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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A 46 Year-Old Rookie?


So I guess the first time I saw the Brier on TV, I was around 8 years old.

My Dad never really curled, but he seemed to watch it a lot on TV when the Brier was on. Apparently my Grandfather EJ Fournier used to curl, and lost the Provincial Final in New Brunswick in the 1950’s. So my Dad used to watch curling on TV. And I watched with him. And I loved it.

Looking back, I guess it was a bit unusual for an 8 year-old kid to watch curling on TV, but I guess I was just that kind of kid. I used to run around my house screaming – pretending I was making some impossible angle raise to win the Brier. Sounds downright crazy now as I write it.

It was a golden age for curling. You had the Wrench, Fast Eddy, the Ryan Express and the Ice Man. Curlers all had cool nicknames, and even cooler personas. I remember Hackner’s improbable double. I remember the Wrench throwing hack-weight triple takeouts in a house that seemed to have 26 rocks in it. I remember the whack-whack of a corn broom. And all this before I had ever stepped through doors of a curling club. I loved the game already.

Imagine my shock to discover that I lived all of four blocks away from Lachine Curling Club, a hidden-away three-sheeter with one of the coziest clubhouses I’ve ever come across – and my friend from Andrew Mackay from High School actually curled. It took all of one day at Saturday morning junior curling – and I was hooked.

My junior career was tons of fun but without any kind of championship to speak of. We were good, but never as good as the Ferland Boys, or later on that kid from Amos named Ménard. To be honest, many of my junior teams were more about playing cards in hotel rooms, trying to pick up junior girls and underage drinking (shhhh!). At least my priorities were in the right place.

But after juniors the Brier was always on my mind. Lachine had the good fortune of having a number of Purple Heart owners hanging around. Geoff Hinks, Lawren Steventon, Peter Gawel, Andrew Carter, Kevin Adams to name a few. The Brier always seemed plausible, and attainable. So I played. And a few years out of junior, I was pretty good. I managed to skip a team to provincials back in 1994 in Rouyn Noranda. But we did not win. Not even close.

Then I played with a lot of guys. Guy Hemmings, Dan Rafael, Malcolm Turner, the LeCouffes and Robertsons, Claude Brazeau, Francois Gagné, Dwayne Fowler, Tom Wharry, Mike Kennedy, Brad Fitzherbert and so many, many more. For so long, I struggled to find that magic bit of chemistry that would take me to the Brier. Many of my former team mates would of course win to get there without me, leaving me at home like the ugly stepsister, unable to find a date to the ball. It seemed like the more I learned about the game, the more I realized that I was further away from the Brier than I had ever thought.

I had all but given up. I assumed the Brier was not for me. By then I was having my 3rd child, working long hours and curling became more of a pastime. "Life" was definitely getting in the way. I started playing in the Mixed Championship, quite frankly because it seemed like something I could win.

But somewhere along the way I started practicing more, and started winning more. I fortuitously lost my job and started consulting, which allowed me time to actually throw rocks. I won the Mixed, twice in a row, and played pretty well at the 2 Mixed Nationals. And then I got asked to pick up what was essentially Bob Desjardins’ old team: three great guys from the Saguenay who were looking for a skip. One of them had even been to the Brier! It seemed like a weird mix, but what the hell.

With Gionest, Martel and Charest I would come painfully close to reaching my dream. This team reminded me the value of practice, and I started throwing a quarry full of rocks every day at Glenmore, my new home. I started seeing the value of lots and lots of practice. Sure I had practiced before, but I was now seeing the results of throwing a LOT of rocks. My in-turn stopped over-curling. Draw weight got easier and easier to find. As my buddy Greg Balsdon would say: my outturn peel was now just like my first car: automatic baby.
I spent lunch hours practicing. We even picked up a coach – Michel St-Onge, not so much for the curling but to work on the mental discipline that you need to win at the highest levels.

And our hard work paid off. We got very good; and had some promising results. We lost a soul-crushing semi-final to Ménard in 2014 in Val d’Or, and then the finals to him again the year after in Victoriaville. The dream seemed so close, and yet further away than ever.

