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Monday, April 25, 2011

One last blog: Juggling Chainsaws

The last official Blog of the season!
Stick a fork in me, I am done!
Curling season ended unceremoniously for me on Saturday at the Intermediate, putting a merciful end to a frustrating season of granite heaving. This season was the ultimate tease; letting me believe that we had talent, that we could compete with the best, and then having our game fall short at a critical time. We were up and down more than a 50 year old man with a fresh Viagra prescription.
Highlight – of course beating Gushue in Gatineau.  
Lowlight – too many to choose. Although going 1-2 in Regionals seems like a good pick.
But alas, it is spring. My curling bag is sentenced to its summer sleep in the attic; and having a few drinks at the curling club is replaced with having a few drinks at the golf course. Time to look ahead to next year!


So what is going on next year?
Rumours have been a-plenty of late, with a number of new and surprising moves setting up what should be an interesting season in Quebec.
So who is around next year? Quick look at the top 4:
1.       JM Menard – with Super Phil Menard now at lead. JM is always tough to beat. The only question seems to be are these guys still ready to do what it takes to be the best. They are the top ranked team in the province, but have not been playing in the Slams. They have been proven to be beatable, at least  for the last couple of years, and they have not been that far out ahead of the other Quebec teams. JM and the boys definitely have the highest potential – now let’s see what they can do with it. The only big question now is which pants will they be wearing next season?
2.       Marty Ferland – team unchanged. A top team in Quebec choosing to stay together after a 3-6 provincial? Inconceivable!!! But they have proven the cynics wrong. Apparently they agreed to a “contract” that they are honouring. I thought contracts were only binding for cell phones, but apparently they work for curling teams as well. This is a very good team – but they need to find a way to be more consistent. And I think Marty and Frank need to find a way to stay a little calmer on the ice. Valium? Pot? Yoga? This team needs to do some summer training in a Nepalese monastery.
3.       Serge Reid – has flushed his lead (Steeeeeeeve V.)  – not sure who he is picking up (probably not Bob Desjardins). I predicted tough times for Serge this year, and all he did was win a pile of cash and finish 3rd at provincials despite a nagging neck injury. Will he do better next year? – I would have to say no - but this guy has consistently exceeded my expectations so who knows. These guys are not the prettiest team around, but they have stuck together long enough to know how to get the job done. They are becoming the Jim Furyk of the curling world; ugly to watch but strangely effective.
4.       Brier rep Francois Gagné will be dropping down to play 3rd for the effervescent Guy Hemmings, with Ben Vezeau at 2nd and Chris Bouchard playing lead. Not unexpected, given that Frank and Guy have been friends for a long time. Could be a good team, but playing with Guy lately is a little like juggling chainsaws; very entertaining for a while but has the potential to end badly.

Some other teams to consider:
- Phil Lemay + new team (Matt Beaufort, JM Arsenault and Erik Lachance). Phil was a hugely successful junior skip back in the day, and now will try his luck with a strong team of young prospects.
- I hear Don “Good Shot Bud” Westphal is back, with Simon “Nicotine” Dupuis, Louis Biron and Big Mo. Interesting team (usually on a team the old guys play back end!)...Definitely good to see Don back in the game.
- What about me? Sadly, I guess Glen Howard and Brad Gushue lost my phone number, as neither of them called me despite both needing a new 3rd for next year. Instead, I will be playing next year with Dwayne Fowler and the Lejour brothers. Hopefully Dwayne and I can rediscover the magic we had a few years back...eager to see how that works out. Danny B is stepping back for a little while.
- I think I heard some other rumours while at the Intermediate, but I was kinda drunk on the Saturday night and seem to have forgotten a few, so you will have to figure out the rest yourselves.
So who will win?
Sadly, as my investment portfolio will surely attest, I am not Nostradamus.
The reality of Quebec is that few teams have really tried to step up to the plate to try to be the best. While some teams have been competitive, few seem willing to do what it takes to be at a level where they could be dominant in Quebec, and a top 10 team in Canada.
 The fact is, to be in the top 10 in the world, you need to be playing against Stoughton, Howard, Martin, McEwen, Gushue et al often – at least in 7-8 weeks per year. That means you need to travel.
And you need to practice. Practice, practice, practice. The fact is, you can no longer afford to miss the broom anymore. To curl 90% is today’s game, you can’t get away with throwing a single bad rock.
So I have no idea who will win. Smart money is on Menard, but as the last few seasons have proven, Quebec men’s curling is more wide-open now than ever.

I am just not as in the loop as I should be here. However, I have heard that a number of the main elite players are stepping aside. Eve is taking a break, and Chantal Osborne announced before provincials that this would be her last season.
So what remains seems like a one-woman show. Marie-France has been ahead of all competitors, and with Chantal and Eve not back next year, it is difficult to see anyone posing a serious challenge.
A few young teams have the potential to step up and take a run; the question is: are they willing to do the work and put in the time?

BIG FORMAT changes:
Last year’s merging of men’s and women’s provincials seems to have been a success, but the format will once again likely change next year. A proposal is on the table; although nothing is final.
Curling Quebec is exploring the possibility of having Men’s and Women’s together, but in a curling club (instead of an arena) using a modified triple-knockout format. The event would change from 10 men’s and 10 women’s to 12 men’s and 8 women’s. This format would be the same as what they are now doing in Alberta, where the A, B and C winners end up in a page-playoff.
Is this good?
·         I think the move back to a curling club is essential. Finding hockey arenas that are willing to give up 9 days of ice in February has been a challenge for years, and pretty much forces CQ to hold the event in remote locations where arena-time is easier to get.
            Remote Locations = Less People, less sponsorship.
·         Holding the event in a club will create a better atmosphere, and will help reduce the expense involved in running a provincial.
·         8 women’s teams instead of 10? This is a no-brainer. CQ is having a tough enough time filling 10 spots.
·         Modified Triple: makes sense – the event can now be held over 5 days instead of 7-8 days.
·         And no more meaningless round-robin games! Every game you play means the same thing to both teams.
Overall, seems to make sense to me. Let me know if you think otherwise (I think I am still the Competitive Players rep). Anyhow, nothing is final. But credit to Curling Quebec for having the guts to look to make positive changes. I am sure there will be a lot of debate on this, but debate is healthy.


