Friday, March 31, 2006

Lowell rocks world this weekend

All kinds of speculation on how this weekend's World Men's Championships will eventually play out, with the home-squad USA team skipped by Pete Fenson (photo) of great local interest, and Canada's Jean-Michel Menard also at the heart of many discussions.

A quick note to The Curling News from third Francois Roberge, who is ready to rock:

We thought that our win will help curling in Quebec... it is much bigger than what we expected... it is huge. All the media are still talking about it, we did so many interviews. We are ready to take on the World... they better be prepared for us!

Lowell certainly looks ready to host; here's a look back at how they got the gig to begin with... and don't forget CurlTV, the only place to catch the round-robin action (apart from Eurosport) until the weekend's playoffs on CBC-TV.

• A U.S. wheelchair curler has won a major "spirit" award... did you know Manitoba third Jonny Mead was nursing a bum knee in Regina? He's also welcoming a new teammate to Team Stoughton for 06-07... Speaking of the Brier, CBC’s Nancy Lee has confirmed the Brier’s TV numbers were "quite a drop" from the previous year...Olympian Shannon Kleibrink is on the school circuit, discussing bodyguards, gelato and Mats Sundin...

• On ice, Nova Scotia has its new Mixed champs; some big names are into the Canadian Senior men’s playoffs... and in the women's, too... and Saskatoon’s Scott Coghlan will play for former skipper and good buddy Mark Dacey at the Players' Championship. This is probably a good thing: the last we saw of Dacey and regular third Bruce Lohnes (in the Brier semi) they wanted to strangle each other...

Grass roots problems in Slave Lake, Alberta... typical challenges, really, which curling boosters can never lose sight of...

These guys are going for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, and don’t think for a moment they’re not a threat to get it. Vancouver, you may recall, came from nowhere to just beat PyeongChang for the right to host 2010... and the six other potential sites are, with the exception of Salzburg and Sofia (curling fans may recall a world junior and a European Championship hosted in the Bulgarian capital), far from household names. Here’s how the contenders rank, according to GamesBids...

• Here’s a weird – and annoying – one... the University of Saskatchewan (Huskies) just won the Canadian University Men’s Championship, but are refusing to add the sport to its list of competitive sports for next year's title chase...

• Congrats to radio’s Harvey Kroker of Altona, MB, a big curling fan, on his lifetime achievement award...

• Have you tried YouTube today? Check it out by using the search term “curling” in the top right corner... ignoring the barbell videos that crop up, of course... there’s tons of rookie American efforts as well as lots of stuff on the Japanese Olympic women’s team (use “Onodera” to get most of them called up on one search page)...

• More fun n’ games for your weekend... tried Monkey Curling yet?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Sverige caps stunning season

We’re on deadline today for the last issue of The Curling News – the April edition – so there’s not much time to spare on today’s Blogpost.

If you watched the outstanding Ford World women’s final from boomtown Grande Prairie, either live or on CBC, you saw the Old Barn – home to two Briers and two world championships – refuse to fall; you saw a snippet of Hammerfall (and company) and you also saw one hell of a world championship final, featuring the two best teamssorry Kelly – going at it in a point-scoring slugfest.

Links to various stories of Anette Norberg's remarkable triple for Sweden – European, Olympic and World championship gold – are 1) all 2) over 3) the web, and let's not forget the great showing from the U.S. team skipped by Debbie McCormick. Their 10-9 loss was very nearly an upset victory.

As for Canada's Kelly Scott, she simply says that Until you're here, until you're playing in this atmosphere, you have no idea. People can say or think what they want, but as long as we're happy, that's all we care about.

• Curling will become an official CIS sport next year, but this year’s informal Canadian University Championships saw the winners get some cool stuff: funding, training and a trip to Italy for the World University games. How cool is that?

• Did you know: that the Ferbs are up for a Canadian Sport Award? And that they’ll be in Toronto on Friday?

• Did you know: that Brad Gushue will be in Halifax this weekend with RBC and VANOC?

• Only two major events left before we break out the golf clubs... next up is the Men's Worlds in Massachusets. The Lowell Sun submitted about 20 media accreditations the other day (deadline was March 1, but that’s another matter) and curling delirium has officially started... and, of course, they'll root-root-root for the home team...

• Hey... is curling starting to catch on in Quebec? Maybe... this news is only a month old, but hey, it's a start... sigh...

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Another dance: SWE vs USA

A year ago in Scotland, Sweden's Anette Norberg decimated the USA's Cassie Johnson to win her first – and long overdue – world title. Sunday the two nations will boogie again, as Norberg meets the USA's Debbie McCormick (photo), the 2003 world champion, in the final of the 2006 Ford Worlds.

Norberg breezed through McCormick in Friday's Page 1/2 game, and did same during the round-robin. The Americans will definitely be in tough against this Swedish machine, also the 2006 Olympic champions. Who, believe it or not, are not even throwing practice rocks today... the gals say they're tired. Who can blame them?

McCormick drew for the winning deuce this afternoon to beat Canada's Kelly Scott 8-7 in the semi-final. The see-saw affair will be remembered for some bizarro strategy calls – the Canadians have been driving critics bonkers all week, and today was no exception – while the Yanks got away with a stunning boo-boo early in the 10th.

So, no Canada (woe Canada) in tomorrow's finale – only the seventh time in 26-odd women's worlds the Canucks have lost the semi (plus three other times losing earlier) – which is televised live on CBC-TV at 12:30 ET. Too bad... the Kelowna gals were just starting to have fun.

