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.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Scotties Weekend Observations

Observations after the opening weekend of the Scotties, albeit from television:

* Kelly Scott doesn’t seem to be firing on all cylinders, does she? I heard a stat on television during last night's game that said all of last year, her team only had eight points stolen on it. Then they give up six in one game against Ontario and three more to Saskatchewan last night. However, count this squad out at your own peril.

* Does the ice seem to be bordering on ridiculous? The rocks are finishing hard, almost too hard. This could get ugly.

* I have a new name to add to my list of all time great Callers of the Sweep. That’s a list of people who have exceptionally distinctive voices when the yell for sweeping, so much so that you think you're sweeping for your life. The list includes John Kawaja (perhaps because I had to listen to it for so many years), Richard Hart and now Amy Nixon. Even when you’re not watching the Alberta game, you can hear her call. When she yells, you get the idea that if you don’t sweep, the arena is going to fall down – there’s that much intensity in her voice.

* It wouldn’t be a curling event in Saskatchewan if there wasn’t a Bobby Corman sighting. Murray McCormick stated in his fine blog that he was in the crowd last night. Let the games begin.

* The Canada Cup is leaving Kamloops and heading for Yorkton. Is that a move up? Down? Sideways? Where is Yorkton anyway?

* The Ontario-Manitoba match this morning has the potential to be the most entertaining game of the week (unless they meet in the playoffs, of course). Two women’s teams unafraid to mix it up.

* Alberta might be the only unbeaten team so far, but it’s had a softer schedule than the other front runners. Let's see where the team is after a few more games.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Scotties Commercials

After one day in the books of play at the Scotties, there is a lot to write about. For instance, I could talk about Manitoba winning two games and looking very solid. Or I could talk about Ontario stealing six points on Team Canada. Or I could talk about how mystifying the play of Kelly Scott was or how I think that as Jeanna Schraeder (or Jenna Shrader as I called her in yesterday's Globe) goes, so goes Team Canada.
Instead, I’m going to talk about something really riveting – the commercials. Yes, while watching Ontario-Team Canada yesterday afternoon, I was once again floored by the commercials on a curling broadcast. Here’s what I mean:
* Curling is a sort of self-propagating business, isn’t it? I mean who would buy all the commercial time if there were no future events? Yesterday, there were commercials for next year’s Scott and the Continental Cup. There were probably others, too, but I think they all started to run together. Curling must be the only sport where that happens.

* OK, somebody has to tell those people at Strauss just how horrible their ads are. I was at a friend’s house yesterday and when she saw that commercial for the first time, she started laughing. She seriously thought it was supposed to be a joke, sort of a Rick Mercer thing. That was the one that concludes with Colonel Saunders peddling that three-wheeled golf cart. I’m sure the folks at Strauss are great and goodness knows they’ve been backing curling for a long time, but these ads can’t actually help them sell any of those heart drops, can they? (And do you think Randy Ferbey really takes those? Maybe he drops them into his beer.)

* Is it just me or do the same ads come on at every break? That likely means the CCA’s sponsorship guys haven’t been able to sell all the inventory (so clients get their ads run again and again; it’s called bonusing) or the clients have only one ad. Methinks it’s probably the former.

* The best ad, by far, is the Scotties one where the clerks sweep the woman’s shopping cart up to the check out. I like that one, at least I did the first 47 times I saw it.

* What was that ad I saw in the ice on the sheets? I think it said Saskatchewan Tourism. Isn’t that an oxymoron?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Today's Globe Column on Schmirler

Today's Globe column on Sandra Schmirler is here.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Scotties Thoughts

Scotties (I’m still calling it the Scott) TOH gets started tomorrow – a couple of thoughts and a prediction.

• Kruger Products, the sponsor, is a remarkable outfit. This summer, I played in a golf tournament out at Fox Harb’r that was a fund-raiser for the Sandra Schmirler Foundation. I met a few of the high mucky-mucks with the company, specifically John McClelland and Matt Blixt. All I can say is these guys are all class. They poured a great deal of money into that event and I know they do the same for the TOH. Every event should be so lucky as to have sponsors like this. They put their money and support behind the event because it’s the right thing to do. Yes, it fits with the organization’s corporate strategy, but they are also tremendous corporate citizens, better than any company I know. Good on Kruger.

• About this time of year, I hear all sorts of talk about a) the lack of aggressiveness by the women; b) the shrill yelling when calling sweeping and c) the hotness factor of some of the women. So dealing with them in order . . .

A) Lack of aggressiveness – yup, the women play a more conservative game than the men, to be sure. But I think much of that is predicated on the physical inability to throw the high hard one. If you’re going to have lots of rocks in play, you almost have to be able to move granite and if you can’t throw it hard enough to do that, then there’s no sense in playing that way. Still, there is a happy medium and I think the women who dare to take chances are usually the ones that win. Having said that, I wouldn’t necessarily include Kelly Scott in that group. She plays a smart game and one that allows her to win, but it’s not exactly the stuff of Martin or Howard. Jennifer Jones and Sherry Middaugh would be the two that I think aren’t afraid to mix it up.

