Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Quebec curling heroes break up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 20, 2007

Grand Slam to Quebec

Make that le “Grand Chelem”...

One of the four Grand Slam of Curling events will take place in Quebec City Nov. 28-Dec 2, as announced this week at a glitzy news conference at the famed Chateau Frontenac.

Curl Quebec, one of the more dynamic member associations of the CCA, is heavily involved, as is Tourism Quebec, and of course the usual suspects: the Asham World Curling Tour and World Curling Players’ Association (that’s chief Paul Boutilier in photo), and series management company Insight Sports.

Check out Curl Quebec’s video coverage of the announcement via their portal, located here.

For a nifty promotional video, go to the .tv mainpage.

The $100,000 tourney will be contested at the Pavillon de la jeunesse, part of ExpoCité. The Pavillion recently underwent a massive renovation and now boasts 5,000 seats plus a modern design update, which Boutilier said “made it (Quebec hosting) a very easy decision.”

“This is a golden opportunity to showcase the sport of curling in Quebec,” said Curl Quebec honcho Marco Berthelot.

“We hope to seize this opportunity to demonstrate that Quebeckers are poised to host a successful major curling event.”

This is Quebec’s first big event since the 1988 Chicoutimi Brier, the site of Pat Ryan’s first of two back-to-back Brier wins, which also featured the infamous “Hritzuk” shot in the last end of the championship final.

According to press reports, the planned team lineup includes two Quebec teams, two international teams – once from France – and a U.S. team.

It’s about time a major was hosted in Quebec, and the Grand Slam was a logical place for Curl Quebec to look, following the disappointment of the failed – and controversial – 2008 Scotties bid. Reports say Quebec City is also pushing to host a national championship in the Olympic year of 2010.


• Nova Scotia is looking for a High Performance coach ...

• Is Kevin Martin really “the people’s champion”, as this fellow has gushed?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Bacardi: time to step up

RED ALERT: if you are on the organizing committee of a popular cashspiel and are considering an online entry system, be very aware of the snafus that have entangled athletes and organizers out in Brampton, Ontario.

It’s an ugly situation that will certainly be rectified in future, but will that future include this fall’s event? Time will tell.

By the way, the Bacardi is a fine tournament celebrating its 25th anniversary this fall. But... in the words of a recent champion, it has rarely dished out winnings much beyond what the entry fees bring in.

Think about that.

This leads one to ask: what exactly is it that Bacardi is giving to the event – or perhaps the club? – each year that deserves title sponsorship of this tournament?

It’s one thing to contribute small budget line items to the local market – Brampton is Bacardi’s home – but after 25 years, The Curling News says its high time that this world-class distiller stepped up to the plate and put more hard dollars into the prize purse.

Lots more stuff today, so get your fingers ready:

• The Asham World Curling Tour (AWCT) schedule has been released, and is available through the Tour website as a PDF download. Click away ...

• New Zealand is experiencing a nasty winter – barely a squall by Canadian standards – which means joy for curlers, as their outdoor “Grand Match” was able to run for the first time in six years. An ice layer of about 25cm on the Idaburn Dam was enough to support over 250 players and 500 stones. Here’s a preview story; here’s one report, with video, from NZ TV 3; and here’s not one but two more print tales.

Days earlier, the Baxter Cup was also battled for in an outdoor theatre, with 88 curlers taking part.

Those Kiwis are pumped!

• Atlantic Canadian curler Helen Robbins can hold her head high today; she has been awarded the Order of Prince Edward Island ...

Ed Lukowich is in the hotseat on the latest episode of The Curling Show ...

• Curling coaches looking for a challenge might want to consider the largely desert nation of Turkmenistan, which plans to field its first Winter Olympic team at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia.

“We will certainly take advantage of the Russian invitation to take part in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, for which it is necessary to begin the appropriate preparations already today,” President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov recently told the official newspaper Neutral Turkmenistan.

The president did not say in which events the Central Asian nation — an oil-rich ex-Soviet republic — might compete, but he has ordered his cabinet to draft proposals for participation in the Games.

Turkmenistan has not won an Olympic medal since becoming an independent nation after the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. The last time an athlete from the nation won a medal was at the 1964 games when a Turkmen kayaker was part of the champion Soviet team.

Summertime temperatures in Turkmenistan, north of Iran, can reach 50 degrees Celsius (120 Fahrenheit), and snow is rare in winter.

Sochi, of course, defeated Pyeongchang and Salzburg in a recent IOC vote to host the 2014 Games ...

• Remember our online teaser about this new CBC-TV show, and the feature that followed in a print issue last season? It looks like the curling promo shot in Newmarket, Ontario earlier this year has been appended by new scenes shot in nearby Richmond Hill, will indeed become part of a show episode, according to this Toronto Star story; “We have an episode this season with Muslims trying curling, which demonstrates that we are all one, all Canadians,” says show producer Mary Darling ...

• AWCT followers will note a new spiel in the Alberta town of Brooks, namely the Cactus Pheasant Classic which debuts this November, and with a hefty prize purse of $70,000, which is enough to attract KMart, for starters ...

• Over in Ottawa, the Carleton Heights club is in the news, both good and bad. The latter comes from graffiti splashed onto the club over the weekend, which police are investigating. Good is the news that the club is exploring interest in a summer (September) league, so if you are interested, click here and follow up ...

• In Winnipeg, new signage is up which rebrands the Asham Arena, aka the Valour Road CC, as the new Thistle CC (confused yet?) which of course saw its original facility destroyed in a fire just over a year ago ...

