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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Burned my Stones

So, as promised, I said I would blog a bit from our tournaments. So here I sit in our Airbnb at midnight, after lots of curling, awaiting our C game tomorrow in the Stu Sells Oakville Classic against Kyle Smith from Scotland.

How is it going? Well we are a solid 2-2, having played 4 teams that are higher ranked than us so far.
We beat Tom Brewster from Scotland, lost to Pat Simmons, beat Dayna Deruelle than lost to Greg Balsdon. All in all not bad, given that all of these teams are theoretically higher ranked than us. But we need 2 more big wins tomorrow to bring home some cash.

This a cool event. There are teams from Korea, Denmark, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, China, Scotland, the US, Sweden, Russia, Japan, Switzerland and possibly even Canada, with many teams prepping for the upcoming winter Olympics.

So what have I learned curling with Olympic hopefuls from around the world?

  • I learned that we need an Entourage. It is no longer enough to be a Team of 4. You need a Coach, a nutritionist, a physiotherapist, a masseuse, a psychologist, a videographer, an animal trainer, a court jester, a driver, a biographer, a public relations specialist and an equipment manager. Seriously, teams from around the world do not travel light. Team Fournier will be accepting job applications (volunteer of course!). We already have a coach, but the masseuse position is open!
  • I learned that apparently stretching is important. It is so weird to be walking into the curling club, and to see 4 or 5 teams stretching outside, doing calisthenics, with a coach. If I had been caught doing that 20 years ago outside a curling club, I can’t imagine the derision and mockery I would have endured, both from my teammates and the opposition.   
  • I learned that I really do not like fusion jazz.
  • I learned that there are more and more teams taking curling to a new level now. They have coaches, and discuss each performance in great detail, revisiting every choice thanks to video cameras and iPads recording every moment of every game. Very intense.
  • I learned that when your teammate lends you his special muscle rub cream to put on an aching leg, make sure to wash your hands before touching your more sensitive areas. #burnedstones

Anyway, hoping we can pull out a couple of wins tomorrow.


***

Sorry to hear of the passing of Marco Ferraro last week. My condolences to his family.
Marco represented Quebec at the 1989 Brier in Chicoutimi, and at a senior national a few years back. He was the head of Curling Quebec for a number of years. But he will best be remembered for being a man of ideas.
While I did not always see eye to eye with Marco in his days as head of Curling Quebec (you can look in my archives and find a few angry blogs with his name in the title),  I always respected the creative genius that he brought to our game.
Curlers do not remember the days of sliding from holes in the ice that often got icy and slippery. Marco invented the modern hack, which of course bears his name. He always looked for ways to make the game more exciting, more marketable and more accessible.
Marco was always full of ideas, passion and love for the game. He is one of the great characters that always pushed the envelope and challenged the status quo. You had to admire him for that.
He will be missed.

***


So I watched a bit of the Everest thing on TV last week. I have to say, as a curler it was painful. Apart from Gushue, everybody looked in very early season form. Games were won more on misses than made shots, and the cheesy “I love my new temporary team” moments were awkward. Although they were playing for a winner-take-all $200K purse, consensus seems to be that there was likely some behind-the-scenes split of this among participating teams. So basically, this was a televised early season training game and cash grab for the top 4 men’s and women’s teams in the country. Blech. Truly painful to see an earnest corporate sponsor putting their money into curling, but in such a contrived way.

Also for a game that is increasingly trying to market itself to younger curlers, it is rather troubling that all of the event sponsors were either funeral services, reverse-mortgages or home insurance. Next we will have the Acorn Stair Climber Invitational followed by the Cialis/Viagra Hurry Hard Classic.
Seriously though, I have a hard time watching a new sponsor pour that much money into the game with so little benefit for the game.

***

So one interesting thing that did come out of the Everest thingee was the 2 point-pin shot. For this event, they introduced a rule that if your rocks covered the screw hole (the very middle of the circles) it was worth 2 POINTS. This might not sound like much of a change to non-curlers - like a three point shot in basketball – but it totally changes the game.
While I am always open to changes that could make the game more interesting, this one seems like a no-go. It is just too much of a change. So much of the game is managing the scoreboard at the end of a game – controlling the hammer. But this rule makes that impossible.
It did make it more interesting for the Everest event, likely because there were a lot of misses anyway, but I am thinking that this rule might encourage the best teams to keep it even more open, and then draw for a risk-free 2 every end. Or not. Who knows? Just seems like a wildly radical rule change.
Changes like the 5-rock rule are made to encourage more offence – but the game stays fundamentally the same. Seems saner to me than introducing a bonus point for the bulls-eye.


