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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Make Curling Great Again!!!

I had the chance to Interview the Donald as a preview for the upcoming curling season.  I was amazed at just how much he knew about the Canadian and Quebec curling scenes! He is truly an interesting guy – and I did not notice his hands being particularly small.

Image result for donald trump curling images

In the House (ITH):  Mister Trump, thanks for taking time away from your campaigning to talk to me about curling. I’m sure you are very busy.

The Donald (DT):  I love curlers. And curlers love me. Curlers are the Best. I am looking to build a TRUMP curling club and it will be the best curling club you have ever seen. The rings will be made out of gold. Golden Rings. Real gold. And the Bar. Oh the Bar. Trust me- the bar will be amazing.

ITH: Wow. That sounds nice. I will have to join. So do you follow curling?

DT: Have you been listening? – I said I love curling. Most people don’t know but I used to curl. I was a great curler. I was a skip of course. I would fire a player very week. I said – you are not sweeping hard enough.  You are FIRED. But good people curlers. Awesome people.

ITH: So what teams do you think will win this year?

DT: None of the Euro-teams. I hate these Europeans. They come to our bonspiels – they hit on our women – they win our prize money. I hate them. Did I mention my curling club will have a wall? This Edin guy. Or Van Dorp. Or any of those Scottish guys. I would not even them in the country. Vikings are lazy people. But not all of them. I would let the good ones in. Like the Swedish women. They can come curl. But we need to keep the others out. I will build a wall – and make Manitoba pay for it!

ITH: Wow. So which of the Canadian teams do you like?

DT: I like Gushue. Don’t like Koe. I like guys with hair. Little Mike McEwen – he lost Manitoba too many times. I like winners. Jacobs team – love them – he reminds me of my kids. They act like winners. And those guys have big hands. Does that guy Stoughton still curl? He had some nice hair.

ITH: How about the women?

DT: I love women. I think we need to change the tournament format – to combine it with the Trump pageants that I run. A bonspiel should have a swimsuit category. And dance numbers. Did I mention I love women. Melania used to play too. She played for Slovakia. She was the best. I think she played in the Olympics.

ITH: But which team will win?

DT: Rachel Homan scares me. I have heard – some people are saying - she is a curling robot. I am not sure – this is what I am hearing. I have never seen her birth certificate Just sayin'.  Jennifer Jones – she is a winner. Lover her. She would not have deleted any emails.  

ITH: Well thanks for your time Mr. Trump- this was certainly interesting.

DT: No problem. Vote for me and I promise – I WILL MAKE CURLING GREAT AGAIN!!!!


So we are back for another season! We start our official season this weekend in Ottawa at the RCMP curling Club – at their Fall Open bonspiel. (The 2 Toronto spiels don’t count as part of our season – we did not have team jackets yet!)
For those who do not remember – or do not care that much, I have a new team this year for the first time in while. I am playing with Felix Asselin – (who is younger than my sliding broom – really), Will Dion who looks like he should be playing football or chainsawing a tree somewhere and Miguel Bernard who amazingly is not Mexican (thank God – Trump would have freaked!). Looking forward to seeing what we can do!
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Okay – I promise- this will hopefully be the ONLY time I talk about sweeping rules and broom banning this season.
As promised, the powers that be assembled in Ottawa this summer and tested and tested and came up with a solution the broom controversy that plagued curling all of last year. So here is a summary of what they came up with:

  1. One Fabric for All brooms: As I predicted last spring – the solution is ONE FABRIC to be used on all competitive curling brooms. Specifically a mustard yellow, non-waterproof fabric called WK 420R. 
  2. No Change to sweeping technique rules: This would have been unworkable and impossible to police – so this decision was inevitable.
  3. No trading brooms between players. This will be especially great during cold season! One broom per guy! The happies guy with this rule change is Robert Desjardins’s lead – who had to carry 49 brooms around with him everywhere he went last year!
  4. No changing pads during  a game: Of course – this one made sense- otherwise you would again have teams changing pads depending on the shot they were playing.

Important note for you recreational curlers out there:  THIS DOES NOT APPLY TO YOU!!! The rules are only for competitive events like the World Curling Tour – Cashspiels and CCA events. If somebody in your club ladder game tells you your broom is illegal – refer back to my previous and not-too-subtle blog on the subject entitled: My Broom also works as a Rectal Thermometer.


Seriously folks – I think it is time for us all to take a step back and remember that this is curling. It is in its greatest form, a sport that is supposed to be an embodiment of sportsmanship.

Many (including me) got wrapped up in this bullshit last year and it really put a dark cloud over the game I love.  The usual post game beer was replaced by – “we are heading back to the hotel – see you later”, even when the next game was not for a long time. I found myself sometimes playing (and even blogging) angry. Not good.
I vow to not let this happen again!!! Join me and we will make Curling Great Again!
Sorry got carried away there.

Will blog in the next few weeks with what I see coming in Quebec men’s and women’s curling, as soon as get back on the ice and figure out who is curling with who!!!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Year-end Blog - Plus more unfounded and ridiculous rumours!!!

