Friday, April 3, 2015

Menard's column rubs one athlete the wrong way

Jean-Michel Menard's guest blog the other day has seemingly rubbed at least one fellow athlete the wrong way. Speedskater Ivanie Blondin sent out a Tweet saying that she felt he was acting a bit spoiled.

Menard said that he was bothered by the constant erosion of perks and accessibility given to the curlers at the Brier. Of course everything is relative. If you haven't had any of that stuff, you don't know what you're missing. And certainly most other athletes don't get treated as the men curlers do at the Brier. Even the women at the Scotties never had it quite as good as the men. They're now about equal. To some that I heard from, Menard sounded a bit like a petty child whining.

But if you've played in a number of Briers as Menard has, you would view the changes as cuts. Apparently if you are a speedskater such as Ivanie Blondin, then you view what the curlers have currently as pretty darn good.

Part of this is hard to compare of course. A speedskating event is unlike a Brier.  A bit of apples to oranges. Not every player in the Brier is getting Sport Canada funding as an athlete such as Blondin would either.

One thing that seems a little strange in this? I wonder why a speedskater was reading a curling blog to begin with? Curling a lousy game to see live

It's not news that curling attendance is suffering of late. It's also not earth-shattering that one of the major causes of that is the excellent television coverage. Curling fans, who are generally older, like to sit at home and watch rather than go to the rink, the thinking goes.

But Don Marks, writing on, argues that one of the major reasons people aren't going to watch curling live in the numbers as they used to is that it's a lousy sport to watch in an arena. 

The problem is that you can’t see most of what is going on from most of the seats in a large arena.  
For example, when you are sitting at one end of a sheet of ice, you cannot see exactly what happens when rocks arrive at the house at the other end. Unless you are sitting in the nose bleed seats far away from the live action, it is impossible to catch the angles and nuances of the shots, and this is especially frustrating in clutch situations.
Curling is a game of inches that demands an overhead camera to determine exactly what is going on.  What live curling really needs are overhead seats.

It's true. Depending on where you're sitting in the rink, it can be hard to figure out what's going on. I remember during the Vancouver Olympics vacating my media seat to sit for a few ends with a friend who was in the VIP section. It was on the side, near one end. You couldn't see have the houses and even those that you could see were limited in scope, i.e. who was shot.

Much of that was alleviated by the screen on the clock apparatus that sat in clear view to everyone. It showed the TSN feed without sound. But it only covered one game so if you were trying to watch a game that wasn't being featured, it was tough.

That said, I think part of the experience of being in the arena is to hear the sounds of the crowd, the yells, the rocks crashing. I also think in most cases you can see at the very least some of what's going on and so you can get a really good sense of the talent of the players.

Two years ago I went to the old Maple Leaf Gardens for the Players Championship and stood up on the concourse and could see much of what was going on. Would it have been better on TV? For sure, but there was a really cool part about being there. And that's what I think Marks is missing here.

Marks goes on to say that he believes if something doesn't change, curling will face a slow decline in attendance that will devastate the sport as a live event.

Ratings for TV broadcasts of curling remain high and the CCA is already talking about moving major competitions into smaller houses (6-9,000 seats) to maintain the atmosphere of a “packed house”.  
But how long are sponsors going to lay out big cash for games where the crowd noise sounds like a community club swim meet? 
This is not the way to build the sport. 
It is ironic that people keep predicting that elite sports like football and hockey will price their tickets outside the market for the average fan so that one day the seats will only be filled by corporate suits or none at all. 
And it turns out that the most grassroots sport of them all is the one that is playing before empty houses.

I'm not so sure that smaller venues aren't a positive. I mean, if you can take the Brier back to places such as St. John's, where it will likely be a hit and probably sell out, it's a good thing. As long as the sponsor is happy and you don't lose your shirt.

So curling fans, do you enjoy going to the game more than watching it on TV or perhaps a little bit of both?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Menard on the changing of the Brier

Over at In The House Curling, one of my favourite blogs, Mike Fournier, allowed 2006 Brier champion Jean-Michel Menard to post a guest blog and it's quite an eye-opener.

Menard doesn't tackle the easy topic of relegation, but pulls back the curtain on the constant cuts to the Brier, from a player's standpoint.

You can (and should) read the entire article here 

Essentially the article says that as far as players go, there has been a slow erosion of services. Some of the things Menard discusses are the lack of dedicated drivers, the disappearance of the players' lounge, fewer hotel rooms and even food in between games.

The one that sticks out for me is the end of a team driver. There's a great history of teams having their own driver. For volunteers, it was one of the great jobs to get. In one of the most famous partnerships, Sam Richardson served as the team driver for Jack MacDuff's Newfoundland team that won the 1976 Brier. Richardson started the week as the driver and ended up as the team coach!

