Friday, April 28, 2006

CJ at third? Why not?

No surprise here that three weeks to the day after news broke that her ex-teammates had re-formed into a new squad, legendary Halifax skip Colleen Jones has attracted a talented new team... for which she will play third (ie. "mate" in Atlantic Canadian terminology).

And why not? If one trend sees big-name skips dropping down to third, second or even lead stone to form a "super-squad", why not the reverse (see Morris, John earlier this week)?

Jonesy is no stranger to the position. She won the national mixed championship twice, in 1999 (with skip Paul Flemming) and in '93 with skip/husband Scott Saunders. She also played third at three other national mixed events in the 90s.

Here's what CJ told the Daily News:

I absolutely loved that position. Your shots are massive. You just have to watch the great thirds, like Randy Ferbey, or Mark Nichols of the Brad Gushue team. Sure, the skip saves an end, but the three people in front of them are the ones who make or break the deal. And I think it's a position I'm dying to get at. And a position I just want to be really strong at in every way.

This marks the first time that three members of the 1982 Scotties championship team – with a rookie Jones skipping at only 22 years of age – have reunited on a team (we think). Skip Kay Zinck had this to say:

She was looking for a change. She's kind of burnt out from skipping and leading a team. She's had the gun on her back and the pressure on her for a long time now. Where some of us might just take a year off to rebuild, she's looking to refresh herself with just a change.

Speaking of, check out this "That Was Then" feature in the Chron: Another Team Jones, ripping up junior curling way back in '76 (second paragraph from the bottom).

Elsewhere, sounds like Saskatchewan curling is in trouble, and we're not talking about Benny Heebz' departure for Calgary. The new president is facing all kinds of problems – everything from plummeting team entries to financial woes – and now there's a movement to put provincial finals back into curling clubs. Saskatchewan once led the way in moving events from clubs into arenas – the men's provincial has been staged in arenas since 1992, while the women's championship moved to arenas in 1998 – but as George Re
gnier told Monday's Regina Leader-Post at the recent AGM:

I don't think it's going backwards. Times have changed and we're finding the crowds aren't as large. You have to work really hard to get people out for a Tankard and women's championship. It's not that simple anymore.

What's definitely not simple – it's actually quite baffling – was the previous arena strategy: it somehow excluded the big centres of Regina and Saskatoon. Said Regnier:

Is it not better for our game to have the championships in the biggest markets in the province? You have a lot more people to draw from. I'm not saying anything bad about the smaller communities, it just gives other places a chance to play host to the championships.

Well, yeah! So why not allow arena provincials in those cities? Why does the event have to revert to a curling club? Are there no small arenas – minimum seating for 800, TV considerations etc. – in Regina or Saskatoon that would fit the bill? Bueller?

Alberta would argue this is indeed "going backwards." According to today’s Calgary Herald (subscription only) there's a rush to put Alberta women’s provincials into arenas, and it could happen as early as 2008. As the delightfully-quotable Heather Rankin told Allen Cameron:

That would be fantastic, as long as we have a good icemaker who makes swingy ice. If we're playing on straight, quick ice, that does nothing for us. I actually believe that's the reason Alberta hasn't done well over the last 10 years, because we play on bowling alleys most of the time, and when you get to a Canadian championship, it takes us four games to figure it out.

Some curling bullet points for your weekend:

Brad Gushue and Jennifer Jones were jetted into Guelph, Ontario last weekend for the Canadian Curling Association's Coaching in Curling clinic. Gushue gave two presentations and was part of a panel discussion, and he quoted – to the Guelph Mercuryprecisely what The Curling News asked him about back at the Regina Brier:

I think it was about 1993 or 1994 when I started, and that's when the announcement was made that curling was going to be an Olympic sport. Even before that I grew up watching the Olympics. I always wanted to be an Olympian, and the only sport that I played was hockey. You dream about that, and the first time I started curling I quit hockey. So then it switched over to that, I wanted to curl in the Olympics. Most high level competitive curlers dream about the Brier. That's their original dream. For me, I'm probably one of the first in this generation to have this dream of the Olympics.

Kudos also to Gushue for a willingness to help get the peak age of competitors down from the mid-30s to mid-20s... and TCN agrees that coaching, begun at an earlier age, is one way of helping.

• All kinds of curlers up to no good (just kidding) this weekend: Gushue golden boy Mike Adam will be in Winnipeg, along with various other athletes including the Flying Canucks... maybe Adam will drag some Olympians out to Team Kristy Jenion's unique fundraiser, a Wing Ding at Hooters Restuarant, where the gals – back-to-back Manitoba finalists to go to the Scotties TOH in both 2005 and '06 – will fundraise for next season, using beer and a barbeque (genius!), a silent auction, and even an NHL jersey as a prize. We won't comment on the possibility of tight T-shirts and orange shorts also making an appearance (looks like we just did!)... and we did mention a sayonara to Toronto's Mike Harris – soon to be an Albertan – taking place in west-end T.O. on Saturday night as well, right?