Meanwhile, some kid from Glenmore was doing rather well in juniors. I had known his Dad for probably over 20 years. His Dad suggested we talk, and I met this bizarrely mature and confident practice-obsessed kid named Felix. I liked the way he played. I liked the way he practiced. Maybe I could give it one more shot…

***

And that brings me to today. That is how roughly 36 years after I fell for this wacky sport, and 32 years after first stumbling into a curling club, I find myself heading to the Tim Horton’s Brier in Regina. 
A rookie at age 46.

***

Looking back at the week that was the Tankard, it still seems surreal. We played great all week, we made lots of shots. But our semi-final game against Ferland will live in my memories for ever. We were 7-2 down after 4, and managed to steal an extra-end win. This comeback was a mix of skill, perseverance and plain-old luck. It felt like we could no longer lose after that.

And we did not. We won a tight final against Menard, stealing the last end as JM tried a very tough double for 2 to win. And I have had a perma-smile pasted on my face ever since.

***

So I will experience the Brier for the first time.
Yes – you heard right – I have never been to a Brier before, not even as a spectator. I wanted to go there as a player first, not as a fan – so I never went. Not even when it was in Ottawa. Sounds kinda silly and superstitious as I write it now. I have been to a few Scotties, a couple of World Championships, but never the Brier.

I now get the privilege of going to the Brier with Will, Felix, JF, Emile and Michel, the best team I have ever stepped on the ice with. I have no idea how we will do (and don’t expect to get any Brier predictions from me this year!), but I promise we will fight for every point of every game. I don’t think this team is capable of anything less.

And I promise I will enjoy every single minute of it.

*** 

A big thanks to the numerous people who have written/texted/phoned since Sunday. It has meant a lot to me to hear from so many old friends (and new ones) congratulating me and wishing me the best. The support we have gotten so far has been truly awesome. 






Monday, January 29, 2018

Diving into the Shallow end of The Pool Discussion



So, dear readers, in case you are confused looking at the Scotties standings this week, let me fill you in on what has changed.
The Scotties (and the Brier) have moved to a new format, with 2 Pools instead of the standard round robin. Why did they do this?

Here are the constraints:
  • The Scotties and Brier need to have full representation from all provinces and Territories. That makes 11 Provinces (Ontario is still deservedly split into North and South) and 3 Territories – so 14 teams. I do not know why this is the case. I have heard that some of the Sport Canada government funding demands that all provinces/territories have equal access, but I am not sure what equal access means exactly
  • The CCA likes having a Team Canada. It helps promote the events.
  • The event is already bordering on too long at 9 days. 

So that makes 15 teams that we "need" to have. And a 14 game round robin seems a little bit too long. So the CCA decided to add a 16th team (the Wild Card – a one game playoff between the two best teams in Canada who did not win a province) and split the tournament into 2 pools of 8. After you have played everybody in your pool, the top 4 teams then play each other – and the cumulative record determines the final 4 teams that make the playoffs.

Sound confusing? It is.

The good news is as the week moves along it will look more and more like a normal Scotties, with the top teams fighting it out in the end.

The Purists have gone insane over this. A Wildcard? Nunavut? What are these aberrations to the format I love! 

Even those who were loudly against Relegation (a crappy idea where the 4 lowest ranked teams from the previous year had to playoff before the event to send 1 team through to the main event) are vociferously complaining about the new format. Cripes, I even heard Kerry Galusha (the skip from the NWT) ragging on the format on Social Media! In trying to please everyone, Curling Canada has pleased no one. Even Mark Dacey (from Nova Scotia who have missed the last few Briers thanks to relegation) posted his prediction that this is the death of the Scotties/Brier.

So where do I stand on this? I guess I always say – if you are going to complain, then show me a better idea.

Do we Group all of the Territories up into one spot again? That would solve some of the problems. It is difficult to see why we continue to offer a Nunavut a spot at every National championship. I have nothing against curlers from Nunavut (I have met a few that are among the coolest people I have met curling), but from what I understand we are talking about one 2-sheet curling club that gets to send a team to every National Championship. It is basically a bye to the Brier. But then you need to find a way to let them play a playoff against a team that is a 6 hour flight away. And I am not sure if this would affect government funding of the event.

Should we group other parts of the country together as well? What about the Atlantic Canada? Atlantic Canada represents around 6% of the population of Canada, but now has 25% of the spots at the Scotties. That does not seem fair. (please don't check my math here)

Maybe we should look at regional entries to determine spots. Quebec has had only 8 women’s teams signed up this year. Maybe this should disqualify us from having an automatic spot.

