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.