Thursday, February 28, 2013

Kevin Martin admits to dozing off during one-sided games

OK, K-Mart didn’t really say that, but he did admit to Donna“Spinner” Spencer of the Canadian Press that what drives him these days is playing in a close contest with something on the line. And, it’s hard to fault a guy who has won just about all there is to win in curling AND who has is own App.

"I still really enjoy a good tough game, win or lose," Martin said. "It's tough in games that don'e mean a lot, but the big ones. . . those are the games that are fun for me still.
"As long as I really enjoy it, deep down really can't wait to play, I'll play. Once you don't feel like that, your days are done. I haven't got that yet."
Martin, of course, will once again skip the Alberta entry to the Brier and for the first time, play in his hometown of Edmonton. 

"I think the Brier is going to be loud, a lot of un and I think the crowd is going to be really into it," Martin said. "It's Canada's biggest party if the Grey Cup's not. The two bigest parties in Canada are the Grey Cup and the Brier."  
No word on whether Martin is considering donning the pads for the Eskimos next season.

Terry Jones also offered up a profile of Martin, reflecting back on what attracted him to the game in his early days. And, believe it or not, it was the smell. Not the odour of Ben Hebert and Marc Kennedy after a game of sweeping, but the inside of the rink.

“You know how it started?” asked the 46-year-old skip.
“The smell. There’s no smell like a curling rink. Especially a small town curling rink. Smaller town the better.
“When you walk into the rink the first thing that hits you is the smell. Fresh pies and hamburgers. A curling rink smell. Hockey rinks don’t smell like that. I loved that curling rink smell.”

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Scotties done, on to the Brier

With Rachel Homan and her squad packing for that curling hotbed of Riga, Latvia (note to skip: pack your own toilet paper), our attention turns to Edmonton where the top male rock-tossers are gathering to battle for the national title.

Lots of preview stuff to get through in the next few days, starting with Terry Jones’ fine look at Johnny Mo, who tells The Large One of how Earle used to punish him by putting him on top of a rock and tossing it down the ice. Wonder if someone would call the police on Major Morris these days for cruel and unusual punishment of a child?

One of my first memories was as a four-year-old, when my dad put me on top of a rock at the Navy Curling Club in Ottawa and threw it down the ice.”
His dad Earle owns a record representing three different provinces as a skip at the Brier — Manitoba in 1980, Quebec in 1982 and Ontario in 1985 — when the Canadian Armed Forces kept moving him around.
“I was born in Winnipeg but he got posted to Quebec that year. We moved to Ottawa after that. I loved growing up in Ottawa. Dad left the military for a while so we could keep the kids in school there and then ended up, to end his career in the military, staying in Ottawa. As far as I’m concerned I grew up in one of the best cities in Canada. I grew up in sports. Hockey. Baseball. Curling. Everything.”
The prolific Jonesy who can fill a notebook faster than you can fill a cup with a fire hose, also has a nice look at defending champion Glenn Howard. He asked if Howard was more proud of his 15th Brier or winning eight straight in Ontario.

“But the stat I like the most isn’t actually either of them.The one that's my favourite is winning a Brier in four different decades, 25 years apart."The first one was right here in Edmonton back in 1987. "It was my second Brier. In 1986 in Kitchener-Waterloo losing the final to Alberta's Ed Lukowich. But we were right back at it next year and we beat Bernie Sparkes, who was a legend back then," he said of playing third for brother Russ on a team which featured Tim Belcourt at second and Kent Carstairs throwing lead rocks. "Edmonton has been pretty good to me."

 Nova Scotia’s Kelly Mittelstadt got some ink in his local bugle, with the Truro Daily News offering up a story on the lawyer. Mittelstadt will be heading to his home town of Edmonton to play for skip Paul Flemming’s rink.

“Edmonton’s my home town, so that’s the first reason and this is the reason we curl,” he said. “We are by no means professionals, so this is the pinnacle of Canadian curling – to try and get to one of these events, so that’s what you spend six months of the year working towards. And the atmosphere is great. Anytime you can get upwards of 14,000 people out to watch a game at a time, it’s really neat to be part of that Canadiana.”
Almost wants to make you buy a flag, drink a pint of maple syrup and wear a Mountie stetson, doesn't it?

 Meanwhile Don Landry at Yahoo! takes the high road to ensuring a good seat on the media bench at the next event by praising the bronze-medal game, you know the one with the pot-splitting and hangovers (at least for the men).

He says that despite some of the bashing, there’s good curling involved. A TSN2 audience of 287,000 agrees with him.