My curling shoes have been put into their summer storage location, in the back of a muddled closet- waiting to be pulled out after a season of golf shoes, cleats and flip flops comes to an end next September.
The season is over, but for those of us not on the Grand Salami Curling Tour, the season really ended a few months back at Provincials.
Normally, I would try to satiate my yearning for curling with the Mixed, or some other Springtime competition substitute, but this year it was not meant to be. So my curling shoes go into a closet.

The Year of the Broom.
Hard to write a year-end column without talking about sweeping. Our sport has evolved what feels like 10 years in the last year.
As long ago as early September, people still used 2 sweepers, used hair brooms and I did not have to know the names of the people playing front end for me. But all that changed, first with Gushue and the one sweeper, then the Balance Plus/Hardline controversy over how abrasive is too abrasive? Then a litany of rules and regulations, of banned devices – of broom monitoring.
So where are we?
Obviously all the vitriolic and bad blood over this issue have not been good for our sport, but it has called attention to the idea that equipment needs to be regulated. The sport’s governing bodies were ill-prepared for the debate (and not sure they could have been).
So now everyone eagerly awaits the “Sweeping Summit”, the announced WCF initiative that will once and for all (!!!) solve all the problems and settle the rules, techniques and equipment list that will be allowed. Apparently this will happen in May.
Here are my hopes for the summit:


So far, much of the testing that has resulted in bans and regulations has been kept confidential. This is unacceptable. We need to see the data. This process needs to be 100% transparent and objective. Curling has a number of brainy stats nerds that know how to look at data and draw conclusions (of which I am definitely one!). But without the data, the whole thing becomes hearsay. So far, there have been numerous questions about the impartiality and objectiveness of the testing process. If this continues, then the summit will be a disaster.
It needs to provide competitive curlers with clear guidelines that make sense.
I think “Carving” will need to be reigned-in.


This seems like a weird statement. But the fact is – curling is more fun to watch when there is a possibility of missing. Hammy McMillan (former World Champion from Scotland) made the point in a Facebook post during the Worlds that the game is now all about the sweepers – less about the throwers. Admittedly if you can always make a soft weight hit fall back or curl and extra 6 inches – there is no reason to ever miss – regardless of how you throw it. The evolution of the game will be that everyone will need to have beastly sweepers that get better at controlling the rock – that is unless we make them less effective.
Sweepers have always played a big role in the game. Can anyone argue that Hemmings would have had the same success without the sweeping of Ness/Thibodeau? Or would the Ferbey 4 have won all those championships without Huff and Puff? Big sweepers have always helped. 
But in the past they could only do so much. Now with a brand new pad – on an IcePad, or a Balance Plus, or a Performance – even an average sweeper can move the rock around. Yes part of it is technique, but the newness and abrasiveness of the pad is obviously an issue as well.
Throwing the rock still has to be the core skill that we value in the game.

So what is the solution?
I think it will come down to some fabric regulations and limiting broom switching.
We are going to have to scale down the abrasiveness of the fabric used in competition. 
Also, this seems only to be an issue with new pads. (this is why teams at the Worlds last week were switching brooms so often – to try to keep a “sharp” new head for making a rock curl A LOT when needed). So do we ban new pads? Is this practical?  Or is there a fabric that we can agree on that is less abrasive- and therefore less effective – even when new?
What about one-broom – one head per sweeper per game? Probably a good move; sweepers are less likely to use brand new heads in a game if the only sweeping tool they can use is excessively sharp (what if your skip has to throw a draw against 2 or 3 in the first end?) We want sweepers with brooms that are effective, but not ridiculous.
I hear the Slam is testing a one broom per side of the sheet rule at the Players. Not sure what this does yet. 

I just hope this all ends with the Sweeping Summit!


I am excited to start the new season! It has been a while since I have had a new team. New Teams always fill you with hope. You are undefeated! You are invincible! The new season is full of potential.

Here is our Team Facebook page - in case you want to follow. Not much new content yet - but surely lots to come!


So Phil Ménard called me out on Facebook – announcing that Team Ménard is sticking together for another year contrary to the “ludicrous and unfounded” rumours to the contrary.

Phil – I ask you – what is the point of having a curling blog if you can’t spread ludicrous and unfounded rumours about curling teams!?! 

So without further delay – here are the list of the top Quebec curling rumours that I hope hoping to encourage by spreading them here.

