Thursday, January 31, 2008

Wheelchair worlds

I received a release today announcing the start of the World Wheelchair Championships this Saturday in Sursee, Switzerland. Canada’s team will be skipped by Gerry Austgarden.
He takes over for Chris Daw, who has “withdrawn from competition.”
I have to admit that I haven’t followed the goings-on in wheelchair curling as closely as I should, but there seems to be some mystery in Daw’s withdrawal. There was a good column in the last issue of Sweep about it with some cryptic comments about Daw’s absence.
Daw is about the only name in Wheelchair curling that many fans are really familiar with. I’ve interviewed him a couple of times and he seemed like a fine chap. He, of course, led Canada to the gold at the 2006 Paralympics in Turin.
When I first went to watch wheelchair curling, it was back about five or six years ago at the Toronto Cricket Club and I was told at that time that there were only a few teams in the entire country. I know it's grown since then. The competition is serious these days and more and more clubs are making their ice accessible to wheelchairs. It seems as if the sport has just taken off.
There’s even some controversy these days with Big Jim Armstrong – one of my all-time favourites to cover back in the day – trying to get permission to play. As noted in Al Cameron’s fine blog, he’s suffered some debilitating ailments that have almost reduced him to a wheelchair full time. So far, however, the WCF won’t give him a pass, even though it should.
In any case, it’s great to see the sport growing. Very positive for curling.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Gushue's Qualifying Comments

I like Brad Gushue and I especially like his direct and honest approach to things. Sometimes that ruffles feathers, but he’s is oh-so-right with his recent comments about the convoluted Olympic qualifying process.
For those who didn’t see them, here are a few quotes from Kevin Mitchell’s article in the Star-Phoenix. (the full article is here)
"I think it's ridiculous. I think it's the stupidest format.”
"We're forcing our teams in Canada to run themselves so thin, because you have to play so much to earn so many points to get into the Olympic Trials," Gushue said. "When it comes to the Olympics, I think the team that goes is going to be absolutely worn out. We experienced that a little bit in (Turin), and this process makes it even worse."
"Like I said to the CCA, if it wasn't broke, why fix it? We've sent six teams to the Olympics and won six medals. That's not too bad."

To be honest, I’ve read the Trials qualifying process about a dozen times and I’m not sure if I completely understand it. But essentially, it’s play, play, play then play some more and hope you earn a qualifying spot. But this pre-qualifying stuff is just plain silly.
A conspiracy theorist might think the CCA was trying to drag out the process to have more events where it could raise more money.
Here as I see it are the biggest problems.
** The selection process is far too complicated. It leaves your fans (not to mention the players) scratching their heads. (I mean, in my last Globe column, I tried to write about Kevin Koe having qualified for the pre-qualifying and it took about 10 paragraphs. I gave up and said he’d taken another step in the process.)
** The team that wins is chosen far too late. We’re the last country to choose our reps and because of the process, these guys are usually dead tired when the win. When I wrote the book with Russ Howard last year, he walked me through everything that happened to them and I couldn’t believe the team was still standing. Winning the Trials is one thing, but so much happens after that, it’s almost impossible to prepare. Why can’t the reps be chosen say, in October?
** There has to be some allowance for teams that change their lineups. I honestly don’t know what that is, but there used to be something about three of four or the skip and one other player. There are just too many situations where a lineup can change over a four-year period.
** This pre-qualifying stuff is nonsense. There’s no need for it. Go straight to the Trials.

Thanks to all those who provided some more curling couples. The most obvious one I missed was the Middaughs.
It also seems that if I was really cruel, I could come up with a list of best divorced curling couples however I digress.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Curling Couples

As mentioned in previous posts, I’m looking to my loyal readers for some help with a few topics I’m including in my next book, on which I’m working right now.
So today, I’m hoping to pick your collective brain for the best curling couples. I’m trying to get couples where the husband and wife have both won significant championships. So far, I’ve got:

Rick and Lorraine Lang
Pat and Jane Perroud
Dave and Heather Nedohin
Ian Tetley/Erica Brown

I’m sure I’m missing some obvious ones. Anyone care to chime in?

Monday, January 28, 2008

New Globe Column

Happy Monday.
* My Globe and Mail column on Kevin Koe and his rink is here.

* Why is it I have the jingle from the Capital One commercials running through my head? And the one from the Tylenol commercial? And the one Walter Gretzky sings?

