Thursday, December 29, 2011

A look back at 2011

Herewith are the highlights and lowlights of my year in curling:

Game of the year: An easy one, really. The Scotties round-robin matchup between Cathy O and Jennifer Jones. Jones, of course, dropped Overton-Clapham at the end of the previous year after winning the Scotties, following which Cathy O put together her own team and won Manitoba. The game didn’t really mean anything other than bragging rights but it was clear who the fans were cheering for – the dumpee not the dumper. Overton-Clapham won the game and the fans loved it.

Fun-spoiler of the year: Every year for as long as I can remember, 79-year-old Jack Cox has run around Brier rinks and waved the Ontario flag at the top of a ball retriever, shouting “ON-TAR-I-OOOOO.” But the cranks at the John Labatt Centre told he couldn’t do it because of liability issues. Boo!

Much Ado About Nothing: The cowbell controversy, it turns out, was also about an over-zealous security guard. At the Canada Cup, Amber Holland’s cheering section was told to put away their cowbells or get punted from the rink. Al Cameron unearthed the fact that the CCA had a Fan Code of Conduct that basically stated that everyone has a right to watch the game in peace. But it turns out cowbells are OK; the facility in Cranbrook was the culprit, not the CCA.

Product of the Year: Developed out of the Olympic Games’ research, the EQ brush head proved wildly successful for most elite teams and club curlers everywhere. It made it easier to sweep, keep rocks straight and carry them farther. How popular were they? The top three finishers at the Scotties all used them. And by year’s end, several companies were offering knock-offs of the product licensed exclusively by Balance Plus. Expect some legal undertakings soon. 

Worst addition of the year: The CCA added bronze-medal games to both the Brier and Scotties, dragging out rinks that had just suffered the ends to their dreams to play a meaningless game. With a straight face, CCA officials emphatically stated that it wasn’t about adding another draw to the schedule and selling more tickets.

Best addition of the year: A number of fake curler Twitter accounts popped up during the year, providing a few laughs for those who know the real players. While some of the comments were, um, not suitable for family reading, here are a few examples:
Fake Kevin Martin: Practised a bit last night. Good news; I'm still the best.
Fake Amy Nixon:
Back from China with a piece of the Great Wall, possible case of typhoid and a child I smuggled in my suitcase.

Sad passages: Jim Sullivan left us too soon. Neil McCarl was one of the great curling writers of his era.

Looking forward to in 2012: The five-rock rule debuted at the Grand Slam in Kingston and was met with encouragement. Most of the top players are interested in trying it again. Most of the fans seemed to approve too as it meant exciting finishes.

Best curling headline of the year: In the Winnipeg Free Press on its relationships column: Is Curling Really Worth Your Marriage? Here's the story behind it.

Best use of curling in a commercial: No doubt about this one. . . it's Bic.

Best shot of the year by a guy weighing less than 110 pounds: Have to admit. . . this was pretty special. And he called it, right?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

May your Christmas be merry and may every shot in 2012 hit the broom with perfect weight! All the best to my readers and friends.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Five-rock feedback

So what was the final result of the five-rock rule used last week at the Grand Slam in Kingston? For the most part, it seems the players liked it or at the very least understood it was good for the fans. However no one is quite willing to say adopt it full bore. 

Winner Mike McEwen wasn’t overly enthusiastic about it, saying it made his head hurt thinking about the strategy in the early going, but conceded it was a positive in an interview with the CBC’s Scott Russell.

I contacted a couple of players from the competition via email and got support. First up was Brad Gushue:

“Even though we played horrible, I really enjoyed the rule,” said the gold medalist. “I think it provides a lot more interest for both players and fans. The teams have gotten so good that one mistake (three or four ender) in the four-rock rule and the game is essentially over or at least really boring. The five-rock rule allowed teams some hope if they got down three or four points.
“I would like to play it a few more times before deciding on whether I would like to see a permanent change. But I would definitely be in favour of playing a few events with the five-rock rule. It was really nice to have a change and see the varying ways teams tried to defend the rule. It was also nice to see the smoke coming from a few skips ears as they finally had to think with a three-point lead.”

Next, I wanted to speak to a front-ender to see how it changed things and reached Craig Savill of Team Howard. (Of course he was ecstatic that someone even asked for his opinion. Oh, the life of a lowly front-ender):

“It’s hard to get a full grasp of the new rule after one event but so far I love the five-rock rule,” he stated. “I think the rule promotes more rocks in play and keeps the team that is leading more aggressive. During the BDO Canadian Open, when we were down three or four it didn't seem like the game was over. With the hammer it seemed like twos and threes were wild. The five-rock rule certainly created some new situations, especially in the last couple ends. When up by two coming home without last rock you now have the mentality of just trying to hold the opposition to two and not give up three. That's certainly a different mentality that you have when playing the four-rock rule.”
In his column in the Toronto Sun, George Karrys had some comments from another Team Howard member, Wayne Middaugh and brought up the way the rule changes things for the front-enders.

