great shots, interesting strategies and some big gaffes, -- but wrap it all up with a bow and you’ve got great television.

I don’t think I’d say it was overall an exceptionally well-played game, but it was fun to watch. You never knew what was going to happen next, especially in the late ends.

As I’m sure no one has to point out, the first star of the game has to be Amy Nixon, who played tremendous for all 11 ends. How she managed to clean up the mess left by the Alberta front end in eight is beyond me. She’s what . . 115 pounds? And she fires that missle? And how many women curling this week could have made that shot? Honestly. Four? Five?

What’s amazing is that I didn’t think Kirsten – not Kristen – Wall was awful by any means (OK, she wasn’t great in the first half), but in comparison to her opposing number, she looked poor.

I think the strangest parts of last night’s game are those two big skip misses in nine and 10. How often do you see misses like that? First Middaugh doesn’t come close on the draw for two in nine and then Kleibrink comes up short in 10. MIddaugh's was far more glaring, but Kleibrink's was still an eye-opening miss. Wow – those were Ug-Ly.

Hopefully we get a repeat of that game in the final on Sunday. Ontario first has to get past this Manitoba juggernaut which will be tough after six in a row. I think Ontario takes this one.

Final Thoughts:
* What’s with the Quebec team sitting in the stands watching the Alberta-Ontario match? I can’t recall an eliminated team coming back to watch a match – most go to the Heart Stop. Haven’t they had enough? Of course maybe they were trying learn strategy or sweeping calls.

* What’s with the Ontario coach? She came out in the 11th before Sherry Middaugh threw her first rock and clearly had no idea what was going on. “You have to be shot after this rock,” she says. “No,” said the other four in unison and they were obviously correct.

* I think there is way too much weight place on the stats. They rarely give the complete picture of what’s going on in a game. We in the media rely on them way too much without understanding how they’re compiled and, more importantly – who compiles them. Over the years, I’ve seen too many folks who really don’t understand the complexities of top-level curling, plugging numbers into computers.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Turning the Page

Once again tonight, we get to witness the biggest flaw in championship curling – the page playoff system. This confusing playoff structure was brought into use in 1995 and the reason was to ensure there was a Friday night playoff game. In years gone by, with just a semi and a final, unless there were tiebreakers, the arenas were dark on Friday night, when organizers and television wanted bums in the seats and viewers on the tube.
But for a curler, it doesn’t make any sense. Because of the system, Shannon Kleibrink’s only advantage for finishing a game up on Sherry Middaugh and for beating her in the round robin is choice of rocks in the One-Two game. (the fact I can write one-two game and 99.9 per cent of readers know what I mean shows you that this has become ingrained in curling circles.)
The system was developed for use in softball when there are two divisions with no play between the divisions. In that case, it makes sense. In a round robin format, it makes no sense.
If you suggest to organizers that a better format might be third-vs.-fourth, winner plays two, winner plays one, they don’t bite. The argument against that is that no team can be put two games up on another team.
But isn’t that what happens in the round robin? Doesn’t Kleinbrink’s record show she’s already two games better than Quebec and three up on the tiebreaker teams?
I know a great many curlers are not fans of the system (except, of course, if they finish first or second and lose the one-two game). Glenn Howard has told me point blank that he hates it.
But on it goes.
Predictions for today: Manitoba over Newfoundland, Quebec over Manitoba, Ontario over Alberta.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Not so Gaudet

Unbelieveable. How does Suzanne Gaudet miss a shot like that to lose to Alberta? Why was she playing takeout weight?
My head is throbbing trying to figure that one out.
Shannon Kleibrink must be thanking the curling gods after that.

Alberta for real

I have to admit it now – Alberta looks awfully good at this point in the Scotties. Now that’s sort of a silly, obvious statement seeing as how they’re sitting in first place but I wasn’t really buying into their position until yesterday.
Although I spent more time watching Tiger Woods (and isn’t he just frickin’ unbelievable?) than Shannon Kleibrink, what I did see made me believe that these gals are going to be awfully tough to beat. They’re making everything look easy; it doesn’t seem as if they ever get into any real trouble. OK, they did fritter away a solid lead against Ontario, but they still managed a win although it will probably mean little more than last rock thanks to the ridiculous page playoff system.
What gets interesting is the jam up behind those two rinks. Nova Scotia, Quebec and the slow pokes from Newfoundland and Labrador have all been really inconsistent – you just never know who is going to show up, but I like the Bluenosers best from that troika.
Then there’s Manitoba. These gals are certainly scrappy and could still hang around after the round robin. Jones gets a date with B.C. this morning and then plays her buddy Kelly Scott to finish up. Depending on how things work out, you think Scott wouldn’t love to be the one to put the nail in the Manitoba coffin?
Mathematically, the five-loss teams may be alive, but I doubt it (of course that’s probably the curse right there – can you say tiebreakers?).