From the CCA side, I suspect this is something that had to be done to preserve the bottom line. The Brier is no longer the cash-cow it once was. Cutting costs is just something that's unfortunately inevitable. When crowds aren't showing up, the money has to come from somewhere. It may seem cheap and it may come at the expense of the stars of the show, but I'm not sure what else you can do?

However, a few of these cuts make the CCA look bad. Food in the players dressing rooms between games seems like something that could be arranged pretty easily. If you have back-to-back draws, the time between games can be tight, especially if you happen to be a player or team that is in demand by the media. You finish your game and spend possibly 30 to 40 minutes with the press and then have to hustle to get something to eat. And if the officials are getting something in their room, I can't see why the players shouldn't get something too.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Old-timers showing a youthful spirit at Diversicare Grand Masters

Have to give a shout-out to the old-timers who are still very much young at heart who will be competing in the Diversicare Grand Masters Ontario championship at Thornhill Country Club. The championship starts on Thursday.

Now this event is for players 70 and over but if you watched these folks toss rocks and sweep, you'd never believe they were of that age. They're limber, spry and fit. Some of these guys are curling 70, 80 or even more games in a season! If you're in the area, drop by and check on the curling.

You can go here to get the draw and a list of the teams and many of the names will be familiar -- these guys have made their mark in just about every division along the way and will continue to be doing it this week.

So hats off to the Diversicare Grand Masters. Good luck and good curling.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Dacey leads curlers into closed door meeting with NS officials

Mark Dacey's call out of the Nova Scotia Curling Association had some results it seems. 

According to Monty Mosher of the Halifax Chronicle Herald, Dacey and a number of other competitive curlers from the province met with officials from the Nova Scotia Curling Association behind closed doors on Saturday to deal with issues the curlers feel are holding them back against other players across the country. 

Of course under the new relegation system at the Brier, Nova Scotia missed the main competition for the first time in the event's history.

Jamie Murphy, who has won the Nova Scotia title two of the last four years, served on the ice committee and said the conditions have simply been inadequate.

Murphy, who came to Nova Scotia from New Brunswick, said he served on Nova Scotia committee to set ice conditions for provincial play and those conditions haven’t been met in the past four years. 
“They haven’t even been close,” he said. “The ice conditions in all of the qualifiers and all of the Tankards have been inadequate. 
“I can say that — and it shouldn’t sound like sour grapes — because I’ve won a couple of them. I would say in the two I won the conditions were completely inadequate.”

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Gushue sticks by comments on bronze-medal game

Brad Gushue is standing by his comments about the Brier's bronze-medal game, telling the St. John's Telegram that the game simply needs to go away. 

Gushue, who lost the game to Saskatchewan's Steve Laycock, said he has never wavered in his opinion. 

“I said it before. I said it when I won the bronze medal at the Brier and when I lost the bronze-medal game,” said Gushue, “When I said it this time, I was being consistent. 
“I meant it. I stick by it. I’m not ashamed of what I said, because it is how I feel and how I’ve felt all along. 
“I’d only be ashamed if I didn’t stick by what I believe.”

He also went on VOCM radio and re-iterated his comments, telling listeners that while he was trying in the game, he wasn't emotionally invested. You can listen below.

Later in the interview, Gushue details just how silly the bronze medal format is using the past Scotties Tournament of Hearts as an example.

Gushue first made the comments in the Calgary Herald shortly after the contest ended. It was met by a response from Curling Canada's Al Cameron, who said the game is not held to make money but to provide consistency.

“As an organization, nobody’s making money off this and putting money in their pockets,’’ clarified CC Director of Communication and Media Relations Al Cameron. “The money made from all of the games goes right back into the development of the game, from the grassroots on to high-performance. 
“It’s all good for the game of curling. 
“A bronze-medal game is used at the Olympics, it’s used at the World Championships. Teams have to get the mindset that if they’re playing for Canada with a medal on the line, they need to be prepared to play like it means something.

While the World Championships used the same page-playoff format as the Brier, the Olympics do not. They proceed with two semi-finals and a final, making the idea of a bronze medal game logical.

The page system, of course, has just one semi-final which most would think means the loser of that semi would finish third.

Still, the game was a winner for ratings on television with 621,000 people tuning in.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Big numbers for TSN at the Brier

OK, so while Brad Gushue and I clearly don't like the bronze-medal game, a lot of other curling fans do. 

The match that the Newfoundland and Labrador skip called the "dumbest game in curling" drew a whopping 621,000 viewers, which is a huge number for an inconsequential game. It lends credence to why the CCA  Curling Canada wants to keep it around. 

And the final? Well how about 1.25 million viewers? That's massive and will be among the top audiences TSN gets for the entire year. 

Overall, the TV number for the Tim Hortons Brier were up over last year, not a big surprise considering 2014 was an Oympic year and the burnout factor was likely in place. 

The overall average for the week was 587,000 with 7.5 million Canadians watching at least part of the Brier. That's a 29 per cent increase from last year. Impressive in a country of 35 million. 

