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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Hello Room Service? - I would like the Mister Noodle please


So another curling season comes to an end. While there is still curling on TV (I think all televised curling should be banned after the Masters), the season is essentially over. I neatly folded my curling clothes, put them in the back of a closet and will not open until September.

This season was a little different than most. And this one definitely leaves me hungrier for next season. Previous seasons essentially ended for me in January – once provincial playdowns had ended. That left 3-4 months of playing without any real purpose (unless I was playing in the Mixed). And too often I would spend the spring contemplating team changes – trying to figure out the magic mix that would help me get to the Brier. But not this year! Because…

Team Fournier is back for Next Year

2017-1018 was a very interesting season for Team Fournier.

Some season highlights/lowlights:
  • Will accidentally breaking Felix's sliding crutch at Baie d'Urfé. Felix was a new level of mad. NOt sure why that was so funny, but still can't think about it without laughing.
  • Will got to play in the K4K CELEBRITY tournament on Easter weekend. Still waiting to hear the stories about that one.
  • Showing up late to play Tiger Larouche in Val d'Or because we forget to check the draw, and then giving up a 4 in the 1st end. 
  • Staying in the single cheapest motel in Sorel that I have ever stayed in. For those who think the life of a Tier 2 curler is all posh hotels and room service...here is where we stayed (it actually looks way better in the picture than real life): 

(Room service was the owner offering to sell us a Mr. Noodle for 5$. 
The TV was a 27 inch, that only had a porn channel (or at least that's all I watched). 
The heating was set at a balmy 10 degrees C. 
At least the curtains matched the bedspread.  
All for 69$ per night. Cash - no tax.)

  • And there was another highlight...what was it again? 




Our team will be back next year to defend our Quebec title, with the same 4 dudes. Looking forward to another season of struggling to balance life, curling and everything in between with these guys.

We have changed coaches, with Ben Forget filling in for Michel St-Onge who is taking a well-earned retirement transforming our dysfunctional butts into a championship-winning team. Big thanks to Michel for everything, not only this season but for all the years he has worked to help me believe that I could win. I am forever grateful.



A lot of people to thank for this Year:

Glenmore Curling Club:  It was so moving to have the membership come out in such large numbers to support us. Made me truly proud to be at Glenmore, and so happy that I could win the title at home. Will never forget the feeling of walking into the clubhouse from the ice after winning. Great curling clubs tend to feel more like a big family than a sporting club, and nowhere is this more true than Glenmore.

Lachine Curling Club: Was also moved to have my former curling club and home for my first 25 years of curling support our team at the Brier. I always have to wipe away the nostalgia every time I walk into the building, and was so touched that they helped my team as well. Special thanks to Glenn Tester.

Our Sponsors: Injection Classique (thanks Marc Don!), and Grant Warren. Thanks for your support. And especially our main sponsor – our friends at Hardline who have helped me and my teams for a number of years, and might be the only guys as happy as I was that I was going to the Brier. Look forward to continuing to working with them for years to come!

We do still have space on our jacket for next season, if anyone is looking to be associated with a whimsical and entertaining curling squad! Here are some natural suggestions for product placement opportunities:
  • Baby Gap (would be an awesome clothing sponsor for Felix)
  • Harmonicas (how many people play the harmonica anymore other than JF?)
  • Crown Royal (would accept sponsorship in kind), the unofficial drink of Team Fournier
  • Beard Shampoo
  • Tinder
  • Any show about Horses
  • Mister Noodle 
So many marketing opportunities!

But seriously, if you are looking for some exposure and name recognition – reach out to me. Competitive curling is an expensive pastime, and any support is greatly appreciated. Also, our newfound popularity following the Brier allows you to get some decent notoriety for your company at a relatively low price. Plus you get mentioned in my Blog!!!


***

Kurling For Kids update
Kurling for Kids was once again a huge success. We raised $310,000 to help out the Montreal Children’s and St-Justine’s hospitals, and continue to raise funds (you can still donate here for another few weeks!). It was a massive amount of fun – and is a great cause. Still trying to figure out how my daughter managed to curl a solid 70% at while putting 18 rotations on her rock.   

