I was hanging around a dark curling club bar just before Christmas, when in walked a shady figure with a dark mask on. I recognized him right away as the Unknown Curling Fan (the UCF) who had in previous years made anonymous predictions about Quebec provincials. But it had been years since anyone had heard from him. Where had he gone?
He sat next to me and ordered a gin and tonic. In a gravelly voice, he asked me:
“Are you the guy with the crappy curling blog?” he asked.
“Yup. That is me.” I replied, sipping on a rye and coke.
“I have some predictions for Valleyfield.”
So below is an extract of my conversation with UCF, as best as I could remember it:
Me: Okay – let’s get the Women’s side out of the way first. It should not take too long.
UCF: Indeed. Only 5 teams signed up! Women’s curling is going the way of the dinosaurs in Quebec. There used to be 5 teams entered in my club! Now only 5 teams in the whole province! Soon it will be a sign-up sheet to go to the Scotties! This feels like High School all over again. (I went to an all-boys school!) Somebody should write a blog with ideas on how to fix it!
Me: Hmmmmm. I think I already did. Okay – so who will win?
UCF: Only 3 teams have a sniff. Marie-France Larouche is likely the favourite, although she is coming off of child-raising exile from the game. They have looked good when they have played. Lauren Mann is the defending champ, and they work harder than most teams. Roxanne Perron has had a dog of a season, but lost the final last year and will likely pick it up for provincials. Camille Lapierre and Helene Pelchat are there to fill out the draw, but will likely win a few games they are not expected to win.
Me: Okay. But who will win!
UCF: Tricky question. I like longshots, underdogs and Disney movies, so I will go with Perron winning 8-7 in an extra-end by throwing an outturn tap-back with back four-weight for the win. (This is totally unlikely – but imagine how much of a genius I will look like if it hits!)
Me: Okay – enough about women! Let’s talk about MEN. Let’s start by looking at who is not there! Any big teams not make the cut?
UCF: Not really. A few surprises in the regionals – with John Stewart and his elbow-patch toe-tuck retro-team winning a spot, and Marco Chartrand (formerly Max Dufresne’s team, with Max now playing 3rd) surprising some teams by squeaking through the C – but those are not really big surprises.
Me: Some were surprised that Mark Homan did not qualify. There was a lot of griping about Mark playing down in Quebec this year. (Mark has curled out of Ottawa/Ontario for the past few years, and has made it to Ontario provincials). He picked up Mike Kennedy and Sebastien Robillard, and apparently lives in Gatineau! So it was all legal (thanks to the CCA now allowing one out-of-province import per team), but his team was frowned upon by the Quebec curling community. But What do you think UCF?
UCF: I say whatever. The guy pays taxes in Quebec, and has curled in Quebec provincials before. So I say “Bienvenue au Quebec Mark!”. And they lost anyway. Apparently they have now learned the meaning of the French expression: “y’en a pas de facile!”
But overall, it is a very strong field! There are 14 good teams, and definitely no free spaces on the bingo card. If you find yourself looking for an easy game, then it’s you!
Me: So what about the new format?
UCF: Should be interesting. It is now a three-step provincial! Step one is two pools of 7 teams, round robin, the top 3 get out of each pool!
Then the reaming 6 teams finish the round robin (you carry forward your record from the first stage), then the top 4 out of 6 move on to the playoffs. Then it’s back to the traditional 4 team page system (Named after legendary rock guitarist Jimmy Paige) to get us a winner.
Me: Sounds complicated!
UCF: It is. The eggheads at Curling Quebec came up with it as a good compromise to ensure that everyone has a fair shot at making it to provincials by including 14 teams instead of 10. And it seems to have worked. There are teams from Sept-Iles, Val d’Or, the Saguenay and even a Host team. As usual, some people will complain about the format, but it still comes down to a one-game final, and the best team usually wins! As a bonus – if you stink it up and go 0-6, you don’t have to stick around until Friday and pretend to still like your team!
Me: Okay. So talk about the field. Who are the favorites?
UCF: Okay. If we start at the top, of course JM is the favorite. But they are beatable.
I called Vic Router, and asked him what was the secret to beating Ménard, and he said “Make them throw in-turns”. So I asked him how to do that, and he said “I have no idea, but make the final 6-5 Ménard”.