A few other highlights from the TSN press release:

·         Saturday night’s Semifinal featuring Brad Gushue vs. Pat Simmons attracted an average audience of 896,000 viewers, making it the most-watched sporting event of the night;

·         The Page Playoff (1 vs. 2) featuring Brad Jacobs vs. Brad Gushue attracted an average audience of 783,000 viewers;

·         The Page Playoff (3 vs. 4) featuring Pat Simmons vs. Steve Laycock attracted an average audience of 710,000 viewers.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Dacey calls out NS Curling Association

In a strongly worded Letter to the Editor that appeared in the Halifax Chronicle Herald, former Brier champion Mark Dacey has ripped the NSCA a new one, saying its done nothing to about the relegation system that saw the province miss its first Brier since 1927.

As a competitive men’s player and a former Brier champion, I can only say that I am appalled and embarrassed that a province that has been there from the first competition in 1927 (which Nova Scotia won) and has been in every one since is now sidelined. 
Even more appalling is the fact that our own curling association has no plan in place to assist competitive players with creating an action plan for a solution. Representatives hid behind closed doors while this competition went on and their only comment was no comment.
Dacey, who has about as much credibility as any curler in the Atlantic provinces, pushed the association to work with the competitive players to take a stand against the new system and what it intends to do to help out the competitive players.

I encourage the NSCA to come out from under its rock and make a statement on what it plans to do to get Nova Scotia men’s curling back on track.

You can read the entire letter here.

Your morning Brier Round-up

In the Canadian Press, Donna Spencer said Pat Simmons had been preparing for that final shot in the 11th just as soon as the 10th end concluded.

"That's the shot I wanted, Simmons said. "I told the boys in between the 10th and 11th 'we've seen that in-turn path a bunch'. I knew the weight there."

The Calgary Herald’s George Johnson recounted the end of the game and how it seemed to put a soft ending on a crazy week.

After a week of such tumult, such upheaval, the surprise, wrap-your-head-around-it, fashioned-by-the-curling-gods ending delivered a lovely purity of line:A draw to the button.  
And the final red rock, slowing ever so slightly as it approached the desired destination, nestling in there light as a soap bubble.  
A moment to take itall in, then the joint exploded in celebration. John Morris danced a jig in the rings. Pat Simmons, at the far end of the sheet, raised his arms in triumph.  
Every skip’s dream shot to win a Brier.

The great Terry Jones in the Sun got Nolan Thiessen’s take on the week, a crazy one that ended with a game that started slow but finished fast.
“I can’t believe that just happened,” said Theissen said, seconds after they celebrated and gathered at the home end for the traditional parade down to the trophies at the other end of the ice.  
“We were 2-3. We changed our skip. And we just won the Brier!  
“I can’t believe that happened. We put a rock on the button on the 11th end to win the Brier. It’s every front-ender’s dream,” he said of Simmons giving the rock to his sweepers, Rycroft and Thiessen.

The Calgary Sun’s Todd Saelhof brought up the key ingredient to this year’s Brier winners – adding John Morris, whether it was at skip or third 

Turns out Team Canada didn’t need Kevin Koe to defend its title. 
All it needed was another local super-curler, some brash decision-making and a gutsy effort in Sunday night’s final of the 2015 Brier at the Saddledome.  
Adding Chestermere fire captain John Morris to the Calgary Glencoe Club lineup, Pat Simmons, Carter Rycroft and Nolan Thiessen completed the rare defence of the Canadian men’s curling championship with a 6-5 triumph over Northern Ontario. 
 “Hard to describe,” said an elated Simmons, rushing to hug his family in the stands immediately after the post-win party broke out with 11,846 fans. “That was pretty special.”

In the Globe and Mail, Eric Duhatschek praised the talent of Pat Simmons, especially down the stretch.

Simmons, curling beautifully, scored three in the ninth end and then made a pressure-packed shot to the button draw in the 11th end to squeak out a 6-5 win over Brad Jacobs’ Northern Ontario team, culminating a week of high drama and extraordinary shot-making at the Scotiabank Saddledome. 

He also added in the waning attendance figures, compared to the last time the big rock show was in Calgary.

Even with a hometown team in action twice Saturday and again in Sunday’s final, overall attendance was well down compared to the three other times the event had previously been held at the Saddledome. Sunday’s final produced the largest crowd of the week – 11,846 – almost 100,000 down from the 246,126 spectators that passed through the turnstiles back in 2009, or the last time they held the event here. 
The Brier attendance record of 281,985 was set in Edmonton in 2005during an NHL lockout and before the constantly improving television coverage made it easier for a lot of committed fans to stay at home and watch from their couches.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Bronze medal contest "the dumbest game in curling"

It's hard to disagree with Brad Gushue's assessment of the game that he'll have to play Sunday morning against Saskatchewan. It's the bronze medal game which is loathed by most of the teams in the Brier, who, after losing out on a shot at the top prize, would rather just sleep in.