  • Team Menard is staying together – but not in Curling! They are forming an accapella signing group; “The Outturns” after coming to the realization that there is more money to be made in music than curling. Look for their new single downloadable on iTunes: “An In-turn broke by heart, so I dumped it!”
  • Tired of having to actually compete to get to the Scotties, Rachel Homan will play out of the newly created Chelsea Curling Club in Gatineau! (which actually is presently playing out of the Ottawa CC).  In a related story, the few remaining competitive women’s teams in Quebec simultaneously announce their retirement!
  • Hardline has announced that the new Fabric used on their heads will consist of Trojan lubricated condoms. The new heads will be available in the current size, or the new Hardline Magnum 10-inch size. 
  • In a related story, the WCF immediately announced a ban on sweeping materials that "warm to the touch" or are "ribbed for her pleasure." 
  • Brad Gushue is leaving curling to pursue a career in the UFC. Said Gushue: “I figure nobody can hit me as hard as I hit myself on the ice.”
  • Bob Desjardins has successfully cloned himself 3 times, and will now skip a team consisting of Bob Desjardins, Bob Desjardins, Bob Desjardins and Bob Desjardins. The Team has not yet announced who will skip. Said Desjardins: “Some guy told me I should just go home and play with myself – so I took his advice!”
  • In an effort to equalize the broom debate, Curling Canada will declare that the 8-inch angle Brownie is now the only sweeping device accepted for use in competition, as it has been deemed to be equally ineffective in the hands of most sweepers. While they are no-longer "commercially available", they can be stolen off the spare-broom rack from just about every curling club in Canada.
  • Pat Simmonds will replace Guy Hemmings to skip the Trépannier brothers and Simon Benoît. Said Simmonds of the announcement: “I have no idea who these guys are, but they were really persistent and I just didn’t want to go back to Saskatchewan.”  
  • The new Centre Videotron in Quebec City will be converted into a curling club later this year. Said Quebec Mayor Régis Lebaume: “If we cannot get the Nordiques, then we might as well  f*&%ing go curling, tabernak!”

That is all for now Cats and Kittens, have a good summer.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Thoughts on the Brier - and announcing some team change news!

So much has happened since my last blog! Where to start!

The Brier.
That was another awesome Brier. People can talk about the Slams being better curling, and they can talk about the Brier becoming a 2nd tier-event, but manI did not see it. That was some of the best shot-making I have ever seen. ICYMI, the Brier was won by Kevin Koe – who went on a tear coming from 3rd place and then not missing anything straight through to the final.
Koe was ridiculous. They were making long runbacks look routine. I don’t know if it was the sweeping – or just that they were ridiculously hot, but it looked like a different game.
Felt bad for Gushue; it would have been nice to see him wearing the Maple Leaf in St-John’s next year (he would have returned as Team Canada, allowing Newfoundland the opportunity to send somebody else to the Brier!).
Brier highlights:
-          Craig Savill night. That was well done by all. It was a great feel-good moment; reminded me when Saku Koivu played his first game after cancer at the Bell Center. Both brought a tear to my usually dry and cynical eyes.
-          Gushue’s comeback victory over Jacobs. He made so many great shots. The 2 wide inturn, hack weight hits he made in the 10th end were absolutely beautiful. Those were incredibly tough shots – and if he misses one, he loses.  Two outstanding pressure shots – as good as it gets.
-          Okay – I will not dump on Jacobs this year. They were actually pretty cool to watch – and anyone who would sport that beard in public is clearly not taking themselves too seriously. I found myself feeling bad for them as they somewhat came apart against Gushue.
-          Ben Hebert’s sweeping is ridiculously good. Best ever. I heard the rock whimper as he swept it.
-          The Quebec boys gave it a good run. Normally 4-7 would be seen as a poor showing – but in the field that was there, 4-7 was pretty good. JM made some BIG SHOTS (like the fancy quad to beat Cotter) – but when push came to shove, the top 10 Teams showed why they were in the top 10.
-          The hit and roll guard that Fry made in the the 11th end of a losing effort against Gushue is among the best shots I have ever seen. Just to have called it was brilliant. To call it, then make it – even better. One of the best players in the world (Gushue) did not even see it coming.   

I have read a lot of comments about how the Brier will evolve/adapt over the next few years out of necessity. I am not sure what will come of being more inclusive with teams from the Territories and the Atlantic provinces (there was no Team Nova Scotia again this year L). The Brier is such a unique animal – an elite event with a notion of Pan-Canadian participation – there will always be a multitude of pros and cons involved with making any change.

So where do I stand on this? Relegation still sucks. Having said that – with all due respect to the curlers from Nunavut, it is difficult to conceive that people are expected to shell out real dollars to watch a team curl 50% on the big stage. Including these guys at the Brier feels like a mistake.

But there is something magical about an event that brings together the best from every region. However, new residency rules have made that somewhat obsolete. The Alberta champions this year hail from Ontario (Laing), the Territories (Koe), Saskatchewan (Hebert) and wherever Kennedy is from. And that is not even talking about the multi-province Team Canada. Lax residency rules have taken some of the magic out of the Pan-Canadian nature of the Brier.  

But damn it was fun to watch this year. As a  curling fan , it is hard to complain about a field that included so many great teams. Who was not there that you really wanted to watch? Reid Caruthers maybe? Charley Thomas?
The word is that the Brier will be heading the way of the mixed, Junior and Senior championships – a more inclusive split round robin event. I know why they have to go down this road, and I am increasingly of the opinion that there is no magical solution that will satisfy both the need to have a Pan-Canadian inclusive event and the need to have a GREAT PRODUCT on the Ice.  But I am scared to alter the formula that yielded the level of entertainment we saw this year.

