Thursday, July 27, 2006

Avonlea curling club doors shuttered

The rumours are sad but true: on Tuesday the official word came about the death of Ontario's last 16-sheet curling club, the storied Avonlea.

This morning, the Toronto Curling Association issued a news release:

TORONTO – Avonlea Curling Club, the last of the 16-sheet curling facilities in Ontario, is closing its doors.
The owners, a private partnership, have sold the property on Railside Road in Don Mills, just steps from the Don Valley Parkway and Lawrence Avenue. The club will close on August 15, 2006.
Club Manager Dave Gardner said “The current owners received an offer they couldn’t refuse.” Gardner indicated that the club, which opened in 1961, was facing a number of repairs over the next few years, and “the current owners did not find it financially feasible to continue to operate it.”
Home to an estimated 1,500 curlers, Avonlea also enjoyed a championship pedigree. It was the home of the Dream Team, Ed "The Wrench" Werenich's Toronto squad which dominated curling in the 1980s, winning the Brier and World championship in 1983.
Team member Paul Savage said “This is a sad day because I have a lot of great memories. I threw thousands of hours of practice rocks at Avonlea.”
The club was doing well with membership and was especially popular with recreational and industrial leagues. “Avonlea had approximately 30 rental leagues with 1,500 curlers, many of the other local curling clubs are already full and don’t have room to accommodate them,” Gardner said.
Ron Tolhurst, President of the Toronto Curling Association, brushed off suggestions that the closure is a bad sign for metropolitan curling. “Curling couldn't be any stronger,” Tolhurst said. “Membership is exploding after the 2006 Olympics, and Hamilton is hosting the Brier in March. Growth is assured right up to Vancouver 2010. This is just part of the natural evolution of the sport in Toronto, which is unique to the country in its size and in competition for recreational dollars.”
The Toronto Curling Association (TCA) is a volunteer organization dedicated to the promotion of the sport of curling in the greater Toronto area. All 22 curling clubs in and around Toronto are members of the TCA.

And just like that, a major Toronto curling legacy is over. Let the anger, confusion and – finally – resignation spout forth.

Elsewhere, the news – most of it good – has been piling up...

Hugh Millikin has won the 2006 Australian title, and is off to the Pacific championships in Japan. Here’s a pre-event story on one of the challenging teams, and here’s a post-event story on yet another opponent...

• First Rhona, now David: world champion skip David Murdoch is helping to promote London 2012 on a road tour, which stopped in Dumfries yesterday...

• We’ve another curling camp to tell you about, this one in Moncton, N.B., which will feature Russ Howard and Colleen Jones as guest instructors August 21-25...

VANOC says that CCA head ice technician Hans Wuthrich will “oversee” the curling ice in 2010, but the WCF actually has the final say on who the true Olympic ice chief will be, and that decision has not been finalized yet...

• Still with B.C., the 500-strong Peace Arch Curling Club wants to do some renovating... to the tune of a whopping $3 million...

• Moving a tad east, curling will be a featured sport at the inaugural Outgames in Calgary, in April, 2007...

• Hey, Canadians: did you catch the new CBC comedy/drama Northern Town earlier this week? It takes place in far-off Henderson, in the Yukon, and the first episode featured our hero Brian (Luke Kirby) chasing a metorite when he should have been focusing on the big bonspiel with its $20,000 prize. Hmm. Curling in a small northern town. The big prize. Meteorites... as compared to NASA astronauts. Sounds ever-so-slightly familiar, doesn’t it?

• New Kevin Martin third John Morris, who will instruct at the September HOT SHOTS Fantasy Camp in Oakville, Ontario, is fighting fires in Vermillion, Alberta this summer...

• It’s been known for some time that Kelley Law is back on the ice this fall, and with former 2002 Olympic teammate Georgina Wheatcroft along for the reunion ride. The front end comprises Shannon Aleksic and Darah Provencal. "I'm so excited to get back in the thick of things," Law recently told the Vancouver Sun.
Team Law, minus their skipper, recently took part in the Four Foot Curling Camp in Mill Bay, and curling-crazed Blogger Patrick has been documenting his week at the camp online, in three parts (so far)...

• Still with Blogspots: this Blogger, impressed with Torino curling TV numbers, recalls his one and only brush with the sport... and we’re assuming this Swedish blogger is also discussing his (or her) first brush with the sport, but, er, can anyone read Swedish to confirm?...