Maybe Northern Ontario should not get a spot. I like mooses (or is it meese), but fair is fair and Northern Ontario is not a Province.

I think you may see where I am going here. There is no perfect solution. Somebody is always going to scream unfair! - and say that x is under-represented and y is over-represented.
There is no solution that will be fair to everybody. Manitoba has 3 teams at the Scotties this year! Is that fair?

If you have a better idea - please speak now!!!

In the meantime...

I think the notion of 1 Province (or Territory) = 1 Spot is part of the game. It is not now, nor has ever been fair to the more populous parts of the country, but hey who said life was fair.
Team Canada is a fun idea.
I’m not a fan of the wildcard idea either, but 15 is an odd number. So that makes 16 teams with a wildcard, and leaves us with the current format.

Is this format perfect? God no.

Is it tough to follow along? Yup – but we will figure it out eventually.

Will I go blind from watching some of the sub-club-level curling that is now part of the Scotties and the Brier? Maybe.

In the end – the relevance (or lack thereof) of the Scotties and the Brier has been far more damaged by the emergence of the Olympics as the penultimate curling event in the World, as well as the 37 Slam events that are now on Sportsnet every weekend from September until July. The concept of Free Agency, that makes provincial residency irrelevant has not helped the cause either. 
I seem to remember reading Warren Hansen interviewed a few years back say that the Brier would become a Second-Tier event, and the Canada Cup would emerge as the true National Championship. 

The new format will not help solve any of these larger problems that face the Scotties and the Brier. But it probably won’t make it worse!
If you are saying that this new format will kill the Brier/Scotties, I hope you are wrong. And if the Brier/Scotties do fall away, I think the new format will be at best 9th or 10th on my list of causes of death when we perform the autopsy!

So in the meantime, grab your popcorn and appreciate the events for what they still are! The Junior, Mixed and Senior Nationals have embraced this inclusive format, and it seems to have served them well. Getting to the Brier or the Scotties has never been about “fair”. It is about having curlers from everywhere play in our National Championship. Let's stick with that for now.



Monday, January 22, 2018

Sippy Cups and Light-Up Curling Shoes

So we are a few weeks away from the Men’s provincial championship, hopefully the highlight of our curling season.

What has my team been doing? We are in hiding. My team has been busy with practicing in secret. We have been hiding away in Tibet working on our curling and meditative chanting with a group of Bhuddist monks, in a desperate attempt to clear our head of negative thoughts. Not sure it will help our curling – but Will’s says that thanks to the Tantric chanting we practiced he can now hold out for hours when having sex and Felix is now able to levitate! (But given that he weighs 80 pounds, it might just be the wind picking him up off the ground). So with nothing else to talk about, let’s talk about women’s curling!

So every year I usually write a blog about the sorry state of women’s curling in Quebec, and what we can do to fix it. The past few years have featured on average 5 or 6 teams at Provincials, and with a few exceptions no Quebec Team has been particularly competitive on the National stage. Yes, Marie-France, Lauren and Eve have played well at times and seem to invest the practice time and spiel schedule to be competitive, but they are the exception and Marie-France has cut down her schedule considerably of late, and is definitely not getting better. So typically the last few years have featured Marie-France and Eve fighting to represent the province.

But this year was different.

This year, in order to fill out the field, Curling Quebec invited JUNIOR teams to play at the Scotties. And play they did. Despite the fact that the best junior team in the province – Laurie St-Georges was busy at Junior Nationals (where they lost the final no less), 3 other junior teams played. And guess what – Emilia Gagné from the Saguenay actually won!!!

Make no mistake, I have absolutely no idea who Emilia Gagné is. But by all accounts she played great, made some clutch shots and came away the winner, beating Perron, then Larouche, then Eve in the finals. The average age on this team is – wait for it – 18!!!

I am not saying they are a young team, but
  • After they won, they poured juice boxes on each other instead of Champagne
  • At their team dinner at a restaurant after the game, the waitress brought them crayons and coloring sheets
  • The heels light up on their curling shoes
  • They think Bruno Mars is Classic Rock
  • This will likely be the first team that will have to bring Fake IDs to get into the Patch.

But seriously, I am sure this will be a great experience for them, and will hopefully ignite some much needed passion in the women’s game.

