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Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Brier is Broken! (and other Fake News)

Somehow, the debate on the format of the Brier/Scotties has bubbled to the surface amidst this pandemic. Once again, the debate of what the Brier is, and how we should qualify teams for our National championship has been the subject of podcasts and newspaper articles.

Curling Canada, understandably desperate to run its most lucrative events has scheduled a Brier and a Scotties to be held in a NHL-style bubble.

Some curlers and media types have emerged from isolation to suggest that Curling Canada should use this occasion to finally eliminate all the weaker teams from the Brier and just invite the top 10 or 16 CTRS teams in the country. The current format guarantees a spot at the Brier for each of Canada's provinces and territories. Changing the format to the top 16 would eliminate many of the smaller provinces that do not have a team in the top 16 (including Quebec!). The proponents of this change would hope to make it permanent.

The arguments I have heard in favor of eliminating the quaint idea of provincial representation go something like this:

  • The first few days of the Brier are crap, and nobody watches because there are too many crappy teams from crappy provinces in the field.
  • Good young teams in tough provinces never get a chance to be at the Brier, depriving them of the fame and glory that come from curling’s biggest stage (other than the Olympics)
  • Teams now cross provincial boundaries; many of the top teams are made up of players from across the country, so why should we still define teams by provinces?

The Inside Curling Podcast, featuring Kevin Martin and Warren Hansen, which I really enjoyed at its onset, has now shifted to pretty much every week inviting guests on to discuss how to “fix” the Brier. They paint anyone who actually likes the current format into the corner of being “against change”, or at very least as failing to see the evolving demographics that drive the game.

Let me say this clearly: Abandoning the provincial structure will kill the Brier.

To understand this debate, you need to understand that the current world of curling has split into Pros versus Joes. If we go back 20 or 30 years, there was no such thing as a “pro” curler. When I got out of juniors, I would never have considered a career in curling (not that I was that good anyway). Even the very best curlers I knew went to university, or got jobs. We were all Joes, not Pros.

Today, thanks to the Olympics, the World Curling Tour and Grand Slams, elite curlers can now make a modest living at the game. Make no mistake, there are no millionaires in curling (or if there are, they likely made their money elsewhere), but the top 4 or 5 teams in the country can likely “get by” on what they make from winnings, sponsorship/endorsements and Olympic funding for the elite few. Even then, many of the top teams still find themselves working summer construction contracts, running side-hustles or actual businesses to make the mortgage payments and support their families.

Pretty much the entire competitive curling world now revolves around these elite 4-5 teams in Canada, who are now joined by the top 10 international teams from around the world that get together to play in the Grand Slams. The Grand Slams are high payout, Sportsnet-covered exhibits of the best curling in the world. They have been successful at allowing the top teams in the world to play each other on a regular basis, and the Slams provide the funding for them to continue doing so. Beyond the Slams, the Canada Cup (run by Curling Canada) now provides an event for the top 8 teams in Canada to play for some big money and a berth in the Olympic Qualifying.

This system has emerged as the way to support the elite curlers that aspire to play in the Olympics. The Slams are an exclusive club that is incredibly tough for young and emerging teams to break into. The rankings are stacked to favour the teams already in the Slams, meaning that teams outside of the top 7 or 8 in Canada need to play in about 20 events per year all over the world with the hope of getting enough points in the smaller events to crack the elite.

While the Slams and the Olympics have done a good job at supporting the top teams, they have helped all but kill competitive curling at  the level below. This system has all but eliminated the “middle class” of curling. The Tier 2 events shrink in both number and importance every season. 20 years ago, over a thousand teams would enter to get to the Brier, now that number is now in the low hundreds. The money has filtered to the top. For teams outside the elite 7-8 in Canada, the climb to reach the top tier is just too steep. 

So why do teams keep playing? What keeps the Joes from packing it in, and just playing in club-level curling? Why do teams like mine keep working and practicing?

The answer, at least for now, is the Brier.

The Brier is special. Whereas the deck is permanently stacked against the Joes when they try to climb the world rankings, getting to the Brier has always been egalitarian. The Pros have to beat the Joes to get there. John Epping has to win Ontario. Gushue has to win Newfoundland. They have to beat all comers. Anyone willing to enter the ring and pay the modest entry fee can take a shot at it. Some say that this is unfair; that the top teams deserve to automatically get an invitation to the nation’s biggest event. I see their point, but there is certain charm to the notion that this is the one event with no free rides. You have to win your province.

Is this a raw deal for teams from Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario? Absolutely, it always has been. But there are perks to curling in Canada’s curling meccas; you get better games, better instruction, you have spiels in your backyard that help you get boatloads of CTRS points, and you regularly get to test your skills against the best, which makes you better. Curling in Alberta, Ontario or Manitoba has its advantages to offset the tougher road to the Brier.

This higher level of competition is evident when you look at the curling world today. Bottcher has gotten better in part by taking his lumps against Koe.  Epping gets no free pass to the Brier, he knows he has to beat Howard, MacDonald and some other teams that will likely never make the Brier, but are damn good. Being from a strong province makes you better. Yes, it will be tougher to get to the Brier, but hey as Tom Hanks said in a League of Their Own: It’s the hard that makes it great.

I would not suggest that the current Brier format is perfect, but can we at least acknowledge that at least part of the magic of the Brier is the provinces, the colours, the flags, and the regional charm of our nation put on display for all to see?

Can we acknowledge that turning the Brier into another exclusive Slam will all but kill curling in a number of smaller provinces? Try cracking the top 15 in Canada if you play out of New Brunswick or Nova Scotia. The CTRS (Canadian Team Ranking System) inevitably favors teams from the West. If you live out East, in order to climb the world rankings you would need to be on a plane pretty much every weekend from September to December, trying to get to the higher-payout CTRS events in Ontario or out West. The additional travel time and cost make it all but impossible. 

Provincial representation gives teams in smaller provinces a reason to keep playing competitively. It gives them a reason to get better. Yes, it inconveniences the top 5-10 teams in the country, but it serves to drive the next 100 teams. 

