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Monday, October 18, 2021

Bet...bet...BET...BET!!!!

 

As I eagerly await the start of the pre-trials next week in Liverpool (which Kevin Martin apparently thinks I should not even be playing at!), just a few thoughts on pervasive trend that has developed in the last few years.


Bet…bet…BET, BET, BET!!! Fred Flintstone’s eyes rolled back into his head, and he lost all control, as this cartoon from my childhood so elegantly addressed gambling addiction.

Fast Forward to 2021. Like Fred Flinstone, my beloved sport of curling is getting into the gambling game. Years ago it was just some hard-core sports gambling sites giving odds on the Brier and Scotties. But now more and more sites have started providing action on games from the Slams and Curling Canada events. Betting sites have started sponsoring curling teams, encouraging the use of their platforms to make a few bucks on curling. And now even the traditionalist Curling Canada is getting its piece of the action, announcing a partnership with a sports betting site for their events.

On the surface this makes a lot of sense. Sports gambling is big business, and its involvement in the sport will surely bring in some dearly needed excitement and money to the game. Curling is trying to be Big League, and that means money and gambling.

But at the risk of being called a pearl-clutching doomsayer, I have a prolem with Curling Canada condoning gambling on its events.

I have a few real problems with this. First of all, many (most) of the teams at the Brier are amateurs. We do not make enough money at curling to make a living, and to be honest, our dedication to the sport also often limits our ability to make a good living away from the game. Put simply, curlers don’t have a lot of money. Only a handful of teams are truly financially stable. I am on the 30th ranked team in the world (give or take a few spots), and we are AT BEST financially break-even as a curling team. Unlike a lot of pro sports - there are no curling millionaires. 

So here is the scenario: Province A is playing Province B at the Brier in a game where we are both teams have already been eliminated. Province A is a heavy favorite. Province A skip gets a call from a friendly gambler, and an offer for a $5000 sponsorship for the season if he were to lose.

To be clear if I am skipping Province A – I would say no. But when you have games that are meaningless, with amateur participants who are financially needy, you open yourself up to questions. Let’s say in my scenario, Province A skip says no to the offer, but then loses the game anyway. As a fan, would you not ask questions about the integrity of the game?

I get that for some, having a few bucks riding on an outcome enhances the viewing experience. But is this something Curling Canada should be condoning?

Look, I know gambling is going to happen whether Curling Canada or some of Canada's leading teams get involved or not. But curling jumping into this industry with both feet just feels wrong to me. As the gambler wisely advises: You gotta know when to walk away, and know when to run.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

The Dreaded "R" Word.

I always swore that when I would decide to hang up my curling shoes, I would not do some sappy Facebook/Twitter post announcing it to the world; I would just quietly exit, stage right. But I kinda feel the need to share some news as we head into the start of what will hopefully be a more conventional and social curling season:

Once the Olympic Trials are done for this year, I will be stepping back from competitive curling.

I was getting to the point in my career where I have started to notice the game passing me by. I am 49, about to turn 50, and as much as I have tried to stay in shape and keep my game up to the level of the some of the best curlers in the world, it keeps getting a bit harder year after year.  

Covid has not helped; I have not thrown a curling rock since the 2021 Brier, and find myself having to remember how to get my not-so flexible legs to tuck back into curling position. The sad and inescapable truth is the amount of practice I need to do to be able to make the shots I need to make is now beyond the time and energy I have to give.

And, as I often pointed out, sometimes life can get in the way of curling. I have taken on a new role at my “day job” that will require me to relocate to Toronto (or “The Six” as the cool kids call it) and spend a bit more of my energy at work. It was probably already time to step away gracefully, but the combination of Covid and work have made the decision to retire that much easier. Therefore, once our Olympic quest comes to an end, (which will ideally be after closing ceremonies in Beijing early next year!), I will step back from the game I love.