A BIG THANK YOU to all who donated either thanks to my blog or through me directly. I am truly touched by the generosity of both people that I have known for years and people who I have never had the pleasure of meeting. I can assure you that your donation went to a great cause, and thank you.
Special thanks to Bernard at Glenmore who massively overpaid for a Mike Fournier Brier shirt, and special thanks to Kevin, Grant and Faisal who helped jack up the price!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Post Brier Depression and Team Announcement


Serious post-Brier depression has set in. 

I want to be back at the Brier.
  • I walk into every room of my house and pretend that I am on TSN.
  • I signed my kids’ report card with a Sharpie and wrote: “Good Curling, Mike Fournier, Team Quebec”.
  • I pretend every water cooler conversation I have at work is actually a Media Scrum.
  • I stood outside my house waiting for the Brier Shuttle to pick me up and give me a lift.
  • I picked my kids up at school the other day and as they got in the car said “Count ‘em up, 1…2…3 for Team Quebec.”
  • At the conclusion of some “special time” with my wife, I shouted out “Make the Final…”. I was also wearing my Quebec jacket at the time.
I want to be back at the Brier.


Free Agent Frenzy

So the entire curling world is in freak-out mode this week as most of Canada’s competitive teams have re-shuffled the deck, swapping players and seeing others “retire”.

This is the new reality in curling. The Olympic cycle and curling tour have become incredibly time demanding. The 7-8 teams that are invested in getting to the Olympics now have to be playing 25+ weekends per season together, and most likely cannot hold down a real job that involves actually being at work. So that means that teams will change. Guys will come in and out, as they try to manage life and curling and family commitments.

There are only a handful of teams in Canada for whom it is financially viable to take a shot at the Olympic dream. And even for those teams, they are not living the life of luxury and are often having to run off-season jobs to try to raise money. So, as you can imagine, a great deal of thought and consideration goes into picking the 3 dudes you want to spend the next 4 years of your life married to. 

So what has changed? If we look at the teams from the Trials…

  • At the top of the heap, the defending Olympic Team reshuffled completely, with Kevin Koe now skipping BJ Newfeld, Colton Flasch and Ben Hebert. Mark Kennedy is taking a break.
  • Team Mike McEwen is no more, with Mike hooking up with Reid Caruthers' team (minus Braeden Moskowy). Team Gushue, Bottcher and Team Jacobs are staying put.    
  • John Epping ditched his front end to go with the classic pairing of Laing and Savill.
  • Not sure what will happen with Dunstone and Laycock or Cotter. It appears John Morris will be off doing other life-affirming stuff.

All interesting changes. Teams will likely test drive their squads next year, (as next year is relatively unimportant in qualifying for the 2022 Olympics), and see how the new teams work. Maybe a few more minor changes before kicking it into high gear for the next cycle.
And who will be the next big team to break through? Tardi in BC? Horgan in Northern Ontario?


What About Quebec?

Well, so far I know what I have read on Facebook and Twitter.

  • JM Ménard is taking a well-deserved year off. Not sure how long he will be away, but I suspect that he needs to recharge his batteries after a tough Olympic qualifying cycle that saw his team fall out of contention at the Pre-Trials in November. His team has brought in Phil Lemay to play 3rd, with Martin taking over as skip.
  • Martin Ferland and Francois Roberge appear to be taking a step back from competition, although I will believe that one when I see the final list of teams signed up for Provs. next December.
  • Have not seen any press releases from Desjardins, so I expect Super Bob and JS to be back next year. 
  • Not sure what is happening elsewhere.
  • Oh ya, our team is sticking together, in case you were wondering.

(We were going to do a super-cool-trendy Youtube/Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat/Tinder/Grinder/Minecraft/LinkedIn/Youporn social media blitz to announce it, but figured this might be easier. Plus our Social Media Team manager (Felix) is busy curling in the Mixed Provincials this week)


Kurling for Kids

Okay – I have one final ask.
If you have been reading my blog this year – and have enjoyed it (and I know a lot of you have been), then help me out here.