The best team in the country right now is from Newfoundland. NEWFOUNDLAND!  The national champs are from an isolated, far-east province of a half a million people. If ever there was a perfect argument to let all the provinces play - that would be it. Who knows where the next great team may be from? Maybe the Yukon? Maybe there is some 12-year-old kid sitting in New Brunswick that will be dominating the game 15 years from now. 

So let me now acknowledge that I am completely biased in this debate. As I write this, I am currently ranked 19th in the country, so changing the Brier would likely exclude me from the mix. As the expression goes, its usually tough to get the turkeys to vote in favor of Thanksgiving. So my case for the current Brier is very much in my own self-interest. But heck, I am 49. I clearly do not have many Briers ahead of me, regardless of the format.  I just feel that someone needs to speak for the many competitors from across the country who now find themselves on the outside, and who might soon find themselves excluded from our National Curling Championship.

So what about the current format?

Is it perfect? Hell no, but it makes an effort at walking the fine line between provincial representation and elite pro curling.

Yes, you have teams from PEI, Nunavut, the Yukon, Northwest Territories, the Maritimes and Quebec who are not likely to win (but you also have a Wildcard and Team Canada).

Yes, it means a few very good teams will find themselves sitting at home in March watching because they happen to live in a tough province.

Yes, it means you have some mismatches early in the week.

Yes, it means you have to have complicated residency rules that will inevitably result in curlers dancing between provinces.

Yes, all of this is true, but the Brier works anyway. The Brier last year was awesome. It is by far my favorite TV event to watch, even if the curling at the Slams is better. And it was fun to watch all week: the early week provided gems like the Gunnlaugson shot to beat PEI, and Dunstone making a quad to beat BC. Both of these were early in the week, against provinces that likely would not be there if the format was changed. 

The Brier is Canada. It is a collection of very different people from all over the country, whose love of the game brings them together for 10 special days in March. If we start excluding parts of the country, it would be like amputating the very soul of the event.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Bubblewrap the Horses!

This week my illustrious ex-third Alanna Routledge shared a photo from our 2012 Mixed Nationals that reminded me just how much I miss curling. (And reminded me of that unfortunate trend to wear crazy pants)

This was Mixed Nationals in Montreal, which honestly still ranks as one of the top weeks of my curling life. It was an absolute blast from start to finish, and reminded me of what I cherish deeply about the sport. It was competitive, but it was social. I feel like I have friends from across the country because of that week. It was inclusive. It was immersive. Thinking about it still makes me smile.

It has also reminded me of how much I miss curling. I have done nothing but practice since March, as spiel after spiel has fallen victim to this damn pandemic. I get it, and I know it will end someday. 

I have also been relatively quiet on the blog lately, much in the way you don’t want to pull off a band-aid on a wound that you know is still festering, I have not wanted to think about all that I am missing so much. Yes, I have been practicing – a lot - but without any tournaments to play in it feels like going to the driving range without the feeling of ever getting out on the golf course.

But this week has brought news: news of 2021 Brier! (and a Scotties and a Mixed Doubles, and some Slams). Curling Canada has pulled a rabbit out from their hats, and created a Season of Champions to be held in March in what will be a Calgary Bubble, at the Olympic site. 

This is honestly an impressive feet. Curling is not the NHL or the NBA. While I am sure the potential of sellable TV content is appealing, the cost of running something like this, both in dollars and coordination is immense. I am honestly blown away that CC has been able to pull this off. Big kudos to the folks at Curling Canada.

Of course, this will not come without controversy. 

The first question of course will be how to pick the teams that will attend. With curling shut down in all but a few provinces, how will provincial associations be able to run events to select a champion? For sure, many provinces will find themselves unable to hold a provincial championship, so they will be in the unenviable position of having to pick a winner to send into the bubble.

So how do you decide how to pick a team to go to the Brier? I see three possible models:

1) Send last year’s winner. Amazingly, this option is supported by 100% of last year’s winners.

2) A beauty contest: You line up your teams, and you have some appointed judges pick a winner. I guess the trick is in appointing the right judges.

3) American Idol:  Have some sort of vote, presumably of the players and/or curling associations to decide. Let the people decide!

So solution 1 is pretty clear cut, but presents problems when last year’s winning team is no longer curling together (as is the case in the Quebec Women’s scene). Also, if last year's winner was an upset, many of the provincial favorites will be left out.   

Solution 2 and 3 become problematic due to politics. 

Either way, teams will have to lobby to get to the Brier. This is a new skill set for many teams, who used to try to get to the Brier by actually practicing and getting better at curling. I don't remember a chapter on lobbying for support in my copy of “Curling to Win”. In option 3, you would have to pander for votes, and cries of "Voter Fraud" from south of the border might make their way north.   

Either way, this will be messy, and controversial. I think making this work will require acceptance of the fact that these are all crappy solutions, and eventually we will have to go with the least crappy one.

I sincerely hope the pandemic eases up and we get to play in some form of a limited provincial. Those who know me know how much I value a trip to the Brier. I am a purist, a lover of the sport, so there is something about giving anyone a free pass for what I have worked so hard towards in the past just feels wrong. 

However, if in Quebec it comes down to Option 2 (the Beauty Contest), then Team Fournier will sport our swimsuits and walk the runway in hopes of getting the judges to give us the Team Quebec tiara! Wish us luck, or “happy lobbying”, I guess.


Of course Warren Hansen has already suggested that the Brier seize this opportunity to “evolve” into the Canada Cup, inviting only the top 10 ranked CTRS teams. I guess I am a bit (okay - a lot) biased here, but what a crappy idea. 

I have been listening to Kevin Martin and Warren Hansen’s podcast a bit.  I can tell you that I hold a great deal of reverence and respect for both of these gentlemen. Kevin is the originator of the Slams and was the main guy behind the players tour. Warren is one of the fathers of the move to the Olympics and the Season of Champions, and both have helped develop and grow the sport around the World. I also do not question their intentions; I think they both believe that what they are pushing for is in the best interest of “the game”. I just do not agree with what they propose as the next evolutionary steps for our game.

They both talk about the Brier being “broken” and the need for it to change. And they are not completely wrong. The current format creates problems due to its inclusiveness: there are too many teams that do not stand a chance. The Province-based approach to the Brier no longer reflects the reality of the Uber-teams that combine stars from multiple provinces together. But how do we fix it? 