***

Update from Monday:


Well that sucked. We lost to Kyle Smith, and came home at 2-3 for the weekend. Not a horrible showing, but short of the money.
Next up, Ottawa at the RCMP curling club in a few weeks.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Televised Curling In August? WTF

Hello curling fans! Welcome back from your summer away from the game!
What’s that you say? It’s still summer? WRONG
It’s curling season.
This week TSN will feature the Everest Curling Challenge; A mixed format event where they handpicked some men’s and women’s teams and will awkwardly force them to play with each other for a weekend  for some actual cash.
I honestly wonder how some people sat in a room and thought: “what does curling need? How about a random event in AUGUST before Labour Day where we throw a pile of money at elite curlers to have them play in an event that they surely will not give a rat’s ass about - except for the $$$?”

I am sorry – I am really trying hard to not be cynical here. But here is a thought:

Let’s say you have a pile of corporate cash to give away and you want to run an event in Fredericton. Why wouldn’t you run something like the old McCain Superspiel? A sorely-missed event that actually brought a lot of teams, money and interest to curling in New Brunswick? There is a huge lack of money and competition in East-Coast curling in general. Elite curlers in the Maritimes are an increasingly rare commodity, and are forced into ridiculous travel schedules to try to stay competitive. Why not have a spiel with enough money to draw the best teams in the country East, while giving East Coast teams the opportunity to play an elite event without having to get on an airplane? It seems criminal to me to hold an event in the East Coast without involving a single team from New Brunswick or Nova Scotia. (and maybe don't hold it in August) Did we really need another Continental Cup?

But alas this is the new way of curling. The notion of having a large base of competitive curlers across the country is a bygone notion, destined for the dusty shelves along with corn brooms and wool sweaters. Curling is about the elite: those who are chasing the Olympic Rings and often are not bound by such trivialities as day jobs. Days of 64-team events are as dead as the idea of sitting down with your opponents after a game.

Sigh. I sound like an old communist. 

(btw - if you are on Twitter - worth following @cullentheculer if you do not already - a stand-up comedian/curler and with a refreshingly honest and similar view)



On a brighter note, my season kicks off on Labour Day weekend in Toronto! We step on the ice – careful to remember to put the grippy foot down first, and start playing immediately against the Olympic silver medalists from Scotland. Not surprisingly, practice ice in Montreal is hard to come by this time of year, so this will be our first time on the ice.
Few clubs seem to have the infrastructure needed to have ice when it is still hot outside, and I am not sure the demand would be there anyway. Still need to keep buying 6/49 tickets so as to be able to build my own basement curling club.

So what to expect from the upcoming season in Quebec?

Ferly and Ménard are back with the same squads, (as tempting as it is to float rumours about them changing teams!) and a few minor changes to some of the other top teams. I will update once I start seeing teams on the ice again!


So I was looking back at my blogs from last year…and I did not blog much! Will have to change that this year. Will try posting shorter and more frequent blogs – and maybe even from spiels!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Cloning, Double Rye and Coke and Investing with a Porpoise

Okay…have not blogged in forever. My apologies. I could make an excuse about work/kids/busy blah blah, but the truth is that my heart just has not been in it. I started a lot of blogs, but never seemed to finish them. Was a little heartbroken after provincials this year – so took a bit of a mental break from watching or caring too much about the game. But watching the Brier on TV, and playing at the Club has gotten me back in it! So here goes.