Some team news:

Another reason I have been laying low – is I have been going through the process of Team Change.
I am sad to announce that Trois Bleuets et un Bloque, also known as team Fournier is no more. After 4 years, a provincial final, a semi-final, some truly awesome wins and some soul-crushing defeats, we have amicably parted ways.
I was lucky to have found these guys. Yannick Martel called me about 5 years ago and pulled me out of quasi-retirement to skip les boys, and it has been a fun ride. The guys are dedicated, fun and a pleasure to play with. Francois throws missiles like no other 3rd in the province, Yannick puts his heart into everything he does and JF is one of the smartest leads around.
I hear they are still playing together, and I wish them luck.
So what is next:
I am going to play with junior champ Felix Asselin, Will Dion and Miguel Bernard. Or as the Fake JM Menard called them on Twitter – a squirrel and a lumberjack.
Average age of the team: 26. My age 44. I feel as old as f*#k. When did I become the old cagey veteran? Seems like just yesterday I was the young kid who threw too many big-weight hits. Now I am the old veteran draw guy.  

Any other rumours out there? I hear that Marty Ferly is coming back after a year off – to skip Francois Roberge, Max and Johnny Gagnon. Good to have all of those guys back in the Big Leagues – Quebec Curling has missed them!

A few other juicy rumours are going around as usual – but will have to wait and see if they are based on fact or are just wild speculation. 
Hint: a few of the rumours involve a Team that throws a lot of outturns!


One more thing: In a couple of weeks I will be curling at Glenmore in Kurling for Kids - an annual fundraising event that benefits Montreal Children's hospitals.
It is an awesome event that raises a lot of money for a great cause.
It raises money for the Montreal Children's hospital foundation and L'Hôpital St-Justine - both organisations that make sure the money is put to good use helping sick kids. 
I have always had a soft spot for this tournament - I have been lucky to only have to use the Children's for some pretty routine ailments (knock on wood) for my kids...
But a number of our close friends have spent a significant part of their lives there - and seeing first hand how this hospital makes such an effort to help kids go though things that kids should not have to go through always inspires me to do what I can to help. Plus it is a great opportunity to see the lovable Stan Fong cry in public!

The money that Kurling for Kids raises goes directly to making it better for kids who have the misfortune of having to spend a large part of their lives in a hospital. I cannot think of a better cause than this.
So if you can enjoy reading my blog -as I know some of you do...throw a few $$$ to this worthy cause.
Attached is a handy link to donate a few dollars to the cause. I promise you it will not go to waste.

Donate to K4K

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Duffer in the Hall of Fame - and Scotties preview

Duffer in the Hall of Fame.

Pierre “Duffer” Charrette was inducted this week into the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame - clearly a well-deserved spot in the hall from one of the most successful and enigmatic curlers to come from la Belle Province. He has won a Grand Slam Event, lost 2 Brier Finals and played in a pile of Briers at just about every position. He likely has won more money than any other curler in Quebec. He now runs the World Curling Tour, he is coaching Marie-France at the Scotties and will once again play 5th man at the Brier for Jean-Michel this year in Ottawa.  Not a bad career by any measure.
For you younger readers of my blog – Pierre is more than just the guy standing behind the ice at the Grand Slams. In the 1990’s, Pierre was the Man. Every team he was one was the team to beat, every team he is was on seemed to have more swagger, more confidence, more luck and more money than any other team. He went to more than half the Brier’s in the 90’s, while playing on a number of different teams. He dominated curling at a time when there were 100-150 teams vying to represent Quebec at the Brier every year.
To be honest, I really hated him back then. I got kicked off of Guy Hemming’s team in 1996, and was replaced by none other than Pierre Charrette, who then took Guy to back-to-back Brier finals. And at the time, I always struggled to understand how Pierre had so much success. The consensus was that he really did not throw the prettiest of curling stones. At the time, the game was ruled by guys like Stoughton, Howard, Martin and Middaugh, all with picture-perfect curling slides. Pierre was a stark contrast: his slide was high and awkward – his release had too much rotation and he wasn’t the best sweeper in the world. Yet, he always seemed to be on the winning end of games.

Ted Butler (another Buckingham curling legend) explained it best to me back in the 90’s. 
I asked Ted how Pierre managed to win so much, despite his unattractive looking curling slide.
Ted sat back, took a sip of his Coors Lite, and sighed deeply.
“Mike, you just don’t get it. Pierre is a winner. He wins. Mike, do you ever go to the racetrack to bet on the horses?”
“No, not really Ted.”
“Well, if you are ever at the racetrack, and you look at the program, and the next race features Pierre Charrette running (without a horse) against 6 horses – take all the money you have and bet it on Pierre to win.”
“Are you saying that he will run faster than a horse?” I asked naively.
“You are still not getting it Mike. Pierre will win. He does not have to run faster than the horses. He will talk to two of the other jockeys before the race and get them to fight each other and get disqualified. He will whisper in one of the horse’s ears before the race, and convince the horse he should not run. One of the horses will run straight through the first bend into the crowd. And the 6th horse will break it’s leg on the final turn. You can guarantee that down the stretch, it will be just Pierre jogging across the finish line. Slowly. Pierre is a winner. Plain and simple.”
So congrats to one of the smartest curlers to ever play the game. Well deserved.