“It really favours a team that has a strong lineup all the way through,” said Middaugh. “To quote John Kawaja 15 years ago, ‘You get a couple of plumbers to kick them down there for the first four rocks, then you have a great third and a great skip and win the Brier.’ Well, that sure won’t work anymore.”

MIddaugh added that the rule keeps things interesting throughout the contest.
“We gave up four in the first end; in a regular game, the game is over,” said Middaugh. “You just can’t (come back), Jeff is going to give us two every end and then score his one with the hammer, and we just can’t catch him. But with this rule, we felt the whole time that we had the chance to come back and right up until the last end, we did.”
Overall, it seems the players like the new rule but still want a little more time to digest the changes. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Full Contact Curling

Have to love Rick Mercer. Here's his take on adding a little contact to the Roaring Game. If this was allowed, who would you want on your team?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Curling Etc. on sale

I received some good news and some bad news this week in regard to my books. My publisher, John Wiley & Sons, called to say they were remaindering my last book, Curling Etc. That's the bad news. It's always a sad day for an author as it means the sales in stores have effectively dried up and the book is being put out to pasture.
The good news is that I was allowed to buy a bunch of copies at a discounted rate and they're now for sale here. For $25 you get the book, signed by me (personalized if you'd like) and sent to you. That's for North American orders, by the way. European orders need to add $10.
Curling Etc. is a fun-filled collection of facts and stories about curling. Think of it as the Uncle John's Bathroom reader for the roaring game.
I wish I'd been able to get this done a little earlier so you'd have them for Christmas, but I promise to send the books out as soon as humanely possible if you're interested.
Here's the link for Curling Etc.
Of course I still have copies of The Brier as well which go for the same price.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday Morning Observer

It’s all about Eve. At least it is as far as Scottish curling is concerned. Eve Muirhead led her team to the European women’s title and the Scots are raving about it. It’s the first time since 1975 for a Scottish team.  Muirhead told The Scotsman she built this team with an eye on the Olympics: 
“I put together this young team looking forward to Sochi, and so far this season we couldn’t have done much better,” she explained. “I played with a lot of these girls in juniors and I know what good players they are. They all played fantastic in Moscow.”

Even the good old Beeb noticed. 

The St. Albert Gazette has a nice piece on local boy Marc Kennedy after he won the Canada Cup. And he has a full admission about his play there: 
“At the Canada Cup I was probably the weakest link. I didn’t play awful but I can definitely play a little better,” Kennedy said. “We’ve all had our ups and downs this year. We haven’t had all four of us playing our best at the same time, but that was probably Kevin and John’s best weekend of the year, which is nice to see."

I’m not sure about the headline in this piece. Sounds as if Randy Dutiaume was shot after losing the game or something. In any case, seems as if the Manitoba veteran missed out on a chance to get to the provincial finals. He has another shot in regional qualifying this weekend. If he’s still breathing that is. 

Monty Mosher has the rundown of teams qualified for the Nova Scota Scotties playdowns led by last year’s bronze medalists Heather Smith-Dacey. There's one particular 15-time champ who hasn't made it yet. 

And in Saskatchewan Steve Laycock has qualified for the men’s provincials by winning the Sask Curling Tour. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

101 Curling Excuses

If you’re looking for a great Christmas gift for that curler on your list, Frank McCourt, Canada’s Curling Cartoonist, has put out 101 Curling Excuses.
It’s a fun book filled with his cartoons and situations that we’ve all been in on the curling ice. Some of the drawings feature people you might recognize too.
Frank is a bit of a crazy man, as you might expect from reading the cartoons. He’s also a pretty darned good curler who has won the Canadian Firefighters in the past.
To get your copy, you can send an email here: or you can go to and use this link although I think this might only be for the U.S.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Don't put those cowbells away

According to the boss guy of the Canadian Curling Association, there really isn’t a cowbell controversy. At least, not one that’s of the CCA’s doing.

Reached yesterday in Moscow where he was attending the World Curling Federation’s semi-annual meeting, Greg Stremlaw, the CCA’s chief executive officer, said that while the CCA does have general guidelines, it doesn’t prohibit folks from making noise and having fun at the association’s events.

“Quite honestly, it’s a lot to do about nothing,” he said down the line from Moscow. “I’ve been away but it sounds like there’s some items that don’t have facts behind them.”

