Morris announces curling sabbatical – perhaps

No Mo Johnny… unless…

John Morris has spoken.

The finalist from both the Brier and the Canadian Olympic Trials has issued a statement today on his immediate curling future, and here it is:

This ad appears in our April issue

After a lot of thought and deliberation, I have decided to take a step back from the game of curling next year.

I had the tremendous pleasure of playing with three great, genuine teammates in Jim Cotter, Tyrel Griffith and Rick Sawatsky as we made it farther than I think anyone would have predicted for a team playing its first year together. You were all amazing, as was our coach, Pat Ryan, and our alternates Jody Epp and Jason Gunnlaugson.

I am extremely proud of our squad for what we accomplished, and would like to thank my guys for helping me recover my passion and heart for the game of curling, and for providing me with one of the most memorable years in my career.

I will be taking some time off to pursue an educational course that I’ve been wanting to take for a few years now, as well as to secure a career in the fire service. If our team happens to be awarded the default Team Canada berth at the Brier next year, then I will consider coming back to play a light schedule.

Thank you to all our true fans, friends, sponsors and to all of our families for being there every inch of the way and showing us the support we needed to almost make the improbable happen!

 

[This Team Morris advertisement appears in the April 2014 issue of The Curling News; click on the image to increase viewing size]
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Team Shuffle 2015: Disrespect for the Brier?

Koe blows up team – before the worlds

By George Karrys

From yellow to purple (with apologies to both)

Okay, the annual team shuffle didn’t really begin today. There have been team lineup changes for next season that have been announced already, with one of the bigger ones ones coming well before the STOH (Team Kelly Scott disbanding) and this one fairly recently.

But today’s triple reveal is a whopper, and for very big reasons.

While watching daughter Carly Howard compete at the Canadian University championships in Regina, Glenn Howard confirmed to the Regina Leader-Post that his longtime second Brent Laing is moving to Alberta, and will compete next year with Team Kevin Koe.

We spilled it on Twitter and there was the expected reaction. But then came word that Kevin Martin‘s longtime front end of Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert, Olympic champions all back in 2010, have split from Martin and joined Team Koe, too.

All of this is big news in any curling year, but this is particularly stunning given a couple of facts.

First off, Team Koe is also Team Canada, newly-crowned Brier champs (Koe, Pat Simmons, Carter Rycroft and Nolan Thiessen) and soon headed to the worlds in Beijing. Second, thanks to the new Brier (and STOH) format changes, that Team Koe was already pre-qualified for next year’s Brier in Calgary as Team Canada.

If Laing had constituted the only team change, that meant someone else was out, from a Brier championship team, whether he would soon be leaving of his own accord or soon be released. But now, given these seismic changes, the skip of the defending Brier champion team has just forfeited his 2015 Brier berth. In the very first year of the berth taking effect.

Wow.

It’s pretty much unprecedented that news of such team changes are revealed this early, before a squad departs to wear the Maple Leaf at the worlds. It’s also utterly wild to think that numerous players have actually considered – with one now deciding – to give up a confirmed berth in the Brier.

This leaves Simmons, Rycroft and Thiessen with some thinking to do. If they stick together an add a fourth, they keep the Brier’s Team Canada berth, despite the absence of Koe – or so we think?

However, Rycroft has already declared his intention to retire or at least take the 2015 season off from competition – will that now change? Simmons, we know, has maintained a business and residence in Alberta for three years now – does he want to return home to Saskatchewan?

If Koe is willing to take a pass at a Brier berth, how many other high-performance curling athletes are?

Yes. Many are boggled.

This is what we’re getting at. A few years ago, all this would be unthinkable. The Brier was a huge, huge championship curling event – the biggest, bar none, of which every Canadian male curler dreamed about.

Nowadays, and the ongoing Team Koe machinations prove this, the Brier’s primary function – as far as the nation’s top teams are concerned – is merely to provide a qualifying route into the Olympic Trials.

And indeed, 2015 is the (non-Olympic qualifying) season where unusual team moves might be made – such as Koe’s stunning changes… such as John Morris (Brier finalist, and next in line – we assume – to get the Brier berth) either taking the year off or relocating to the B.C. coast (both are rumours, by the way)… and such as Richard Hart returning to play third for Team Howard on a one-year, fun-filled farewell tour (another rumour, folks).