* I think Bruce Rainnie is going to do just fine in his new job. Must be that PEI in him.

* CBC did a good job with the Slam broadcast over the weekend. A nice job with the Don Wittman tribute, another nice job in digging up that Kevin Koe debacle from the Canadian Junior (forgot what he looked like with hair); and an interesting look at what's become an age-old question: why hasn't someone from Saskatchewan been able to win the Brier?

* Not that you'd come here to get the field for the Scotties, but here it is anyway:
Canada: Kelly Scott; Alta: Shannon Kleibrink; B.C.: Allison MacInnes; MAN: Jennifer Jones; N.B.: Sylvie Robichaud; N.L.: Heather Strong; N.S.: Mary Anne Arsenault; Ont.: Sherry Middaugh; P.E.I.: Suzanne Gaudet; Que.: Marie-France Larouche; Sask.: Michelle Englot; Yukon/NWT: Kerry Galusha-Koe. Comments on this field in a future post.

* Watched the NHL All-Star Skills competition and began wondering why curling doesn't have it's version of the Breakaway event. It's similar to the Slam Dunk in basketball where players are judged on their creativity. Wouldn't it be great to see curlers are the Brier perform with unusual deliveries? Think of Stoughton's 360 and you'll get the idea. In my book it sure beats the hell out of the Ford Hot Shots.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Jones, Official need to do some 'splainin'

Lots of commotion at the Manitoba Scotties, where an alleged rock-burning incident has cast a shadow on Jennifer Jones and her team. The former world champ has come off looking like a bully against a younger opponent. She seems to have broken the unwritten code in curling and in the process has tarnished her reputation.

From the media reports I’ve read, here’s what happened: Kerri Flett’s team was down three in the fourth and the skip needed a raise to the four foot against four Jennifer Jones’ counters. Along the way, her shooter had to slip past a guard. In the process of sweeping the shot, lead Brenna Philp was alleged to have moved the guard, allowing the moving stone to slip past. The shot ended up being made.

But here’s where things get grey. Apparently Jones and her third, Cathy Overton-Clapham felt Philp – who was sparing for Flett – burned the rock and went straight out and accused her of it. When Philp denied that, Jones called an official over and said that Philp had burned the guard and if not, the moving stone would have wrecked.

The official reportedly grilled Philp and got something short of a confession but still pulled the shooter off, giving Jones four points. With Flett being the home town gal, the boos rained down on Jones.

Honestly, if you’re Philp and some official and Jennifer Jones are beating you up, you might break a little too. But from what I can tell she only said that she might have brushed up against the stationary stone, never moved it, which isn't breaking any rules. But if reports are right, then thanks to this official it’s almost as if she was being water-boarded.

"Admit it, you burned that rock, admit it. . . admit it. . . or I'll put you back in the box.

Since the incident, Philp has categorically denied burning the guard, in print and on radio.

And if you're the official, who are you going to side with? Let's face it -- officials in curling are no different than say, the NBA. The calls are going to go in favour of the stars. Still, there are reports that this is an experienced official who should know.

So there’s a lot of head-scratching going on here. First, I always thought that the offending team had to call the penalty on themselves (silly me, that’s when curling was still a gentleperson’s game). In this case, it seems that Jones initiated the call. And let’s be honest here: if you thought your opponent had burned a rock, you probably would have said something, even just stared the person down, right? I don’t blame Jones if she sincerely believed the rock had moved. How she handled it, however, is another matter. Anyone who has curled has probably run into this situation. When it’s happened to me, I might say something in a loud voice so the opponents know what I think, but you never call someone a cheater/rule-breaker, especially when you’re a world champion and the person you’re accusing is a university student. And you also don’t do it right in front of a packed crowd.

I remember when I played for John Kawaja and a similar incident occurred. He asked the sweeper if he burned the rock (note I said asked, not accused), the sweeper denied it and that was the end of it. Except that JK cut a death stare through this guy for about four ends and although the guy never admitted burning the rock, everyone in the arena knew.

Second, I would have figured that the official would work on the basis of having some evidence. Did he? If Philp says she didn’t burn the rock (although a post on said fans saw the rock burned) and the official didn’t see it then that’s where it should end, right? Sorry Jennifer, but without evidence, this case gets thrown out of court.

And, really, there shouldn’t have even been an appeal. Jones may wish to confront Philp, but if Philp denies it, as a curler, you accept that. Jones apparently couldn’t from the reports.