I guess my beef with their approach is that it always seems to focus on the few. It looks to identify the best curlers, tag them and then make the system work for them, and them alone. I get this approach, I just do not agree with it.  I see this model across other sports, from kids hockey and soccer, to education. It goes like this: Let’s try to make the game better by improving those at the top of the pyramid. Those who devote the time and have the talent deserve to reap the benefits, and for the rest we will create a Tier B championship. Their solution is to have a Brier for the Top 10 teams in the country, because that is what the people want to see.  (although I am not sure who these “people” are). 

Basically, this is the “trickle-down economics” theory about how to grow curling. Throw money and coaching at the elite curlers, and the benefits will trickle-down to grow the sport of curling for all. However, much like trickle-down economics, this has not really worked out well for anyone except the elite. “Tier 2”  competitive curling has all but died in Canada, and participation in pretty much all competitive levels is now just a fraction of what it was 20 years ago. Yes, the best have gotten better, but a small handful of pro teams receive the lion’s share of the rewards. Competitive Curling outside of the Slams has just about died – and Covid surely will not help.

I believe in building the base. The more we have teams across the country who get exposure at a National level, the more the sport can grow. How would excluding New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec, BC, PEI, and the Territories from the Brier help grow the game in these places? Have we just given up, and relegated ourselves to the eventual end of regional presence at the Brier? Will the Brier work if it becomes just an 8th Slam?

By no means is this easy. There are no quick solutions. 

I just hope the Pandemic is not the excuse used to transform the mighty Brier into just another Slam.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Curling (or not curling) in the Red Zone


A Curling Blog from the Red Zone

 Welcome to “La Zone Rouge”, which I used to think was the name of the strip bar in Val d’Or. It is now the name associated with the parts of Quebec most impacted by the Coronavirus. With over 1000 new cases of Covid-19 per day, Montreal, Quebec City and a few other parts of the province have gone into full Code Red lockdown, meaning more restrictions and likely no curling in much of the province.

My home club, Glenmore, spent the month of September installing and preparing the ice, hoping that the season could start next week. However, new restrictions expected in the next few days would more than likely put the brakes on that. Curling Clubs in higher risk areas of the country are now faced with the tough choice between operating in a revenue-reduced, uncertain environment and just shutting the doors until next season. I am hearing many Toronto-area clubs have thrown in the towel and shut down until at least January. I suspect many Quebec clubs will end up doing the same, but I guess it will depend on the next few weeks. The reality of the virus is that it will always be worse in areas of the country that are densely populated and that rely more heavily on public transportation. This actually bodes well for curling in general, as it is a sport that thrives in the more rural parts of the country. But big cities like Toronto and Montreal will face a tough year, and might not see curling at all.


Competitive curling is a different story. I can’t begin to tell you how frustrating it is as a competitive curler to be sitting in my living room watching live streams of curling tournaments from other parts of the world less impacted by the virus. We have now been off the ice since early March, and the earliest we could possibly play would be November. I have not thrown a rock in 6 months. We were signed up to play in Ottawa in September, which was canceled as well as a few Quebec based events in October that have also been axed. We had signed up for one of the events being held in Kitchener-Waterloo, but our government has put a “do not travel” advisory in place, and in theory we are not supposed to travel out of our Red Zone. So we are out of luck, and likely not playing until November at best.

At this point I'm not sure what the competitive season will look like. Will there even be a Brier or Scotties this year? Curling Canada is likely reviewing its options and trying to find a way to hold a TV-only event in bubble.  This would surely be good for curling-starved fans who have had nothing but a few streamed events to satiate their desire to see quality curling. But how do you run a Brier with conditions as they are? Do curlers need to show up 2 weeks before to test/isolate? Would they allow a team from a “Hot Zone” to enter? Clearly, the logistics are not simple in this, and even the best-laid plan would be ravaged by a single positive test. The NHL and NBA have been able to maintain their bubbles and run playoffs, but obviously, they do not operate under the same financial realities as curling. I expect announcements to come in the next few weeks.

The Slams are canceled until 2021, and the accumulation of points for World rankings or Olympic Qualifying has been put on hold. Some events have started with tournaments across the country, but teams are playing just to stay sharp and to be ready for when the music starts up again.

All in all, this sucks.  

I guess at times like these, a bit of perspective is required. Curling is just a game. It is not life or death. People are dying from this disease. A winter without curling is not the end of the world, especially in if it is in the name of saving lives, or keeping our hospitals from overflowing. But as this isolation continues, and after 6 months of dealing with this shit, this void is laying bare to me the role that curling has played in my life. Maybe some time away from the game will help me come back to it with increased perspective and appreciation.  

In the meantime, I will golf until it snows. I will play soccer in the park. I will work. I will try to keep my wife and kids safe and sane. And I will miss curling.

Some non-curling content:

I am still on Facebook, mostly to get curling news and post family pics. But man, some of the shit I am seeing from people I know is troubling. I know we are nowhere near the US level of polarization and stupidity, but I see stuff that I finding tough to ignore.

First, there is the garden variety stupid: anti-mask, government conspiracy, Coronavirus is a hoax bullshit. Thankfully this gets a low-level of traction here. I have not personally seen anyone throwing a mask tantrum in a store or restaurant. I am sure it happens, but it does not seem widespread.

Then there is the “This makes no sense – the government is wrong”. I am in no way saying the government is never wrong and should never be questioned, but to say you know better because you are now an expert because of the hours you have spent watching Youtube is misguided. The fact is, we do not know better.

There is the danger of falling into the fallacy of common sense. Thinking that there is a simple solution to get us out of this, and if the government just implemented this then we would be fine.

There is no easy way out. The next year or so will be many policy decisions that feel like we are pressing on the gas and the brakes at the same time. There will be one step forward sometimes followed by two steps back. In Quebec, our government has asked us to stop socializing, but has kept schools open. Restaurants and bars are closed, but hair and nail salons are open. There will always be some restriction that is inconsistent as the government struggles to draw lines in the sand amidst changing conditions.