More importantly, I think this might be the beginning of something. I have been hanging around junior curling a bit now that my daughter is involved, and there seems to be something happening in Quebec. There are a lot of kids. Increasingly, a lot of the Moms and Dads you see at the rinks are retired competitive curlers, now bringing their kids into the game. And Quebec already has a rich history of outstanding junior coaching.

Curling Quebec has started the Tip Tap Toc skills program for 12 and under curlers – and supposedly 23 clubs ran a Little Rock event to try to send kids to the finals. I was honestly shocked to find out that 23 clubs have Little Rock programs. And did I mention there were LOTS OF KIDS.

And all of this is happening before the Olympics, which are sure to provide an additional bump for the sport, as curling will likely be about half of the Olympic coverage that you see on TV. And with the curlers being more recognizable than the hockey players this time around, curling is poised to be the most talked about event at the Games.

So you can look at a junior team winning the Scotties as a sign of how far the women’s game as fallen off in Quebec, but I prefer to look at is a sign of some much needed renaissance in women’s curling, and is likely a sign of things to come. The future of the game is definitely junior curling, I guess I just did not expect it to get here so fast!


So let’s all raise our sippy-cups of apple juice in a toast to wish them well!!! 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Olympic Trials Preview and Team Update


So the obnoxiously named Roar of the Rings tournament is finally upon us. This week has become the pinnacle week in our sport. Sure the Olympics are cool, the Brier looks like fun, but the fact is there is no more pressure-laden, intense, gut check curling week in the world that can compare to the Canadian Olympic Trials. The fact is, representing Canada in curling at the Olympics is life-changing. You will likely medal – and are expected to win gold. You instantly become a celebrity beyond the curling world.

Very often an Olympic win can turn into a career. Look at Cheryl Bernard, who honestly was not a top tier curler for that long before her Olympic appearance in Vancouver. But look what it has done for her! She has turned that Silver Medal into a broadcast/public speaking career! The Brier or Scotties can make you a big name in curling, but the Olympics can make you big EVERYWHERE.

That is why this is the big prize in today’s game. The big teams plan everything around this one week of curling. The Slams are fun, the Brier is awesome, but the Olympics are EVERYTHING.

So there are now 9 Men’s and 9 women’s teams left that will play down for this prize. I will review them here. Here are my picks, for what they are worth, with odds for each team!


MEN:

It all starts and ends with Brad Gushue (3-1). For sure, this is the odds-on favorite to win.
Right now – if I was betting – if you gave me the entire field or Brad Gushue – not sure who I would pick. They are not playing curling anymore, they are playing Perfect. They are at some different, mystic-like level of curling now. They really do seem to be playing the game with remote control rocks. They are defending Brier champs, have won more Slams than Hulk Hogan and will be untouchable if they are on. This team has no weakness. Their front end sweeps like beasts, and they all throw with robot like precision. Mark Nichols is the best 3rd in the world.
Their biggest opponent will be themselves. They surely know everything I just wrote in the previous paragraph, and curling is a game where our own expectations can often be crushing. The favorites do not always win at the Trials. Gushue in 2006, Jacobs in 2014, Harris in 1998. None of these were even remotely favorites to win, and this lack of expectation might have helped them overcome the pressure.
But they are my pick.

KEVIN KOE  (5-1):
Kevin has shown that he has the game to beat Gushue. He is likely the most talented skip in the game today, and can win games almost all by himself. He showed this at the Brier last year and the year before. They have not been stellar of late, but none of that matters. They have boatloads of experience, with two Olympic Medalists on the team. Ben Hebert is probably the best sweeper on the planet. With Hebert sweeping, you have no idea how bad Koe has to throw an out-turn to miss it.
They seem a notch below Gushue right now, but this team has repeatedly shown the ability to step up at the right time.

JACOBS (5-1):
Our defending Olympic reps have been up and down since their last event. They have not experienced the same level of success that they experienced heading into the previous trials, where they were the hottest team in the world, coming off a Brier win.
They have become a little harder to cheer against since the last Olympics as well. They have toned down the crazy yelling and chest bumps, and seem generally less angry. I think they took a bit too much abuse for being over-the-top obnoxious (some of it from me) – and it forced them to be very quiet during the whole broomgate scandal. 