Stremlaw said that in most cases when it comes to noisemakers, the CCA has to abide by the regulations of the venue. Each one has different rules and as renters, the CCA must follow those.

He used last year’s Tim Hortons Brier as an example. The John Labatt Centre in London, Ont., was quite strict in its rules. Not only does it ban items such as laser pointers and air horns, but it doesn’t even want running in the halls. That led to the unpopular move to restrict Jack Cox, the older fellow with the Ontario flag who traditionally runs around the rink shouting encouragement to his team, to his seat.  

As for what happened at the Canada Cup, he said that the incident reportedly revolved around one by-the-book arena employee, who took the rules too far.

“In relation to the Canada Cup my understanding is that there was potentially an overzealous security official that interpreted the noisemaker restriction which is specific to most venues,” he stated. “All have venue restrictions, specific about laser pointers, weapons and noisemakers, specifically mechanically operated or enhanced noisemakers. Therefore I think the security officially interpreted it to mean everything and anything including cowbells.

“That’s a security official that’s venue-employed that asked somebody to put their cowbell away. There’s no intention to take away someone’s cowbell. The only reason we would is if the venue we went to wouldn’t allow it.”

Stremlaw added that the last thing the CCA wants is to have quiet venues. He said the noisier, the better, within reason of course. The bottom line is the enjoyment of everyone in attendance.

“We have an obligation to ensure we create a safe, comfortable and enjoyable experience.”

But he said that anyone who wants to ring a cowbell at the Brier or the Scotties this year (attention: Team Holland supporters) can ring away. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Gunner Down

As many of the top rock-tossers in the land battled it out at the Canada Cup with a trials berth on line, one guy from the last trials is sitting at home and, for all intents and purposes, taking a break from the Olympic hunt.

Jason Gunnlaugson skipped an upstart team at the last quadrennial, making it to the pre-trials and then the trials. And he was impressive enough that many pegged him as a player for the future. Of course so did the Russians, who hired him on to play for them, asking him to take out citizenship.
As most of us know by now, that was a short-lived adventure after the Ruskies pulled a fast one and dumped J-Gunn and hit compatriots early on.

No worries. They would re-group and make another run at getting to the Olympic Trials, using much the same methodology as last time. That was to play a heavy schedule and pick up point after point, no matter how small, hoping that in the end it would be enough.

But that’s all ended now. Gunner and his squad of Justin Richter, Jason Ackerman and David Kraichy had a horrible start to the season, collecting just $300 in five starts. Needless to say, the team wasn’t living the high live as it had in the previous few years and it just splintered.

“We never came back to the same level we played at before we went to Russia,” Gunnlaugson told me. “It just really wasn’t working out.”

Adding to the conflicts was the fact that Richter got engaged and had to keep up with the demands of the upcoming wedding.

Gunnlaugson said the Russian experience was one he would do over again in a minute, despite having it cut short.

“It was tough,” he admitted. “One minute you’re 99 per cent sure you’re going to be in the Olympics and the next you’re back home.”

The skip called playing for Team Russia one of the coolest things in his life and felt there were absolutely no negatives to it. But it’s clear the team returned without the popular underdogs of the last trials.

Since returning and with the splintering of his team, he’s joined forces with the Bohn brothers and is playing a more regional schedule for the time being.

He’s also helping out Curl Manitoba at some clinics around the province.

But, he said, a run to the Trials isn’t in the cards.

“You have to curl full time or close to it to have a chance,” he stated. “Right now, that run is geared towards about 10 or 12 teams.

“That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It means we’ll have a good team at the Olympics. It’s just the way things are.”

There is not one iota of remorse or regret in Gunnlaugson’s voice concerning Russia or the breakup of his team. He seems content with where he is and where the game is heading. It’s just too bad that top talent such he is, will be on the sidelines.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Cow Bell Controversy, First Hand

I know not everyone reads the comments that are posted after I spout off, but I think one from yesterday is particularly interesting. It came from a fan who was told to put his cow bell away during the Canada Cup. I reprint it here in its entirety as it shows, first hand, the fan's perspective of this nonsense the CCA is enforcing. Here it is:

