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?