Hey, did you know The Seniors is on? Neither did we. No offense, it's just been a looooong season....

Friday, March 24, 2006

World curling: Canada joins final four

GRANDE PRAIRIE, ALTA – No, they're not waving goodbye just yet.

Against all odds, Team Canada's Kelly Scott pulled a Houdini last night, and is through to this afternoon's Page 3/4 playoff game.

First there was biiiiig trouble with a morning loss to the currently skipless Danes. Facing a must-win evening joust with Norway's Dordi Nordby – turns out if the Canucks had lost, they would have still been involved in tiebreakers thanks to Germany's defeat of China – they were down 6-2 and the writing was on the wall. But a big three-ender in nine, a steal in 10 and another extra-end steal gave the Canadians a wild 9-8 win over the hapless Norwegians.

We snuck in, Scott told CanWest's Vicki Hall. But it's nice. It's very rewarding for a really tough week. I was tougher than we ever expected, to tell you the truth. And we don't know why.

The sold-out crowd was surprisingly boisterous as Canada flailed about early in the match. The volume rose further with Canada's first deuce, and the three-ender raised the roof with a outlandish roar, shocking the media bench out of its stupor.

Scott again: They never give up, those fans. Even when we were doubting it, they aren't and we really do appreciate how they've stuck by us all week.

Perhaps the fans are used to seeing a national women's team struggle? Calgary's Shannon Kleibrink, who defeated Scott in December's Olympic Trials final, was a mess throughout the Olympic Games and caused much long-distance gnashing of teeth amongst Canada's curling fan base... and they still managed to regroup to win bronze with very little actual fan support, and a whole lot of ailments.

Scott takes on veteran Andrea Schoepp of Germany, while the Page 1/2 sees powerhouse Olympic champs Sweden, skipped by Anette Norberg, lock up with 2003 world champ Debbie McCormick of the USA.

Watch for fire between Germany and Sweden, if the Germans can get there... speaking of the Swedes, they haven’t had much time to chase down golden eggs, but they’re not optimistic of finding endorsement or sponsorship success. Why is this so?

Elsewhere around the rings:

• Have you heard? Of course you have: Team Colleen Jones is toast, but don't be surprised to see Jonesy back with a new team, which could include Mary-Anne Arsenault. Watch for the season-ending April issue of The Curling News for an exclusive behind-the-scenes column from mrnn...

• Have you heard? Of course you have: Bubba’s back, inspired by 50-year-old Olympian Russ Howard. Welcome back to a living legend...

• The Kevin Martin rumour mill is swirling... the young Olympian with the bold new attitude will present a Juno award... and a charter TCN advertiser, Asham Curling Supplies, is now sponsoring the Canadian University Curling Championships...

• To the USA: Lowell excitement is heating up and they've got a wicked piece of public curling art on display... we've got more U.S. grassroots success stories to tell, from a couple of different markets, also from somewhere in PA, and even from faraway Springdale, Arizona...

• Have you heard? Of course you have: it’s now the Scotties Tournament of Hearts... more Ana Arce calendar stories, this one from Edson, Alta... here's a Toronto blogger who tried curling...

• And finally, two Hollywood flicks have a curling angle on display. The promotional plans of the new (April 7) shlock-comedy The Benchwarmers, starring has-beens David Spade, Rob Schneider and hopefully-not-yet-a-has-been Jon Heder has the filmhouse creating a Benchwarmer's Day; a holiday that purportedly celebrates everyone who has ever been an underdog. Revelers are encouraged to participate in easily winnable games, such as kickball or curling... hmph. For more information, and to submit your own sob stories of the times you were picked on as a kid, visit here...

• As for the second, did you know the Disney animated comedy The Wild features curling? In the movie, the characters play an animal version of curling, which may or may not be quite amusing (we're betting it IS). Incidentally, there are also lots of Canadian in-jokes... Canada geese who joke about Canadian border-crossings, and a penguin (the MC) who is voiced by famous Canuck hockey announcer Don Cherry...

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Electric, and infectious

It was well past midnight and National Team coach Jim Waite was still lecturing on uniform sizes, documents and other stuff. Suddenly, the Regina hotel salon was invaded by a horde of clapping, chanting curling fans, many clutching cases of beer.

Hold on
, yelled Waite. We have to get through this, and then you can party with them, just give us five more minutes.

Six minutes later the Canadian Curling Association bureaucracy was finished, and the latest round of leaping, hugging and backslapping began.

Just being around Canada’s first francophone Brier champions is inspiring. The excitement is electric and infectious.

It’s not hard to imagine a similar party with Team Ontario – or Manitoba or Alberta – being a much quieter, businesslike affair... all in a day’s work for the big-name teams, and low-key satisfaction of a job well done.

Instead, it becomes apparent that Team Quebec’s Francois Roberge (photo middle-front) – who dropped himself from skip position three years ago and recruited Jean-Michel Menard (photo left) from faraway Gatineau to man the tee – is quite possibly the most excited champion in the history of curling. Three hours after the match, his feet are still far off the ground.

Roberge and lead Maxime Elmaleh (photo second from right) both speak passionately of their love of curling and the Brier. I cannot believe it, says Roberge, who is called "Frankie" by teammates and opponents alike. I have watched every Brier final since 1985, I watch like crazy, declares "Max".

Roberge, the all-star third, confirms that he too is a Brier TV junkie, whereupon he is asked if he wants to hear The Call – the last words pronounced by CBC commentator Don Wittman during Menard’s winning throw– right then and there, or if he would rather wait to see it on videotape. Now, now, tell it to me now! Roberge exclaims.

