Saturday, February 28, 2009

Gold for Canada, STOH finale tomorrow

VANCOUVER – If you thought Canada has dominated the world of wheelchair curling, you would be wrong.

Yes, Chris Daw and company struck gold at the debut of the sport at the 2006 Paralympic Games, but in six world championships there’s been just a silver and a bronze... and, in the last three worlds, two fourth-place finishes and a sixth-place ranking.

That all ended today as Vancouver’s own big Jim Armstrong and company – with one member of that 2006 team on the ice, Vernon’s Sonja Gaudet – took apart Sweden by a 9-2 count to win the 2009 World title.

Story here.

WCF photo by Al Harvey.

Tomorrow: Canada versus B.C. at the Scotties.

Ironic, according to one writer, that it was Marla Mallet who allowed Team Canada into the party (playoffs) to begin with, where “they’ve been trashing the joint ever since... already knocked over the kitchen table, spilled red wine on the carpet and made a heck of a mess behind the couch.”

To the winners: a trip to Korea, a return to the 2010 STOH in Sault Ste. Marie, another two years of Sport Canada funding, a berth in the Canada Cup, lots of CTRS points, more Kruger jewelry and bragging rights.

And all of it comes to you live, tomorrow night, for the first time on a prime time Sunday night... and for the first time on TSN.

Nine lives for Jones?

Blogreaders may recall that we do like the earliest version of the U.S. rock band Aerosmith, although we truly despise one song of theirs... particularly after it has been played non-stop for a week.

After staring, mouths agape, at yet another miraculous escape for Team Canada’s Jennifer Jones yesterday – at the expense of the unfortunate spud Islanders – we reveal our curling interpretation of the VIP access pass to the 1997-98 Aerosmith “Nine Lives” Tour, above.

Following their successful 2007-08 tour, Team Canada’s 2008-09 tour of intimidating the opposition is once again in full gear, and the question remains: can anyone stop this team?

If they’re playing well, the answer is clear – no.

If they’re struggling, the answer still seems to be – no.

Will Saskatchewan – another team that wears green – be able to derail the train today?

China, Sweden take Universiade gold

by Paul Webster

HARBIN, China – Hats off to the Chinese women, skipped by Bingyu Wang, who pulled off the win in the gold medal game here in Harbin, China. They are the 2009 World University Games champions and met the expectations of their top ranked status!

Likewise to the Swedish men’s team, led by Niklas “I’m Not Scottish” Edin. Great team all week, and a great finish.

For the match details, head to this great WCF page.

I want to acknowledge the unbelievable accomplishment of the Canadian women’s team, skipped by Hollie Nicol, who earned the silver. To take the top seeding into the playoffs (with an undefeated record), win the semifinal and then take the world number two team to the 10th end in a world championship is remarkable, and something these five ladies and coach John Nicol should be extremely proud of.

I know the result is perhaps not the storybook ending they were dreaming about, however in the years to come it will be pretty cool for them to know that they competed toe-to-toe against the world’s best.

The game had its share of big shots and big misses and Canada seemed to want to recreate their comeback in the semifinal, but the Chinese simply kept pressing and eventually out-shot their opponents.

I want to congratulate this team and their coaches for the amount of work they have put into this team, and this tournament.

The ice conditions were fantastic, again, and now we thank the icemakers : Scott Henderson of Scotland and Doug Wright of Canada. After a chat with Doug during the final it was amazing to hear some of the difficulties they experienced during this championship that we simply didn’t realize – everything from a dripping roof to broken windows?! – when everything had been promised to be “okay”. They even ended up tarping the ice the night before the finals, to ensure no water would drip onto it.

I want to take this opportunity, as well, to apologize for my somewhat shortsighted comments regarding practicing with new sets of rocks prior to the finals (see above link). Keith Wendorf, the WCF Technical Consultant to this FISU championship, informed me that this has never been the case at a world championship and I simply had my facts wrong. Okay!

As well, adding one to two hours of additional ice time at night would definitely put a stress on our ice technicians and officials. Now, if given the chance, I would still love the opportunity to take a new set of rocks and practice with them... Keith, if you’re reading...? We will simply have to do a better job of matching stones next time.

This is China’s first big international competition and they have done a fantastic job. A competition like this defiitely starts at the top and kudos to Li Dongyang, General Secretary of the Chinese Curling Association (the CCA of China!). I also want to thank Scotland’s Jeannette Johnson, FISU Representative, who has a tremendous amount of experience with world curling events and was able to guide a new organizing committee with, what seemed from the outside, a degree of strong success. Of course we will never know all the hard work – and headaches – that went on behind the scenes.

Thanks as well to Keith, who is also the Director of Competitions for the WCF, for his hard work behind the scenes. I have known Keith since 1993 and I think his schedule gets busier every year. His work supporting the officials and organizing committee definitely brings some professionalism and player/coach background to every event, and I know this is appreciated by the coaches and athletes alike.

Donna Stadzell and her crew of Mary Pat and Urs ensured everything was looked after on the offciating side of things, and we really didn’t have a hiccup all week. They took a rookie force of officials and made it look like a veteran squad (see photo).

Hey, can anyone see Keith in that photo? Even if you click to zoom in? :-)

We have a couple of days left here in Harbin, which will see the entire Canadian contingent head to the Harbin Tiger Zoo. A rumoured four hundred tigers await, and livestock that is sent in for feeding... all while you stare from a safari bus.

Not sure I’ll be blogging about that!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Not cheering for BC: Weber

Say hello to yet another TCN blogger, folks.

Margo Weber is a competitive curler from Calgary and an avid observer... most recently from her couch, as she is taking time away from the ice lanes to raise a family. In her first effort, she says she knows whom she is NOT cheering for in Victoria...

by Margo Weber

It’s probably no surprise to Marla Mallett that her team from BC has made the 1-2 playoff game at the 2009 Scotties Tournament of Hearts. But I bet it’s a surprise to everyone else.

In a field that included Team Canada’s Jennifer Jones, Saskatoon’s Stephanie Lawton and Calgary’s Cheryl Bernard, the play of Team BC has been no less than remarkable.

So can BC hold up their first place status and win one of two chances to make the final? This team made the 1-2 game by virtue of their eighth win on Wednesday night, however has subsequently lost their last two round robin games. If they can’t get things back on track, it’s going to be a long summer of what-ifs for Mallett and her squad from the Vancouver Curling Club.

Mallett (Kruger Products Ltd. photo above by Andrew Klaver) has certainly not let the extra pressure of being the home team diminish their chances. They don’t even seem to care what the crowd thinks.

They chose not to participate in the Ford Hot Shots at the beginning of the week because they feared it would be a distraction from the real goal – winning the Scotties.

Mallett also plays a less-than-crowd-pleasing style of game that is unbelievably boring and pretty lame for the fans. So they are less concerned about the event sponsors and the crowd, and more concerned with their own play. Fair enough.

But Mallett herself got distracted enough in last night’s round robin game against Team Canada that she actually stopped herself in the hack, got up and refocused. Apparently bothered by some opposition team movement at the other end of the sheet, she was later shown jawing to Cathy Overton-Clapham about holding still.

Was Cathy O doing the hokey pokey? How could someone of this curling calibre be so easily distracted over something so minute?

For those that watched the TSN telecast, you heard Linda Moore comment how Mallett had to refocus quite a few times in the BC provincials due to minor distractions. Shouldn't something as trivial as a little movement in the background not bother her at this point?

