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Monday, November 19, 2018

There is Drinking in Curling! I Am Shocked!

If you have not yet heard, curling made the news this week for the wrong reasons:
Jamie Koe, and a pickup team made up of Ryan Fry, DJ Kidby and Chris Shille were ejected from a WCT event in Red Deer over the weekend for unsportsmanlike behavior.

Curling Team Ejected

You can read the articles on this, so I won't re-tell the story. And I was not there.
But from what I understand, they (and I don't think it was the entire team) behaved really badly on the ice, smashing and breaking brooms, then damaged the locker room. They were all pretty drunk at the time.

So I certainly did not want to be writing on this topic - but I am at a work conference today and I have already been asked about it by non-curlers about a million times already. So first of all - thanks for that guys. You have now made it tougher for every team looking for sponsors across the country to convince people that curling weekend are not drunken escapes from our wives.

This is definitely not the kind of attention that our sport needs.

But I am pretty sure they are getting an earful from just about everybody in the curling world today - so I will hold back from further criticism.

But I will talk a bit about drinking and fun in curling.

So here is the deal. Curling is a sport that has often been associated with drinking. And I certainly grew up in that generation.

So full disclosure:

I have gotten drunk at so many bonspiels, I can't even begin to count. I typically have not curled drunk very often (mainly because I am not very good at it). And I have curled hungover, in more important games than I would like to admit.

But when I started curling in the late eighties, that was what EVERYONE did. We drank. We partied. We did stupid stuff. The best teams in the world were doing it. Ed Werenich, Paul Gowsell, Hackner. They all drank and partied until the weee hours of the morning, then got up and curled. And usually curled pretty well.

In Quebec we had the Buckingham guys, who were half in the bag or hungover while playing at Provincials to go to the Brier, let alone a weekend cashspiel. And they won. A lot. When we played, our team physician/therapist was Doctor Bacardi  - he could cure all ills.

But somewhere along the way that changed. It seems to coincide with the notion that curling is an Olympic pursuit and not just a game. It coincides with the notion of "professional" curlers, or guys who now make their living curling.  It coincides with the emergence of coaching, because it is hard to convince your coach that you are mentally preparing for a game when you are really trying to focus on not throwing up. It coincides with binge-drinking becoming far less socially acceptable than it was 20-30 years ago.

Somewhere along the way, the teams that drank their way to success faded away, and were replaced by teams that would have a protein shake instead of a beer before the game. They were replaced by early morning visits to the gym, instead of the floor of the hotel room bathroom.

I look back and wonder why we did it. I think part of it was the lack of coaching. The fact is, one of the most important secrets to the higher levels of curling is to learn how to "turn your brain off", in other words, how to not overthink your delivery. Coaches work hard with teams teaching them this point.  The way we used to do this was by occupying the right side of your brain with the task of holding down your breakfast. So we drank. We drank to forget, and to exorcise the demons that haunt you after a game. And we drank to make sure we were not thinking about being nervous. And we drank because it was fun.

Now most of the great drinking of the past is long gone from the game, relegated to end of season drinking spiels like the Glenmore Intermediate, the Kenogami spring tournament and countless other relatively meaningless but immensely fun events across the country where drinking still plays a big role in curling.

But there are throwbacks. Jamie Koe is a throwback to another generation. He drinks. And plays. And plays well.
Jamie and Chris Shille played me last year at the Brier in the "placement game" which was relatively meaningless but was still televised on TSN.
I don't think they slept much the night before, and I am pretty confident that they did not have any water in their water bottles.
But we had a fun game, and they out-curled the shit out of my sober team.
(you can actually watch a replay of the game on Youtube, in case you want to watch some drunk guys beat the crap out of us:  Fournier vs. Koe Brier 2018). Jamie and Chris did not miss many.

I have hung out with Jamie at spiels before, and they have made a career out of being not only good on the ice, but great at the bar. And nobody loves curling more than Jamie Koe. He is a popular draw at charity spiels, and readily gives his time to a number of causes.

So Jamie signed up to play at the Red Deer Classic, which seems to be a Tier 2- level curling tournament. It is not a drinking spiel. This was a real event, with sponsors and volunteers and teams competing. And like most spiels, Jamie did what Jamie does: drink.
But I have a tough time seeing Jamie as being "unsportsmanlike". Drunk yes, unsportsmanlike no.

Make no mistake, this team did not get kicked out of the tournament for being drunk. Jamie is drunk at most spiels he plays, and has never gotten kicked out of anywhere. His team got kicked out for being assholes (at least one of them).

The issue by all accounts seems to have been Ryan Fry, who has been known to smash a broom or two while sober. Fry is on a week off from Team Jacobs, who are between 2 Grand Slam Events. So he likely signed on to spare with Jamie, thinking it would be a fun week of a more casual style of curling. Ooops. Ryan apparently behaved badly, both on and off the ice.

By all accounts, Fry seems to know how bad he screwed up, and this will more than likely end up being a trans-formative experience for the guy. I am not saying he will find Jesus or join AA, but I think you have to take a hard look at yourself in the mirror when you get kicked out of a bonspiel for being an asshole. His apology on Twitter today seems contrite. And I wish him the best. We have all screwed up at times, this occasion is just a bit more public than most.

As for Jamie, he is one of the true characters of the game I love, it would be a shame if this tarnishes his image as a lovable and highly-skilled party animal. I doubt it will.

My lead, JF Trepanier, made a great point this weekend - before we even knew about the whole Koe-Fry thing, and I think it is especially relevant today:
As competitive curlers, we owe a debt to the game. The Game gives us a lot: it gives us fun and excitement and the chance to have fans actually cheer for what we do. Sometimes it even gives us money. What a privilege.

But the trade-off is that we have to make it fun for the fans to watch as well.
We have to make the people watching the game love curling as much as we do. We do that as much with how we act on the ice as we do with our curling ability - if not more so.
This is why a Guy Hemmings was always so popular with the fans. You did not just watch him play, you shared in his joy of curling.

I think this is a good thing to keep in mind for the uber-serious competitive teams of today, and especially for Ryan Fry.


So in less exciting news, Team Fournier had a good weekend in Halifax - losing in the Semis to eventual winner Scott Howard.

The spiel itself was awesome. This was the inaugural Stu Sells 1824 Halifax Classic, and we definitely plan on returning. The hospitality was typically Maritime, the ice was flawless and the party was a blast. The curling world needs more events like this. Big thanks to the organizers - and to Stu Stankey, who is now sponsoring some of the best events in the country.

We are now off to Charlevoix this weekend, one of my favorite places in curling despite how it has treated me in the past, and usually on my birthday no less.


  1. I've read a couple of different stories, one that would suggest that Ryan Fry was just being a class clown (his perspective) and another one that was an apology for their behaviour. I also heard comments from Hartung, who was their opponent in the game where Koe's team was disqualified, and he indicated it wasn't as bad as the media made it out to be. But he did say it was disturbing.

    Drinking was always part of bonspiels when I grew up. My parents both played the game and Dad eventually became the icemaker at the one sheet curling rink in rural Sask. It wasn't unusual for the parents to head out to the vehicles between games (or even ends) for a quick nip. I agree that becoming an Olympic sport has definitely changed the game for the better.

    Congrats on your weekend in Halifax. Sounds like a great time!


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