Monday, February 21, 2011

At the Scotties

Thoughts through the opening weekend of the Scotties:

* Rachel Homan’s rink is the real deal and while some may disagree that they play a different game, I do think they play a very confident and bold strategy. They aren’t afraid to play freezes when other teams play hits, and they are the absolute best in this field at throwing big weight with consistency. It would also be hard to find a better prepared team than this one. They have really laid out a plan and, so far, stuck to it. Having said all that, however, it’s important to note that three of her four games so far have been against Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and PEI, not exactly the powerhouses of the field (with all due respect to those teams). The Ontario foursome did look pretty solid against a shaky Alberta rink and overall I love their chances of being around on Sunday, but I think I’ll wait a bit before crowning them champs.

* The ice continues to be a question mark for many of the teams, especially trying to find consistent draw weight. That seems to be a tough task because, as the curlers will tell you, it’s streaky – it’s not the same speed across the sheet. The result is some shots that look rather embarrassing, coming way short or way long. In a lot of cases they’re guessing and guessing wrong. Doesn’t seem to be any frustration setting in. Yet.

* I had a flood of emails (OK, seven) about the relegation system the CCA is testing out at the Seniors and Mixed next year. I mentioned the subject on my TSN piece last night. I guess if the game had been on the main TSN channel instead of the deuce, I would have had, say eight or nine emails. In any case, the proposal would see the CCA move to a 14-team system. Team Canada, Northern Ontario and separate Yukon and Northwest Territories entries. The field would still be 12 teams with the 12th-place finisher from the previous year dropping into a pool with two other teams which didn’t make it in playing a relegation round just before the start of the national event (probably at a curling club in the same locale). On the plus side you get a better entry with a Team Canada and a battle for 12th place late in the week between teams that would otherwise by out of it. On the minus side, two teams don’t get in at all. And if you think that would always be the Territories, think again. In the last decade of the Scotties, the following teams have finished 12th: Territories (3 and 1 tie); New Brunswick (2); N.S. (1 and 1 tie); Manitoba (1 tie); Newfoundland and Labrador (1); and Saskatchewan (1 tie).

* One of the craziest things going on this week are the substitutions. Games in which players normally would shake hands are being extended to allow subs to play an end or two. Why? Because in order to qualify to receive jewelry from Scotties a sub must play one end in two different games. So this morning, for example, Trisha Affleck entered the PEI-ONT tilt with the score 8-1. It’s really sort of a silly rule that just makes a mockery of things. Just give them the damn ring and let them go home.

* Great to see this event in Charlottetown. While the rink here is a bit tight for all that needs to get done (all right, really it’s a selfish note because the interview area is awkward), the city is awash in Scotties paraphernalia. On Queen Street, the main drag, every store window is dressed up, all the restaurants are calling out to the fans to come in an imbibe, and a local told me this is a huge shot in the financial arm for the local economy. Nice to see, although I hope my next visit will be when things are a little greener and the golf courses are open.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Should Team Canada be at the Brier?

It's a simple question without a solid answer: Should there be a Team Canada at the Tim Hortons Brier?

I wrote a column on the topic in this morning's Globe and even I don't have a real solid take on what I'd do if the choice was mine. On one side, I love the tradition of the Brier and part of that great tradition is that every team that wins has to earn its way back to the national championships. Now the days of the Brier winner starting out in his or her club are, for the most part, gone. These days provincial champions often get byes to their respective finals, such as Ontario does.

Another part of that tradition is that every province and territory gets into the championship. Well, they used to until we started creating more territories. Now I'm not sure that both the Yukon and Northwest Territories deserve separate entries, but I'm sure if I curled up there I'd feel differently.

And finally, there's always been a Northern Ontario and an Ontario and I see no reason to change that. It's one of the quirky things about the Brier that makes it great.

As for the relegation system that Warren Hansen outlined to me in the column, I think it can be a little scary in that I think the same three or four teams will continue to sit out. Sure, the odd time a Have province might miss, but I'm not so sure. I like the fact that all provinces play and I like the fact that there are opportunities for a Jack MacDuff story.

To me what this is all coming down to is a big separation between the teams that are essentially professional and those that are part-timers. For about that past seven or eight Briers, maybe more, the number of teams that have a legitimate chance of winning is small and predictable. You can look over this field and see that there are five maybe six teams that have a legitimate shot at winning. The others will be out by Tuesday. So isn't it better to try and expand that group to include another possible winning team at the expense of a bottom-feeder?

If you're trying to sell tickets, you'd answer yes in a heartbeat. And folks, there aren't enough tickets being sold to these events these days.

In the end, it all comes down to the realities of the bottom line.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Bernard team calls it a day

My column in the Globe this morning is on the breakup of the Bernard rink, slated for the end of this season.

Al Cameron of the Calgary Herald broke this story earlier this week and since then, there’ve been lots of great takes from different writers on this squad.

In reflecting on the team, I really had a hard time trying to place their spot in the history books. As an Olympic team, they are
something special for sure. And in winning the 2009 Trials, I really think they altered the game in terms of what teams must bring physically and mentally to the biggest games. They were just so prepared for that event and you could see it in their faces and their play.

But are they one of the great teams? Not in my opinion. Not that they aren’t very, very good, but I wouldn’t put them in the same spot at Sandra Schmirler or Colleen Jones or even Jennifer Jones. That’s because those in that latter group all have multiple national and international wins.

The one thing I will really admire about the Bernard team, however is their personality both on and off the ice. All four were professional and fun. I don’t think they ever took themselves too seriously. As a media person, Cheryl was exceptional to deal with, easily one of the best in the business. I think she had a great respect for what journalists have to do and how the press could benefit her rink. I think she’d make a great television commentator by the way (hello TSN?).

But I also expect you’ll see Cheryl back on the ice before too long. I think she’s got a lot left as far as curling goes. We’ll see.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cathy O vs. The Jones Gang

Here's my latest Globe column (it will be appearing every Thursday through the Season of Champions) on the looming game between Cathy Overton-Clapham and Jennifer Jones.

I had a chance to speak with Cathy yesterday and she really tried to say that she's over the chop from last April. I suspect that she's not entirely over it and beating Jones might be sweet.

While writing the story, I was thinking that in curling, when someone gets cut, it's so personal. IN other sports, when a player is let go, it's often hard but it's accepted that it's going to happen. I was trying to reason in my head why. I think part of it is because we think of the four players on the curling team as equals. There's no GM to do the firing/trading. And in curling, generally we think about friendships before performance, at least to a certain extent.

Of course this dismissal was truly a shocker because the Jones team had won the Canadian title a few weeks earlier and Cathy O was the all-star. Timing was bad. But I don't really fault Jones for anything. She's a pretty focused and intense person who gets that at the very top level, you're going to have to make some hard decisions to reach the top rung. She did that and we'll see if it's the right choice.

I'm looking forward to that game in Charlottetown, for sure.