But I come to praise the game, not to ask to have it buried.
Once again, Sunday's bronze medal game at The Scotties showed there is plenty of reason to want to see it played. Scott bested Nedohin 10-8 to nab a bronze to go along with last year's silver. Oh, and the two championships she's won as well.
As has been the case each and every time this game has been played at both The Scotties and The Brier, Scott and Nedohin engaged in an entertaining affair, filled with interesting scenarios fueled by a bit of a devil-may-care attitude towards strategy.
It's not that the players don't care about the outcome. If they didn't, why would both Scott and Nedohin call timeouts during a nervous tenth end? The players do care, because that's what they do. They care when they step on the ice. It's just that when the stakes are not a gold medal and a trip to the world championships, you can allow your inner gambler to take centre stage.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Homan changing the game

So just what did we witness last night? Was it a good Ontario team winning the Scotties? Perhaps the debut of a new powerhouse team?

Or was it even more than that. Was it a change in the way the women’s game is going to be played going forward?

First though, make no mistake: Rachel Homan and her rink were very, very good. Not just in the playoffs but all week. In fact, all playdowns. The team’s record in the playdown run from start to finish was a stunning 36-1. That’s not just good, that’s amazing.

But what I saw last week was something I have never witnessed in women’s curling before. It’s something I saw from Ed Werenich in his prime. From Russ Howard in his prime. And from Kevin Martin and Glenn Howard presently.

It’s the fear they strike in their opponents. Homan and her team have such great talent with every aspect of the game that when they step on the ice, their opponents know they can’t miss a shot. Not only that, but they can’t put the rock in the wrong place for fear of giving up a big end. That causes them to play with tightness, to constantly be worried not about making shots but about not missing.

The key to all this is that Homan’s rink has such a vastly superior control of throwing big weight from lead to skip that they can make just about anything go away.

There’s no team in women’s curling that can keep up with them in that department.

Anyone who wants to play in their sandbox from here on in is going to have to learn to throw it big and fast, but also have the ability to draw the button every now and then.

This is not to say they will win every game from here on in or every competition, but let’s just say if they play as they did this week, they look to be good bets to be wearing the Maple Leaf in Sochi.

The reaction to the win may not be quite as strong as mine, but clearly, Homan made a mark last night with her thrashing of the Manitoba champions. In the Globe and Mail, James Mirtle talked about the fear factor Homan has, getting the quote of the week out of Emma Miskew:

“So many people, like my boyfriend’s friends, think she’s the scariest person they’ve ever seen when they watch,” said Emma Miskew, Homan’s long-time third and close friend. “I’m always like ‘Really? But she’s so nice.’ ”No, she’s scary all right.Scary good.

Craig Homan said his daughter has a tattoo on her foot. It is dedicated to the memory of her late grandfather, Gerry. He was a long-time curler and a navigator in the Royal Canadian Air Force, and its old motto became her tattoo: “Through adversity to the stars.”Rachel Homan started curling when she was only four years old, and she had always been close with her grandfather. He had already fallen ill before she qualified to compete at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts for the first time two years ago, but he still made the trip. He died of cancer later that year, and Rachel Homan got her tattoo.“It’s always with her,” Craig Homan said.

Earle Morris, coach of the newly-crowned Canadian women's curling champions from Ontario, said it best, just moments after the 2013 Scotties Tournament of Hearts had ended.

"What a show. What a show you put on," he said as he disappeared in a sea of hugs from Rachel Homan, Emma Miskew, Alison Kreviazuk and Lisa Weagle.
They certainly did. In the process, Homan and crew have very likely changed the face of Canadian curling for the forseeable future.

In the Winnipeg Free Press, Paul Wiecek pointed out that it was Jones who was trying to capitalize on a more youthful squad when she re-organized her lineup a few years back.

The guard doesn't change very often in curling. But it sure appears like it did exactly that on the final weekend of the Canadian women's curling championship.And it wasn't the changing of the guard that Manitoba's Jennifer Jones was hoping would take place when she decided following the 2010 season to jettison veteran third Cathy Overton-Clapham in favour of a hot young shooter named Kaitlyn Lawes.The thinking by Jones, in part, was that by getting younger, the team was also getting better and improving their chances to do this December at the Roar of the Rings something no Manitoba team has done -- qualify to represent Canada in curling at the Winter Olympics.Well, youth carried the day Sunday, alright. It carried the whole final weekend, in fact. But instead of Lawes atop the gold-medal podium, it was a young Ontario foursome skipped by 23-year-old Rachel Homan that were the youth triumphant.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Homan machine into the final

Despite the great run from Jennifer Jones and her squad, there seems to be a sense that Rachel Homan and her rink will be a formidable opponent for whichever teams makes the final. They put on a tremendous performance in the 1-2 game on Saturday night, easily outplaying Jones and her Manitoba team. Now, people are beginning to wonder if anyone can beat them. 