• Recently we told you about unorthadox off-season uses for curling clubs, such as shelters from forest fires and police command posts. Now you can add – wait for it – roller-derby training ground to that list...

• Finally, a Public Service Announcement: the Ottawa Curling Club rocks this Saturday night with a stag & doe for 2005 Scotties finalist Jenn Hanna, who is soon to be married. Tickets are $5.00 at the door...

Monday, July 24, 2006

Olympic curler leaves country

Stunning news on the European curling front as the identity of the new player on Claudio Pescia's Swiss team is now public... and it's Joel Retornaz, the young Italian hero of Torino 2006 (photo).

Pescia is the former third for Ralph Stoeckli, 2003 world runner-up, fifth in Turin and a regular face on the World Curling Tour, including the Grand Slams. After six years curling together, Team Stoeckli has split, with Stockli and Simon Struebin enticing Markus Eggler, a 2002 Olympic silver medallist with Andi Schwaller, out of retirement to hold the broom and throw second stones. Jan Hauser, the 2003 world junior bronze medallist for Switzerland, throws third rocks.

Stoeckli was looking for a four-year committment to qualify for the curling show at Vancouver 2010. Pescia, Pascal Sieber and Marco Battilana weren't prepared for that, preferring to plan year-to-year while setting short-term goals. As such, rather than retire or take a breather from the sport, the three decided to stick together and bring in a new player.

Pescia, who holds dual Swiss-Italian citizenship and skipped Italy at a world championship years ago, spoke exclusively to The Curling News:

I met Joel in Lowell and spoke to him about his future, because I'm always interested in Italy's curling destiny, since I still feel a bonding after the five years I worked and played for them. It came out that Joel wasn't quite sure about (the future of) his Olympic team, since it was hand-picked. Then he lost the Italian championship against Stefano Ferronato of Cortina, because Joel played with his very young local team. So he may or may not have been picked as a player for the Europeans in December, but he didn't feel that comfortable with that situation.

Then I knew that Marco and Pascal always had a good time with him at curling tournaments and championships. We thought he might be the right candidate for us, since he's got a Swiss passport too. I remember him way back in the 90's, when I played and taught in Italy, when he was a young talented boy, willing to learn. All that helped us choose him as our new player.

There was another problem. Swiss curling is in transition: no longer will the national team qualify for the next season's European and World championships (winners will compete in the same year as much of the rest of the world does) and curling clubs hold team spots in the premier A-league – not the teams themselves. Which team would get Stoeckli's spot representing St. Gäller Bar? The alternative is to start fresh... but in C-League, with a two-year wait to get to the premier league.


The rule change, that forces new teams to start in C-league, is an unlucky thing. I personally don't like it at all. Luckily for us, everything went well: CC St. Galler Bär chose our team, surprisingly, and Ralph had to look further and found CC Basel-Regio... which had an A/B spot in the league. The former skip of that team quit playing and so Ralph could take over. It's Markus Eggler's home club anyway.

At the moment as we applied for the spot, our choice of Joel wasn't public yet... only for the board of the club which had to making the decision. I wanted to keep the integrity of everyone, in case the club decided against us. Most probably we wouldn't have formed this team, and Joel – maybe myself too – would have gone back to Italy! I don't think Marco and Pascal wouldn't have played for another club, and probably would have quit competitive curling, for a while at least.

Team Pescia has a new website and a goal, which is to win the Swiss championship and fly to Edmonton in April (current 2006 Swiss champ Andi Schwaller will rep Switzerland at December's Euro shootout). Retornaz still lives in Italy, so the squad will stay close to home and compete on the World Curling Tour Europe. 19-year-old Mario Freiberger has also joined the squad as alternate, and according to Pescia, he has an interesting Canadian story:

He (Mario) is happy to be part of a competitive men's team and is the perfect alternate cause he's a back-ender too. He's got an interesting background. He spent one year in P.E.I. as exchange student, played local bonspiels there and by accident he played in the Canadian Juniors for P.E.I., because their skip broke an arm right before the event. They asked Mario to throw fourth rocks and play third! They even reached the semi-final, but don't ask me when that was!

Retornaz now joins a list of Olympic athletes who have left their birth country for another. After a dizzying winter and spring of fame and glory, which saw millions of Italians watching his efforts on TV and roaring their support in public, what does he say about his newfound efforts to compete for Switzerland?

