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Sunday, January 22, 2012

My Astrologer picks JM - and no more curling on the CBC

First of all - yes I am bitter. I wanted to be at provincials this year, but as many know - we managed to throw up on ourselves in our regional playdown. So I get to stay home on watch provincials on the internet. Grrr.

On the bright side, my extremely pregnant wife is somewhat grateful that I will not be a 5-hour drive away from home in case our 2034 Scotties champion arrives a few days ahead of her expected date. Let's just say that the C-Section that I will be watching will not be one that happens after you lose in the B.

But I will make some predictions. I have consulted experts in Las Vegas, I have called the psychic hotline, I have consulted an astrologer, and I have gazed into a crystal ball. I have come down from the mountaintop - and I will share this knowledge with you. So here are the teams and their odds of winning.

1. JM Ménard:  (2-1)

Once again, JM is the odds-on favorite to win. They won a lot this year. They won in Gatineau. They won at Glenmore. They won in Ottawa. they played well at the Slam. They were far and away the best team in Quebec this year. If they do not win, it will be an upset. But, as we found out last season, the finals come down to one game. The astrologer I consulted said:
"With the moon and Jupiter in alignment with Aquarius, Your energies will be  high this week and anything you set out to do will have successful end results." I guess this means they will either be going to the Brier, or they are all going to score at the Eclipse (the Montagnais hotel bar) during the week. My bet is the Brier.

2. Marty "Ferly" Ferland: (5-1)

Marty has been on the edge for a few years now. He probably should have gone 2 years ago, and then had a disastrous 3-6 finish in last year's provincials. I believe this is the only team at provincials that has remained unchanged from last year. I predict a good showing for these guys - but they need to start well. This team is driven by emotion - for better or for worse. If things start well - they will destroy a lot of teams - if they start badly, they will destroy a lot of brooms and scoreboards.

3. Serge "the Surgeon" Reid (6-1)

I believe I am on a personal 35-game losing streak against this team. I never want to play these guys again.
Serge was a Cinderella story at Provincials a few years ago, and has played well ever since. Sadly, they have lost Pierre Charette and his giant brain for provincials - who is unavailable due to his commitments to the Grand Slam. I don't expect them to be in the finals - but whenever I count these guys out, they kick ass and prove me wrong.

4. Robert "Magic Bob" Desjardins (10-1)

Bob can do it all. He can make every shot. He can walk on his hands. He can play tennis. But can he take this team to the Brier? I don't think so. But maybe now that Bob has broken the ice and gone to the Brier, perhaps his home-made Sugis have a little more magic left in them.

5. Simon "Nicotine" Dupuis: (10-1)

This team certainly has a lot of experience. And by that I mean that they are old. Very old. Their front end is over 100 years old. This experience and stability will surely help the frequently unstable Simon Dupuis, who looks like he should have a cigarette pack health warning printed on his jacket.

6. Phil Lemay: (10-1)

This team is the extreme opposite of Simon Dupuis. They are young. I won't do the math, but I am guessing that they are less than half the combined age as Simon's team. With youth comes talent, endurance, and a lack of experience and poise. Phil certainly has the tools, and his team is not short of talent. These guys will win some games they are expected to lose, and will lose some games they are expected to win.

7. Steeve Gagnon:  (10-1)

I am especially angry at these guys, given that they knocked us out at regionals.
Steeve is a seriously under-rated skip in Quebec. He has skipped at the Brier, and its easy to see why. He is calm, and rarely seems unnerved. I am going to pick these guys to be a surprise this week...they will not win it all but will be playing well into the weekend.

8. Francois Gagné: (12-1)

I know these guys guys are the defending champs (although they have lost Magic Bob at 3rd), but they have had a season almost as brutal as mine...but managed to sneak through Montreal playdowns on their last life. I can't see them doing very well this weekend, but whop really predicted them winning last year?

9. Fred Marchand:  (15-1)

This team is sponsored by a mattress company, and they will likely lay down pretty early.