The Scotties
So the Scotties started this year.
Last year in my daughter’s soccer league, the organizers made a mistake and ordered white uniforms for all eight teams in the league, forcing us to play with pinnies all season. I wondered how anyone could be so dumb to make such a mistake. Apparently Curling Canada also made the same mistake!!!
I cannot handicap the teams, quite honestly because I really do not know them that well.

I will go out on a limb and say that either Chelsea Carey or Jennifer Jones will likely win. JJ is probably the greatest clutch curler in the World (male or female).  Chelsea Carey beat Val Sweeting in Alberta, probably the 2nd or 3rd best female team in the country right now. Of course the Scotties is missing Rachel Homan, who surprisingly lost the Ontario final to Jenn Hanna.

Marie-France Larouche (Qc) should do well.  She is experienced and throwing pretty well. To be honest, they have likely not played enough this year to be serious contenders at a national level, but I am counting on their wisdom and experience to win them some games that they shouldn’t. I would not be surprised to see them in the playoffs in what is a relatively weak field.

No Hair:
As was to be expected, hair brooms have been banned from competitive play. Once the Gushue video came out, the writing was on the wall. So like the top of my head, the Brier and Scotties will be bereft of hair this year. So teams will have to find another non-banned item to direct their rocks. Not sure what is next, but I still believe we are headed for a one-material rule.
Somehow, a little part of me is sad. I was sweeping with hair before it was cool (or directional). Although I usually only sweep six feet at a time.

Longue Pointe CC

I am sad to see another Montreal curling club bite the dust; especially one that still has a decent membership and revenue base.  Not surprisingly, the Military Leaders that run the base are not keen on keeping a curling club open when none of their military personnel use it. 
Sadly the francophone Montreal curling community has become completely irrelevant.
Apart from Boucherville CC on the South Shore and Laval CC, Montreal lacks a Francophone curling club that entices growth in the game within one of Canada's largest Metropolitan areas. 
While I always liked Longue Pointe, I think it was still an old-style curling club. The old club model, relying on volunteers to find new members and promote the sport has become a dinosaur. The sport needs a new business model to survive. The modern curling club needs to look more like a city sports complex (ideally it is situated right next to the municipal arena/pool/gym) so as to present itself as a viable activity for all ages. The sport needs to embrace modernity while maintaining a strong connection to its history and tradition which is still a big part of the game’s charm and lure.

Instead, old-style curling clubs tend to be located on dead-end streets in forgotten parts of town where they have little hope of attracting significant numbers of new members.

Lots of solid thinking, marketing and effort is required to ensure that most curling clubs do not suffer the same fate as Longue Pointe.
Here is hoping that the new head of Curling Canada picks up the mantle of helping develop curling at the club level, and not just focusing on the Elite level of the game.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Broomageddon - Return to hair!

I have not written on this for a while. And so much has happened I do not even know where to start.
My thinking has evolved a lot on this issue. If I go back to my first blog on this subject – I feel like I was writing it before having seen the light. I can’t say I remember a period of such rapid evolution in a sport. In the space of six months – we have ALL changed the way we sweep, the tools we sweep with, and how we communicate on the ice (I now have to remember the names of the guys sweeping for me!). For a lifelong curler, this is a lot to absorb! And if you have been away from the game for a while – this will be a big shock.

I played an exhibition game with last week with Jean Gagnon, who has played lead at a number of Briers not too long ago, but was not playing competitively this year. He has not drunk the directional-sweeping Kool-Aid yet. It was a totally bizarre experience. A rock was over-curling – and I said “YES – but not you Jean”!  He looked at me like I was insane. Stop sweeping! You are making it curl!

I feel like my eyes have been opened on this one. I wonder how many times in my curling career I have over-curled and crashed a guard while my lead sweeper pounded a rock on the “wrong” side to make it curl. I wish I had known then what I know now. Since the beginning of the season I have seen things. I have learned things. I have practiced with the different techniques – the different fabrics. We played a provincial against teams using hair and/or icepads. I have seen virtually everybody come to the realisation that you can make a rock curl by sweeping it (a certain way).
One-sweeper and directional sweeping are here to stay. I think at least some of this is simply the result of a better understanding of the underlying physics of the game – which has caused us to challenge the established thinking.

The genie is out of the bottle, there is no going back. The biggest learning for me in this has been that you can make a rock curl sweeping “with the curl”, EVEN WITH A NORMAL, ACROSS THE FACE TECHNIQUE. Watch the video that Team Gushue put out his week to prove the point that hair brushes are as bad as the banned Icepads.  Walker is not sweeping illegally. He is just sweeping. We practiced it and saw similar results. When you sweep with the curl – you can make a rock curl. A lot.

As far as what type of broom you use – here is the deal:

The more abrasive the broom – the better (for directional sweeping at least). Abraisive brooms might be crappy at making a rock go further, but they sure as hell can move it around the ice. The Banned Icepad, a hairbroom, a new performance pad, the new LEGAL icepad, can all have the same impact with varying degrees of effectiveness. The newer the product – the better it works. Even sweeping a handful of rocks with a pad seems to minimize the effectiveness of the broom as a directional tool.

Hair brushes have added a new wrinkle to the debate. hair brushes work as directional sweeping tools. With hair- the shorter the bristles, the better it works (which is why most teams are using the Asham brush with short hair in the middle. But also depends on the type of hair – and the mix of synthetic materials. Not sure if newer hair brushes work better - but hair has made a comeback! Its like a 70's porn movie on the ice now.

So where do we go from here?

I think we will need to agree on a few points for competitive play:

1)      We will never be able to effectively control technique. I think this is a flawed solution to the problem. If we go this route, we will need umpires, officials, and tons of pain-in-the-ass judging to ensure that the guy sweeping is moving across the face of the stone. I really hope it never comes to this. This solution sounds simple on paper – but would result in curling becoming more of a “judged” sport, where an official would need to interpret a sweepers motion to see if he is crossing the path – and at what angle. Will we need protractors?
2)      We will need regulation on fabric. I am not sure how to test – but clearly there are a number of products that have too great an influence on the stone – hair brushes being one of them.  Some guidelines on what kind of fabric is acceptable will have to come from the WCG/CA/WCT. Will we have to go to one fabric? I think he are heading that way. The more abrasive the pad – the more effective it is. The physics of the technique is the same regardless of what tool you are using – but the results can vary significantly based on the material. We need to draw a line.
3)      The other option is to let it all go. Sweep with whatever you want, as long as it does not damage the ice. This will not happen. “Damaging the ice” is subject to a wide degree of interpretation – as any sweeping likely damages the ice at some level. Plus it will leave us in a situation where the skill of the game will be reduced to who can make a rock best do magic tricks. The game loses all credibility if it comes to this. I think I might have to switch to Mixed Doubles!
I realize that I am contradicting what I wrote about this just a few months ago. But as I mentioned earlier, I have seen things. I see where this is headed, and clearly we need to fix it quickly for the good of the game.

I know everyone is getting sick and tired of this. Curlers just want to curl. I heard some nasty stories coming out of pretty much every provincial playdown of accusations, name-calling and dumb rulings. And we are now in a situation that if you are not directional sweeping – you are not winning. It’s like steroid use in cycling.

Reasonable solutions are needed – and they are needed fast. I hope the powers that be can wrap their heads around this one and come up with something that settles the storm and sets everyone on a level playing field.


People are asking when I will blog about provincials. My therapist says I am making good progress – and I might be able to talk about it someday!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The UCF predictions on Quebec Provincials!

I was hanging around a dark curling club bar just before Christmas, when in walked a shady figure with a dark mask on. I recognized him right away as the Unknown Curling Fan (the UCF) who had in previous years made anonymous predictions about Quebec provincials. But it had been years since anyone had heard from him. Where had he gone?

He sat next to me and ordered a gin and tonic. In a gravelly voice, he asked me:

“Are you the guy with the crappy curling blog?” he asked.
“Yup. That is me.” I replied, sipping on a rye and coke.
“I have some predictions for Valleyfield.”

So below is and extract of my conversation with UCF, as best as I could remember it:

Me: Okay – let’s get the Women’s side out of the way first. It should not take too long.

UCF: Indeed. Only 5 teams signed up! Women’s curling is going the way of the dinosaurs in Quebec.  There used to be 5 teams entered in my club! Now only 5 teams in the whole province! Soon it will be a sign-up sheet to go to the Scotties! This feels like High School all over again. (I went to an all-boys school!)  Somebody should write a blog with ideas on how to fix it!

Me: Hmmmmm. I think I already did. Okay – so who will win?

UCF: Only 3 teams have a sniff. Marie-France Larouche is likely the favourite, although she is coming off of child-raising exile from the game. They have looked good when they have played.  Lauren Mann is the defending champ, and they work harder than most teams. Roxanne Perron has had a dog of a season, but lost the final last year and will likely pick it up for provincials. Camille Lapierre and Helene Pelchat are there to fill out the draw, but will likely win a few games they are not expected to win.
Good enough?

Me: Okay. But who will win!

UCF: Tricky question. I like longshots, underdogs and Disney movies, so I will go with Perron winning 8-7 in an extra-end by throwing an outturn tap-back with back four-weight for the win. (This is totally unlikely – but imagine how much of a genius I will look like if it hits!)

Me: Okay – enough about women! Let’s talk about MEN. Let’s start by looking at who is not there! Any big teams not make the cut?

UCF: Not really. A few surprises in the regionals – with John Stewart and his elbow-patch toe-tuck retro-team winning a spot, and Marco Chartrand (formerly Max Dufresne’s team, with Max now playing 3rd) surprising some teams by squeaking through the C – but those are not really big surprises.

Me: Some were surprised that Mark Homan did not qualify. There was a lot of griping about Mark playing down in Quebec this year. (Mark has curled out of Ottawa/Ontario for the past few years, and has made it to Ontario provincials). He picked up Mike Kennedy and Sebastien Robillard, and apparently lives in Gatineau! So it was all legal (thanks to the CCA now allowing one out-of-province import per team), but his team was frowned upon by the Quebec curling community. But What do you think UCF?

