Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Big TV Numbers for Scotties

While the bronze medal game may be a pain in the butt for the curlers, the volunteers and officials (not to mention the TSN crew), it appears the fans don’t mind. At least those sitting at home on their couches.
TV ratings from the match between Jennifer Jones and Marie-France Larouche drew 633,000 viewers a very strong number for TSN.

The final was even more impressive. It garnered an audience of 1,003,000 viewers that witnessed Heather Nedohin and her Alberta rink win the title. That's massive.

When someone in your office asks why there’s so much curling on TV at this time of year, you now have an answer. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

On Booing Jones

There’s a wonderful piece by Paul Wiecek in the Freep today about the seeming legions of Jennifer Jones haters. For some reason, Jones has become Enemy No. 1 with many curling fans who show their displeasure by booing her, posting harsh comments in places such as Curlingzone.com and lashing out notes on newspaper web sites.

For the life of me, I’ve never understood this.

Yes, Jones along with Dawn Askin and Jill Officer (It wasn’t JUST Jones who made this decision) decided to part ways with Cathy Overton-Clapham after a successful season. They had an eye on the future and decided on this move.

In any other sport, this would have been an accepted as part of the business. You make changes in hopes of getting better (hence the rabid appeal on days such as today, Trade Deadline Day). They aren’t always popular but they are done. But in curling, for some reason, everyone is expected to play nice. It doesn’t matter if you lose, win or tie – you just stay with the team.

That doesn’t mean that Cathy O doesn’t have a right to be upset or hold a grudge – it’s easy to see her side of things – or that folks can’t like and dislike whomever they want. It’s just that to put a black hat on Jones and continually stab her, to me, just doesn’t make sense. If the Cathy O dumping is the only reason people dislike Jones, isn’t it time to get over it?

Jones is an immensely private person but I got to know her well during the 2010 Olympics when she sat beside me on the media bench. She was working for Yahoo.ca and spending 13 days and 14 hours a day beside someone gives you some insight into their make up.

Last year, in preparation for the Scotties, I did a lengthy interview with her and shortly after that, she called me and asked if there was one topic we discussed in passing that could be left out of the story. 
Because it wasn’t really relevant to anything I was writing about, I agreed. During the course of the week at the Scotties, she thanked me and confided in me several times about a few things, and I came to see how tough it was for her to be on the receiving end of the harsh comments and the boos that rained down at the Charlottetown Civic Centre, especially during the game against Manitoba and in the final.

If this was a professional team and you’d paid good money to come and see it play (i.e. the Leafs or Habs), then boo all you want. But these people are just regular folks who work jobs and curl for fun and a little bit of spending money.

And really. . . booing in curling?

This year, although I wasn’t there, it seems some took delight in watching the Jones team crumble
Jones, to me, is an exceptional individual, someone who has managed to combine a career with curling. Not many people – male or female – have done that at the level she’s at career-wise. She also does a lot to give back to the sport, hosting clinics, signing autographs, talking with young players.

Perhaps this is the price that has to be paid for curling moving into bigger arenas and the athletes becoming bigger celebrities. I just have a hard time understanding people’s rationale for this harsh and mean-spirited action against someone as talented and good-natured as ones. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Slips and falls

The most interesting news of the Scotties last night came in the game between Jennifer Jones and Amber Holland, specifically the unfortunate fall by Jill Officer.

Al Cameron has the interesting angle of whether or not Amber Holland should have let the burned rock stand, i.e., say that it would have hit and stuck, or do what she did and remove it, taking the two-point steal. We know now that she chose to remove the burned rock from play. I have to admit, I would have done the same and I'd guess that Jennifer Jones would have too if the situation were reversed.

I still have trouble remembering that there are two options. I grew up playing that whenever you burned a rock, it came off and so most of the time, I don't even think about the second option. I know the rule was put in there to protect against intentional burning, but I'd say whenever there's a burned stone, I'm going to remove it. Also, you never really know how the burned rock would have finished, although in this specific case it appears it would have stayed for shot.

Paul Wiecek has the details of the game but this incident got me to thinking about the most notable slips and falls in curling.

Of course the biggest is undoubtedly the one by Bob Labonte, the American player who, thinking his side had won the world championship, jumped in celebration and booted a stone. That led to an extra end and Orest Meleschuk of Canada ended up wininng (what’s often overlooked is the incorrect ruling provided by the official, one Doug Maxwell!).