Sean Fitz-Gerald leads his story on the Ottawa rink’s 1-2 victory with an apt description of the foursome.

A young team from Ontario, led by a steely-eyed skip with an audacious streak, will play for the Canadian women’s curling championship on home ice on Sunday night after a convincing playoff win over a more experienced opponent.

And James Mirtle at the Globe adds to the laurels, indicating the support Homan is getting from the almost-home-town crowd.

“It’s Homan-ly possible!”The message on one fan’s handheld sign at the K-Rock Centre was a reference to Ontario skip Rachel Homan’s impressive ability to pull off seemingly impossible shots, something she had done game after game en route to a dominant 10-1 run in the round robin.

On the other side of the ledger, Paul Wiecek exposed therough night for the Jones team, which had been so solid prior to the playoffs.

Manitoba was, by far, the best team all week at the Canadian women's curling championship.But they were also, by far, the lesser team Saturday night.Winners of a record-setting 11 straight games during the round-robin, Jennifer Jones and her Winnipeg foursome played their worst game of this event in the Page playoff 1 vs. 2 game against Ontario's Rachel Homan Saturday night, stumbling early and often en route to an 8-5 loss that suddenly has the once unbeatable Manitobans' backs to the wall. 

Jones, of course, has never taken the easy route to winning. Anything. She will have to rebound on Sunday morning for the semi-final against Heather Nedohin to get another shot at Homan. 

But at this point, the Homan rink looks almost unstoppable. The rink's ability to throw big weight, consistently and accurately means that if they should ever get a lead in the final, it won't be easy for any team to come back on them. 

Arsenault and team ponder the future

So what’s next for the old gals veterans from Nova Scotia? After their mediocre performance at this week’s Scotties, the Bluenosers realize their dream of getting to the Olympic Trials has been snuffed. Now the question is if they’ll continue playing on the competitive scene.

Monty Mosher of the Herald spoke with skip Colleen Jones Mary-Anne Arsenault about the team’s plans:

“It’s a little early,” Arsenault said Saturday in assessing her team’s future. “We’ll have to see. We’ll have to sit down and see what we’re thinking going forward.”

Although the Nova Scotia team got off to a horrid start, it did rally to finish with respectable numbers.

“The record, obviously, is disappointing,” Arsenault said. “But we were in pretty well every game and gave the top teams a go. I don’t think there’s anything to be ashamed of. We were solidly in fourth place in the stats. We didn’t embarrass ourselves by any means.”

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Oh that damned Page system

Not long after Jennifer Jones and her Manitoba crew became the first team since Linda Moore back in 1985 to post a perfect 11-0 record, there was a poignant Tweet from the skip’s partner Brent Laing.
Laing is bang on. Once again, the Page Playoff System has shown itself to be ridiculous. A record of 11-0 is the same as 10-1. What sense does that make?

The system was first put into play in curling at the 1995 Brier but it dates back to the 1950s in Australian rugby. It’s also common in softball. But just about everywhere else, the rule is used with two divisions.

Curling is the only place I could find where it’s bastardized for one league. And that’s why it makes no sense, especially when a team goes perfect through the round robin as Jones and company did.

 Here’s the problem: a team has a tremendous week and beats everyone else. For arguments sake, we’ll say the second-place team finishes at 7-4. But the only difference at the end of the week is hammer?

Fair? Not in my book. 11-0 should go to the final.

 Some argue that it gives the round-robin winner two chances to reach the final but I can tell you that every skip I’ve interviewed over the years would be more than happy to get in the final game and have one shot to win it all.

 Glenn Howard is perhaps the most vocal opponent of the Page system and he has told me countless times that one game for all marbles is his choice.

The Page system was brought in to stabilize the television schedule and ensure there are meaningful games to be broadcast at defined times. Previous to this, there was always the chance that there would be no contest on the Friday evening. With the elimination of the morning draws, however, that’s no longer a factor. The round robin doesn’t end until Friday.

 What should be in place is a true playoff round: third and fourth meet in a quarter-final, winner plays second in the semi, winner plays first in the final.

At the time it was brought in, the CCA said it didn’t want to put any team two games up (or back) in the playoff round, which was laughed upon because that’s what the round-robin sort of decides, doesn’t it?

It’s saying 11-0 is only one game better than 6-5.

 All the complaining however isn’t going to change any of this. There’s zero talk of dropping the Page system. And if there’s one good thing, it’s that the average curling fan has gained an understanding of how it works. There are no more confused looks when you try to tell folks about three vs. four and all that.