And in this situation, it seems as if it didn’t end there, which is why something isn’t right. The official essentially overruled Philp, if you believe Philp denied burning the stone. If this was the case in all games, then in any close situation, I could just accuse my opponent of burning a rock and no matter what he said, that rock would come off. As long as I whined long enough, apparently.

Here’s the part I really wonder about. Jones has said nothing in her defence, at least nothing I could find. She hasn’t explained her side of the story and so far, no one has disputed what Philp has said, that she didn’t burn the stone. Something doesn't add up here.

Then there’s the official. Anyone heard from him? Not that I could find.

Right now, Jennifer Jones looks like a bully and most definitely, someone who forgot the code. Maybe there’s more to the story, maybe Jones is in the right, but so far she hasn’t chosen to defend herself. And really, she should in a situation such as this. For herself and also for Philp.

I wasn’t in Gimli to witness this incident, but it sure stinks. Jones and the official could help to freshen the smell if the so desired. Come on, you two. Start blabbering.

UPDATE: A fine article by Paul Wiecik on the incident is here.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Scotties provincial web sites

Lots of provincial Scotties championship news as most of the provinces wrap up play this weekend. Naturally I’ve had my eye on the Ontario playdowns and it is still quite close despite having eight rounds in the book.
Sherry Middaugh leads at 7-1, a game up on two-time defending champion Krista McCarville. A troika of good teams sit at 5-3 – Jen Hanna, Janet McGhee and Alison Goring (yes, she’s still out there throwing rocks).
They go into a page system starting tonight.
I went to try and find other results from other provinces and it was tougher than I thought. I looked through all the sites and didn’t spend more than a couple of minutes at each. I figured that this high-profile a competition deserved easy access from the home page and if you couldn’t find what you were looking for in that time, you’d probably give up. Unfortunately, in most cases, it wasn’t that easy. I used the links provided on the Scotties Home Page – the national event that is – as my starting point. Here’s what I found:
Alberta – Hopeless. You need about 94 clicks to figure anything out. I gave up.
B.C. – Not bad. Current standings always at the side of the page, draw at the left and current games in the middle.
Manitoba – Once I found the link which was down the MCA home page, it was OK. But why not make it so you can get all the scores of one draw on one page? You have to click each individual game of each individual draw meaning four clicks for just one draw.
N.B. – There was a link on the home page, but it only took me to some standard form page where I could get a link to the host club, the sign-up poster and an entry form, but no scores. I have no idea what’s happening out there.
N&L – hmmm.. . . I clicked on the link and was given an error message that the server at was unreachable. Golfmax?
Ontario – simple, easy and logical. Directed you to the host club site where they’re doing a great job.
Nova Scotia – one of the best. Front and centre on the home page, a couple of clicks to anything.
PEI – ended last week, but lots of good coverage of the final with pictures and game report.
Quebec – my French isn’t what it used to be but I think M-F Larouche won last weekend. Either that or the Canadiens traded Guy Lafleur.
Saskatchewan – Tops in my book. Great coverage, lots of links and pics. Every province could learn from this one.
Territories – event ended but there was notice of the winners – Kerry Koe – front and centre.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Amazing Lorraine Lang

Lorraine Lang absolutely amazes me. She doesn’t get nearly enough recognition for her prowess on the ice. For those who don’t know, Lang is currently battling it out on the ice in Espanola at the Ontario Scotties. And she’s playing front end for goodness sake, trying to help Krista McCarville’s squad win its third consecutive provincial crown.
Of course this all comes long (sorry LL) after she’s already won the Scott and world championships, back before they had a free-guard zone. That would be circa 1988 and '89. At that time, Lorraine was third for Heather Houston.
And she also has a Canadian mixed crown in her bag, playing with husband Rick.
So tell me . . . how many other Ontario curlers – north or south – have that full a resume and are still at it?
As I said, simply amazing.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Northern Ontario and Ontario