I will miss it dearly. I will miss that excitement you feel competing at a high level. I will miss playing down for the Brier, still one of the greatest sports traditions on the planet. I will miss my team. I will miss that satisfying feeling of sitting down for a postgame rye and coke, knowing that you just competed against the best in the World at a game. Most of all I will miss my team.

I am incredibly proud of how this team has grown over the past years, from starting with Felix and Will five years ago, then adding Ben and JF and now Martin. There are times, rare times, in sport when a team becomes more than just a collection of guys playing the game. It becomes something indescribable, a bond towards a common purpose that unifies in way that nothing else can. This team is that. #feedthehorses

So what does this mean for Team Fournier?

Well, I will leave it up to them to tell you. But Team Fournier will live on for at least a couple more months.  As a result of our national ranking pre-Covid, we have been invited to play at the Olympic Pre-Trials. The Pre-Trials will be held October 26-31 in Liverpool, Nova Scotia. 14 Teams will play down for 2 spots at the final Olympic Trials to be held in Saskatchewan in late November. Then the winner heads to Beijing 2022 wearing the maple leaf.

If the pre-Trials/Trials is to be my last big men’s competitive run, I can think of no better way to go out. The Canadian Olympic Trials are the pinnacle of the sport. I would argue it is harder to win the Canadian Olympic Trials than it is to win the Olympics. I absolutely can’t wait to get back on the ice to work towards October.

 ***

 My recent decision to step back has left me rather reflective on the past 30 years of competitive curling. I have borne witness to so many changes in the game, from the introduction of the free guard rule (thank God!), to the inclusion of the sport in the Olympics, to the directional sweeping era where we all faced the bizarre notion that we had been sweeping wrong for the past 50 years. The game is barely recognizable to when I started out 3 decades ago.

The highlights are many. Obviously going to the Brier in 2018 and 2021 top the list, and especially winning the Quebec Championship at Glenmore takes the top spot.

But I can’t help but to think back to how much fun it was just to even make it to Quebec Provincials when I started out. I think I was two years out of juniors when I qualified A-side out of Montreal, where we were one of 4 teams out of 80 or 90. It was different time.

And so many of my best memories will come from playing in obscure cashspiels in small towns. The tour was fun, and every spiel was an adventure.

 ***

Anyway – more to come. My imminent retirement will surely not mean the end of the blog. I might not be writing as an insider anymore, but it will be much more fun to write about the big teams without having to worry about them reading it before playing me!

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Real Men, Curlers or Habs Don't Cry - or do They?

 

Sometimes I have an idea for a blog rumbling around in my head, and then something happens in the world outside of curling that helps bring it all together for me. Last week was the European Super League debacle, reminding me of the universal theme of what made a fan a fan.

This week it happened again.

I have been thinking for a while about a few folks that emerged as heroes from the Calgary Curling bubble, and not so much for their curling. Colin Hodgson and Darren Moulding emerged as heroes to me, not so much because of what they did on the ice (although both are pretty fine at curling), but for their heartfelt and genuine displays of bravery and vulnerability off the ice. More on them later.

Like many of my blog ideas, this one was vague and a bit all-over-place.  Then it came together this week with an announcement that truly broke my heart as a Habs fan: Jonathan Drouin announced he was taking a leave of absence from the Canadiens and pro hockey for “personal reasons”. I will not speculate what is the issue, but clearly he is admitting that he is not okay.

Like many fans, I have watched Drouin with a hint of frustration over the years. He is pure talent, a natural and gifted playmaker. He would display flashes of absolute brilliance; the perfect no-look pass that nobody expected, the brilliant stick handling around a defenseman, the hand-eye coordination. The man is gifted.

But for every 3 or 4-game flurry of brilliance, there is a 10 game slump where he seems lost and without vision. He has been in one such slump this season after a brilliant start. “Fans” (and I use the term loosely) berate him on social media and say things like “he has no heart”, although he surely wants to be brilliant more than anyone else wants it for him. These “Fans” who give him a standing ovation when he flashes brilliance, actually post that they hope he is injured so the Habs can bring up young Caufield to fill his place. Montreal hockey fans are both the best and the absolute worst all at once.