Random comments on the Scotties/Brier.
  • Ménard was awesome at the Brier. They are clearly the best amateur team in Canada. The fact is that the 4 teams who finished above Quebec (McEwen, Gushue, Jacobs and Koe) are full time, pro curlers. Some might have day jobs, but for the most part, they are guys with nothing else to do but curl ! They play all the slams, 20-25 events and make enough $$$ to make a decent living. The fact that Ménard can compete with these guys while holding down a life and a job is actually pretty remarkable.
  • Gushue winning in St-John’s was perfect. Imagine the scene if Gushue’s draw comes up a foot shorter. Would have been a travesty. Not that Koe did not deserve it after having played a crazy game, but it would have been the ultimate shitty ending to something great. Like the Soprano’s fading to black. No doubt that Gushue is the best curling team in the world right now. Period.  
  • The Brier in St-John’s, as expected was a big success. Newfoundlanders are proud of their province and are generally the most hospitable people on the planet. I am assuming it will not be that long before it returns.   
  • Looking forward to following the Newfoundland Tankard next year! With Gushue coming back as Team Canada, Newfoundland will see another team at the Brier. So who will emerge from the Rock? I am sure there are decent curlers there somewhere, just have not seen any out and about in a while. I think these guys have a shot:
Newfoundland Curling Team
  • The sweeping seems to be back to “normal”. The mustard-yellow fabric solution seems universally accepted, and teams are back to disliking each other for far healthier reasons than sweeping choices - like excessive celebrations!
  • Rachel Homan is by far the best woman’s team on the planet right now. As I write this, she is 9-0 at worlds, despite struggling with rocks and ice and apparently breathing in Beijing. You read it here first; she is a lock to go to the next winter Olympics. #boldprediction
  • The Scotties was remarkably entertaining – including the epic final. Homan is quickly becoming one of the greatest clutch shot makers in the game.
  • Great job by Team Bélisle at the Scotties. Going 7-4 and missing the playoffs was a shitty outcome following a good week. There is still room to improve, but they were playing some solid curling from what I watched.
  • If I was not a happily married man – I must say I would be intrigued by a toe-tucking curler with an arm-sleeve tattoo and multiple piercings. #katecameronfanclub
  • Man I hate losing at Quebec Provincials. My team was kind of shitty this year, posting a far worse result than we had hoped for. Not sure what happened. It was as if we all decided to be mediocre for a few games at the same time. #betterlucknextyear
  • Losing at Provs. is especially tough because it happens in Quebec in the FIRST WEEK OF JANUARY. So I will go 9 months before playing a single game of curling that I really care about. That is a crazy long time. It also sucks for Ménard, who basically sat on his butt for 2 months waiting for the Brier - then started 0-2 (albeit against 2 monster teams).  Made me think we need to get a Quebec Curling Tour event happening in early February – something so that curling does not end in January. The fact is the top teams in the world keep getting better for 4 months, while in Quebec we play in nothing but drinking spiels after Jan 15th. I might have to reconsider my aversion to Mixed Doubles, just to have something to do until the end of the winter. #Iwillhaveadoubleryeandcokeplease


There have been a few team changes in Quebec worth discussing:

  • First of all, we changed leads! Mig is taking a year off, so we picked up JF Trépanier to play lead. We are glad to have him on board – if only because he uses the coolest sliding broom this side of Manitoba. #tuckersrule
  • Desjardins has reunited with JS Roy. JS is a shooter, and understands the game very well, and Bob is pound for pound, the top shot-maker in the province. Should be an interesting mix, however their team was already complicated, and is now even more so. So Pierre-Luc will call the game, throw second rocks (I guess). Bob will surely throw skip rocks, and sweep. JS will throw 3rd rocks, and sweep. I think if they can figure out whose turn it is to throw they will be good! And I am assuming Bob is still working on a way to sweep his own rocks, while timing them. This is probably a good interim team for Bob, as he continues to work on cloning himself 3 times to make his ideal squad. #sendintheclones
  • Not sure what else is going on. I am assuming that Jean Michel and Martin Ferly’s teams are sticking together, although I think I should make up another breakup/retirement rumor about JM’s team:  I hear Martin Crete is retiring from competitive curling to coach this young singer as she perfects her craft. Martin's vocal skills will come in handy here:
Martin Crete singing prodigy
  •  The changes with JS and  JF will surely result in a lot of movement from other teams – but I am way out of the loop on these.


MIXED DOUBLES

Congrats to my teammate Felix Asselin and Jill Routledge on winning the mixed Doubles provincials! They will head to Nationals in April in Saskatoon.
For those of you not familiar with Mixed Doubles, it is a two-on-two 8-end curling game where each team throws 5 rocks each, and the ends all start with rocks already in play in pre-set situations. Amazingly it has been admitted as an Olympic discipline, making its debut in Korea in 2018. Canada will send one team of two.
I admit that I have made a lot of fun of Mixed Doubles in the past in this blog, and still I still think it looks more like a mini-golf version of the game I love, but if this is what it takes to get more millennials into the game, then so be it. The games are shorter, quicker, still involve a lot of sweeping and in the end come down to shot-making. They appeal to an ADD, short attention span crowd that can’t stomach the idea of watching baseball, or anything that last longer than 20 minutes.
I mean look at the sports that have gained prominence in the last 10 years: Ultimate fighting (which lasts 15 minutes – max), rugby Sevens instead of full rugby, Futsal soccer instead of a 90 minute game (although when I play soccer I always feel like 90 minutes goes by too fast). Even going to the gym is faster; everybody I know is doing cross-fit, which apparently involves completing as many chore-like exercises as possible in the space of 20-25 minutes, packaged as the WOD (workout of the day). Cross-fit people generally spend more time talking about about cross-fit then they spend doing it! Golf courses are closing – but golf activity centers are the new trend - where you sit on a couch and then drive balls into targets.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not disparaging any of these new sports, but they all have a common theme:  don’t waste my time with long, drawn out strategy or games requiring patience, let’s get this over with quickly. Within this context, Mixed Doubles makes sense. It is quick, fast-paced and active; everything a 10-end curling game is not. It seems like a perfect fit for the couple looking to curl and make it back in time for the babysitter. Its like Tinder for curling!