All of this boggles the veteran curling mind. Since when have we seen the legacy of the Brier so – what’s the word we’re looking for – disrespected, however unintentionally this may be intended, by the top high-performance competitors in the land?

And how does this help the Canadian Curling Association challenge various opinions that are swirling about, everything from “relegation sucks” (see the upcoming April issue of The Curling News) to the Association’s present high-performance event focus being a dangerous game (see “Are the Olympics killing curling?” on the cover of our November 2013 issue and also “What the Olympics and Slams have done to Competitive Curling” by Mike Fournier at a later date online)? Not to mention obvious problems within the CCA’s own house, represented by the six-months-and-counting conflict with its Ontario member organization?

Disrespect is, I admit, a pretty strong word, even if couched by “unintentional”, and it’s one the top competitors would never use nor intend to. But the question remains: Is this continuing decline of the Brier brand really the cost of doing business in this 21st century world of curling – a world in which our sport, like many others, is changing at a rapid pace?

Perhaps. But the mind still boggles.

What on earth could be next, lurking ’round the curling corner?

[Composite Laing/Koe image by Gary Darakjian; original Sportsnet images by Anil Mungal]

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RIP Neil Harrison, Legend of Curling

Joy for life, love of the game

Too young, too soon

By George Karrys

TORONTO – Just back from the amazing spectacle that was the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, and I get a call from Peter Steski: Harry has died.

Neil “Harry” Harrison had been in poor health for some time now, and to be frank, the man they called the World’s Greatest Lead – to no dissent, by the way – wasn’t expected to survive much past Christmas in December. This was a bitter pill to swallow, given how well he recovered from his first bout with illness back in early 2007.

However, repeat visits from friends including fellow 1983 world champion teammates Ed “The Wrench” Werenich and Paul Savage – plus curling firefighter buddies like Frank McCourt – clearly lifted his spirits and kept him fighting through to the end of the Games. That’s a great way to think about this tragedy, at any rate.

Harry was the prototype for the perfect team player, and a model to all who aspire to “carry the brooms” for the other three guys (okay, no one aspires to do that). He was also the secret weapon for Savage and Werenich’s pioneering approach to the game, which involved attacking opponents with corner guards, a strategy that shocked opponents who were still following scripture in the curling bible – western Canada’s bang-bang hitting game. Harry zipped his stones behind those guards with a millimetre to spare, every time, always above the tee-line and regardless of the ice conditions.

An artist, rather than a technician? You’re darned right… and Harry was one of the best.

The icing on the Harry curling cake was his joy for life and his sheer love of the sport, and love for his fellow curling men and women. If you couldn’t find him in a crowded Patch or hospitality suite, you just listened for that laugh – a howling cackle – and followed the bursts of laughter that followed. There would be Harry, holding court around a crowded table, standing-room only.

Before his health struggles, Harry was giving back to the game as a coach, and this came after he showed off some serious journo skills as a columnist for the late SWEEP! Magazine. We blogged about one of his columns back in 2008 because Harry, God bless him, really told it like it was.

There will be many, many Harry curling stories told today, tomorrow and in the weeks and months to come, for his passing is sure to cause emotional tremors just like those that occurred last year, when his good friend Shorty Jenkins took his pebble can into the skies.

And just as we did then, we invite one and all to type away below this space, in the Comments section, and tell us your stories involving Harry. These are stories that deserve to be told and remembered among all those who love The Roaring Game.

We miss you already, Harry.

[Graphic by George Elliott courtesy of Peterborough and District Sports Hall of Fame. Used by permission.]

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Sochi 2014: Curling gold for Canada

From streaming thoughts to screaming joy

by Mike McEwen

Skipper stepped up today – GOLDEN!

SOCHI, RUSSIA – It’s medal time baby!

Speaking of finals, after 11 days we’ve FINALLY got the walk from Canada Olympic House to the Ice Cube perfected! It’s sunny and +18C out, the shades on, we’ve got Molsons (plural) to go, and the barbeque is lit (the Olympic flame, LOL)!

• Same pep talk with Dawn as the day before. Does she need to be better than she was in that semi? Easy text conversation went like this: “Imagine I’m saying the exact same things as yesterday” …  sort of like that Netflix football commercial!