B) The Shrill Yelling – Yup, they yell and once they start, they don’t seem to stop, do they? It seems that there has to be a constant verbal indication to sweep. It’s as if the third is saying, “if I don’t keep making noise here, they’ll stop sweeping.” I remember one year in Calgary a local radio station had a contest where it ran some sound from a porn movie and sound from the Scotties and had callers try to guess which was which.

C) There are some lookers it the field and there’s nothing wrong with that, is there? Hey, for years at the Brier the WAGS (wives and girlfriends) used to put out a rating of the guys butts. I think turn-about is fair play, right guys?

• Do you think the folks in Regina are over the top with this field? It’s as deep as it gets and if this doesn’t draw them out, then not much will.
• I’m sorry, but I don’t get the Hearti-gras thing. Can someone explain it to me?

So, after all that, here are my predictions for the week.
Page Teams: Manitoba, Ontario, Alberta, PEI
Finalists: Manitoba, Ontario
Winner: Manitoba

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ferbey-Martin and rivalries

Kevin Koe’s struggles against teams named Ferbey or Martin continued last night with a loss to Ferbey. The Ferbster now meets Martin tonight in a battle for the first qualifier.
When I interviewed Koe about a month ago, he said his record against the two teams wasn’t all that hot and it showed again last night. Of course not many teams have a good record against those two teams, so Koe’s in good company.
So the folks in AB get another round in the Martin vs. Ferbey battle. This year, of course, Martin has been the better team as Ferbey’s mediocre (for them anyway) play continues. Al Cameron had an interesting thought at his blog (and great reports from Spruce Grove), that perhaps the Ferbey rink is at or past its best-before date. Every team seems to have a shelf life, that’s for sure. You can only go at the pace required for success for so long. Real-life suddenly starts to stare you in the eye and relationships can become frayed when you consider that most top competitive curlers see more of each other than they do of their spouses or girl/boyfriends (or both – hey what happens on the WCT, stays on the WCT!), at least in the winter months.
To be honest, the Ferbey Four have lasted longer than most teams at the top of the heap and a win at the provincial final would make most people forget about the previous months of the 07-08 season. They are good enough that if the fire ignites, then they can roll through anyone.
So tonight it’s Ferbey-Martin. Cameron states that this is arguably the best rivalry in the history of the sport and he might be right. This one is nasty on the ice and not much better off of it, especially between the two skips. There’s certainly no love loss here.
Other great rivalries? The only one in my mind that comes close to Ferbey-Martin is Howard-Werenich. For a long time, those two guys didn’t like each other either, and it was pretty much team deep, but those hard feelings have softened slightly. The big cresting lawsuit of the 1990s, brought Werenich and Howard together somewhat. Glenn Howard even played for Eddie for a year.
A few others:
* Werenich and any Swedish curler
* Werenich and the CCA
* Gushue and Stoughton -- this is a good on-ice rivalry, not much personal bad blood. Also the teams haven’t played each other enough to make if a fully blown head-knocker.
* Doran Johnson and Kevin Park – and they were on the same team!
* Canadian curling and Dave Parkes
* Kelly Scott and Jennifer Jones – although they won’t admit it.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Globe column on Olympic qualifying

My new Globe column on the Olympic qualifying process is here.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Great Quotes And Purple Heart Day

As mentioned in the past, I'm hoping to draw upon the great talents of curlers who read this blog as I write my next curling book. Today, I'm asking you to search your memory banks to come up with what you think are the best quotes in curling.
My favourite is Colleen Jones saying who women will have to curl naked in order to get some attention as a result of going back to separate world championships.
Any others strike you? Please either post them here in the comments section or drop me a line at


Today they'll hand out the Purple Hearts in Ontario and if you were a betting man/woman, you'd probably chose Glenn Howard over Peter Corner. But both are playing well. Corner has a veteran team with John Base, Phil Loevenmark and Paul Moffatt. They're unlikely to be intimidated. They won the first Page game (by the way, Glenn Howard probably likes the Page today; most of the time, he doesn't favour it) when Howard was awful. Can they beat him twice? That's a tough, tough job for sure.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Spoiler

Earlier this week, I posted about how you don’t see many upsets in provincial finals any more. Of course upsets are, by their very nature, rare, but what I think you do see often is an unheralded team knocking off a contender during the week as opposed to winning the overall title.
I mention this because at the TSC Stores Tankard – the Ontario championship – Rob Dickson, who had yet to win a game, knocked off Wayne Middaugh this afternoon. That has opened the door to massive tiebreaker possibilities and as I tap this out on the keyboard, Dickson is leading Rob Lobel. UPDATE: He won! (I'm watching this on television and an observation: Ed Werenich is a hell of an announcer. Maybe TSN should pair him with Howard!)
So Dickson is playing the role of spoiler (or in this case, because it meant a 12 a.m. draw, party spoiler). Over the years, I’ve seen some unlikely squads fill this spot. In the 1982 world championship, Al Hackner lost to Italy. In 1985, Russ Howard lost to France. And Brad Gushue was defeated by Italy at the Olympics.
Take nothing away from these teams but you just don’t expect a Hackner or a Howard or a Gushue to lose to teams from countries where the entire curling population could all fit comfortably in a min-van.
But it’s happened. And it’s continuing to happen at the Ontario finals.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

How Good is Glenn?