There was also a slip by Dan Petryk at the (I believe) 1991 Brier in Hamilton. I remember he cleared out about four rocks but to be honest, I can’t recall if he actually burned the stone. But the next morning in the Tankard Times, the shot of the day featured a chalk-type outline of Petryk’s sprawled body on the ice.

Anyone else have any others that spring to mind?


This is the best video of the week so far and shows why Donna “Spinner” Spencer is one of the best. She put together this great piece on the Scotties skips and how they try to maintain their voices throughout the loud week. It’s quite interesting to hear the extent they go to – humidifiers, lozenges. Hey, they should talk to Russ!


How about this? ESPN did a piece on the recent U.S. championships and bought into the lure of the game, although they did throw in a few cute shots. 

About 1,000 of those fans, plus a few curious neophytes, showed up over the weekend for the USA Nationals, which took place in the bustling metropolis of Aston, Pa., population 16,000. (Apparently Indianapolis was still busy cleaning up from the Super Bowl.)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Handicapping the field at the Scotties

As the Scotties Tournament of Hearts gets underway in Red Deer, home of Billy Bob’s and the Screaming Russ shooter, the pundits have put in their picks as to who they think will be holding the trophy at week’s end.
Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press chose Jennifer Jones.

Jim Bender of the Winnipeg Sun selected Jennifer Jones.

Al Cameron of the Calgary Herald selected Jennifer Jones.

Murray McCormick of the Regina Leader-Post picks Jennifer Jones (over Amber Holland, just to avoid the ugly mob protests outside L-P offices).

In a Tweet, Guy Hemmings said that Marie-France Larouche would make the playoffs.

For what it’s worth, here are my picks:

The Favourite
  • Jennifer Jones, MAN. Too much experience, too much talent for this field. Wonder if she’ll finally make it easy on herself this time and avoid the tiebreakers. Doubt it. 

Fighting for the Playoffs
  • Heather Nedohin, ALTA. I think some have underestimated this team and the fact the skip has been away for a while. They’re good, very good.
  • Kelly Scott, BC. May not be at it as hard as she once was but she can still make some shots. Look out if she gets on a roll and likes the ice.
  • Heather Smith-Dacey, NS. They will have to fire on all cylinders as they did last year but they are more than capable.
Outside Looking In
  • Amber Holland, CAN. Hasn’t had a very good year and I’m not sure they’ll be able to get the wheels turning in time. Still my favourite skip to interview and always the nicest player on the ice.
  • Michelle Englot, SASK. A good team but not enough fuel in the engine for this one, I don’t think.
Dark Horses
  • Tracy Horgan, ONT. Not only did she hold off Rachel Homan to win Ontario, but also Sherry Middaugh, the top team in the land heading into the playdowns. Still they have such little experience at this level, it would be surprise to see them in the playoffs.
  • Marie-France Larouche, QUE. A very good team that will surprise a few.
PEI, TERR, NB, N&L. I always hope for a good story from one of these types of teams, such as the PEI women of a couple of years ago. Here’s hoping. 

MIssing the big one

In case you missed it, this is a tremendous story on the losing side of big shots. Al Cameron (in an early bid for the 2012 Scotty Harper Award), talks to many skips about missing big shots and the resulting hangover. It’s a must-read with quotes from many of the best who've all missed their share of big shots. Including, of course, Cheryl Bernard. 
“But the thing about that loss, from what I know about me as a person, is it just spurred me on to get better,” said Bernard. “I mean, I took 100 per cent responsibility for losing that (gold) medal. . . . The only thing that has let me sleep at night and not hang myself is that I threw those shots the best that I could.”
Hey, he even digs up Joe Gurowka's name!


Only in Saskatchewan could you get a story about a football-playing politician wrapped up with a curling theme. Here’s MurrayMcCormick’s story on Gene Makowksy.
“Any person who does what he does in the community makes people love him more on the field,’’ said Amber Holland.


I know we all want to encourage mainstream US media to cover the American curling championships, but I still had to laugh at this report. Here’s the opening:
Defending champion Pete Fenson of Bemidji, Minn., rebounded from losing earlier Friday to score three times in the 10th end and eliminate John Shuster of Duluth 8-5 in a men’s semifinal of the 2012 USA Curling National Championships on Friday night at Aston, Pa.
Scored three times in the 10th? Hmmmm. . .


While we’re at it, the headline writer on this story might want to make a second try. Nodohin?