Jean-Michel Menard... trying to become the first Francophone team to ever win the Canadian Men’s Championship... will he do it? (whack) He does!

Simple yet classic. The veteran Witt timed it perfectly; “He does!” came just after the final rock made contact and just before the athletes exploded into the air in celebration.

Roberge was in tears, listening to the words. He balled his fists together and shook them with his eyes closed... and promptly went in for another hug. Of course.

Later, a fan shows off the video of their victory stone, shot on a tiny digital camera from far up in the stands. The boys crowd around, then start screeching and hugging again. Frankie watches it twice.

The team – which includes second Eric Sylvain (photo second from left), himself a former skip – are all big U2 fans, and like many athletes use music – and other superstitions – to support their mental approach to the game. During (the Quebec provincial) the song I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For was on, and that was not good, says Roberge. I said turn it off, it’s negative!

Then, here at the Brier, we have the hotel room number 2006, and I say that this means something! And the first song in the van is the first line from the U2 song Sunday Bloody Sunday ... “I can’t believe the news today...

Through Brier week there was much media coverage of the challenges Quebec curlers face to grow the sport in their province. Prior to Regina 2006, Menard’s team took the unpaid job of such self-promotion very seriously, and now they find themselves to be the driving force of what is sure to be a renewed effort in publicity, promotion and participation. Menard himself won the Brier’s Ross Harstone Award, a sportsmanship honour bestowed by his fellow players, which also includes in its critiera a committment to promoting the sport of curling.

Roberge had one of the best media quotes of the week: What I want is for Quebec to stay in Canada, so I can get back to the Brier. But first comes the World Championships, and Roberge reports that immediately after the final, the first 25 Quebecers were committed to making the 7-hour drive to Tsongas Arena in Lowell, Mass. The team hopes many more will take advantage of the close proximity and make the trip.

The squad – minus their skip – returned home to Quebec City yesterday and a victory party was held at their home Victoria Curling Club. Menard lives in faraway Gatineau, just outside of Ottawa, and enjoyed a victory celebration of his own at the airport.

Here’s an on-the-scene report from a TCN spy:

JM arrived late. Lots of TV and radio reporters...TVA, CBC French and English, TQS, CTV, Le Droit newspaper and a few that I am not sure about. He had to do a few interviews over the phone for the radio and other reporters that couldn’t be there. Lots of friends and family were there. The Rideau Curling Club manager and members; the president of the Gatineau Curling Club that is not built yet; friends from his work... his uncles... a few members from the Ottawa Curling Club... I would say around 50 or so! JM was very happy!

Leaving Regina on Monday night, gold medallist Russ Howard spoke about the Quebecers. It might have been difficult for Howard to watch his brother Glenn lose the final, but the Olympian spoke almost proudly of the newest champions.

I played in a spiel with my son just the weekend before the (Olympic) Trials in Quebec, and they (Team Menard) were there. We played them twice. They are just great guys. Everybody at that event was so happy to see us there, and we were just four guys who drove through the middle of the night from New Brunswick. They treated us like kings.

I was near the ice after they won, and Maxime leaned over the boards to me and he was crying his face off. He yelled You’re my hero and I told him You’re MY hero.

Russ added that he was very nearly laughing at Elmaleh, whose emotional state was so powerful that his anguished face looked more hurt than happy. Amazing to see, said Howard.

Congratulations Quebec, on winning only your second Brier title in 77 years (following Jim Ursel at Montreal’s Veladrome in 1977) and the first for a true francophone team. As stated earlier:

In an Olympic year, which saw five Newfoundlanders and a living legend from New Brunswick-by-way-of-Ontario win the first-ever men's Olympic gold for Canada, nothing should surprise any of us anymore.


CCR Scotty Harper award winner Allen Cameron
Terry Jones
Perry Lefko
Jim Bender
The Bender Awards
Donna Spencer

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Vive Le Quebec Fantastique!

REGINA – Think about it.

The first-ever Francophone team to win the Brier... 77 years after the inception of the Canadian Men's Curling Championship.

Defeating a titan of the sport, who had effortlessly beaten them twice earlier, and who dominated all week in both the murky world of statistics and the crystal-clear reality of on-ice performance.


Congrats to Jean-Michel Menard for daring to dream the Brier dream and seeing it all blossom with a stunning 8-7 win over Ontario, avenging Guy Hemmings' 1998 Brier loss to Wayne Middaugh. Before the game, the three-time Brier rep (and two-time skip) had this to say:

I think it's about time for Quebec to win another Brier.

To people in Quebec it would mean a whole lot. People in Quebec often see curling is a sport that is dominated by people who speak English and people who speak French might not be as good. If we can win it will show them if you've got faith and heart and you dedicate yourself, it is possible to be a good curling team.

Here's what he said afterwards:

Right now in Quebec, it's hockey, hockey, hockey. So now maybe we can show kids that throwing rocks on ice is fun.

In an Olympic year, which saw five Newfies and a living legend from New Brunswick-by-way-of-Ontario win the first-ever men's Olympic gold for Canada... nothing should surprise any of us anymore.

For Ontario, tremendous heartbreak after said domination, which saw the Canadian Curling Reporters vote all four members onto the two all-star teams – three of them on the first squad – with third Richard Hart and skip Glenn Howard voted in unanimously.

Elsewhere, gold (men's) and silver (women's) for Canada at the World Juniors... Kelly Scott rebounds and sits at 2-1 in Grande Prairie... and we're off to the Patch for the final time. Look for more Brier Blogging Tuesday AM...