I watch him play and clearly Jonathan Drouin struggles with confidence. As someone who tries to play a sport at a high level and has been for a long time, I can see it on him as plainly as I can read a scoreboard. You can see it on his face, and in his play. As someone who has struggled with confidence in the past, I can tell you it takes one to know one. And while I have often struggled to keep my chin up in the narrow limelight of curling, Drouin struggles quite visibly at $5M per year in the most critical and over-hyped hockey market in the World (other than Toronto).

I do not know what exactly is going on with Jonathan Drouin, and I will not speculate. But here is a guy growing up in a sport dominated by truly toxic masculinity; a sport where might makes right. A sport that actually encourages you to take discipline into your own hands and fight if someone violates the unwritten “Code”; a sport that glorifies players who play on through broken ankles or players who return to a game after getting stitched up.

And here is a guy brave enough to walk away - a guy brave enough to put his hand up and say “I am not okay”. To me this is 1000 times more powerful than 365 Bell Let’s Talk days.

I wish him well, and I hope to see his brilliance on display again.

***

Back to curling. For those who do not know Colin Hodgson, he is the charismatic and stylish lead for Team McEwen from Winnipeg. Colin has become a clear and consistent voice for mental wellness in the sport.

After the Brier, Colin was supposed to re-enter the Bubble in Calgary to play in the Grand Slams, and spend another two weeks in relative isolation. Like Jonathan, Colin put up his hand and said No, I am not okay. He chose to stay home. His interview on That Curling Show actually brought me to tears. It was heartbreaking and inspiring, all at the same time.

Darren Moulding was of course the 3rd for Brier Champion Brendan Bottcher. He took it on the chin in Social Media as Canada went through a mid-week losing streak at the World Championship and then lost to an excellent Scottish Team in the quarters to finish 6th. Yet his interviews were always honest and heartfelt. And even after it was over, he was not afraid to put up his hand and say there were times when he was not okay. His depth and vulnerability were truly touching.

I cannot tell you how refreshing this display of humanity is to watch. I was born into the “fuck my feelings” generation. Real men don’t cry. Real men swallow their emotions. Suck it up princess.

Curling, although not as flush with the toxic masculinity as hockey, was just that way too.

If you are sad, suck it up, have a drink. I think of all the men I knew that were not okay, but just could never say so or talk about it. I think of the countless competitive curlers I have known who have self-medicated throughout the years with booze and/or drugs. I have had teammates that were alcoholics. I have had teammates that were so plainly not okay, it amazes me to this day that they showed up and curled on some days. It breaks my heart to think about it now. And it breaks my heart that I likely did not do enough to have them talk about it.

Thanks Jonathan, Darren and Colin for showing us there is better way.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Changing the Brier could get Messi

 

I could not help but chuckle this week at the death of the European Super League,  a mere 48 hours after its birth. For those of you not up on your European Soccer – here is the skinny:

The top soccer teams in the World (like Manchester United, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Barcelona) decided that they did not want to play against the other “Tier 2” teams in Europe. They wanted to create a league for only the top 15 teams, where they would only play against each other. Basically they were turning their backs on the rest of the soccer world.

So why do this? It’s all about the money, honey. The top clubs figured that their fans would be overjoyed to only watch them play against superstar-laden squads, to not have to worry every year about having to qualify for major championships like the Champions League. They figured that the TV rights and ticket sales could be split 15 ways, instead of having to support the hundreds of Tier 2 teams across Europe in the various national leagues.

But this idea only lasted 2 days. Why? Because the fans, the people who actually pay to watch, saw this idea for what it was: a cynical cash and power grab. Football fans are among the most passionate in the world, and they were in the streets this week protesting against this turd of an idea. And not only the fans of the “tier 2” clubs; fans of Chelsea and Liverpool fans were among the most vocal. 