• Saskatchewan’s greatest curling soap opera – concerning the long-proposed and debated Moose Jaw Multiplex – took another negative turn yesterday, with curling now apparently on the outside looking in ...

• Finally, we wonder what Chris Daw, featured here last week, would think of the comments posted on this wheelchair curling website (7/12/2007)? Probably not much, as Daw suffered a death in the family over the weekend, forcing him to leave that training camp in Edmonton ...

Monday, July 16, 2007

Free curling game download

The Merscom PC curling videogame Curling 2006 (screenshot above) is available now, for a limited time only, as a free download.

Click here to grab it.

This giveaway saves you U.S. $19.95, but as of this 9:15am ET posting, you had just under 18 hours to act.

Off you go, then!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Will Canada lose its gold medal champion?

Curling continued to kick ass this week with the announcement of yet another official 2010 Olympic coin – make that Paralympic coin – dedicated to the sport; the second of three released since February.

This time, its Paralympic wheelchair curling that gets the honour, officially released on Tuesday at a news conference featuring Chris Daw, the skip of Canada’s Paralympic gold medal champion team (photo). See a TV report here, a print report here and the news release here.

Daw is a fiercely patriotic and powerful fellow adorned with Canuck tattoos who makes regular speaking engagements across Ontario. He offers much as a multi-sport Paralympic and world championship athlete who has competed in wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby aka Murderball, wheelchair athletics and sledge hockey. He’s been caught on camera doing wheelchair motocross, bungee jumping off a cliff, parasailing and even scuba diving.

He was also instrumental in hooking the Canadian Curling Association up with the Canadian Paralympic Foundation and the Toronto Stock Exchange earlier this year, in a landmark deal which will see the CCA set up a new Office of Inclusionary Services – catering specifically to disabled curlers in categories including wheelchair and blind – via a tidy TSX donation of $400,000.

It’s no surprise then to hear rumours, now circulating, that he is being wooed by rival nations – more than one, we hear – who want him to uproot from Canada and set up shop overseas.

What is stunning, and hard to believe, are the rumours that he is seriously considering the offers.

Daw knows his stuff, and on the curling ice, he can make shots no other wheelchair curler can. We know this, personally, as we have seen him lead his squads to exhibition game victories over able-bodied teams skipped by Glenn Howard and Mike Harris among others.

Daw spoke to The Curling Show a year ago, but there were no hints about any post-Turin troubles, just a nonchalant “we’re looking forward to 2010.”

What has changed in a year, to make Daw consider leaving Canada, and lend his considerable expertise to a rival country in advance of the 2010 Paralympics in Vancouver?

The very question makes it easy to disbelieve the rumours, but in reality the exportation of Chris Daw would simply follow the able-bodied script, which has seen a multitude of Canadian curlers oversee national team coaching and/or development programs on four continents. So while Canadians would grow nervous, the rest of the curling world would improve their growth and skill set in what is the fastest-growing disabled sport on the planet.

• Oich, some great news from Scotland regarding the famed but decrepit Thomson Tower, where the rules of curling were first drafted over 200 years ago; check out Curling Today and The Scotsman for the details ...

• Hold on, Edmonton. Just a day after Terry Jones declared that Canada’s 2009 Olympic Trials are a cinch for the City of Champions, the requisite denials have appeared in various CanWest media outlets. The latest sees rival Kamloops talking tough through its local blat, with former Strauss Canada Cup chair Norm Daley offering that Edmonton’s media reports might indicate “ a little fear on their part or something” and Kamloops city director Byron McCorkell suggesting that “it would appear” Edmonton is running scared ...

• Save a prayer for Cathy King and family, as they mourn the mysterious death of older brother Robbie King, a two-time Canadian junior champ (and world junior finalist) in 1974-75 ...

• So, do you agree that a sport like “curling” has significantly less exposure than “competitive gaming”? ...

Brad Gushue castoff Jamie Korab is enjoying new life without his ex-skipper. He’s now got two teams – one skipped by Quebec’s Guy Hemmings – and two hometown landmarks – a road and a school gym – named after him ...

• According to the Globe and Mail, former National Post curling columnist Adam Daifallah has created the Conrad Black Fan Club on the popular Facebook social networking website. Black, a Canadian-slash-British publishing maven, is awaiting a Chicago jury’s verdict on fraud and racketeering charges. Daifallah is a youthful Conservative architect and writer, when he’s not eyeballing the Quebec curling scene for yours truly (former journalist our foot) ...

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Sochi shocker

Indeed, the IOC delivered another eye-bulger yesterday by voting in the Russian city of Sochi as 2014 Olympic host. Read some of the punditry here.

The World Curling Federation has spoken, congratulating Sochi as such:

"Just as Russian curling surprised the world last December, Sochi has now surprised the Olympic world with this tremendous hosting victory," said WCF President Les Harrison.

"We look forward to showcasing the world's fastest-growing winter ice sport at its sixth official Olympic appearance in Sochi."

Last December, of course, Russia's national women's curling team, skipped by youthful Ludmila Privivkova of Moscow, shocked the field to win the 2006 Le Gruyere European Championships in Basel, Switzerland. Privivkova will lead her team into competition as a member of Team Europe at the 2007 Continental Cup, announced yesterday.

Sochi defeated Pyeongchang, South Korea and Salzburg, Austria in voting at an International Olympic Committee meeting in Guatemala yesterday.

Olympic curling in 2014 is expected to take place at a new national curling complex which will be constructed for the competition.