Favorite Reporter

Favorite Reporter

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Mixed Wrap-Up and Trials Preview


Last year, after Montreal, when people asked me how was the Mixed, I told the truth. I said it was an amazing week that every curler should experience.
I told them about the people. The Mixed allows you to meet some of the nicest people from everywhere in Canada, with who you share a common love for the game. You meet people on the first night, and by the end of the week, they become great friends.
I told them about the spirit of the game, which is so well represented at the Mixed. The notion that you should play hard on the ice, and then party hard once you get off of it.
I told them about the sense of camaraderie you develop with the competitors. I told them about the fun of making shots and playing well while representing your province in front of crowds.
I told them about some of the stories. Like signing duets with Greg Balsdon, or partying with teams until 3 or 4 am, or meeting nice folks like Gary Oke (the Nfld. skip), who invited me to play his golf course this summer!

 Embedded image permalink

So last year I told everyone how much fun it was...and then everyone signed up to play in the Mixed, and we had to play in one of the hardest provincials I can remember! So here is what happened this year: It was no fun. We sat in our room and watched TV. We made popcorn. The end. Nothing to see here.
No but seriously...the Mixed is a fine example of what curling should be. It is an event that brings together the best in Canada, for a week of excellent curling. Credit to the CCA for keeping the Mixed alive, and not succumbing to the pressure and diverting the funds to running another Continental Cup or some crappy thing like that.
On the ice, it seemed like the best team won. Alberta, skipped by Darren Moulding, played great all week. There were strong performances by Sylvie Robichaud from NB (the lone female skip), Shawn Meecham from Saskatchewan and of course from the defending champs, Cory Heggestad from Ontario.
As for my team, we were good but not great, finishing a game out of the playoffs. We always seemed a few shots short. And we will never ever talk about the first end steal of six we gave up against NB. (It still haunts my dreams)

Anne Merklinger, former superstar Ontario curler and current head of the Own the Podium initiative gave the keynote speech at the Mixed banquet.
Quick review: one of the best speeches ever. It was moving. It was funny. It was relevant to the curlers in the room. And it inspired. Anne has a great story to tell, and a very sympathetic way of telling it. If you get a chance, check out what she is doing at Own the Podium, and listen to her talk about the role of heroes in our society.

The trials start this weekend!
This is bar none; the single toughest curling event in world. It features the 8 best men’s and women’s  teams in Canada, playing for one spot at the Winter Olympics. For every curler, this is a life-changer. It is the ultimate prize, and is probably the only event left that can get the eight top teams to crap their pants with nervousness. So who is going to win?

Women’s: It’s Rachel Homan. It has to be Rachel Homan. It’s a lock. Nedohin or Jones in the final, But Homan is the best women’s team this country has ever seen. They are curling machines. They have quit their jobs to prepare. If they do not win, we are not sending our best team.

Men’s:  Incredibly tough to pick, but here goes.

The Favorite:
Smart money seems to be on Glenn Howard. They are consistently the best team in Canada. I think Savill and Laing are the best front end in the game, and Middaugh is the best 3rd. Probably the best chance to win gold as well.

Should be Close:
Koe: always tough to beat, and has Olympic experience on the team (Rycroft at 2nd). Simmons at 3rd might me their downfall.
Stoughton is always clutch, and has come very close in the past. The Olympics are the only thing missing off his resumé. I always cheer for the toe-tuckers.
Martin is always a favorite, but with a new 3rd (David Nedohin), I can’t see them winning.
Jacobs is the defending Brier Champ, but I can’t see these guys pulling it off on such a big stage.

The  Long Shots:
McEwen has been one of the best cash teams in Canada, and has dominated at times over the past four years. But they have not played well of late. Depends which team shows up. As mentioned, I always cheer for the toe tuckers.
Epping is a long shot. Replaced Scott Howard with Colin Mitchell (really?). Don’t think they have the game.
Morris/Cotter: Jeez, I hope not.
Should be an interesting week of curling. Every team there is more than capable of winning against anyone, so I can’t see anyone at 7-0. 4-3 might even make a playoff game.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Dear Curling Gods

With all the skill and practice and strategy involved in curling, sometimes the difference between winning and losing is just a lucky (or unlucky break). With that in mind....