Saturday, March 18, 2006

QUE def. NS on Field of Cowflop

REGINA – First of all, check out the stylin' Brad Gushue (CurlingZone photo)... resplendent in his Italian Olympic gear.

Gushue and third Mark Nichols threw their first rocks since Pinerolo this morning, prior to the Brier semi-final. More tales from their "official" appearance yesterday can be found here and here, with Gushue's thoughts (along with others) on the new 2009 Olympic Trials system over here.

Big Brier win – 7-6 – for Quebec's Jean-Michel Menard over Nova Scotia's Mark Dacey in that semi. Yes, sloppy to be sure, but now it's the battle of Canada's founding provinces – Upper and Lower Canada – in tomorrow's final, 7:00pm ET on CBC.

Gold for Canada – Paralympic, that is – as Team Daw steals a 7-4 win over Great Britain in Pinerolo's wheelchair curling event. Don't forget the Canucks also stole the semi, too.

• Also, the finals are set for the World Juniors – both Canadian teams are set for action – with a summary here and more details – and photos! – located here.

• The Ford World Women's are on the air right now on TSN, with Canada's Kelly Scott up against Japan, and Sweden's Olympic golden gals aiming to repeat...

• Not only is Pete Fenson's pizza business on fire, so is his sport of curling down Stateside...

• One last Brier thought... we missed this, and frankly we're glad we did!

• OK, we lied, we have one more Brier thought. We just saw the CCA stats – the players shooting percentages, and they look like this:

Elmaleh–83 –– Gibson–91
Sylvain–83 –– Harris–81
Roberge–85 –– Lohnes–66
Menard–74 –– Dacey–74

The Curling News summarily declares just about all of these numbers to be complete and utter cowflop. That's right, cowflop. Perhaps we should call it "complete and udder cowflop".

What a pile that is. Almost as bad as what we witnessed in person in Pinerolo, where in just one example British lead Euan Byers – shooting 98 at the time – wrecked on his 19th rock of the match and his percentage suddenly plummeted to 89. Who let the inmates into the statistical asylum?

Here's CurlingZone's new Shot Tracker stats (click on the "final score" of the Game Day Scoreboard) on that same Brier semi, for comparison (includes degree of difficulty and tons of other logarithms and vectors and Houdinis and whatever else they've thrown in there):

Elmaleh–79 –– Gibson–81
Sylvain–76 –– Harris–66
Roberge–76 –– Lohnes–74
Menard–70 –– Dacey–65

So... let the debate begin... which set seems to be more accurate, hmmm?

Friday, March 17, 2006


REGINA – Three posts in one day... BOOYAH!

Ontario is now one game away from confirming double-Howard domination in this year of Our Lord, 2006.

Glenn Howard, 9-6 winner over Quebec in the Page 1/2 game:

I can honestly say I've never had so much fun curling. It's not because I'm skipping, I don't know what it is. We're having a ball out there, I'm personally focussed but we're just having fun. I have no idea what it is. Whatever happens happens... maybe we can finish this thing off on Sunday.

The vanquished Jean-Michel Menard, fourth-place a year ago in Edmonton and now up to bat in Saturday's semi versus the streaking Mark Dacey of Halifax:

Glenn played a pretty good game. As a team we were outplayed in the first five ends, but in the final five ends it was pretty equal.
We'll be ready (tomorrow).

In addition: a Gushue story, as promised... some text on Dacey's eviction of Alberta earlier today... a story on the new Trials system... Sweden's golden gals are not taking Grande Prairie for granted... and the Brits are pumped for Paralympic gold...

Off to the Purple Heart Lounge... the Patch is apparently packed and doors are closed for a while!

East ousts West at Regina Brier

REGINA – Mark Dacey (CurlingZone photo) is pumped after his brilliant soft double-takeout for two points on last rock, for his 6-5 win in the Page 3/4 game.

Moments earlier, Dacey exulted with his broom high in the air. At the same time, and through the next five minutes, second Rob Harris was the epitome of a somewhat shorter (and less green) Lou Ferrigno, as he hulked and pumped away like a madman. Urrrrgh, Hulk likes to win game.

And it's not every day you beat the mighty Kevin Martin twice in 24 hours and send him packing from the Brier. The last western team in this western Brier.

Dacey moves into tomorrow's CBC semi-final, versus the winner of tonight's all-eastern Page 1/2 game between Ontario and Quebec.

Dacey, the former Saskatchewanese, has a great record against Albertans in Brier play, which is the exact opposite of what happens on the Grand Slam circuit. They just pound us at the Slams, said Dacey (now 3-5 versus Martin lifetime). There's no rhyme or reason to it.

At the Slams, three or four and out is our normal. I think it's different when you get into something you're 100 per cent committed to and motivated for.

Oops. Wonder what Slam gatekeeper and Players' Association chief Paul Boutilier would say about that? Come to think of it, where did Boutilier go? One moment he was at the CCA news conference, seemingly ready to answer media questions about why he is supporting the CCA's Jeff Stoughton fine, and the next moment he was gone, without answering anything. Hmmm.

More Dacey, on the pundits who predicted the top three teams to be Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta... ie. his team's lack of respect from the curling world:

You guys (the media) are writing that stuff. This is sports after all and we all know crazy things happen. We don't care about what outsiders think (of us), we're a team that focusses internally.

