Favorite Reporter

Favorite Reporter

Thursday, January 30, 2014

This is Mike Fournier Reporting for Muppet News - no wait The Curling News!

The Scotties will be starting next week in my home town of Montreal. I get to cover the event as a member of the media, blogging for The Curling News. (Must remember to not blog under the influence). I will try to follow the lead of my favorite journalist:

I am guessing that the organizing committee and the entire Montreal curling world are pretty much holding their breath right now, hoping that people will come and see the event.

It is being held at the Maurice Richard Arena, next to the Olympic Stadium is the East End of Montreal. The big question on people’s mind is: will anyone show up?
I am sure the traveling curling crowd and the local curling fan base will guarantee at least a few thousand in the crowd, but I am struggling to see where the rest of the crowd will come from.
Montreal curling is in a state of decline, but there are good news stories and signs of hope. Three or four curling clubs are doing relatively well in terms of membership and participation (including my own), 4-5 more are doing “okay”, and the rest are suffering. Many clubs know that their days are numbered; some are artificially kept alive by the municipality that owns or runs them. 

So the question is: how many people will come out and support the event? The challenge that Montreal will face in drawing fans is mainly one of distraction. Unlike a lot of smaller cities that usually host the Scotties, Montreal has a lot going on, and the media here do not give a flying@##?& about curling. So just getting the word out that the event is happening is a monstrous challenge. The English media is a little easier to penetrate, but they speak to a relatively small audience. The hockey and boxing-obsessed French sports media in Montreal will likely not devote much effort to covering the Scotties, although I hope I am wrong. I am sure RDS (the French TSN) will be on sight, unlike their usual studio-bound coverage where Guy talks over the TSN feed. God help us if Michel Therrien gets fired the week of the Scotties – you would not hear a peep about curling anywhere except my blog!

The week will provide us an opportunity to see how good Curling Quebec and the CCA will be at creating some excitement in the French media. So far, I have seen some easy to overlook ads in the French papers, and my Facebook always seems to tell me about the event in the ads section (I assume this is because I “liked” curling or something similar). But I am curious to see how the local media is brought into the event. Hopefully they will get the morning shows out to try, and promote the event through media activity. The National Mixed at TMR a few years ago was a much-smaller scale success, with a decent number of attendees and some well-planned media activity. 

If you are in Montreal – go watch some games! Experience the atmosphere of a National Championship. You will not be disappointed! You Gotta be There!  (and if you need a place to crash, I have an air mattress in my attic!)


My blog before Christmas “What the Olympics have done to Competitive Curling” has certainly generated a lot of discussion. I even got a response from Nolan Thiessen – lead for Team Koe. Here is the link.

Just want to clarify:
I do not begrudge the top teams in Canada for reaping the rewards. I know how much hard work and sacrifice is involved in competing at that level. But I still maintain that curling cannot just be about 10 teams – and resources should be spent accordingly.
And please do not get me started on the Continental Cup. That was just painful to watch. I am a diehard curling fan – and I was at Provincials with lots of time to kill between draws and nothing else to watch – but it was PAINFUL. I don’t care if it is another 25 hours of curling coverage on TV. I don’t begrudge the teams that played in it – hell if the CCA offered to fly me to Vegas for a 5-day party, I would say Viva Las Vegas, pull out my Elvis suit and hit the strip faster than you can say “Hit Me again Mr. Dealer!”, even if I had to curl mixed doubles with Rachel Homan. But I say again – it WAS PAINFUL.
I admit I am not always in the know, and if anyone wants to correct me - please do, but I have heard from "people" that the Continental Cup and the Canada Cup cost the CCA money. Not sure if the move to Vegas helped, but I am assuming not. I still find it hard to believe that this is the best way to promote the growth of the sport – or even the development of the elite. I just don’t get it.


As I post this blog, my buddy and Mixed bromance partner Greg Balsdon is 6-1 at the Ontario Tankard – and playing Glenn Howard this afternoon.  GO BALLSY!!! I think I will put my Balsdon shirt on around the house today.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Curling depression - and my unrequited love for a sliding broom.

Communique from my basement:


I have not left my house in days. Since our crushing last rock defeat against JM Menard in the semi-final of the Quebec Provincial Curling Championship, I have not left my basement.  I have not shaved. I have not showered. I have not changed out of my curling pants.
I simply walk around in circles, muttering “out-turn double, I don’t think my rock can go through that hole without taking out one of his” over and over again. I don’t sleep. When I do drift off, I am almost immediately shaken awake by the haunting image of JM’s rock sliding across the house, but not out. I have become a collection of nervous tics and tremors. I am a wreck.
I lay on my couch, covered in chip crumbs and empty beer cans, waiting for the memory to fade, waiting for the anguish to subside. I contemplate whacking myself in the forehead with my 8-ender brush “Brad Heidt-style”, hoping to induce some form of curling amnesia that could exorcise the last few days out of my brain. I have written a song to express my mood. 