Yeesh, this is the home team, and the crowd is cheering “British Columbia” every five seconds. Yet she feels the need to talk to Cathy O about her movements. Weird.

Okay, so let’s pretend BC does win tonight – or in the semi – and then faces one of three really good teams in the final. And let’s pretend she even wins that and goes on to represent Canada at the Worlds in Korea. How will she fare?

As a fan of Canadian curling, my support will certainly be behind her in hopes that she captures the world title. But I would be a little nervous about their chances.

First, this is a very defensive team, and the Victoria ice seems to lend to this style of play. But the ice in Korea is sure to be completely different than ice at home – isn’t it? – and the question is: would they be able to adjust?

Second, if Mallett is easily distracted by other teams, the World Championship will not be the place for her. International teams are very different from Canadian teams. If you want to see a bunch of ladies jumping up and down, and high fiving just for making a hit and roll – watch a few games at the Worlds.

I’m going to have to throw my hopes behind a team that isn’t afraid to mix it up. Best of luck to Team BC in their quest, but I want a Canadian gold in Korea, and I’m going to have to cheer for someone else. How about someone like Quebec’s Marie-France Larouche who puts the broom on the edge of the eight foot, goes down to the other end of the sheet and draws to the can without blinking an eye. Typical Mallett strategy would be to scan the house for any cross-house double so that she doesn’t have to draw.

Or how about Saskatchewan, which has the major distraction of an illness in the family of the skip and third, yet has still rallied to a third-place round robin finish despite losing their first three games?

Or Team Canada, an absolute powerhouse in women’s curling which has the major distraction of being Team Canada? Even when these girls are struggling they just plain refuse to roll over and die themselves, as we saw in last year’s STOH and just a few minutes ago, in the 2009 tiebreaker against poor PEI.

There are so many great teams in the Scotties this year that I just don’t have it in me this time to cheer for the home province. Sorry, BC.

Will anyone step up to the plate?

by Elaine Dagg-Jackson

VICTORIA – Who is going to win this Scotties Tournament of Hearts?

That’s the question everyone is asking here in Victoria as the final days of this 2009 championship unfold.While BC’s Marla Mallett clearly dominated the leaderboard all week, she lost her last two games and, well, we all know that when it comes to the playoffs, anything can happen.

This was clearly illustrated just last year when Jennifer Jones upset the rock-steady Shannon Kleibrink in a stunning last-rock final. With every game on the final day of round-robin play crucial to the standings, there remains five teams – B.C., Quebec (Kruger Products Ltd. photo of Marie-France Larouche by Andrew Klaver), Saskatchewan, P.E.I and Canada – in contention become the 2009 Canadian champs.

For now, a few teams are able to grab some much needed rest. I chatted with one of the athletes who qualified for the three-four playoff last night and while she was clearly elated with a strong finish, she declared “I’m just so exhausted!”

My friend Luann Krawetz, who happens to be a University of Victoria basketball hall-of-famer, watched the game with me last night and her grasp of curling performance always amazes me.

She says curling is the only sport that places such demands on athletes where they need to excel physically, mentally and spiritually over such a long period of time. Where basketball athletes will play one game every other day in a four- or five-game series, curling athletes play two three-hou games per day in a 12-team round robin.

“It’s incredible!” says Lu.

It is much more fun watching the game with Luann, ever since I taught her not to yell “miss!” like they do for a free throw in basketball!

I’ve been more than a little surprised that the field here remains wide open. No one has stepped up to the plate to serve notice that they are really challenging for the title, and the trip to the Worlds in Korea.

From my perspective, B.C. has been the steadiest team this week, demonstrating patience, a calm and focused demeanor, and a full grasp of how to successfully play the conditions.

Saskatchewan has been gathering momentum and P.E.I, Canada and Quebec are all certainly playing well now – particularly the Islanders, who are up 4-2 on Team Canada at the fifth-end break of the tiebreaker!

It sounds obvious, but I feel the team that really embraces the ice conditions and the environment in the final games will come out on top.

It was fabulous to see so many of the teams letting off some steam in the Heart Stop Lounge last night. The music was great, the atmosphere fun and my daughter Steph was kept busy answering those all important questions from the sidelined Scotties participants of what to see and do in Victoria... and where the best shopping was, now that they finally have time to enjoy it!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

World Wheelchair curling playoffs

VANCOUVER – So your curling fandom revolves around the Scotties, does it?

Did you know there is a Canadian team battling in a world championship right now? And in relative obscurity? And in British Columbia, not far from the Victoria STOH?

The last time we saw Jim Armstrong he was teaching some poor patsy the three-man lift, a gimmick that has been carried on in fine fashion by famous lead players Jamie Korab (Team Brad Gushue), Ben Hebert (Team Kevin Martin) and others.

It was right around his days as president of the World Curling Players’ Association, and somewhat far removed from his playing career which saw him compete in six Briers, losing the 1987 final to Russ Howard.

So it is initially, admittedly, a bit shocking to see the big man wheeling round the brand new Vancouver Olympic/Paralympic Centre, wearing the Maple Leaf for the first time as skip for Team Canada at the 2009 World Wheelchair Curling Championship (WCF photo by Dallas Bittle, click to zoom).

But we get used to seeing this. Armstrong looks comfortable – enough – and patient in his chair. Only playing for two years, after first being invited to “hang out” with Team Canada at a training camp, Armstrong is now the skip of a national team that has been rebuilding ever since 2006 Paralympic champion skip Chris Daw left the scene.

We asked Jim if he’s ever tempted to just stand up, get out of that chair and walk over to the stone he wants to freeze to, or hit, or draw around.

“Yeah,” said Army.

“But that first step would be ugly.”

Was he initially nervous, playing for Canada for the first time in his career?

“Yeah I was, a little bit,” said Armstrong.

“I think anytime you’re in this setting, if you’re not getting the butterflies there’s something wrong.”

There are some colourful characters in wheelchair curling. German skip Jens Jaeger lets out occasional whoops and likes to take mock, exaggerated bows to his coaches and fans with every victory.

Jaeger hasn’t been in the worlds since 2005 – when he finished in 13th place – but he smoked everybody at the Worlds Qualifier in Prague, and he is pretty much smoking everybody here in Vancouver – he’s through to the Page 1/2 game Friday night, against Sweden. He’s certainly come a long way.

Canada plays another colourful team, the United States, in the Page 3/4 game, also Friday night at 8:00pm. They finished third, Canada fourth. They also won bronze last year. And they have a few wild childs on that team, let us tell you.

Then there’s China and Korea – two teams among five that finished just one game out of the playoffs – which are the loudest teams around. Both squads like to yell at the rocks, from release to finish, as if they want to just stand up, get out of those chairs and run over to the stones to sweep them. Chinese skip Haitao Wang has a particularly brutish, gutteral baritone... which you can hear from the players’ lounge.

These guys – and gals – can shoot, too. And they’re incredibly pleasant, funny and grounded, even compared to the majority of able-bodied curlers.

“There are no asses in this game,” says Armstrong.

“And I’m guessing its because they’ve all got a story about how they got here.”

You got that right, Army.

Here’s hoping that Vancouverites come out and support the wheelies, support Team Canada. There’s only a handful of draws left: Frday night (8:00pm), Saturday morning (9:00am) and the Gold and Bronze Medal games on Saturday at 2:30pm.