• First end: A couple of half shots from us and a few good shots from the Swedes and it’s a steal situation. But… great first throw from Jen and forced Sweden away from just guarding! 1-0 CAN… phew!

• Second end: Well played end from Canada. SWE fourth makes two last shot beauties to get her single. All tied.

• Third end: Trevor delivers ice cream… Kyle Paquette (CCA lead sport psych) and I are finally silent for a bit, haha! Good end, but the result is a blank. Still 1-1.

• Fourth end: Dawn starts the end well with a corner guard and then a freeze. Jill rattles things around and a simple deuce situation opens up. Kaitlyn makes great line call and Team Canada finishes the end off with a draw for two!

• Note on the fourth end: SWE did have a double but missed calling it thin (option B) versus just watching the jam happen – a bit of a mental error.

• Fifth end: Yikes! My hands are seriously trembling writing this! SWE had a fairly easy nose double for four – three minimum. Somehow, though, they threw it just off line enough to only get two! Bullet dodged! 3-3 at the mid-game point.

• Sixth end: I decide I’m shaky from being both nervous and cold. Extra layer goes on. Sweden goes in and we hit. Blank end, and a quick one.

• Seventh end: Kyle talks too much… and this allows me to talk too much… quite unlike Devlin‘s quiet, wired-mouth ways. I’m having trouble keeping up with the thinking and typing, haha! SWE makes a big strategy error this end, and throws it in instead of guarding. I was going to say “in my opinion”, but stats back this one up 100 per cent. This allows Canada to execute another blank.

• Eighth end: Great call Jen, and nicely executed tick shot by Dawn. Two corner guards are set up and minimal risk of steal situation. After a great freeze on Jen’s first, her draw for two comes up just light (and a measure was required to confirm the single). A pretty good end to score in, regardless of how many. 4-3 for CAN.

LOL! Awesome! #burn

• Ninth end: I’m soooo thirsty and chewing nervously on some gum! Not really quenching. CAN in trouble early, but a pick on SWE helps our cause. Still not out of the woods though with lots of clutter for Sweden to freeze too. I HATE being a fan… well, hate is a strong word, but I dislike this knot in my stomach! However, after a miscue on a SWE draw (heavy) CAN is now on the offensive. Great last shot by CAN skipper, swept and called perfectly! SWE forced into tough shot, facing a steal of two and… they rack on their own in the top of the house! 6-3 lead for Canada, coming home!!

• 10th end: Dawn throws two beauties – throw throughs, that is! Jilly and Kaitlyn make both their peels. What shot do you want to win an Olympic gold medal? How about make contact on your first stone!?!? Jen sets herself in the hack (twice) and simply makes it… now let the fist-pumping and jumping begin!!

Gutsy win, girls! Deserved and earned. Tomorrow I’m hoping for the same thing for our men. Double gold for curling is in sight!

Canadian Olympic House… look out, here come the families!

[Action photo copyright The Curling News ® by Anil Mungal. Click on images to increase viewing size]

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Sochi 2014: CAN vs GBR women’s semi

 More event blogstreaming – PLAYOFFS!

Might as well jump – JUMP!

by Mike McEwen in Sochi, Russia

• Pep talk this morning with Dawn… she’s ready! √
• Avoid the instant coffee and down a couple quick presses √
• Jam-packed and sweaty 25-minute bus ride to Olympic park √
• Despite the “hot-box” bus ride, it’s a cooler but still sunny day. Ice-maker should like! √
• Brisk two kilometre walk to COH √
• Couple of quick “nerve calming” barley sandwiches √
• Make it slightly early for the game :)
• Big break in first end – and a gimme deuce! √
• One more thing on the checklist today – WIN!

• I see the mother-in-law has brought out a high-pitched cowbell today. I think I’ll still be hearing it for weeks…! #earsringing #hearingloss

• Skipper has her weight early. 3-0 after two ends!
• Gave Team GBR one of those “unforced-error” deuces back. 3-2 CAN after three ends…

• Interesting watching GBR use their stopwatches to time everything – even hits for both teams. I’m not a huge fan of stopwatch reliance; I prefer players to “see it and feel it.”

• Make your second shot. Skipper, Jen, does just that in fourth. I liked the in-turn draw… she made the out-turn hit perfectly! 4-2 CAN after four…
• Good force in fifth! Nice first half CAN ladies! Straightforward curling and nothing too complicated (as has the SWE-SUI semifinal through five ends). Four to three for CAN at the half.

• Leaned over to Jill’s hubby, Devlin, and asked how he’s enjoying this. We both agreed “this sucks” and we’re looking forward to some post-game relief!

• Jen makes good draw to the four-foot for a single point. 5-3 CAN through six ends.
• Noticing a few of us fans with “Olympic colds”. Crossing my fingers, but in all likelihood I’ll be bringing one home!
• Error on GBR’s lead stones (hit and rolled out of play). Blank end in the seventh.
• Dawn setting up start of the ends great! Ask for four-foot, ask for 12 foot, and ye shall receive. This is contributing to Team Canada’s ability to reduce any clutter so far.
• I think we are over-icing some of those “inside out” hits – those eight-foot tracks can get pretty straight late in games on arena ice.

• Two good doubles, one by Kaitlyn and one by JJ and out of trouble! Blank in eighth strategically a big benefit. 5-3 CAN after eight ends.
• Dawn sets up ninth perfectly! :) Peel, peel, peel, ladies! Blank is good, force GBR to one even better, or worst case giving up two – not that bad.
• Kaitlyn with another good double! Looks like another blank coming our way… but wait, we get a light freeze attempt from Eve and force them to take a point! One up coming home with the brick! 5-4 CAN after nine ends…

Where’s Mike? Oh, there. Calm as a cucumber…

• Parents are nervous… I can feel it too! Get me to the Patch (COH)!
• Okay Dawn… the order up is for two ticks! Plated and served!!!!
• One of the parents mentioned Dawn is eight for eight on tick shots this tournament! Phhh, I mean I knew that already, LOL! Impressive!
Jilly makes two nice double peels. Skipper should have no worse than open draw to the four-foot for Velcro time! I like that!
• Eeee… I like the easy double-peel on Kaitlyn’s. Have a feeling it’s still going to be a draw to four-foot for the win, but against the loss and with no hit option on GBR stones!
• I need to take a breather… hands getting a little shaky typing!

• Devlin tells me to be quiet… I’m talking and he’s internalizing. We handle stress differently!
• This is one way to check if you’re alive! Can feel the pressure!
WOOOO! Great throw, judging, and sweeping! It’s medal time Team Canada women… time to go golden! 6-4 CAN final score!

• BTW , I think this semifinal in this playoff structure is more stressful than the final coming up tomorrow (will confirm that soon enough)!
• Okay, watching last few shots of SWE/SUI game. Wow, pretty straightforward split for two and the win for Ott and she gasses it! Swedes were lucky to win that one. Let’s hope their luck has run out, or better yet, luck won’t be enough to beat Team Canada!

• Great chat with Trevor Wall. He noted the team aspect of Jen’s final shot. The cleaning of the rock for half of the shot, no panic, and then sweeping to place it the final one-third of the sheet. Impressed by not just Jen, but the whole team’s handle on pressure; great focus by all! Let’s finish this this ladies… you deserve it, now go and earn it!

• Peace out… It’s #molsontime…

[Photos are copyright The Curling News ® by Anil Mungal – click on images to increase viewing size]

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Sochi 2014: Outside the Ice Cube

Extended curling family tales

by Mike McEwen

The cute couple, oot and aboot

SOCHI, RUSSIA – Curling takes up a big part of the Olympics. In fact, it’s a competition that spans 12 days… starting three days after opening ceremonies and ending only two days before the closing! That means a lot of our time is spent inside the Olympic Park, Canada Olympic House and consumed along the transportation routes within the Adler and Sochi areas. Unless you like Khosta (north along the coast from Adler), where taking the wrong bus home will take you there.

Sorry to those who followed my lead that night… oops!

However, we’ve actually been able to experience a heck of a lot outside of the Ice Cube (curling venue) and a significant portion, I’m delighted to say, with Team Jennifer Jones. Speaking of ice cubes, it’s a make-your-own-ice kind of world here (don’t worry, we’re surviving)!

I initially thought the Team Canada curling ladies could be on “lockdown” so I’m glad we get to do some of this stuff together. Canada Olympic House is a great place to hang out with the added bonus of a dedicated concierge for purchasing tickets – because beer, food, and snacks are not enough! As well, lucky family and friends sometimes snag last minute freebie event tickets should you be lounging around at the right times!

Zzzzzz… sort of

Quality lounging and napping? See the Team Jacobs girls in the photo at left (I warned ‘em this was coming!)…

We’ve managed to hit up a few hockey games, some of us taking in all three of the Canadian men’s hockey round-robin games. The girls joined us for the Canada vs Finland game, and because of them I’m sure the cameras found us in the crowd!

Despite how good our seats were, don’t you think Anil Mungal, curling’s photog superstar, has the best seat? (third pic).

Last night, Trevor Wall and I escaped quickly after the awkward Canada/Korea curling handshakes. And I say awkward because there was a significant delay before shaking, when Korea was down five with one end to go and looked to be playing until they were run out of rocks! I actually think they might of been unsure whether they could concede early or not. Gotta love curling for being able to say “I’m beat” and ready to throw in the towel!

So, Trevor and I caught the last two periods of the women’s hockey semifinals, Canada vs. Switzerland. How good was the Swiss goalie to keep that one close (3-1)… impressive! Thanks also to the friendly Americans who stopped by COH to see if anyone would like to accompany them that night!

(How’d he get that spot?! – Ed.)

On one of the many warm sunny days we’ve had here in Sochi, we hopped on the train up to the mountains. On the one hour smooth ride up you get an appreciation for the amount of money sunk into roadworkand other infrastructure… a highway up to the mountain cluster, pretty much all bridged – suspended – in the air. Seriously. There’s eight of your $52 billion right there!

Met up with Team Jones, did a quick tour of the Rosa Khutor mountain village, and stopped in at a smaller version of COH for the mountain cluster. Two long streets of shops, restaurants, hotels, and cafes line the Mzymta River. Pretty unbelievable what they’ve built up here… now they just need the snow! So, to get to some of that white stuff, we needed to climb higher…

We hopped on a gondola ride up the mountain and then had a decent-sized hike to the Extreme Park. Not really an easy jaunt! A lot of stairs, slush, and loose rock paths and that meant another day of sore calves and feet the following day. The husbands (myself, Brent, Devlin and Trevor) stayed for many hours and caught most of the snowboard half-pipe action. Except for Brent… we’ll go with “he was cold” or something and left early… haha!

I take lots of front end pics, eh?

Next up for us “off” the curling beat? Well, it was tiebreaker day and none to speak of in the women’s bracket. Somewhat surprising that 5-4 got you straight into the playoffs, don’t you think?

Haven’t yet seen the shot GBR’s David Murdoch made to beat The Pants in the sole men’s tiebreaker, but I hear it was a beauty (and here you go – Ed.)

Three days of exciting curling playoff action is coming up, along with a few tickets to the last day of short-track speed skating.

Today, all of the Team Canada curling supporters have a chill day off. Many will probably be walking the Adler boardwalk, stop for a scenic bevy along the Black Sea (if you’re lucky, see some dolphins swimming… or unlucky and catch a big man in a little suit taking a cold dip) and get some souvenir shopping done. Among other things.

Also, I simply cannot forget tonight’s birthday dinner for my mother-in-law, Jane Askin… Happy Birthday!!!

[Photos by Mike McEwen – click on images to increase size]

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Sochi 2014: Quick thoughts on the run

Stream-of-consciousness style…

by Mike McEwen in Sochi, Russia

Look away vegans, look away!

• Slept in today…. apparently setting alarm for 11:00am as a backup meant I was getting up at 11:00am!

• Last night had some bedtime vodkas with Anil, Trevor, Brent… the late night snacks we picked up were amazing (whole chicken on a skewer with dipping sauce). No cutlery of course… bare hands!

• Bigger crowd today… hockey had an obvious effect last night (Russia vs USA).

• Caught a quick lunch (both liquid and solid) at Canada Olympic House before this game… caught some of the Jacobs girls napping (will send pic soon, ha!)

• Email from gk, then interviewed by Yahoo! Sports re. the Men of Curling Calendar. Well… I’m not supposed to be the centre of ANY attention here, but it seems that cover might be blown… but hey, at least it’s for a good cause – 12 different good causes, to be exact! Have you got yours yet…?

• Great break in seventh end… thought Erika had stuffed that runback, but it popped open and we forced her to draw and stole one. That was a better end from Team Canada.

Wake up your ladies, fellas!

• Note to self… I missed coffee this morning and don’t feel quite right (addiction?). Must hit up the espresso machine in COH… cappuccino anyone? Haha…

• My side view seat sucks today… at least it’s end seating for the playoffs! On a positive note, I’m beside the Denmark/Korea game… wow… the Korean girls are loud… and entertaining (if you like horror movie style screaming/dying)…!

• Really like the seventh and eighth ends our Canadian girls played. That’s more like themselves.

Dawn makes two ticks in the 10th end… haha… I’m not surprised… which is why I won’t play her one-on-one (no sense bruising my ego)…

• Sweden is just scraping and clawing through games… could this be the third time in a row they avoid a loss that looked deserved?

• Crap… Jen is a little light… extra-end… beer time on hold…

The Tick Woman! With some help from friends…

• Correction… FOUR ticks in a row for Dawn! Let’s make the simple ones and let the skipper have the four-foot for the win…

• Stoked for Canada vs. Finland hockey game tonight… with some inside connections, might even enjoy this one with seats with our girls!!!!

• I don’t know how the Swedish skip could hear herself think on that last one! The “TCCCCCC” sign was obviously not working!

• And what the heck is going on in Japan vs. Switzerland extra-end???? Swiss wouldn’t concede even though they’re not shot??? Mind-boggling… Draw made for two, haha… I would of held my hand out until they shook!

• Great confidence-building draw, full-four, for the win… both for the sweepers and thrower… get that stress level up and convert! Nice win ladies… not picture perfect but a W!

[Action photos copyright The Curling News® by Anil Mungal – click on images to increase viewing size]

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Sochi 2014: Playoffs in sight

The amazing culture of curling

by Mike McEwen

Missed the hockey guys. Oh well.

SOCHI, RUSSIA – I’ve had a few comments mentioning it’s great to see that Brent Laing and I can tolerate each other and cheer on Team Canada Women’s Curling at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Haha! Maybe I shouldn’t have used “tolerate” as the descriptive word!

As many of you are aware, our spouses are the bookends (skip and lead) of Team Jennifer Jones. And yes, it’s also very true that on the World Curling Tour and Grand Slam circuit, I usually loathe Brent and his Team Glenn Howard performances against us.

However, off the ice it’s a different story and believe it folks, that’s the case most of the time and with most of the teams on tour. Chalk it up to the amazing culture of curling. Curlers like curlers, and Brent and I are no exception. Maybe that’s why our other halves like us too (please let there be other reasons – LOL!).

So, with mutual respect like that between us it makes our job easier in the stands… Job? Yep, we’re more than just the average fan. We park our butts in some uncomfortable seats for hours on end supporting our girls just like everyone else, but with each game, every end, and every shot we are constantly analyzing (and sometimes agonizing) like only a competitive curling spouse can!

Skype session with infant – cuuuute!

When needed we are only a quick meeting, phone call, or text away. It could be just to reassure, boost confidence, or provide feedback… strategy, ice conditions, slow rock? Or how about a quick Skype session on a gondola with daughter, Isabella, back home? Very cool!

It’s a tough gig, but rewarding, and I give full credit to all the friends and family who have been doing this for much longer than I. Having the best fans… is anyone else thinking: Advantage to Team Canada?

With all the watching I’m doing, now is as good as any to weigh in with only a few round-robin games left in the schedule for the women. Although, I keep getting bugged that the camera catches me on my phone too much… it’s Twitter’s fault! (Plus: distraction is a stress relief)

No surprises in my opinion of Team Canada. With a 6-0 record and three round-robin games left our ladies look good, confident, comfortable, and the playoffs are in sight. Tonight would seal that position with a win against Russia.

It’s going to be loud… really loud in there tonight. The most simple shots from Team Russia, whether made really well or not-so-much, are going to be cheered with incredibly loud chants of “Russ-cee-ya” all night! The atmosphere is actually quite entertaining and I would imagine the big screen is going to pop up with “SHHHHHH” or “TCCCCCC” (in Russian) all night long. These screens often showcase “crowd educating” messages during the matches. However, if the girls stay on course, look for them to silence the Russian fans with their game play on the ice, and on the scoreboard.

This 3D moving billboard thing is… really weird

The other teams at the top of the standings are pretty much who I thought they would be. Great Britain, Sweden, China, and Switzerland are all in the playoff picture, but at the moment I’m not seeing enough complete performances (strategy and/or shotmaking) from this group. The next three days will better indicate who will push their play to a higher level. I’m leaning towards the defending world champs, Eve Muirhead and Team Great Britain, to do just that.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to watch a great deal of the men’s curling competition. I don’t think anyone would have put the Swiss out of playoff contention this early! On the other side of the coin, I am not surprised to see the men’s Chinese team doing so well with Canadian coach Marcel Rocque on board. I had a hunch these boys would handle the ice and atmosphere, and be in the mix the final days.

Well, from counting the empty water bottles beside me I am plenty rehydrated. Perfect, I’m in the right establishment to remedy that… Canada Olympic House! Time to pre-game and get ready to take on the boisterous Russian crowd tonight!

[Hockey Boyz photo by Anil Mungal/The Curling News – other pics by Mike McEwen]

[Click on images to increase viewing size]

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Sochi 2014: Spectator Training Program

“I think we under-trained for this”

by Mike McEwen

The author. Researching, of course.

SOCHI, RUSSIA –  That’s what Brent Laing muttered at one point. Spectator training, you say? After nearly two hours, a few wrong turns and some unexpected fences/blockades, we – the not-so-better halves of half of Team Jennifer Jones, aka Team Canada Women’s Curling at Sochi 2014 – finally pulled up to Canada Olympic House.

I laughed and replied: “I thought I only had to worry about being over-served!”

This was Day One (back on February 7) and we had planned on spending the evening at Canada Olympic House – the home-away-from-home for Canadian Olympic team members, their families and friends, Olympic sponsors and other proud Canucks – watching the opening ceremonies. Where else would you want to be?

Well, actually… within the Fisht Olympic Stadium would have been awesome, but it would also have been expensive, so drinking free beer at COH was a very good choice. Correction: free beer with servers delivering it to you – definitely a close second!

Later, after multiple navigational errors (usually blamed on me) we did have the walking route down to an hour and 15 minutes. Taking the bus cuts down total travel time to 60 minutes, but at least 30 of that is still pounding the pavement. The Olympic Park is massive… there’s just no easy way to avoid some kind of trek even once inside the screening area. As the crow flies it’s really only three-and-a-half kilometres from our hotel, but there’s a river in the way, and a whole lot of infrastructure and security stuff too.

However, it’s been warm here and it’s only getting nicer! In fact, sun and blue skies on the coast for the next few days is translating into highs close to 20 degrees celsius. Great for getting even more people outdoors, but I would imagine they are digging into their stockpile of snow up in the mountains!

Canada Olympic House. Where Mike sort of lives.

Now, once in awhile I have a brilliant idea (Brent may claim I stole this one from him) and today I just happened to stuff my sandals into my backpack. As much as the parents had made fun of me, I could tell they were now hiding their envy! Wow… did it feel good to let the “dogs” breathe!

The feet have taken quite a beating the last seven days. Averaging 10km-plus per day? That’s just a guess, but the final Olympic tally is going to be high! Most of the hours of the few days Brent and I had were spent on the pavement before the arrival of parents and family members of Team Canada. Attempting to describe the scope and size of the Sochi Winter Olympics and do it justice is really a tall task. It needs to be experienced… through the eyes and through the calves. Any foot massage parlors around here?

What’s next for us? Today was a busy one with two curling games for the girls – both victories! – and thanks to “The Pants” aka the Norwegian men’s curling team, we scored tickets to the late night Canada versus Norway men’s hockey game!

Tomorrow is a free day for most of us. A chance to check out more of the sights and maybe take a chance on some local cuisine? We’ll see on that one… I might be alone on that adventure!

Be sure to  check out my Twitter feed to see more, more and still more of our adventures here in Sochi. And if you’ve got any questions, requests or blog story ideas, feel free to tweet them directly to me or you can leave a “Comment” in the section below.

Thanks for tuning in for this adventure… more coming soon!