But seriously, I don’t know if it’s because I’m older and grizzled, but I just don’t feel that bad. Despite my loss, my kids were still happy to see me, and I seem to have realized pretty quickly that life does go on, despite a gut-wrenching defeat at the hands of JM, who will again represent Quebec at this year’s Brier in March in Kamloops. Shit Happens.
It would be easy to hate curling. But the fact is it is hard to hate a game that can stir up so much emotion and drama. As cliché as it sounds, there is always next year. But thanks to all who have reached out to me in support! I am okay. Really.


It was a compelling week of curling and drama in Val d’Or, with Allison Ross winning the Scotties over Kim Mastine, and JM defeating Phil Lemay in a seemingly unexciting Tankard final. Some quick highlights:

  • Allison is a very deserving champion. They were the class of the field, and clearly outplayed Kim Mastine in the final. They work harder than any team in Quebec, and it shows in how well they execute. I am hoping she can improve on her Scotties showing from last year.
  • A good run from Kim,although they seemed to falter in the end. They will be back.
  • An impressive Bronze medal for Roxanne Perron, who showed she had a lot of game, defeating the 1, 2 and 3 seeds in the round robin. She would have found herself in the final if not for a late-week loss to the local team with only one win on the week. This looks like a promising team for years to come. Plus, they have a great coach!
  • Tough loss for Eve Belisle in her last game to be eliminated. She came up a foot short on an extra-end draw against Ross to make semis.
  • Lemay has become the Buffalo Bills of Quebec curling, losing 3 finals in a row. You have to feel bad for them, they beat Menard 2out 3 times, but not at the right time. Phil played a simple, hard-hitting style of curling that was especially effective when he had a lead. I did not stay for the final (as I was driving back from Val d’Or alone in my car replaying the last end in my head for seven hours), but I hear it was never really close. An early 4 sealed JM’s return to the Brier.
  • Not many rumours as to who is sticking together or breaking apart next year (or at least I was not aware of them!), but I am guessing you will see some changes in the teams that finished out of the playoffs.   
  • Great job by the organizers in Val d’Or. The club, the facilities, the volunteers, the ice, the committee, the officials, were all second to none. Despite the long drive, everyone seemed to have a great time. Val d'Or itself seemed especially hospitable; the temperature never fell to the -20 I was expecting.
  • Denis Robichaud is my new favorite team. Denis and his team are relatively new curlers (most are still eligible for Colts, meaning less than 5 years!), but they played great all week. They beat Reid and Desjardins, and came within a hair of beating JM. More importantly, they reminded us just how much fun the game is. They showed up to almost every draw where they were not playing, and created a wild atmosphere behind the glass, singing, gambling and cheering every shot. One of them even played “Scotland the Brave” on a harmonica. Curling in Quebec needs 10 more teams like this. And I am in love with the 3rd’s sliding broom. He is a toe-tucker and uses an old corn-broom taped up a- la Mike McEwen. No way should a guy with less than 5 years of curling experience have a sliding broom that cool. I am jealous. JF – if you are reading this – please post a picture of the broom in the comments section below.
  • Lots of discussion about the qualifying format for next year, but I will talk about that in a later blog.
(edit: here is the sliding boom in question with its owner. awesome!)

Pier-luc Trépanier's photo.

All in all, a fun week. Some final thoughts.

We need to find a way to webstream these games. The curling is too good to not be seen by the entire Quebec curling world. I know this has been tried and failed in the past, but I know the cost of streaming has dropped substantially in the last few years. This is a great event; it should be the marquee event of Quebec curling, yet nobody sees it. The people at CurlingZone.com are web streaming crappy cashspiels from all over Canada. If they can do it, why can’t we. BTW, the provincial finals in 6 or 7 other provinces are broadcast on Regional Rogers Sportsnet channels. 

Quebec curling also needs a better storyteller. Seems to me you used to be able to at least read a report on the games, to give some indication to fans elsewhere what is going on. (especially when the event is in Val d’Or). We feign outrage at the lack of media coverage of our sport, yet we can’t even be bothered to post some media coverage on the Curling Quebec website or Facebook page? What about a press release? Anything? I think somebody tweeted some pics, but that was as far as it got. If we are looking to get corporate sponsors involved, shouldn't we at least appear to be interested in our own sport?  