And their protests worked. Most of the teams have pulled out following the fan backlash.

Amazingly, fans respect the history of the game, and they like that the big clubs have to support the smaller ones. The fans enjoy the competition, and the potential for an underdog team (like Leicester City a few years ago) to win it all despite overwhelming odds. The fans like that the World Cup, where the Club teams dissolve away to play for their country, is still the ultimate soccer event on the planet (despite a number of issues with residency rules).

What soccer suddenly realized this week is that the game is bigger than just the top teams. 

 ***

You might have been able to read from my not-so-subtle telling of this story that this situation might just be pertinent to curling, and worth remembering as we discuss changing the Brier and Scotties.

Of course, curling attracts 1/1 millionth the money and attention of European Football, but I still think there are lessons to be learned.

Some pundits have suggested that like the ESL, the Brier should limit provincial representation, and turn the national championship into an invitation-only event for the top-ranked teams. Forget about the Tier 2 provincial teams, nobody wants to pay to watch them play anyway. 

What became obvious this week in Europe was that the Top Teams and players often have no idea what actually makes the average fan watch a sport. The Christiano Ronaldos and Manchester Uniteds of the world inevitably think that it is about them; that fans pay to watch the best players because they are the best players. 

For sure this is a part of it, but history and competition play a key role in what makes true fans stick with a sport as well. 

Fans like unpredictability. Fans like underdog stories that no one saw coming. Fans like feeling an attachment to their teams as they struggle to prove themselves. 

And as much as the soccer in the new European Super League would have been spectacular, the fans realized that the same teams playing each other over and over again would get BORING.

Let's hope that the powers that be remember this when deciding how to evolve the Brier and Scotties in the coming years. 

 

***

 

So, a little over a month has passed since I checked out of the Calgary curling bubble, and it feels like a year ago. I miss curling. 

I only got to play 8 curling games this season, and I really miss it. I miss big cashspiels. I miss the end-of season fun party/charity spiels. I miss having my knees ache from having to play a three-game day. I miss sleeping in sketchy AirBNBs on squeaky mattresses. I miss long car rides home from losing a C-Qualifier on last rock. I miss the irreplaceable taste of a rye-and coke after a hard-earned win. I miss having to draw wide against three in the first end on a fresh path. I miss peeling the other team out of rocks. I miss staring at the draw sheet trying to figure out who we would play in our next game. I miss practicing.

I miss it all. 

Here is hoping that the vaccines and the summer wind finally blow this damn virus back to the depths of hell.

 

***

 

One of the casualties of the pandemic this year is once again one of my favorite events to support:  Kurling for Kids, an annual charity spiel that raises money for the Montreal Children’s and St-Justine Hospitals. 2021 would be the 23rd year of this event that has raised an astonishing $4 million over the years. Of course the pandemic has cut the legs out of the curling part of the event – but if you would still like to help you can go to www.kurlingforkids.org, they have a number of virtual events like trivia nights and poker tournaments to help you pass the time and help out!

More importantly, if you liked my blog at all this year, it is time to PAY UP, buster!!! Donate a couple of bucks to the cause here:   Click here to donate! 

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Back from the Bubble

 

The strangest curling season I will likely ever know has come to an end.

My 2020-2021 season consisted of a total of 8 curling games, all played on the biggest of stages in front of a handful of officials and a panoply of cardboard cut-outs.

Now that the season is over and I have returned to my “normal” existence, I can look back at what was the weirdest of curling seasons.

First, there was a fall of cancellations and frustrations. We went from the excitement of a full season of cashspiels planned across 4 provinces, to the disappointment of realizing that it was all cancelled, weeks before we were to leave for our first tournament.

Then there was practice. Lots of practice. Practice without even knowing what we were practicing for. There were rumours that they would still try to run a Brier, but who knew anything? My kids were in on-line school, restaurnats and bars were closed, all sports were cancelled, and we had been confined to working at home for months. Would there even be a Brier? And if so, who gets to go?