UCF: I say whatever. The guy pays taxes in Quebec, and has curled in Quebec provincials before. So I say “Bienvenue au Quebec Mark!”. And they lost anyway. Apparently they have now learned the meaning of the French expression: “y’en a pas de facile!”  
But overall, it is a very strong field! There are 14 good teams, and definitely no free spaces on the bingo card. If you find yourself looking for an easy game, then it’s you!

Me: So what about the new format?

UCF: Should be interesting. It is now a three-step provincial! Step one is two pools of 7 teams, round robin, the top 3 get out of each pool!
Then the reaming 6 teams finish the round robin (you carry forward your record from the first stage), then the top 4 out of 6 move on to the playoffs. Then it’s back to the traditional 4 team page system (Named after legendary rock guitarist Jimmy Paige) to get us a winner.

Me: Sounds complicated!

UCF: It is. The eggheads at Curling Quebec came up with it as a good compromise to ensure that everyone has a fair shot at making it to provincials by including 14 teams instead of 10. And it seems to have worked. There are teams from Sept-Iles, Val d’Or, the Saguenay and even a Host team.  As usual, some people will complain about the format, but it still comes down to a one-game final, and the best team usually wins! As a bonus – if you stink it up and go 0-6, you don’t have to stick around until Friday and pretend to still like your team!

Me: Okay. So talk about the field. Who are the favorites?  

UCF: Okay. If we start at the top, of course JM is the favorite. But they are beatable.
I called Vic Router, and asked him what was the secret to beating Ménard, and he said “Make them throw in-turns”. So I asked him how to do that, and he said “I have no idea, but make the final 6-5 Ménard”.
JM throws his outturn everywhere. He loves his outturn. At night, he has wet dreams about outturns. He wanted to name his first-born “Outturn” but Annie said no. When he stands at the urinal, don’t stand to his left because he will throw an outturn and pee on you. Clocks make him feel uncomfortable (because they turn clockwise). His car only has a left hand turn-signal.
When he has to throw an in-turn – the team has to follow an emergency procedure handbook, because it only happens once a season.  JM’s inturn is so bad that he is thinking about learning to throw left-handed – so if he ever was someday forced to throw an in-turn, he could switch curling shoes with his brother and throw a lefty out-turn instead.
Seriously -  JM will be tough to beat as usual, no matter what turn he is throwing. He is the odds-on favourite as usual.

Me: The #2 ranked team is likely to be Fournier. What do you think of this team?

UCF: Never heard of him. Apparently he toe-tucks, and comes from the Saguenay. Sounds like a Serge Reid wannabe.

Me: Okay, thanks. So are you expecting the crowd to be chanting “Guy, Guy, Guy!”?

UCF: For sure the crowd favorite is likely to be the colourful Guy Hemmings, who emerged this season from a cave in Northern Afghanistan to skip the Trepannier brothers and his nephew Simon. The Trepannier brothers are local legends in Valleyfield. They will have countless swooning admirers! And Guy always draws a crowd. Guy will win a lot of games by being Guy – and throwing hack-weight double takeouts and by drawing to the pin like he owns it.

Me: What about the rest of the field?

UCF: Well, in no particular order…

Bob Desjardins is likely to be an interesting team to follow, as usual. This season Bob is more like an infomercial than a curling team: Order a CurlBob now! It throws skips rocks, it sweeps, it calls the game, it slices, it dices, it finds sponsors. Call 1-888-CURLBOB to order your very own Bob Desjardins now for 39.99 and we will include for free these authentic Bob Desjardins woolen slippers to put over your curling shoes!! 
Bob will win games. Just by being Bob.

Matt Beaufort and his guys are young and solid. And they are doing that snowplow/corner sweeping with hair brooms thing that all the big teams WCT are now doing. We will see if it will work!

Not sure who will skip William Dion’s team; at regionals Felix Asselin took the helm, and they won the A. Depending on the line-up, they will win some games.

Steven Munroe: Last year’s 4th place finisher had to drive 39 hours to play a regional after finishing just out of the money spot, so you can bet that they will be hungry to win, if only to make it feel like driving to Sept-Iles for 2 games was worth the trip!

JS Roy has played well at times this year, and badly at other times, but has enough game to at least be a spoiler, if not a contender. They will also win games because their team jackets look like an acid trip I took back in the 70’s.

Those are the 8 most likely teams to move past the initial stage. So at least two of these will be out on Wednesday! The remaining 6 teams that I have not mentioned will have to upset some of these teams to get into the playoffs. Is it likely? Not really, but you never know.

In the remaining six teams, there are some interesting story lines:
Not sure when the last father-son match up happened at a Quebec Provincial. Not in recent memory at least. If John Stewart does play Jeff Stewart, I suspect it will go like this:
John: I am your father Jeff.
Jeff: Nooooooooo!
John uses light saber to cut off Jeff’s throwing arm.
The end.
Other than that, you have Denis Robichaud, Simon Hébert/Kevin Baker – the designated “Host” team , Denis “the Flame” Laflamme, and Marc-André Chartrand. All of these teams would likely be very happy to be playing after Wednesday, but will probably not be there for the weekend. But they are all good enough to upset a contender or two along the way.