I am curling on April 7th with my daughter Victoria in Kurling for Kids, an annual charity spiel that raises much-needed funds in support of the Montreal Children’s and St-Justine Hospital. This is my one cause that I will shamelessly plug for. They do great work, and could use your support. Also, my super-niece Zoë happens to be fighting cancer this year, and spends a great deal of her time at the Children’s.

So click on this link: it will take you to my fundraising page and make a donation. Anything helps. Consider it your annual fee for enjoying my blog this year! 

Here is the link. Go here and click Donate! NOW!

Click Here to Donate to Kurling for Kids


Sunday, March 11, 2018

It's over? A post-Brier blog.


I am now officially in post-Brier depression. I can’t believe it is over. Back to real life.

That was absolutely the most fun week of my life. Some perspective – if I had to rank the Brier on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is the best week of curling I had ever had, the Brier is a 37. I can’t believe it’s over, and I absolutely need to get back.

I will admit to crying at the usual Vic Router Brier wrap-up video. Here is the link to it:


Some highlights of the week, in no particular order:

Game 1 vs. Saskatchewan
So my first game of the Regina Brier was against the home team and local favorite Stephen Laycock.  I can’t even verbalize what it was like to be bagpiped on the ice in front of an absolutely full Brandt Center. My goosebumps had goosebumps. But what an awesome feeling. We had arrived.
Great past Saskatchewan champions were also part of the opening ceremonies, with Sandra Schmirler’s team and daughters, as well as Ernie Richardson and other past legends. The experience was beyond surreal.
I honestly do not remember the game that followed, which is surprising for me. I remember we played extremely well. As nervous as we were, our opponent was Matt Dunstone who despite his ridiculous curling CV was also playing his very first Brier game. We won a tightly-played contest, and for a few hours we were undefeated.

First TV Game
On Sunday, we found out that our game against Ontario was going to be the TSN game. As much as you want to tell yourself this is just another curling game, I have to admit I was a little bit freaked out to look up at the Jumbotron and see me, and realize that a National TV audience was also seeing me at the same time. Took me an end to get used to that, and by then we were down a cheap 3 to a team curling 100%. 
Ouch. It was a humbling learning experience.

Vs. Jacobs
Or game against Jacobs on Tuesday night was if nothing else entertaining. This game was the Brad Jacobs show, and the rest of us were just secondary characters. Brad made 2 ridiculously good shots in 4 and 5 to break us. After the game, somebody told me that Brad’s shot was the TSN 1v1 winner – and I actually had to ask “which one?” When they showed the top 5 shots of the Brier, his last rock in 4 and 5 both made the list. (I actually thought his triple takeout in 4 was a better shot than the raise in 5).  It was very cool to be the TSN highlight of the night, would have preferred to be on the other side of it.
I hate losing, but that game was still fun.

The Patch
For my non-curling readers, the Brier Patch is a bar usually set up somewhere close to the arena where fans and players can go between and after the games. The patch in Regina was ridiculous. I think it was the size of 2 or 3 football fields, and a mere 5 minute indoor walk from the arena. On the last few nights, there were likely 8000+ plus fans there. There is nothing else like it in curling. It felt like every curler and fan in Canada was there. It was simply put the biggest curling party I have ever seen. There is live music. There is food. And there are…

Tacos in a Bag
I need to bring this to Quebec. So you take a bag of Doritos, you cut it open along the side, and add Salsa, Sour Cream, beef, lettuce and tomato and then eat it with a fork. A Taco in a chip bag. Brilliant. Apparently this is a Saskatchewan thing. Needs to be exported.

The Fans
Okay – I come from Quebec. In Quebec, my level of celebrity is exactly zero. Telling somebody you curl is an open invitation to get a “I’ll bet you are great at sweeping up around the house”, or “isn’t that a sport for old people” joke. So to play somewhere where people stop you in the street to sign an autograph, or where the flight crew on your flight home asks for a selfie with me is a whole new set of experiences. I literally could not walk 100 feet in the patch without somebody stopping to congratulate us and to say how much the enjoyed watching us curl. We had fans of all ages. Somebody donated $200 to the Sandra Schmirler foundation for one of MY Quebec shirts. Surreal.