Kevin Martin's last words at this Tim Hortons Brier:

We were struggling out there. If we go out there and try to play a curling game, we're off (losing) in six ends. So we tried something different. Mark (Johnston) suggested we run up and down all game and try to nip him (Dacey) at the end. It almost worked.

Helluva shot, right guys? Geez, what a shot. There's not much else to say.

Pardi Gras: Fun and Games

REGINA – Fun 'n' games during last night's final draw... as one grumpy observer has already noted:

Could Stoughty vs. Howard have been more of a love-in? Someone better start throwing punches today to balance that out.

Jeff Stoughton did a couple of spineramas, with Glenn Howard hopelessly trying one, as Ontario heads into tonight's Page 1/2 game versus Quebec. The Bison boys are heading home, with Alberta (CurlingZone photo of Carter Rycroft from yesterday aft) and Nova Scotia locking up in this afternoon's 3/4 match.

And, of course, the CCA's $1,000 fine continues to be topical. But check this out: here’s one report on Stoughton’s reaction to the fine and, unbelievably, here is (one of) two more that both tell a completely different story.

Who is right and who is wrong? Was Stoughton having fun with the media – and spoofing himself – or was he a rampaging viking? How is it possible that reputable sportswriters – from the same media organization, no less – could get it so different?

Guess what, folks... if that isn’t a clear warning not to believe everything you read, then we don’t know what is.

Anecdotes galore: TCN was walking through the arena last night when from the stands comes an ancient party battlecry from the 1998 Nagano Olympics... "Hey Now." It's none other than Sami Jo Small, Jennifer Botterill and Fiona Smith, three players from Canada's national women's hockey team: gold (twice) and silver in the past eight years.

The gals have always bonded well with the Olympic curlers, with Small appearing on ice for a personal lesson with Team Gushue shortly after the by's' gold medal triumph in Pinerolo. Indeed, there were a dozen or more hockey gals whooping it up at that golden final.

Furthermore, the gals often compete in an afternoon of challenge curling once a year during their world training camps – it serves as a team-building excercise and breaks the monotony of hardcore training (note that the Calgary Flames and L.A. Kings are just two NHL teams who are also known to trade in their sticks for brushes once in a while).

Watch for Small to make an appearance on CBC Sports Saturday tomorrow, where (if it happens) she'll explain more about her team's connection to the Roaring Game.

The Curling News then took the gals up into private box territory to catch up with the Gushues, who were hosted by sponsor and curling hero Bruce Saville of Edmonton. Saville also sponsored Fiona Smith in her pre-retirement days, and a happy reunion ensued. Meanwhile, the Gushues were eventually whisked out of the building by security – always walking, never stopping – and only re-emerged at a news conference this morning.

The thoughts and opinions of the Golden Boys will be front and centre in tomorrow's media roundup – and TCN will of course supply the links – but eager readers can watch for the stories to include personal memories of Turin; the huge crowd of 2,000 greeting them at the airport; the thrill of sharing the gold with wide-eyed kids; and a few thoughts about the future.

There are also some candid thoughts about this here Brier: in one example Russ Howard apparently picked his brother Glenn to win the Brier... but made the prediction right after the Trials (Gushue witnessed the call). In another, Gushue spoke strongly – as did other team members – against the lack of opportunity to qualify for this Brier. While acknowledging they would have to struggle to refocus following the Games – Howard noted that they might pooch on the ice and finish 2-10 – the "bys" believe that playdown dates should be adjusted in every Olympic year, thus giving the Trials champions the chance to try and qualify for the Brier.

Heavy stuff for Page Playoff Friday.


• Scotiabank is a new sponsor for Team Canada’s Kelly Scott, as the Ford Women’s Worlds gets underway tomorrow on TSN...

• Canada's Chris Daw stole the semi-final over Denmark and is through to Saturday’s gold-medal final in Paralympic Wheelchair Curling... and their opponent is arch-rival and world number one Great Britain, skipped by Frank Duffy... meanwhile, a stunning development for wheelchair curling in Canada, as the B.C. government will spend $3.9 million for a state-of-the-art Paralympic sport facility in Kimberley...

• It's Denmark again in the semis for Megan Selzer's Canadian Junior squad at the Worlds in Korea, while Charley Thomas and co. face China in men's play...

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Brier Thursday

Here in Regina, the Brier is throbbing away. Thursday is one of our favourite days: teams battling for that last playoff or tiebreaker spot; knowledable crowds cheering farewell to those out of contention; and the Keith's Patch filling up. Quickly.

Last night – and this morning – Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton stopped the bleeding, but his pocketbook has been pinched by the CCA, who are citing their Athlete Code of Conduct. More on this $1,000 fine here and here.

Alberta's Kevin Martin just got crushed 7-1 by Nova Scotia's Mark Dacey, and he was damned lucky to beat winless Northern Ontario this morning. Tell you what... this team is hurting just as bad as Manitoba is (was?) in mid-week.

For Pat Simmons (CurlingZone photo from this afternoon) the thrill ride is probably over. 0-4 to start, then suddenly 5-4 with Gap fans screaming madly, Jamie Koe of the Territories finally stopped the wheatsheaf train in its tracks this afternoon. Simmons needs help from two teams tonight, and one of them is winless Rob Gordon, who takes on the surging Dacey.

The Brier is often the scene of great off-ice debates. Here's a Manitoba writer's rebuttal to Edmonton's cries of curling superiority; and the Great Ontario Debate is on again... shall we abolish Northern Ontario at the Brier, or not?