The Rest:

EPPING (8-1): Some strong slam performances, but at best an outside chance of winning. The Slams they won seemed to be when John was standing on his head, as opposed to the team dominating the game, which is what you will need to win this week. 

McEWEN (7-1):  This team was so strong at the beginning of this Olympic Cycle, and yet they are so absent from having any promising results in over a year now. I am cheering for them more than anyone (need to see a toe-tucker at the Olympics), but I have a feeling this is not their year. Hope I am wrong here.

CARUTHERS (7-1): Reid has played well at times, but I am thinking their lack of experience at this level will catch up with them when the chips are on the table. 

LAYCOCK (20-1): No chance. Dunstone at 2nd seems like a llama playing tennis.

MORRIS (15-1): Definitely seem better after flipping skip and 3rd (Cotter was skipping right up until the pre-trials). Morris has been clutch at the trials. Not sure they have the horses to beat the big teams (they have not so far this year). Definitely a dark horse contender.

BOTTCHER (20-1): Playing well, but not at the same level as the big boys.


WOMEN:

The Big 2:

The women’s field does not have a clear cut favorite the same way the men’s does. But 2 teams clearly stand out:

Jenny Jones (3-1):  Tough to bet against a women  who is simply put the best clutch curler on the planet (male or female). JJ is riding a winning streak into the event, and looks to be the clear favorite. Not sure if I can stand to watch another 4 years of WTF WFG commercials, but what the heck – let’s call her the favorite.

Rachel Homan  (4-1): If you would have asked me 12 months ago, I would have called the Homanator a clear favorite. They are defending Scotties champs, and are the best prepared team I have ever seen. Plus they spend their days eating Pinty’s chicken strips; that must be worth something. Only hiccup has been their play of late, although they seem like the kind of team that will peak at the right time. 

Best of the Rest:

Sheidegger (8-1):  Okay, I admit it. I have a soft spot for toe-tucking women. This is a young team with no Scotties experience – but the skip toe-tucks! My 9 –year old daughter has started curling little rocks, and I am crushed that she has a high, classic curling slide. Was hoping she would genetically tuck that heel into her leg and set her chin right behind the rock. So we will put Sheidegger as our 3rd ranked team just because. And because they looked very good at the last slam.

Sweeting (8-1): Good team, lots of big game experience. Expect her to be in the playoffs. She has been solid for a while, and is a top-10 world team.

Carey (8-1): Chelsea Carey seems a little less consistent, but winning a Scotties means you could win here.

Not This Time:

Flaxey: (12-1): A strong Ontario Team, just not sure they have the big-game experience to win at this level.

Englot (15-1): I think their run at the Scotties last year was an outlier, expect them to finish below .500. (despite my aforementioned adoration of toe-tucking women - Kate Cameron!)

McCarville (15-1):  Hot team coming out of the trials, with some solid experience at the Scotties to back her up. I don't think they are capable of beating the Big 2 if they are on.

Tippin (20-1): The last team to qualify, looks like they will be in a bit over their heads. They are the 20th ranked women’s team in the world, in a game where the gap between 1 and 10 is huge. Would require a miracle of Disney-movie proportions.


 ***


Team Fournier Update:

Well that sucked.
We played like arses in Charlevoix, and fumbled our way to a 2W-3L out-of-the-money finish. Blech. We are having an opposite season to last year: Last season we won a pile of money and then stunk at provincials. This year we have tried stinking during the season – maybe that means we will play well at provs??!? Very clever of us.

The event was won by Marty Ferland, who is having a great season. Imagine how good these guys will be playing in the seniors event in a couple of years! (I hope they need a 5th)


Next up: The Quebec Tour Championship in Sorel this weekend!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Red-Fleeced Nostalgia

Road Trip.