At this year’s Canada Cup, I was asked to put my cowbell away or get tossed. Yes all because of a CCA policy. What have we become: the PGA where camera shutter noises distract the field of prima donnas? Although the Canada Cup in Cranbrook showed the real depth of Canada’s curling talent; it was one of the most boring events I have been to. Curling needs to attract greater interest and new fans to support its long term viability and growth potential. How ironic that the CCA’s newest slogan is “you gotta be there” yet they are doing nothing to ensure their events are memorable or fun for the fans. Why do I “gotta be there”?
Ask yourself, why do these teams play and why do they earn money? It’s because of the fans that support the events and the sponsors. Fans have choices. They need a reason to show up at the arena otherwise they can sit at home and watch it on TV or watch something else altogether. The CCA must remember who supports curling and more importantly, who supports the sponsors. It isn’t the CCA and it isn’t the players. It’s the fans.
When you speak to the players; couldn’t care less about the noise. In fact many of the teams actually like their fans cheering them on using their voices, clappers or cowbells. The experience of these curlers and their ability to focus on the game and their shot make them oblivious to the noise makers or chants from the stands. These athletes are able to set aside the noise; why can’t the CCA?
When you attend a World Championship or an Olympics, the noise level is constant and significant, yet the teams play and play well. If our National champions can play under these conditions why can’t all of the slam, provincial and national events embrace the spirit of the fans and allow our athletes to get use to these so-called distractions before they compete on the world stage.
We need to continue to put fun back into this game or we risk players and fans moving down the road and supporting other activities that permit the fans to feel part of the event.

Monday, December 5, 2011

On the Canada Cup

Thoughts on the Canada Cup:

It’s hard to make any money betting on curling these days. If, at the start of the week, you’d had to put down a bob on which two teams would win the Canada Cup, I’d bet the favourites would have been the Martin and Jones rinks. No long shots here. And while it’s still early, you’d have to think they’ll be among the favourites to go to Sochi, too.

On that same topic, isn’t it about time to start talking about the Kevin Martin rink as the best? Ever? It would be pretty hard to come up with a team that has won more big games and big events than these guys. Olympics, Briers, Worlds, cash. . . and they just seem to have a knack of playing their best when the games mean the most. Certainly you can argue this point but it’s a good discussion topic.

Is it just me or did 10 ends seem really long? Wow, it felt as if the men’s final really dragged on. The women’s dragged but more because it was so lopsided. I’m really starting to like those eight-end, Grand Slam games. Neat, clean, tidy and quick. I know the CCA feels that an eight-end game doesn’t give a team as much of a chance to come back if it gets behind early, but I think 10 ends goes too far the other way. I can’t imagine what it was like in those first few Briers where they played 14 ends!

Not sure what the teams felt about it but the Think Time, timing used over the weekend was refreshing and logical. The original system seems quite unfair if you get into a hit-vs-draw type game. This one doesn’t count the time used to play the shot, just the time in between. If it’s adopted, it will likely take some time for the players to know when they have a lot of time left or not so much. You could see a few teams wondering if two minutes was a lot to play and end or not. Nothing will happen in the near future regarding this – the Canada Cup was being used as a test. Of course when it comes to rule changes in curling, nothing ever happens quickly.

Speaking of rules, I’ve never heard of this one (probably because it’s not really in the rule book), but Eve Muirhead was told by an official at the European Championships that she had to play her rocks in numerical order, from one to eight. Really. Sometimes I wonder where they get these officials from but it wouldn't surprise me if a few like this were in Sochi. 

I wonder if there’s any movement afoot to change the qualifying for the Canada Cup? It seems that basing the entire field on results from a year ago and leaving out current hot teams is a bit silly. To not have Sherry Middaugh’s rink in the spiel after her remarkable start is ridiculous. At least one spot should be opened up for the leader in CTRS points for the first part of the WCT season.

I haven’t actually counted yet, but there seem to be more fake curler Twitter accounts than real ones. It started with Fake Kevin Martin, but now there’s Fake Jeff Stoughton, Fake Glenn Howard, Fake Amy Nixon, Fake John Morris, Fake Steve Gould, even a Fake Vic Rauter, known as Make The Final. Not sure who is behind them all but there are a few Tweets that are have me laughing.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Fan code?

In case you didn't see this, Al Cameron has a great piece on the CCA's Fan Code of Conduct.

You can read the story here but apparently the CCA has been telling fans to leave their cow bells and air horns at home. Over the past few years, the Gang in Red Jackets has had complaints from fans who sit near the noisemakers, in some cases having to move them or refund tickets.

Wouldn't it just be easier to tell the complainers to turn their hearing aids down?

Is the CCA trying to turn curling into golf? And will it even ban those cool moose call cans?

This is a very, very, very silly move.

Friday, December 2, 2011

More on the Canada Cup

I've started my 23rd year of writing on curling for the Globe and Mail with today's column on the Canada Cup.

The 2014 Olympics are still a long way off, but an important first step toward reaching that event is being played out in Cranbrook, B.C., this week at the Capital One Canada Cup of Curling.
The rest is here: