Favorite Reporter

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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Elsa and The Catchy Toilet Paper Commericial


I watched more of the Scotties this year than any other year. I am home, we still have an 8PM curfew, and pretty much everything is still closed. So having some curling to watch was amazing.  And what a week it was!

I am writing as I watch the final.  Both Einerson and Homan have been outstanding all week, and clearly deserve to be playing in the final. Einerson looks to be the most complete team in women’s curling right now; they are consistently outplaying their opposition by 10% or more. Homan is also outstanding, and Rachel is a steely-eyed missile woman.  I give a slight edge to Einerson, but it should be a tight one.

 ***

But somehow I feel that despite all of this, the big story of the week was a Team that finished a mere 6-6.  Okay I am a bit biased here, but my highlight as a fan was Team Quebec.

They ended up 6-6, but this was the most inspiring run I have seen from a Quebec women’s team in a long while. Curling-wise, they played well beyond anyone’s expectations, especially given that they were barred from practicing anywhere but in their Dad’s pool since January 8th.  Laurie was lights-out amazing, throwing big shot after big shot, and seemingly without any fear.

Full disclosure, again I am biased here. I know this team very well and have watched them develop for years now. It was fun to watch the rest of the country discover what I already knew.

Yes, they still have a LOT to work on. Their percentages were not where they needed to be to play the big game. And as would be expected, they made some bad strategy calls that cost them dearly. But that is how you learn. Russ Howard referred to “scar tissue” that you get from losing tight games at this level. I think the only way to learn how to play tight end-games is to live and learn. She will learn volumes from her games against, Anderson, Homan and Walker. Those losses are invaluable for a young team.

But enough about their curling. Let’s talk about attitude for a second. This is where Laurie won legions of fans. The Quebec girls were just plain fun. They were positive. They were engaging. They were authentic. They were fearless. As the week progressed, I could not help but think of a past Quebec team that won its fair share of fans…

This week had a Guy Hemmings circa 1998 feel about it – although Laurie was not yet alive when Guy Hemmings was apprearing in back to back Brier finals. (Just typing that made me feel old).

And like Guy Hemmings, hair was a big part of the story. Guy was known for his out-of control hairdo, and it became his trademark. Laurie and her platinum blonde hair became Elsa the Ice Princess from Frozen. And it became her trademark. It was her hook.

I have spoken about something a few times in past blogs: the delicate balance between being fun to watch and being good at curling. Very often, the best teams end up looking a bit robotic and unemotional. Look at Bottcher, Gushue, Homan. They are icy-cool. They stay in control of their emotions, and that is a big key to their success. Great for their curling, but less engaging to watch. Often the more emotional, engaging teams struggle with controlling it, and it affects how they play. But a few teams manage to do both. Don't get me wrong, I am not criticizing the big teams. You need to control your emotions to win at curling. It is a delicate balance between leveraging emotion and it becoming a distraction.

Guy was fun to watch. He was funny. He got angry. He engaged with the crowd. You had to cheer for him. Somehow they managed to be both fun AND good.

Then you get a team like Laurie. Emily smiles from ear to ear after making two peels. You can feel the big-sisterly love when Laurie talks to Cynthia. And then they effortlessly switch to English to bring Hailey into the conversation. They laugh when they make shots, and they laugh when they miss shots. Like the catchy toilet-paper commercial keeps reminding us, we are HUMAN (that has been stuck in my head all week). As a fan, we love the humanity of this team.  

Even though Guy never managed to win a Brier, he likely did more to grow the game then any player of his generation. He would travel on cross country tours bringing out fans. I was at the Brier in 2018 from Quebec, and still the most common question I got from every fan was “what is Guy Hemmings doing now?”. Being good AND fun is amazingly such a unique gift for a curling team.

Laurie pulled that off this week. Will they be able to keep this up as they continue to grow and develop into a competitive team? I sure hope so.

I know those are big shoes to fill. But damn, Quebec was fun to watch this week. And it was great to be reminded that we are only human after all!!! Argh I can't get this song out of me head!


***


I am going insane waiting to leave for the Brier. We leave on Wednesday to enter the Canadian Curling Bubble in Calgary. I have had my brain probed with a pipe-cleaner to determine that I am virus free (I am!!). I have packed my 12 pairs of socks, 6 pairs of underwear (you can wear them inside out) and a bottle of medicinal rye. Just 2 more days of work from home then I am gone!!! Can't wait.

Some good news! We actually got to practice just before entering our pre-event quarantine for the first time since early January. Thanks to our friends at Pointe-Claire Curling Club and Mirko and Karl for giving us some top-notch ice to play on. Our practice felt like I was last-minute cramming for a university final exam after I had skipped the entire semester. Fortunately, Will said that that is how he made it though university, so if it worked then it should work now!


Friday, February 19, 2021

Let the Curling Wash Over Me

 

OMG there is curling on TV. I am 11/10 excited to leave for the Brier in a few weeks, but for the next 10 days I will be watching the Scotties Tournament of Hearts Women’s Canadian Curling Championship.

Seriously, I have never been so excited to watch women’s curling in my life. In a normal year, I would watch the Scotties selectively, watching only the occasional game during the week and then most of the playoffs. But this year is different. I am not likely to leave my house very often in the next few weeks, so there will pretty much always be curling on for three draws a day, even if only in the background as I work.

I could be wrong, but there seems to be an insane level of anticipation and social media buzz around this year's event. I mentioned in an earlier blog that this coudl be the most watched Season of Champions ever, as this is providing welcome relief to the curling world which has essentially not had a lot to feel good about in  awhile.

This just feels good.


***


What should we expect as fans?

The Atmosphere:

First of all, this event will be in the bubble. It will be weird. There will be cardboard cut-outs of fans instead of fans, and cardboard cut-outs don’t cheer great shots. There will be no 5th end interview. There will be no handshakes, no patch or lounge, and no SOCIABLE.

But I think it will work. Most curlers have spent most of their lives curling in clubs, where the fans are usually on the other side of a window. Will it be that different to have them watching on TV instead? I think once the curling starts, it will feel normal for the players. It might not feel like the Scotties, but it will feel like a curling tournament.

Will it be as cool as a normal Scotties? No.

Is it a million times cooler than what most of us have been doing for the last 11-12 months? Hell yes.

BTW -  I absolutely love the uniforms. Dynasty curling has done a crazy job re-creating a vintage curling look with modern materials. I await my box of unis with bated breath, hoping that the men’s designs are as cool.  

 The format

This year the event features 18 teams, as Curling Canada did not want to leave anyone out during the pandemic. Strangely it did end up excluding a couple of big name teams in Kelsey Rocque and Robyn Sylvernagle, who were left on the sidelines because they had just shuffled their teams prior to the season. Unfortunate for them.

The field of 18 is split into two pools of 9. The top 4 advance to next stage where they play the top 4 from the other division. Then the top 3 end up in the playoffs. No paige this year.

Who are the favorites?

The Big 4: Einerson, Jones, Homan and Fleury. It will be tough for anyone other than the top 4 to win this week. I would give 10-1 odds against someone outside the top 4 winning. (if I were the kind of person that bets on curling!)

  • Tough to bet against Einerson wining. They looked great last year, winning in dramatic fashion in an extra end over Rachel Homan. They are without a doubt the odds-on favorite.
  • Rachel Homan would normally be my pick, but she finds herself 7 months pregnant at the event this year. I honestly have no idea how this will affect her. I played a Mixed Provincial with my wife who was 5 months pregnant at the time playing lead, and she played well except for having to pee about every 10 minutes during the game.
  • Fleury/Carey: Tough to bet on a team that has never played a game together, but weirder things have happened. Carey is a pro and can likely take over and start playing well from the 1st minute. The strange fact is that when you pickup a new player, there is usually a honeymoon period before you get on each others’ nerves. Sometimes new is an advantage.
  • Jennifer Jones: JJ will surely be around for the playoffs. I think their experience will pay off in this wacky environment.

Other storylines:

  • Eager to see Zacharias, the junior champ from Manitoba. Despite their lofty pedigree, I think they will find it tough, and will take a bit longer to get going. They have very little experience in women’s curling, and the Scotties ain’t juniors.
  • I will be cheering hard for Laurie St-Georges. They are good people. They work as hard as any team I have ever seen. They are as dedicated as any team I have ever seen. There is no doubt that they will be good and will contend, it is just a question of when. It might be a bit soon to expect that for this year, but this is a great no-risk chance to learn and get better. I can’t wait to watch them.
  • Laura Walker is a bit of an unknown, but I am always partial to tattooed toe-tuckers. I rank them just outside of the top 4, and likely to make the final 8.
  • Kerry Galusha will surprise some teams. They are playing well since adding Joanne Rizzo to the mix, and they have actually curled a few games this year!
  • I hope that a team from the Atlantic provinces does well, if only because they will be forced to quarantine for 2 weeks when they get home! Suzanne Birt and Jill Brothers have the most potential to crack the final 8.

Who wins?

I pick Jennifer Jones to use her experience and guile to beat Einerson in the final, 7-6.

 

Update on MY TEAM as we prepare for the Brier:

Unfortunately, restrictions in Quebec have limited our ability to practice in Montreal and Quebec City since the 8th of January. I am still forced to be the #practiceninja, stalking outdoor rinks and abandoned curling clubs to find ice to practice on. More to come on this in a future blog.


In the meantime, we will sit back and enjoy some curling for the first time in forever. It was almost a year ago that I was at the Brier in Kingston, (unfortunately in the stands, not on the ice), just before all things fun and sociable came to an abrupt end. I miss it deerly, and this week already feels like a much needed return to fun.

So tonight I will pour myself a rye and coke, make some popcorn and surrender to the dulcet tones of Cheryl and Russ talking strategy. I will let the syrupy-smooth voice of Vic Rauter wash over me, covering me like a heavy blanket on a cold day.

Make the final...

Friday, February 5, 2021

Bubble bound - and Beware the Practice Ninja

 

I am off to the Bubble Brier! Team Fournier - aka the Horses - has been selected to represent Quebec at the 2021 Brier to be held in Calgary March 5-14.  

The whole thing has a very surreal feeling to it. I have to admit that I really wanted this. I know I am not alone in finding the pandemic tough, but being picked to curl in a Brier seems like the first good news that I have heard in a long time. Of course, I would rather have won my way there, but given the circumstances, I will take what I can get.

Why were we chosen? The process defined by Curling Quebec was to rely on a committee of experts to pick "the best" team from a list of applicants. I am guessing that the fact that we have been the #1 ranked team in the province for a couple of years now, coupled with our experience weighed heavily in the final decision. 

I am sure this feels like a kick in the teeth for Alek B├ędard and Team, our 2020 Brier representatives. They would have made for fine representatives this year as well, but the selection committee seems to have placed more weight on the fact that we have been the #1 ranked team for a few years now.  Was this the right choice? Who knows.  As I said in an earlier blog, there is no fair way to “pick” a provincial representative. Obviously, I am a bit biased, but I think we are a good choice, and I am grateful for the opportunity.

***

Now I have to figure out a way to practice despite a lockdown. I was practicing almost daily up until January 8th, but since then our government has continued to keep curling in lockdown, no exceptions! 

I am not "allowed" to practice anywhere. I have had to become a practice ninja, stealthily stealing practice hours when nobody is watching on vacant fields of ice. If you have a backyard skating rink for your kids – beware! the practice ninja might strike in your yard soon!!! 

*** 

 I have been reading a lot on-line from people asking if we should even try to hold a Brier or a Scotties amidst the chaos of a pandemic.  Opponents make a number of compelling arguments:

·       It is not fair. This is true. Some provinces have 2-week quarantine periods upon returning form the Brier, making it impractical for many amateur curlers who would need to skip 2 weeks of work upon their return. Teams like Krista McCarville have backed out, and nobody can blame them.

·       We are putting people at risk. This event will require players, volunteers, TSN crews, and others to travel, at a time when travel carries risk.

·       We are taking up testing and health care resources, at a time when most places do not have any to spare.

·       Restrictions in many provinces (including mine) are keeping the participants off the ice, so many teams will show up cold, without having thrown a rock in a couple of weeks or even months.

I get it. There are a pile of good reasons to cancel or delay the event.

But I say: screw it, let’s do it.

I think by March, we are all going to need something to distract us. Winter is long in Canada. If you are like me, you are so sick of watching Netflix that the chime that comes on when you open it makes my eye twitch. Geez, I even watched Bridgerton last week. Do you know how desperate for entertainment I needed to be to watch a show based on Jane Austen meets the Bachelor? I hate Jane Austen novels, and I hate the Bachelor, imagine both together. And yet I watched it. I am counting the days until I am able to watch the Scotties!

Canada needs the Brier. I am struck by the number of fans who have reached out to me to tell me how they will be glued to their TVs in March. In a nation of millions of curling fans, we need this. Winter is long, and by March we will be even more fed up with lockdowns, restrictions and social distancing. 

Curling needs the Brier. This is an opportunity for the game to pick up a new audience. People are ravenous for something to watch. A Brier that is even half as compelling as last year will surely garner some new eyeballs, and provide the sport a much-needed shot in the arm (excuse the term!).

Sure, it could all turn to shit if only one poor soul brings that nasty virus into our fragile bubble, but I still think it is worth the risk. The safety and testing protocols I have seen so far seem exhaustive. I think the bubble is way less risky than my grocery run to Costco on a Saturday morning. Fingers crossed.

 ***

 

I wanted to end with a few sincere thankyous.

First to Curling Canada and Curling Quebec (and all the Provincial Associations), who have both worked incredibly hard to make lemonade from a pile of rotten, stinky lemons. This is certainly not easy for anyone, and the work they have done to keep things moving is remarkable.

Thanks to our sponsors for their ongoing support. Hardline, RBC, Cedar Springs, Dynasty, Injection Classique and Wesdome. We have fancy new jackets with our sponsors’ logos on them that unfortunately will likely not see a single game this year. At least they are ready for next season!

I also need to thank the folks at Glenmore, Val d’Or and Victoria Curling Club for keeping their ice in for practice with the hopes of resuming a season. It would have been easier for these clubs to close their doors back in October or November as many clubs have done when the second wave hit, but a few employees and many volunteers worked tirelessly to keep things going. This has made it possible for us to be as prepared as possible for what is to come. Thank you!