It was time for our annual curling road trip to a faraway place to curl. This year’s exotic destination: Val D’Or, aka the City of Gold!
For those of you uninitiated in the complexities of Quebec geography, Val d’Or in located in Abitibi – about 6 hours North-West of Montreal. To get there you actually have to drive through about 3 hours of no cell phone coverage! The horror. We actually had to listen to music and talk with each other! How old school.
We were playing in the Air Creebec Nord Ouest Open – a relatively new event (I believe this is their 2nd year). The event managed to draw most of Quebec’s top teams (except for JM Ménard was on his own road trip – to Summerside PEI to play in the Olympic Pre-Trials). This event is actually a pretty cool idea. Their goal is not to service the “elite” curlers, but instead to help develop the sport in the region. The format reflects this. They mixed up the elite teams into 5 pools of 5 mostly local teams. The top 2 teams from each section got to the quarters, but 4 of the 2nd place teams had to playoff to get down to 8 quarter finalists. The top third place teams got to play a consolation event. This format gave the local teams a chance to play against the big teams, but also gave them a decent prize pool to play for if they did not manage to finish 1st or 2nd. Teams also received 100$ per win in the round robin – so every game carried some meaning for the teams involved.
I like this format a lot – and I think it provides a great example of how to develop interest in the game at a local/regional level. It helps elevate the game for local teams, and lets them compete against stronger competition. It should serve as an example for a lot of regional curling associations looking to grow curling in their part of the world; hold an event! It bring in teams, media, sponsors and if run well can even make a few dollars for the host club. The Belvedere Curling Club in Val d’Or was full of people all weekend.

So how did we do?
Pretty good. We finished 5-1, losing the final to Bob Desjardins and his travelling band of curlers. We got outplayed in the final –we got down a few points early trying to figure out the ice and then Bob did not miss anything. But still a good tournament for us.
Some highlights from the road trip:
  • We managed to show up late for a round robin game. We pulled the absolute rookie mistake of not checking the draw before leaving the club, thinking that our next game was at 8:30AM against local Val d’Or legend “Tiger” Larouche. (side note: really curious how you earn the nickname “Tiger”). The game was actually at 8AM. We showed up late, gave up the hammer, and then proceeded to give up and easy 4 in the 1st end. We eventually came back and won – but not our finest moment.
  • Discovered that Alexander Keith’s Blond does not mix well with Mike’s Cheesesteak poutine. #dontstandbehindmeinthehouse
  • Found out I have no career potential as a ninja. Managed to wake up my entire team multiple times just trying to find the bathroom in our hotel room. Love having all 4 in the same room.

Baie d’Urfe
As I write this – we are 3-0 at the Experience IT Classic at Baie d’Urfe Curling Club – playing in the quarter finals tomorrow morning!
Fred Lawton runs a quality bonspiel, live music, free meals. Unfortunately Curling Quebec kicked him out of his usual time slot (the spiel was always at the beginning of December), and it seems to have hurt his entries. Hopefully he will find a niche for next season, this is a spiel that deserves a full set of teams.


Curling Uniforms.

Due to some unforced errors on our part, we only ordered our teams curling uniforms for this season in September, and we are still waiting for them. This explains why we look like a traveling band of hobos instead of an actual curling team, and why we have not posted a team picture of ourselves yet anywhere.
All this has made me reflect on the evolution of the curling uniform.
My first curling sweater was a red All Canada fleece pullover with black checks. We wore it to our first Junior Provincials. It felt awesome. Here is a pic. (Note that this team had awesome hair; a little Beatles on the left, some Jon Bon Jovi from the skipper!) Not sure why our lead was wearing jeans in this pic. (@John Cullen – how would you rate these unis?)



Since these long-ago days, curling wear has evolved considerably. Curling teams now all seem to be decked out in hi-tech, printed fabric sportswear – usually emblazoned with sponsor logos and yes – of course – numbers (!) and names.
The strange outcome of this is that a number of Curling-focused sports-printing clothing companies have popped up to take advantage of this trend. Dynasty Curling, Runback Curling, PCW, Hardline now all have the ability to make customized designs, with sublimated logos and designs. most of these companies are run by curlers. This has created a serious arms race, as teams try to out-jacket each other.

Makes me long for my red-fleece.

Olympic Pre-Trials

So as I write this, the Olympic pre-trials are coming to an end in PEI. Unfortunately, it was not Jean Michel's week; after a great start they dropped a couple of games that they seemed to be in control of and then finished a game out of the playoffs.

My buddy Greg Balsdon is still alive as I write this, and is poised to knock out Charley Thomas; hoping to see him squeak through, although it looks like Botcher, Morris and Howard are the favorites for the 2 spots at this point. 

On the women's side, I think they will be playing tie-breakers until mid next week. Holy parity Batman!