* Final thoughts: Anyone else sick of having to close that ad for Big Dog 92.7 that comes up every time you try to read Murray McCormick’s blog? Ads like that do nothing but tick people off.
* Speaking of Murray Hard, I wonder when he’s going to do a Faces in the Media Room on his blog?
* Is it my imagination or have there been more big first ends this week than normal? It seems like there’s been an inordinate number of threes and fours in the first end.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

It ain't easy being a 'Toban

Winnipeg may no longer be the centre of the universe when it comes to hosting big curling events – hard to argue that Edmonton doesn’t hold that honour – but it sure is the epicenter of media coverage for its teams.
I love reading the papers from the Buffalo province during championship time. First, both the Free Press and the Sun give excellent coverage, played up at or near the front. Second, both the curling writers – Paul Wiecek and Jim Bender – are talented and unafraid to be brutally honest. It really gets good when one of their own starts to stumble, which, admittedly, is not often.
So check out this morning’s papers after the bomb of a day by Jennifer Jones and her squad. They lost two games and were horrid.
Here’s Wiecek with a dandy paragraph:
There is no way to sugar-coat this -- Team Manitoba was embarrassed in a way that no one's seen since Barb Spencer bumbled her way to a 4-7 record at the 2003 national women's championship.
But at least Spencer battled in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont., that year. For the better part of two straight days now, this Jones team has simply folded from the very first rock.

A couple more:
Jones told the media afterward that she was happy with how her team played after the first end, noting they battled back to make the final score 10-8.
That's a little like extolling the virtues of the swimming lessons that came after the Titanic hit that iceberg.

Here’s Bender, being somewhat kinder but still pointing to the obvious:
The Buffalo gals have not looked like the juggernaut that won everything but the Hearts last year. But they did at least make it to the semifinal. Nor have they looked like the fearsome foursome that was tearing up the cashspiel circuit until they were stopped cold, failing to even qualify for the playoffs at the last women's Grand Slam.
Jones was not dominant at the Manitoba provincials and may still be bugged about the negative reaction to the burned-rock incident in Gimli.

Love it. You wonder how the gals react to this stuff if they even read it? There's nothing like the brutal facts.
Of course it is so strange to see Jones (not to mention Kelly Scott) wallowing with four losses. They may not like it, but it makes for great reading.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

How not to attract fans

Something that has always struck me as strange is why the CCA doesn’t better plan out its draws at both the men’s and women’s championships. By this I mean schedule the marquee games at better times.

Right now, the draw is done long before the provincial champions are determined and the winners get slotted in where their province’s holding pieces are. The result, time and time again, is that big match-ups are often held at the worst times. For instance, yesterday morning, Sherry Middaugh of Ontario takes on Jennifer Jones from Manitoba. Two big names. Two teams that love to mix it up. Two teams who could draw a big crowd.

And yet there they were, knocking heads on a Monday morning at 9:30. Unless you wanted to watch on your computer, you were out of luck. Not even any radio. Oh where’s Chuck Pachekowsky when you need him?

I can remember the same thing happening at a Brier a couple of years ago when one of the morning draws was Kevin Martin and Wayne Middaugh, when they were arguably the best two rinks in the game.

All of this comes at a time when big curling events can use walk-up sales. So why not strategically plan out your big games so they’re held at the times that will do that? Even though they said it was done randomly, for years the Ontario Curling Association had the Werenich-Howard tilt on Thursday night. Bingo – full arena. Have that game Monday morning and you have the bus from the retirement home.

Now to be fair, what constitutes a marquee game is subjective. And in an event such as this year’s Scotties, there are a lot of marquee matches. But it’s about time the CCA got into the new millenium and began planning this better. This is entertainment and right now, a lot of people are missing the most entertaining parts.