Then some announcements: first in December that there would be a Brier, and then after Christmas that we had been chosen to represent Quebec! While I was glad to have found out that my hours of practice were not in vain, the news also came at the same time as the province shut down. As of January 8th, all curling was forbidden, and there were NO exceptions (or at least none for us!).

So even though we were going to the Brier in March, we would not be allowed to so much as step on the ice between January 8th and Feb 27th (2 days before we would leave for Calgary). Awesome!

This video shows how we trained:

 Team Horses Training Video

Then we needed to test. And test. And test. JF discovered that having an oft-broken nose from hockey is not conducive to easy PCR Covid testing. And I discovered that I apparently have a very sensitive gag reflex! All of this to confirm, and re-confirm, that we were Covid-free.

Then we needed to isolate. First at home for 2 weeks, then in a Calgary hotel room. 2 days of room service and Netflix. We had a team Zoom call dinner, despite all being within 50 feet of each other in separate rooms.

But then the payoff. On Friday we got an all clear from our test results, and we were good to go. We got to take off our masks and curl against the best teams in Canada.

The Markin-McPhail Centre, and the Olympic site around it, are stunningly beautiful. This is the home of the national ski-jumping team, the snowboard half-pipe and mogul training. We would drive by people skiing and snowboarding everyday to get to the curling. The arena itself is a smallish yet incredibly modern arena. I am guessing it holds around 2000 fans, although this week there would be none. There were only cardboard cut-outs (I swear I heard them talking to me sometimes) and a small army of volunteers and officials.

The curling itself was an absolute blast. If my season entire season was going to be one week, then we were going to go all out. Our team motto was:on est pas venu icitte pour bunter, or loosely translated - we didn’t come here to bunt. We would go down swinging for the fences.

All our games were all fun, and we never felt outclassed.

Our lone TV game vs. Nova Scotia was if nothing else entertaining, as well as incredibly frustrating. Versus Gushue, and Koe, we were very well positioned until a few late misses sealed our fate.  

We finished a respectable 4-4. We let a couple of games get away from us and won one we were not “supposed” to against Epping. We beat all of the teams that we were expected to. All in-all a good week.

And in the context of 2021, spectacular. We spent the week in compete awe of the fact that we were CURLING, and that we were the luckiest 4 (or 6 with Will and Ben) curlers in Quebec.

Hell, I was just excited to be able to eat in the hotel restaurant, as Quebec restaurants have not been open since the summer. Sitting and having a few beers with friends in a bar while watching sports on TV was like heaven. On our last night – we took advantage of that privilege:

 




 ***

Are you not Entertained?

Curling Twitter this week was ablaze with numerous comments about TV games, and about the entertainment level of the games shown.

A few of the TV feature games showed one team trying to play, while the other team blanked and blanked and blanked. While many of the blanks usually were the result of some impressive hitting, I think even the cardboard cut-outs were napping after 5 ends of scoreless curling.

I think this will inevitably raise questions of further rule changes. The fact is, the aspiring “pro” teams will often be the least fun to watch, as they take less risk to keep control of games. While having your second make a triple peel to get rid of all guards is impressive, the fact is it makes for lousy TV. The rest of the end has all the drama and excitement of a library visit.

Some food for thought for the “pro” teams: if your goal is to make the game less risky and less exciting once you have a two-point lead, why do you expect sponsors and fans to shell out money to watch? The New Jersey Devils won the Stanley Cup in the mid 90s by playing a boring and defensive style of play, but they seriously hurt the game in the process. The “trap” put teams and fans to sleep, leading to games with no flow. Big hit curling teams do the same.

Don’t get me wrong, I know how tough it is to do this. And with the stakes as high as they are, it is na├»ve to think that teams will not do whatever it takes to win. I think we will need to invent some new rules at the elite level to protect the best teams from themselves. Maybe a no-tick zone, or maybe the blank end should be banned. I know this would change the game, but probably not as much as the 4 or 5 rock rules. Either way, if curlers are hoping to be able to make a living at the game, then they have to figure out a way to put on a better show.