 Now, if we could just get rid of that bronze medal game. . .

Friday, February 22, 2013

Alberta at the bottom looking up

Aside from the big story this week of three top teams vying for the title in Jennnifer Jones, Rachel Homan and Heather Nedohin, the glaring story from the Scotties is the horrendous record of the Alberta foursome. The squad from Grand Prairie is tied at the bottom of the standings with a 1-8 mark.

Fred Rinne, the very capable Alberta writer from Grand Prairie, home of the Kristie Moore rink, pens an article detailing the awful performance of the squad, trying to paint somewhat of a positive picture.

 Defending champ Heather Nedohin is here, many curling fans in the Wild Rose province consider her the provincial rep moreso than Moore. 
That Nedohin’s team is playing well, just one loss at press time, is no surprise.That Moore would be the last winless team at the Kingston party, is. 
Enter Renee Sonnenberg and credit her longtime teammate Moore for recognizing the need. 
It takes a big “non-ego” to do that. 
It’s not the flu. 
It’s not any other reason, other than it needed to be. 
On the largest stage under the spotlight of the Canadian curling faithful, Kristie Moore put her team, her fans, her friends, and her city, ahead of herself. 
 “I was mentally exhuasted. I was trying to do too much out there. I was trying to do it all and you can’t do it all by yourself.”

Tim Baines of the Ottawa Sun also offered up some Moore quotes, and how the skipper is trying to stay positive.
“Everything had gone wrong,” said Moore. “It hasn’t been one real thing. We’ve only been together really since the middle of September. You’ve just got to be patient. Every team struggles. Unfortunately for us, it was here, at the big show. I’ve struggled in a couple of games.” 
Moore is trying to stay upbeat. 
“We're not that far off,” she said. “I was totally relaxed today. My draw weight was just elusive and that gos ut into trouble. It’s not like we played terrible. We were just the wrong side of the inch, just like we were the first few games. We’re just trying to ride it out and play some good games.”
Ah the dreaded wrong side of the inch. You knew that was coming, right? That has to be the worst line in curling. And how come you never hear a team that's winning talking about being in the right side of the inch? I digress.

Alberta's woes highlight the risks of the looming relegation. While no team wants to face relegation, I'm sure the CCA and organizers would dread losing a big-province squad to the field through this system. Nunavut or Alberta? Which do you think would sell more tickets or draw more TV eyeballs?

Of course having a bad week doesn't mean a team is out -- it still gets to go through the challenge ahead of the following year's event. But a bad week from Moore shows that anyone is at risk.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Homan rink turning heads

Rachel Homan and her team from Ottawa are continuing to roll along, pushing their win total to seven on Wednesday. Along the way, they’re impressing their opponents, young and old. Homan is looking exceptional in demolishing the field in style and, as opposed to 2011 when this team looked good, this year, as Tim Baines of the Sun points out, they have more than just flash. 

The Ontario team isn't tied for top spot by fluke. They've got game. . . and plenty of it. A fourth-place finish at the Scotties in 2011 was a stepping stone. After rolling through the Ontario championship undefeated, they're not just here to bask in the experience.  

"The first time we got here, I thought maybe we were good enough for the playoffs, but I didn't really believe we were good enough to win the whole thing," said Homan. "We didn't have enough experience. You can't fast track experience. This time, I think we're just as good as any team here. I think we're ready."
And you can count Saskatchewan's Jill Shumay among the growing group of impressed opponents. Shumay's team lost 8-2 to the Ontario four on Wednesday. 

 “It’s so impressive . . . the weight they throw and it’s so controlled,” said Shumay. “They can throw sub-seven-second peels and in control and they throw them like BBs. It’s really is fun to watch them.”
Also in the fan club is veteran Colleen Jones, who talked to Gregory Strong of Canadian Press.  
"She’s a superstar and she will be a superstar," said Nova Scotia vice-skip Colleen Jones. "She’s so intense, so driven, so good, that it’s amazing."
And so is Andrea Crawford of New Brunswick who talked about Homan's confidence.

“That plays a big role in your performance,” Crawford said. “It doesn’t seem like there’s a whole lot that shakes her.”
On Thursday, the almost-hometown team faces the other undefeated rink, Colleen Jones and the 'Tobans.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Wrestling out, Mixed Doubles In?

Oh those bitter, bitter wrestlers.

In the wake of wrestling getting dumped as an Olympic sport, it seems that there are some sour grapes coming out, with a few shots being taken at curling.

