Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Weeksy Awards

My take on the last year, as it appeared in the Globe and Mail.
The Annual Weeksy Awards.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Curling Books Under The Tree

This is the first year in a while that I haven’t had a new book released or one still on the market, and that was as much by my choice as anything as writing books really takes a lot out of you. It’s also the first time in a while that I can recall that there haven’t been any new curling books out. Colleen Jones’ book Curling Secrets was released last February and that appears to be the most recent.

In any case, if you’re trying to pick up a book for someone you know curls, here are my top picks, excluding my own handcrafted tomes and any instruction- or fitness-based books. You can probably find all of these somewhere through the internet.

1. Burned By The Rock – Jean Sonmor
In my humble opinion, the best curling book ever written. It’s a bit dated these days but it follows the lives of the top curlers of the day, which was the early ‘90s. Great stories about Hackner, Werenich and Howard really peeled the cover off what was going on in the competitive scene. A very entertaining read.

2. Open House: Canada and the Magic of Curling
Scott Russell crafted a great look at the game and why it’s so appealing to Canadians. I love how he tries to expose the attraction of the game, something tough to understand for an outsider.

3. The Roaring Game
Author Doug Clark rambles through some interesting topics of note in the game, covering off everything from Shorty Jenkins to the business of the sport. I like his style and approach in this one.

4. Canada Curls
The late, great Doug Maxwell probably knew more about the sport than anyone and put together a great opus on its history. It’s done in a light manner and tells some of the great tales of the game that only Doug could deliver.

5. Sandra Schmirler
The heart-wrenching story of the Olympic gold medalist who passed away far too early in life. Perry Lefko wrote a beautiful book here that will move you even if you never knew Schmirler the Curler.

6. Curling
Warren Hansen’s coffee table style book is one you can sit down with and flip pages getting engrossed in the pictures and words.

7. The Black Bonspiel
W.O. Mitchell’s great Faustian story of a curler. I’ve read this one so many times the pages are getting worn out. Great fun and truly a Canadian legend.

Friday, December 17, 2010

My take on the McEwen Rink

Here's a story that took a little while to get into the paper -- you might notice a funny post-date reference near the end -- but is my take on the success of the McEwen rink.

these guys really seem to be enjoying themselves. Interesting, during the interview with Mike, I asked him with his financial success so far this year if he' treated himself to anything. He said no but it was going to be a very good Christmas for some people near to him. So if you're expecting a present from McEwen, expect a good one!

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Russia Affair: the coach's thoughts

I had the chance to chat with Patti Wuthrich a few days ago to get a little more detail on the Jason Gunnlaugson episode. It will appear in a Globe column, likely early next week.

Wuthrich said the entire episode was a bit of a shocker as just days before, she’d been told to get the boys visas to make the trip back to Moscow so they could go through the citizenship process. She had to break the news to them and they were, in her words, “devastated.” Apparently the news came out of nowhere. She said they “spent a fair bit of time in the bar.” That’s easy to understand when you’ve essentially just lost your job. For Tyler Forrest and Justin Richter it’s especially tough since they left good jobs to embard on this journey.

Wuthrich added that one of the biggest problems in this entire Russian episode has been communication. She says it’s almost impossible to get answers to a lot of questions she sends over adding that she’s never officially received any missive saying the Manitoba boys were fired. She was simply told that there was no citizenship awaiting them and that she should prepare the Alexey Stukalsky and Alexnandr Kozyrev, the two native-born Russians, for the Europeans and to be in Switzerland on Dec. 1. When I talked to Wuthrich, she was getting ready to take to the ice for a practice session in Gimli (yes, the two Russians are still in Gimli where they'd set up shop in preparation for the season). She did say the Russians were aware of all the press here in Canada surrounding the incident.

I asked her about the possibility that the Russians weren’t blown away by the performance of the three hired guns in the national championships where they struggled somewhat in the round-robin before easing to the title with two playoff wins. She said she had no knowledge of that but added that clearly the boys weren’t at their best in that competition’s early going, saying that sometimes you play down to the level of the competition. And let's be honest here -- it's pretty hard to imagine there's any team in Russia that is as talented as the Gunnlaugson three.

All in all, she seemed to say the entire episode was frustrating and disappointing. It's really another black mark for Russian curling which always seems to be like a hose on full blast without anyone holding it. At the Olympics, the coaches of the women's team switched lineups as frequently as a kid in a Baskin-Robbins store changes his ice cream choice. It didn't seem to make much sense.

Neither does this latest move.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Dominion Makes Dreams Come True

Just like this article in the Guardian points out, what the Dominion has done is give a lot of avid curlers a chance to experience the highest of highs.
Methinks this could be just about the most important event on the CCA's docket these days, one that might help grow the game even more than the Brier or the Scotties.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Dominion Underway

I note, with a tinge of envy, that the Dominion Curling Club Championship is underway in Charlottetown.

I say envy because I was a participant in this event after winning my club championship last spring and had visions of being on the ice in my favourite city in the world. OK, so I dream big.

The Dominion, in just its second year of operation, has become one of the most enjoyable and successful events in Canadian curling. It tapped into a great vein of curler appreciation and when the first national championship went off with so much success, word spread quickly. Now according to the effervescent Leigh Armstrong, who administers the event (among the Dominion’s many other curling championships) on Dominion’s behalf, told me that entries were up slightly this year, but I’d bet awareness has grown exponentially.

In fact, if there is any problem with this event, that’s it: it’s so popular that the boundaries of who should be eligible are stretching because so many curlers want in. So who is supposed to play? Here’s what appears on the Ontario Curling Association web site about the rules and spirit of the event:

The Dominion Curling Club Championship gives grass roots curling teams from every corner of the country an opportunity to compete in provincial and national level competition. Club curlers are those who enjoy the sport recreationally, supporting club leagues on a regular basis from September to April.
The event is formulated for true club curlers, not elite, past or present. We want to support ordinary curlers and the development of curling across Canada.

The rules also state the following:

Each team will be allowed only one player who has played in a Men’s, Women’s or Seniors’ provincial event in the current or previous year, or participated in a Grand Slam event in the current or previous year.

The Dominion also has a provision to allow individual associations to adopt more restrictive policies if it sees fit.

There were no real problems in the zone playdown in which I competed. There was one notable curler who two weeks later played in the final of a Grand Slam event, but the rest of his team qualified under the rules as stated. (and we beat him anyway!)

At the provincial final though, there were teams that were regulars on the Ontario Curling Tour, which in my mind kind of goes against the spirit of what the Dominion is all about. I don’t know if they were true club curlers but it didn’t seem so. They were more elite curlers than club curlers. So under the rules, they qualified, but under the spirit?

And that’s the question: when does a really good club curler cross over to become a competitive or elite curler? And who is going to make that decision? Tough questions, for sure.

Now this fine line isn’t new by any means. Any Toronto curler who played in the big City of Toronto bonspiel, sponsored for a century by Canada Life and now by Goldline, is aware of it. For years that spiel tried to weed out or limit the top teams from entering. In many cases, what happened was the big players, such as Ed Werenich of Paul Savage, bought in and would skip teams of knee-sliders and it would be one fun week for all. But there will always be those with some sour grapes who think someone is over-qualified.

This probably isn’t a big enough concern to be worried about just yet. The Dominion is off to a great start and is a truly tremendous event. But it’s that way because it’s for the average curler out there, giving him and her a chance to play in a national championship. Here's hoping it stays that way.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Russians chop Gunnlaugson

It was fun while it lasted.

Jason Gunnlaugson’s Russian adventure is apparently all but done after the Russian Curling Federation pulled the offer it made to the Winnipeg curler and his two mates, Justin Richter and Tyler Forrest.

The three, along with a couple of Russian curlers, won the national championship a few weeks ago and were set to represent the country at the Europeans next week. But on the weekend, rumours leaked out and I had a note from Jason late last night that the deal was pretty much dead. Apparently it all stemmed from the requirement that the three become Russian citizens before the European championships.

According to a story in the Winnipeg Sun, the arrangement fell apart when the three refused to renounce their Canadian citizenship, a move that would have made obtaining Russian citizenship quicker. They wanted dual citizenship but that couldn’t be arranged in the time frame. Hard to blame the guys, especially since they were merely hired guns.

Here’s Gunnlaugson quoted in the Sun:

"It’s disappointing,” Gunnlaugson said. “Most people, when they lose their job they think OK, well maybe now I’ll do what I really dreamed of doing. Well, that was what we dreamed of doing, going to the rink every day and working hard at getting better at the game.
“You couldn’t ask for a more fun job for the three of us. It’s obviously a big letdown, but s--- happens in life and I’m sure we’ll all make the best of it.”

You can read the full article here.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tuckers won't die!

One of the more interesting topics discussed last week with Ray Turnbull and Terry Braunstein was whether or not the tuck delivery was going to die out. Of course, Manitoba is just about the only place where it’s still used and according to the two Winnipeggers, there’s no chance it’s going away soon.