Anyway, I still have not been converted yet. I am still a dinosaur: I like long relaxing rounds of golf, a three hour 10-end curling game and a good baseball game on a lazy summer afternoon. But all the best to Felix and Jill at Nationals!!!


Random Grievance not related to curling:

I have been on a lot of Air Canada flights lately, and my new least favorite person in the world is Som Seif. Anyone who has flown on an Air Canada flight knows that Som Seif is the douchebag president of Purpose Investments who makes you watch his commercial before every single freaking movie they show on Air Canada flights. He basically walks around and tells you that he will invest your money with PURPOSE (as opposed the usual investment firm strategy of randomly burying your money in bags in your back yard). Maybe Som is the new Warren Buffett and some sort of financial wizard, but given that their marketing strategy seems to be to make you suffer through their cheesy commercials to watch a friggin’ movie – I think I will stick to my current Freedom 85 approach of randomly hiding rolled up $20s in my sock drawer.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Warning: not a curling blog!

Christmas Blog
Well, the regionals are done, and the field is set for the Quebec Provincial Championship, set for Jan 8-15 in Lévis, Quebec.
While I will surely be writing my annual preview over the holidays, I am going off the topic of curling for a holiday message this year.

***

Curling has allowed me to meet a lot of people from all over the country. I have had the great pleasure of curling at 3 National championships, and have played bonspiels pretty much everywhere. Like most competitive curlers, Social Media (Facebook and Twitter) has allowed me to keep in contact – even if only to see the occasional update, with lots of friends and acquaintances from all over the country.

But as a frequent user of Social Media, let me tell you that 2016 sucked.

I have been reflecting a lot lately on how I use social media – especially in the wake of the US election. I have realized that I have a good cross-section of friends from across the political spectrum. I have a lot of liberal/environmental/left-leaning friends, who often post links to their favorite late-night comedian making fun of the right. Or prior to last fall they posted stories about how evil Stephen Harper is, how he is destroying the environment, putting an end to scientific thought and trashing democracy.

And I have a lot of friends on the right, who are publishing links to stories about how stupid Trudeau is, and how Rachel Notley and Kathleen Wynne are single-handedly destroying the respective economies of Ontario and Alberta.   

And that is the Canadian example, imagine my US friends!!! Trump vs. Clinton could not be a more polarizing choice, and it brought out the worst in everyone. And yet, people on both sides were absolutely convinced that their view was the one right choice, and their cause was the most noble.

Inevitably, every social media post I read is addressed to members of one tribe. The left writes almost exclusively for left-leaning thinkers, and the right writes for the conservative crowd. Twitter serves to fuel the fire – with 140 characters of why-I-am-right-and-you-are-wrong.  

I must say, this makes me very uncomfortable. I find myself nowhere near the extremes on a number of issues, perhaps leaning a bit more left than right. Yes, I would definitely have chosen Hillary vs. Trump, and voted I Liberal last election. But have voted PC in the past, and I do sway to the right on a number of fiscal issues

But I see nuance in everything. There are very few issues that I cannot argue compellingly from both sides. For example:
  • Pipelines definitely are a threat to the environment and carry risk of destroying significant parts of nature; but I drive every day and realize that oil has to get from point A to point B, and the government has a responsibility to help bring its resources to market. And trains carry risk too.
  • Increasing minimum wages would surely help the working poor, but many low-margin businesses risk falling below sustainability if wages go up too quickly.
  • Foreign military intervention in the Middle East seems like it creates more problems than it solves, yet it would be naive to think that peacekeeping military intervention is not needed to save lives.

These are just a few examples. The fact is there is nuance in just about every argument that you can make. But nuance does not live in the cute memes, or deliberately biased stories that fill my Facebook and Twitter pages.