Paul Wiecek relates the story of a University of Minnesota wrestling coach whining about his sport getting dumped and curling being in.
“We are so far away from what the Olympic Games were, and we keep diluting it with other sports that are not Olympic sports," University of Minnesota Gophers wrestling coach J (yes, that's his first name) Robinson protested to reporters in Minneapolis last week."Curling is not an Olympic sport. Beach volleyball is not an Olympic sport."
But, as anyone who has ever been to an Olympics or even watched an Olympics can attest, the games these days are about cold, hard, cash, as the CCA’s Warren Hansen (the man being parodied in the @fakeCCA Twitter account – you have to follow it!) pointed out.

"The Olympics is not about what's a sport -- it's about money," Hansen says matter-of-factly. "And it's not like the Olympics and IOC is unique that way. Is the NFL about sport? Is the NHL about sport? Of course not. They're about the money -- the sport's a sideshow."

He forgot to mention that curling is about money too! That’s why there’s so much crap frozen in the ice at the K-Roc Centre this week and why we have to continue to deal with Carl and his lack of points that prevent him from getting to his daughter’s wedding. However, I digress.

Hansen added that curling is one of the top TV draws at the Winter Games, and that it could mean more rock-tossing at the Olympics. He predicted that mixed curling will be included in the near future and also – Argh!!!!! – Mixed Doubles.

"I think there's an excellent chance," says Hansen, "that there will be three medals for curling in 2018 and the third one will be mixed doubles. The likelihood that it will be approved is very good."

At 2-4, N.S. still drawing attention

OK, the Nova Scotia team is a good story with the vets returning to get yet another diamond from Kruger (Vajazzler, anyone?), but at 2-4 it's a bit surprising they're still drawing attention in the press. Especially when three teams are undefeated heading into Wednesday's play -- a first. However, deadlines are always a factor at these events. 

The Halifax gals finally got on the winning side of the board Tuesday and it was hard work all the way. CP writer Gregory Strong files a look at the team made up of three vets and newcomer Jen Baxter, through the eyes of alternate Nancy Delahunt, who isn’t in a hurry to slip on the slider.

“I am not itching to get out (on the ice),” she said. “Would I go out and would I take it? Sure, but I’m not looking to elbow anyone out of the way.”

The Bluenosers were off to a disastrous start before finally earning a victory over NWT, something that didn’t come easy said former skip Colleen Jones.

“It’s nice to get the first win — and that even was hard,” said vice-skip Colleen Jones. “Like all of the sudden you’re going, ‘We could still give this away.’ It’s amazing. You forget how much hard work it is to plow through the tough times of a game and try to eke out a win.”

The Nova Scotia team drew the attention of one fan in particular. As Jim Morris relates on Yahoo! Viola Braden, 98 years young, was taking in her first Scotties and was glad to see Jones, her favourite player, on the ice.
Jones was thrilled to learn she had a fan in Braden.
"That's awesome," Jones said after Nova Scotia defeated the N.W.T/Yukon 10-7. "I hope when I'm 98 I'm going to a Scotties and watching. I think that's terrific somebody would take the time.
"I just love seeing that kind of spirit, of just wanting to keep going out and living life."

Monday, February 18, 2013

Dawn Askin on Marriage and Winnipeg

The Sun's Tim Baines has a story on Dawn Askin and her forthcoming marriage to curler Mike McEwen this July. Askin met McEwen when he billeted at their family home during a big junior spiel back in the day. Later, she moved to Winnipeg for him, oh, and also to play for Jennifer Jones and win national and world championships.

And, she even has nice things to say about Winter-peg.
"It's nice going from a 45-minute bus ride to work to a five-minute drive," said Askin of living in the St. James district of Winnipeg and working for Public Works. "Winnipeg is a great city. It's easy to get around. I know some people make fun of Winnipeg but I like it. I still love Ottawa too."
The full story is here. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Kick save and a beauty!

Sean Fitz-Gerald is killing it in Kingston, with another great story. This time, he focuses on Tami and Greg Holtby, the parents of Saskatchewan's Taryn Holtby.

. You may have heard of their son -- Braden Holtby, who plays goal for the Washington Capitals. The parents were asked which was more stressful -- watching son play goal (as they did during last year's NHL playoffs) or watching daughter throw rocks.
“They won the provincial curling [title] on the last rock, and it was way more stressful than the hockey, I think,” Greg said. “Everything happens so slowly in curling, and the tension just builds.” 
“I would say both are stressful,” Tami said. “But this is harder to keep contained.”
Tami became famous last year when she showed a variety of reactions while watching her son play goal in the playoffs. She'd cover her eyes, jump up and down and basically ride the tide of emotion during the Caps games.