Also off-ice, Team Randy Ferbey has departed, amid much support from the fans here in Regina... and Team Brad Gushue is moving in, arriving today and appearing first at a news conference at 11:30am. In that conference, Canada's new 2009 Olympic Trials setup will be announced, but the cat is already out of the bag, courtesy of a leak to ace Calgary Herald and The Curling News scribe Allen Cameron. Here's the scoop:

The new process will put a premium on winning major events, with no reward for finishing second to already-qualified teams. And
unlike past Trials, winning a Canadian championship will not guarantee entry into the final qualifying step before the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, although it will give teams a major leg up toward forming the Canadian team.

The highlights:

- The men's and women's fields for the 2009 Trials will be reduced to eight teams.

- At the conclusion of the 2008-09 curling season, 16 teams will be eligible for the Trials: the men's and women's winners of three major annual events (Tim Hortons Brier/Tournament of Hearts, Strauss Canada Cup and Ultima World Curling Tour Players' Championships in 2007, '08 and '09), the season-ending men's and women's leaders on the Canadian Team Ranking Systems in '07, '08 and '09 and four more men's and women's teams based on long-term performance on the CTRS.

- Should teams win more than one of those event berths, such as two Briers, the spot in the final 16 would go to the next highest team on the CTRS that hasn't qualified, not the Brier runner-up.

- From those 16-team pools, the four teams that have accumulated the most major event titles will gain direct entry into the 2009 Trials; should no team have won more than one title, the CTRS will decide the four direct entries.

- The remaining 12 teams in the pools will compete in a bonspiel, likely in early November 2009, to decide the final four entries.

The new format will eliminate inequities such as Randy Ferbey's Edmonton team qualifying for the 2005 Tim Hortons Olympic Trials four different ways with victories in two Briers and two Canada Cups, but gaining no advantage over the likes of Jay Peachey, who earned a berth by placing third at the 2004 Brier behind already-qualified Ferbey and Mark Dacey.

The reduction to eight teams will ease scheduling difficulties, and will make television coverage easier, opening the door to having each sheet televised, and possibly available to fans across the country on a pay-per-view basis.

Speaking of the Gushies: this spotlight on Elaine Dagg-Jackson features a neat anecdote about two Gushies “horsing around” the day of Kleibrink’s bronze-medal match... and if you're at the Brier, keep an eye out tonight for Mark Nichols and Jamie Korab, who just might be on site incognito and trying to keep out of the limelight before tomorrow's newser. Look for sunglasses, a jaunty toque (that would be Korab) and above all, no HBC Canada gear.

On Scott Tournament of Hearts Thursday, Amy Nixon told The Curling News (and the National Post) that she doubted Team Kleibrink would be back intact:

We've got four very different people in four different spots in their lives right now. Another four years of this team? I would be surprised.

Now official word is out that Glenys Bakker is off the team, and will be replaced by Calgary skip/third/lead Bronwen Saunders. From another Cameron exclusive, quoting Shannon Kleibrink:

It was a team decision; we're going to miss playing with Glenys, that's for sure, and we're always going to be proud of what this team has done.

And here's Bakker herself:

Obviously, I enjoyed playing with the team, and we had so much success, and that's a hard thing to walk away from. But my family is a priority. It was too much this year; I figured I spent 80-plus days away from home, and with a seventh-month-old, that's very challenging on everybody.

Bakker’s swan song with Team Kleibrink will be the final event of the season, the new women’s BDO Players’ Championship in mid-April. She has no plans to retire but does say she wants

In other news:

The Canuck Juniors are into the world semis... Canada finished the Paralympic wheelchair round-robin in first place at 5-2, and plays a semi on Friday. Here's how Team Leader Wendy Morgan described some recent action:

We had a good game against the States this morning - one that slipped away - we had a chance for 4 in the 2nd and only got one - a real lift for the US - they then took 4 in the 4th and we made a comeback - but it was too little too late. The US was actually booed when they announced the teams in the pregame ceremony this morning - the crowd is very vocal and not always positive - we however have not been on the negative receiving end - wait for tomorrow though when we play Italy!

We had a quick lunch and meeting and then back on the ice to play GBR - what a barn burner - Chris made 2 great shots to get 1 in the 6th to tie the game and Gerry made a FANTASTIC - hit and roll behind cover with his last in the extra end - Chris capped with two perfect guards and we won - what a relief! It was a monkey off our back - Canada has lost to them the last 3 matches, and we may meet again in the playoffs... so good for us.

Here, finally is the first bonafide on-the-scene Canadian media story on the event... or the first we've been able to find, anyway.

And did you know that selected Paralympic events are available free on the web?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Batman, Herb Tarlek and more

Expecting to see a hardcore curling action photo from Regina? No way... when you've got Batman flapping about with a Brownie brush? Are you kidding?

Some springlike weather abounds across parts of Canada – including T.O., which prompted these wahoos (photo) to amble about downtown between bonspiel games. We'll let you read all about it, with no further comment from us.

Speaking of Hogtown, Perry Lefko reports that Warren Hansen is insisting that a Toronto Brier is still “on the radar screen”. Hmph. We’ve heard that one before. Toronto was up for consideration for 2007, only to lose to Hamilton.

At this stage of the game, TCN wonders if the Brier will ever be held in Toronto. Is that a challenge to the CCA to take the big gulp and just do it? You bet your shaky in-turn it is.

And speaking of Shaky, the same story offers a brief farewell to Jim Hunt, the famed Toranna sports journalist who recently passed away and who had more than a few things to say about curling during his career. Farewell Ol' Hunt...