After a disappointing loss in the semi-final game against Team Canada, Gushue summarized his feelings of the bronze medal game to Donna Spencer of the Canadian Press:

Gushue will face Saskatchewan on Sunday for the bronze medal, which he called the "dumbest game in curling." 
The loser of the semifinal in the Page playoff once received the bronze medal at the Brier without having to play for it, but a bronze-medal game was introduced in 2011. 
"We'll come out and play hard — maybe hungover — but hard," Gushue said.
In most sports, the team that loses the semi-final contest ends up third. But in curling, you have to go and play the team that already lost the 3-4 game. It's kind of illogical. It's like saying that whichever team loses the final should have to play the winner of the bronze medal game for second place.

Strangely, when this game was added to the schedule, Curling Canada officials told me this was not about money. I found it hard to believe back then and still do now, at least that part of the reason for this isn't about cash. I'm just not really sure why this game exists. I can't find a reason that makes sense.

There is money on the line, supposedly, but I've heard from past participants that it's generally agreed that the cash is split between the two teams.

It could be for television, but I've had folks from that side tell me that after a long week of hours and hours of coverage, the last thing they want to do is produce another game. One point to add here is that this game does get a significant audience which may justify its existence.

So today's question: are you planning to watch the bronze medal game?

Saturday, March 7, 2015

1-2 game delivers a memorable contest

Brad Jacobs and Brad Gushue put on quite a show last night in the 1 vs. 2 game on Friday night, with the two Olympic champs making great shot after great shot. The Northern Ontario boys were especially hot, delivering some molar-rattling doubles and triples. However it was a soft-weight tap for three in the fifth end that proved to be the big shot of the game. 

Jacobs told Daniel Austin of the Calgary Sun that he was looking for this game most of the week. Despite sailing along with just a single round-robin loss, he thought this was a break-out contest.

“I think we were all waiting to kind of explode this week,” Jacobs said. “We’ve been playing so well that I haven’t really had any tough shots, to be honest with you, for points. 
“We finally had a tough one and we needed it because our spirits were low and that picked us right back up.”

And if that shot in the fifth was huge for deciding the game, what happened immediately after was eye-popping. A massive, testosterone-infused celebration that started with a Jacobs' fist-pump, and a big high-five with E.J. Harnden, who recounted that moment to George Johnson of the Calgary Herald.  

“All of us,’’ said third E.J. Harnden, “wanted to let some emotion out. We wanted to leave everything out there, we wanted to give everything we had because we knew how important this game was. 
“To see that excitement, that intensity, that’s what our team is built on. It’s awesome for TV, awesome for our sport. What we do well, is show that emotion, display, then bring it back down again, stay calm. 
“Get back to business.’’
The celebration caused a few raised eyebrows on social media, including one from a former Brier competitor.

Gushue, by the way, was pretty darn good too, making a sensational triple but also missing a couple of key shots. Still, as Jacobs said in Donna Spencer's CP article, it was quite the spectacle.

"That's one heck of a curling game," the Northern Ontario skip said. "If you're sitting at home watching it on TV or here in the building, you got your money's worth."

Friday, March 6, 2015

Long Sasky drought means no expectations on Laycock

Saskatchewan joined the playoff picture on Friday.

That, in itself is an accomplishment for the Prairie province which hasn't had that much Brier success of late. In fact, the last time a Saskatchewan team made the playoffs was 2008 when Pat Simmons led his rink to a 9-2 mark before losing in the semis.

The last Brier win for Sasky? That was 1980 when Rick Folk won, using corn booms!

The drought has been so long, in fact, that in this Canadian Press story by Donna Spencer, skip Steve Laycock says there really aren't any expectations on a team wearing the green any more.

"It's almost gotten to the point where it's been so long since we've won a Brier, there are no expectations anymore," Laycock said Friday. "When it's been that long, people are probably betting against it more than for it. 
"It would be remarkable if we could pull that off. Maybe we could start a string of wins for Saskatchewan."

Relegation process might spell end of Koe's career

Jamie Koe knows the fate of his territory next year: relegation. And because of that the nine-time Brier participant might just hang up his slider, according to this article by Todd Saelhof of the Calgary Sun. 

Koe's team, still winless on Friday morning, will finish last and be dropped into the relegation scramble ahead of next year. At least, whomever is representing the Northwest Territories will. It might not be Koe:

“We’re in the relegation right now,” said Koe, 37. “So we’ll see what happens. We always play it a year at a time because curling’s our third priority behind family and work, so we’ll have to talk with the boys, because there’s only five or six of us up there that are really competitive, and we’ll see who wants to put in the time. So we’ll see who wants to curl or if we’re going to curl. 
“I’ve got a pretty busy career and a pretty busy family life — I’d have to weigh it with the wife,” continued Koe. “It’s a lot of effort to put in and a lot of travel you have to do in those two or three (preliminary) games before you get to the Brier. It’s a lot of effort to win those two or three games before you play in the Brier, and there’s no guarantee you’re in the Brier and (instead) on your way home. 
“I’m pretty disappointed now, so I’d probably say ‘no,’ but in a month or two, I might say ‘yes.’ ”

When asked about the whole relegation process, Koe, took the high road.