The fact is, when teams decide to play – like in a last end, the curling is awesome. I am writing this after having watched the 10th end of the Bottcher-Dunstone Semi-final. When both teams want to play, it is spectacular.

 ***

In closing, there are a number of thank yous that feel especially relevant this year:

  • Thanks to Curling Canada for pulling off what will be remembered as one of the greatest Briers (and Scotties) ever. Creating an incident-free bubble in the context of the current crisis is nothing short of miraculous. Havnig lived through it from the inside, I can assure you all that you have no idea how much work, preparation and diligence went into planning this event. And it all worked.
  • The ice, as would be expected, was amazing. To all the ice techs, who took on the isolation and health risks to deliver Brier ice; I say a sincere thanks.
  • To Curling Quebec, for giving us the honour of representing Quebec on this stage and for the support and effort.
  • To our sponsors, especially Hardline and RBC Dominon Securities for standing by us this year. We honestly can’t wait to get back on the ice next year.
  • To the folks at Glenmore, Pointe-Claire, Victoria, Val d’Or and RCMP Curling Clubs who kept the lights on the compressors running so that we could practice as much as possible this season. The motto on our Quebec jackets says Je Me Souviens, and trust us, we will remember.
  • To my teammates. I have the best team a 49-year old journeyman curler could possibly ask for. I am heartbroken that we only get to curl eight games together this season; I can’t wait until next year.

  • Lastly: Thanks to all our fans who reached out with words of support during the Brier this year. I can’t tell you what it meant to us that we were not alone, especially in an empty arena under the strangest of conditions. We are so grateful for your support.

I am now pouring a rye and coke and settling in front of my TV for what should be a barnburner of a final.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Elsa and The Catchy Toilet Paper Commericial


I watched more of the Scotties this year than any other year. I am home, we still have an 8PM curfew, and pretty much everything is still closed. So having some curling to watch was amazing.  And what a week it was!

I am writing as I watch the final.  Both Einerson and Homan have been outstanding all week, and clearly deserve to be playing in the final. Einerson looks to be the most complete team in women’s curling right now; they are consistently outplaying their opposition by 10% or more. Homan is also outstanding, and Rachel is a steely-eyed missile woman.  I give a slight edge to Einerson, but it should be a tight one.

 ***

But somehow I feel that despite all of this, the big story of the week was a Team that finished a mere 6-6.  Okay I am a bit biased here, but my highlight as a fan was Team Quebec.

They ended up 6-6, but this was the most inspiring run I have seen from a Quebec women’s team in a long while. Curling-wise, they played well beyond anyone’s expectations, especially given that they were barred from practicing anywhere but in their Dad’s pool since January 8th.  Laurie was lights-out amazing, throwing big shot after big shot, and seemingly without any fear.

Full disclosure, again I am biased here. I know this team very well and have watched them develop for years now. It was fun to watch the rest of the country discover what I already knew.

Yes, they still have a LOT to work on. Their percentages were not where they needed to be to play the big game. And as would be expected, they made some bad strategy calls that cost them dearly. But that is how you learn. Russ Howard referred to “scar tissue” that you get from losing tight games at this level. I think the only way to learn how to play tight end-games is to live and learn. She will learn volumes from her games against, Anderson, Homan and Walker. Those losses are invaluable for a young team.

But enough about their curling. Let’s talk about attitude for a second. This is where Laurie won legions of fans. The Quebec girls were just plain fun. They were positive. They were engaging. They were authentic. They were fearless. As the week progressed, I could not help but think of a past Quebec team that won its fair share of fans…

This week had a Guy Hemmings circa 1998 feel about it – although Laurie was not yet alive when Guy Hemmings was apprearing in back to back Brier finals. (Just typing that made me feel old).