Don’t forget I am only 22 years old! I mean, I am still very young and I have the chance to play in the strongest national championship in Europe, with one of the strongest teams in the world. I don't think I could ask for more right now. If I don’t take his opportunity now, I don't think I am ever going to get it again.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Curling Stratusfaction?

Not really.

Although seeing as professional wrestler Trish Stratus (laying the boot in photo) is not only Canadian but hails from – and still lives in – TCN's current hometown of Richmond Hill, we're happy to lead off with "her" story today.

One of the worst-kept secrets in Canadian TV sports – er, "Sports Entertainment" – is now official: WWE wrestling, primarily a Monday-night show, has left TSN and will settle in at The Score as of August 7.

In the past, the soon-to-be exclusive curling network has come under fire for pre-empting the Scotties and Brier in favour of wrestling. No problem now, right? Wrong, as the Globe reminds us why the rasslers are departing in the first place: Monday Night (NFL) Football is taking their place this fall. And there's no way curling will beat out the NFL for the live spot.

One aspect of the WWE news conference struck us as oddball: according to this report, the wrestlers joked about TSN's recent misbehavour, ie. that "now there would be no pre-emptions from hockey or curling." The Sun Media chain went so far as to quote wrestler Edge, who took umbrage at the "primal Hurry Hard" crowd.

These are definitely jokes: as Canadian curling fans know, their sport almost always took a back seat to the rasslin', not the other way 'round. TSN did earn some props this past season for finally putting curling first, and the wrestling divas (male and female) firmly in second, but this was a fairly new legacy.

So there you go. Now curling fans have to worry about NFL football... as well as hockey. As for TCN? We're still hoping to someday run in to Trish at the local DQ.

In other news:

VANOC, still dealing with constant budget queries, is under fire today for the failure of Toronto's Olympic Spirit. The $50 million interactive complex closed its doors yesterday after first launching during the 2004 summer Olympics. Curling was represented by a land-based game, several displays featuring Olympic curling gear, and also equipment donated by Asham Curling Supplies. Read about the closure – and the infighting within Canada's Olympic family – here and here...

• The Royal Montreal Curling Club will celebrate 200 years of curling in 2007, and members have started a petition to have a stamp commemorated in this honour. Add your name and support by clicking here...

• Speaking of clubs, police and other emergency services seem to be using them quite often in the summer. During the Edmonton Oilers' run to the Stanley Cup hockey finals, wild street parties forced cops to set up a prisoner processing centre at the Granite Club. Earlier this month, raging forest fires in B.C. and Saskatchewan forced fleeing residents to shelters at the Dawson Creek and Chetwynd clubs. And just this week in tiny Spiritwood, Sask., the local curling rink served as police manhunt command centre before a murder suspect eventually turned himself in ...

• Across the pond, 2002 Olympic curling heroine Rhona Martin is one of two athletes touring about to promote the London 2014 summer Olympics, and one of her (hopeful) heir apparents is thrilled to receive new government funding...

ESPN 2 recently rebroadcast the Ford World women's championship final, giving fans another look at U.S. champion Debbie McCormick's close battle for the title, eventually won by Sweden's Anette Norberg. But could you ever guess that ESPN Brazil would also show it, followed by another packaged show from the men's world's in Lowell? Of course you couldn't, but here's the proof...

• Finally, a fun look back in time, particularly for those following the current growth of curling in the U.S.

In celebrating the 125th anniversary of The Aspen Times, their editorial staff has been reprinting a story or two from each year the newspaper has existed – a total of 125 historical selections over 125 days. Here's a recent reprint, dated 1967:

National curling tourney in Sept.

Enthusiasm generated by last weekend's curling competition here between Denver and Aspen teams has resulted in a larger-scale return match April 15 through 17 and plans for a national bonspiel at Aspen Sept. 1-4.

In the weekend tilts, Denver sweepers won three out of four contests at the Brown Ice Palace. Saturday, they posted 8-4 and 9-7 victories.

On Sunday, the Carbondale Quik Brooms registered the only local win, an 8-7 triumph. Denver bested Aspenites in the final 13-5

Monday, July 17, 2006

Save a prayer

Gerry Peckham, Canadian curling's long-time Manager of High Performance, may be down but he's not out.

Peckham was felled by a heart attack on or about July 5/6, and is now resting at home. He's had an angioplasty and also has a cardiac shunt inserted into a remaining blocked artery, which will be dealt with further in the coming weeks.