Admission is just five bucks.

So get down here. Here’s the event website.

For those outside Vancouver, you can follow the results here... and read a ton of draw summaries here... but best of all is some live blogging, focussing on Team Canada games, going on at the popular Wheelchair Curling Blog.

If you can get out of your chair – unlike these athletes – then come on down. Otherwise, get online and check it out.

Sad news from Scotland

Word from Scotland that one of the world’s great curling publications, The Scottish Curler, may cease operations after the May 2009 issue is, in our opinion, a disaster for the sport’s homeland.

And a damned shame for all curling fans.

A statement, which will appear in the forthcoming March issue, is now posted at the ├╝ber-popular companion blog, Curling Today.

Clearly there are hopes that the publication may continue, in either print and/or online form... although this might not resemble the product of years past. And a glorious past it is, in which The Scottish Curler has a full three years on The Curling News, having been founded in 1954.

The major reason is financial, but there is also the issue of the upcoming retirement of editor Bob Cowan, pictured above, who first breathed new life into the tome seven years ago. And should an online version continue, we have our doubts as to whether or not it could ever match the sheer volume, quality and passion of Cowan’s output, which began with this wee introductory post almost two years ago.

And what of Curling History, the new blog introduced back in June, which focusses on the sport’s ancient history? While still young at heart and sometimes overlooked by the energy of Curling Today, this effort has found many fans including yours truly. We are big fans of the Roaring Game’s beginnings, and it would be a shame to lose this one, too.

Although the title of this blogpost is all doom-and-gloom, we choose to look to the future with optimism. As such, we wish the owners – and any potential future partners – the best of luck in ensuring this title continues, just as we wish Bob Cowan all the best in his well-deserved retirement!

China, Canada into Harbin finals

by Paul Webster

HARBIN, China – After starting the day slowly – and seeing themselves in a 5-1 deficit at the fifth-end break – Canada turned up the heat on Great Britain and managed to pull off a huge win in the semifinals of the 24th Winter Universiade.

Playing in their first ever world playoff game, Canada – skipped by Wilfred Laurier University’s Hollie Nicol – looked a veteran team in both composure and the consistency of their pressure on the Great Britain squad.

The Scottish girls – well, they are Scottish after all – have three World Junior Champions on their team, and they definitely let their guard down in the second half, and didn’t react well to the pressure the Canadian were applying. A number of key misses by their third Kay Adams did not present many great options for skip Sarah Reid.

The Canadians have simply played great all week. With the win, the girls have ensured our Canadian University Team a medal - they simply have to play the final to decide the medal’s colour! And the ladies will be playing none other than hometown heroes China in the gold medal match.

In the other semi, the Chinese demolished Russia 11-2 - not even close. China, ranked as the number one team, now has the chance to confirm that expectation. After all, the skip is Bingyu Wang, and she has two members of her 2008 world runner-up team on board.

In men’s action Sweden beat the Chinese men’s team and they certainly have been the class of the field all week. Norway will play Sweden in the final after having beaten the upstart Koreans in the other semi.

Some interesting notes:

• For Russia this was the first of three straight world championships - here, then at the World Juniors in Vancouver, and then at the World Women’s in Korea. They have elements of their national women’s squad on each team and rotate amongst younger and older players depending on the event.

I have to say, however, that skip Liudmila Privivkova (photo above) looks extremely burnt out. I’ve seen her play in numerous events and she definitely had her worst event of the last few years right here in Harbin. And now it’s off to North America, then rigt back to Asia!

• With the win Canada had choice of hammer or rocks.... we chose the hammer. We then got to select rocks from any sheet for the final. Normally teams will select from a few sets to make, what they feel, is a perfect set. These will then be moved to the championship sheet and the teams will get to practice to see how this new set, on the new sheet react.

However, this is not an option at this championship. I’m not sure why, nor is Norwegian coach Ole Ingvaldsen. Ole has attended hundreds of championships and he is quite sure that this is the first time a team cannot practice with their selected rocks prior to a final.

It was suggested that the team simply selects one entire sheet of rocks... which of course defeats the purpose of being able to take certain rocks from certain sheets.

Jut my two cents, but it’s interesting that nothing ever remains consistent from championship to championship. It woudn’t take much time out of the schedule to provide a 30-min team practice tonight and this afternoon. Ensuring the best playing conditions should be a priority, shouldn’t it?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ordinary curling champions

by Elaine Dagg-Jackson

VICTORIA - We’re seeing some inspiring performances from some amazing athletes at this 2009 Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

Along with the champions of the day like Team Jennifer Jones are the stars of tomorrow, like Quebec’s Marie-France Larouche, Saskatchewan’s Stefanie Lawton, Ontario’s Krista McCarville and others who are wearing their provincial colours here in Victoria.

Grace McInnes, a Scotties rookie who plays third for BC’s Marla Mallett, has shown poise and focus all week. And of course Yukon/NWT’s stunning defeat over Team Canada last night was a bright moment in the career of Kerry Galusha (and she won again this morning, too).

My eyes were focused behind the sheet last night, watching the young curlers from the Victoria Curling Club who were experiencing their very first live Scotties. It reminded me of the year 2000, when I took my then-12-year-old daughter Steph to her first STOH in Prince George. Steph got the chance to watch BC’s Kelley Law win five sudden-death games to become the Canadian champions.

What was unique about this is that in that same season, Steph and I played with Law third Julie Skinner in the good ol’ Tuesday night ladies league at the Victoria Curling Club. And at that moment, Steph realized that ordinary people can become champions.

Now 22, Steph has participated at six national championships (five Juniors and one Mixed) and even travelled with Law to the 2007 Scotties in Lethbridge as the team Alternate.

Time will tell how this 2009 Scotties imagery will inspire my young friends from the VCC.

Back to the games. Although the crowd has not been quite as big as organizers hoped early this week, that is sure to change as we approach the weekend. Meanwhile, those who are here at the Save on Foods Memorial Arena are showing their true colours.

BC, Canada and Manitoba have large contingents supporting their teams, but one of the most colourful is the Alberta family members who are their supporting Tam Bernard each game, and showing us just how far ordinary guys will go to support their gals.

On the ice things are getting exciting with team BC pulling into sole possession of first place yesterday (they’re 7-1 now) and some crucial games for those with two or three losses coming up.

The teams that find a way to get a little better each day are the ones who will find themselves in the playoffs later in the week. Building confidence and momentum is critical to winning a championship, and a number of the women are demonstrating tremendous poise under the pressure of this tournament.

As my friend Jay Tuson (BC third, 2001 Brier) commented last night in the Heartstop Lounge: “when the jackets come off you know things are heating up out there!”

China update: CAN in semis

by Paul Webster

HARBIN, China – Our girls team, the Wilfred Laurier team skipped by Hollie Nicol, has secured the top spot in the playoff round (9-0) and will face Great Britain in the semifinal (6-4) of the WUG – the World University Games.

Playing in the other semi are pre-tournament favourites Russia (6-3) and China (7-2).

The GB girls had to win a tiebreaker against the Czech Republic this morning and despite a rough start (down 5-1 after three ends) the ladies from Scotland pulled it off in 10 ends, winning 8-5.

I’m writing this blog as our girls get ready to hit the ice for a 12:00pm practice. It’s an interesting situation as they get to practice on the semifinal sheet but the GB team will not be given this option.