You can see an example below:

The rest of the really enjoyable article from Fitz-Gerald is here. It's recommended reading.

Where does Jen Jones rank?

Jennifer Jones has accomplished a lot in curling . . . provincial, national and world titles, loads of cash and trophies. And so Jim Bender of the Winnipeg Sun poses the interesting question: where does she rank among the all-time greats?

He pegs her as second-best in Canada and third-best in the whole wide world. That would be behind Anette Norberg and Sandra Schmirler.

Bender polled a few others and got some interesting responses, including this one from Manitoban Connie Laliberte:

"Even though Sandra's won Olympic gold, I think Jennifer is a better overall player than Sandra -- not to say anything bad about Sandra," said Laliberte, a three-time Canadian champ. "But if Sandra were here today, I think Jen would have given her a really good run. . .
"Under pressure, if I could choose anyone to make that last shot, Jennifer's the one."
Ray Turnbull, another Manitoba legend, also gave Jones loads of props:

"When you break it down, she wins games in so many interesting ways," said former TSN broadcaster Ray Turnbull. "She's never out of a game. You've seen her steal a game (2008) and to win with a big shot (2005) and that shot should have been ranked as the No. 1 shot of all time because of the situation . . . Jen Jones is as good there is."
It's an interesting debate and one that's hard to pin down due to different teams, different eras and different rules. I do know this: I think Jones may be the smartest player in women's curling history.

Where do you think she ranks and who would be your top five?

Saskatchewan with too many players on the ice

Team Sasky at the Scotties is playing as a fivesome. Or perhaps a four-and-a-halfsome. As Jim Morris details on, Kara Johnston, the third on the team is playing with a slight touch of pregnancy. Despite being seven months along, she's doing just fine

"I've never been concerned," said the 36-year-old from Lloydminster. "My body has grown through the season. Everything has naturally progressed.
"I feel good out there. I feel better in a hack than tying shoes."
There have been plenty of pregnant curlers at the Scotties before and also young moms, which this year would include Jennifer Jones. It's a rather remarkable feat, by my measure. Although best leave it to skip Jill Shumay to give it perspective.

"We're pregnant, not dying," said Shumay. It's all good.
"Your body slowly adjusts. It's not like you hop in the hack for the first time seven months pregnant." 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Homan is streaking

Perry Lefko has a profile of what is possibly the hottest team heading into tomorrow's Scotties start in Kingston, that being Rachel Homan's gang from Ottawa. All they've done is win their last 24 straight.

"We've definitely exceeded what we thought we could do," Homan said. "We're certainly taking it one game at a time. We're not looking beyond that. We're just looking at winning every game we're in."
Homan said her team pinpointed earning a trials berth as its primary objective entering the season. If her team maintains its current position on the CTRS rankings, it will gain an entry.
"We're just trying to build as a team and learn from the losses," she said. "We knew as long as we could make the playoffs in all the events and make lots of shots, then we'd have a chance (at qualifying for the trials)."
Of course seeing as how he's writing for, Lefko also throws in a plug details the fact that Homan can win a $100,000 bonus by capturing the second leg of the women's Grand Slam at the Players' Championship in April.

If the Homan team wins the Players' Championship in April in Toronto, it will collect a $100,000 bonus provided by Sportsnet for sweeping the final two Grand Slam of Curling events.
"Sure it's fun to think about the what-ifs, but other than that we're just focused on nationals right now, and once nationals are over with we can take it from there," Homan told

Homan and company start off against Newfoundland & Labrador tomorrow at 2 p.m.

Scotties makes it to Parliament Hill

A member statement from Prince Edward-Hastings Daryl Kramp today has a little cornball touch to it and he stumbles a bit on Nedohin, but nice to see the Scotties getting some attention in Ottawa.

Colleen's story

There are a couple of nice takeouts on Colleen Jones, who is making a return to the Scotties this weekend for the 1,432nd time. The ever-smiling, sometime gum-chomping broadcaster is on the Nova Scotia team which has Mary-Anne Arsenault as skip.

First up is Don Landry's story over at, which analyzes Jones' sweeping abilities after all these years as a skip. She was asked the last time she did some heaving brushing at a national championship:

“Well, it was in the last century, many, many years ago," she said when asked to tell the tale of the last time she played front end at a national championship. The year was 1979 and Jones was part of a team skipped by Penny Larocque. 
"I was, I think, the youngest competitor at the Canadian championships at the time. 19 years and 3 months or something. Really kind of early, early days of women’s curling. It was primitive in comparison. Primitive in terms of what the arena looked like. Really different times back then. We played in Montreal and there were no fans in the stands except, maybe, 200 people."
To prepare for the gruelling week ahead, the team worked with trainer Neil Hayes, who was a tyrant, according to Jones.