“The CCA is doing what they think is best for the sport, and I think right now, they think that’s best for the sport,” Koe said. “I know a lot of folks that don’t like it, but I’m indifferent to it, so I don’t really want to get into it.”

If he doesn't come back the Brier will miss one of its favourites, a guy who embraced all that this national championship is about. Koe has fun but still manages to put some wins on the board most years. This time around, it's been a bit of a struggle. Still, he seems to be the life of the party.

The Brier needs more guys like Jamie Koe.

Morning Classes still going strong

A nice story in the Herald by Valerie Fortney on the long-running (67 years!) and much-loved Morning Classes. If you've never heard of this great Brier tradition, shame on you! If you've never experienced it then you don't know what you're missing. Read on and you'll understand the fun this band of curling lovers has every year.

Fortney went to experience it first hand and reported on her visit. She traced the roots of Morning Classes back to an Ontario politician

It was in such a spirit that the first Morning Classes came to life. As the story goes, former Ontario Lt.-Gov. Colin Campbell used to serve the gin-and-lemon concoction during the Second World War, to encourage the miners under his command to show up for morning briefings; when he returned from the war, 
Campbell, an avid curler, continued the tradition, eventually bringing it to the Brier with his pals in 1948. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

My take on TapGate

So what do you make of the broom tap to the ankles of the Ontario team by their counterparts from the North?

Well by some accounts, it was an intimidation factor and not called for. Ontario's coach, Bryan Cochrane, was reportedly complaining to officials about the brush bump and Mark Kean told reporters later that he was not happy with the way things occurred but said there's no animosity lingering.

"I don't think it's right, but if everyone can learn from the experience and the officials are on top of that kind of stuff -- and they're on top of the knees on the ice too -- then there's no issue between either team."

Others saw it as a gentle reminder by one team to another to keep the ice in as good shape as possible.

Team Jacobs issued a statement on its Facebook page, explaining the reasoning behind the actions.

Addressing the incident in tonight's game - something was said to another player who did the same thing (not sure if they heard) then the tap came when it was done again (there was one foot tap, not two - broom never touched the foot in the video posted by CCA & again it was communicated vocally "please get your knees off the ice" ) after the only & original foot tap earlier in the game - it has happened before, it has happened to a few of us and it was not done with any ill intention - it might have been harder than intended since the person was reaching when it happened & an apology was extended for that - the intent was a reminder to not "puddle" the ice surface - not saying what was done was right or wrong as that is for individual interpretation, but it was not done with any aggressive or intimidating intent

No matter what side of the situation you find yourself, it certainly was different and not something I've seen in my time of covering curling.

My take on it is that first, it's ridiculous to call this an intimidation move. Isn't being the Olympic champions enough of an intimidation factor for a first-year Brier team?

Second, it appears that there had be a number of requests on the Ontario team to stop resting warm body parts on the ice. If that's so, then this was really a last resort -- and I bet it worked (at least I hope it worked).

To me, the bottom line here is the integrity of the ice. Every player on both teams should be doing all he can to ensure the ice is in as good condition as possible. These days, with the technology in brooms and the fitness levels of the guys wielding them, pebble breaks down late in the games. That's just inevitable.

So if you're kneeling on the ice after a shot then you are hurting the ice. Further, you are not being respectful of that ice. You're being lazy, inconsiderate, selfish and downright rude. It's like tromping across a green and leaving spike marks in golf.

I'm not specifically talking about the Ontario team here, I'm talking about any player in any curling game anywhere.

So if the Ontario players hadn't heard the requests from others to get off their knees, then I think a gentle reminder with a broom tap that didn't appear to a) affect the delivery or b) do anything other than serve as a reminder, then I'm OK with it. Whether it's a broom tap or a face-on delivery of the message, I think it has to be sent and I wish more people did it, to be honest. Let's face it -- these Ontario guys are far from the only ones in this Brier to rest on the ice. It's a practice that is unnecessary and should be stopped

This is all about the ice.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Rock or the Soo? The battle for the 2017 Brier

In addition to knocking heads on the ice, Brad Gushue and Brad Jacobs are also shaking hands and kissing babies off of it. 

Of course they do that everywhere, but this time it's with the purpose of trying to win over appeal for bringing the Brier to their region.

As the Sun's Terry Jones reports, it appears the decision of host site for the Brier in two years comes down to St. John's or Sault Ste. Marie.