Of course, we haven’t complained.

The girls chose hammer over rocks and we’ll find out soon what rocks they’ll be given.

The Canadian men’s team, the Laurier squad skipped by Mike Anderson, has been relegated to the position of number one fans! They had a disappointing tournament, to choose their own words, finishing in the middle of the pack at 4-5, and definitely struggled to find their A-game all week. I have to say, however, that they have definitely done our country proud in how they represented themselves both on and off the ice. Victories against Great Britain and USA made the tournament result a little sweeter. This is a funny game sometimes.

We met up with the men's team from Great Britain last night in the residence bar and had a few beers – truly only a few, as the supply ran out! Our Canadian men’s hockey team had a table full of empties and really got the jump on us.

It was really cool to sit down with your fellow competitors and talk about the game – any game, any sport. We really don't know how lucky we are in Canada to have a such a strong base of athletes. When people find out that the teams we have sent are our 38th-ranked women’s team and 86th-ranked men’s team, they just shake their heads.

Men’s playoffs: Sweden verus China in the 1 vs 4 game, and Norway vs Korea in the 2 vs 4 match. Sweden has simply been the class of the tournament, and China are the surprise team in the other direction; the y squeaked through a tiebreaker (over Switzerland) after leading the pack the majority of the week.

Both Chinese teams are looking like they are having trouble with the pressure of being the top teams in an event hosted on their home soil.

Today will hold a lot of... shopping. I have been instructed from afar to look for cheap Coach purses... and the girls have promised to help me out.

Dominion Club Champ Website

The Dominion of Canada – those friendly insurance guys who are slowly but surely TAKING OVER CANADIAN CURLING! – have a new website up and running today.

This dedicated portal supports and leverages The Dominion Curling Club Championship, the new championship for club/recreational players, which sees its first national shootout take place at Toronto in November.

Various provinces have set up provincial championships that are coming up very soon, and the process starts, of course, with the curling clubs themselves.

Has your club signed up? Talk to your club manager or president to ensure that you have. Oh... and check out the website, too.

Don’t you think you deserve a national championship that you can qualify for? Of course you do.

For a wee bit more on everything The Dominion does, check out this link... and this one... and this one... and this one... and this one ...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Afternoon tea at the STOH

by Elaine Dagg-Jackson

VICTORIA – A week at the Scotties is a long one.

After what seems like a week of preparation – banquets, receptions, uniform fittings, official meetings – the 12-game round robin gets underway. A team that goes into the championship with a good plan and maximum preparation has the opportunity to shine when play begins.

Two games a day may not seem like much, but when you add pre-game practice (every draw), pre-game ceremonies (every draw), media requirements and occasional outreach requirements (like mandatory autograph sessions) these 8:30am, 1:00pm and 6:30pm games don’t leave much significant in-between time. Throw an extra end in there, and tightly-scripted routines may come unravelled... unless there is a plan to deal with them.

Team Yukon/ NWT had such a challenge on Monday when their morning game went to an extra end. The game ended around noon when Kerry Galusha stole her first win over Team Newfoundland. The team then had to be back on the ice to practice for the afternoon game at 12:30.

For teams that play back to back games, meals are provided on site by the best sponsor in the history of women’s sport – Kruger Products, of course – but what athlete can cool down, recover, regenerate (eat!) and then complete their pre-game routine in 30 minutes? This is a typical challenge at a national championship, and one which the most rabid TV fan might not realize.

Unfortunately, Team Yukon/NWT showed the effects of that challenge with a slow start in their next match, giving up two consecutive steals of two before scoring. Down 7-2 after five ends, they made an impressive rally to tie the game in the ninth end, only to lose it in the 10th to Manitoba’s Barb Spencer.

Likely Team Galusha had a plan, but was it scripted tightly enough to encompass that particular scenario?

What is unfortunate about such tight scripting is that the teams might not have the time to really enjoy all that the City of Victoria has to offer… but they’re still talking about it! The weather is sunny (I’d like to say typical, but not really) and 10 degrees Celsius. The athletes are staying at the historical, magnificent, 100-year-old Empress Hotel in the heart of Victoria’s stunning Inner Harbour... but unless they arrive early, they’ll miss the traditional Afternoon Tea the hotel is famous for serving.

Clearly, and as usual, the host committee and the incomparable Robin Wilson have made sure the competitors are treated like royalty at the Scotties.

In fact, a number of this year’s STOH participants have played here in Victoria before – T.J. Surik, alternate for Team Saskatchewan, played here at the 2004 Canadian Juniors and Lianne Sobey, Jodie deSolla and Andrea Kelly of Team New Brunswick lost the semi-final of that event.

With two teams with one loss (Team Canada and B.C.) and two teams with two losses (Quebec and Alberta) at time of writing, there are a lot of all-important positioning games coming up, each one a critical step toward the playoffs. It will be interesting to see what the leader board looks like tomorrow morning ...

Canadian women lock up first place

by Paul Webster

HARBIN, China – After beating China in yesterday morning’s draw, and watching the Czech team lose to Japan, the Canadian women, skipped by Hollie Nicole, are on their way to the number one seed position seed going into the playoffs of the World University Games.

With a 7-0 record and two games left, Canada can finish with a maximum two losses and if that were to happen, the teams they would be tied with (assuming other assumptions!) are China and Russia.

Having beaten both those, Canada would be awarded the first seeding going into the semis. Not bad for Canada’s 38th-ranked women’s team!

While I spend most of my time with our boys’ team, I had the opportunity to come and watch the gals play China. Our team played well, with an exceptional performance from our back end. This was in stark contrast to a extremely shaky Bingyu Wang who, you will recall, beat Jennifer Jones twice (but lost the final) at the 2008 Ford Worlds.

Having lost their previous game to Japan yesterday – which is like us Canadians competing the USA! – this does not look like the second-best women’s team in the world. One can only surmise that the pressure of playing at home, with such high expectations, is getting to this Chinese squad.

Congrats to our girls. More later!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Scotties blog is on the air

And another guest blogger has arrived. Hey... we told you it was an Insane Curling Week!

Elaine Dagg-Jackson has been coaching curling since 1989, starting with Team Julie Sutton. She went on to coach the Japanese national teams and is now deeply entwined in the Canadian national coaching program.

She also lives in Victoria, host city of the 2009 STOH women’s nationals... and she’s now a TCN Blogger!

Behind the Scotties scenes
by Elaine Dagg-Jackson

VICTORIA – The 2009 Scotties Tournament of Hearts got off to its usual spectacular start here in Victoria with the Opening Banquet at the Victoria Conference Centre. Former Scottie champion and TSN commentator Cathy Gauthier was the emcee, and the evening was filled with memories as past champions from the host province of British Columbia were honoured.

They were all there... members of the Lindsay Sparkes team (Lindsay and Robin Wilson), the Linda Moore squad (Linda, Lindsay, Debbie Jones-Walker and Laurie Carney), Team Pat Sanders (Georgina Wheatcroft, Louise Herlinveaux and Deb Massullo), Team Julie (Sutton) Skinner (Julie, Jodie Sutton Green and Melissa Soligo), the Kelley Law team (Julie, Georgina, and Diane Nelson Dezura) and, of course, the Kelly Scott team (Kelly, Jeanna Schraeder, Sasha Carter, Renee Simons).