All we can do is try to follow the rules as best we can, and understand that the only way to keep this thing in check short of a vaccine is collective action. So wash your damn hands and wear a mask. Oh, and stop socializing, especially indoors.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Can this N95 Mask Keep me from Smelling Farts on the Ice?

Team Fournier (aka Team Horses) held a rather depressing meeting last week (via Zoom of course) to discuss the upcoming curling season.
We had such a fun season planned. We have a new player, we have great sponsors, we have a keen coach, we have new sexy uniforms. All the pieces are in place.

Except we also have a virus. Covid-19 is already wreaking havoc on the competitive curling world. The Slams have been cancelled; the points systems that drive World rankings and Olympic qualifications have been suspended until November (at least) and most big events that involve crowds (like the Brier) are surely questioning whether they can even happen this year.

If you look at our planned schedule for the season, we had planned to go to Halifax, Alberta, Toronto, New Brunswick. I now question whether these places will even accept us as visitors, given that I happen to live on the island that has been the Covid hotspot in the country.

A lot people are suggesting that curling is a great social distancing sport, like golf. In theory, the other team does not need to be anywhere near the ice when the other team is throwing. However, as anyone who has ever curled with or against Dale Ness or Eve Bélisle knows, the air in a curling rink does not circulate quickly.  And you are basically sharing the same damp air with everyone else on the ice for a few hours. I am not sure if masks would keep you from spreading the virus.

Beyond the safety issues, there is also the question of money. Curling, despite its TV popularity, is not baseball, or hockey. There is no way to do curling the way other major sports have undertaken it. There will be no curlers living in a resort bubble, mainly because apart from a handful of teams, we all have day jobs. Major sports have resumed with the help of expensive testing and re-testing, and travel can happen via private jets, which is of course beyond the budget for all but a couple of teams.  
So where does that leave our team? We will play closer to home for the first part of the season, and then see where we are in November. I hope that the threat of the virus will be diminished, and we will venture out further (likely with our masks on) to try to play and get better and prepare for Provincials in January. If travel restrictions and rules against gatherings are lifted, then the season can start to look something like a normal curling season.
So in the meantime, wear your mask and keep your distance!

What about club curling?

I have no idea.
Glenmore (my home club) will likely open. I do not know what curling will look like. I think most of the membership will be eager to get back on the ice. Unfortunately, it would just take one case to close us down. A big part of my enjoyment from curling unfortunately comes from post-game socializing, which will probably be limited at best, non-existent at worse. But at this point, a little curling would be infinitely better than no curling, so I will venture out into whatever the season brings.


If you are a fan of curling, you need to be listening to the Kevin Martin / Warren Hansen podcast. Having Kevin and Warren do a podcast together is like having Karl Marx debating Ayn Rand; its like GSP debating Connor McGregor. They both have such a deep and passionate love for the game and its history, but Kevin and Warren have always been on opposite sides when it comes to discussing the game’s future. (It is called “Inside Curling” and is available wherever you find podcasts!)

Warren has been the leader of developing the Curling Canada events – such as the Brier, the Scotties and the Olympic Trials. Kevin has been the main force behind the creation of the “Pro” tour, i.e. the Grand Slams and the World Curling Tour. Putting the two together is fascinating.

Amazingly, the passage of time has brought them much closer together, and they now both see the inevitability of splitting up the “pros” from the “joes”. They have some interesting perspectives on where the game is going, on how the US and Asia will be driving the evolution of the sport. I often find myself in violent disagreement with both of them, but I have to say the blog has made me respect these guys even more than I did before. Moreover, they share many great stories from the wilder days of curling that I remember fondly. I think this podcast is one good thing that has emerged from this stupid pandemic.
I am not sure for how long they can keep it up; I am amazed they have gotten 16 episodes done so far without being too repetitive. So it is definitely worth a listen. Way better than Tiger King!

Sunday, April 26, 2020

"Dad, Russ Howard is Licking Himself Again!!!" An Isolation Blog

After 6 weeks of isolation, I have come to the inescapable conclusion that I miss curling.

I miss throwing practice rocks. I miss the taste of a pre, post or mid-game rye and coke. I miss my teammates, both my competitive guys and by hall-of-fame great club team.

I miss staying a bit too late after a Tuesday game. I miss throwing a few extra draws at the end of my lunchtime practice to make me a bit late for a meeting at work. I miss showing up early for a ladder game, and hanging out at the end of the bar listening to whoever had a curling story to tell about their weekend. I miss gossiping with the club manager. I miss the Glenmore Intermediate, an event that usually would have occurred last weekend and would have helped ease the transition into spring with the help of dancing, karaoke, Jello shots and late night poutine runs (and curling).
After our competitive season comes to its end, (unfortunately in January for the past 2 seasons) I curl from February to April only because I love it. And losing it this year has made me appreciate it that much more.

All that to say that I miss curling.

Of course, I miss other things too, like leaving my house, seeing friends or playing soccer. But with curling, next season just seems so far away, and I am not sure I will have my usual summer distractions of golf, soccer and the city pool to keep me busy until then.


The question everyone seems to be asking themselves these days is when this will get back to “normal”. When we will be able to enjoy the things we did before, without feeling like we need a hazmat suit? And what will next curling season look like?

I do not profess to know for sure, nor do I have any inside information on this, but here is my take:

First, we will not have vaccine by the fall, and most of us will not have had the virus yet. Therefore, a big part of the population will remain vulnerable. Therefore there is no way things will be back to normal. Sorry to be bearer of bad news if you had hopes of this ending soon, but it won’t.  

I think we will have a season next year. But it will be vastly different that what we have seen before.
On the competitive side, I cannot envision travel getting back to what it was before. Teams from all around the world were flying across Canada from September to May to curl. There is no way this can happen next season. Curlers are like traveling germ salespersons, and as the virus flares up in different parts of the country, travel restrictions will inevitably follow. Travel will need to be much more sporadic, and more teams will be playing more spiels that are within driving distance, and in their own cities and provinces.
While the slams and big events will happen, I think we might see them being smaller, and played without crowds for TV only. The fact is, a big part of curling audiences are older, and those people will be less likely to want to gather in arenas to watch. Holding events for TV will involve a different set of economics for the game, but the reality is that TV is still where the big money is, and curling on TV without spectators will be better than no curling at all. Will the Brier be the Brier? I have no idea.