Anyway, enough blogging I need to get back to my secluded depression.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Reactions to My Last Blog - and Some Thoughts on Quebec Junior Provs

My last post seems to have created a little bit of discussion – and gotten me a few new readers.
Interesting reactions – a lot of agreement and a lot of disagreement.
To summarize:

A lot of people disagreed:
A lot of people do not see the problem: They see entries falling – but they say: “So what!” It is the natural evolution of the sport. The elite have gotten better. So shut up and be happy that you still have the Mixed and the Dominion to play in! Otherwise, quit your job, leave your wife (or try to find a very accommodating one!) that allows you to go all-in.
Also, people point to Brad Jacobs as an example of why I am wrong – as this team has “emerged” from the masses to join the elite level teams; thereby proving that the system works.

But a lot of people agreed:
I received massive agreement from the more remote provinces, where competitive curling has all but died. For example, if you are awesome in New Brunswick, you pretty much need to get on a plane and fly to get a CTRS point. Not surprisingly, a lot of people from BC, NB and NS agreed with my post wholeheartedly.
Interesting, people from other countries also chimed in, apparently this is not an exclusively Canadian sentiment.  

Let me clarify a few points:

1. I have no beef with people who dedicate their lives to curling. I think it is awesome that teams can dedicate their lives to mastering the game, and they deserve our respect, admiration and definitely some funding. I will cheer for Canada at the Olympics, and I have no beef with the elite teams in Canada. The sport needs an elite.

2. My beef is with the notion that it is all or nothing. You need to be the absolute best, or you should shut up, grab three club curlers and try for the Dominion. I think the Dominion is great. But I think it is insulting to a lot of curlers in this country to tell them that they belong in a “Best of the B” event.
 The strength of Canadian curling comes in large part from its depth. The reason Brad Jacobs is so good, is that they needed to rise up from the countless solid cashspiel teams that exist in order for them to break into the elite. Good for them. To quote Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own: “It’s supposed to be hard. It’s the hard that makes it great.”

3. I really love curling. I have played this sport all my life. But like many of the curlers around me, I have day job. And kids. And a mortgage. And yet we still throw rocks at odd hours, sacrifice our vacation time and a large part of our sanity to chase the dream and keep trying to make a Brier and be competitive. I think there are a lot of people like me, and yet I feel like the current system does little do support us, and in fact kinda discourages us. As an observer and as a player, I believe that a lot of what makes curling great happens at this level. The competitive teams from all parts of the country support spiels, and help develop the level just beneath them.
If we don’t try to save it, and only support the elite few with Slams, subsidies and sponsorship, then this level will die out. And I for one think that would be a tragedy.
I am not saying we need a revolution. Just maybe a little resource reallocation.

So – as I said in my last post:
In short, less events for the chosen few, more money poured into the next level down.


Okay enough about what is wrong – let’s talk a bit about what is right.
I spent the last week watching some of the Quebec Junior curling championships at my home club (Glenmore CC).
There was some excellent curling, some high drama and some serious shotmaking.

In the Ladies...

The tournament was won by Sarah Dumais from Etchemin CC, in a tough final over Lisa Davies from Glenmore. They looked like the better team in the final. They outplayed Davies for the last 5 ends of the game that I saw.
A very brave effort by Davies and her team. I was cheering hard for this team – Lisa and her sister Allison both have been curling in the ladder at Glenmore with the “grownups” for a few years now. I always respect juniors who recognize that they can learn and improve by playing against men’s/women’s teams. Davies made a ton of clutch shots all week to keep her dream alive...but ran out of big shots in the final.

In the Junior boys...

Adam Freilich beat Mark Fajertag in a very unexciting final that he won by a touchdown.
Far more interesting was his semi-final against Bornais. The game went to an extra end, but was decided in a bit of controversy:
Freilich had to draw the button against a counter back button with his last rock. His draw came up top button. His team thought it was good enough, but the crowd watching on the overhead camera were not sure. Before there could be a measure (and before Bornais’s 3rd could take a good look at it), Freilich kicked his own rock, claiming he heard the other 3rd say “1 Blue”. After much discussion, they decided to REPLAY THE END!!! Wow. My experience is always that if you kick the rock, you lose. But the officials made another call. I was not out there, so I do not know who said what, or how close it really was.  But Freilich took one in the replayed end to win the game, and then goes on to win the next one to go to a junior nationals. Wow.

A few hours after losing the semi final – I saw that Ian South (who plays 2nd for Bornais) posted something on the Glenmore Facebook page. I admit I expected the worst. I expected a social media rant about the officials, about how it sucked to lose that way, about the injustice of it all...
Instead, he posted:
“Junior Provincials at Glenmore are over. A big thank you to all the volunteers and members who came out to support during the week. Thanks to Karl as well for the excellent job with the ice!”
Maybe there is hope for us after all.