Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Quebec curling heroes break up

We’re still in Quebec, following last week’s news of the first-ever Grand Slam coming to the provincial capital in late November.

Another big story is the breakup of the 2006 Canadian championship team skipped by Jean-Michel Ménard (photo by CurlingZone) which also won silver at the Worlds in Lowell, Mass.

Ménard told his mates – François Roberge, Éric Sylvain and Maxime Elmaleh – of his decision shortly after season’s end, and then made the four-hour jaunt to Quebec City a week later (Ménard lives near the Ontario border) to explain his decision in person.

“I know they were kind of disappointed after I announced it,” said Ménard. “But maybe now with some time passing, they understand it was a good decision.”

Ménard said the team’s major mistake came after their surprising Brier win in 2006, which had capped two strong seasons of beating high-profile teams despite a limited tour schedule. The major one was a killer: they hadn’t developed any concrete aspirations.

“As a team we did not define a goal,” said Ménard. “We didn’t take the time at the start of summer to do it.

“We had a rough year, we didn’t really play very well. We didn’t have the fire in our eyes that we had before; that’s what made us a tough team to beat.”

The skip also pointed to a statistic which in his mind proved to be critical.

“We finished 0-18 against teams ranked in the top 15 of the World Curling Tour,” Ménard said. “We had been about .600 against those guys before.

“That’s not a bad season, that’s a horrible season.”

Ménard now has Sylvain at second, alternate Jean Gagnon at lead, and five-time Quebec provincial junior champions skip Martin Crete at third. Crete holds the record for skip victories at the national juniors, having worn the light blue from 2003 through 2007.

“He’s probably the best junior player to come out of the province in the last 10, 12 years,” said Ménard. “He throws big, big weight, and he’s training really hard for the sweeping.”

Ménard has a known quality in Sylvain, but also thinks Gagnon – who took a few years off to spend more time with his family – is no slouch.

“He’s the guy I basically replaced on Frankie (Roberge’s) old team,” said Ménard. “He’s probably the best lead in the province and he’s been sitting on the bench.”

Ménard also keeps coach Michel St. Onge, giving him four of the old six-man squad.

Roberge and Elmaleh, meanwhile, have hooked up with Montréal skip François Gagné.

The two squads have suffered a CTRS points hit which will probably allow the remnants of Team Pierre Charette, now led by Martin Ferland, to claim the first of two spots in the Quebec Grand Slam offered to local teams. Charette, of course, has re-teamed with Guy Hemmings and with ex-Brad Gushue castoff Jamie Korab at lead, Charette has a pile of CTRS points too. He might grab the second spot, depending upon how the Asham World Curling Tour labels his squad: Quebec or non-Quebec? That is the question.

One thing is for certain: curling fans will never forget the rags-to-riches story of the 2006 Brier-winning team, which culminated in some of the best on-ice – and off-ice – victory celebrations in the history of the sport.

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