Jacobs said his team is at the call of their coach Tom Coulterman when it comes to the Soo bid. 
"He's the chair of the committee and we're basically on board to do everything we can to help to promote the Brier and bring it to Sault Ste. Marie. 
Gushue is actually spearheading the bid for St. John's trying to convince everybody he meets here into putting $50 down on tickets to bring the national rock concert to The Rock. 
He said they came here with about 1,000 sold and hopes to leave here with more than 1,500 and get 2,000 when they close it off at the end of the month. Winning the Brier might make it an even bigger number. 
"Our goal was 1,500. If we can top that it will show Curling Canada that the interest is there in Newfoundland and St. John's. And we have some government guarantees that we've put forward.
The Brier was last in St. John's in 1972. That was also the only time it was held there. And the Soo hosted the last time in 1990. Both venues would be termed smaller centres, but that seems to be where the Brier is going to be played more often than not for the next little while.

So two questions: Where would you rather go to attend a Brier? Where do you think Curling Canada would rather hold it?

Monday, March 2, 2015

Koe's puking over, Alberta starts winning.

Once the puking stopped, Kevin Koe's curling touch returned. 

In what was probably the story of the opening weekend of the Tim Hortons Brier, the Alberta powerhouse, the team that Koe created after jumping ship from his defending champions, was not winning. In fact, the rink started 0-2 and looked mediocre at best.

So what was the problem? It appears the skipper was dealing with a case of the bad tank, possibly food poisoning, that had him upchucking between ends in his first game. But according to George Johnson of the Calgary Herald, he recovered in time to get Alberta into the win column.

Kevin Koe’s back to fighting trim, fully over a bout of flu/food poisoning that had left him occasionally emptying the house during the curtain-raising 8-7 extra end loss to B.C.’s Jim Cotter on Saturday night. 
Team Alberta’s position was as unsettled as its skip’s tummy had been heading to the evening draw Sunday. But staring down the barrel of potentially ruinous 0-3 start, Koe recaptured his championship form, finishing at a that’s-more-like-it 93 per cent, and the hosts posted their first win, a must-have, 7-3 triumph in nine ends over the youthful Mark Kean rink from Ontario during Sunday’s 6:30 draw.
Marc Kennedy said the barfing skip was at the point where they had to look at Plan B/

“Oh yeah, there was some puking going on between ends,’’ revealed third Marc Kennedy. “We had discussed him not even playing, what our backup plan was. We left the option up to him, whether to play. And he did. But how do you compete against some of these skips when you’ve got wobbly legs. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Should curling be one of Canada's official national sports?

One of my favourite writers, the great Roy MacGregor of the Globe and Mail, turned his attention to curling this weekend and penned a wonderful article based on the premise that curling should be made one of Canada's official national sports.

Right now, there are two in that category: lacrosse and hockey. Hockey became official after a private member's bill by MP Nelson Riis passed.

Back in 1994, Mr. Riis’s intention was to name only hockey, by far the most popular sport, but a determined lacrosse lobby fiercely argued that the country’s original game must not be ignored. 
“During debate, that almost derailed the legislation,” remembers Mr. Riis, who in 2000 left federal politics for private business in Ottawa. “So we compromised and made hockey our national winter sport and lacrosse our national summer sport. I suppose we could continue that process and name curling our spring sport.”
MacGregor said part of the sport's appeal comes down to the players.

From a reporter’s point of view, curlers are profoundly more interesting than today’s hockey stars. They not only try to answer your questions, but they do so without hiding behind clich├ęs. There is no mention of “playing the right way,” “at the end of the day” or “it is what it is.” In curling, “going forward” doesn’t require saying because it’s the only way to go. 
They are also much easier for fans to relate to, as unlike today’s fabulously rich young men who play professional hockey, curlers are considered amateurs who might be lucky to cover expenses through bonspiels. “Curlers need jobs,” says Mr. Jacobs, who makes his living in banking. 
MacGregor even suggests the Bank of Canada turn its attention to the Roaring Game.

The Bank of Canada inexplicably dumped hockey from the back of the five-dollar bill and replaced it with something from outer space. Next makeover, which cannot come fast enough, they should consider curling – Canada’s third national sport.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A lousy two centimetres

Two centimetres. Less than an inch.

That was the difference between Nova Scotia playing on and going home.

Any way you slice it, it's a hard thing to stomach and I'm sure the CCA Curling Canada was none to happy about seeing this result, a kind of perfect storm of bad possibilities.

On Friday, PEI defeated Nova Scotia in the final game of the pre-qualifying round robin, creating a circular win-loss record. That brought into play the first tiebreaker which was the totals of the pre-game draws to the button.

Before each game, one team member threw two shots -- an in-turn and an out-turn -- with the total distance recorded. The two game total was registered and when all the cyphering was done, Nova Scotia came third, just a lousy two centimetres behind Yukon.

As a result, PEI and Yukon will play in today's final with the winner moving into the main field. Nova Scotia will head home. For the first time in the Brier's history, there won't be a Bluenoser team in the Brier. And they'll face the same task again next year. N.S. skip Glen MacLeod told it was a tough loss to swallow.