10. Simon Hebert: (20-1)

Simon is magic in the mixed, having won three times in a row. Unfortunately for him, this is not the mixed. My astrologer predicts an early exit for the boys from far away.

11. Kevin Golberg  (30-1)

A blast from the past...Kevin is a grizzled veteran that many younger curlers have never even heard of. However, he has not played much lately. As a matter of fact, he told me he hadn't played more than 10 games all season. Unfortunately, he told me this as they were kicking my ass at regionals. Thanks Kevin.
These guys will likely only be competing to not be the first team eliminated.

12. Pierre Gervais (25-1)

Pierre has moments. This will likely not be one of them. Another team that will be sleeping in their own beds by the weekend.

So who will win? The last 2 years have been upsets - but this year the favorite will prevail.
JM at the Brier - you read it here first.


No Curling on the CBC

This week, the CBC surprised the curling world by pulling out of their commitment to show the Grand Slams on the CBC, leaving the tour scrambling to find a replacement TV deal.

Why did they pull out? Not sure- but apparently it is over some financial issues with the company representing the Grand Slams.

Either way - we will not likely see the Martin-Stoughton or McEwan-Howard final.

My question is this:
Have the Grand Slams jumped the shark? Have we seen enough of these? Do we need more curling?

We have the Brier. We have the Olympics. We have the Canada Cup. We have the skins game. We have the World Championships. We have the Scotties. We have the (yawn) Continental Cup. We have the Junior Championships.
Is it possible that we now have too much of a good thing? Do we need to see more curling on TV?

Honestly, I am as big a curling fan as there is - and you cannot pry me away from my TV during the Brier, but to be honest - I can take or leave the Slams. I get the impression that the only people really disappointed by the CBC's decision are the players.
Maybe - there should be only one big televised tour event - like the Tour Championship - instead of the 4 Grand Slam spiels.

Surely the Tour will scramble and find another network (likely Sportsnet) to pick up the coverage where the CBC has left off, but maybe its time to re-think how-much curling we need to have on TV.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Continetal Cup of Boredom and Politically Incorrect Quebec Women's Preview

So I was trying to watch the Continental Cup this weekend. For the uninitiated, the Continental Cup is a manufactured travesty of an event that features the “best” teams in North America versus the Best teams from the rest of the World, in a Ryder Cup kind of format.
Can I be politically incorrect and say that this event truly sucks?
Mixed doubles? Come on. Apart from the entertainment value of watching a Scotsman with a full nasty accent trying to communicate with a Chinese girl (best sweeping call ever: “Hard Wang!”), and watching Wayne Middaugh chase after his own rock down the ice to sweep it, the weekend offered little drama. I have watched more entertaining club games.
I am a big Ryder Cup fan in golf. This is not the Ryder Cup. It has the feel of a mixed open friendly. The crowd shots seem to show a rather empty arena – and the endless camera shots of the teams on the bench cheering got lame in a hurry. While there are a few bucks on the line, everybody just seems like they are there to have fun. It makes for painful TV. By the end of the weekend, I really did not care who won.
No Drinking?
A lot was made of the story that broke before the event started that the European side allegedly banned drinking by their squad for the duration of the event. I am thoroughly unimpressed, and quite frankly shocked that this idea would come from Europe.
I say shame on you curlers! Let’s hope this aberrant behaviour does not become a trend in curling. Next they will try to ban post-game poutine.
(Having spent a few weekends at spiels with Nick Edin and with Scottish curlers in general, I find it difficult to believe that no booze was consumed over the weekend, especially given the friendly and social looking atmosphere of the event)


Men’s and women’s provincials start next week in Quebec. To keep up with the tradition of handicapping the field – I will start with the Women’s this week, and move onto the men’s next week.
So here are the 8 teams, and my humble opinions on the odds of them winning it all. Please do not take any of this personally – I really have no idea what I am talking about, and am pretty much just looking for some cheap laughs.