My favourite description of the slide was coined by former Toronto Star curling writer Tom Slater who called them “toe-sliding bottom feeders.”

Most of the top young teams are tuckers – McEwen, Gunnlaugson, et al – and Turnbull attributed it to the youngsters following in the footsteps of the now old(er) stars such as Burtnyk and Stoughton.

It’s sort of strange that Manitoba is pretty much the only place where people use this style of delivery. It’s almost as if there’s some tribe there and they speak a different language that no one else understands. No, wait, that would be Newfoundland and Labrador.

In any case, judging by the success over the years and of late, it shows the tuckers aren’t at any apparent disadvantage.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Curling with legends

On Friday, I had the thrill of a lifetime. I spared two games in the Granite Men's Invitational playing with Alf Phillips Jr., Ray Turnbull and Terry Braunstein, all Brier winners, all legends, all with great stories. As I explained to a golfing friend of mine, this was like playing a round with Hogan, Snead and Nelson.
We split our two games, winning the first against Gareth Watson, the bonspiel's chairman, then losing in the second to John Francis and his Thornhill gang. We had lots of chances in the second, but curled pretty much like dogs, taking nothing away from Francis and his squad.
What was remarkable about these two games was just how competitive these three of these legends still are. All three are in their 70s and all want to make every shot. Now I wouldn't say they slip into the hack with the greatest of ease, nor is sweeping a priority with them. But they all still slide pretty well and you can see how they get mad when they miss shots. Of course it all stays on the ice and once the game is over, the stories started flying. And oh can these guys tell tales.
Turnbull and Braunstein, who have been curling together longer than I've been alive, can go on for hours. Alf also has his fair share too. For a loudmouth like me, it was tough to get a word in edgewise.
By the way, Turnbull says he hasn't yet started to miss the broadcasting. He thinks he might when it comes around to the Season of Champions time, but as he told me while we were nursing our beers, "It was time."
I couldn't stick around, but Vic Rauter came in later and served as emcee as the three entertained the crowd at the stag dinner on Friday night, part of what is a pretty remarkable bonspiel the Granite puts on. If you've never been to the Granite Club -- home of the very first Brier, then you're missing something.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

New Globe Column: Cheryl Bernard and Sponsors

I always like talking to Cheryl Bernard, one of the truly nice and genuine people in the sport. I chatted with her last week before she and her rink stepped on to the ice for the Red Deer spiel and penned this column in the Globe.

Monday, November 8, 2010

New Brooms: The Sky Is Falling

Ever since The Calgary Herald's All Cameron broke the news of the Super Broom Head, there has been a general sense of The Sky Is Falling from various parts. In fact, it’s almost laughable what’s transpired from icemakers and equipment dealers. This entire story has been messed up since Day 1 with all sorts of incorrect facts.

Let’s back up just a minute. A year and a half ago, some researchers at the University of Western Ontario developed a broom head that was much more effective than previous models. The technology was somewhat simple: a piece of reflective material was put between the face and the head, which caused the heat generated by sweeping to reflect back. More heat means the rocks go further and curl less.

Now contrary to what has been written in several places (here and here, for example,) this technology was not developed using Own the Podium funds, the program that was created to help Canadian Olympic athletes gain an advantage heading into the Vancouver Games. The folks at Western had been doing curling-related testing prior to the OTP funding and this was developed as part of that. OTP funding was used later in other research that helped the Martin and Bernard rinks win gold and silver respectively.

The Canadian teams did get to try the new heads and found that while effective for the women (who used them in Vancouver), it wasn’t so for the men. Ben Hebert and Marc Kennedy were so strong already, they found they would rip the pebble off the ice after three ends.

Earlier this year, Balance Plus signed an exclusive license on the patent for the broom heads with Western and is planning to bring them out very soon.

To the best of my knowledge, at the time of my writing, only two teams in Canada have these special heads: Bernard’s rink and that of Dale Matchett, who works for Balance Plus.

And that’s important to note because already there has been a remarkable amount of negative press surrounding these. Here’s a blog that’s on the Goldline web site that essentially says these brooms are going to be bad news for curling clubs and icemakers. Of course it’s important to note that Goldline is a competitor to Balance Plus so this is sort of crapping on the other guy, in my opinion. (Full disclosure: Balance Plus is an advertiser in the Ontario Curling Report of which I am a part owner, Goldline is not.)

I also spoke to a noted icemaker over the weekend who was similarly wary of the new brooms and wondered if it wasn’t time for something such as the Ontario Curling Association to establish some rules.

The general consensus of these folks is that the new brooms will flatten the ice by removing the pebble earlier in the game.
The point is that as of this moment, how these brooms affect the ice when being used by anyone not named Hebert and Kennedy or Laing and Savill is unknown. Matchett reported that when his rink used them, there was no noticeable ice deterioration. Now part of that was that the effectiveness of the brooms allowed them to use a less abrasive cloth on the face, which may be more of the problem than the heat retention.

In the limited testing that was done, elite men’s teams only managed an extra 30 per cent effectiveness with the new heads. I say only because the women saw a 100-per-cent increase.

Where this would seem to bring the most benefit would be to club curlers, men and women. And that to me, is a good thing. But the truth is no one really knows and until they do, everyone should just sit back and relax. This could turn out to be a huge benefit for average players. But until we know for sure, I’d say it’s tremendously unfair to be weighing in.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Broom technology

Nice scoop by Al Cameron over at his blog about the release of the top secret broom technology from last year and the purchase of and exclusive license for the patent on that technology by Balance Plus.

You can read most of the info about the broom in Al's work but a few follow-up notes here that I gleaned after talking to Lino Di Iorio, the guy who started Balance Plus.

In Al's column it pointed out that the top men's teams weren't able to use the brush heads because they'd simply rip the ice up. But Balance Plus is already testing new materials that are less abrasive but will still be be more effective thanks to the technology. That will allow these elite men's teams to use the brooms. Of course the vast majority of players will be able to make use of the technology as it is presently.

Second, DiIorio said the testing that created this technology was not part of the Own the Podium program and didn't receive funds from that. It was actually a separate testing and development project undertaken by the University of Western Ontario. It was independent of the research the same group was asked to conduct for Own the Podium which was also on sweeping.

But no matter. . . the bottom line is that these brooms will make a significant difference for most curlers. Can't wait to test it out!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

When Canada loses

Whenever Canada loses a big curling match, the finger-pointing and the blame game goes full-speed. Despite the fact the world is no longer Canada's to conquer at ease in curling, fans in this country seem to think Canada should win every time, all the time. Canadians start to question strategy calls and the talents of certain players. The suggest this person be replaced or that person is overrated. Everyone seems to have the answer as to what happened.
It's what Canadians do, unfortunately.
But you know what? Last night, Jennifer Jones just got beat, plain and simple. They didn't play as well as the Scots. Same thing in the Olympics for Cheryl Bernard, who admittedly had a great chance to win. But probably not enough credit went to the Swedes, who did win.
Give credit where credit's due. Scotland played well. Sweden played well. Canada lost and will do so again.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Three 10s in a day -- never again!

Yesterday, I played in the zone playdowns for the Ontario Silver Tankard. This is one of the oldest competitions in Canadian curling, dating back to 1875.It's also a double-rink competition -- meaning two teams from one club play two teams from another and the total score of the two games decides the winner.
It's a really fun event in which to play, with the strategy changing from normal games.
There were only five teams entered in our zone, which was certainly disappointing. But it also created an awkward draw. And, as is the case in most of my curling career, I managed to get the bad end of the draw, meaning we needed to play three games to win. That's three 10-end games in one day.
We managed to win the first two, a victory over an entry from our own club and then one over a team from Oakville. We finished up with a match against a team from St. George's.
That contest was a wild one. In our match, we were up six playing the last end. Our teammates on the other sheet were down seven, meaning we were down one. Under normal circumstances, we wouldn't even be playing the last ends of these games. As it turned out, we dropped one in our game, meaning our teammates needed to take two for an extra end. A last-shot, raise-double attempt failed and the St. George's team moved on.
OK, a couple of points. The last time I played three 10s in one day I was still sweeping with corn. Three 10-enders is way too much for anyone these days. I think the Ontario Curling Association should drop all competitions that don't lead to a national championship to eight ends. I can tell you my body this morning would gladly vote for that. I am sore from top to bottom and I am in pretty decent shape compared to the rest of the guys who were on the ice.
Second, playing in these competitions is great fun. It's too bad that more people don't go into them. I think curlers should experience this stuff and the fun of playing a competition like the Silver Tankard. But it would seem to make a lot more sense to move something like this to the start of the year rather than the end. By this time of year many people are a) tired of curling; b) playing in their club championships; and c) committed with March break and Easter.

p.s. -- a word of congrats to Bill Duck, who was skipping one of the St. George's teams in the competition. I've known Bill since junior days and he's a guy who's made his life all about curling, running the operations at St. G's both from an ice-making standpoint and a pro shop. For the last year and more, Bill grew his hair to great lengths so that it could be donated to make wigs for cancer patients. He also raised a ton of money along the way.
Curling needs more people like Bill Duck and charity does too. Congrats to Bill.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Port As Wide As A Beaver

OK, I had to laugh – very loudly – at this.

