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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Finding my Inner Curling Ninja - and Some Thoughts on Sportsmanship

First of all, my apologies for not having blogged lately.
As much as I love curling, I have needed a little time away to get some other life projects going...I needed to find my Inner Ninja.
But once the Scotties and Brier appear on TV, it's hard not to get a little excited.

Thoughts on the Scotties
So I watched a bit of the Scotties. While I did not make any predictions before, I swear I would have picked Rachel Homan to win it. Really. I picked her last time she was there a few years ago (check it out – it’s in one of my past blogs!). And I am picking her for next year. Every so often, a team comes along that helps evolve the sport - that raises the bar for everyone.  
Watching Homan play at the Scotties is like watching Spain play against Canada at soccer: they are just not playing the same game as the other team. Rachel will call the same sort of game as Kevin Martin,  Koe or Stoughton. They play runbacks for big ends. They gamble with the hammer, and play safe without it. They execute. Jennifer Jones is the only other team that comes close to this level of play, and I still think they are a bit behind. Homan’s style intimidates weaker teams, they force them into making mistakes.
I think Rachel’s win will be a godsend to women’s curling.  I have never understood why women’s teams seem to play a safer, more boring game than the men. From Laliberté in the 90’s, to Colleen Jones and even Jennifer Jones today, women’s curling was just not as much fun as men’s curling to watch. It really only got interesting when they missed. With her victory, Rachel’s team is going to force other women’s teams to step up their games, and learn how to play offense, make runbacks and learn how to gamble more.
Some random thoughts:
·         I very much liked the accelerated format, with more games to watch on the weekend, and hardly any morning draws. This should be the thinking in more events.
·         Was I the only guy who got freaked out by the 3D kleenex box logo in the ice? By some Pavlovian magic, it was making my nose run.
·         I was a little disappointed that the Quebec Team finished 3-8. I did not see many of their games, but from what I did see, they were struggling to make 5 or 6 shots per end. But I like this team a lot, and the fact that they get along so well bodes well for multiple appearances together. Hopefully this year was a stepping stone to bigger and better things.
·         I like the bronze medal game. I didn’t watch it. But I like the idea.

The Brier:
Looking forward to the best week of curling on TV. Yes, the Slams have a stronger field, but the Brier will always be what matters most to the curling world. It also provides us with a rare glimpse of the full country. Every province is represented, and every province always has some yahoo waving their provincial flag in the crowd. I can think of no other event that brings together participants from every province and puts them on such a stage. (btw- this is why relegation is such a shitty idea).
Why is the Brier so great?
While there is some money involved, the Brier still remains a contest of amateurs. They play for pride, not for a salary. Almost everyone has a day job - and their jobs provide us a feel of what it is like to live in different parts of the country. The guy from PEI might be a fisherman, or a bar owner. The guy from BC might be a police officer, or a teacher. Curlers at the Brier might be rock stars for a week on TSN, but we are reminded that they are just like us, wherever they are from.
And the Brier, like few other sporting events, provides a brilliant stage exposing human drama. Inevitably, someone who is not used to being in the limelight will have hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people watching his most public success or failure. The emotion, the fear and the anxiety of a key shot with everyone watching are as real as it gets.  

The Brier will likely be a three team race between Stoughton, Martin and Howard. Yawn. The “big 3” will be tough to beat as usual, and I expect one of them to win. I like Howard to repeat.
But a bunch of teams - JM Ménard (Qc), Gouchebag (NL), Virtue (Sask) and Brad Jacobs’ team of bodybuilders/curlers(N.Ont) will fight it out for the 4th playoff spot. It should be a compelling week of curling in front of a raucous crowd in Edmonton.

A storyline to watch:
A lot is being made of Brock Virtue, the team that will represent Saskatchewan. They are already being dubbed “The Bad Boys of Curling”.
For those who do not know the story, in the Saskatchewan Provincial, 2nd Chris Schille actually got thrown out of the semi-final game for unsportsmanlike conduct, after kicking a rock and swearing. This has made the rounds in curling social media. And of course, Schille immediately took to Twitter to moan and complain.
Many have claimed that officials were over-zealous on this occasion. After all, lots of guys swear and kick a rock every now and then after a missed shot. Heck, if I got thrown out of every game I have sworn in, I would not make it past the 2nd end in most games. But in this case, I side with the officials, and let me tell you why.
The story is that Shille kicked the rock and swore after the opposing skip made a nice double take-out to score. There is a big difference in being mad at yourself for missing, or even at your own teammates. But when you throw a tantrum when the other team makes a shot – to me that is a sign of disrespect. And apparently it was not the first time these guys had acted that way.
I have played a lot of very good teams in my life. Many of them treat the teams they play against with respect. They will complement a nice shot. They remember the days when they were not famous, or champions. Martin, McEwan and Ménard come to mind as teams that will always treat their opponents with respect. This does not mean that these guys do not get mad and swear and wham a broom at times, but they usually don’t do when someone else makes a shot. They get mad at themselves.
But some other big teams I have played often seem to act as if they are entitled to win. They make weaker teams feel like they do not deserve to be on the ice. They throw tantrums when getting beat by a weaker team. It is a form of intimidation, and it sometimes it works. But I think it goes against the unwritten code of sportsmanship that governs the sport.
For all of the crappy, greed-infested examples of selfishness and trash-talking that we see in professional sports, curling offers us the possibility of something better: a sport where you can respect the people you play against.
So, I offer a tip of the hat to the official who called Team Virtue on their unsportsmanlike behavior. Let’s hope they learned something. Here is a link to a little video in case they need a refresher course on sportsmanship:

A lesson in Sportsmanship:
(a must-see video about a High School basketball player who passes the ball to a mentally-challenged player on the other team. Guaranteed to draw tears.)

The Mixed
Montreal Mixed playdowns starts this week. Team Fournier will be back in action to defend their title, with the hopes of making it through to another week of fun and curling at Mixed Nationals in Ottawa next fall. Unfortunately, the secret of how much fun we had last year seems to have gotten out, with more sign-ups in the Montreal region than last year - thus, a nasty double knock-out regional with 16 teams.
But my team is up for the challenge. We even have new team uniforms, with the hope of intimidating the other teams.

Here is hoping I can live up to the Superman crest, that Mike can find a Bat-Inturn on his bat-utility belt, that Animal and Kermit can return  to their form during the Muppet Show.