And like Guy Hemmings, hair was a big part of the story. Guy was known for his out-of control hairdo, and it became his trademark. Laurie and her platinum blonde hair became Elsa the Ice Princess from Frozen. And it became her trademark. It was her hook.

I have spoken about something a few times in past blogs: the delicate balance between being fun to watch and being good at curling. Very often, the best teams end up looking a bit robotic and unemotional. Look at Bottcher, Gushue, Homan. They are icy-cool. They stay in control of their emotions, and that is a big key to their success. Great for their curling, but less engaging to watch. Often the more emotional, engaging teams struggle with controlling it, and it affects how they play. But a few teams manage to do both. Don't get me wrong, I am not criticizing the big teams. You need to control your emotions to win at curling. It is a delicate balance between leveraging emotion and it becoming a distraction.

Guy was fun to watch. He was funny. He got angry. He engaged with the crowd. You had to cheer for him. Somehow they managed to be both fun AND good.

Then you get a team like Laurie. Emily smiles from ear to ear after making two peels. You can feel the big-sisterly love when Laurie talks to Cynthia. And then they effortlessly switch to English to bring Hailey into the conversation. They laugh when they make shots, and they laugh when they miss shots. Like the catchy toilet-paper commercial keeps reminding us, we are HUMAN (that has been stuck in my head all week). As a fan, we love the humanity of this team.  

Even though Guy never managed to win a Brier, he likely did more to grow the game then any player of his generation. He would travel on cross country tours bringing out fans. I was at the Brier in 2018 from Quebec, and still the most common question I got from every fan was “what is Guy Hemmings doing now?”. Being good AND fun is amazingly such a unique gift for a curling team.

Laurie pulled that off this week. Will they be able to keep this up as they continue to grow and develop into a competitive team? I sure hope so.

I know those are big shoes to fill. But damn, Quebec was fun to watch this week. And it was great to be reminded that we are only human after all!!! Argh I can't get this song out of me head!


***


I am going insane waiting to leave for the Brier. We leave on Wednesday to enter the Canadian Curling Bubble in Calgary. I have had my brain probed with a pipe-cleaner to determine that I am virus free (I am!!). I have packed my 12 pairs of socks, 6 pairs of underwear (you can wear them inside out) and a bottle of medicinal rye. Just 2 more days of work from home then I am gone!!! Can't wait.

Some good news! We actually got to practice just before entering our pre-event quarantine for the first time since early January. Thanks to our friends at Pointe-Claire Curling Club and Mirko and Karl for giving us some top-notch ice to play on. Our practice felt like I was last-minute cramming for a university final exam after I had skipped the entire semester. Fortunately, Will said that that is how he made it though university, so if it worked then it should work now!


Friday, February 19, 2021

Let the Curling Wash Over Me

 

OMG there is curling on TV. I am 11/10 excited to leave for the Brier in a few weeks, but for the next 10 days I will be watching the Scotties Tournament of Hearts Women’s Canadian Curling Championship.

Seriously, I have never been so excited to watch women’s curling in my life. In a normal year, I would watch the Scotties selectively, watching only the occasional game during the week and then most of the playoffs. But this year is different. I am not likely to leave my house very often in the next few weeks, so there will pretty much always be curling on for three draws a day, even if only in the background as I work.

I could be wrong, but there seems to be an insane level of anticipation and social media buzz around this year's event. I mentioned in an earlier blog that this coudl be the most watched Season of Champions ever, as this is providing welcome relief to the curling world which has essentially not had a lot to feel good about in  awhile.

This just feels good.


***


What should we expect as fans?

The Atmosphere:

First of all, this event will be in the bubble. It will be weird. There will be cardboard cut-outs of fans instead of fans, and cardboard cut-outs don’t cheer great shots. There will be no 5th end interview. There will be no handshakes, no patch or lounge, and no SOCIABLE.

But I think it will work. Most curlers have spent most of their lives curling in clubs, where the fans are usually on the other side of a window. Will it be that different to have them watching on TV instead? I think once the curling starts, it will feel normal for the players. It might not feel like the Scotties, but it will feel like a curling tournament.