At the club level, curling will happen but with a strict set of rules. Ice techs will be wiping off rocks with Lysol every game, it will become part of doing the ice. The pre and post game handshakes will be things of the past, and I am not sure if we will be sitting together after games. I really hope I’m wrong here, but the idea of eight people sitting around shoulder to shoulder, especially given that about 30-40% of our ladder is of senior age, seems unlikely. At very least, many will stay away. If you were a member of a struggling curling club before, I would worry about their capacity to survive next season, given that bar revenues will be down and some more vulnerable members will not want to join.
Whatever happens, it will certainly be different, and will feel mighty weird. But I much prefer a weird curling season to none at all, so we will all have to adapt.


So how is the isolation going you ask?
I think we are all getting a bit squirrelly in the Fournier household. 
I ran out of rye today, and the lineup at the SAQ was around the block, so I have resorted to drinking the little mini-bar samples I have collected over the years. I found a mini bottle of Screech I got from Team Newfoundland from the 1996 Canadian Mixed Championship. It was spectacular, and made me yearn for a fish to kiss.

My wife and I are both fortunate enough to still be employed, and are working from our home office while simultaneously failing miserably at home schooling our kids. Like many of you I often take videoconferences in pyjama bottoms, and am perpetually getting interrupted. I took a call from my boss last week while dodging Nerf gun bullets. 
But I still consider us as “lucky” as we still have jobs for the time being. And for those of you on the front lines dealing with this every day, I have nothing to say but a sincere thank you.

Sure sign the isolation is getting to me: last week we decided to adopt two cats after succumbing to ridiculous pressure tactics from my daughters. Sadly, they already had names, and I could not convince my daughters to rename them after famous curlers.  

Having my daughters say:  “Mom, Kevin Martin coughed up a hairball and Russ Howard peed next to the litterbox again” would have made my week, but alas, no. They are Seema and Stedman, pictured here.

Did I mention I miss curling?

Monday, March 30, 2020

Doing Jello Shots with my Kids - And a Team Fournier update!

I am in week 3 of isolation/quarantine/home schooling and getting a little squirrel-y. Personal hygiene has become optional. The kids have watched the entire Netflix Kids library. Twice. So I figure why not write a long, meandering curling blog to kill off some time.

Curling is of course over for this season. As is the case with many Tier 2 curlers, my season essentially ended once we lost at provincials in January, but for those of you who play in events like Slams, or Mixed, or Travellers, or whatever, now find themselves pining for next year.  

There will be no World Championships. There will be no Slams. I am not even sure that we will be starting next season! 2020 will have no Glenmore Intermediate, the usual end of season send-off party (I have had to show my kids how to do virgin Jello shots). The competitive curlers I know have resorted to on-line curling spiels!

I guess there is nothing like a global pandemic to provide us all with a bit of perspective. It is good to remember that we devote so much of our time and energy to something that is just a dumb GAME.

If you want a reminder of how dumb this game is, try explaining it to someone from South America who has never seen it or even heard of it (as I recently did). Here goes: you slide a big rock made of granite down a sheet of ice with little bumps on it towards a bullseye while yelling at people using push brooms to clean the path of the sliding granite. Make sense?

It is just such a dumb game. But damn I miss it.


Team Fournier news:

It was a year of ups and downs for Team Fournier in 2019-20. We had some great success, and managed to climb the world rankings, getting as high as 25th in the World before coming back down to 33rd after a disappointing Quebec provincial. We got to play in a Tier 2 Slam event, and played a lot of games against the best teams in the World! We flew to 3 spiels, went out West, got 5 speeding tickets (damn that Alberta photo radar). Unfortunately the provincials did not end the way we had hoped, but all in all a good season.

Team Fournier will have a new look next year (assuming there is curling!). We have added a new horse to the stable: Martin Crête will be playing 3rd for us next year, while Félix slides into the the 2nd position. Jean Francois will stay at lead.

As JF put it, we should be better at shooting and at shouting! With next season being the last year before the Olympic trials, we will be trying to get a spot at pre-trials. To do that we will have to get to the top 15 in Canada (we are currently 17th). So we wanted to make ourselves stronger as a team, and bring on someone who could help us take it up a notch. Enter Martin!

I really look forward to playing with Martin – I have admired him as a competitor for a lot of years. And now I won’t have to try to yell over him on the next sheet anymore! I have seen him make soooooo many great shots against me over the years (his last one from the provincial finals last year still haunts my dreams); it will be weird for him to be making shots FOR me. I am amazed that this game continues to provide me opportunities to learn from my teammates, even at my advanced age (as Felix would say).

This unfortunately means that William will be stepping back this year. We are still trying to figure out if Will can still play a role on the team, but his new baby/job made it impossible for him to commit to the kind of schedule we were looking to play next season.

I will miss him a lot. Will has been one of the best teammates I could ask for over the past 4 seasons, both on and off the ice. He taught me a lot about team dynamics, about keeping a positive attitude and about how to win. He has taught me how to translate English pop songs into French in real time. He is the originator of the term “Feed the horses” which has become part of our team psyche. 
I am hoping that our curling futures will intertwine again.

I will also miss him sweeping my outturn!
Felix will be spending the summer bulking up. Here he is with JF preparing for next season:

Pump You Up Hans And Franz GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY


With the end of the season – we would like to say thanks to the sponsors that helped us compete this year.
  • Hardline Curling: Have been with these guys forever – love their brooms and what they do. They have become the weapon of choice for most of the big teams in the country. They have been sponsoring Felix for so long they started with their logo on his diapers, and have been sponsoring Team Fournier for a long time now. I am grateful for their support.  
  • Royal Bank of Canada Dominion Securities – big thanks to Kevin O’Connor for his support this season.
  • And big thanks to our other sponsors:  Cedar Springs Landscaping (514-453-4662 – Grant), and Injection Classique(Marc Don) foundation repair. If you are looking for landscaping or snow removal in the West Island, or if your foundation has cracks/leaks – please use our sponsors and mention Team Fournier!  The links above take you directly to their websites.