Special thanks to our Quebec entourage who traveled to Regina to make us feel at home. They were awesome all week.

The Volunteers/Workers
Have never met a nicer bunch of folks. Every driver, flag bearer, bartender, and countless others were all incredible all week long. Also the TSN folks - I never thought about just how many people it takes to put on a production like TSN does the Brier. What a dedicated and fun group of people.

The Format:
So this was the first Brier with the new 2-section round robin + championship pool. I will say the same thing that I said after the Scotties; it is far from ideal – but I am still waiting for a better idea.
I do like the inclusiveness of it, I like the fact that the games get better as the week progresses. I like it a lot better than relegation. I am not in love with the idea of a Wild Card, but you need to find a 16th team from somewhere.
Still holding back on criticism while waiting for a better idea that still satisfies all the constraints.


My Team
I was really proud of how my guys approached the game. We played hard, but we had a lot of fun. I know that taking the emotion out and keeping your focus is a big part of what takes to win, but being too serious is not what works for us. So we had fun, and people seemed to like that. I think my front end said something stupid/crazy/silly/hilarious before almost every rock I threw. The most common thing I heard from fans all week is how much they enjoyed watching us curl, because we were having fun.
Line of the week from JF, during an end where we were set-up well one end: “Notre set-up est aussi beau que le profil Tinder de Will.” (translation: our set-up is as pretty as Will’s Tinder profile). Awesome.
Love these guys - and hope we can get back to the Brier again together.


I also received the single greatest compliment I have ever/will ever get in my curling life. Before our final round robin game, while we were warming up, Vic Router came down from the broadcast booth to chat. He came over to me, shook my hand and said: “We really enjoyed covering you guys this week, Mike. You are what curling is all about.”

Highlight of my curling life.    (So far! J)


Monday, February 26, 2018

Killing some time before heading out to the Brier…



So I am heading off to Regina later this week, which of course means that time is moving in SLOW MOTION until then. So I thought I would write a blog! And everyone and their dog is asking me what happened to Canada at the Olympics, so here is my 2 cents.

Every four years, the Olympics usually provide the ultimate affirmation that Canada is Curling. From the sports inclusion in 1998 through 2014 in Sochi, Canada was all over it. We either medaled every time, and when we didn’t, there was always an excuse or a silver medal for us to comfort ourselves with. Sure Martin missed the draw against Trulsen, but we all know he was the better team. Cheryl Bernard lost the final, but that was a helluva game. Mike Harris lost the final, but only because he looked greener than a Saskatchewan Brier fan. It was always ours to win or lose. We were the game that other teams circled on the schedule. Canada was always in the mix.

But not this time.

Koe and Homan were never even close to dominant, and in fact did not look like the best teams there. On the men’s side, Edin looked stronger, and the gritty Americans looked tougher. Homan was never in it. They looked tense and on edge, not playing anywhere near their usual level of robot-like efficiency. They lost to Denmark in a game that looked beneath the level I would expect to see in our Tuesday night ladder game.

So what happened?

First of all – let me preface this by saying that none of this is meant to be judgmental. I think both of these teams are outstanding. They had bad weeks. They lost. It happens.
I totally respect the level of stress and responsibility that goes along with wearing the maple leaf at an Olympics. If I were in their place. I would need to be wearing brown curling pants (definitely not the whites the Americans wore #codebrown, #cleanuponsheet2)

But let the post-mortem begin.

