Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Here, there and everywhere

We've been here, there and everywhere the last few weeks, and the season is just about over... one more trip for a charity spiel in Thunder Bay, the venerable and 25th Heart to Heart, and that's a wrap for an exhausting season.

We were in Lowell, Massachusetts, to see America host the men's worlds in an atmosphere of excitement for the future. Sure, crowds were small during the week but both weekends were big... and loud. As one of the Canucks on the media bench said, Man, I wish our fans were as loud as this.

Two stories, from TorStar and CP, on the end result (Canadian perspective) and naturally a) lots b) of c) Scottish d) coverage e) as well. Not to be outdone was some fun stuff from locals, including the Boston Herald (a few gaffes, naturally, such as the line “laying one in” and their belief that Menard won Olympic gold) and of course the new star on the block, the Lowell Sun, which wrapped it all up nicely in this piece and also had a postscript worth noting.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Golen of the Associated Press is one fellow who was given the curling beat in Turin and seems to be off and running with it: here's his championship piece – featuring a delicious Robbie Burns quote – plus here's his story from the semi as well.

As for final Lowell thoughts: what happened to Pete Fenson, who looked so darn good the first few days of the round-robin?... critic AdJab really liked the Lowell TV ticket adverts (thanx to Blog readers Table 23 for the link)... new Canuck hero – you should have seen the sea of red and white fans and noise in Lowell – Jean-Michel Menard reflects on his year, in Joe The Throw’s final Ott Stun column... and finally this glorious feature, which ran in the Montreal Gazette on Lowell's opening weekend, charmed us to the core; we remember many an hour (or three) spent in the basement of the Lobel home, growing up with all things curling plastered to the walls, the floor (the homemade table-top game) and of course looped constantly within the guts of the ancient VCR. Charming and meaningful because homeowner Art Lobel played third for Jim Ursel, the last (and first) Quebec team to win the Brier, back in '77.

We were in Calgary during the final weekend of the worlds, checking out Cheryl Bernard's incredibly successful Curl For A Cure charity bonspiel. Over half a million dollars raised for the fight against breast cancer in the last three years... and this year's single-day event brought in an incredible $350,000.

If we can track down any photos of the incredible costumes the fun-filled participants wore – including the wild heavy-metal getups of the Calgary Stampeders squad – we will display them here. For now, here's a heartfelt note Cheryl wrote in this year's event program:

I truly believe that everything you do is a statement to the rest of the world of your personal character. Thank you for showing such character, and for giving the gift of hope to all those fighting the battle of cancer.

Let's Tour-talk some cashspiel curling... yes, we'll get to the World Curling Tour's Players' Championships in a moment, but did you know there was another whopping $76K up for grabs at the new Bear Mountain Arena Classic in Victoria? It wasn't well-promoted but here's one piece from Vernon, and another from Saanich, plus this wrap from the Victoria News.

Now for Players'. Media coverage was generally fair – not a comment on bias, but on quantity – but should have been bigger, particularly in an Olympic year. There were pre-event stories, many of which highlighted the fact that this was the first-ever Tour championship for women, and few mentioned that this was the first time women would compete on Tour ice tech Mark Shurek's ice... and the native of Stonewall, Manitoba was only 19-for-19 – a perfect 1.000 batting average – coming into the event. That's right... 19 Grand Slams and 19 displays of perfect ice, satisfying the most finicky of male curling critics dating back to the fall of 2001.

The stage was thus set for the best women's show of the season and, with all due respect to the very well-played Olympic final and also the exciting Ford World Women's final, women's curling needed to go out on a high note. It was not, it says here, a particularly great year for the women's game.

Did it happen? Doesn't look like it. Kelly Scott skips a mildly aggressive team, and for her to score a seven-ender (hi there Janet Harvey) and later an eight-ender (hello Cathy King) in the Players' Championship is, in a word, unbelievable. As finalist Cheryl Bernard commented after the event: "I'm done now and I don't want to play anymore."

Now comes the fun part... team changes and switcheroos for next season. For example, the worst-kept secret in Saskatchewan's women's curling broke before the PC; prior to that, a very dark secret – out of Halifax – created quite a shockwave... and John Morris ended his season – and his team – with a loss to The Ferb in Calgary, but there’s a big announcement coming this week on his new squad for 2006-07.

And you'd already heard about Bubba, right?

• The final curling column for BC's Lyndon Little points out that no Vancouver-area universities will be adding curling to next year’s new CIS programme...

• Hot on the heels of next year's world women's in Aomori, Japan comes the news that Korea will host the 2009 world women's...

• Hey, there's a pretty good ex-junior world champ looking to latch on to a team in Edmonton...

• Soon after the world Seniors came this year's – er, next year's – Canadian Seniors, and the reunited "rookie" squad of Al Hackner and Rick Lang won the men's title for Northern Ontario. Big Al Laine and Brian "Blackie" Adams anchored the front end. On the women's side, Ontario's Anne Dunn won her fourth title in the last five (or is it six?) years, a remarkable accomplishment... which you can't read anywhere, since there was zero media coverage and event the Canadian Curling Association event page doesn't have the results. Remarkable.

• Speaking of seniors, how 'bout them Masters... teams from Kelowna and Halifax captured this year's shootouts, and you might have heard of the women's champ before...

• As first reported in her column in the April issue of The Curling News, Jennifer Jones second stone Jill Officer will make a leisurely climb (say what?) to the base camp of Mount Everest...

• What's up on the U.S. grass roots curling front, you may ask? We're glad you did: word has it that the sport may take deeper root in places like Aspen, Colorado... and in northwest Arkansas... and lo and behold, there’s an open house this Sunday in Ontario, California, home of the fledgling SoCal Curling Club. You go, folks.

• Props to curling's voice over at Blogcritics, The Suss-Man, for a great season of CurlBlogging. He wraps up this fascinating 2005-06 season here...

• Still need your curling fix? Head on over to Dean Gemmell's place, as The Curling Show continues to conduct informative and entertaining interviews with the people who shape the sport. Right now you can find the quiet (according to most North Americans) Swedish star Anette Norberg venting her spleen...

• Okay, here’s the first report that revealed that country music star Toby Keith was big into curling. And in today’s Vancouver Province (and other CanWest Global family papers) Ken Gilchrist has tons more, including some quotes from Sean Gerster, the Ontarian who led Keith out onto the ice for his virgin experience...

• Finally, what the hell is puckhead Bob Hartley talking about?

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