And while it’s been a while since Heather Nedohin has been at a Scotties, it’s been two decades since Kim Dolan made the trip. In fact last year, she was the volunteer chairperson of the Scotties in Charlottetown. Afun story about Dolan and her teammates (who happens to own my favourite pub in PEI, the Olde Dublin.)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Jacobs' eight (with video) and other eights

Brad Jacobs won his third straight Northern Ontario title in a big way. In the semi-finals against Tim Phillips, Jacobs did the remarkable, scoring an eight-ender en route to a 14-3 win.

Later that evening, he knocked off Mike Jakubo in the final to earn his tickets for the Brier.
Now I’ve curled and covered curling for some 30 years and have never seen a real, live eight-ender. The only other one I can remember in competitive circles was Kelly Scott’s at the 2006 Players Championship.

In the video of the game, you can see how the eight sneaks up a bit on Tim Phillips. If you advance the video below to 3:18, you'll see the last two shots. Phillips actually makes the eight possible by missing his last rock and opening up his lone counter in the rings. Jacobs doesn't miss with his last one and the eight is recorded. 

Watch live streaming video from soocurlerslive at livestream.com

Above is a screen shot of the final eight Jacobs's rocks on the rings. 

One of the best near eight-ender stories in the Brier came back in the 1936 edition. While playing against a much weaker PEI team, Ken Watson had a chance to score eight, but while sweeping a stone, an ash from lead Charlie Kerr’s cigar fell onto the ice (yes, he was smoking while sweeping) in front of the stone causing it to stop. The team ended up hanging a seven.

Still, the greatest eight-ender story I've heard was Kim Gellard's junior team that recorded back-to-back eight-enders -- yup, 16 points in two ends -- in high school play. 

I get asked a lot if the eight-ender is like a hole-in-one in golf and the answer is clearly no. While both require an element of luck, in golf, there’s no one trying to stop your ball from going in the hole. In curling, you not only have to make eight great shots, but hope the other team misses a lot.

On three occasions, as a knee-sliding club player, I’ve had all eight rocks in the house and failed to score. The closest I’ve come to hanging eight actually came in a major league game many years ago against the great Ed Werenich. We had seven rocks in the rings and last rock. The Wrench had his final shot to play and despite the right call being a draw, there was no way he was giving up eight so he threw a hit, and received a chorus of boos from everyone else on the ice. I think we eventually scored five.


The King is dead. Long live the King.

Jeff Stoughton, defending champion of the Tim Hortons Brier, won’t be back this year after getting dusted in the Manitoba playdowns. As PaulWiecek reports, the champs simply weren’t good enough.

"It's disappointing just because we didn't play that well. I think that's the toughest thing to take," said Stoughton. "We didn't play good enough to win and we got what we deserved...
The final will be between Mike McEwen – playing his third straight provincial final – and the winner of the semi between Rob Fowler and Willie Lyburn.

You’d have to give the edge to McEwen who has been just about the best team in the world this year. But then again, no one expected Stoughton to lose either. Still, I really like the McEwen team, how hard it works, how much they love the game and flat-out good they are. If they get through the final, I'd make them my favourites to win the Brier. 


In Alberta, it’s looking like a championship will be decided between the two Kevins – Martin and Koe. Martin stayed alive in the Page Playoffs on Saturday and must get past Brock Virtue on Sunday morning to get to the final, where Koe is awaiting the victor.


Glenn Howard will play for his seventh consecutive Ontario championship at The Dominion Tankard in Stratford but he almost dropped into the semi-final.
Howard needed to steal singles in the 10th and 11th ends to hold of Peter Corner. The Toronto Star has a brief recap.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

N+L curling lacking

What’s going on with Newfoundland and Labrador curling? According to this article by Robin Short, there are very few teams entering the playdowns, especially any from out of town.
So this is where curling finds itself: its premier event, the Labatt Tankard men’s championship, attracts six teams to Labrador city for the provincial final and all but two are from the host club. We realize venturing to Labrador is pricey, but two outside teams?
Last month, the Scotties Tournament of Hearts women’s championship was staged and all five teams competing were St. John’s-based rinks.
As Short points out, five years after Brad Gushue won the Olympic gold, there’s not much to show in the way of development.
If only this were the only province where this was happening.

Two of the big guns in provincial championships are in trouble. This morning, Jeff Stoughton and Kevin Martin are down to their last lives in the provincials. First up, Stoughton, who lost a game at the provincial finals in Manitoba for the first time in two years. That’s a rare occurance, indeed, as Paul Wiecek points out and puts Stoughton in a tough spot.
And, of course, you can cue the defending champion-Team Canada stories if he loses.
And Kevin Martin dropped his contest last night to Brock Virtue, pushing into the C event. The Edmonton Journal’s Chris O’Leary has thestory with some very honest Martin quotes.
"I think you're safe to say, in the end, that we couldn't make a thing. But I guess it's a team effort, so that's a good thing; we were all bad," Martin said. "I don't know what to say. That was embarrassing, to play   like that. We have to pick it up a notch, that's for sure."