So what is the harm of this?
  • Trump.
  • Divisiveness.
  • People hating each other.
  • Most importantly, the biggest consequence of this is people feeling like they are alone in the middle. Like they need to pick sides. The reality is that government happens in the middle. It happens via compromise, it happens via listening to the other side of an argument and weighing it against yours. It is what grown-ups do. Without compromise, we are just a bunch of primates hurling feces at each other (which judging from my Twitter feed is sadly not far from the truth!)

So here is my internet/social media pledge for next year:
  •  I will not re-post anything that is blatantly one-sided. If you are not smart enough to realize what is one-sided, then don’t post anything. Please.
  •  If I am going to post a view on a politician, I will try to keep it to views on their policies/actions. If you are posting something about their character or anything personal, or hateful, just stop.  I can guarantee you that Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau are both intelligent, dedicated and thoughtful public servants. You may disagree (violently at times!) with their policies, but both deserve our respect - and both deserve civility.  
  •  If I am actually writing a point of view – I will think about the tone of what I am writing. Ask yourself – am I trying to convince somebody who does not agree with me to hear my argument, or am I just preaching to my following – hoping for likes and shares because they agree with me? If its the latter, rethink it.
  • Above all else - I will keep it civil. Keep it respectful. Do not use Social Media to say something that you would not say to the person if you were alone in a room with them. 
  • I will not be afraid to intervene. If you have a friend or a family member spewing bullshit into social media,  call them out on it. Not publicly. Maybe a private message. Or better yet in person. I believe that deep down, people want to be civil. The anonymity of the internet often brings out the worst in everyone. 


Let me reassure you that there is hope.

There are writers and pundits on both sides that are able to argue a point respectfully. that are able to write in a voice that can and should be heard by both sides. 
The internet is full of intelligent, balanced discussion. If you are making a respectful argument - please share it. If you find somebody is making a compelling argument - for either side - please share!
Read people who write for established media outlets. I am a fan of newspapers - either the paper version or their on-line platforms. And don't just read one.

I promise to judge you by whose views you choose to share - so think about it.

Social Media has the potential to be the greatest forum of exchanging ideas in world history. It also has the potential to be the colossal shit-show that it was in 2016.

I pledge to not add more garbage to the dumpster fire.  Join me!


Happy Holidays everyone.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Mustard Yellow couches and other suff

As we approach the holidays –that magical time of year when competitive curlers try to reintroduce themselves into their family lives from which they have been absent for a few months (“Uhh kids – this is your Dad. Do you remember him from last summer?”), I thought I would give you all a quick recap of what has been going on the Quebec competitive curling scene.

Charlevoix

First of all, I made money at Charlevoix. Wait – let me repeat that- I MADE MONEY AT CHARLEVOIX. Charlevoix has been sucking cash and time away from me for over a decade now – but this year was different. We qualified A-Side by beating the Chinese National team in the A-Qualifier – before losing a tough Quarter Final to my man-crush Greg Balsdon. 

So to summarize 2016:  Trump wins the presidency, the Cubs won the World Series and Fournier makes money in Charlevoix – all proving that the end of the world must be right around the corner.

On a side-note, playing the Chinese National team is fun – they travel with their coach (multiple Brier winner Marcel Roque), a trainer, a nutritionist, a translator, an animal handler, a massage therapist, a court jester and a team of actual minions. Seriously – they are a very good team and seem like nice guys although post-game conversation is pretty minimalist.
Quebec teams did not fare particularly well this year, with the final featuring 2 teams from the Maritimes.

Halifax

The week before Charlevoix we made the semi-finals on our curling road-trip adventure in Halifax. The highlight of the weekend was clearly being web-streamed live in the B-Qualifier against Chad Stevens. The local TV crew apparently tried to be as little-informed as possible about the teams that they were commenting on. So according to the live commentary team - I was Michel Fournier – a French-speaking transplanted toe-tucker from Manitoba (?!?) who was curling with a 14-year old that I picked up in a windowless-van while driving through Quebec.  I am only sad that I can’t find a replay of the game on Youtube.

We ended up losing the semi-final to Jamie Murphy, arguably the best team in Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia now features a couple of strong teams that might be able to get through relegation and back into the Brier this year; Murphy has played well this year and so has Stuart Thompson – who managed to win in Charlevoix.

BTW - driving 12 hours to play a curling tournament is a bit crazy.