"Two centimetres was all it was," MacLeod said. "As far as the game goes, P.E.I. was the better team today. 
"The format, I'm not too fussy about. The draw to the button is a little disappointing. It's an easy shot. We had that in our hands."

It's hard to digest the change and there is understandably outrage from the curling folks in Nova Scotia.

If PEI was to lose today to Yukon, there would be equal frustration from the folks in that province.

But there would also be jubilation from the folks in Whitehorse where it would mark the first Brier for a team representing just the Yukon as opposed to the Territories.

The funny thing about this change is that judging from social media response, which understandably really isn't a perfect way of measuring things,  it isn't popular with curlers and it isn't popular with fans.

For example, here's Brad Gushue talking to about it:

"I'm not a big fan of the relegation," said Newfoundland and Labrador skip Brad Gushue. "I think it's a little embarrassing for the teams. The way they're playing out here with nobody watching and no ceremonies or anything, it's not right. 
"It's disappointing not to have one of Nova Scotia or P.E.I, who have been in the Brier since I think the '30s. It's a little bit odd."

For fan response, just go on Twitter. Or Facebook. I have yet to see a positive response to this situation.

That same article had a quote from Jean-Michel Menard saying he was now in favour of the 14-team format used at the Junior, where rinks are divided into pools. He said he wasn't a fan of that at first but thinks it's better than relegating teams.

I have to agree. I wasn't a fan of pools for a number of reasons. The primary one is that not every player plays everyone else. But the more I think about it, the more I think it's an improvement over relegation.

First is that every team gets to play. Second is that -- finally -- the Page Playoff System would be used the way it was intended when it was created.

Right now, the cut is deep and still bleeding. To be sure, no one likes change.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Pre-qualifying could come down to draw to the button

So here's a scenario that the CCA  Curling Canada -- or any curling fan -- probably doesn't want to see. But it's possible a team could be eliminated from the pre-qualifier by a draw to the button. 

So far, Yukon defeated PEI and lost to Nova Scotia. The Bluenosers beat Yukon. If PEI defeated Nova Scotia in the game this afternoon, then the there will be a circular tie. The tiebreaker? The pre-game draws to the button. 

Prior to each game a member of the team throws an in-turn and and out-turn with the combined distance to the button being recorded. Here's what's happened so far. 

Game 1
Yk 20.8
PEI 25.1

Game 2
Yk 97.5
NS 23.7

So Yukon's total is pretty high. It has to hope that Nova Scotia beats PEI, in which case Nova Scotia and Yukon go to the final. If PEI wins, it has to hope that one of the two messes up its draws to the button. 

The top two teams will move on to the final to be played on Saturday. 

Sad start to the "Prior"

Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun recounts the opening game of the pre-qualifying between P.E.I. and Yukon, describing it as sad. And hard to argue with him. Two teams that have won their region/province battling it out in front of almost no one, with no ceremony or even introductions. 

It might have been interesting. But it was hardly a happening. 
There were no bagpipes. Nobody carried a sign with the name of their team. Nobody carried their flag. There were no introductions. 
Just one P.A. announcement: “The game will begin in one minute.” 
It was sad. 
And it’s going to get even sadder.This morning Nova Scotia, a legitimate province that won the very first Brier back in 1927 and interrupted what would have been a five-in-a-row run by Alberta’s Randy Ferbey to win its most recent one in 2004, will play the Yukon. That’s the territory that didn’t even bother to send a team to compete in the Territories finals last year in Yellowknife.

If you think there's pressure on guys like Koe, Morris  and Jacobs, think about these guys playing just so they don't have to go home on Sunday. Here's Adam Casey:

“P.E.I. has been in every Brier since 1936 and everybody I talk to in P.E.I. is saying ‘Get us out of this relegation.’ I’m looking at it as a hurdle on my way to a full Brier.”

In the Free Press, Paul Wiecek outlines just how significant the changes to the format are:

To put the magnitude of this change into context, consider there has never been a Brier that has taken place without Nova Scotia, a charter participant and the winner of the first Brier in 1927. 
It's been almost as long a run for P.E.I., as the province has participated in the Brier every year since 1936. 
But all that tradition ends this weekend as a new era for the Brier begins in which the four lowest-ranked teams from the previous year must take part in a play-in round immediately prior to the Brier.
And kudos go to Jeff Mackinnon of the Calgary Herald for putting in print what social media has been calling this event -- the "Prior." And he tells the story of how the PEI team just made it to Calgary in time for its game.

Casey’s gone on record as saying the new Brier pre-qualifying is “stupid.” He arrived in Calgary four days before the start of play Thursday to workout at The Glencoe Club, but struggled when he moved over the Saddledome. His team arrived in Calgary at four hours before Thursday’s game because of flight delays.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Stoughton announces his R . . . . .