Here’s an interesting snippet from the Philadelphia Daily News about the upcoming U.S. men’s national championships in the City of Brotherly Love that seems to focus on, um, spandex and Cheryl Bernard.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Manners wins Sasky

As Murray McCormick details, an unexpected win in the Sask Tel playdowns as the unheralded Scott Manners claimed the title. Manners, however, never doubted his rink could do it.
``Who would have come here and picked us first out of the 16 teams? Not too many,'' Manners said. ``We're here, we did it and we worked hard all year on and off the ice. I couldn't be more proud of my team right now.''
Now Manners will have to carry the weighty Brier banner for Sasky fans who haven't seen a tankard hoisted by Green jackets since 1980. 

McCormick also adds the winner of New Brunswick, Grant Odishaw who beat James Gratton in the final. Does it feel like those are the only two curlers in that province?


Here’s good story from the Toronto Star of a high school teacher who didn’t know a thing about curling but still managed to lead his school’s team to a championship. Seems Junho Song used curling as an example in his physics class and his students just figured he was a curler. What happened next was amazing:
“The word had gotten out that Mr. Song loves curling and … I didn’t, I had no interest in curling whatsoever,” he says.“But I guess word spread and it eventually got to Melanie and she asked me ... if I could help out getting a team together.”

Colleen Jones just keeps winning and winning and winning. She’s now earned 27 Nova Scotia titles, the latest coming at the Senior. Now she has her targets set on a national crown.

"This year we have no excuses (at the nationals)," Jones said with a laugh. "It's all about just trying to play solid, to play the way we can. Last year we didn't go to the nationals with any idea of where we could finish or what we could do, but this year it's different." 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Gay Brier in B.C.

In Vancouver, the Gay and Lesbian community is having a national championship with 16 teams from across the country vying for the title. In addition to a Canadian crown – the Gay Brier if you will -- there’s also apparently a lot of fun involved with an Old Farts Draw to the Button contest and a Hot Butt contest.
And since Vancouver was named third worst-dressed city for our penchant for yoga pants, why not celebrate it? Consequently, the Hot Butt Contest: Yoga Pant Edition will have participants showing off how fab their buns of steel look in Lululemons.


Jim Cotter is set to defend his BC crown in Parksville and his coach, former champion Rick Folk, went out on a limb to predict the winner of the event.
When asked to predict a winner in Parksville, Folk, not surprisingly, picked the Cotter rink based both on experience and overall talent. "They've got as good a shot as anyone," Folk said.
This year's Cotter team has a bit of a different lineup with Kevin Folk moving up to play third while Ty Griffith came on board to play second.

Other teams in the expanded 16-team playdown (it was previously 10) include Jeff Richard, Sean Geall and Jay Peachey


In Saskatchewan, you’ll be able to watch the men’s tankard final on television for the first time since 2008. But you have to be a Max customer. Not sure what that is but if you are, enjoy the curling.


Doug Graham tees up the M+M Meat Shops National Junior in Napanee and organizer Stephen Paul tells him each team is coming with an entourage.

“Within two days, parents were calling, asking about hotels, booking rooms,” said Paul, who figures 10 to 20 people are coming with each rink.“We have sold 150 tickets just to parents alone. Things like that are a good barometer (for attendance expectations),” Paul said.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Sports Illustrated on curling

It's always nice when the Big Boys take notice of the roaring game and that's especially so in the United States. Sports Illustrated turned its eye to curling and produced a nice article showing just how fast the game is growing south of the border. According to Rick Patzke, top dog at USA Curling, there's been an 18 per cent growth in participation and 15 new clubs in the last year. Now that's great and all, but the overall numbers are still pretty small.
"That's very pertinent,'' Patzke said. "I think we're still somewhat of an insignificant sport with 16,500 members. If we get to 100,000 maybe we can start using the word of being a little bit more significant. A lot of people are discovering it for the first time.''
And US Olympic coach Phil Drobnick says there's still a lot of work to be done to make the game bigger in America.

"It's great to see that people are starting to understand our sport and they're wanting to come out and try it and see what it's like,'' Drobnick said. "We have to figure out a way to extend that across the country. That's going to be the next task. We have the excitement on the West Coast, we have the excitement on the East Coast, we have all these new clubs popping up, but now we have to figure out how not to grow the game but to grow the talent in those areas. That is going to be our biggest hurdle.''
You can read the full article here.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Big Shot 2.0

I'm not sure what's funnier in this video. . . the fact that Al Hackner makes his shot or that Pat and Ian can still sweep!