So... why isn’t Brad Gushue and his golden boys competing in the Brier? Looks like somebody, namely Jonesy, is finally asking that question. Meanwhile, Brad himself is now part of the just announced RBC 2010 Flag Tour... hmm, first a Tim Hortons sponsorship (have you seen the Hamilton TV ads yet?) and now a tie to Canada's Olympic bank... not bad.

A quick international turn:

• Japan's Ayumi Onodera (Team Aomori) won her national championship on the weekend, but had a few scares along the way. Meanwhile, Japanese curling interest continues to grow.

• The US Nats: Pete Fenson made the long climb back from an 0-2 start to win his third U.S. championship in the past four years, and qualify for Lowell. Meanwhile Deb McCormick defeated Patti Lank in the women’s final and will fly to Grande Prairie this week for the Ford Women’s Worlds... Fenson's win made his Sunday of honour all the more enjoyable... and here's a quick look at Fenson lead John Shuster. Some people are turned off by him but we're big fans of Shustie.
• Canada’s Les Rogers has won World Senior gold, defeating the USA, and Sweden upset Canada’s Joyce Potter in the women’s final...

• You probably knew the Paralympics, which include wheelchair curling, were underway in Turin, but did you know the world juniors are nearly halfway through their round-robin in far-off Jeonju, Korea?

• An update to last week's Brandon Hall of Fame story;

• South Africans remain befuddled by our sport. No surprise there.

Finally, back to the Brier.

Have you noticed Team Ontario doin' the Herb Tarlek? The Toronto Star finally did... here's a preview of today’s TSN afternoon matchup, and it's a doozy... Winnipeg's Jimmy Bender notes Jeff Stoughton’s latest milestone... here's Donna Spencer with some Brier notes... there's been some online jabs taken at the BC team skipped by Brian Windsor; so Con Man’s headline editor hereby refutes, and be careful as these old guys are tough as nails... Scotia alternate Matt (not Mat) Harris (or is that Mat, not Matt?) is writing a daily blurb for the Chronicle Herald... and last but not least, our zinger of the day, courtesy of today’s Freep (subscription only):

The competitors have filled out personal questionnaires which are published in the in-house Brier newspaper, The Tankard Times – which happens to be steered by honourable TCN columnist Larry Wood – and Yukon/NWT front-ender Kevin Whitehead used his to take a (good-natured?) shot at the Saskatchewan team.

Asked to name his standout movie, Whitehead wrote: "Brokeback Mountain. It's nice to see a movie about the Saskatchewan front end."

Friday, March 10, 2006

March issue, Brier weekend

The post-Olympic March issue of The Curling News is oot and aboot... got yours yet?


George Karrys live from Pinerolo; with all the inside scoops

Doug Maxwell on the Olympic show; the view from a couch spud

• Likewise Larry Wood; it was just another Eurolympics

TCN Newsdesk: snippets featuring Linda Moore, Dave Parkes, Jessica Alba and Bode Miller (say what?), Saskatchewan's official sport, John Morris and this year's Manitoba Hall of Fame ballots

• The Curling News TV Guide: a March Madness pointer to all the games on the tube and your desktop

• Slamming in St. John's: Randy Ferbey reminds all that he's still present and accounted for

Matt Hames on the USA's Olympic hindsight

• The TCN Gold Trail: who's in the money?

They Said It: TCN's popular collection of quotable quotes

• Queensland curlers making waves in Oz

• 2006 Brier: the Slammer invasion

Enjoy the opening Brier weekend... sigh... Olympics may be the quadrennial pinnacle, but there's just something about the venerable Brier that strikes a real chord with the heart. Kinda makes it turn purple for nine days.

Speaking of, here's a look at the home team's skipper, plus a tale about Saskatchewan lead Ben Hebert getting an earful and a good lesson earlier this season from none other than The Ferb... resulting in this sampling of Hebert's new self-awareness:

I still have a burning desire to win every single game. I expect to win every game and I know it doesn't work that way. When you beat teams like Kevin Martin, Randy Ferbey and Jeff Stoughton, you don't think you should ever lose to teams below them. I'm learning how to lose.

So, who is your money on? Jumping Joe in Ottawa says Quebec is a Brier threat, and we aren't arguing... Manitoba is certainly a threat, with third man Jon Mead pointing to the Olympic Trials teams as the field strong points... and what about K-Mart? Arch-rival Ferbey thinks he just might win it.

Some final notes for your weekend:

Looks like some controversial city budget money will be allotted to Brandon's stalled bid to host the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame... this jab at Rhona Martin isn’t just Off The Record, it’s Out To Lunch... Did You Know: a NY Mets pitcher watched the women’s Gold medal game, and one of the Dutch women's curlers is a Canadian... the world's top wheelchair curlers start Sunday in Pinerolo – here's a spotlight on the British team – and CBC's TV analyst has got game... curling is also underway at the Arctic Winter Games, with stories here and here... Now Look Here, Buddy: this Yank is appalled that Canada whomped the USA in baseball, after first conking them in Olympic curling, but we’ll have you know that Kim Mitchell is simply brilliant, and easily one of the most underrated axemen in music history... and besides, we are taking over... the Con Man asks where are the street signs named after Edmonton curling heroes, huh? ... tomorrow in hysterical Bemidji, it's Paul Bunyan and "Hammer Hankies"... and through all this madness, Pete Fenson has made the long climb back from an 0-2 start to make the U.S. Trials Page 1/2 game... meanwhile, the CurlGirls, now skipped by Jessica Schultz (Cassie Johnson is off galivanting in Europe) have scrapped their way into the 3/4 women's match... former Winnipeg Free Press curling writer Reyn Davis has passed away (link is subscription-only)... what's this? Ethan Hawke taking one-on-one curling lessons from some mystery gal? ... check out this bizarrely-timed and somewhat bizarrely-written mini-feature on curling, from a New-York based Chinese English-language newspaper -- er, website (check their “About Us” and try and figure it out for yourself)...