Tuesday, October 24, 2017

February Beer by the Fireplace, mmmmm

So much to talk about in the World of Curling

Let’s start with some Big News. The Quebec Men’s Provincial Championship will be held in my home club – Glenmore – in February. Yay!

Curling Quebec has made the decision (or had the decision made for it) that Quebec Provincials will no longer be held in an arena with the Scotties in January. I think it was time. While arenas provide a larger venue, increased crowd capacity and some experience in arena conditions to the team that will represent us at the Brier, the cost was just too high. An arena typically costs around 30K to rent and maintain for a week, versus a curling club that is essentially free. Also, good luck trying to pry an arena away from our hockey-starved kids and grownups in a populated area like Montreal or Quebec City. Convincing an arena to give up its ice for 10 days in the middle of hockey season is a huge ask, so we often ended up in arenas in remote parts of the province.
Not sure how many provinces still have their provincial in an arena - I am sure the Prairie provinces as well as Ontario still have the scale to be able to reasonably fill a small arena - but I am pretty sure most provinces have abandoned the idea (if they were ever even held in an arena).

The other big advantage of moving to a club lies in the ambiance. While I believe that a full arena is a great venue, a half-full arena often looks depressing. The days of Guy Hemmings filling the Sorel arena for his comeback win against Bob Desjardins are sadly a relic of the past. While some recent events have been somewhat well attended, there is definitely no danger of a sellout crowd at a Quebec Provincial finals in an arena. 

So the provincials are back at a curling club – and MY curling club! Glenmore will do a great job. Ice conditions are probably the only worry – Glenmore often has trouble keeping ice for 10 ends, especially with competitive male sweepers. For sure the ambiance/atmosphere will be awesome. There will be crowds fighting for viewing space. It will feel more like a party. The fact is that nobody wants to hang out at an arena; it’s cold and uncomfortable. But hanging out at Glenmore in February with a beer by the fire…MMMM.

The other big advantage of the move is we can now hold the event in February, instead of early January. This will be a big plus for whoever wins, as they will not have to wait over 2 months before playing in the Brier, as was the case before. This delay is brutal, and there are very few practice events that are available to make sure you stay sharp in the weeks before the Brier.
And my Mom can come and watch a few games!

***


RIP Moosie

Ray Turnbull passed away a few weeks ago. For those too young to remember, Ray was the knowledgeable voice of curling on TSN before Russ Howard. Vic-Linda-Ray set the gold standard for smart curling commentary. Vic Rauter provided the dramatic sports reporting (as he does so well in a number of other sports), while Ray and Linda Moore provided the knowledgeable debate and passion. The lifeblood of our sport is in the storytelling – and Ray was one of the best. He was a key contributor to the fabric of the game, and did a lot to help develop the watch-ability of curling.

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What about us?

Well – we have played some okay curling over the past three events – all around the Ottawa area. We did not qualify at the Fall Open, after losing to a pretty bad American Team (sorry if you guys are reading this!) and then we lost the semi-finals at the Moosehead Fall Classic to eventual winner Francois Gagné.
Then we went 3-3 in Gatineau – just a bit short of making some money, having played 6 really good teams. Gatineau was a very strong spiel as usual, featuring many teams that we will see in the Olympics in the spring. We got to play the Japanese Olympic Team (and the Swiss team - but I missed that one), who came to play with a a documentary film crew in tow. The evolution in the scale and scope of curling with the game's inclusion in the Olympics still amazes me.

We are off to a slow start, but it feels like we are getting better every week. Just need to make a few more shots here are there. It is strange – last year we got off to a hot start, and had already won about $5000 at this point in our season. This year, it feels like we are playing better, but not getting nearly the same results. We will continue to practice and be patient.

What's up next? ROAD TRIP! We are off to that vacation paradise in the north known as the City of Gold – namely Val d’Or. They are running an excellent tournament, and amazingly a lot of the top  Quebec teams are taking the 6 hour drive North to play in the event. 
The fact is we are hungry to put any event on our calendar that can provide decent ice, decent competition and decent money without having to get on an airplane. Not that it is not fun to have Air Canada break my curling brooms or lose my luggage, but the fact is flying to a bonspiel is a very expensive proposition, one that is often only attainable for the most well-sponsored teams.