A veteran junior and some hosting tales

Do you know Thomas Scoffin? He’s a remarkable curling story. He’s 17 and on Friday he’ll start his sixth M+M Canadian Junior in Napanee, Ont.
That’s right, 17 and his sixth championship.
I can remember interviewing Scoffin when he was 12 and playing in his first championship down in St. Catharines. He was a nervous little kid back then. Now he’s a grizzled veteran. At 17.
And he’s coming in with some international experience, having skipped a mixed team at the Youth Winter Olympics last month in Austria.
In a Canadian Press story, he talks about how he’ll approach the Canadian final having seen the world.
“Now that I’ve seen international competition, the Canadian juniors is an incredibly tough competition,” said Scoffin.
“It’s a long grind and it takes a lot of hard work to make it htrough the week,” he said. “To finish on a positive not is probably one of the biggest accomplishments a Canadian curler could ever have.”

Assiniboia is the little town that can, says Murry McCormick in his Leader-Post story. That’s where the Sask Tel Saskatchewan men’s final will be held and it’s one of the few larger provinces that hosts the final in a curling club as opposed to an arena.
And there’s also the small matter of where everyone is going to stay.
Accommodating the curlers and fans away from the facility has been a challenge. The community lost the Franklin Hotel and Bar, and approximately 40 hotel rooms, in a fire on Dec. 16, 2009. The motel portion has been rebuilt, but Greensides estimates there are approximately 80 hotel rooms in the town. The Saskatchewan Curling Association's hosting requirements for a provincial men's championship is between 90 and 100 hotel rooms.

Speaking of hosting, the US men’s championship is going to Pennsylvania, not far from Philadelphia. It’s the first time it’s been in the East for as long as any one can remember and that means real live media attention. The Curling Show’s Dean Gemmell who is a player in the competition and was on the site survey committee said it’s big, big, big having it here.
“I think a lot, actually,” said Gemmell when asked how much the sport’s profile can be raised with a tournament of this magnitude. “I talked to Terry Kolesar of the USA Curling Association and she said it’s the first time they’ve had media credential requests put in from ESPN and Sports Illustrated for a national event, so that’s exciting."

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Road to the Brier underway

And off we go into the flurry of the men’s playdowns. 

In Manitoba, which, along with Quebec, may be the only provinces that seed their playdowns, no surprises as Jeff Stoughton and Mike McEwen were spotted into the 1 and 2 positions. And members of both teams said all the right things at the unveiling of the seeds:
"We have to remember that there are another 30 teams there and there are certainly some capable teams and players in the field," [Mike] McEwen said after the seeding for the 88th Manitoba men's provincial championship was revealed at the Heather Curling Club Tuesday."I'd love it to be us versus Jeff in the final, but we're both going to have to play well to get to that situation."
"Just like last year, we're going to have to play at our best if we want to defend," said Reid Carruthers, who throws second stones for the Stoughton rink.

I think people will be shocked, shocked I tell you, if it’s not these two playing for the tickets to Saskatoon. Here's Adam Wazny's story. 


Over in Saskatchewan, Steve Laycock’s team enters the playdowns as the favourite. And if they win, it might be thanks to Joel Jordison’s decision to drop to third.
“For myself, there’s less pressure actually,” said Jordison.“I don’t know if they feel there’s pressure or not. We haven’t really talkedabout it, but for myself I’m completely laid back. I want to win as bad as Iever have, but whatever pressure you put on yourself is self-inflicted.”


PEI has already decided on its representative and it's not Eddie "Spuds" MacKenzie, who struggled a year ago to a 1-10 mark. Instead, Mike Gaudet is back wearing the colours for PEI. Gaudet, who played third for MacKenzie at the Brier last year, skipped his own team that knocked off MacKenzie in the semis as well as wunderkind Brett Gallant, in the final. Moments later he gave the "we'll-give-it-our-best-and-try-to-win-more-than-one" speech. 
“I just want to play our best,” Gaudet said of hisexpectations for the upcoming Brier. “If we go out there and play our bestevery game, I’ll be happy. It’s going to be gouth, there’s no question, butwe’re looking forward to it.”


In Quebec, another third-turned-skip is back at the Brier. Robert Dejardins of Chicoutimi claimed the title and earned one whole paragraph in the Montreal Gazette.