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Montreal 2014: Homan, Harper and The Flag Guy

Bring back the curlers we have lost

By Mike Fournier

Robot curling? Homan (left) and Co. crushed them all

MONTREAL – So it was as expected in the end; Rachel Homan and her team of Ontario robots destroyed the competition. Rachel did not have to throw her last rock all week. It felt like the other teams were pretty much playing for second place all week.
Val Sweeting‘s Alberta gang gave it a valiant effort in the final, but you just can’t miss shots early and get down two or three to Homan. You are fighting an uphill battle against a team that is just not going to miss many. The sixth end looked a little hairy after a few misses, but Homan threw two pistols to get out of pretty much the only trouble they were in all game.
Some random thoughts…
Stephen Harper in the House!
I was impressed to see the PM in the house for both the bronze medal game and the final. Regardless of what many Quebecers might think of his politics, it was still pretty cool to have him there. (Although I honestly thought his security detail was going to tackle the superfan who runs around the arena with a Canadian flag). However it was surprising that an Alberta guy would be wearing a Team Canada sweatshirt!

The Hairband

I need to get a hairband to curl, just like Alberta third Joanne Courtney. It just looks so cool. Maybe I can find one that comes with hair.
The Tick
Okay. I acknowledge that Homan is the best team in the country (excepting, perhaps, Jennifer Jones). I acknowledge that she calls a brilliant game, and is capable of dominating a tournament like few other women’s teams in history. But I am just going to say it: I don’t like the Lisa Weagle Tick shot that everyone raves about.
Of course when you are tied in the 10th end and you have hammer, the tick is brilliant. But in the fourth end? Really? Seems like a wasted rock – especially when you miss it.
I think there is a reason that most competitive teams play a come around to the top four instead of the tick in most ends other than 10. It’s because it is a shot you will make more often, and you force the other team to throw their next one into the rings. It makes more sense to me. Even if I thought my lead would make the tick two out of three times, I think I would still call the draw more often.
Lisa Weagle missed a few ticks in the final, and her team found herself in a lot of trouble in those ends.  I am not saying it’s not impressive when she makes them, I am just wondering why she calls them.
Don’t tell me “Mike you must be wrong – because they are winning.” I know… they are awesome. They did not come close to losing this week. But they win because they make way more shots than the other teams, not because of the brilliant tick strategy.
What hosting meant to Montreal curling
So the finals are done, the crowd has gone home. What did the STOH mean to Montreal?
I spent a large part of the week walking around – in both the arena and the Lounge. I talked to the countless volunteers, the fans from all over, the teams, the bartenders (okay maybe I spent a bit too much time with the bartenders).

Le Flag Guy!

I have to say I think the Montreal STOH was a big success. I am sure the organizers will say it would have been nice to have a few more people in the stands, and the “no beer” policy in the arena also drew more than a couple of complaints. But from Thursday on the crowds were respectable and very animated. It was a fun place to be.
Perhaps the most important success story of the event is that it seemed to re-animate the Montreal curling scene. Montreal used to be the heart of curling in Quebec. It had more clubs, more curlers, more parties and more fun places than anywhere else, by far. But this success has waned. Clubs have closed, many curlers have drifted away and many of the tournaments that drew teams from all over are but memories of a past era.
I will admit, when I heard that Montreal would be hosting this, I was afraid. I was afraid that we would not have the volunteer base or the fan required to run a national championship. I am happy to report that I was wrong to be scared. Fans came. Volunteers volunteered.
The championship was a great gathering of the Quebec curling community. I walked around and saw so many people that I had not seen in 10 or 15 years – people who love curling, but just don’t get out as much anymore. Or people who had given up the game, but were drawn out to watch a few games this week. It was great to see them all, and I seemed to hear a lot of people saying how they missed curling, and want to get back into the game.
Montreal (and Quebec) still has a vibrant curling community; I think this event showed us that all we need to do is re-engage it. The STOH showed us that it is possible.

The powers that be spend a lot of effort trying to think of how to draw new people into curling, when maybe we should spend more time trying to bring back the curlers we have lost. I think they are an easier sell, and this week convinced me that there are a lot of them around.

Let’ s hope we can keep the momentum going from what we have generated here.
And finally…
It was fun, but I am kinda glad the week is done, and for one reason: I no longer have to tell the story to everyone I see about what happened in my 10th against Jean-Michel Menard at provincials!!!
[STOH photo by Andrew Klaver/Kruger Products Ltd. Other image by the author. Click on images to increase viewing size]
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