So here are my reasons why we came away with no medals (excluding Mixed Doubles of course):

1) The rest of the world has gotten better. Yes I know this is unoriginal, but it is true. I played in a spiel in Toronto on Labour Day weekend this season, and saw many of the teams that were at the Olympics. They were there with entourages of trainers and coaches, videotaping every game for future discussion. They have physical trainers. They have psychologists. And they are learning the same way I learned, by taking some beatings against better teams. But here is the thing, after a while you learn. You get better. 
Many of these teams have been at this for years. Edin, like IKEA, has been here so long you forget he’s Swedish. Sure they still call sweeping like the Swedish Chef tossing a salad, but they have learned how not to lose.
On the women’s side, this is not even a recent phenomenon. Canada does not win the women’s world championship very often. The Swedes, the Swiss, the Scots and the Asian teams have been winning for a while now.

2) Our Process is SOOOOO draining: I know a lot of ink will be spilled on the process to qualify teams for the Olympics. The Roar of the Rings is definitely the hardest thing to win in Curling (for sure tougher than the Olympics), and the process requires you to go hard for at least 3 years. Then you become Team Canada, all of 8 weeks before you leave to go to Asia to train and curl.  I cannot imagine how much of a whirlwind their lives must be.
I do not think the process is horribly flawed, I just think the cycle needs to be shortened a bit. We could play the Roar of the Rings at the end of the 2017 season (like in April-May). This way Team Canada would have 7-8 months to adopt to being Team Canada without the pressure. Then they could take a breath and rest a bit, so that their batteries are fully charged heading into the Olympics.
I think we just need to find a way to get our athletes to arrive in a better mental state, less burnt out.


3) On the women’s side, I was a bit shocked to see the entourage that seemed to be trying to get into Rachel’s head at the games. She has been working with mental coach Kingsbury for many years, but then the team was suddenly given Cheryl Bernard as a 5th, and Renee Sonenberg as a coach. So Rachel won without these people, and all of a sudden they are on and around the ice giving them advice? Really?
I am sure everyone meant well. I know everyone wants them to win. But every wolfpack needs an Alpha dog, and it never looked like Rachel was assuming this role. Renee would come out and give advice, and Rachel would listen.
I am not saying anyone else was trying to be the Alpha, but Rachel clearly was off to a slow start. Her confidence was shaken. To me the worst sign of a skip struggling with confidence was the fact that at midpoint in their early games, they always had 18 minutes or less left on the clock. Too much discussion! Too much self-doubt! You could feel it while watching.
Again, I am not judging. This is one of the toughest things to do in curling. It’s easy to play well when you are playing well. But as any skip can tell you, you are almost always a few misses away from going to that dark place where your inner dialogue is questioning instead of reassuring; where self-doubt rears its head; where you wonder about every call and seek affirmation from teammates and coaches on every move. This is where your team and coaches need to help you by stepping back. Our instinct is to try to help, but offering opinion and advice to a skip who is lacking confidence is throwing gasoline on the fire. You are making it worse.

Maybe I am full of shit on this one, but I don’t think I am.

Here is prediction: This will piss Rachel off more than anyone will know. And she will come back way stronger for having gone through this. Once you know that way back from the Dark Side, you become a lot tougher to beat.

4) Koe was not that bad. He had a few bad games during the round robin, but put himself in a great position to get to the gold medal game. Then he ran into a red-hot American side. Koe needed to be in that superhuman state that he was in when he last won the Brier. He was merely mortal, which was not good enough.


***


About the US Team winning Gold

The US team winning gold will be the single most important thing to happen to competitive curling since the inclusion of the sports in the Games.

They are a likeable bunch of guys, and will champion the sport well. There will be a ridiculous influx into US curling clubs, and with people comes money. There will be more money to run programs, to hire coaches, and build more facilities. The US success will create a gold rush for curlers and developers.

Every time I am in the US, I am amazed of the quality of the sports facilities that exist at a High School level, let alone Colleges. The football and baseball fields at local high schools are way nicer than most of the University fields in Canada, and even some pro fields. Imagine if they decide to add curling to their curriculum. Imagine the steel and glass structures that will make you want to throw all day long. I think I should invest in a granite quarry.

I was sitting around with my team talking about this and made the following prediction: Within 2-3 years, the biggest cashspiels in the world will now be in the US. This might be the Slam moving events south, or the WCT taking on more importance, but either way a shift is coming. It will be awesome for the sport.

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  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!!!