So our season has been going pretty well so far. We have put a few bucks in the team bank account – we won a tournament and are qualified for Quebec Provincials January 7-14 in Levis (the city, not the jeans).  So now we practice!


***


Eight teams have already qualified for Quebec Provincials through dollars won (and the Circuit Finals): Fournier, Ménard, Ferland, Roy, Morisette, Martel, Chartrand and Munroe. The remaining 6 spots will be filled next week in regional playdowns.

I have heard some grumbling from teams saying that some teams earned their spot by winning cash in low-quality regional events as opposed to playing in elite-level cashspiels. To those who complain – I say TOO BAD. The fact is, if you want to go out and play in every single event you can find to win every last dollar possible, I say you have earned your spot at provincials. However, I do believe that to WIN provincials, you need to have experience playing against the best in the game at higher-level events – but if you think it is easy to win lots of cash playing on opens on club ice week in and week out, then I suggest you give it a try. None of the teams qualified this year do not deserve their spot. Winning opens is tough.
The system has been changed slightly for next season, with 3 spots being decided by CTRS (Canadian Team Ranking System) points and three spots for leading money winners. I do not think this will change much, as the leading CTRS teams are also usually the leading money winners. But the current 14-team format seems to be able to ensure that most serious teams end up at provincials, and there are some spots for regional and lesser-known teams to make it to provincials anyway and earn some experience and motivation for the future.
  
***

I am amazed at how streaky elite level competitive curling is. Right now, Reid Caruthers is on a crazy streak of red-hot curling. They cannot lose. They are beating everyone in competitive curling. They won the Canada Cup to earn an Olympic Qualifier spot, and as I write this they are poised to win a Grand Slam in the Soo.
It seems there is always a hot team – that varies from season to season. A few years back it was Jacobs who could not lose, then McEwen, , then Gushue, then Koe, then Epping, then Edin, now Caruthers. The top teams seem to take turns at being red hot. The team winning each week on tour is the team who’s skip/3rd are most on fire.
This makes it hard to predict who will win the Olympic Qualifier next winter, as all of the teams listed have shown themselves capable of going on a streak of insane curling.
I must say that the Mustard-Yellow pads have made the games more fun to watch – it is within the realm of the possible that teams miss every so often!

On a side note -  I have started recycling our old mustard-yellow broom pads – and used the material to make this superb mustard-yellow couch:




It’s not terribly effective or comfortable, but everyone can usually agree where to sit on it!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Road trip!!!!

ROAD TRIP

I love a curling road trip. Every serious curling team at one point needs to get in a car and drive more than 6 hours to play in a spiel against teams from a different part of the country.
Yes, the big teams travel more of course, criss-crossing the country in airplanes to play in various slams. For us lesser mortals, without the team budget required to engage in the joys of air travel – this means a road trip.
For us – this is a 12 hour drive to Halifax Nova Scotia to play in the Dave Jones Mayflower Curling Classic. We get to play the best teams from the East and benefit from a little Maritime hospitality. The tournament organizer is Brent MacDougall, one of my former friend/foes from the Mixed Nationals and perennial candidate for the Nice Guy Hall of Fame, who has generously offered to host our team for the weekend. I am writing this blog from the free breakfast room in Edmunston, NB, about half way to Halifax.
A road trip serves multiple purposes for a competitive curling team. First, it creates a sense of team bonding. Spending 12 hours sitting next to somebody, hearing their stories, listening to their crappy playlists, smelling their road-food induced farts and seeing them snore and drool on your car seats inevitably makes you feel like you know your team a little better.
Road trips also provide you exposure to different teams. Inevitably, when you play in a certain part of the country you end up playing the same teams over and over again. Our strategy ends up all being somewhat similar – after playing the same teams over and over again you come to know what shot they will play before they play it. Its only November and I feel like we have played Desjardins 73 times this year. I know what they are going to do before they do it – and I am pretty sure they feel the same way about us. A road trip allows you to play against teams that you have never seen before. They often play differently; they try shots you might not often see. You do not know their strengths – their weaknesses. It forces you to think on the fly, and adjust. As a skip – it is just more fun.
On a side note – I think the current Slams often fall victim to this familiarity as well. Jacobs, Gushue, McEwen, Epping, Koe and Edin et al. all play each other so often now that they know every strength and weakness of their opponent (not that those teams have a lot of weaknesses). It almost feels like a rehearsed dance when they play. It was cool this past slam to see a few different teams in the final four – but this is the exception not the rule.
I am suspecting that many people in my entourage think that this trip is a weekend bender. While I am sure I might partake in some merriment, this is not why we travel. If I wanted to go on a weekend bender – I would likely suggest Vegas or Miami might be a better suited environment for such an occasion.   