“He’s got us doing every excercise that begins with an Eastern Bloc country name," cracked Jones, ever the quote-machine. "Like the Bulgarian lift, the Romanian lift. He has us doing nasty, nasty stuff. He’s helped us a lot. I think I could take on a couple of people in a race, in an arm wrestle, in a bench press, in a squat. Definitely in a bicycle race through the Alps I could definitely take people.”

The multi-talented Sean Fitz-Gerald has also penned a riveting look at Colleen Jones and her brush with death a few years ago from bacterial meningitis. It's in today's National Post. 

"You're never lucky to get bacterial meningitis, but when I think of all the travelling I've done over the years, I was lucky it happened in Canada." 
She spent about a week in hospital and underwent surgery to correct an opening that had been allowing cerebrospinal fluid (Jones usually shortens it to "brain fluid" in conversation) to leak out her nose, and sometimes into her lungs. It was not long before she returned to the ice.
The story makes it worthwhile to pick up the Post (or if anyone has a link, please send it on).

McCarville taking a break

Krista McCarville, a four-time Ontario women's champion, is taking a wee break from the Roaring Game. The 30-year-old teacher from Thunder Bay says she needs to devote a little more time to her family at the moment.

"Curling takes up a lot of your time. I love it to death and it's gonna be really hard come next September when I don't have the curling to go to, but I think it's the right decision right now in my life," McCarville said on Wednesday. 
"I'm going to go year to year and I think maybe next year at this time I'll know if I'm ready to come back or if I know it's the right decision to continu on with taking some time of. I truly don't know when I'll go back."
The full story is here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Ejection talk heating up between players, officials

In the wake of Chris Schille's ejection from the Saskatchewan men's playdowns, there's been more discussion about the ejection of curlers for being bad boys and girls.
Paul Wiecek penned a fine column in the Winnipeg Free Press that looked at the situation in Manitoba and the ruckus it's causing with players.

Now, this issue was resolved decades ago in sports like football, baseball or hockey, where officials have had the power to bounce players for objectionable conduct for as long as anyone can remember. 
But in a self-policing sport such as curling -- where the single worst infraction isn't an actual infraction at all, but rather the failure to call one on yourself -- suddenly giving officials the power to potentially alter the entire course of the game by tossing out players is a very big deal indeed.
The MCA put in a new policy for this year's championships and many players feel it gives the officials far too much power.

There haven't been any ejections yet in Manitoba, where the new policy has now been in place for junior men's, junior women's, women's and, this week, men's provincial championships. 
But some curlers are concerned it's just a matter of time and worry that Curl Manitoba's new policy is so vaguely worded that it leaves unclear exactly what constitutes objectionable conduct serious enough to merit ejection. 
"The guidelines are too ambiguous. I think they really need to spell out what's what," says McEwen. "You'd hate to see a borderline situation where an official steps over the line or doesn't step in. And the way it's written, it's pretty much their personal opinion." 
The CCA doesn't have an ejection policy but Warren Hansen said bad language results in a big response.

CCA events director Warren Hansen says swearing by players wearing television microphones at curling events will generate viewer complaints like, literally, nothing else.
"If someone even says 'Christ!' out there, us and TSN will get a hundred emails within 15 minutes," says Hansen. "Minimum -- a hundred. I'm serious." 
It's an interesting topic and it's one that's likely to heat up over the next few months.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Stars align for Brier organizers

The field for the Tim Hortons Brier is going to feature a lot of familiar faces with Glenn Howard, Kevin Martin, Jeff Stoughton, Brad Jacobs, Brad Gushue, Jean-Michel Menard, James Grattan and Jamie Koe all heading to Edmonton. 

This is going to make a lot of people very, very happy. People like, oh, TSN which should get boffo ratings, and the local organizers in Edmonton, who should see a surge in ticket sales. Currently there were still a lot to sell. 

Here are some rundowns from the provincial playdowns. 


Organizers in Edmonton will be hoping that Kevin Martin will be a big enough draw to sell tickets for them. Martin, the home-town boy, won his 12th Alberta championship and earned a spot at the national championship with a 5-4 win over rival Kevin Koe. 

Apparently ticket sales haven't exactly been through the roof with more than 100,000 still up for grabs. Norm Cowley talked to officials after the Martin win. 

“History shows that we should see a spike in ticket sales once the roster is determined,” said Brier event manager Trina Joly.
The ticket sales count was at 151,328 before Martin edged Koe 5-4 in an extra end in a classic curling game at the Alberta men’s championship.