This week, the Ontario women’s championship is being held in Espanola. For those living in the south, that’s a long, long way to travel for a curling championship. Of course it alternates every year between North and South so the travel is split evenly.
But it does beg the question of why there isn’t a Northern Ontario women’s representative at the Scotties. Or perhaps why there isn’t just a single Ontario entry at the men’s.
The history of a Northern Ontario entry at the Brier goes back to near the start of the event. In the early days of the Brier – we’re talking the late 1920s here – there were not only provincial reps, but also teams from Montreal and Toronto. The reason, really is simple. This was an easy way to bring together winners of significant championships. There were big city of Toronto and Montreal bonspiels, and there was also a big Northern Ontario championship and the winner received an invitation. There’s been a Northern Ontario entry in the Brier since the first one back in 1927. Montreal and Toronto were dropped, however.
Some people suggest that history does not reflect reality and that Northern Ontario should be folded into its Southern neighbours, but really, when you think of the number of curlers in Ontario – the province as a whole – you can make all sorts of cases for phasing out PEI or Newfoundland. There are more curlers in the city of Toronto alone than either province. Ontario easily has the biggest curling population.
Two regions makes sense and to be honest, I don’t know how the women manage it.
The distance travelled– as the women can attest – is a huge undertaking. Heck the Northern Ontario men’s playdowns alone are often a marathon in terms of distances. So why is it OK for the women and not the men? A legitimate question. My take is that there are far fewer women’s teams playing down – especially in the North – so two reps is perhaps overload.
The main case for ending Northern Ontario is that it isn’t a province but a region. That’s a fair argument, but it’s not the only region in the Brier field – the Territories is really an amalgamation of three different Territories (although as I understand it, only two enter teams). Those in favour of a single Ontario entry at the Brier would probably like the Scotties method of inviting the defending champion back. To me that cheapens the entry. I’ve always felt that allowing a team to go directly to the Canadian final is undeserving. If they win, I really think it’s only half-deserving.
I know why it was done in the women’s – because it felt having the defending champion in place meant a marketable team for the host site. That may have been necessary at one time, but I don’t think so any longer. The top women’s teams are as recognizable as the top men’s squads these days.
So not only do I think there should always be a Northern Ontario entry at the Brier, but I’d be in favour of doing the same thing at the Scotties and getting rid of Team Canada.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Don Wittman

A sad day today with the passing of Don Wittman. Don was a truly remarkable guy, a broadcaster who could handle any sport. In interviews I did for my story that’s in today’s Globe, it was clear that the most common word attached to Don’s work was professionalism. Not only did he exude professionalism himself, but he passed that lesson on to his colour commentators, no matter who it was.
There are lots of tributes pouring in. At the next Grand slam, all the players will be wearing DW patches and those are expected to stay through the Brier and Scotties. I hope all involved will be able to take it a step further if possible and maybe name a new award after Don, perhaps something paying tribute to a member of the media, perhaps someone up and coming.
No matter which way you look at it, curling has lost a great man. In fact the world has lost a great man.
We've lost three good ones in a short period -- Witt, Chevy and Maxwell. Curling's going to miss them

Friday, January 18, 2008

Running into curlers in Florida

Down here in the Sunshine State for a little work on the other sport (that being golf) and you just can’t get away from the curling world. I’m attending the PGA Mechandise Show, which is a trade show with more than one million square feet of the newest clubs, balls, clothes and gadgets. It’s massive spot.
But I hadn’t gone 15 feet when I ran into two-time world champion John Kawaja, who is the executive vice-president of TaylorMade-adidas Golf. Essentially, Kawaja is the No. 2 guy in this company and right now, he’s running the adidas Golf side of things or all the clothing and shoes. Big job, but Kawaja’s a smart guy so no surprise. Home is now Carlsbad, Calif.
I’ve seen John a number of times over the years and one of the best things about catching him down here is that his life as a curler is unknown. You can go and tell his co-workers he is a curler of notoriety and their jaws drop.
Next up I saw Jane Hooper-Perroud, who won a world title with Marilyn Bodogh. Jane works for Callaway in Canada and looks as though she hasn’t aged a day from when she curled her way to a Scott and a world final. She does a tremendous job with that company which has done very well in the last few years.
Finally, I ran into Ian Tetley, the only one of the three still throwing rocks. Tet was holding court with some Asian businessmen when I passed him so I didn’t get a chance to chat.
Just can’t get away from curling, no matter where you are.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Paul Boutilier, the guy who has been at the forefront of the World Curling Tour Players Association and the Grand Slam events, is stepping down from his positions as president of the WCTPA and Executive Director of the World Curling Tour. He’s been in the position for just over six years and as he said in an e-mail sent to players, he’s leaving behind some remarkable achievements:
I am most proud of putting the players back together in the Brier and Slams, bring Arnold Asham back to the tour where he belongs, creating a very good relationship with the CCA and WCF, saving the Canadian Masters last year with players helping players, joining forces with the women and men on tour, creating a school of rock for kids to meet the sport's best, creating "Slammer" as this sport needed to connect to the youth and excite audiences, putting a live band on the ice surface for the enjoyment of the fans and "in-venue" entertainment experience, starting the Ambassador Awards that created some very special player evenings, assisting in getting the World Championship rings for both Team Burtynk and Team Scott, creating a PC that both women and men play, working and agreeing to an Olympic deal with the CCA that brought the tour and slams into the process in a big way, Toronto 2009, our volunteer approach to sincerely making them feel as they should "a key partner in every event," having a transparant qualification system for the Grand Slams and other items that one this hard day I cannot recall - but the biggest though was meeting and working with you all and experiencing some of this great sport that we all love.