Without their help, we really would not have been able to compete at the level we competed at. This game has gotten expensive. Even with these sponsors and all the cashspiel success we had, our season was still scarcely break even! We won’t be turning pro anytime soon.


If you are looking to kill some time, a couple of guys from Abitibi have started a podcast interviewing Quebec curlers! Sonny and Adam’s podcast is available (en français) at the following link:

They interviewed me last night, JM Ménard a few days ago and  Laurie St-Georges (OMG! - THE Laurie St-Georges) will be on Tuesday, (with some other guy I have never heard of). 
The great thing about a pandemic is that pretty much everybody is available to appear on their show! They are doing interviews every 2 days.
Great idea! As I have said in the past, every sport needs storytellers to make the game great. Podcasts like this one and From the Hack and  2 Girls and a Game help fans better relate to the game, and are an awesome way to pass the time, especially after you have gone through everything good on Netflix!

Sunday, March 8, 2020

I Think I Need Some Crop Insurance and a New Tractor

What the hell was that?

I just watched the Brier final – and to be honest watched a bit too much curling this week. But how could I not? The Brier this year was ridiculous. It was like bacon-wrapped filet-mignon. It was simply the best curling I have ever seen.

It absolutely killed me to not be there.

Seriously, I have watched curling all my life, and I can’t remember anything even remotely comparable to the level of play this year. They talked about this being the best field ever, but damn. McEwen, Epping and Koe were amazing all week, and did not even make the final 4. The level of play and strategy was next-level. The fact that you know your opponent is going to make every make-able shot changes the way you play. The number of insanely good shots, the ridiculously well-curled games - I don’t even know where to begin.
  • Let’s start with Gushue. What can you say? The pressure of a Brier final, and this guy curls 97%. Ninety-freaking-seven percent! He simply did not throw one rock tonight that was not absolutely perfect. Nichols was awesome as well. His front end actually got out-curled in the final, but when your back end plays that well, who cares.
  • To give you an idea of how deep the field was, Mike McEwan’s team were all 1st or 2nd team all-starts, and they did not even make the final 4 of the tournament. Kevin Koe makes one of the greatest shots I have seen to win a game, and is out Saturday morning. Are you kidding me?
  • As a 48-year-old from Eastern Canada living in a big city, I realize that I am just not the target demographic for curling ads. I watched ads all week for crop insurance, tractors and denture cream. I love the ad for the kick-ass snow tires for the snowplough, I wonder if they would fit on my wife’s Prius. The National rental car guy was starting to drive me a bit crazy. Seriously, I want to support the sponsors, but I think the only one that product I could use would be a cup of Timmies – but that would get me fired!
  • Also, I have never been to a Mr. Mike’s Steakhouse, but the idea of playing Jenga next to my meal seems like a bad idea.
  • Felt bad for the kids from Quebec. I am sure they are disappointed at 1-6, but the experience will surely serve them well. They earned their spot there, and were entertaining. From what I hear they became the crowd favorites, and I am sure the experience will make them hungrier to get back. Just hope its not for a while J
  • Was cheering hard for my Tier 2 compatriots from the East: Grattan and Murphy. Was hoping to see one of them sneak into the championship pool, just to shake things up again and remind the curling world that curling does not stop East of the Ontario border (except for Gushue!). Sadly, the Brier highlighted just how wide the gulf is right now in Canada between the Pros and the Joes. When the big 5 or 6 teams start playing for real, it looks like you are watching a PeeWee hockey team playing against the Washington Capitals. I say this not as a knock on the Tier 2 guys (of which I am one), but to highlight just how good the best teams are.
  • Loved watching Matt Dunstone this week. He is a genuinely nice kid – and obviously will be back. The raise triple to win was one of the best shots to win I have ever seen in all my years watching Briers, but at this Brier it barely makes the top 3! (Koe’s triple to win was just insane, and Gunnlaughson’s double-raise-double actually made me spit out my coffee)
  • Team Bottcher is truly a remarkable curling team. You can judge a team’s character by how they react when things are not going well. They are incredibly tough. They look and act the same if they are 4 up or 4 down. Brandon had a shitty final, which I am sure will haunt him for a long time, but this is still obviously one of the top teams in Canada.
  • Okay – don’t jump on me for criticizing shot selection – but I think if Bottcher draws for 1 in the 1st end of the final it is a very different game. I mean you work all week to earn hammer in the finals, and then give it away trying too hard to blank. I think there is a stat on tour that the team that scores first wins something like 60-65% of the time. Take. Your. One. Settle the nerves.
  • It was amazing watching Jacobs this week. I have been hard on these guys in the past, but man are they a classy squad now. They were 1-3 early in the week, but you felt like they had more to offer. The addition of Kennedy has changed these guys. Even though they have not won a Brier in a long time, I would be hard-pressed to bet against them for the Trials spot in 2021.
  • Shout out to Colin Hodgson. Don’t let the Bieber-like sleeve tattoo or the greasy hair fool you; this guy is completely deserving of the sportsmanship award he earned this year. A class act, and genuinely good for the game.
  • To me, the best example of how good curling has become was the first end of Gushue-Jacobs earlier this week. Gushue basically made 8 shots perfectly, and gave up a 4. If you get a chance, go back and watch that first end.  Amazing stuff. That end was like porn for curling fans. 
  • Early week highlight: The 10th end measure in the Jacobs-Gunnlaughson game. The poor official who had to measure was like a deer in the headlights; and just as eager to get off the highway as soon as possible. Marc Kennedy was about as Canadian as you can get; I think his face after the first measure is now a meme. But to his credit, he stayed unbelievably polite and respectful. This would simply not happen in any other sport. I’m not sure I would have remained as calm.
  • So can we all agree to stop arguing about the format for a while? This year highlighted why the current format works. You get full provincial representation - but you get the entertainment value of watching the best in the business bash each-others' heads in as the week progresses. This format is working. It might not be perfect, but its getting pretty close.

Damn I have to get back. Even it is just to be cannon-fodder for the Slam teams.

Monday, February 24, 2020

I am becoming Mister Softie

Okay. I will admit it. I got a little emotional watching the Scotties final yesterday. Just a little. I am apparently becoming Mister Softie, which conveniently is the mascot of the Scotties.