I received a release from the World Curling Federation via CP’s Bill Graveland, on the Paralympics. He noted this paragraph in it:

Italy shocked the host country Canada this evening by a score of 8-7. Canada looked to have taken control of a close game when they stole 2 points in the 5th end to take the lead until skip Andrea Tabanelli of Italy answered with 4 points in the 6th end. Canada tied the score going into the last end and things were looking good for before Tabanelli got a great take out with his last rock through a port as wide as a beaver to become shot rock and win the game.

I absolutely love that reference – as wide as a beaver! Make your own rude or not rude comment!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What's Next for the Brier?

A lot of people bristle at the idea of changes to the Tim Hortons Brier. Despite what some may think, however, the Brier has been in a constant state of flux since it was first held back in 1927.

For instance, teams have been added and teams have been subtracted over the years. There were teams from Toronto and Montreal at the first five Briers. And at that inaugural event, there was no team from Manitoba, B.C., Alberta, PEI, Newfoundland and Labrador (which wasn’t even part of Canada) or the Territories.

For the record, Northern Ontario was there at the first shootout.

The number of ends has dropped from 14 down to 10. Rules have been added and etiquette changed. In the early days of the Brier it was considered improper for the skips to walk down the centre of the sheet on their way to the far end to start the first end. Warm-ups weren’t allowed at all. There was no free-guard zone or electronic hog line sensors.

The point is that those who say the Brier should stay with tradition really should define what that tradition is.

Theses days there is talk – I stress talk – about all three Territories getting separate entries, about adding a Team Canada and about dropping Northern Ontario.

Warren Hansen told me he thinks what might end up happening is a relegation system where the last place teams drop down into a challenge for final two spots in the field. He also said Northern Ontario won’t be dropped.

I’m not a guy who supports Team Canada. I think one of the best parts of the Brier is that the defending champions have to earn their way to the final. Some get byes part of the way, which I understand, but I think you should have to play to get back to the Brier.

Right now, to me, the biggest problem with the Brier is the inequity of the top teams and the bottom teams. The haves and the have-nots are growing in separation although from time to time you get a have-not team turning into a have team – case in point this year is Northern Ontario. But Alberta and Ontario this year were really superior to the team from the Territories. And even PEI and NB and NS. Some of those, of course, have been haves in years gone by.

So how do you fix that? Maybe you don’t. Maybe you just accept it and hope that one of the have-nots becomes a have.

Are there any other problems that people see?

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Brier final for the ages

It was easily one of the best Brier finals in the last 20 years, filled with great shot-making, momentum changes and two stories for the teams involved.

I’ve been to just about every Brier since the late 1980s and I’d put this third on my list of great games. I still think Dacey-Ferbey was the best and Hackner-Ryan was also something else. This fits right with those two and, in some ways was actually a better overall game. Hackner-Ryan in 1985 was actually a pretty boring game until The Shot.

And the television audience obviously thought so as it was the largest Brier audience on record with 1.6 million watching the game and the peak audience reaching 2.5 million.

Heading into the playoffs, I never thought anyone had a chance against Howard. But when I saw Koe play the semi, I knew it would be a really close game.

In Koe and his team, you have an amazing team that was just looking for a breakout.
The squad was far too good to keep posting second-place finishes and never making it to the Brier.

Kevin is also a very genuine person. He’s not the best quote in the business, but his honesty usually trumps his quiet tone. And as he gets more in front of the press, I’m sure he’ll improve.

What’s interesting in all of this is that, according to Koe, he’s still not certain this team will be together next year in the current lineup. I asked him after the semi-final match and he said that win or lose, they would talk about what they’d do next year after the season was over. There is some talk that one or more of the players are going to choose family time over curling time. If that’s true, what a way to go out.

As for Howard, I can’t imagine what’s going through their heads. Two big losses in one year and three Brier losses in five years. Howard himself is three for nine in finals.

Now getting to nine Brier finals is pretty remarkable, an amazing achievement. But it was clear the guys were hurting after and who wouldn’t be. I think losing a close one might be a bit easier to take than they way they lost the Trials’ final. They played really well and I’m sure if they had to do over again, they’d re-think the sixth end.

Howard, Richard Hart, Brent Laing, Craig Savill, Steve Bice and coach Scott Taylor are all really classy guys.

Moments after losing the game, Howard came over to meet with the press – it’s always one of the toughest moments for the runner-up – and he was great, as always. He didn’t mince words, saying losing the two big ones this year was crappy.

Overall, this Brier was a good one on the ice. Off of it, I don’t think the fans showed up as the organizers would have liked. Just over 100,000 came through the turnstiles and we’ll have to see what the financials look like. Certainly the Olympic hangover was part of the problem but also it shows a number of problems for future Briers. The first is the great job TSN does which makes it easy to stay home and watch. The second is the aging fan base. The third is a nine-day event doesn’t really make a lot of sense from a sporting business standpoint.

Those are issues to be dealt with down the road. For now, curling can bask in glory of a sensational game that will be remembered for a long time.


I had a couple of e-mails asking why my story in the newspaper had no quotes in it. That’s because the game ended right on my deadline – past it, actually – and so as soon as the final rock stopped, I had to send in the story (and yes, I had a separate one written with Howard winning). The later version, with quotes, is on line and you can read it here.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

1-2 Page Game

The first question I asked Glenn Howard last night in the scrum after his 1-2 page win over Brad Jacobs was a simple one:

“Never in doubt?”

He laughed, knowing full well that it was anything but and probably that his Ontario rink got away with one. Despite the mis-match in experience, Brad Jacobs and his Northern Ontario foursome were very impressive in the first half of the game and Howard himself was not. Howard missed three shots over two ends – a missed raise takeout, a tick on a guard while trying a thin double and a draw that came short – to really stake the team from the Soo to a good lead.

But it seemed to me that the Northern Ontario boys became a little nervous (Jacobs said they weren’t) at just where they suddenly found themselves – a couple of ends away from a spot in the final.

I also think that Jacobs’ strategy was perhaps a little too much on the hitting side.
They chose run-backs over corner freezes a couple of times. But then again, I’m on the press bench and they’re on the ice.

In any event, they get a second berth tonight in the semi-final.

As for Howard, I think Richard Hart summed it up best when he said a bad game for Glenn is when he misses three shots. Which is true. You just always expect Glenn to make everything and when he doesn’t, you think he’s falling apart.

For me, the momentum changer in the whole game was in the sixth, when Richard Hart came through a port so narrow there was no daylight on either side of the rock. Howard was truly pumped at that shot and he and Hart high-fived – something you don’t often see from the normally cool and collected Howard.

Right now, you have to like their chances for the title. They’re playing well and when they’re not, they’re still winning. I haven’t seen anything from the other teams that makes me think they’re going to beat the Ontario foursome. We’ll see if that changes.

Friday, March 12, 2010

At the Brier, finally

After doing some golf work down at Doral, I rolled into Halifax last night in time to catch the last five ends of the Ontario-Alberta match. Here are some early observations of this Brier:

• I was stunned at Manitoba’s fall. I figured they’d be right at the top of the standings. Looks like the skipper had a tough week, which is rare for Jeff Stoughton. I didn’t see all their games (although we did manage to convince the waitress at the sports bar in Florida to pop it up on to one of the many TVs, much to the delight of the locals) but I’m sure they expected more.
• Fan support hasn’t been great here. As I tap this out, the 1-2 page game is on and there are still some noticeable gaps in the stands. I spoke with a local woman here today who is not a curler but still wasn’t even aware the Brier was on. I’m thinking that the Olympic attention curling received may have worn out people’s desire to see more. But who knows? You can make any excuse you want to justify the lack of attendance. The bottom line is the people aren’t here as you might expect.
• I was shocked to see that Northern Ontario hasn’t been in the playoffs at the Brier since 1993. Wow. That’s stunning. But this Jacobs team is impressive. I know they’ve worked exceptionally hard over the last couple of years so it’s nice to see them play well here. They’re exciting to watch and certainly aren’t afraid to throw just about any shot.
• Jacobs fine run here has also brought more attention to dropping the dual entries for Ontario and turning one into a Team Canada. Kevin Martin stirred the pot by suggesting just that. But Jacobs has been defending the region, saying that tradition should be weighed in the argument. Warren Hansen said this week that Northern Ontario won’t be dropped but a Team Canada could be added along with rinks from Nunavut and separate entries for each of the territories. It’s possible a type of relegation system might be used where the bottom teams have to play off to stay back in the main event. Stay tuned.
• Have to love the story of these eight guys here, six from Alberta and two from Saskatchewan. The guys went to the Olympics and then jumped on a train to get to Halifax, apparently drinking the bar car dry several times along the way. Here, they show up every day with a different matching outfit. Tonight for example, they have yellow shirt on and bald wigs and fake gold medals around their necks. Their shirts read: Kevin Martin look-a-like contest. And about every second end, they hold up a big sign that reads “Sociable.” They’ve become the talk of the Brier and when they walk in to the arena –fashionably late – they get a big ovation.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Those secret studies

While you enjoy the Tim Hortons Brier, a question: Now that the Olympics are over, how long before we get to see the results – and all those secrets – from the research conducted on those two studies. You remember, the one on sweeping and the one on delivery that were done at Western and Alberta respectively?