How freakin’ good is Glenn Howard’s team?
That’s a rhetorical question I’m sure a lot of curling teams have asked over the last few years. But the reigning world champs are cutting a pretty wide swath through the Ontario championships this week. Not only is the team 6-0 so far – they haven’t even gone 10 ends yet.
Now with the exception of Peter Corner, they haven’t faced the meat of the meat of the field yet. They still have games against Middaugh (Thursday night) and Harris (Friday night) along with the upstart Lobel squad (currently 4-2) on Friday afternoon.
But really, these guys are something else. When you rate the top teams of the last 20 years, I think you have to start making a case to put this rink near the top of that list. For me, the best team I’ve ever seen was probably Russ Howard’s team that included Glenn, Middaugh and Corner. Ferbey also has to be in there too. And my own list would probably have Pat Ryan’s ’88-’89 rinks and Werenich’s 1983 squad (although that’s outside of my 20-year window).
All of these teams just made it look so easy it was silly. Glenn’s doing that now. Right now I’m not wondering if he’s going to win the Ontario title – I’m wondering if anyone can last 10 ends with them.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Small Chance for an Upset

I’m away in Southern California on my other business (that would be golf) and haven’t had a chance to keep up on the goings-on in provincial championships across the province of which most are being played out this week.
However, I’m always amazed at how few big upsets there are these days in provincial playdowns. In many cases, especially with the bigger provinces, it comes down to one of two or three teams. The last time there was a true surprise winner in Ontario was probably 1996 when Bob Ingram of Ridgetown stunned the field to capture the title.
These days, the fields are generally filled with a few sure things and then teams which are not quite at the same level. To me, it’s really a sign that there’s a definitive split between the very good teams and the good teams. A few years ago, the split was between good club teams and elite teams, but now that’s gone further.
Of the rinks in the Ontario championships, Middaugh, Howard, Harris and Corner are the only ones that have played anything of significance further than a few hours from their home. You can almost bet that the title will be won by one of those four teams. In fact, I’d put a wager on one of the first two (despite the 1-2 start by Middaugh). OK, I’ll bet Howard.
It doesn’t mean the other seven rinks aren’t capable and talented, just that they aren’t as exacting or consistent as these ones. The ability to play at a very high level over the entire competition is not there. It would be surprise to see one win. You can really find the same in most of the bigger provinces. Some of the smaller provinces, I think, are more open to an upset. Some don’t even have definitive favourites. But in most cases, you can find the winners from a small group.
What these rinks hope for is to make it to the playoffs. That gives them, at the very least, a chance (I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that in an interview). In a one-game scenario, anything can happen.
There have been some cases of this happening. Ingram, as I mentioned. Perhaps the biggest one was Mark Dacey beating Randy Ferbey at the Brier. Any others come to mind?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Friday, February 1, 2008

Trials Qualifying Changes

I’ve had several e-mails since I posted about Brad Gushue’s comments on the Olympic qualifying, most agreeing that the process is complicated but also pointing out that at least it puts the emphasis on the right spot – the Tour and the Grand Slams.
A few folks were fearful that if there was another change to the system after 2010, it would go back to favouring Season of Champions events or perhaps – egad! – putting a regional qualifying system in place.
I can’t profess to knowing the perfect system for determining Canada’s Olympic teams, but I do know that if you want to get the top teams at the Trials, then the best way to do it is by utilizing the Tour and the Grand Slams. That’s where the best curling is, that’s where the toughest competition is and that’s where the most points should be.
That doesn’t mean the Brier or Scotties winners shouldn’t qualify; they definitely should. But any sort of regional qualifying system – which a couple of people suggested -- is about the worst thing that the CCA\COC could do. A process where winners are selected by geography rather than talent will not necessarily deliver the best teams to the Trials. Even increasing CTRS points for things like winning a province, is not a good idea. Of course if you’re a good team in a not so deep area, you’d love it.
I do think there should be some way for a darkhorse team (a la Mike Harris in 1997) to make the qualifying. Obviously they’d have to play well but there should at least be that opportunity, which means you might want something like Ontario’s Challenge Round, a last-chance shot of some sort.
Somewhere in all of this is a decent qualifying system. I’ll leave it to the tall thinkers to figure out the details.