Image result for softie scotties

Seriously, I have been fighting a serious case of curling depression since Quebec provincials. Competitive curling has been a big part of my life, but there are times where the sport absolutely knocks you on your ass. I wanted to go to the Brier this year. I worked harder than I have ever worked to go, and I am not going. Screw you, curling.

I have been reluctant to even think about curling ever since. I played in some club games (since our competitive season is inevitably over), and have found myself impatient and irritable on the ice. I have not wanted to be there. (apologies to my teammates over the past few weeks). I don’t think I slammed a broom once at Provincials, but last week I threw my fragile, defenseless sliding broom into a wall after missing a shot. 

This year seemed to hurt more than others.

I really rued the idea of watching the inevitable barrage of TV curling that follows losing at Provincials. The Scotties. The Brier. After a year where I felt like it was ours to win or lose, it feels like you are forced to watch the girl who dumped you on a date with her new boyfriend.  

But the Scotties this year brought me back. It was that good. 

It was a reminder of what the sport is all about. It had drama, it had tales of redemption, it had underdog stories aplenty and it had a joyous ending. The quality of curling was very high. the Scotties reminded me that I love curling. 

So what happened?
  • Kerri Einerson pulled out an extra end win. She gassed a draw to the 4-foot in the 10th end for the win, before pinning it in the extra end. Every skip in Canada has felt her pain in 10. That feeling of having let down your team; that feeling of blowing what should be an easy win. The TV close-up actually showed her soul leaving her body as she watched her rock slide through the 4-foot. For her to come back and make the same shot in the extra end to win was a beautiful and fitting end to the week. They were the best team all week and deserved the win. Watching their emotion at wining was both moving and heartwarming.
  • Team Homan is awesome. They are smart, and tough, and have only gotten better. They look so much more seasoned, and play with more feel than before. There has been a sense that they might not be as sharp - that maybe life is getting in the way of their curling. WRONG!
  • Krista McCarville and her story is the reason I still curl. She is an amateur, playing with the pros and beating them. She has shown that you can win, and have a life. She does not play in the Slams, she has no giant sponsor. She is just good at curling, and loves it. If you are not cheering for this team at the Scotties, you must be the kind of sports fan that cheers for the Yankees, or Manchester United. But if you love a good underdog story, this was it.
  • Loved watching Lori Eddy win a few games for Nunavut. She is an awesome ambassador for the sport. If you are not listening to her 2 girls and a game podcast, you are missing out.
  • My Quebec friends had a rough week and finished at 0-7. But they played some big games. They took Carey to an extra end, and were close in 3 or 4 other games. I am sure they are pissed about not getting a W, but surely grew by leaps and bounds as curlers.  
  • Loved the Aly Jenkins tribute at the opening. Aly Jenkins was a competitive curler from Saskatchewan who died in childbirth late last year. Also – the Devin Heroux piece on CBC.ca is a beautiful piece of writing. Worth a read (there must be something in my eye):    https://www.cbc.ca/sports/olympics/winter/curling/aly-jenkins-tragedy-family-1.5470246
  • Lots of discussion early this week about TSN's choice of feature games. They showed the same teams over and over again (especially Jones), while shunning up and coming teams such as BC and New Brunswick, who were also in the playoff mix. I get that they want to show the most popular teams to draw the most viewers, but it would have been fun early in the week to see some of these teams. Back in the day, there seemed to be an effort to make sure everybody got one game on TV. I don't think this can work with the new format, so I understand TSN choosing the big names...but the fact is there is so much value for new young teams to get some TV time that I think more effort should be put into balancing this. 

Monday, January 27, 2020

Hey You Kids - Get Off my Lawn!!!

Oh my God I feel old. I have curled in Quebec Provincials before, and I have lost before. But this year seemed different. In years past, I lost to my peers. And when I won, I beat my peers. I felt like I belonged. This year I felt like a damn dinosaur. I did not lose to my peers; I lost to their kids! 
Seriously. I got knocked out by Bédard and Roberge’s damn kids!!! 

For those not following – the Quebec Men’s provincials were held last week in Valleyfield Quebec. The winner was Alek Bédard (son of former competitor and current senior champion Dan Bédard), who defeated Vincent Roberge in the finals (son of 2006 Brier champ and current senior champ Francois Roberge). We lost an absolute heart-breaker to Bédard in the Semi on Saturday night. He made 2 great shots in 10 for a deuce, including a hack-weight through a port that was maybe a rock and an inch or two wide. We had lost the 1-2 game to Roberge earlier in the day, after a pick on a draw against 2 got us down early. Bédard then beat Roberge in the finals rather easily for the win.

Screw you, young people. You guys are not supposed to be so good so quickly.

Seriously, I can only vaguely remember being 25. I threw a really nice rock at 25. I was brash, and I likely thought I was better than I was. But I lacked in experience. I made dumb calls. I fell into traps set by older, wiser curlers. I choked a lot. I missed big shots under pressure.  Only after YEARS of learning (through repeatedly screwing up) did I learn the wisdom and patience required to win.

But these guys have it now! Not fair. You are supposed to be young and dumb or old and wise, not 
young and wise. WTF?

This is a new wave in curling. Curlers are better at a younger age. Look at Quebec Provincials. Look at Dunstone. And Tardi. And Calvert. And Dropkin. And Felix. And Bottcher. And the juniors that were on TV this weekend. They are amazing, and come factory-ready to win in men’s curling. I think there are 2 reasons for this:

1. Better Coaching: Young teams are better coached than we were, often benefiting from their parents knowledge and from the enhanced level of instruction offered to the elite junior teams, either from Curling Canada or their provincial associations, or even from University curling programs in some provinces (unfortunately not Quebec). The closest we ever came to a sports psychologist was Doctor Bacardi, who helped console us after a tough loss.

2. TV: More curling on TV means that you benefit from watching more elite level curling with better commentary. Back in the day – we really only had the Brier, which was once a year. Now you can watch (and re-watch on Youtube) games almost every weekend – all with great commentary. And you are consistently watching the very best week-in and week-out. Few knew what the gear effect was before, or the drag effect. But now every ladder player in our club seems to understand the basics, and will use terms like “directional sweeping” and “control zone”.