First of all, let’s talk about who is not there. The women’s field is absent of a number of big names – like Bélisle, Osborne, Sabourin, Derick, Morgan. It would seem that 2012 was a big year for retirements; maybe women’s curlers have some fear of the Mayan calendar or something.  Either way, the field at this year’s event looks younger than a Twilight premiere night. I believe I can say that I was curling before 75% of the field was even alive. (Please don’t do the math).  I think the field is likely weaker than years past, but it is refreshing to see some youth in Quebec women’s curling.
So here are the eight teams:

1.       MF Larouche:  3 to 1
Marie France is the odds-on favourite to win, once again. They have worked harder than other teams, and MF has more experience than anyone else in the field.
However, they are not the same powerhouse as teams past. Marie France’s team has been kinda busy procreating this year, with 3 of the original 4 each with a baby under 1 year old or coming soon (they started the season with Véro Gregoire, who is also in the family way). When this team says they need to get "pumped up" for a game, they are probably talking about breast milk!
Ok, you can call me an old-fashioned sexist, but I find it difficult to believe that this does not affect them as team. I mean – I don’t even have to breast feed (thank God!), and I have found it tough to curl competitively when I have a young baby. Their new front end is solid, but young, and less experienced.
Having said all this - you can guarantee that they will be around on Sunday.
       2.       Kim Mastine: 5 to 1

This team has been up and down all season. They have never looked truly great, but have never looked truly awful either. They have been together for a couple of years now. This could be their year.  Kim (who is a pharmacist) needs to prescribe herself some beta-blockers to stay cool this week. She is not as good when she gets angry.
      3.       Nathalie Gagnon: 8 to 1
Nat is an experienced skip, with Scotties experience. She has been there before, and this will serve her well against a relatively inexperienced field.
4.       Allison Ross: 10-1
       This team has been brutal when I have seen them this year, although they have done well lately in a few Opens. After the Circuit Finals, they pulled a Pierre Gauthier and traded Mike Cammalleri  (in this case Alanna Rutledge) for Sasha Beauchamp. Will it make a difference? Will the Habs make the playoffs? Probably not in both cases. But hopefully they will look happier than this guy:

5.       MC Cantin: 10-1
Not a bad team. The front end has some solid experience from last year’s Mixed Nationals, and they can all curl. (If I remember correctly, Marie-Christine beat me in the finals of the Vic Open about 10 years ago, which was especially embarrassing given that she was about 15 years old and 4 feet tall at the time).
6.       Helene Pelchat: 12-1
Helene “the Cat” Pelchat has been on the fringe for the last few years, usually a game away from the playoffs. I think that will be the case again this year.
7.       Sian Canavan: 14-1
Young team of curlers – not a bad team. I saw them in a couple of cash spiels this year, where they were very up and down. Will likely not be around for playoff time, but will surprise some teams. I also expect high entertainment value from the announcer in Kenogami trying to pronounce her first name.
8.       Julie Hamel 12-1
Solid young team fresh out of juniors. Will likely surprise a few teams. I play with Alana (their new 3rd) in the Club at Glenmore, and I can say she does not miss the broom much, and throws big peel weight for somebody who in fact weighs less than the stone.

So who is my pick? I am going with Kim to pull it off. It’s her time.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Screw you curling. Rated PG-13 (language)

Parental Warning: This Blog may contain language considered inappropriate for sailors and young children. Reader discretion is advised.

Screw you Curling!!!
No seriously. Screw you. I practice, I play, I say nice things about you...and you pay me back with a season like the one that just ended? C’mon.
Well I say SCREW YOU! (My middle fingers on both hands are fully extended and directed at my computer screen).
For the second year in a row, my team went into the regionals as the top seed. And for the 2nd year in a row, we are not going to provincials. Not even close. We were just awful. I was awful. Well, maybe not awful, but just bad enough to lose three games and be knocked out in the C-Final.
Once again – with all due respect to the teams that beat us – we pretty much beat ourselves. It’s like we forgot how to win.
In our first loss, it was a goofy steal of two against Max Dufresne.
In our second loss, it was a steal of 3 to start the game against us, and then after a solid 5 ends, we gave up a retarded 4-banger in the 7th end to Kevin Golberg.
In our 3rd loss, we started by giving up an easy 4 (it should have been 5) in the 1st end to Steeve Gagnon.
So we are out. Very out. My competitive season ends unceremoniously on January 8th.

So I say again; screw you curling!
 I am done with you this year. You can kiss my badly-beaten 40 year-old-toe-tucking arse.
I used to say nice things about you – I used to defend you when people laughed at you. I used to say – “Curling is not as goofy as it looks – It’s actually fun and cool!”
When people laugh at you on TV   - I used to say “It’s really a great TV sport when you take the time to understand the game!”  Well no more. I will now join in those who mock you.  
When people say it is a sport for old people – I will nod in agreement.
When the assholes on Sports talk radio complain about the amount of curling coverage on TV – I will call in and agree with them. “More poker on TSN!” I will say.
At least for a little while.


Okay – enough bad news about me. How about some good news:
Felix Asselin, Marc-Alexandre Dion, Lewis South, and Sami Guimond-Jaber from Glenmore won the Quebec Junior provincials this weekend in Val d’Or.
This is a feel-good story: these are good kids. They play in the club. They are well-coached by Benoit Forget, who deserves a lot of the credit, both for their curling and their attitude.
Best of luck in Nappanee, Ontario at junior Nationals.

For those who have read my post from last week – these guys are a case study about how to integrate juniors into a curling club. Felix and Sami play front end in the Glenmore A-ladder for Lawren Steventon (who I believe went to a Brier 30 or 40 years ago). They play good games, and learn some curling smarts from an able veteran and learn some maturity in the process.  

The Skins game was on TSN this weekend. I only caught bits and pieces (was busy losing, as described earlier) - but from what I saw it was good TV. Koe made an “easy” triple take-out TV shot to win. Also - I have to say I got a bit of sick pleasure watching Glenn Howard play as badly as I did this weekend.
Rumour has it they are changing the format next year, with fan voting to select an all-star team to play. I say thank God – this event needs some fresh ideas.
Oh - 1 more thing. I know Casino Rama is a nice sponsor – but I got a little sick of the commercial with all the people with their arms up in the air supposedly celebrating their casino winning.
Seems to me they need to do a commercial with a bunch of people with their empty pockets hanging out to show both sides: (sadly, this is also the way we look in our team picture this year)

That and they kept showing the add for the Slide-and-Serve Meatloaf tray. I have enjoyed my mother's and wife's meatloaf out of a conventional pan my entire life (and have never once seen anything as disgusting looking as the meatloaf you see at the beginning of this video) and - yet I must have one. Damn you marketers!
Watch the commercial here: and it comes with a free slice-and serve knife!!!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Lego Construction and Elf Open-pit Mining

My apologies for taking too a while to blog over the holidays. I was busy - mostly putting together the endless piles of lego and Playmobile that my kids received for Christmas. Below is the Lego Ninja Fire Temple, and my son.