I believe the CCA said we’d find out after the Games were over.

Just asking because I could use some help with my sweeping.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Scottish championships drag on

I never could figure out this schedule. The Scottish curling championships started before the Olympics and finished after.

So before they left for Vancouver, David Murdoch and his gang managed to make it into the 3-4 page games. They’ll play Hammy McMillan while Glen Muirhead and Warwick Smith meet in the 1-2 games.

I say games because also of note – each of these rounds it best two of three.

On the women’s side Eve Muirhead plays the 1-2 round while Sarah Reid and Kay Adams meet in the 3-4.

I’m sure the Muirhead (f) and Murdoch teams are only too anxious to get back on the ice and play some more. And for Muirhead, if she wins, jump on a plane and head all the way back to Swift Current for the worlds.

I’m also not sure what’s wackier – this before-and-after national championship or the fact the page system is best of three rounds. Talk about dragging something out.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The good and bad at the Olympics

The Good and the Bad from the Olympics

Good: The ice at the Vancouver Olympic Centre. It was a little patchy at times, but otherwise held up well.

Bad: The number of seats at the VOC. Only 5,600, could have easily sold twice that.

Good: The Sky Train. What a great way to travel, especially after a few pops.

Bad: The food in the media centre. Chili and bad sandwiches. At least the diet was cheaper than Dr. Bernstein. Oh and the coffee was awful too.

Good: The Fans – loud and proud.

Bad: The National Anthem. Not the first time or the time in the final, but the 47 other times in between when people tried to sing it. Doesn’t work, sorry folks.

Good: The seven million people who watched Martin win gold. Largest curling audience in Canadian history.

Bad: The poor in-house announcers who were slated to read this long series of announcements long before anyone was in the building. What moron thought up that schedule.

Good: The amount of international attention the roaring game received.

Bad: It will probably be four years until we see a similar level of attention again.

Bad: Applauding on the press bench. A few folks from a number of different countries stood up and applauded when their teams won. That’s a no-no and makes us all look bad, medal or not.

Good: The curlers working with the media. These guys are absolute dreams compared to other sports. Lots and lots of access and great honest quotes too.

Bad: Crying kids and the red eye. Why is it whenever I decide to suck it up and take the red eye, I always sit next to a crying kid.

Good: Thomas Ulsrud, a classy guy in defeat.

Bad: The goof who blew the horn in Ulsrud’s delivery during the final game. Thank goodness the crowd let him know it was unacceptable.

Good: The number of celebs/dignitaries that came out to watch curling: Donald Sutherland, Stephen Harper, Michael Ignatieff, Mike Babcock, Kings of Norway and Sweden, former world champs John Kawaja, Rick Folk and Jon Mead.

Bad: To the best of my knowledge, not one other Team Canada athlete showed up.

Good: China fought through the nonsense to get a bronze in women’s play. When they won, they finally showed some emotion.

Bad: The U.S. finished last in both men’s and women’s. Curling needs them to be better and they should be better, plain and simple.

Good: The volunteers. They were really, genuinely friendly and helpful.

Bad: People Magazine reporter in the Team Canada press conference, moments after they’d lost the heartbreaking gold-medal game, asking Cheryl Bernard if she’d ever posed nude. Great timing for that question pal. Did you not notice she was crying?

Good: My own bed after 15 nights at a hotel.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Golden Bear

I’ve been to world championships, Briers and Scotties but I don’t think I’ve even seen such a dramatic moment as yesterday’s win by Kevin Martin.

Without being at the Games, it’s hard to understand just how much bigger everything is so when you see the gold medal won, it’s that much more impressive.

Earlier in the day, Markus Eggler and the Swiss won the bronze and to see them celebrate, you’d have thought they won gold. But that’s how these athletes feel about these medals, feel about what this is all about.

The game yesterday wasn’t Martin’s best in the first part, I didn’t think. He looked a little uptight, perhaps tense which is strange since you’d think, having been there before, that he’d be able to handle it.

But the three guys behind him were unbelievable, especially Morris who seemed to be so dialed in.

The other thing Martin had on his side was that Thomas Ulsrud and Toger Nergaard were not sharp at the start. So despite Martin’s slow start, the Norwegians were always under pressure.

I’ve covered Martin since his first Brier in 1991 and through all his wins, I’ve never seen him really overjoyed at winning, when the final shot is played. He always seems more satisfied than elated.

Not yesterday. He was letting it all out with some big yells and it was great to see.
Actually my first indication that the team had won the gold came from Marc Kennedy who stopped sweeping and started pumping his broom in the air. Ben Hebert kept sweeping right into the house and was met by John Morris who jumped into his arms.
It was a great scene.

A few other really nice moments that you didn’t see on TV. When Kennedy came into the media tribune (where the team meets us ink-stained wretches), he wanted to thank the regulars, shaking our hands. Amazing that he would think of us at such a time, I was really touched by that.

And when the Old Bear came through, the look on his face wearing that gold medal will stay with me forever. I’ve never seen him look more proud/relieved/thrilled all at once. He just looked really, really different than I’ve ever seen him.

A final note: I don’t think you could find a classier silver medal winner than Ulsrud. He was exceedingly gracious in defeat, giving the Martin team full props, almost as if he was in awe of just how good they were.

I think you’ll hear from this Norwegian team again, they are way talented.
More in the next post, but for now, it’s over to hockey.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Thoughts on the women's final

One final down and one to go. It’s been a long two weeks but the Olympic curling competition has provided some remarkable moments.

First, last night’s match between Canada and Sweden. What a crazy game and a wild finish.

It looked to me like they had things wrapped up in 10 but the team said after they hadn’t played down that spot all week. Someone sitting behind the sheet, who is a world-class curler, said she looked wide – I couldn’t tell from my angle – but the gals said after they just didn’t know the ice in that spot and were expecting more curl.

In the 11th, though, I was sort of surprised at Cheryl’s first rock. I might have played around the guard to the top 12, but that’s probably why I’m on the bench and not on the ice. If she makes the double for the win, no one is questioning any calls. And, as she admitted, it was a fairly routine shot.

Someone asked me if I’d ever seen a crazier finish to a big game and the only thing I could think of was the Bob Labonte Leap of Loss back in 1972.

From a media standpoint, most of us had our stories written about Canada winning. One writer told me he had his mouse on the send button and was just about to hit click.


After the famous Mark Dacey comeback over Ferbey, however, most curling writers have two stories in the can, ready to send the right one.

Having covered the gals for some time, you can’t help but feel for them. They are all wonderful people. The normally strong-minded Bernard was understandably in tears after the game. And she was honest with her words, saying silver was nice but it stung being so close to the gold. I’m not sure if any athletes at these Games came so close to gold without winning.

What’s interesting is that in looking back at a lot of comments over the past few months, just about every one of them has talked about how the Olympics aren’t everything, that it’s just a game. That perspective should help them when they return to their normal lives next week.

And the best words I heard out of any of them were from Susan O’Connor who said the team didn’t lose the gold, they won silver. True, dat.

On to the men’s final.

P.S. – can there be anything worse than losing the bronze medal game in the Olympics?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Outspoken Rafael and other thoughts

* Chinese coach Dan Rafael is not a guy who holds back when there’s a microphone present. The Montrealer is usually quite direct in his comments and I used to think that it was a way of charging up his team but then, I don’t think his curlers read the Canadian newspapers. If the curlers aren’t reading, officials certainly are. Rafael has been muzzled for the rest of the Games after some strong – and accurate – comments yesterday about his team’s performance. Here’s what he told the press after the team lost last night:
"They have no passion for the game. It's their job. They just take everything for granted," Rafael said. "We didn't show up. You just have to look at the stats to know. We beat Canada, and we don't show up. They looked pretty amused. They think it's funny for whatever reason - you're at the Olympics. I'm furious."
Rafael said he’s not likely to return after his contract ends this summer which is no surprise. Another coach told me last night that the word on the street is that Rafael will be turfed shortly after the world championships in Swift Current, Sask.

* So maybe this thing will turn into the shoot-out everyone expected after all. Last night, the British team played its best game of the competition, especially the skip, David Murdoch. For me, however, the key to the team is second Peter Smith. When he plays well, which hasn’t been always in this competition, the team plays well. These guys appear to be on a roll and if that's the case, we could have a barn-burner of a gold-medal game.