Julie Skinner represented the champions with a tell-all speech and some photos which provided a glimpse into the various hair fashions through the decades, including a few of my own past hair trends I would just as soon forget.

The best sponsor in the history of women’s sport continued to please the competitors with Kruger and Robin Wilson handing out 43 diamonds to those who have participated at multiple Scotties. For each repeat win, the curler is awarded a new diamond to her necklace or bracelet. The professionalism and class that Kruger brings to this tournament is truly amazing, and creates an incredible allegiance from the curling masses.

Another special presentation occurred with the long-overdue World Championship rings presented to the Kelly Scott team. When the Worlds are held in Canada, the event is sponsored by Ford of Canada and the winners receive World rings supplied by the sponsor. However, when the event is hosted outside Canada the winners went ringless.

A recent agreement by the Canadian Curling Association and the World Curling Federation has now provided Team Scott with rings from their 2006 victory in Aomori, Japan.

The Hot Shots was won by Alberta skip Cheryl Bernard with Saskatchewan’s Sherri Singler the runner-up and Quebec’s Nancy Belanger third. Organizers were surprised when Team British Columbia – skipped by Marla Mallett – elected to sit this one out, the first time in the history of the Hot Shots a team has elected not to participate.

When you arrive at an STOH event it sometimes seems like it takes forever to get started. The teams often arrive on Wednesday, and some don’t play until Saturday night. But now the round robin is underway (Kruger Products photo by Andrew Klaver, above) and the first games have been played – some with predictable results, and some surprises.

Team Canada, Quebec, Ontario and host province BC have come out swinging, and others predicted to be leaders have not fared as well. But the thing about the Scotties – like the Brier – is that it is a long, long week, and you never know what is going to happen. You have to literally take it one game at a time and hope you’re still alive at the end of the week.

We’ll see how the rocks roll in the coming days!

Canadian women undefeated

by Paul Webster

HARBIN, China – Our women are definitely doing us proud here at the Winter Universiade, and it paid off for them as they were rewarded with a dinner at Pizza Hut tonight – the true heaven of restaurants. They agreed with our boys that hot food can really win your over... particularly when you haven’t had it for seven days!

The girls are sitting at a perfect 6-0 with a few big games still to come, namely China, and the Czech Republic. The Czechs have been somewhat of a surprise at only two losses, however, they are making a lot of shots and are deserving of their wins. China had a big loss today versus Japan, but their skip was rotated out for the game. China did the same with their men’s skip in tonight’s (Feb 22) game after a loss earlier today versus Sweden.

Our girls are guaranteed a tiebreaker spot but they are setting their sights on a top spot in one of the semifinals. The FISU/WCF runs a traditional double semifinal with the winners going to the gold medal match and the semi-final losers going to the bronze medal match. Win the semi and you can breathe a sigh of relief, as you have just won a medal!

Our girls are definitely playing like they deserve it so far!

Now let’s talk about the boys... have you ever had a string of games where you and your teammates simply can’t get on a run? Well that is where this team is right now. A lot of head scratching and soul searching is underway, with the team trying to find that magical formula, or simply that magical moment, like they had during the Norway game, when they would make all eight shots in one end. How sweet a feeling that is. We’ve lost that shooting feeling.....woahoh, that shooting feeling.... sing it with me, please!

Seriously... any hints, please send them my way. Trust that Coach Ken McCormack and I are doing our best to try to get these boys back on track.

A little bit about China: it has snowed while we are here and I challenge you to find either a snow plow or shovel... they send out groups of shovellers across the city and they clean up everything. I kid you not. It is an amazing sight, groups of 20 or so on on the main roads shovelling and scraping, and then the next crew cleans up their piles and puts them into trucks, and out of the city it goes!

If we only had 30-40 million more people in Canada this may be a way to save some money on snowplowing... while providing jobs for Canadians. Heck, I know our street in Calgary could use the help!

Off to a team meeting. Girls are in bed as they have a two game day tomorrow. China in the morning – I'll update everyone right after that game.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Talking Curling Heads

We’ve always loved the term “talking head”, which is aimed – affectionately or not – at those who are paid big bucks to smile, look good, and tell us about the stuff we’re watching on TV.

And so, we introduce curling fans to Bryan Mudryk (photo), the new face of TSN morning draw curling action. The Alberta native comes to curling from the sports highlight show Sportscentre, but he has a real curling pedigree.

“I actually played in the Alberta provincial juniors against Marc Kennedy and Carter Rycroft,” says the 30-year-old. “I was 19 years old out of Lloydminster, during my first TV job, and we didn’t win a single game!

“And I won the first-ever club championship at the Saville Centre in Edmonton, the first year the club opened.”

Mudryk now lives in Toronto, and still finds time to curl once a week at Mississauga’s Dixie Curling Club. He’ll be working the Scotties Tournament of Hearts morning games alongside Old Yeller – Russ Howard.

“It’s such a treat,” says the new kid. “He’s so knowledgable about the game. He would laugh or kick me, but who did I watch growing up? Ed Werenich. Pat Ryan. And Russ Howard.”

“He’s awesome,” says Russ.

“We did a six-end run through last night, using a tape of last year’s Scotties – Quebec against Team Canada. It’s obvious he’s a player. He knows the sport.”

Of course, TSN has not yet announced how they’ll handle the issue of Howard competing at the Calgary Brier, when he’s supposed to be broadcasting the morning draws with Mudryk.

“We’re not really sure what’s going on in Calgary,” Mudryk confirmed. “But we know he’s playing!”

So don’t forget to curl up on Sunday morning with Bryan Mudryk, as he tries to tame the Wounded Bull Moose on The Sports Network.

This new tandem’s first game? Saskatchewan’s Stefanie Lawton versus Ontario’s Krista McCarville.

Curling picks in China

by Paul Webster

HARBIN, China – Sometimes this game of curling is absolutely crazy and can keep you on the edge of your seat.

I was witness to a back-and-forth Winter Universiade curling game tonight between Great Britain and our Canadian Men’s team and let me tell you, that is three hours of my life I may never get back! Our boys came out of the gates playing well but definitely struggling with the ice a bit... luckily for us, the Great Britain squad under skip John Hamilton struggled a touch more, and we found ourselves with a 6-1 lead after five ends.

What I find nice about a lead like that is that you can play quite conservatively and usually make the other team put the pressure on themselves. Usually. I will not go into details... however I will let you in on the fact that we won in an extra-end!

The story of the game was some curious ice on Sheet A and what has to be a record number of picks. I go back to my previous blogpost, referencing the lack of control that the ice crew has over this, and the lack of importance this seems to have in the eyes of the organizing committee.

It is hard to control... however, a vacuum right before the draw would make a lot of sense. Sheet A, where we played, hosts the main entrance into the rink, and has been witness to three or four up-and-down games so far. We thought we were ready for it... however, we had a number of rocks pick even while cleaning the path!

Check out the photo of a gripper from the side of one of the sheets – no wonder the ice technicians ask players to ensure their equipment is clean! Come on guys, this is a global curling competition!

See my blogpost at where I jump into this topic a little more.

Luckily we pulled out the win and sit with a 3-1 record, tied for second. Sweden and China continue to dominate the competition and are both undefeated. Canada faces a tough day tomorrow with Korea and Switzerland, with the Koreans at 3-1 and the Swiss at 2-2. The battle for top spot will take place tomorrow morning between Sweden and China. You can bet that the team that wins this game will be the number one squad at the end of the week.