The key driver of Canada's National Team program and many other HP files before and since official Olympic status was achieved in 1998, Peckham's deft hand is no doubt still on his computer mouse... despite what must be fairly serious relaxation orders from his doctors.

All the best to Gerry on his road to recovery!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Ooooh. That looks sweet.

Back in black, baby.

The Black Book of Curling is back. The second edition rolls off the presses later this summer, chock full of new features, stories, stats, previews and you-name-it. It's a whopping 300-pager, it's the essential guide to curling and you simply must have it. And now you can reserve it – saving cash on shipping (plus tax for Canucks) – by pre-ordering today.

And yes, TCN is shilling this in rather shrill fashion. Hey, we're biased, but we admit it. Fact is, we think it's just that darned good... and it makes the curling fan within us all warm and fuzzy.

Produced by CurlingZone, the 2006/07 edition boasts a whack of new content, plus the return of the controversial rankings of men's and women's teams. Said Dallas Bittle, CurlingZone co-founder:

We're totally jacked about the new Black Book, and there's tons of new stuff in here that I can't reveal yet. There will be more previews and setups on teams and events happening this season. As for last year's rankings, the formula had just enough subjectivity in there to freak people out, like when Colleen Jones ended up ranked 16th. We have a new formula that is totally objective, and we're listing the Top 100 Men and Top 50 Women's teams in the world.

• Meanwhile, it's still camp time, folks. Adults can get in on the Fantasy action at multiple HOT SHOTS camps, while both adults and juniors can work with Kevin Martin and friends at two Edmonton-area camps in late August. Juniors alone are curl-camping right now, in Füssen, Germany and also in Saint John, N.B.

In fact Saint John is hosting the fifth annual Whitecap Curling Academy, which encompasses two full weeks and wraps up on July 21. The star factor is high, with three members of Team Gushue's Olympic Gold champs – Mark Nichols, Jamie Korab and Mike Adam – there for the entire thing.

Said Curl Atlantic's Karen Ouellette:

It’s wonderful to have the guys back this year. They’ve always been a hit among the kids and this year is especially significant after their gold medal win. They set a great example of what this camp wants to project to our region’s future champions.

Said Nichols:

It’s important for us to be here at camp to remind these kids that they could be there (the Olympics) someday. It wasn’t that long ago that we were sitting on the floor listening to speakers like the kids here this week and wondering if we could ever win a gold medal. We want to give back to them the way others helped us.

Also instructing are world junior champ Stefanie Richard from Summerside, P.E.I and Canadian junior winners Andrea Kelly, Jodie DeSolla and Jared Bezanson from New Brunswick.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

World Curling Tour: online for 06/07

The World Curling Tour website now shows a schedule for both the 2006-07 men's and women's event season, plus an online registry for competitors.

Teams and events have both been clamouring for this information: so there it is! Update your daytimers! Book flights! Reserve the beer kegs!

Er... that last one is for the event host clubs and committees. Naturally.


• Remember last night’s meeting (see the previous day’s Blogpost) in Moose Jaw? The farce continues, in some shape or fashion...

• Utica, NY will play host to the 2007 US national championships...

• Remember Dave Parkes? The head honcho of the Canadian Curling Association ventured on to The Curling Show recently for 22 minutes of podcast Q & A...

• Remember Mike Harris? Ontario Olympian, Brier skip and CBC talking head now living in Alberta and claiming he won’t be curling this fall? Well, he’s back, and Calgary’s Al Cameron has the scoop (subscription-only)...

Skip: Mike Harris
Third: ex-Winnipegger Garth Smith
Second: Jim Bush, brother of Cathy King lead Tracy Bush
Lead: Bob Genoway

Calgary Premier Super League and Alberta Kia Cup playdowns only.

(Mike Harris) I wanted to stay on the ice, for sure. I'll be playing mixed with my wife as well, so I'll be on the ice a couple times a week, but no bonspiels. It's hard to expect to be competitive if you're not doing the work. You know what? If we make provincials, I'm looking at it as a great year. That's the way I'm looking at it. It's a relative thing, I suppose. I'm hoping everybody's going to be good, and I'm sure they're hoping I'm going to play well.

(Garth Smith) The fit is really good. We've got young families, we've got work commitments. There's always that balance of wanting to curl competitive because you're still in your quote-unquote prime.

Monday, July 10, 2006

World's biggest curling stone

That's some big rock.