* Had to love this Tweet from Rainn Wilson (even with the spelling mistake), who plays Dwight Schrute on The Office: “Is there such a thing as 'fantasy curling'? Cause if there is, I'm drafting Binyu Wang.”

* Speaking of Tweets, here’s a nasty one from Amy Nixon, third for Shannon Kleibrink’s rink: “is just about done with how "fit" the canadian women's curling team is. That whole team is far from fit.” Meow!

* Food Rant of the Day: So the folks here are the fine Vancouver Olympic Centre have a really nice media set up. There’s a massive work area behind the curling rink and a cafeteria where you can have anything you want to eat. . . as long as it’s chili. For the fifth day in a row, chili is what they’re serving up for lunch. And dinner. Last night, when I asked the woman serving up the slop what was on the menu, she said: “Shepherd’s Pie.” I was overjoyed at the change of menu and ordered up a plate only to learn that it was the same old chili with mashed potatoes on top. This may be the first curling event in history at which I lose weight.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Thoughts as we hit the home stretch

Thoughts as we hit the home stretch:

* I’m sitting on the bench beside the delightful Terry Kolesar, communications director for the United States Curling Association. Every day, she gets to wade through the e-mails sent to the group’s general delivery web site. She always tells me the general themes and most are really positive such as people who just want to find out where they can try the sport.
But it never ceases to amaze me how many people think they can take up the sport and make it to the Olympics in oh, say, four years. Sure, I’ll just pick up the game and get myself to world-class in two years, then win the U.S. Trials and presto . . . I’m an Olympian.
Not that I want to be the one to crush their dreams, but folks. . . it ain’t happening. While John Shuster and his team are, for the most part, a) older and b) not in the best of shape, they have played the game at a very high level for a very long time. Yes, some of them are in their 40s and Russ Howard was 50 when he won gold in Torino, but they’ve been throwing rocks for 35 years. You’re not going to go out, take up golf and make it to the Masters in two years so why do you think you can do the same in curling?
Go out, take up the sport, enjoy the game, go to a bonspiel (the one in Chicago is a dandy) and watch the best play.

* What is it with the concessions here are the Olympics? They sell sandwiches but do you think you can get a turkey or ham and cheese or roast beef? Nope, last night my choice was cucumber dill and cream cheese or hummus on waki bread, whatever that is.

* Either it’s a slow day on the Olympic docket or it’s getting to the end. This morning, there are a number of basically nice but completely curling clueless American columnists in the house. During the game between Canada and the U.S., one said to me: “Smith’s having a good isn’t he? Of course I don’t know what the hell I’m looking at.” Give them points for honesty.

* As far as I can tell, not one other Canadian Olympian has shown up to watch a curling game.

* I’m always amazed at how technically sound the slides of the Chinese women curlers are but how awful their releases are. One of the Canadian women curlers (whose identity I’ll protect) said it was almost impossible to read the ice off them because of it. One thing you can say is that they are consistent and it works for them.

* Is it a sign of concession? Although they’re not technically out of it, the American coaches are sitting right below me as Canada and the U.S. tangle this morning and no one is taking any notes, or recording any shots.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

One Amazing Game

It’s hard to put last night into the proper words if you weren’t in the building. It was, quite simply, magical.

Now I’m not talking so much about the game itself, although it was an enjoyable one. But the building itself and the atmosphere was special.

After a couple of draws of ugly fans – who cheered during deliveries, roared when teams missed shots and essentially tried to distract certain teams – the crowd Saturday night was well behaved (with a few minor exceptions) and a ton of fun. In the humble opinion of this scribe, it was the best curling crowd I’ve seen in my 25-plus years of covering the game. The only complaint on the night came from one fan who wondered why there weren't any cupholders on the seats as it was tough holding a beer and a foam finger all night.

The best moment came in the 10th end when a group of well-oiled twentysomething shirtless guys, stood up and started singing the national anthem. At first it was just them crooning but it quickly grew and by the time they reached “With Glowing Hearts,” most of the arena had joined in, standing and waving flags at the same time. The game came to a stop and I can remember looking over at Kevin Martin who was in the house holding the broom for Marc Kennedy and seeing this huge smile across his face. It was one of those moments you’ll remember for a long, long time.

The game itself was almost weird. There were some amazing shots – especially from the thirds – some untimely picks and some flat out inexplicable misses. But it was definitely entertaining. I actually thought about half-way through that the Brits were going to win, but there were a few cringe-inducing misses. The two that stood out were Murdoch’s heavy draw in seven on his first, turning a potential two-point end into a single, and then Euan Byers first stone in nine, slipping into the rings and allowing Martin to get the blank.

As big as the win was in ending The Streak and all, it really had more significance in what it meant to both teams’ position in the standings. Martin is now guaranteed at least a tiebreaker and Murdoch can’t afford to lose.

One thing I think the loss did for the Brits/Scots was really fire them up. They’ve seemed a little lackluster thus far for some reason, but as Murdoch said last night, maybe it takes 6,000 people yelling at them to get them fired up.

We’ll find out.

Friday, February 19, 2010

US changes, Canadian photos

The breaking news here this morning is that the American team has decided to bench skip John Shuster for their game against France. This is a pretty drastic move even with the team at 0-4, although you can understand it from the American standpoint.
Shuster has looked positively average here this week, missing some relatively (for this level) easy shots to win games. With a little better marksmanship, he could easily be 3-1. So this afternoon, Chris Plys, the first Olympian to Twitter during a competition albeit from the bench, will call the game and throw third stones, while Jason Smith hurls the last brick.
I’ve never been big proponent for changing the lineup during the course of a competition. First, the four guys on the American team earned its way into the competition and should finish it out. Second, they’re playing France . . . FRANCE! If they can beat these guys, then maybe they should put Bud Somerville in.
However, Shuster, being the good guy that he is, has agreed to support the team and not raise problems.

Speaking of lineup changes, the Russians altered theirs for the game against the U.S. women this morning. This isn’t a surprise – they seem to do this in every competition. The fact that Ludmila Privovkova was scored at four per cent through the first four ends of their previous game and ended up at 36 per cent may have something to do with the change.

OK, now back to what I was going to write about today. Thanks to the generosity of Super Media Attache Karen McDonald, I have some interesting pictures of the Canadian teams and some of their travels through the first few days of the Olympics.
So in this assortment are Morris, Kennedy and Hebert with MTV guy Daryn Jones, the same three with Maelle Ricker, then there’s one of Johnny Mo on the air with FAN 590, and him again with some local firefighters.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Olympics Day 2

Day 2 at the Olympics:

• I’m not sure who made the draw for this big shootout, but did anyone not notice that Great Britain played its first two games on the same sheet with the same rocks? Even skip David Murdoch was shocked at that. The Canadian women played the same sheet twice in a row but with different rocks.

• Speaking of Murdoch, he was called for a rules violation that I’ve only seen once before. He wasn’t standing on the sheet when the first rock of the second end was thrown. That’s a violation as the person in charge of the house has to be on the sheet. Seems a little picky but it’s in the book. Then again, so is the rule about dumping and that never gets called.

• Is there a sadder story so far than the American teams here? And I don’t mean sad as in pathetic but as in you feel bad for them. Combined, the men’s and women’s rinks are 0-5 and they shouldn’t be. These guys and gals just find a way to lose when they seem to be in a position to win. Last night, John Shuster had a draw to the four to win his game but the sweepers missed the call and they ended up losing on a measure. That sent the game to an extra end where the skip missed a raise takeout for the win. To me, it just seems as if these teams are playing much better than their records although sometimes I scratch my head at the strategy. I like Shuster’s Tweet this morning though: “Not one ounce of quit in this team....and that's a promise.”

• By the way, U.S. fifth man Chris Plys, a prolific Tweeter himself, has been told to stop tweeting during the game. Seems they want him to focus on curling rather than Twitter, which sort of makes sense. If I’m not mistaken, he is the first athlete at the Olympics to Tweet during the competition. And likely the last.

• Despite all the promises, I have yet to see another Canadian athlete show up to watch curling .

• Oh and all these whining British writers/columnists who are saying these are the worst Games ever? Not one has shown up here either. I spoke with a couple of British curling media types here who are somewhat PO’ed at that, considering they have two very good medal shots here.

• Oh and those Norwegian curling pants? There’s now a Facebook Group on them that has more than 53,000 members.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Day 1 at the Olympics

First day of competition and here are some impressions:

* This is the loudest, most raucous crowd I’ve ever seen and heard at a curling competition. They scream, yell, bang the seats, wave flags and sometimes even at the right time. Yes, they aren’t the most knowledgeable folks. Sometimes they yell and scream when players are delivering rocks. Other times they yell and scream when players miss shots, but get a lot of stones moving. Still, it’s a fun atmosphere and the players seem to love it.

* I thought Kevin Matin was going to run Thomas Ulsrud out of the rink in his first game but the Norwegians battled back, especially with that three in the fifth. I don’t think they missed a shot after that and actually were set up for three in the 10th. Canada could have very easily lost that game. Instead, Martin made the clutch draw (which selfishly made writing my story with the 2002 last-rock miss very easy) with his last.