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Paralympic venue is... banana-free

In case you were wondering... no, the headline has nothing to do with the photo.

The photo is of Japanese Olympic second Mari Motohashi – we love saying that name really fast – and yes, her team and her sport are still in the news over there (snide writer comments aside). 10 million TV eyeballs for one game, followed by another 20 million for the next, will do that for a girl. NOTE: if anyone can help translate some of the magazine cover text – apologies for the small font size – we would, of course, salute you verily.

In North America, the Japanese team is a part of a CurlingZone online discussion concerning the subjective female team rankings by The Curling News... which were also discussed, incidentally, on the men's side. Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts... either here or at CZ, where registration is also n/c.

Oh yes, the headline.

The 2006 Paralympic Winter Games start this weekend, with wheelchair curling up to bat on Sunday. Canadian Team Leader Wendy Morgan has been e-mailing some thoughts, and here's one anecdote to start us off...

One of our players, Chris Daw, has a severe allergy to bananas. I was witness to one attack he had when we travelled to Prague, when we entered a restaurant with bananas on the table. It is funny because they have fresh fruit – including bananas on every table in the village cafeteria – so we quickly had them declare two tables 'banana free'.
Anyway, today at the practice facility in Pinerolo they had bananas sitting on the refreshment table – I had spoken to Lisa (competition manager Lisa Schoeneberg) yesterday and she agreed to have them removed – however they somehow reapppeared again today... so a half-hour into our practice Chris was in trouble. Trevor (Equipment Manager Trevor Kerr) ran to get his pills, and I stayed with Chris, and the medical personnel on site sent for the doctor – it sounds hard to believe that someone can be so allergic without touching or eating the banana – but someone had eaten one in the morning and put it in the wastebasket on the ice.
When the doctor arrived I encouraged him to go and speak to Chris, so that finally they would understand the severity of the allergy... well they know now, and the venue is now 'banana free'.

This story, of course, could happen to anyone, able-bodied or otherwise. Morgan also reports on some typical paralympic issues – problems with transport, the gravelly roadways leading to the venue etc. – and we look forward to passing along selected thoughts and impressions as official Paralympic wheelchair curling gets underway. In the meantime, here's a U.S. story on one of their wheelchair curlers... Jimmy Jam certainly appears to be quite the character!


• It's rare to see a rookie curling article appear in a Canadian paper, but here ya go;

Deadspin continues their curling obsession, now that they've discovered the puppies...

• It's old news in Canada now, but their Olympic gold medal curlers will all have streets named after them;

• This U.S. music writer, who harmlessly labels curling “perplexing”, thinks his country is – win or lose – rather “sullen and spoiled”... any thoughts on that one?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Best use of "muffin" and "smurf"

Well, well, well.

Talk about history – junior curling history from the mid-1990s – repeating itself.

Following a scintillating Page 1/2 game and a somewhat duller semifinal, in which we may or may not have bid farewell (again?) to Colleen Jones, the pint-sized powerhouse Kelly Scott (photo) won her namesake championship and partially erased the disappointment of December’s Olympic Trials final.

A roundup of media reports sees only the Edmonton Sun elect to go with the predicatable headline... it's always good to see Ken Gilchrist scribble some curling content... Steve Green and his local blat did a fine job all week, with this nifty piece by Jim Kernaghan on the rivalry between the two skips (and former teammates) also boasting best use of the human descriptive term muffin and smurf in the same sentence... Bob Weeks of the Glob & Flail, from afar... Winnipeg's Jim Bender was there all week, as was Al Cameron of CanWest + The Curling News + the daily in-house Heart Chart... not to forget Bill Graveland at CP, the “plucky” Brian McAndrew over at TorStar, and another oldie-but-goodie from the Big Smoke, Perry Lefko, who will also be in Regina this weekend.

• So will Jeff Stoughton, whose Brier sendoff no doubt had the ring of a championship to it, whereas Brian Windsor's PR has a different tone. No surprise there... the lineup of Alberta in the west right through to Halifax's Mark Dacey in the east – namely Martin, Simmons, Stoughtie, Howard, Menard and even Grattan – is a real murderer's row of talent.

• Across the pond, Kelly Wood and David Murdoch have retained their Scottish titles and are off to Grande Prairie and Lowell respectively. Wood beat Rhona Martin – her Olympic skipper from just a week or so ago – in the final. Even bigger news for her is that she gets to be Scottish again, and not British. Here's the tale, and here's a piece from earlier in the competition, indicating that suspect rocks have contributed to a dull hitfest of a championship. Yuck. For more on rocks and how they can create two competitions within one – as happened at the Olympic Games – be sure to check out the column by Editor Emeritus Doug Maxwell in the brand-new March issue of TCN.

• Speaking of Lowell, there is a mini-explosion of interest going on there... some of the U.S. men are still being feted – and being typically gracious about it – down in Minny... Jay Leno isn't funny at all (shouldn't that be a criminal offense for a billion-dollar comedian?)... and it sounds like Australia are soon to finally get their first dedicated curling facility, thanks to their sports-mad government...