• Speaking of Winnipeg, will their wildly successful BDO Classic Canadian Open Grand Slamarino take place again in early January – and will that get confirmed soon? – so that it might not conflict either with women’s provincials or the MCT Championship? Just asking. And as for the lead position on JJones' squad, it has returned to local city limits as Winnipegger Dana Allerton will replace import Georgina Wheatcroft, who returns to B.C. and just might hook up again with Kelley Law...

• More Turin curlers – Canadian bronze gals Shannon Kleibrink and Amy Nixon – will bash with bats as part of a Stampeders charity softball game next month...

• More stories on country music star Toby Keith and his wayward curling dreams; these cowpokes seem to think we throw a "huge metal disk" (sigh) and here's an on-ice challenge to mister fancy-hat himself...

• Scotland might finally have a new curling academy, worth 1.5 million pounds. Sounds exciting, but sadly this will merely replace the Gogar Park CC, which closed two years ago to make way for a new corporate headquarters...

• In U.S. news, communications dynamo Rick Patzke is the new honcho of USA Curling... as this U.S. journo agrees, no Double-A baseball player can possibly win a name award in an Olympic curling (hello Markku U-15) year... remember Salt Lake City 2002? The local blat looks both backward and forward at the sport in that town, four years later... now we've got Purdue (Indiana) students taking on curling...

• Finally, we're not sure how we missed this one during Torino 2006, but this timewaster (look for "game") involves cows and a "real chocolate vodka shake." So there you go.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Alberta in turmoil

Once the rumours were confirmed – see yesterday's TCN Blogpost, below – the discussions burst forth, and there's more fallout today.

There’s a free on-screen interview with workmates – and new teammates – Kevin Martin (photo) and Marc Kennedy available on the CurlTV homepage... Martin also spoke to the ConMan... and Kevin Koe has confirmed that he in talks with another Edmonton skip, Blake MacDonald – he throws skip stones, but doesn’t call the game – which would further damage the men’s competitive scene in Calgary. Note the above story, scribbled once again by TCN wizard Allen Cameron, also reveals that Bob Ursel and Jim Cotter have joined forces in B.C., and that Mark Dacey’s 2004 Brier championship squad is in fact sticking together for the 2006-07 campaign.

In Saskatchewan, the departing Ben Hebert has spoken out, while former world junior champion skip (and Hebert teammate) Steve Laycock has been announced as Hebert’s replacement. Laycock has already played lead for Pat Simmons once before – with Hebert at second – at the first Grand Slam of last season, The National in Port Hawkesbury, where the squad lost the final to Toronto's Wayne Middaugh.

Said Hebert to RLP curling scribe Murray McCormick:

We had three good years together, they were my best friends and they will be for the rest of my life. They know it was a career move and I just didn't quit their team for no reason. I was moving for work and it turned out fortunate for me that I got on a really great team.

Sometimes life takes you funny places. It worked out well for everyone and they got a good player to fill my shoes.

Alberta may be (arguably) the place to live – and curl – and the 2007 Kia Cup provincial men's final is certainly going to be a doozy. And new import Mike Harris – yes, he of 1998 Olympic and CBC commentary fame – may still change his mind and decide to compete once he heads west. There's a sendoff for Harris in west-end Toronto this coming Saturday night at 7:30pm...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Martin, Morris on path to 2010

After it was all said and done – and carefully considered for about a month – the young skip went and signed up with the fellow he's been calling The Old Bear.

In an exclusive print scoop, today's Calgary Herald reports that effective today, youthful John Morris (photo) and veteran skip Kevin Martin have joined forces in a four-year curling pact to win Olympic gold at Vancouver 2010.

Edmonton’s Martin, the 2002 Olympic silver medallist, has parted ways with all three Olympic teammates: the two Dons (Walchuk and Bartlett) and youthful second Carter Rycroft.

Morris, the occasionally tempestuous Calgary-by-way-of-Ottawa skip, drops to third stone, and has brought regular second Marc Kennedy along for the ride. At lead stone is Saskatchewan import Ben Hebert, a key cog in the successful Pat Simmons foursome from the past two seasons.

Today’s story by Herald curling writer Allen Cameron – also a top scribe for The Curling News – is in today’s edition and also appears throughout the CanWest Global news empire, including the National Post; in papers located in Regina and Saskatoon; in Victoria and also in Ottawa.

In a TCN exclusive, we spoke with Morris, who said:

I know that these other three guys share my desire and passion for the sport of curling, and I think with some hard work we can have a pretty deadly foursome.

We’re all very excited and are looking forward to putting in a lot of hard work for 2010.