* I thought Bernard’s first game was good but there were quite a few key misses, I thought. And two really bad sweeping errors by the Canadians, one in the seventh and one in the ninth. On the first one, the TV microphones even picked up Cheryl asking Susan about it afterwards.

* Mirjam Ott’s delivery seemed to leave her a few times during the game. She was fishtailing so bad on a couple, she looked as if she was playing in the Friday Night Mixed at my club after a couple of cocktails.

* A thought: I think there are more Chinese media here covering the two Chinese teams than there are Chinese curlers.

* The weirdest tee shirt I saw today was worn by a 20ish guy who looked sort of normal. His shirt said: “Kevin Martin Makes Me Haaard.” That’s so wrong on so many levels.

* The Russian women’s team didn’t look very good. They made a few really strange calls and someone should tell them that four people sweeping a stone doesn’t really do anything more than two people sweeping.

* The novelty of the Norwegian men’s pants has worn off. Now they're just silly.

* Just in case you missed it last night, John Morris was named as one of Canada’s top 10 bachelors by Entertainment Tonight Canada.

* Craziest thing I’ve seen here so far. Well before the second draw, they start piping the teams in and I figured it was a rehersal of some sort. Nope. It’s the opening ceremonies for curling. But there’s about eight people in the stands. Seriously. Apparently they forgot to tell anyone. It became the silliest thing I’ve seen in curling. Every Olympic curling team out on the ice. John Furlong, the CEO of VANOC, there to give a speech and no fans. By the time they finished, a few had dribbled in for the evening round. But as they exited, David Murdoch looked up at me on the bench and just shook his head. I shook mine right back.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

At The Olympics

I arrived in Vancouver and spent my first day at the Olympic curling venue, which, in contrast to the rest of the venues, is freezing.

The place, officially called Vancouver Olympic Centre, is sort of tucked in beside a residential area and usually houses a neat little baseball complex.

The curling facility is a good looking, but small complex. There are seats for 5,600 and as for the media, I don’t know if I’ve ever been closer to the action. If Bob Pickering were still playing, he’d probably hit us with his backswing.

This was the first day the players have been on the ice and so far, it’s getting rave reviews. Kevin Martin said there’s about four and a half feet of swing and it’s weight sensitive, meaning if you’re heavy, it won’t move. He also said all the movement is late, good for those quiet weight hits.

I thought David Murdoch had the best line, though, when he said: Finally, the Olympic Games are going to have some curling ice.” There certainly hasn’t been much good ice in the past Games. This should be exciting if it stays like this.

Making a big impression during their session was Team Norway, who showed up wearing pants from a company called Loud Mouth Golf. You might have seen John Daly wearing this line on the PGA Tour. They definitely live up to their name, that’s for sure.

Apparently they have a second set that’s somewhat different. The pants were the idea of second Chris Svae who said there are no rules about what pants you can wear, but he added, “There might be after this.” By the way, he was the guy who brought out the pink belts last year.

Overall my experience here has been fantastic. I woke up early and headed downtown (I’m staying out by the airport) to the main media centre to get my accreditation and was in and out in about three minutes. No waiting. I then took a walk over to the flame and had to admit to being disappointed. The flame and structure are impressive but they’re behind a fence with a generator and some other junk in the way. I’ve posted a picture so you can see what I mean.

The Sky Train here is amazing and is free so that makes the transportation around the city easy. The curling venue is about a 10 minute walk from the station so as long as it’s not raining . . .as if, right?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Michael Burns Sr. RIP

I was saddened to learn today of the passing of Michael Burns Sr., the foremost curling photographer in the game’s history. Many newbies will know his son, Mike Jr., who has carried on the tradition.

Mike Sr., shot Briers for as long as I can remember. When I did my book on the history of the Brier, I spent a day in Sr.’s archives, looking through some of the most remarkable shots from decades of covering the roaring game.

In addition to curling, Sr., handled photography at the racetrack and eventually moved his business out there to a trailer. He had been downtown for years.

And, something many may not know, but he also shot other sports such as hockey and has one of the greatest shots of the famous Bill Barilko goal that won the Stanley Cup.
There’s more in this fine obituary in the Toronto Star.

I will always remember Michael as being well-dressed and professional, no matter what the day or situation. He was truly an amazing guy.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Jones, Howard and Lino

* Congrats to Jennifer Jones and her squad for another Scotties title. This one was well earned after getting off to a slow start, something that’s not unfamiliar for the foursome. I wonder if this will end any of the rumours of Cathy O-C getting the axe or moving on. After all, it’s hard to pass up another trip to the Canadian finals, especially since it’s in Charlottetown next year.
As impressive as the Jones team was, I have to guess many fans were hoping for that Cinderella story PEI team to pull it out. Kathy O’Rourke (whose haircut is probably closer to Cruella Deville than Cinderella) and her rink played solid except for that steal of two in eight. Ouch. But Erin Carmody was remarkable. My quads hurt just watching her stand in the hack and glare down at the broom for 30 seconds or whatever it was before she threw the rock. By the way, is she out of high school yet? She looks about 15.

* Glenn Howard went undefeated to win Ontario in Napanee. Brad Gushue takes Nfld/Lab. Yawn.

* Finally, here’s my story about Lino Di Iorio, the guy behind Balance Plus, who was rightfully fit to be tied when the CCA/COC started trumpeting all the top-secret results coming out of those two studies done at the University of Alberta and Wester using Own the Podium funds.
Lino’s been banging his head against the wall trying to get the folks up in Ottawa to buy in to his research with no luck. So he took his show to Scotland and other European countries, all of who have benefited. And many who were chuckling at how the Canadian media were reacting to the press conferences held to announce these revolutionary results. While we don’t know exactly what the Canadian studies came up with, a couple of people I talked to said they have a pretty good idea and they’ve known this type of stuff for, oh, almost a decade.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Scotties from my couch

So what’s going on at the Scotties? I don’t recall seeing so many missed shots in a big event. It’s not that the curling is horrible, just that you expect it to be a lot better at this stage.

I heard Vic Rauter talking on the FAN 590 radio in Toronto this morning and he was saying the ice has been giving the players fits, that it seems to change from morning to night. He too mentioned the number of missed shots. He also said that it’s very sensitive so if a player sets the rock back at all, it just never has a chance to get back. Quite often, too, the play gets better as the week goes on and the teams figure things out.

Still, while watching from the comfort of my couch, it’s easy to point out the flaws and point fingers. I’m sure it’s not nearly so easy when you’re there trying to deal with it. Still, I have seen some shaky deliveries with some drifting that almost always means a correction at release. You can get away with that in a club but not so on arena ice.

That’s another thing – the women don’t play as much on arena ice as the men. It’s a much different animal and if you’re an inexperienced team, it can be a tough learning curve. Of course that doesn’t really account for the play of PEI so far which has been the surprise. Of the teams near the top of the leaderboard, I suspect they’ve had the fewest hours on arena surface.

So far, the team that’s impressed me the most has been Ontario’s Krista McCarville. I was duly impressed with her rink in Edmonton at the Trials, with the aggressive style of play she used and the big shots she came up with. It seems to have carried forward – don’t forget she went through the Ontario playdowns undefeated, a remarkable achievement.

Still, it’s a long week and the halfway mark will only be hit today. Let’s see how things unfold today.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Chatting with Bernard

I had a chance to chat with Cheryl Bernard on Saturday as she and her team were in Vancouver for some pre-Games prep. Bernard is a classy individual who gives a great interview, offering up stuff other than the clichés.

When you talk to her, you get the sense she is very focused, very determined and very goal-oriented. So that’s why, she said, it’s been difficult since winning the Trials because her life really hasn’t been her own. She and her teammates have had to put on the leash of the CCA and COC and go here and there and do what they’re asked.

One thing she pointed out as sorely lacking has been the chance to play a competitive event. The squad went to Bern to play in one women’s spiel, but I think if I was the CCA or some bonspiel organizer, four years from now, I’d schedule a big women’s event in Canada in early January. Not only would you likely get the Canadian team, but probably most of the international rinks as well.

I do think it’s wise for the CCA/COC to have put a media attaché in place to help them deal with the crush of requests that invariably comes with being the Canadian curling team. When I did the book with Russ Howard after 2006, he talked about that as being absolutely smothering. Calls came from everywhere and a lot were from U.S. writers who knew basically nothing about curling. He and Brad Gushue had to deal with most of them.

This time out, Karen MacDonald is playing filter. I had no trouble getting some time with Bernard, however. MacDonald was superb in making all the arrangements. George Karrys/Curling Guru in the Sun has a story on the new attaché.

Back to Bernard and her mental fortitude. After talking to her and getting to know her somewhat, I think this is what will carry them through in Vancouver. While they don’t have a lot of international experience, they are so psychologically strong, they might have a big advantage over the rest of the field.