Of all the great work that Boutilier has done, his biggest achievement may have been healing the wounds between the CCA and the players. Remember, Boutilier came on board right after the big boycott of the Brier. He had to get some of the lugheads at the CCA to realize just where the future of curling was going.
And i you look at where the Tour is now, it’s hard to remember just how far it’s come and much of that is due to the hard work of Boutilier.
Now the question of why he’s leaving. The press release says it’s for personal reasons and that he’s accomplished all the goals he set out to reach. Is there more to the story? Not sure, but I think Boutilier is going to be a hard guy to replace.

Monday, January 14, 2008

New Globe Column

Happy Monday! My new Globe and Mail column is here:

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Help for my next book

I’m in the process of writing my next curling book (due out next Christmas) and without getting into details, I’m hoping over the next little while, to enlist the help of readers of this blog. From time to time, I’m going to post a topic and I’m hoping you can give me some examples from your curling experiences of this topic.
OK, here’s the first one.
In 1976 in Sarnia, Ont., two curlers in a local bonspiel began arguing when one accused the other of not releasing the stone before crossing the hog line. The argument became so intense, the player who allegedly committed the foul left the ice with his team, forfeiting the game. However the squabble continued in the club after that and resulted in the accuser throwing a knockout punch to the head of the rock-thrower. Charges were laid and the accuser ended up in court.
“Surely we aren’t going to get into violence in curling,” said Sarnia Judge Alan Fowler, before fining the man $250 or 25 days in jail.
What I’m hoping to find is any more examples people have of actually fights at a curling event. I actually hope there aren’t too many but I do know of at least a couple of more. Perhaps you can share your example by posting it in the comments section or, if you prefer, sending it to me at

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Giving Martin's Streak Attention

Had a note from an in-the-know curling person yesterday who wondered why there hadn’t been more made of Kevin Martin’s streak of five consecutive Grand Slam victories. This person also wondered why none of the other players had commented on it, either noting it as a remarkable achievement or saying they were going to end it.
I think to the average person, the Grand Slams are just beginning to catch on in significance (thank you CBC) so there’s still a little awareness problem with just how tough these events are.
Second, among his peers, K-Mart probably ain’t at the top of everyone’s dance card, if you know what I mean. I’ve always found him great to work with and a hell of a nice guy, but there are some, I know, out there who might not want to stroke him with such attention.
Finally, the media really has done a poor job at picking up on this story. I haven’t seen much attention at all on the streak and so the reason you haven’t heard anything from other players might be as simple as they no one’s asked them. As well, I don’t think any other player is going to come out and say Martin isn’t going to win. That’s bulletin board material (remember Stoughton at the Trials?) and it doesn’t usually help the cause.
That might change as we get closer to the next event, which starts a week Wednesday in Saskabush. The streak certainly deserves more attention than its received.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The colour of curling

After watching Glenn Howard on Little Mosque on the Prairie this week, it reminded me once again of just how white as sport curling is. Think to yourself – when was the last time you saw a person of colour on the ice?
I don’t think I’ve ever curled against an afro-Canadian person and I can recall seeing just a single such person. I think there was also a black woman who competed for the Russian team at one time. I have met many people of Asian descent on the curling ice. Of course the infamous Rudy Ramcharan is the only non-Asian visible minority to win the Brier. I thought golf was an awfully white sport but it’s nothing compared to curling.
Curling has done a poor job of expanding the sport beyond the traditional demographics. As such, the future is scary in this regard. According to Stats Canada, by 2015, those of European descent will be in a minority in Vancouver and Toronto.
I know the CCA has begun some pilot projects to encourage those from non-curling-traditional cultural groups to try the sport, but I’ve yet to hear how it’s going. It’s a great start and a very prescient move on the association’s behalf.
But it’s going to take a lot more than that to change curling’s demographic; the sport and all those who love it need to get a move on.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Things we know today