Val d’Or definitely brings back bittersweet memories for me. I lost the Provincial semi-finals to JM Ménard there a few years back -in a game that still causes me to wake up screaming in the middle of the night. Hopefully the City of Gold will reserve a kinder fate for me this time.

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Also worth watching in the coming weeks is the Olympic Pre-Trials in Summerside, PEI. This is an event that qualifies the final 2 men’s and women’s teams in to the Olympic Trials held in December. So this is your last chance to be among the final 9 teams to go to the Olympics. The only Quebec team still in the hunt is Jean Michel Ménard – aka the best amateur curling team in Canada. I am cheering hard for JM in this one – I kind of feel like he is carrying the banner for all those curlers who still believe you should sit and have a drink with the other team after every game, who still believe you should play a ladder game in your club every week, and who still believe that curling is a game you play, not your job. Seriously hope he gets through - the field is remarkably wide-open.





Thursday, September 21, 2017

Strange Smells on an Airplane


So – I find myself on a long late night flight home from Vancouver, so why not write a blog.

Forgive me if this blog sounds a bit incoherent, I am writing while watching the Baywatch remake on Air Canada’s crappy in-flight entertainment system. This may well be the worst movie ever made. Not even the slow-mo bikini shots can save this movie.

But the forced confinement of a long flight has given me a burst of creative energy. Not sure if it’s the thin, recycled cabin air or the wafting smell of farts from some unknown culprit sitting around me, but I am feeling especially creative. Here in no particular order, are some thoughts on the upcoming season and curling in general;
  •       The big event this year will be the Olympic Trials. Honestly, I think the Trials finals are more exciting (and probably harder to win) than the actual Olympics. Looking forward to it.
  •          So who will Canada send to the Olympics? Gushue looks indestructible. They are absolutely the team to beat heading into the Olympic qualifying this year. Other teams are good, but Gushue is perfect. This guy keeps tossing 100% games like they are nothing. Cheering for McEwen though.
  •          The pre-trials should also be fun in early November. The pre-trials are a 14-Team event that qualifies 2 teams to be in the final 9 at the Olympic Trials. My 2 picks to make it through to the pre-trials: Simmons and Ménard. Last Olympics, 2 of the teams that made it through the pre-trials ended up in the Trials finals: Jacobs and Cotter. That will not happen this time.
  •          Very anxious to see the carnage on the big teams this year once the Olympic dreams die for all but one team. The nation’s top teams are all now forced to stick together for most of an Olympic cycle, so once the Olympic dream fades for all but one of the Big Teams, they will break up faster than teenagers after the prom.
  •          I hope Quebec women’s curling can get better. We saw some signs of life last year, with a strong team performing well at the Scotties. I hope we can build off this, and maybe have a Quebec Scotties with more than a handful of teams in attendance. Eve lost the semis at the tough Shorty Jenkins spiel last week – and Quebec juniors Laurie St-Georges actually qualified! I do not remember the last time a Quebec junior girls team even played in an event that big, let alone qualified! Promising.
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Me on a Podcast

Hey Mom, I’m famous now! I was asked to be on the From the Hack Curling Podcast with fellow curling humorist John Cullen. Thanks to Frank for the invite!
John and I randomly opine on what it’s like to be a lowly Tier 2 competitive curler.
Curling Podcasts are the new thing. The From the Hack Podcast, as well as 2 Girls and a Game are providing some much-needed story-telling and discussion for the game in an easily digestible format. Here is the link:


We play this weekend in Ottawa at the RCMP in the Moosehead Fall Open. Its supposed to be 30 and sunny all weekend and I will happily be in a curling club. 
We start Friday against some unknown Quebec team named Ménard. Should be an easy one.
Here is the link for results:


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So my 9-year-old daughter wants to try curling. Finally. 




 I have not pushed my 12 year-old son into the game (he is more into hockey, golf and soccer so far), so this will be the first year where one of my kids actually tries curling. I am excited to see how it works out – to see someone start on a path that I have been on for so many years. 
Will she like it? Will she be good? Will she toe-tuck? Will she want to compete? Will I be one of those crazy curling parents yelling from behind the glass? The journey begins.
Who knows what will come – but it surely will make for a good blog or two!!! I am just blissfully happy that I no longer have to try to pretend to understand the rules of ringuette. 


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Confession: I was actually the guy who was farting on the airplane. #hewhosmeltitdealtit