 Dear Curling Gods;

I am writing you in advance of some competitions that I have coming up in the next few weeks and months. I realise that I might have said some nasty things about you, and I might have used some inappropriate and blasphemous language when referring to you over the past year or so, thus I wanted to take this opportunity to clear the air before I head off to the Mixed National Curling Championships in Ottawa next week (for those wishing to follow online, results can be found at curling.ca. . The action starts this Saturday evening)
I know you and I have not always gotten along. I seem to remember a random flat spot on an open draw a few years back that cost me a few thousand pesos, and some ever so random bad breaks that have plagued me on numerous occasions. But let’s put that behind us and start again.  
I am sure you are busy concocting cruel twists of fortune for the teams at the Olympic Trials coming up, so I would ask that you watch over my humble team at the Mixed. They are good guys (and gals). Jo and Alanna are far too young to have earned your wrath. Alanna even manages a curling club. Kennedy is a poster boy for sportsmanship.
In return for your favour (or at least a fair treatment), I pledge to teach the old ways of curling to the youth; I will teach them the unwritten, often forgotten rules of the game over which You reign:

  • This is a social game! Play hard to win, but have fun while doing it.   
  • Even though this is an Olympic Sport, it’s still a silly game where you slide rocks on ice while sweeping and yelling. Stay humble.
  •  Play hard when on the ice, then party with the opposition either way.
  • Always start and end every game with a sincere and firm handshake with eye contact.
  •  Enjoy every moment at a National, you never know when your next one will be.
  •  Always respect your opposition. Always respect the game.
  • Complement your opponent when they make a great shot (then make a better one!)
  • You should apologize to your opposition when you are the benefactor of the largesse of the Gods. You should definitely not celebrate a lucky break.
  • Frequent hi-fiving has no place in this sport.
  • Going to bed early is over-rated. Lots of fun things can happen after midnight.

Great and Powerful Curling Gods – Hear my Prayer! I would offer to sacrifice a virgin in Your honor, but I am not likely to find one at a Mixed Nationals. I would offer to burn a broom, but carbon-fiber composites don’t burn like a good old straw broom. I would offer my firstborn, but I have grown kinda fond of him. Maybe we can sacrifice a chicken at some point during the week (maybe we could go for St-Hubert BBQ chicken), we will surely raise a glass in your honour at some point.  

Thanks for your consideration,
Your humble servant 


PS – Not to be a tattletale, but I heard Balsdon talking shit about You at the Trials.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Olympic Pre Trial and Trial picks

Olympic Pre-Trials

Some of the best curling in the world is going on this week in Kitchener, at the pre-Olympic Trials qualifying. 12 men’s and 12 women’s teams vying to keep their Olympic dream alive, and to qualify for the final Olympic Trials to be held in December.
If you are a true curling fan, it will not get better than this. The Grand Slams have somewhat turned into a festival of the same 5 or 6 teams all fighting over some pile of money that they really do not need. It all seems like rather contrived drama to me.  As I have said before, I can only watch Martin play Howard so many times before it gets a little dull. The Brier on the other hand has the tradition and the prestige, but it also has PEI and the Territories (at least for now). The Trials offer a glimpse into something different. These are some of the top teams that you do not see on television very often, if at all. They are playing for something that means far more than money. And they are among the best teams in the country.
It also shows how much depth exists in Canadian Curling, in that any of the 12 teams at the pre-Trials would have to be considered as a strong favorite if you dropped them into a World Championship.
This is truly curling worth watching. The stakes for these guys could not be higher. Making the final eight will either be a breakthrough for some of the teams, or a confirmation of status for others.
On the men’s side, Jacobs, Gushue, Menard, Rumfeldt, Kean, Cochrane, Balsdon, Higgs, Laycock, Morris, Fowler and Frans are the 12 teams that will compete for the right to play at the Trials in December. Martin, Howard, Stoughton, McEwen, Koe and Epping have already qualified into the final eight, and thus are not playing this week.
So who will get through this weekend? I think the most-battle tested teams will make it through. Gushue will find a way to get a spot. Tough to bet against Morris or Jacobs, but I think I would pick Ménard ahead of either based on what I saw at Gatineau. Jacobs is cursed with surreal expectations, they will weigh him down this weekend. Kean I think needs another 4 years before they can truly contend. Morris will struggle to find chemistry with his new team. My pick is Gushue and Ménard. I will be cheering hard for the boys from Quebec; it would be awesome to have some Quebec content at the Trials, and Ménard and friends have proven that they can play at that level. Tune in this weekend – or follow along on-line at curling.ca. And of course good luck to my buddy Balsy, aka Greg Balsdon who I will be seeing in few weeks at the Canadian Mixed.
Once into the final eight, I am picking McEwen to break through at the Trials.
I am not sure what will happen in the women’s, but I think the December Trials will ultimately be a 3 horse race between Heather Nedohin, Jenny Jones, and Rachel Homan. The only team that could come out of this weekend with an outside shot at the Olympics is Kelly Scott. The other teams will be heavy underdogs at the Trials. Of the big three, you would be crazy to bet against Homan the way she has played.  So my picks are:

