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.