The column is here.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Jones pumps up the Scotties

Earlier this week I had a chance to talk to Jennifer Jones when she was in Toronto for her media rush ahead of the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

Jones is such a fun person to interview. She thinks about her answers (as you’d expect any lawyer to do), doesn’t offer up lame quotes and is really honest.

One of the best lines she said was that “if curling was predictable, it wouldn’t be any fun.”

For me, this year’s Scotties doesn’t seem to have any buzz yet, coming as it does just a week or so ahead of the Olympics. Jones hitting all the stops in Toronto –

Canada’s media centre but not necessarily its curling centre – helped. She did Off the Record and Prime Time Sports, the two big shows, and she met with all the newspapers as well.

But there’s little doubt that it will be tough for the Scotties to get much attention.

I’d be interested to see who is there covering the shootout from a media standpoint.
Here’s my Globe column on Jones and the Scotties

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Science of Curling

There’s been a lot written and reported about the top-secret-I’d-tell-you-but-I’d-have-to-kill-you research the CCA and COC spearheaded in recent years. Two independent studies were completed, one on sweeping at the University of Western Ontario and one on the delivery at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

Both studies are said to have produced results that will possibly help the Canadian teams at the Olympics perform better.

I spoke with both Rob Krepps and Dr. Pierre Baudin, a professor of sport biomechanics, about the Alberta study and found it quite interesting. Essentially, the research revolved around trying to determine what factors came into the best release of the rock. So they looked at body position in the hack, foot position, hand position and lots more.

The study utilized motion analysis technology, which is sort of like a three-dimensional person come to life on a computer. A player wears a number of markers on their body and these are picked up by a number of strategically positioned cameras that record the action. Once it’s in the computer, you can change the point of view to see how a person is delivering (i.e. you can look at it from underneath the person if you wanted).

It also used video analysis and the use of lasers as another means of research.

Dr. Baudin said there were some pretty interesting findings and many top players were shocked to learn their alignment was way off when they were in the hack or throwing. But, he said, a lot of the players who may not have the best deliveries, still manage to make the shots. That’s simply a case of them being exceptionally talented.

The study, which I believe received a $100,000 grant from own the podium to complete, was a three-year undertaking and most of the top players in Canada have been part of the testing over the years.

Krepps told me that the results were offered up to the players but it was totally optional whether or not they put the tips into use. Certainly it’s not something that the players were told last week and expected to change in time for Vancouver. As well, Dr. Baudin said the adjustments in almost all cases – if adopted – were pretty minor, but could result in significant improvements.

What’s quite interesting is that both these guys more or less admitted that the Scots either are or were ahead of us in this type of research into curling. I’ve spoken to David Hay about this and he concurred that the Scottish Institute of Sport has been at this type of stuff for quite a while.

Nothing of the Canadian studies will be released any time soon, at least not in the delivery research. The CCA wants to keep it under wraps, even after the Olympics, to try and keep an advantage for future Canadian curlers. And as Dr. Baudin said, it’s really more about a legacy than it is about this Olympics.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

BDO starts today

The third leg of the Grand Slam starts today and organizers held a conference call with Kevin Martin on Monday to promote the spiel. Have to admit that it's tough to focus on a Slam event with the Olympics just a few weeks away, but I'd say about half the questions asked were about the Slam, which is good.
And good for Kevin for doing this -- again. He did a conference call before the Guelph event a few weeks ago and also held court with the ink-stained types up at Casino Rama.
Of course the main question asked was what's going on with the team. They haven't exactly been lighting it up since winning the Trials, although they did take an extended break after winning in Edmonton. The boys went 1-4 in Guelph and were knocked out by David Murdoch in their Skins semi-final, although the team played pretty well the last part of that match, losing in a draw to the button.
Martin said he was hoping to play about 85-90 per cent in Winnipeg. That he said would mean they are moving in the right direction. If the boys played way up in the 90s, he stated, they'd be peaking too early.
I don't know . . . I'd kind of like to be playing really, really well going into the Olympics. Certainly Martin knows this path better than anyone, having been there before, but I wouldn't mind seeing them win the Slam event. I mean, I really liked the way Murdoch was playing in Rama. If you asked me right now who the favourite for Vancouver was, I'd say Murdoch.
Speaking of Murdoch, he's not at the Slam -- he's back in Scotland playing in his national playdowns this week. It's weird, but they're having round robin before the Olympics and then the Page Playoff portion after. You think they'd move things around like that in Canada?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Moosie ready to hang it up

My latest Globe column on Ray Turnbull ending his broadcasting career.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

At the Casino Rama Skins

I spent yesterday at the Casino Rama Skins Game for the annual big-momey shoot-out and was once again suitably impressed by the event.

The Skins has been around for more than 20 years in various incarnations but it’s hard to think any have been better than the three that have been held at Rama.

It’s such a unique setting for the curling, building a one-sheet rink for three games inside a room usually reserved for musical or comedy acts.

So, some thoughts on what transpired yesterday.

* In the first game, Glenn Howard’s team outplayed Randy Ferbey’s rink but didn’t come out on top. Howard was mystified as to why his final rock in the seventh end curled so much. That was the shot he had to win all the money that he’d make 98 times in 100. Later on, while talking to Kevin Martin, he said if it had been a regular game, Howard would probably have won in six ends. But in Skins curling (and golf for that matter) the team that plays the best doesn’t always win.

* Speaking of Glenn Howard, he admitted yesterday that the last month has been pretty tough on him and his team. Losing in the final, he said, was about the worst possible thing that could happen. He did say that in the summer, his team talked about the possibility of not winning the Olympic spot and re-tooling for a Brier run, which would be his 12th by the way. He called it Plan B.

* I was very impressed by the Scots, whose experience in Skins was limited to an event in Sweden before Christmas. David Murdoch told me that in that one, they finished third behind Peja Lindholm and Niklas Eiden and just ahead of Anette Norberg (“Barely ahead,” Murdoch quipped). They played exceptionally well, especially in the first five ends.

* By the way, if you’re counting, Murdoch has now defeated Martin four straight times.

* Nothing against the Skins, but the format doesn’t seem quite as dramatic as it did in the days before the free-guard zone. In those days, you never saw the double-raise-wick-double-takeout to the button for three. Now you see those at every Grand Slam event. The major difference with the skins is that every end is like the last as no one really worries about giving up a big end as you might in a regular game.

* I sat beside Scottish coach David Hay yesterday during the second game and he told me about the detailed program the team has been going through in preparation for the Olympics. The amount of training put in and resources that have been available to his squads (both men and women) is more than impressive. Here’s a prediction: if the Canadian teams don’t both win gold, there will be a push to move towards selecting the squad for 2014 ahead of time and giving them a full year to train was the Scots do.

* I met up with Randy Paul, and old friend and the TSN executive who is responsible for the business side of the Casino Rama Skins event. He told me there are nine new sponsors involved with the event this year – remarkably impressive in this business environment. This is the end of the first three-year deal between the casino and while Paul wouldn’t say anything formal, I read between the lines that the deal will be extended and an announcement will come soon.

* The players at this event are well looked after. They all get a hefty swag bag that includes a GPS unit, TSN clothing and gift certificates. As well, they are wined and dined and put up courtesy of the Casino. Of course for the winner, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be the biggest payday of the year.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Goldline TCA Bonspiel

So this week I’ve been back on the ice, fresh from my Kevin Martin lesson, playing in the Goldline TCA Bonspiel. Even though it hasn’t been sponsored by Canada Life for years, I still call it that. Weird.

This is a great event that brings out club teams from across Toronto and the environs. It dates back to 1904 and while it’s hard to believe, at one time, back when this event was in its infancy, the winner actually got a spot in the Brier.

You can’t have a stacked team as there are rules about the positions you can play so you end up with good club teams. You also get to play at all sorts of different clubs against a wide variety of players. People who don’t participate in any other outside spiel, sign up for the Goldline, although not in the numbers they used to.

We started at Leaside on Saturday where I ran into an old pal Brad Mitchell who is making the ice there. Lost our first, won our second and that put us in the Third Event.

We won on Monday night at the Cricket Club, again last night at Richmond Hill (although we probably shouldn’t have) and get to go again tonight at St. George’s.

This spiel isn’t as well subscribed as in the old days when I last played. I was surprised to see there are byes this late in the week. Still, you do see things playing in this bonspiel that you don’t see anywhere else. For example:

** A guy wearing a hat made out of those old grey socks with the feet flapping around on top of his head.

** A guy who ran – and I mean ran – down the ice when it was his turn to shoot.

** A team down 11-0 after four ends that didn’t shake hands in an eight-end game. (I’d have quit when they were down 10-0 after three).

** A guy who slid on his knee and tucked his body into a cannonball position during his delivery, but never missed the broom and had the touch of a brain surgeon (he was my opposite last night and he completely kicked my butt).

Actually, there is an amazing array of deliveries and strategies in this bonspiel. You see all shapes and sizes. You see a lot of people who’ve obviously been watching far too much TV considering the shots they’re calling and trying to execute. And it’s not exactly the place you’d go looking for examples of Curl Canada instruction. But it does show the vibrancy of the curling community in the GTA.