Summer Blogs? I don’t think so. This will likely be my last blog until the fall. I might write here and there if I find something interesting to write about.
But a big thanks to those of you who were reading me this year, especially those who took the time to write to talk to me in person to tell me they were enjoying the blog. I am still amazed by the amount of people who read the blog.
 I think curling needs more talk – it needs to grow outside of the small community of hard-core competitive curlers and volunteers that devote so much of their time and energy to the game.  So I will keep writing if you all keep reading.

Friday, April 1, 2011

New reality show: Building the Squad

I can see the grass on the golf courses...I think its time to take my clubs out of their winter hiding place.
Ok - I have to admit - I have not really given a damn curling since losing in the playdowns in early January - so I should not be surprised by my less than-stellar record since then...
But since the playdowns - I believe I am 7-16. (including club games, Laval, Rosemere and Toronto). Ouch  - that is a pretty brutal streak of curling. I am not even winning 1 out of 3 games.
No wonder I am eager for golf season.

- So I played in the Toronto Men's Invitational last weekend. Had a fun time, despite the fact that the event was played in Toronto.
People have pitched me this tournament saying that it is the best event of its kind in Canada, and it is certainly a well orchestrated weekend of eating and drinking. But I have to admit I was a little disappointed.
It seemed like a bunch of guys who were desperate to get away for their wives for the weekend.
Not that I am adverse to such pursuits - maybe my expectations were too high.
It had moments, but mostly it was just an expensive drunk.
Not that it is not a good tournament - but as a party spiel I greatly prefer Etchemin, Keno¸or the Intermediate.
I would tell some more stories - but apparently Toronto is like Vegas; whatever happens in TO stays in TO.

(I am willing to bet that the previous sentence is is the only place in history that Toronto has ever been likened to Las Vegas)

- The Mixed provincials are going on this weekend in Baie Comeau. It should be a 2-horse race, with Ferland and Fowler likely to meet in the finals (even though Fowler will not win his section...). Tough to pick a winner.
Marty should have won last year, but came up short on an open draw to the 8-foot in the last end.
I think I will drive up and watch the final, since it is so close to home.

- I would expect a VERY strong mixed field next year, with the provincials likely not as far away, and the Mixed Nationals at TMR in 2012.
I am already contemplating how to build a super-juggernaut mixed squad. I am thinking of holding an "American Idol / Star Academie" reality show to pick my team. I think it would work. I could be like Donald Trump - and fire a potential teammate every week - or give a rose to the candidates I want to keep. I will call it: Building the Squad.
I am currently accepting applications - please submit your curling CV, a picture, and a 500-word essay on why you are God's gift to mixed curling to michaelrfournier@yahoo.ca. Please note that only serious applicants will receive a reply.

- One event left on the calendar for me before golf: the Glenmore Intermediate - on Easter Weekend. Back in the day, the Glenmore Intermediate was THE party spiel of the year. We would start partying Thursday evening, and pretty much not stop until Sunday afternoon. The spiel always had great bands, a great DJ, some decent curling and Jello Shots.
The spiel kinda went through a down period in the 2000s, but has been revived of late by some energetic just-out-of-juniors curlers who are trying to recapture the wild abandon and debauchery of a great party. Many teams from Toronto make the journey to spend a weekend in Montreal - and even have t-shirts made for the occasion.
There are still spots available, as they will accommodate up to 40 teams (I think they have 35 or so signed up already). Don't miss it. If you can't curl - then at least come by for the band on Saturday night.

- So everyone is asking me about rumours for next season -

So here is what I know so far:

- Francois Gagné's team is history. Amazingly, after having gone to the Brier, these guys don't even want to be seen in public together anymore. I guess it was kind of expected, given the motley nature of their personalities, but you would think that winning the province might make you want to keep at least a guy or two together? Apparently not.
I would like to bring back my quote from my 2nd blog last October...
"This team is like women who claim to be impregnated by space aliens...you don't know how it happened and you don't know what will come out in the end."

- Jean Gagnon (who plays lead for JM) has apparently "retired" or is taking a break, or was fired, or whatever - I really don't know. But he is being replaced by the younger Ménard brother, fresh off his 1st Brier.

- Amazingly, Marty Ferland and team are sticking together. There was speculation that this team was as dead as disco after a brutal showing at provincials.
How bad were they at provincials? They were so bad - I am not sure they could have won PEI!
But they are doing something very unusual for a Quebec team - they are sticking it out and trying to build instead of starting over. Good for them.

- Philippe Lemay will be skipping a strong young team - with JM Arsenault, Matt Beaufort and Erik Lachance. Good to see a team of younger guys starting to build something. Seems to me Quebec needs some new faces to compete. And great to see Phil back after taking a couple of years off. Phil has got game, and a good temperament for a skip.

- Don't ask me about women's curling - I don't know much. I hear Allison Ross is coming back after a year off, skipping a strong young team out of Glenmore. But that is all I know. Really.

- As for me - don't know yet. Ask me at the Intermediate. I will be the guy at the bar, most likely looking like the picture on the right.