Me: Anything else?

Yup.  A big thumbs up to Valleyfield and the folks at CQ in advance; it looks like they have stepped up the marketing, the excitement and the marketability of the event. It now has a title sponsor (World Financial Group) to go along with Scotties, web-streaming of the finals and some pretty good pre-promotion so far.
Now all we need is fans!!! So come and watch. Valleyfield is not far. And the curling will be good.

Me: Thanks UCF. This has been great. You should start a blog!

UCF: Naw - nobody reads blogs. I now must go into hiding again!

With that the UCF threw back his G&T and slid quietly out of the curling club. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Screw You Charlie Brown - (aka Charlevoix)

So here we are at Christmas.
You will perhaps notice that I have not written a blog in over a month. It is not from lack of potential content!
Since my last blog – we have had:
  • More broomgate. With statements from Curling Canada and the WCF seemingly putting a wet blanket over the yelling and vitriolic that was being thrown around. (I got called a liar by a World Champion! Fun.)
  • Charlevoix: Screw you again Charlevoix. Played awful, had a crappy draw, and was done Friday night. Here is a pictorial representation of every year I play in Charlevoix: 

Image result for charlie brown and lucy football scene

Good Grief.(not sure if Charlevoix is Lucy, or the football, but I am definitely Charlie Brown in this example)
  • Gushue doing his best impression of a Tyrannosaurus Rex (T-Rex's have really short arms, so I imagine when they fell they landed on their faces). And then he manages to return to finish the game with stitches (like some sort of demented Hansen brother)! It was awesome TV!
  • John Epping suddenly became the wizard of curling, winning a slam this weekend and once again looking like one of the top teams in the world (it had been a while).
  • Rachel Homan looks like she will win every single game she plays until the Olympics.
  • All kinds of great stories in Quebec curling to talk about – from the resurrection of Guy Hemmings, to Desjardins winning Baie d’Urfe while playing with 37 different brooms, to less teams signed-up for Women's Provincials then the Glenmore Day ladder.

All of this going on, and I could not manage a blog until now. All of this prime material just sitting there – and radio silence from this blogger. It was killing me.

Which brings me to the topic of today’s blog: Curler Burn-Out.

I am seriously burned out this year. My team played a semi-aggressive schedule this season: if memory serves it was 7 spiels together, and my guys played a couple more up in the Saguenay with a spare.
The idea, as is the case every year, is if we play more, we will play better. More spiels = More experience = more money = better shot at going to the Brier = We are Awesome! So we signed up for a lot of spiels. we filled every weekend we could. 

But here is the challenge. Life gets in the way of our best curling intentions. We have families. We have kids. We have girlfriends. We have jobs. We have wives with jobs. We have kids activities. We have travel for work. In short, we have LIFE!

The fact is, this year I have not had a quiet weekend or weekday since the summer. The choice to curl competitively while trying to manage the other stuff just felt harder this year than usual. Throw in a couple of personal issues here and there, and you have the recipe for CURLING burnout.
Here is what is looks like:
  • You feel like you are throwing the rock perfectly, yet you miss a lot.
  • You feel like you should win every game, but you don’t.
  • You lose to some teams you should never lose to.
  • You get angrier than you should.
  • You come home from spiels feeling more tired and more angry than when you left.

If you suffer from these symptoms, ask your doctor: Is Curling All the Time right for you?

I have a feeling that I was not alone on my team in suffering from this ailment. In Baie d’Urfé I tried to cure us of this with one of the known cures for curling burnout: Tequila. I think it worked.

But I think the best thing for us will be some rest. I think watching the Slam teams every weekend on TV makes it worse. Because we know they are curling every weekend and practicing every day, the Tier 2 (or 3 or 4) teams like us feel like we need to curl our asses off to keep up.  We need to add more spiels. We need to always be out there.

But here is the rub; for most of us there is a law of diminishing returns on curling more. And I think we definitely hit the top of that curve this year. It seemed like the more we played, the worse we got.

The truth is that there is no way to keep up with the top teams in the country anymore while holding down a real job and taking care of a real family. Fortunately for the guys on tour today, there is now significantly more money and sponsorship on the table, so that being a full-time curler for at least part of the year is an option. I don’t remember having that choice when I was 25! It has made the great teams that much better. And it has widened the gulf with the rest of us. For sure I can still play against the top teams and – on a good day – even beat them. (In Gatineau, we went 4-3, along the way beating a couple of teams who list their careers as “Full-time Curler”) But to beat these guys consistently, you need to be out there every weekend. And you also need to be not burning yourself out the rest of the time!  

I think I have suffered from this before without being able to recognize it. I think it is not a coincidence that I usually do poorly in Charlevoix: it is at the tail end of a period where I am usually in shit at work, in shit with my wife and in shit with my kids (this one hurts a lot).

So my new motto heading into provincials this year is BALANCE.  A lot of practice. But not so much that it gets in the way of other things. I know this is not the recipe to get me to the Olympics or the top 10 on the CTRS, but maybe it can get me to a Brier...