Rules of Curling Road Trip:
  • Driver has his choice of music.
  • Co-pilot in passenger seat needs to stay awake. The guys in back can sleep – but co-pilot must serve as entertainment to the driver – even if that means making up shit and revealing embarrassing personal stories.
  • Junk food while consumed en-route does not count. Eat whatever shit you need to eat to stay awake.
  • If you have a small bladder – do not drink large coffee at first road stop. The car only stops when the driver needs to stop.
  • Whatever troubles you get into – wherever you end up – always show up for your games. Do not make your team search for you!
  • New rule I discovered last night: No Extreme Beef Jerky. That shit smells like feet.
  • On return trip – most hungover guy drives first.


***

Good luck to Martin Ferland playing in the Mixed Nationals – also in Nova Scotia this weekend, as well as my former Mixed Teammate Christie Gamble playing with Team Nova Scotia. Both teams have qualified for the playoff pool.


***

In the goal of showing my non-curling readers just how cool curling has become, we once again have an arousing calendar of ridiculously hot curlers. How often do you really have the opportunity to support a good cause and order soft-core pics to your house?!
Here is the link to order. It does make the perfect stocking stuffer for the self-pleasuring teenage boy in all of us.


Image result for women of curling


I will again be coming out with my sexy-picture calendar for your viewing pleasure in time for the holiday gift-giving season:


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Life on Mars - we have Proof!

First off, apologies for not writing blogs very often. It seems that the combination of curling competitively, raising three kids, holding down a job, and trying to remember what my wife looks like have been keeping me rather busy this season.

So we are already 5 spiels into our season, having just come from Gatineau this weekend.

So far – my new team is awesome and I am ecstatic with how our season is going. For a new team, still learning how to play together, we have managed to win our fair share of games (including a run of 13 wins in a row!), and managed to put a few $$$ in the bank to offset the cost of the season.
We won a spiel in Ottawa, lost the finals in another, and were a game away from qualifying in the other spiels we played. All in all, a great start so far.


***

So I took a look around this year – and realized just how much the competitive curling scene has changed in the past few years.

  1. There are very few curling parties anymore. We used to play – and then we used to have a few drinks and find a bar to have fun in. Teams do not do this anymore. We eat healthier, we drink less, and we even nap between games. There are still drinking spiels – but they are few and far between.  Now if you say "Hey let's hit the bars tonight" if you have a game the next day, you get treated like a guy who just laid a fart in the hack.
  2. This is a young person’s sport: I seem to remember the game used to be dominated by wily veterans, who used their knowledge and experience to beat up on young junior teams. Now that I am old and wily, the younger teams have gotten better at the strategic side of the game. Maybe it’s the multitude of curling games they can watch on TV, or better coaching – but teams like Matt Dunstone from Manitoba, like my 3rd Felix, and Tanner Horgan from Ontario are emerging from junior and taking their place right away among the game’s elite.
  3. The game is more Worldwide. 20 years ago European teams used to be the free space on the bingo card. Then a few National level teams emerged, funded by their country’s Olympic programs. Now teams like Ulsrud, Edin and Murdoch/Brewster are regulars in the World Top 10. If I look at the next generation, Canadian spiels are now full of emerging teams from countries I did not even know had curling. We lost to the Dutch Team in Toronto. The Dutch. Really. 
  4. Sweeping has made the game better. After the insanity of last season – sweeping seems to have taken its rightful place in the game. It is important, but you still need to throw the rock very well to make shots.  One sweeper is now the norm on hits, and still has me wondering why we did not figure this out years ago.

So the game is different, but still a lot of fun. We fell a game short of qualifying this past weekend in Gatineau – but I still love it; the teams, the competition and the curling.

The spiel was eventually won by John Epping, defeating the young and fuzzy Matt Dunstone in the final. Epping is one of the top teams in the World right now, and it was great to see them picking up Craig Savill to spare, fresh off having kicked cancer last season. Nice to see him back on a curling sheet and winning.

Quebec Teams did fare particularly well. I believe we were the last Quebec Team alive (Ménard lost the other C-Qualifier about 10 minutes before we did), and many of the Quebec teams were out early on Friday.

There were lots of interesting teams to watch – from Jason Gunlaugsson playing with ¾ of Matt Dunstone’s junior team from last year, to Brad Gushue’s team continuing to play well without Brad – as he recovers from a mysterious hip injury. We also got to see Matt Dunstone up close kicking our ass. This is a very good team.