I know there are similar spiels in other parts of the country but I'm not sure there are any that employ the same rules for participation.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Grand Match rebels

The story of the cancelled Grand Match continues (with help from a source over in the area) with news of more renegade curlers defying the order to stay off the loch near Stirling where the big bonspiel was supposed to take place.

A wee bit of background. The Grand Match is a huge bonspiel that pits 600 teams from the north against 600 teams from the south. It’s only held when the loch freezes enough to allow the outdoor competition. The last time it was held was 30 years ago. This year's event was supposed to attract about 5,000 spectators.

So this year, with freezing-cold weather gripping Scotland, the Match looked as though it would be on. But at the last minute, local officials declared the playing surface too dangerous – actually too slippery, believe it or not – and they were worried there’d be no way to reach the injured parties if someone should slip and fall.

But two days ago, snubbing the authorities, a small group of curlers ventured out and started to play, just to show that the conditions weren’t that bad. Apparently some locals called the police on the party and the cops came but wouldn’t go out on the ice.

So the police called Search and Rescue who arrived and also refused to go out on the ice.

The curlers continued their game and no one hurt themselves.

There’s still some hope that the big Grand Match can take place, but it is a slim hope and it would be more rebels who would play.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A lesson from Kevin Martin and other stuff

Here's my latest Globe column on the curling lesson I received last week courtesy of Kevin Martin (and why he owes me a beer!)

Nice to see the Gushues win the Grand Slam event in Guelph yesterday. The win has been a long time coming for the N&L squad but they've been too good and worked too hard over the last few years not to notch one of these. They had good results at the start of the year but Gushue said they were actually playing poorly. That seems to have changed, I'd say. Now we'll see if they'll be able to ride the wave to the Brier.

So many great stories out of the Scotties qualifying -- Amber Holland (Sask.), Kelly Scott (B.C.) and Krista McCarville (Ont.) advance after Trials appearances, Holland after playdowns were relocated after the fire in Kindersley. A fourth, Shannon Kleibrink, gets upset by Val Sweeting and her youthful squad in Alberta, which also handled Cathy King in the semi. Could be a heck of a shoot-out in the Soo.

I love this. . . the "nanny state."

Friday, January 8, 2010

HBO focuses on the Roaring Game

Yesterday, I spent the morning with a crew from HBO in the US who were here filming a segment on curling. We met at Weston G&CC, my home club, and they did a lengthy sit-down interview with me using three cameras (that’s a big shoot!) and then went on the ice for a little instruction followed by some interviews with the Day Ladies curling there.
The reporter was Bernie Goldberg, whom I didn’t know at the time. I Googled him later on and learned he is a seven-time Emmy winner (probably should have done that before and good thing I didn’t bring up politics – his own web site shows he and I aren’t on the same page politically). He was having a lot of fun with the interview, playing the incredulous American who can’t understand how curling can be so popular. It was all in fun and I think the piece will be quite good thanks mostly to his talent.
Like most people, Bernie was mystified about curling and didn’t think it seemed all that tough until we got him on to the ice. He was slipping and sliding and falling but still smiling. He was also amazed when he interviewed a lady who was 87 and still playing front end. (even I was amazed at that.)
Every four years, it seems, there’s a lot of attention on curling from south of the 49th. Most of the time it comes in the form of “you can’t be serious,” or “is this for real?” But at least they’re paying attention.
The crew went on to the Swiss Chalet National to talk with the big shooters and the piece is set to air Feb. 9 on HBO but U.S. only.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Kevin Martin teaches me curling

There's a video clip of Kevin Martin and I on the ice at High Park Curling Club yesterday where we taped a short interview and instruction segment. It's here and should be in the video player (I couldn't locate the direct link).
Kevin actually seemed a bit surprised that I could curl, I think. Guess he figures all of us writers are just sayers and not doers, which is probably the case for the majority. But he was great to do this piece and then he went over and did another one for CTV that will air during the Olympics where he tried to teach Enrico Colantoni from Flahshpoint and Leah Miller from So You Think You Can Dance Canada to curl. That didn't go as well from a skill standpoint.
It's nice to see these guys having some fun before the Olympics and helping to extend the reach of curling beyond the traditional audiences

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Kevin Martin: Post Trials

I was in on the conference call yesterday with Kevin Martin to help promote The National, the Grand Slam event which begins this week in Guelph, Ont.

It actually didn’t sound as if there were too many media on the call. There was Bill Graveland from the Canadian Press, Mario Annicchiarico from Canwest (Hey Mario. . . Martin might have been talking about adding a Team Canada to the Brier but eliminating Northern Ontario is not the only way to do that, as you suggested), Jim "Hollywood" Henderson of Sweep!-d and a handful of local reporters. At least those were the only ones that asked questions. I thought with the Olympics closing in there would be more demand but apparently not.

A few revelations: Martin didn’t throw a rock from the time he won the Trials until three days ago, saying the break was a welcome one.

"I took the time off right to New Year's after the trials and you don't really realize how tired you are until you take a break. You're kind of running on fumes and don't really know it and, once I got off the ice for a few days, I could tell how extremely tired I was."

In the interim, Martin has been filling his time by preparing for the Olympics, off-ice. Paperwork, details, medical stuff all have filled up the days. Such things as trying to arrange for lodging and tickets for his family – wife, kids, parents and in-laws – is a job in itself. You probably don’t think of those things or what you can and can’t put into your body or when you’re going to get your uniforms or when you’re going to check in to the Athletes Village when you walk off the ice after winning the Trials but it all takes time and phone calls and financial arrangements. There have been a couple of appearances too, such as the team taking in an Oiler game in full regalia (talk about hard work, the Oil hasn’t exactly been burning it up lately).

Martin hasn’t had any of the crazy international interviews where the folks asking the questions don’t know a thing about curling, but he expects they’ll start now that the new year has arrived.

A heads up Kevin: Bryant Gumble’s Real Sports, which airs on HBO, is heading to Guelph and bringing some weird questions with them.

The team will play in Guelph, the Skins, the Winnipeg Slam and also take a trip out to Vancouver to familiarize themselves with the surroundings they’ll be in for the better part of two and a half weeks.

He also praised the Slams as providing some quality competition before the Olympics, especially against some of the international teams he’ll face in Vancouver.
Tempus fugit for Team Martin but it seems quite prepared to handle the run-up to the Games.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Decade in Curling

My Globe column from this morning on a look back at the last 10 years in curling.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Richard Hart Confronts Ben Hebert About Sweeping Violation

Here's what really happened.

John Goodman playing the role of Richard Hart, calling the sweeping violation on Ben Hebert in the Roar of the Rings.

My hopes for 2010

My Hopes for the New Year:

That the ice and rocks at the Olympics are great, with lots of curl and consistency. That would be a first.

That the Chinese start to promote curling at the grass roots level as well as it’s done with its elite program.

That TSN Sportscentre starts to show highlights of Grand Slam events.

That Jason Gunnlaugson learns to throw the soft shot as well as he throws the high, hard one.

That Kevin Martin throws all his rocks this year.

That the Ontario men’s championship finds a sponsor.

That the debate about dropping Northern Ontario from the Brier lineup just goes away. Something about tradition here.

That curling gives Ray Turnbull a great big farewell at the end of this year, perhaps with a glass or two of red. Oh and that Vic Rauter never stops calling curling.

That Team Howard rebounds from the Roar to capture another Brier.

That the Dominion Club Curling Championship be as successful in Year Two as it was in Year One.

That someone wins that $1 million in the Capital One Draw To The Button.

That the heightened awareness curling gets in an Olympic year lasts for the next three years.

That the format for the Continental Cup get a shake-up so it actually means something.

That Randy Ferbey never stops talking to reporters.

What are your hopes?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Curling needs an outdoor classic

I wrote about this last year at this time but it's worth repeating. Wouldn't it be great if the Great Minds of curling would come up with a format for an outdoor curling match. The success of the outdoor classic in hockey shows that an innovative idea might work for the roaring game as well. Of course back in the day, all curling games were outdoors, right? On the frozen locks in Scotland. Heck, they even used to curl on Lake Ontario at the foot of Yonge Street.
Here's the thought -- put the top two teams in the game together, say Martin and Howard, and put in an outdoor sheet in a stadium somewhere. Not a big stadium but something more manageable where you could sell it out. Or, if you could be assured of cold weather (hello Edmonton), how about on a lake or river?
Then, to add to the fun, make the teams use corn brooms.
Sure, the ice would be crappy, but that's half the fun of it. Do it all for charity and get CBC to slap it on TV during the holiday break.
I think it would fly, how about you?

Update: Here's another idea that just came to me. Why not approach the NHL to run a curling game in conjunction with the next outdoor classic, which is supposed to be held at a Canadian site. You could easily build a sheet of curling ice next door to the main rink and feature the curling game as a sort of pre-hockey event. How about it CCA?