This will be the first time that Martin has played before his home crowd as he attempts to become the first player to skip five Brier titles. 

“Edmonton Brier does (mean something) though, because of all the friends, family and everybody who can come watch,” said Martin, who enjoyed his experience playing in the 2009 Olympic Trials at Rexall Place. “As far as the 12th Brier and any records and things like that, I’ll worry about that when I’m done.
“But the Edmonton Brier is going to be a lot of fun. Can you imagine? It’s going to be just a hoot.”


Glenn Howard and his team are going back to the Tim Hortons Brier for an eighth straight year. They seem to get to the Canadian championship as if they were signing up for the regular men's beef spiel. 

Howard, along with Wayne Middaugh, Brent Laing and Craig Savill, defeated Joe Frans at the Dominion Tankard in Barrie in a last-shot thriller. The fact that Howard was eligible for Senior playdowns this year wasn't lost on the reigning world champs. 

"The later in my career, the harder it is to win," Howard said. "Lo and behold, we've won eight in a row.
"I don't know how this keeps happening, but we're just going to ride it."If my records are correct, the Howard four have the record for most consecutive Brier appearances with their eighth.

Another, um, veteran, Jeff Stoughton earned his 10th trip to the dance by winning ever-tough Manitoba with a 7-4 victory over Sean Grassie. 

As Paul Wiecek noted in the Winnipeg Free Press, Grassie struggled with his draw weight early in the game and gave Stoughton a lead that he ran with, all the way to the title. 

"It never gets old," said Stoughton. "We knew we’d have to come out with a really good game. We certainly got a couple of breaks from Sean’s misses early, which made the game a little simpler for us. We didn’t have to go too hard after that.
"(It was) just sort of scoreboard management and the guys played well enough to pull this off."

In B.C., Andrew Bilesky won his last four games to earn the Hearts. The team, coached by Neil Houston, won a 7-6 match over Brent Pierce in the final. Mario Annicchiarico explains: 

"It's awesome," Bilesky told Shaw cable after the win. "The whole game you try not to think of the outcome. This hasn't sunk in yet. The team played awesome, shot well all week."It was great to have our coach as well, he was a big help to us this year. We worked hard all year for this."

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Usual Suspects in control on Super Sliding Sunday

In most of the country, the world is unfolding as expected with the favourites playing for provincial finals, setting up what could be a strong Tim Hortons Brier field. Only in Manitoba is there anything resembling an upset in the making

So you were expecting a Jeff Stoughton-Mike McEwen final? Oops. Sean Grassie ruined that betting slip when he defeated Stoughton on Saturday.

The victory means Grassie, who came into this event as the sixth seed and with few expecting him to still be playing on Sunday, heads into Sunday as the last remaining undefeated team in this field.A berth in the Brier and the national spotlight are one win away for a man who, until Saturday night, had never before curled on anything more glamorous than public-access TV."I thought the guys handled the nerves great today. Playing a big game, on national TV, they hung in there really well," said Grassie, who also beat defending champion Rob Fowler Saturday morning to advance to Saturday night’s 1 vs. 1 game.

That final game is on Sportsnet Sunday afternoon.


Glenn Howard and his mates seem to be rounding into top form at just the right time. The reigning world champs won the 1-2 Page on Saturday at the Dominion Tankard in Barrie, winning a tight 5-3 contest in which they kept control for most of the ends. The rink moves to Sunday’s final.

Meanwhile in the 3-4 game, Rob Rumfeldt’s tremendous 10th-end Hail Mary draw to the button forced an extra end but it wasn’t enough. John Epping needed only a draw to the eight-foot to win and move on to Sunday morning’s semi, against Frans.

The final will be on Sportsnet Sunday and that broadcaster has a recap on its web site.


Kevin Martin is into another Alberta final and will take on the winner of this morning’s semi-final between Kevin Koe and Aaron Sluchinski. Koe, who was down to his last life won three straight to get into the semi, including a 3-4 game win against Charley Thomas.

Koe said his team needs to play better if it hopes to defend its Alberta crown.

“Basically, my experience with provincials is if you’re not playing your best, you’re not going to win,” he said. “You can kind of muck through a little bit, but when it comes to playoff time, or certainly when you get down to your last life, if that does happen, if you’re not playing your best, you’re not going to win.


Brent Pierce is into the final in B.C. He handed Sean Geall an 8-4 loss in the 1-2 game. He awaits the semi-final winner, which will be determined by Geall and Andrew Bilesky.


Up in Nipigon, its Brad Jacobs in the driver’s seat. He’ll take on Robbie Gordon in today’s final, which is being played this morning so the players can get home before dark!