Pre Trials:
Men: Gushue, Ménard
Women: Scott, Bernard

Trials:  McEwen and Homan to represent Canada at the Olympics - you read it here first.


The Quebec Curling Tour Championship was held this weekend, possibly for the last time. Attendance is down, and there seems to be little interest in Quebec to support a tour that is inaccessible to many of the curlers that pay for it. (The event is funded by “taxing” every curling event in the province $20 per player to accumulate a prize pool for this tournament). Not sure what the solution is, but I am working on it!

On the ice, Menard beat Reid in the final. Reid is skipping a team with JS Roy, Mo and Lou (with Simon Dupuis).
Some of the big Quebec names are not having stellar seasons so far; I will not name names but there were a lot of grumpy curlers at Laviolette that were out well before Sunday. Tough to predict who will do well in Provincials, but so far it looks a bit of a one-horse race based on the way the big teams are playing.
As for me, we lost a tough quarter final game to Dan Caron. No offense to Dan and team – who played great – but it felt like we beat ourselves. We seem to be giving away 8th end deuces like candy on Halloween. Need to fix that...


The Quebec competitive curlers had their annual tête-à-tête with Curling Quebec. The meeting went very well (far less yelling than last year), although all we can seem to agree in is the fact that the current Circuit and Provincial Qualifying format is not working.

Quebec has a number of challenges:

1. Competitive sign-ups are WAY down. Probably only about 25-30 teams will try to compete to go to the Brier this year. Probably fewer than 10 women’s teams will sign up. There are a number of theories as to why:

  • The good teams are “too good”, thereby discouraging average teams from entering
  • The entry fee (around $300) is too high
  • There are less curlers – less juniors feeding into the system
  • Nobody but the top teams wants to spend a week at Quebec Provincials usually held in some remote town

·         2. The Quebec Curling Tour is not working – average teams see it as a “tax” on every bonspiel, for which they receive nothing. The Circuit collects less and less money every year, and they had a tough time finding 16 teams to fill the event.

2. Quebec is BIG
It is a big challenge to satisfy the competitive teams (which come mainly from Montreal, Quebec, Gatineau and the Saguenay), as well as support the more remote parts of the province like Abitibi and Cote Nord who also want to play.

3. Quebec is diverse.
How do you accommodate the needs of the 6-7 teams that practice, train, travel and work their asses off to be competitive at a National level with the needs of Colts/New teams that are trying to break into competition, or the remote region teams that just want to play? The reality is we need both.

I do not have the answers to these problems – but I am working on it, as are CQ and the competitive players. Everyone wants to develop curling and to see more teams playing competitively, and recreationally. But how?

Is still tell the story of how a mere 20 years ago, I qualified for Provincials out of the Montreal region in a playdown that featured 76 teams for 3 spots! Now there are less than 30 teams in the entire province. SIGH.