We enjoyed the morning off and I believe our boys are on a regular sleep schedule. We had planned to go to Pizza Hut after the game today and we had an amazing meal. It’s funny how hot, fresh food makes you smile after spending the last five days going to the Twilight Zone Dining Hall... same stuff, practically, for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

But the really unfortunate part of it is that the Twilight food has been sitting there for a while and can be cold when you go to bite into it. Mmmm, yummy!

Teams Canada at 5-1

by Paul Webster

The Canadian teams are 5-1 combined!

HARBIN, China – The Lady Canucks are definitely setting a tough road for the boys to follow so far in these World University Games... not only are they undefeated, they have so far scored at least 12 points in their three wins. The boys are falling a wee bit short of that, averaging around eight points a game, and are sitting at two wins and one loss.

The girls won a big one against Japan 12-2. I know the score seems like we knew what was coming but, seriously, we didn’t. Japan has an extremely great record in women’s play and we didn’t want to take them lightly... and it was, in the words of their coach, John Nicol, “the girls’ best game so far”... and the scoreboard was indicative of that.

The boys won a big game against pre-tournament favourite Norway, by a 10-2 count. Beginning with a point in the first and then a point in the second, Canada got off to an early 2-0 lead. Forcing Norway to one in the third end on a unbelievable shot by Norwegian skip Thomas Lovold, Canada broke open the game with a four-ender in the fourth... and the rest was history.

Norwegian third, Christoffer Svae, better known as second man for Norway’s national men’s team skipped by Thomas Ulsrud, left the game after six ends due to an injury, and we can only hope he gets better for a run at the Ford Worlds in Moncton.

So in the standings, the Canadian women sit in top spot with the Chinese team; in men’s action China and Sweden are tied with undefeated records of 3-0 and Canada is tied for second place, at 2-1, with Korea and Switzerland.

The guys have a big one-game day coming up against Great Britain. We have to say a big thank you to Great Britain – Scotland, really, but you know what I mean – for bringing back our third, Bill Francis, from the rink tonight... it seems that our buddy system didn’t work... or at least that is the excuse Bill would like us to use. Rumour has it he was hoping the Great Britain women’s team Alternate was on the bus and that, well, it would be a great chance to meet her!

Canada’s women’s team has two big games coming up, against Sweden and Poland.

If anyone associated with the Grand Slams knows the maker of the sticky mats that they are using at a number of high profile curling events nowadays, please email me at ... and let me just that say I’m quite amazed about the lack of concern here in regards to footwear worn onto the ice surface.

A number of teams, ours included, are wearing their street shoes out around the back of the scoreboards and changing into our curling shoes there... a number of officials, volunteers etc. are
simply walking in and around the building and then coming onto the ice-level carpet, and it is no wonder there have been a increasing number of picks in each of the games we have played.

I have ensured the guys check their equipement, but I hate seeing this become a non-issue for an event of this stature, as they have spent a lot of time and money ensuring the ice is top notch... and it continues to be so (thanks Scott and Doug!). But let’s take some time and ensure clean shoes are worn by all who enter the ice surface.

Off to bed!

Photo of Canada vs Japan (men) by Paul Webster

Friday, February 20, 2009

Insane curling week

There is so much going on, we almost don’t know where to begin. Prepare yourself for a dizzying ride... and you might want to bookmark this page!

We’ll start in British Columbia, host to two big events starting tomorrow.

First, the doors to the gigantic new 2010 Olympic and Paralympic curling venue – impressively labelled the Vancouver Olympic/Paralympic Centre – were thrown open to the public yesterday. Following the ceremonial first stone (photo by Metro) there was a full slate of activities running from 5:00pm to 8:00pm, such as curling demonstrations – featuring 2002 Olympian Georgina Wheatcroft (who seems to have been hanging around all week) and emcee Ray Turnbull of TSN – plus a multicultural assortment of performers, including dancers, bagpipers, a hip-hop crew, stilt-dancers (!) and a South Asian bhangra team.

Plus free munchies, free pins from Canadian Olympic broadcaster CTV, Olympian and Paralympian autograph sessions, inukshuk-building and of course the official Vancouver 2010 mascots – Quatchi, Miga, and Sumi.

You can see pics and stories via Canwest, and the Globe (with the bazillion-dollar cost breakdown) while this Canadian Press squib mentions disappointment in the seating, saying “Canada's love for curling could easily have filled more than 6,000 seats.” We agree.

Dubbed “The Centre of it All” for last night’s bash, the facility will also boast an impressive post-Games legacy – a brand-new, eight-sheet Vancouver Curling Club, an NHL-size ice rink, a 6,200-square-metre aquatic centre (with a 50-metre lap pool, leisure pool, outdoor pool and hot tub), a 9,300-square-metre community centre complete with full-size gym, multi-purpose rooms and fitness centre, a library, field house and offices.

The best link, however, is this one from the World Curling Federation, because it previews the 2009 World Wheelchair Curling Championship, which starts tomorrow.

Canada’s six-time Brier competitor Jim Armstrong – who hails from Vancouver – now skips the national team, and he leads the hometown heroes against mighty Norway (two-time defending champion), Korea (whose 2008 silver-winning skip actually yells at the rocks, believing they will listen), Germany (winners of the Challenge qualifier back in November), China (it’s their first appearance, and they have an average age of just 24), Scotland (their skipper won two worlds and Paralympic silver in 2006) and the United States (winners of 2008 bronze).

As the WCF story points out, no less than four websites will be dishing results, shot-by-shot graphics, news and photos, so be sure to stay plugged in over the next nine days.

The International Paralympic Committee also has a preview here.

But that’s not all, for B.C.

The Scotties Tournament of Hearts also starts up Saturday, from nearby Victoria, with wall-to-wall TV coverage on The Sports Network... and live scoring at the event website... lots of media and predictions... and maybe even some occasional blogging from The Curling News, who knows?

Also, the U.S. Olympic Team Trials start tomorrow in Colorado. This is a combined championship, which will send the winning teams to the women’s worlds in Gangneung and the Ford World Men’s in Moncton... and also to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games next year. So for the Yanks, this it... right here and right now, baby.

Even USA Today has taken notice, with this feature on the wide generation gap on Team Erika Brown also including a link to “Relive the curling action from the 2006 Games”. Nice.

There’s more U.S. Trials media here (Duluth-based story and video) and here (featuring Wisconsin’s Debbie McCormick)... and even from this guy, who wrote a decent piece except for the not-too-thinly-veiled opening shots.

And did you know you can the playoffs live online, via Universal Sports?

Wait, there’s more.

As you saw in our previous post, we have spies on the ground at the Winter Universiade in Harbin, China, and we’re looking forward to more bird’s-eye viewpoints coming from the other side of the globe.

And now back to Vancouver for a second. The aforementioned VCC is hosting a Mixed Doubles bonspiel tomorrow... and this reminds us that this year’s 2009 World Mixed Doubles
are in gorgeous Cortina D’Ampezzo, Italy, which of course will be hosting the 2010 World Men’s. So there you go.

And what about events that are ending this weekend? Geez, where do we start?

• Manitoba men’s provincial: live scoring located here, some Shaw TV game coverage via webstreaming here and some recent media here ...

• The Scottish men (scoring here) and women (scoring here) are almost into playoffs, with expert commentary located here ...