Hebert, just 23, is moving to Morris’ HQ city of Calgary. Kennedy lives in Martin’s hometown of Edmonton, and in fact works for Martin at his curling/tennis supply shop at the Saville Centre. Both previous Martin and Morris squads were sponsored by Bruce Saville, the magnanimous curling sponsor who also steers the ownership group behind hockey’s Edmonton Oilers.

Said Morris:

I’m really looking forward to my new role at third, to being in a more supportive and sharpshooter type of role... even a little bit of sweeping in there is gonna keep me in better shape. We’re gonna work hard in the off-season and hit the gym, and be ready to go for next year.

The Martin/Morris merger brings together two of Alberta’s top squads. Martin won the 2006 Alberta title – breaking arch-rival Randy Ferbey’s string of five consecutive crowns – while Morris finished third. Morris also finished third at the Olympic Trials in Halifax, behind runner-up Jeff Stoughton of Winnipeg and the eventual Olympic gold medallist squad of Brad Gushue and Russ Howard.

For the castoffs, some are assured of bright futures. Both Rycroft and former Morris third Kevin Koe will be tremendous additions to any squad, at any position...including skip. That happens to be Koe’s natural position: he returned there this past weekend and won the final celebrity/charity event of the season, the 25th anniversary Heart to Heart Bonspiel in Thunder Bay.

The two former leads are out of the local picture – Bartlett is taking the 2007 season off while ex-Morris lead Paul Moffatt is moving to his original home province of Ontario. Longtime Martin third Walchuk, constantly on pins and needles with his skip (Martin asked Morris to play third prior to the 2004-05 season, but Morris declined) could return to skip stone, which he played for a couple of years in the mid-1990s, or could retire: he suffered from a serious stomach illness this past season. Earlier rumours had him shuttling down to road to Red Deer to hook up with returning Alberta legend Pat Ryan.

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?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Curling News: April issue

LOWELL, MA – Welcome to the Worlds. For our initial thoughts, check out our guest Blogblat on CurlingZone's host event Blogpage.

The World Curling Fed had their elections today, and fresh new blood has been instilled at the top rungs: Canada's Les Harrison is the new President, Scotland's Kate Caithness is the new VP, and 1998 Olympic champion skip Patrick Huerlimann of Switzerland was elected to the Board on the first ballot. There are other rookies on the board as well, but we at TCN are big fans of those three. Great things could be afoot for our sport moving forward.

For the latest and greatest in the world of print, check out the final issue of the 2005-06 season (cover photo), available by subscription now. In this new April issue:

Sverige! Anette Norberg completes the troika;
Al Cameron on the Parti Gras Brier;
• Al Cameron – again! – on the last Scott Tournament of Hearts;
Larry Wood's busy scratchpad on this amazing 2005-06 season;
Shot Tracker: yet another new statistics system rocks curling fans;
Doug Maxwell wraps it up until November: TCN's 50th year!
Adam Daifallah on the reverberations of Quebec's shocking Brier win;
Blogspot: TCN was there for Quebec's big party night;
Players' Championship: $250,000 up for grabs in Calgary;
Mary-Anne Arsenault: behind-the-scenes of the Colleen Jones team split;
Matt Hames on crazy curling border crossings;
Jill Officer on "hiking" up Mount Everest;
• TCN's Torino Insiders: not one but TWO behind-the-scenes spies tell all about the 2006 Olympic Games (the second is online at The Curling News homepage);
• TCN TV Guide for April: where to find your TV curling fix!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Jon Mead steps down

Word this afternoon from Winnipeg that there are major changes to Team Jeff Stoughton for next year's 2006-07 campaign.

First, longtime Stoughton second Garry VanDenBerghe announced his retirement, with youthful skip Ryan Fry taking his place.

Now comes word that Jon Mead, Stoughton's hot-shooting third since 1998-99 (resulting in a Brier win and silver medal at the Ford Worlds in Saint John that year) has stepped away from the team. Fry now moves up to third stone, former Kerry Burtnyk second Rob Fowler comes in and Steve Gould remains at lead.

Mead will not reappear with another squad: he reportedly wants to take some time away from the sport.

After Manitoba's disappointing Regina Brier campaign, word spread of a knee injury Mead had been battling since the provincial championships.

Prior to the Brier, Team Stoughton had been on a hellish roll since losing the finale of the Olympic Trials to the Brad Gushue/Russ Howard combination. They won their hometown Grand Slam, the BDO Classic Canadian Open, and sailed through their Safeway Select provincial championship.

VanDenBerghe is supposed to compete with Stoughton at the final two stops on the World Curling Tour circuit: this weekend's Bear Mountain Arena Classic in Victoria and the season finale, the Calgary Herald Players' Championship in Calgary. It is anticipated that Mead will also compete with Team Stoughton in the squad's swan song, but that news is unconfirmed.