JM throws his outturn everywhere. He loves his outturn. At night, he has wet dreams about outturns. He wanted to name his first-born “Outturn” but Annie said no. When he stands at the urinal, don’t stand to his left because he will throw an outturn and pee on you. Clocks make him feel uncomfortable (because they turn clockwise). His car only has a left hand turn-signal.
When he has to throw an in-turn – the team has to follow an emergency procedure handbook, because it only happens once a season. JM’s inturn is so bad that he is thinking about learning to throw left-handed – so if he ever was someday forced to throw an in-turn, he could switch curling shoes with his brother and throw a lefty out-turn instead.
Seriously - JM will be tough to beat as usual, no matter what turn he is throwing. He is the odds-on favourite as usual.
Me: The #2 ranked team is likely to be Fournier. What do you think of this team?
UCF: Never heard of him. Apparently he toe-tucks, and comes from the Saguenay. Sounds like a Serge Reid wannabe.
Me: Okay, thanks. So are you expecting the crowd to be chanting “Guy, Guy, Guy!”?
UCF: For sure the crowd favorite is likely to be the colourful Guy Hemmings, who emerged this season from a cave in Northern Afghanistan to skip the Trepannier brothers and his nephew Simon. The Trepannier brothers are local legends in Valleyfield. They will have countless swooning admirers! And Guy always draws a crowd. Guy will win a lot of games by being Guy – and throwing hack-weight double takeouts and by drawing to the pin like he owns it.
Me: What about the rest of the field?
UCF: Well, in no particular order…
Bob Desjardins is likely to be an interesting team to follow, as usual. This season Bob is more like an infomercial than a curling team: Order a CurlBob now! It throws skips rocks, it sweeps, it calls the game, it slices, it dices, it finds sponsors. Call 1-888-CURLBOB to order your very own Bob Desjardins now for 39.99 and we will include for free these authentic Bob Desjardins woolen slippers to put over your curling shoes!!
Bob will win games. Just by being Bob.
Matt Beaufort and his guys are young and solid. And they are doing that snowplow/corner sweeping with hair brooms thing that all the big teams WCT are now doing. We will see if it will work!
Not sure who will skip William Dion’s team; at regionals Felix Asselin took the helm, and they won the A. Depending on the line-up, they will win some games.
Steven Munroe: Last year’s 4th place finisher had to drive 39 hours to play a regional after finishing just out of the money spot, so you can bet that they will be hungry to win, if only to make it feel like driving to Sept-Iles for 2 games was worth the trip!
JS Roy has played well at times this year, and badly at other times, but has enough game to at least be a spoiler, if not a contender. They will also win games because their team jackets look like an acid trip I took back in the 70’s.
Those are the 8 most likely teams to move past the initial stage. So at least two of these will be out on Wednesday! The remaining 6 teams that I have not mentioned will have to upset some of these teams to get into the playoffs. Is it likely? Not really, but you never know.
In the remaining six teams, there are some interesting story lines:
Not sure when the last father-son match up happened at a Quebec Provincial. Not in recent memory at least. If John Stewart does play Jeff Stewart, I suspect it will go like this:
John: I am your father Jeff.
John uses light saber to cut off Jeff’s throwing arm.
Other than that, you have Denis Robichaud, Simon Hébert/Kevin Baker – the designated “Host” team , Denis “the Flame” Laflamme, and Marc-André Chartrand. All of these teams would likely be very happy to be playing after Wednesday, but will probably not be there for the weekend. But they are all good enough to upset a contender or two along the way.
Me: Anything else?
Yup. A big thumbs up to Valleyfield and the folks at CQ in advance; it looks like they have stepped up the marketing, the excitement and the marketability of the event. It now has a title sponsor (World Financial Group) to go along with Scotties, web-streaming of the finals and some pretty good pre-promotion so far.
Now all we need is fans!!! So come and watch. Valleyfield is not far. And the curling will be good.
Me: Thanks UCF. This has been great. You should start a blog!
UCF: Naw - nobody reads blogs. I now must go into hiding again!
With that the UCF threw back his G&T and slid quietly out of the curling club.