• The European Youth Olympic Festival (say what?) going on in Poland (say what again?) is into curling’s gold medal games... today! Scoring here!

• The Swiss men and women have their championship finals on Saturday... but to be perfectly honest, we can’t seem to find the link anymore.

And with that, our brains are fried. Pfffttt.

2009 Universiade curling

Last March, Canadian Curling Association National Development Coach Paul Webster did some TCN Blogging from Vierumaki, Finland at the first-ever World Mixed Doubles Championship.

Webster – and Team Canada – are now in Harbin, China at the 24th Winter Universiade, aka the World University Games. And they’re off and running (er, curling) ...

by Paul Webster

HARBIN, China – China here we come.... actually we are here! It was a bumpy travel road but things worked out in our favour and we made it in time for our first practice!

But not before curling – or some wild form of it – was included in an amazing opening ceremony (photo above).

The round robin features 10 men’s and 10 women’s teams, and this is the third time that curling has featured as a medal sport at the Winter Universiade. Other sports include ice hockey, figure skating, speedskating, alpine skiing, Nordic combined, snowboarding, free-style skiing, cross country skiing, biathlon and ski jumping.

As this is for The Curling News Blog, I’ll stick to curling updates! We are now two games into both the women’s and men’s round robin competitions. Currently China is topping the list for both events with a perfect 2-0 record... which should be no surprise to anyone here. When the decision was made to send their top two squads, the possibility of double-gold on their home soil became exactly that... a definite possibility.

There may be an argument about these Games being a great tool to help develop curling in countries around the world... but there are a few here who are not messing around, and have simply sent their best teams – with China and Russia leading the pack. Other countries, ours included, see this age group as a target market that we want to keep involved in the sport throughout their studies... and the lure of an international event has created some great teams across our country.

Our Canadian men, skipped by Mike Anderson, are currently 1-1 after winning their game this morning against the Japanese. We lost our opener against an extremely tough Swedish team with Scottish import Niklas Edin skipping the team (and if you watched December’s Continental Cup, you will understand the joke!). These boys have a very strong squad and should be somewhere on the podium at the end of the week.

China is doing what they should be doing... and winning! Korea has to be the surprise team so far, with a couple of very strong wins and arguably the all star skip of the event at this early stage..... young Kim C M is on fire!

On the girls’ side of things, our ladies – skipped by Hollie Nicol – are 2-0 and tied for top spot. They had a great comeback victory with an extra-end steal in their first game... against mighty Russia! The Russians have sent four-fifths of their Olympic women’s team here, to see if they can avenge the loss of the 2007 Winter Universiade final in Torino. I’m not sure if they have have a second team as these girls have played in just about everything, and definitely feel at home in an arena setting. They looked a little shaky to start the event... but then so did everyone else... and I’d expect to see them in the top of the standings at the end of the event

Hats off to FISU for organizing a great competition. Scotland’s Jeannette Johnson and her Chinese organizing committee have done an outstanding job covering all the bases. The best decision they have made was bringing in icemakers Scott Henderson and Doug Wright... conditions have been amazing and continue to impress all of the teams.

I will update more often, now that the internet has been hooked up at the venue and in the village!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Obama in Canada

There’s Obamamania in Ottawa as the new CIC of the world’s biggest superpower arrives in Canada, the world’s biggest curling superpower, this morning for his first international visit.

Speculation says this brief jaunt is all business. But you just know Canadian PM Stephen Harper will find a moment to mention his biggest love (hockey). And what if he gets a chance to mention his second-biggest love, The Roaring Game?

As such... could Barack Obama be convinced to chuck a few bricks at the Ottawa? Or perhaps the Rideau? Maybe the RCMP? Yeah... that one might actually be permitted by the Secret Service.

By the way: for any presidential security watchdogs reading this, please relax... “chucking bricks” is curling slang for delivering the 42-pound stones within a curling venue or facility... um, never mind.

Actually, as a Canadian Press story recently pointed out, there has been some pleasant surprise at the level of Canuck-savvy shown by various members of the White House press corps. One of them even claimed curling as one of his favourite pastimes.

“I started playing when I was about 12,” said Alexander Duncan, a Maryland native who writes for the Platts energy and environment newsletter.

“I have basically been playing for most of my life. I know a lot of Canadians through my club – a lot of expats, actually. Some of my closest friends through curling are Canadians.”

So welcome, Mr. President!

Now just don’t get all protectionist on us, m’kay?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Manitoba, Mississauga Masters and more

This photo (above) comes from a Breakfast Television appearance – Winnipeg version – back in January, to promote the then-imminent BDO Canadian Open Grand Slam.

The pic shows youthful Manitoba curling skips Reid Carruthers (standing left) and Mike McEwen (right) and the BT hosts messing about with the same kind of indoor school stones that are featured in the Capital One Rocks and Rings program.

Why do we show you this now?

First of all, we only received these pics fairly recently, so... :-p !

And secondly, these two hopefuls are in action today in Selkirk, as the Manitoba provincial men’s championship, the Safeway Select, finally gets underway.

As such, there is some media to examine, including this piece in which Edmonton import Kevin Park admits that he’s “getting a bit of a hazing... dual citizenship and all.” Meanwhile, in this other Freep story, we find that someone has abducted and replaced Jeff Stoughton – well yeah, did you see this photo? – and that Allan Lyburn has the early start on quote of the week honours:

“We’re here to drink a lot of beer and have a good time. Because, let’s face it, I don’t generally play very well at this thing.”

Meanwhile, the rival Sun is picking Kerry Burtnyk to win it all, and former Manitoba competitor (ooooh!) Jon Mead is on the air with this week’s Shaw TV coverage ...

Meanwhile ...

• It seems the Masters of Curling Grand Slam scheduled for Toronto’s Air Canada Centre in October is moving to nearby Mississauga and the Hershey Centre. Brian McAndrew of the Toronto Star has this story posted, while Donald Duench of the Toronto Sun has a piece here and the local Mississauga News is understandably pumped.

Our opinion? Well, while it would have been cool to see the Roaring Game at the ACC, the current economic climate makes the move unsurprising... and perhaps GTA curling fans should be pleased that a) the event is still running; b) it’s still in the GTA and c) it’s still got the same dates and amazing international field.

For more on this, check out the upcoming March issue of The Curling News for some quotes from Mr. Insight Sports himself, Kevin Albrecht ...

• The Edmonton Journal asks: should Canada select a team for the Olympic Games, as opposed to hosting a Trials shootout?

Cheryl Bernard can be heard on The Curling Show, and we hear that Mr. Blunt himself, Ben Hebert, will be on the air shortly ...

• There be a roaring argument going on in Scotland ...

• More Brazilians are on the curling ice – er, glass – this time in High River, Alberta ...

• And finally, the fun folks at the Blind River CC have a quick story on the Emo Curling Club, which was built out of a 100-year-old schoolhouse. Very cool!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Brier field in focus

With Manitoba still to come, the field for the 2009 Tim Hortons Brier in Calgary is nearly complete.

The Alberta playdown prowess of Kevin Martin (left) versus arch-rival Randy Ferbey (wincing at right) continued with another three straight wins for Martin, making it six in a row in the last two provincials.

Martin is now off to his fourth consecutive Brier.

It seems like only yesterday that Martin could never beat Ferbey in the Alberta finals. Now that has reversed, and when you remember Ferbey’s big Skins Game win for a ton of cashola last month, you realize things are slowly coming full circle.