Things we know today:
• Glenn Howard is not going to win an Emmy (or whatever the Canadian equivalent is) for his appearance on Little Mosque last night, although he was very funny. He was definitely better than Paul Savage in Men with Brooms.
• You won’t find any coverage of the Energizer Bonspiel in any Toronto newspapers. That’s too bad. In the old days, the papers would carry the results, especially the list of survivors from the knock-out competition. It was always fun to wake up and see who was still around. UPDATE: Apparently the results are in the Star, but only the printed edition, not the web. Good for the Star!!
• It’s impossible to open up the spreadsheet on the TCA web site that lists the results of the Energizer. At least it is for me.
• As I understand it, ticket sales in Winnipeg are OK and the CCA believes it will reach its budget. But one source told me that gone are the days when Winnipeg was a sure thing for a major curling event.
• There are two situations in which you can have rocks in the house at the conclusion of an end and still have a blank end. Anyone care to guess what they are? This is a good bar bet, by the way.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A tribute for Wittman

Yesterday in Winnipeg, Don Wittman got a retirement party fit for a guy who has done it all. Witt was feted by many of Canadian broadcasting’s luminaries who gathered to pay tribute to a remarkable career. He was inducted into the new CBC Sports Hall of Fame. As I understand it, that ceremony was supposed to happen in Toronto later this month, but Wittman has terminal cancer.
Scott Moore, boss man over at CBC Sports, offered up a great quote, which was on the CBC web site:
“He was one of the first people on CBC network sports," he said. "He's done it all and done it over a long term, and that's absolutely incredible."
There's another fine story of the day from the Winnipeg Free Press. I admit it -- I started to choke up when I read this one.
Witt, of course, has called everything – from hockey to to CFL to golf to track – remember Donovan Bailey’s gold medal? – and more. But for most curling fans, he’ll be remembered as the longtime voice of CBC’s curling coverage.
To me, what made Witt such a good broadcaster was his ability to set up his colour commentators. He never intruded, never even tried to share the spotlight when it came to analyzing, even though in many situations he was more than capable of doing it. As someone who has done his fare share of broadcasting, that’s a lot tougher than it seems, believe me.
On a personal side, Witt was as friendly as they get. I don’t think I know anyone who has a bad word to say about the guy. Even though he was the big fish when it came to broadcasting, he treated you like a friend, no matter if you were the prime minister or the reporter from the local weekly. I remember being beside him on the treadmill in a hotel in Ottawa during Brier week one year and we spent the entire time talking about golf. He wanted to know everything about Augusta National. Then he shared his memories of working on the Canadian Open broadcasts. It was the quickest workout I've ever had as the time just flew by.
It was a fitting day for Witt, who is just one hell of a guy.


The CBC is airing an episode of Little Mosque on the Prairie tonight and it has a curling theme to it. You'll notice an appearance by none other than Glenn Howard who -- amazingly! -- doesn't get picked for a team. It's quite the hilarious spot.
There's a good story behind his appearance. Originally, the producers wanted to get either Kevin Martin or Randy Ferbey, but the first Assistant Director on the show was Dave Manion, who some old-time Ontario curlers may remember played front end for John Kawaja when his team lost the Canadian Junior Final (circa. 1980). Manion convinced the producers that they should have the reigning world champ and so Howard was given the call and he accepted.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Ontario's Turkey