Will it be as cool as a normal Scotties? No.

Is it a million times cooler than what most of us have been doing for the last 11-12 months? Hell yes.

BTW -  I absolutely love the uniforms. Dynasty curling has done a crazy job re-creating a vintage curling look with modern materials. I await my box of unis with bated breath, hoping that the men’s designs are as cool.  

 The format

This year the event features 18 teams, as Curling Canada did not want to leave anyone out during the pandemic. Strangely it did end up excluding a couple of big name teams in Kelsey Rocque and Robyn Sylvernagle, who were left on the sidelines because they had just shuffled their teams prior to the season. Unfortunate for them.

The field of 18 is split into two pools of 9. The top 4 advance to next stage where they play the top 4 from the other division. Then the top 3 end up in the playoffs. No paige this year.

Who are the favorites?

The Big 4: Einerson, Jones, Homan and Fleury. It will be tough for anyone other than the top 4 to win this week. I would give 10-1 odds against someone outside the top 4 winning. (if I were the kind of person that bets on curling!)

  • Tough to bet against Einerson wining. They looked great last year, winning in dramatic fashion in an extra end over Rachel Homan. They are without a doubt the odds-on favorite.
  • Rachel Homan would normally be my pick, but she finds herself 7 months pregnant at the event this year. I honestly have no idea how this will affect her. I played a Mixed Provincial with my wife who was 5 months pregnant at the time playing lead, and she played well except for having to pee about every 10 minutes during the game.
  • Fleury/Carey: Tough to bet on a team that has never played a game together, but weirder things have happened. Carey is a pro and can likely take over and start playing well from the 1st minute. The strange fact is that when you pickup a new player, there is usually a honeymoon period before you get on each others’ nerves. Sometimes new is an advantage.
  • Jennifer Jones: JJ will surely be around for the playoffs. I think their experience will pay off in this wacky environment.

Other storylines:

  • Eager to see Zacharias, the junior champ from Manitoba. Despite their lofty pedigree, I think they will find it tough, and will take a bit longer to get going. They have very little experience in women’s curling, and the Scotties ain’t juniors.
  • I will be cheering hard for Laurie St-Georges. They are good people. They work as hard as any team I have ever seen. They are as dedicated as any team I have ever seen. There is no doubt that they will be good and will contend, it is just a question of when. It might be a bit soon to expect that for this year, but this is a great no-risk chance to learn and get better. I can’t wait to watch them.
  • Laura Walker is a bit of an unknown, but I am always partial to tattooed toe-tuckers. I rank them just outside of the top 4, and likely to make the final 8.
  • Kerry Galusha will surprise some teams. They are playing well since adding Joanne Rizzo to the mix, and they have actually curled a few games this year!
  • I hope that a team from the Atlantic provinces does well, if only because they will be forced to quarantine for 2 weeks when they get home! Suzanne Birt and Jill Brothers have the most potential to crack the final 8.

Who wins?

I pick Jennifer Jones to use her experience and guile to beat Einerson in the final, 7-6.

 

Update on MY TEAM as we prepare for the Brier:

Unfortunately, restrictions in Quebec have limited our ability to practice in Montreal and Quebec City since the 8th of January. I am still forced to be the #practiceninja, stalking outdoor rinks and abandoned curling clubs to find ice to practice on. More to come on this in a future blog.


In the meantime, we will sit back and enjoy some curling for the first time in forever. It was almost a year ago that I was at the Brier in Kingston, (unfortunately in the stands, not on the ice), just before all things fun and sociable came to an abrupt end. I miss it deerly, and this week already feels like a much needed return to fun.

So tonight I will pour myself a rye and coke, make some popcorn and surrender to the dulcet tones of Cheryl and Russ talking strategy. I will let the syrupy-smooth voice of Vic Rauter wash over me, covering me like a heavy blanket on a cold day.

Make the final...