So young Alek Bédard will now be introduced to the world of curling at the Brier in Kingston. The team also features Émile Asselin, who was my 5th at the Brier in 2018 and who curled with us at the Tier 2 Slam in November. This is a classy team that will represent the province well, and will surely surprise the big teams who likely will have never heard of them. They go in as dark horse underdogs, but will surely end the week as something else.

Oh well. Another year over. The most annoying thing about losing at provincials if you are a Tier 2 team is you go from curling every day to not at all. Zero. I will not curl in a meaningful game until next fall.  Sigh.


Quebec Women’s curling seems to have rallied around my battle cry after last year’s under-attended Scotties. There were 8 women’s teams in Valleyfield – and the caliber of play was visibly up from last year. You can see that many teams have increased their effort level to be competitive.

The winners are some close friends of mine, and I could not be prouder of them. Noémie Verreault, Alanna and Jill Routledge and Marie-Pier Côté will represent Quebec in Moose Jaw. Alanna was my 3rd at 2 Mixed Nationals, and Jill has played with me at Glenmore for a bunch of years. I can’t wait to watch them on TV.


A note on tie-breakers. This year on the women’s side, 4 teams were tied for the last playoff spot at 4-3. 2 of the teams were eliminated (Tippin and Boisvert) based on the rather arbitrary criteria of their record vs. the other 4-3 teams. BTW – the 1st place team was at 5-2, so it’s not like these teams were a mile away. But the rules were clear and unwavering, so 2 teams got to go home because they lost against the wrong teams (even though both had managed to beat the 1st place team).

For reasons unknown to me, tie-breakers have gone out of style. It used to be that the unwritten rule was that you could not be eliminated from a Provincial or a National if you have the same record as the team above you. If you are 4-3, and the 5 Teams above you are 4-3, then you are not out. But lately we have added the measuring of pre-game shootouts (which I believe should only serve to rank teams that have the same record, but not eliminate) and have limited the number of possible tie-breaker rounds to 1.

I think we need to go back to the old rule. The fact is that the teams at provincials have taken a week off of work, and many have devoted a significant amount of their life and time to be ready for this week. It just feels a bit too arbitrary to send them home on such a weak set of criteria. I understand that organizers want to limit ice time and be able to commit to schedules…but I think when so much is on the line – let them play. Even if it has to be a 6 end game!

Quebec got spooked one year over a decade ago when in a 10-team round robin, there was 7-way tie for the last playoff spot at 4-5 (yes that meant 3 rounds of tie-breakers). Since then – we have added more and more rules to try to eliminate even the remotest possibility of multiple tie-breakers, as if they were some sort of plague, and there is talk of eliminating them altogether. I say let them play!

Chant it with me: Let them play, LET THEM PLAY…you get the idea.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Open the Chute! Time for Provs - and to Stop Watching the Continental Cup

The week before Provincials is the single longest week of the year for a curler.
You feel like one of those rodeo bull riders waiting for the chute door to open and the chaos to begin. I have thrown more practice rocks than I care to count, the crest is sewn on the jacket and I have purchased a medicinal bottle of rye for the week. I am ready. 

Any predictions? Sorry, no.

I will say the men’s field is as strong as I have seen in a while, with a remarkably deep field of teams that have put more effort and time into improving their game. Add a couple of Ontario imports, a few wily veterans and you have the makings for a crazy week of curling. Can’t wait. Definitely worth a quick drive to Valleyfield to watch if you are a fan.


So I was watching the Continental Cup this weekend. At the risk of pissing off my Curling Canada friends; this event should not exist.
For the uninitiated, the Continental Cup is a TSN made for TV event that pits the best teams from Europe against Canada’s best in a “match-play” kind of format, featuring numerous formats such as mixed doubles, skins, mixed and regular curling. The teams are playing for a trophy and bragging rights, with the winners splitting some token amount of cash.
I get the idea. The premise sounds exciting: let’s do a Ryder Cup, but for curling. It all sounds like a good idea. Until you watch…
Here is the rub; as a competitive curling team, there are only so many things you are mentally able to give a shit about. This is true for all level of competitive teams, and in other sports as well.
In British soccer for example, there is the FA Cup, The Champions League, the League Title, plus multiple more pre-season and in-season shields/trophies. At a certain point, big teams end up focusing on or two events at most, often fielding a “B-team” when they play in events they care less about. But curling teams don't have that option.
It is true for my team as well. I love curling, and I love playing as much as I can. But do I have the same level of intensity in every event I play in? Of course not. But nobody televises my Tuesday night ladder games.
As much as you can try to be up for every single event you play in, the fact is that there are events that get you more jacked than others. The Brier. A Slam. Provincials. Canada Cup. Trials. As hyped as the Continental Cup is, and as much as I think the teams try to get into it - they are not. I don't begrudge the teams that are there. They try their best to look like they are giving it their all.
Sure they eat donuts on the bench while cheering. They use noisemakers like some suburban hockey mom cheering on her 8 year old. They wear cool lumberjack-like jackets. I think they honestly try their best. 
But you just can’t fake caring.

Also – this year we had the added joy of misogyny! We got to watch some of the country’s best male curlers mansplaining shot selection to some top women’s skips! As the Stones Across the Pond podcast described it:  the Saturday game was cringe-worthy, and a fine example for coaches to use to highlight bad team dynamics.

I don’t want to sound too much like an old man standing on his front lawn yelling at the clouds, but this contrived made-for-TV event has done its time. Maybe its time to think of some other ways of getting exposure for curling, and better using the platforms provided by a TV audience to sell the game. I understand that TV ratings drive decision making, but I find it hard to believe that this is the most compelling contest we can put on TV.


A shout out to Hudson Whitlock Curling Club for putting on a great spiel last weekend. The club itself is beautiful, they had great food, decent money, great ice, big crowds of people watching and live bands on Friday and Saturday (featuring Brian Greenway of April Wine, no less)!
Funny that at the end of the spiel, as they were handing out the prizes, many of the thank you speeches from the curlers said “thanks for running a great bonspiel – this is how curling tournaments USED TO BE.” 
It should serve as a great reminder that if you want to run a great tournament, try to make sure people are having fun first.