Sorry to be a bit Ontario-centric today, but with the Regional playdowns complete, most of the field for the Ontario final is complete. Two spots remain through Challenge Rounds, events, which I think are past their expiry date, as you can read in this previous post.
The usual suspects have managed to make it to the TSC Stores Ontario final (I’ve still yet to be in a TSC Store although I did see one while driving somewhere on the weekend). Glenn Howard got a bye for winning the Tim Hortons Brier last year and he’ll be the favourite, no doubt.
Wayne Middaugh had to take a longer route than planned, getting in through the B-side. What’s really the amazing story for me was Bob Turcotte, who knocked off Middaugh in the A-final to earn a berth in Waterloo. Bob, I believe is 96 years old. Or maybe it just seems like that. Consider this – last time he played in the Brier, it was sponsored by Macdonald Tobacco. Yup, he played in the last Brier that didn’t have a playoff, back in 1979. Thing is, he’s remained competitive through all the years.
Back when I was still actually throwing rocks in anger, we played him in the final of the Bacardi and managed to beat him. And that was a long time ago, I thought.
But this year, Turcotte represented Ontario in the Canadian mixed and lost in the final. He’s already been a Canadian champion several times over, winning the 1996, ‘97 and 2000 national senior crown.
Now he’s going back to the provincial men’s final. What a year for Turkey.
Back to the field. Peter Corner is there and with a relatively “experienced” team of John Base, Phil Loevenmark and Paul Moffatt. They could threaten if they get on a roll and Base’s knee holds up.
The rest of the field is made up of less experienced teams which could threaten but it would certainly be an upset if they won – not that there haven’t been upsets at the Ontario finals and the Brier over the years.

Monday, January 7, 2008

New Globe Column

My new Globe and Mail column on the MCA and Energizer bonspiels is here.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Playdown formats vary widely

This weekend, regional play gets underway in Ontario with teams battling in four different competitions to fill eight spots at the provincial final. Glenn Howard gets a bye directly to the Ontario final, thanks to winning the Brier and worlds last year. So he and the boys jetted over to Scotland for an event in Perth. Lucky guys.
The Ontario playdowns used to be a fairly logical system of qualifying teams to the provincial final. These days, I’m not so sure. The system has club, zone and regional play to qualify eight teams and then in normal years, two more teams are added through two last-chance bonspiels called the Challenge Round. It’s that last part that I think needs to go. In its place, I’d put the defending Ontario champion and the top team not otherwise qualified, from the Ontario Curling Tour. (this year, that would be Kirk Ziola).
The benefits are obvious. You get the defending champion who most years will have some recognition which allows organizers to use for marketing. And the Tour winner comes from more than just one weekend of curling. The team would generally be a better caliber than the Challenge Round winner.
Having said that, it provides no second chance for any squad that loses out in the playdowns and on more than one occasion in the past, Russ Howard won his way to the provincials via the Challenge Round.
What’s also mystifying is just how many different playdown formats there are in place. For instance, in Northern Ontario, they’ve just gone to a 16-team provincial final. That seems like an awful lot of teams who have to travel ungodly distances to play down. Sorry to say this but many of the 16 teams wouldn’t have a sniff. There just isn’t the depth in Northern Ontario. Heck, there isn’t that much depth in just about any province. I guess there is something to be said for experience, however. A young team might learn a great deal about the playdown process.
Manitoba seems to be on the right road by allowing the Tour winner (it’s Stoughton this year) a spot although figuring out all the spots is still confusing to me. Seems like there are about 16 different ways to get in.
I think this is in many ways, one of curling’s problems – too much reliance on tradition. Let’s keep doing things this way because that’s the way we’ve always done them.
I’m sure there are other examples of this in other provinces. I’d love to hear them.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Wendorf's world; MCA down yet again

I had occasion to send an e-mail to Keith Wendorf today and I got to thinking that there’s probably no one in the world who has curled in more places and traveled more miles in the name of curling. Not bad for a kid from Don Mills, Ont.
I have only met Keith a handful of times, but I’ve always enjoyed it. He’s a decent, down-to-earth guy with a quiet passion for the game. And what a resume. The guy has been a world-class player, coach, official and now development officer. Has anyone done more? Hey, he was even the guy who tackled that streaker with the rubber chicken on his pecker at the Olympics.
When you think about it, he might be the most important person in recent curling history, having opened up the game in so many markets.
Where have all the curlers gone in Manitoba? They’re certainly not in the grand old Manitoba Bonspiel. As the Winnipeg Free Press reported, the historical event that was instrumental in starting the Brier has just 304 entries, way down from the 438 that started just a year ago. That’s a sad reflection on curling, not just in Manitoba, but across the country. Most events are down and it’s not so much the lack of curlers, I don’t think, as it is the lack of curlers who want to play in these types of events. The big City of Toronto bonspiel, that is still best known to most people as the Canada Life although it’s sponsored by Johnston Controls, struggles with its entries too. Yet curling clubs across the city are jammed. What gives? Perhaps the fact that folks just can’t commit to playing for a week or two straight. We’re all just too damn busy.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Globe Column

That new Globe & Mail column on Kevin Martin finally made it into the papers. You can find it here.