This 1.5-tonne curling rock is made of steel, foam and fibreglass and was unveiled late last month in tiny Arborg, Manitoba. It's just the latest big thing to be placed along North American highways with the aim of stopping people's cars, enticing them to take photographs and spend some cash at the local 7-11.

But it's got Thunder Bay, Ontario completely up in arms. They've had the world's largest curling stone for 46 years – built to celebrate the 1960 Brier – and now they've been upped by a prairie town boasting 957 residents. Alf Childs, the T-Bay rock's caretaker, says the metallic Manitoba creation doesn't even look like a curling stone."That's an affront to granite right there," Childs told the Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal.

But check out this guy, he's really fired up at "those bastards in Manitoba"!

• Speaking of famous rocks, the Stone of Destiny has found a new home...

• Spies tell us that Glenn Howard and Sherry Middaugh have been honoured by their home Coldwater Curling Club for their 2005-06 on-ice exploits – Howard lost the Brier final and qualified for the Olympic Trials while Middaugh finished fourth at the Trials – and will receive a cruise. Isn't that generous! Two questions: do they have to bunk together, and can Sherry bring husband Wayne?

• After many trials and tribulations there will finally be curling in Vermont this fall, which has got one ex-Ottawean all pumped up...

• Elsewhere in the U.S., the annual Cape Cod Summerspiel wrapped up on the weekend...

• Some guy from this organization not only wants his "sport" to join the Olympics, but he cites curling as a reason, saying it "requires less physical stress than some other sports"...

• Could curling be in trouble in both Gander, NL and Port Alice, B.C.? Powell River (also in B.C.) wants a new facility, and Moose Jaw will once again debate their proposed facility tonight...

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Go curling with the HOT SHOTS

It's that summer curling camp time of year, and TCN's fave is the HOT SHOTS series run by David Gravelle. Why? The fantasy camp angle, but of course.

There are two camps in Oakville, Ontario on August 25-27 and September 8-10, and the lineup of instructors has just been announced. August will feature 2006 Brier runner-up and twice Brier and world champion
Glenn Howard among many others. September's camp will see a Yankee invasion led by 2006 world runner-ups Debbie McCormick – also 2003 world champ – and teammates Nicole Joraanstad and Natalie Nicholson, as well as new Kevin Martin third Johnny Morris, again among others.

Meanwhile there are still spots open at HOT SHOTS camps planned for Duluth, Minnesota (October 27-29), Barrie, Ontario (November 4-5) and Madison, Wisconsin (November 10-12). Sign up today for one of the best on-ice (and off-ice) experiences you will ever enjoy!

On the youth beat, Jim Waite's Ametheyst camp is underway and will conclude on July 7, with the Trillium camp set to begin soon. The dual website for both camps is located here.

What else is up, you ask?

• Monday's
Edmonton Journal featured new Banff resident Mike Harris, and how he is coping with his new golf job and life in the mountains of Alberta. Harris said the phone has been ringing steadily and he's also been visited by Edmonton's Don Walchuk and Saskatchewan's Pat Simmons, while CBC cohorts Joan McCusker and Don Wittman have merely threatened to drop in.

There's one group dropping by in August that has got Harris pumped:
Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Sergio Garcia, Big John Daly and Calgary's own Stephen Ames are in town Aug. 7-8 for the nationally-televised Telus Skins Game...

• Attention World Curling Tour players: organizers in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan are celebrating their 20th anniversary Wayside cashspiel with a whopping $75,000 prize purse, including a $5,500 qualifying payout. The news is so fresh, the event website wasn't updated at the time of this writing...

• 2007 Brier chair
Dwayne Piper has been busy promoting his mammoth event in and around Hamilton...

• This is also a busy time of year for the CCA's
Danny Lamoureux and his curling club growth and marketing program known as The Business of Curling. Here's a report on a struggling curling town (Digby, NS) and their newfound willingness to look at new ways of operating the sport in their community. If you're a club owner, president or passionate volunteer who is tired of the same-old/same-old – God knows our sport is chock-full of too much of that – this program is simply a must...

• The International Paralympic Committee has confirmed that the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Games will feature 10 wheelchair curling teams, up from Turin’s eight...

• Finally, West Toronto (ie. Mississauga) curlers may want to check out a new historical – and oddly-titled – book,
From Frozen Ponds to Beehive Glory, which features the Dixie Curling Club...