He has trouble using the word, but Jeff Stoughton announced on Twitter that he is calling it a career.
The three-time Brier winner and two-time world champ said the time is right for him to step away and perhaps seek off-ice opportunities to stay close to the game.

In the Winnipeg Free Press story, he said he won't ever leave curling completely.

"I still want curling to be a part of my life in the future," Stoughton said. "I still want curling as a big part of my life. Hopefully, now that I’m stepping away, this opens up some doors for me."
I'd think that probably means he's hoping to do move to TV, but if so, that field is a bit crowded right now. Mike Harris and Kevin Martin are all over Sportsnet and Russ Howard is locked in at TSN. However, if there's a second feed at TSN as reports indicate, maybe Stoughton could join the second team.

In any case, Stoughton's retirement (there, I said it if he won't), marks the end of a tremendous career. As a curler Stoughton was exceptional and was part of the Big Three --along with Martin and Glenn Howard -- that dominated their era. He was impressive with a number of different lineups and when he was on, he was virtually unbeatable.

The Winnipeg product will play two more events -- one in Grand Prairie and the Players Championship in Toronto, assuming he qualifies.

As a journalist covering the game, Stoughton was always a pleasure to talk to. He was accommodating, a good quote and win or lose, always prepared to stand in front of the microphones. Classy is the word that comes to mind when I think about Stoughton.

Scotties numbers set records

A little late with this news but the TV ratings are in for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and it is impressive.

OK, it’s actually beyond impressive, into the WOWZA category.

Take a look at some of these numbers:

** More than seven million different Canadians watched some part of the championship. With a population of approximately 35 million that’s one-fifth of every last person in this country.

** The average audience for the entire tournament was 566,000, which is massive considering many of the broadcasts were on in the middle of the day, traditionally a low viewing time.

** The final attracted 1.05 million viewers – going up against the powerhouse Academy Awards. That’s up 15 per cent over last year. It should be noted that last year came on the heels of the Olympics so there was probably some burnout in curling-watching.

Now Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada was the top sports show of the week (2.2 million), but after that curling ruled the charts. Compare it to things like the Daytona 500 (500k), the NHL outdoor game with the Kings vs. Sharks (also 500k), or the Leafs at the Hurricanes (another 500k) and you see the power that curling has.

You can probably expect similar number for next week’s Brier too, which, by the way, will experiment with showing two games from the same draw at the same time, using TSN’s five channel feed.

It does bring into question how these growing numbers will affect ticket sales as the CCA and host committees are trying to find ways to get bums in seats. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Pre-qualifying done, not many fans of new system

Nobody likes change.

That's why it's tough to accept the new qualification system for the men's and women's national championships, the first of which wrapped up yesterday at the Scotties in Moose Jaw. Northern Ontario's Tracy Horgan advanced, Kerry Galusha and Sarah Koltun are done.

Take nothing away from the two teams from the North, but it's hard to imagine that a rink from either territory (as well as Nunavut) will appear in many future Scotties or Brier. They don't have the means or resources to play competitively on a consistent basis against the best in the rest of the land. I fear for these two and other have-not regions in the coming years.

In my world, a Scotties or Brier without the Territories, is not worthy.

To no one's surprise, the classy Galusha took the high road after being bounced from play, as Mike Koreen reported in the Sun chain of papers.

"We weren't loving it coming in, but we're excited to be here," Galusha said after losing 7-6 to Northern Ontario's Tracy Horgan in the pre-qualifier final at Mosaic Place on Saturday. "So many other teams would kill to be here fighting for the chance to get out of relegation and into the Scotties. I guess I'd consider ourselves lucky to even be here and have that chance."

Horgan, the victor, also tried to blue-sky the change.

"The nice thing about curling is we're not afraid to try new things," the Sudbury-born Horgan said, not fully endorsing the plan. "This format is different. I don't know if this is the right answer yet, but we're trying it out and we support the decision made to go this route." 

The entire process was awkward and unusual and a little bit disheartening for the teams as they battled it out, as CP's Gregory Strong relayed:

The new qualification setup created a few awkward moments. 
Galusha and Koltun started their game Friday while the other three sheets of ice were being used for a skills competition. Instructions and results were broadcast through the arena while the high-pressure game was ongoing. 
There was even a rare curling heckler in the crowd. One spectator voiced his displeasure that the teams in the qualifier weren't able to participate in the skills competition. 
The main-draw curlers left the rink well before the completion of the qualification game, which went to an extra end. The game didn't wrap until after the start of the traditional pre-tournament banquet at a nearby hotel. 
The two skips took a few questions from reporters before being hustled out of the arena to attend the function. One can only guess how Koltun was feeling as she attended a banquet for a tournament she was no longer a part of. 
Overall, it appears this is not going to be popular with many people. Not the curlers or their fans. As I said, no one likes change, especially not this one.

Thursday, February 12, 2015