Martin’s 7-3 win in yesterday’s finale wasn’t close, as Team Martin reached a level of play that used to be Team Ferbey’s calling card.

And remember that Martin third John Morris could never, ever beat the Ferbs... until he joined Martin.

Double hmmm.

Now throw in a dose of Mark Dacey (Nova Scotia), impressive “newcomer” Sean Geall (British Columbia), top Territories shooter Jamie Koe, Quebec’s Jean-Michel Menard and some old New Brunswick guy named Russ Howard – who is supposed to be covering the event for TSN, remember – and Calgary looks to be quite the show.

Naturally, we also have Glenn Howard (Ontario), Brad Gushue (NL), Joel Jordison (Saskatchewan), Mike Jakubo (Northern Ontario), Roddie MacDonald (PEI) and the players-to-be-named-later from Manitoba.

Both Martin and Ferbey were craving Calgary: both of them won stupendously large Briers at the Saddledome, Martin in 1997 and Ferbey in 2002.

Martin and Morris both commented at length about the lure of Calgary, and why it is so important, well over three months ago. We reprinted those stories in the January issue of The Curling News and so – being a loyal subscriber – we invite you to reach into your magazine pile and pull that one out again for a fascinating and re-timely read.

What’s that? You don’t subscribe, you say? Too bad. Lots of people do... so why not you?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Spinal Tap Curling

Glenn Howard. Jennifer Jones. Pat Ryan. Hart-Laing-Savill. Ed Werenich. Joan McCusker. Sherry Middaugh. Mike Harris. Cathy Overton-Clapham.

Not a bad list of celebrity curling stars, who arrive in Thornhill, Ontario tonight for Saturday’s 18th annual Dominion of Canada Spinal Tap Mixed Bonspiel.

The little bonspiel that could has very quietly raised $250,000 for spinal injury research – until now, entirely without celebrities – since 1991, the year after a young curler named Ryan Durham broke his neck in a swimming accident and became confined to a wheelchair.

Nearly two decades later, Durham is still a fundraising dynamo for the Canadian Spinal Research Organization and its impressive Shoot For A Cure fundraising campaign, which has become very big in pro hockey (it’s also got a curling division, located here). And Durham is also the Business Development Director for The Curling News (ahem)... and, of course, he’s still running the Spinal Tap.

Last July, Thornhill Golf & Country Club hosted the Sandra Schmirler Golf Classic. You may even recall a great series of pics, shot by Anil Mungal, which showed Jennifer Jones agonizing over a missed putt.

Ryan Durham showed up later for cocktails, and did a whole bunch of convincing.

He convinced Glenn Howard to allow himself to be auctioned off as a celebrity skip some seven months later, at the Spinal Tap.

He convinced tournament sponsor The Dominion of Canada to allow a live auction item to suddenly join the proceedings, in fact as the last item of a long dinner/presentation agenda.

He convinced tournament host and emcee Mike Harris to be the auctioneer.

And some 45 minutes later, much Durham’s surprise and glee, no less than nine superstar curlers had been auctioned off for many thousands of dollars, with Capital One curling impresario Ian Cunningham agreeing to fly in the out-of-towners and put everybody up at nearby hotels.

The big day is tomorrow, with the celebs hitting the ice with their various teams at 10:45 am and again at 4:00pm. In between, at 12:30pm, they will gather for a four-end Skins Game rematch – Howard versus Jones – with a few twists thrown in, namely:

• two of the ends will be played from wheelchairs, with the official rules of Paralympic and world wheelchair curling in effect;

• Howard will play for Shoot For A Cure and Jones will play for the Sandra Schmirler Foundation, with a $4,000 pot up for grabs.

The details of this new celebfest have come together nicely. Thornhill is setting up bleacher seating to accommodate extra fans (no jeans, please). There’s a mammoth silent auction table ready to go, and special menu items are available in the adjacent cafe.

When Overton-Clapham had a cortisone shot earlier this week – she’s now been knocked off the ice, although she’s still attending – the combination of Pat Ryan and Peter Steski quickly stepped in. Rogers Sportsnet broadcaster – and ace Oshawa curlerRob Faulds will emcee the dinner.

And there’s also some teams chock full of celebrity-worthy status, like the squad featuring recently-departed Alison Goring third Cathy Auld, Team Wayne Middaugh second John Epping and Team Julie Reddick member Leigh Armstrong... not that we would ever mention the name of the skip who blatantly stacked this formidable squad... right, mister President-of-The Dominion-George Cooke?

Congrats and thanks to the celebs, the participating teams, Thornhill G & CC and the sponsors for what will no doubt be a memorable day.

Oh.... and congrats and thanks to Ryan Durham, too.

It’s Friday, folks. And that means there’s still more going on in the wonderful world of curling...

• As of Friday morning Russ Howard was 1-1 in his drive to get back to Brier and, following that, his hometown worlds in Moncton ...

• Last night’s anticipated Alberta A-side matchup of Kevin Martin versus Randy Ferbey was, um, rather forgettable. Here’s the view from Calgary and another story from Edmonton.

Speaking of these two, is it possible that Martin and Ferbey are becoming buddies? Heavens, we should hope not.

And in our last bit on Alberta, did you know that ex-Martin lead Don Bartlett is back, with a great new back, and competing in the provincial?

• It was Mark Dacey over Shawn Adams in Nova Scotia last night; and here’s some more on the Bluenoser provincial ...

• In Quebec, Martin Ferland has qualified for the big A1 vs B1 game, while famed comeback kid Guy Hemmings is also at 7-1 ...

Sean Geall is in contention out in British Columbia ...

• And let’s not forget the Moose Callers up in Northern Ontario ...

Kerry Burtnyk is the top seed at next week’s Manitoba Safeway Select, and here’s a look back at his fateful win in 2001 ...

• DID YOU KNOW: that the 2009 Swiss Championships start Saturday? Here’s a brief preview ....

• Here’s a feature on curling in Brookline, MA, starring some high school students ...

• Students from francophone schools across Saskatchewan recently descended on Nipawin for some curling fun ...

• DID YOU KNOW II: that Saskatchewan’s Players’ Championship is underway?

Paul Weicek says: extend the curling season ...

• Hmm... according to the Burlington Post, the lead for Team Peter Corner is Paul Moffatt. We actually thought it’s Brad Savage ...

• Speaking of errant writing: did you say... Furbey?

• That’s right, Charles and Ken... the joke is on you!

• Will Eugene Hritzuk’s last-minute Ashams do the job of 16-year-old Dacks?

• Curlers and officials in BC are both saying they would support the idea of a BC Curling Tour. But wasn’t something like that attempted last season?

• Brantford’s 63-year-old Johnson Wax bonspiel is fading, with only 16 teams entered this year...

• We have a science-curling crisis, folks. Apparently, outgoing Washington climatologist Phil Mote has “picked on curling” as an analogy for planet Earth’s climate sensitivity ...

• DID YOU KNOW III: that tre curlingh├ąp til ungdoms-OL? Er... now you do!

• This Brit skiier thinks curling is brill, man ...

• And finally, the winner of USA Curling’s eBay auction – where the winning bidder’s photo-of-their choice will cover the on-ice buttons at the upcoming U.S. Olympic Team Trials championship – has apparently gone to the dogs ...