Another awesome sight this weekend – a Quebec curler who I shall not name, whammed a broom after missing a shot, and shattered the shaft. Under the new sweeping rules, you are not allowed to change brooms during a game, so this player found himself without a broom as of the 3rd end. He then proceeded to call the game with his feet, doing a complex tap-dance to call shots and he slid without a broom. It was highly entertaining –and a good reminder to the rest of us that we should now take out our frustrations in different ways.

***

Next up:
The Quebec Curling Tour Championship is at my home club of Glenmore next week (Nov 3-4-5-6)! So for our fans this will be the only chance for you to see Team GSOFT in action around Montreal.
We likely start next Thursday at 9:30PM.
Follow us on Facebook at:

Team GSoft


BROOMGATE Part 174,389

Just when you thought it was all settled – Broomgate is back. Like a decrepit Halloween zombie emerging from the grave refusing to die, the discussion continues.

“But Mike – you promised it was over!”  Trust me, I feel your pain.

Well the good news is for competitive teams – it is over. The rules for WCT and CTRS events are quite clear – you need to use a broom with no insert, and with the approved mustard-yellow fabric. No discussion – no debate. I have heard precious little rumbling on the competitive circuit about it at all this year.

Now the battle has dropped down to the club level – and to the “Open” type tournaments.
At the club level – there is still ugliness. Goldline issued a statement advising clubs that they should set a policy, that basically says anything goes except Hardline brooms! They then show this picture as proof that Hardlines damage the ice:





 I believe this picture clearly indicates that there is life on Mars. Or it is a picture of the skid marks in my shorts after mixing rye and coke with all-you can-eat sushi.

Seriously- I guess all the manufacturers are trying to navigate this issue as well as they can, but discouraging clubs from buying your competitors brooms seems like a shitty, duplicitous and wrong thing to do. I have seen club-level curling with Hardlines at our club for years now – and you cannot convince me that these are damaging the ice in the hands of club curlers (who are presumable not changing pads every game!).

Here is the skinny:

If you are 90% of the curling world – people who play in their club in a league for fun - use whatever the heck you want. Hardline, Goldline, a Swiffer, a Brownie, Strawbroom, a Hairbrush. The subtle differences in broom technology do not affect you. Of course, I highly recommend Hardline brooms (shameless sponsor plug! :-)) which are lighter and faster than competitors!
Clubs should remain vigilant that players are not using home-made solutions that are closer to sandpaper that might destroy the ice – but other than that – it should not matter. And the rules edict from Curling Canada confirms this.


The basic guideline for any play where the mustard-yellow fabric is not required is what I like to call the DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE rule.
Some examples:
If you are a club curler, but you are an ex-CFL linebacker and you sweep with a new illegal pad which you change every game – then you are an asshole. Don’t do this.
If you break out 4 brand new sharp pads before your club final – you are a bit of an asshole. Don't do this.
If you are a semi-competitive team playing in an open spiel, and you are aggressively directional sweeping with an illegal pad, you are being asshole-ish. Don't do this.

If you consider yourself a semi-serious curling team and you are trying to get somewhere or trying to win more than $500 (the Mixed, the Travellers, Senior Provincials, Juveline championships, Cashspiels), then you need to buy yourself some legal pads.  If not – stop reading and go have fun!!                  
Sounds simple right?

Wrong.

The challenge for this lies in open spiels that are kind of in-between serious and recreational.
For example, a spiel with 32 teams, $300 entry and let’s say a $1500 prize for first place. Typically this spiel might attract a few “competitive teams”. So you have some  team playing with the mustard yellow - legal pads. But you will also have a team of 4 recreational curlers who put their name in last minute and are playing with whatever equipment they have. It seems wrong to tell these guys they need to go out and buy $120 worth of new pads just to play in this tournament – and I do not think most people would complain if you played this team and their semi-legal brooms. The fact is - this level of spiel is usually just trying to find 32 teams willing to play - telling them that they now have to update their equipment will likely further discourage the marginal teams from even playing.

The really tricky part is teams that fall in-between. They are kind-of competitive, they might have a big sweeper, they have watched a few slams so they understand how directional sweeping works. They now find themselves playing a more serious team that has chosen to play with legal pads. Predictably – this is the type of game where there will be problems. We have already had a few issues in Open spiels in Quebec this year, and expect more to follow. Not sure what the solution is - but don't be an asshole seems like a good guideline!