As a result, I am now a Lego God. I am thinking of adding a Lego room in my house. No I don't mean I am going to designate a room to store toys, I am actually going to build an extension on my house out of Lego. I think it would be awesome. Now I only need to find the instructions.
Let the Second Season begin.
This weekend I start the process of trying to reach the Brier. Western Quebec Regional playdowns start Friday at Glenmore Curling Club, and conclude Sunday Afternoon.
For those unfamiliar with how competitive curling works – there are really 2 seasons:
·         Season 1: Cash Season: where the teams play each other in tournaments trying to win money. Finishing in 2nd a 3rd place here is good – as you still win a fair amount of money.
·         Season 2: Playdown Season: Where everyone tries to win one big prize: A trip to the Brier. There is no 2nd place.
There is actually a 3rd season - Team Change Season, which officially starts 1 minute after your team has been eliminated from Season 2, or sometimes even before. However, very little curling actually happens during season 3.
I love the Playdown process. When I started in competitive men’s curling in Montreal back in the early 90’s, playdowns used to consist of 80 or so teams playing down to send 3 or 4 teams to Provincials in a triple knockout. EIGHTY teams – just in Montreal.
I won the Montreal A qualifier in 1994 (I think) by winning SEVEN games in a row. Seven! To qualify through the C-section, Montreal teams usually had to play 12 or 13 games, over 9 or 10 days, in 9 or 10 different clubs. Playdowns were an insane test of curling and endurance. And I loved it. It was crazy, it was draining, but man it was fun.
But the playdowns are not what they used to be. This weekend, 12 teams will compete to send 4 to provincials to represent Western Quebec. In Eastern Quebec, 8 teams will play to send another 4 teams. (4 teams are already qualified through points: Menard, Reid, Desjardins and Ferland). So in the entire province, 24 teams are attempting to qualify to go to the Brier. Fifteen years ago, this number was well over a hundred. (Make no mistake - having fewer teams does not make it easier - all 12 teams are tough - there is no such thing as an easy game in playdowns).
This is not only a Quebec phenomenon. Other provinces are seeing similar declines in competitive participation. Women’s Curling is even more of a tragic tale. Curling Quebec will struggle to find eight women’s teams to play in provincials this year.
So why the decline? Where has everybody gone? Why does competitive curling appear to be in such decline?
The answer is not simple. In theory, curling should be benefitting from increased TV exposure and Olympic coverage. I also do not believe that participation levels in curling have declined as rapidly as the number of teams playing competitively.
I have 2 theories to explain the decline:
Theory 1: The good teams are too good
The fact is that there are only 5 or 6 teams that could conceivably win the province. So why should anyone else even try? So why would anyone take a week off of work to go to Quebec provincials in order to fill out the field, or waste $300 to play 3 or 4 games in the Regionals?
I hear this from a lot of teams as their excuse for not playing in playdowns, but to be honest – the same was true 20 years ago, and yet over a hundred teams tried out. Admittedly, it used to cost $100 to play in regionals, but I am not convinced that dropping the price would increase participation.
Theory 2:  Demographics:
Curling is getting older. The last 20 years have seen an exodus of people in their 20s and 30s from the game. Clubs have done a poor job of keeping junior curling alive, and in integrating juniors into adult curling once they grow up. Also, it is just not easy for people in their 20’s and 30’s to curl. We all have jobs, and mortgages, and kids, and whatever - that make it impractical to commit to curling competitively.
Participation is still high in Seniors curling in Quebec and Canada.
So what do we need to do?
1.       To deal with Theory 1: The Club Series: Curling Quebec has actually taken a very intelligent approach to this problem. They are spending a lot of time and $$$ supporting “Club Series” events, aimed at providing Club-level curlers with competitions where they have a chance of winning. The Dominion has created a National Championship for Club Curlers, and word is spreading about just how good thsi event is.
2.       To Deal with theory 2: Rebuild the base:  Support junior curling. And not only competitive junior curling. Junior curling needs to be fun, and not only for the 1 team per club playing competitively. Clubs need to be social clubs for juniors, more than just another activity that they play between 9-11 Saturday mornings. If your Club does not have a solid junior program – then shame on you. A lot of clubs have a difficult time finding volounteers to run a junior program. If this is the case - then hire poeple. Hire kids who are just out of juniors -who can animate and teach the younger kids.
As I have said before - curling is in danger of becoming like the luge - a quirky Olympic sport that only a few weird people actually try. 

Quebec Junior Provincials:
Quebec Junior Provincials are going on this weekend in balmy Val d’Or (temperature at 8PM last night: minus 26).
In case you are not up on your Quebec geography, Val d’Or is located about a few hours North of, well nowhere. It is a few kilometres South of Santa’s North Pole toy production facility. Fortunately, elves who are not qualified as toymakers for Santa can find employment working as miners in Val d’Or’s open-pit gold mines (see below), or as hunting and fishing guides.  

Boys: Felix Asselin from Glenmore, Jean-Benoit Milot and Jeff Stewart from Valleyfield – who should have won last year.
Girls: Roxanne Perron from Quebec, and possibly Allison and L isaDavies from Glenmore. Lisa plays in the Glenmore ladder with Tom Wharry, so she has learned how to drink Labatt 50 and to how to win curling games. Both will serve her well.