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January 2006 issue

Some quick pre-holiday news follows, but first: the January issue of The Curling News is in the mail.

It features:

• a great piece from Larry Wood on the Canadian Olympic Trials, the champions and the also-rans, including brilliant action photography from TCN’s Ted Richards and others;

• a delightful column from Doug Maxwell on same;

Mike Haggerty‘s first report of the year, direct from Germany’s European Championships;

Matt Hames‘ first column of the season from his Living In America perch;

• a tale of a four-generation curling team;

Mark Spector‘s fan-tastic “confession” of curling fandom;

• the new monthly TV Guide feature;

Jill Officer‘s Olympic Journey 101 has finally come to a rollicking close, and she takes us through the five stages of The Grieving Process;

• Curling’s Amazing Race;

Heather Rankin‘s stunning victory in court over the Alberta Curling Federation;

Blue Rodeo does the Brier Parti Gras;

• a special look at Lowell’s upcoming men’s Worldfest;

• the TCN/CBC 30% off deal on the DVD is now held over through January;

• and still more Newfie aftermaths, with a besieged Toronto Sun writer flying off to The Rock to take his lumps, and a special TCN message from the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, Danny Williams.

Don’t delay, subscribe today.

TCN will take a much-needed holiday break for a few days, so to set you off on your Merry way, here’s a quick smorgasbord of curling tales and results to click on:

• Aftermatch pieces here and here on yesterday’s UK Olympic selections, not to forget the chatroom opining, and even a TV interview here;

• Provincial playdowns are underway across Canada – Stefanie Lawton is looking to regroup in Sask, Manitoba’s women are off and running to Thompson, and Ontario’s men and women are also done with zone play, with some big teams having close calls in the B-side;

• and finally, Hilton Hotels is a new sponsor of US Curling: wonder what Paris would say?
That’s hot.

Merry Ho Ho everyone!

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Martin, Murdoch get Olympic nod

The decision has been announced: following a scrappy tiebreaker performance at last week’s European Championships, 2002 Olympic Gold Medallist Rhona Martin (photo) will skip Great Britain’s Olympic curling team in Pinerolo at the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games.

Joining her is one teammate from ’02, Debbie Knox, as well as 2002 world champion skip Jackie Lockhart, defending Scottish champion skip Kelly Wood, and Lynn Cameron.

On the men’s side, 2005 world runner-up and ’05 Euro bronze medallist David Murdoch made it through along with mates Euan Byers and Craig Wilson, as well as 1999 world champions Warwick Smith and Ewan MacDonald.

The highly-controversial GB selection process is sure to cause waves in the lead-up to the Games, just as it has during the fall World Curling Tour season.

Stunning is the news that Murdoch’s brother Neil did not make the men’s team, as is the non-presence of a single member of the Tom Brewster foursome.

Already stunning is the fact that Martin was placed on the recent Euro squad along with two rival skips – Lockhart and Wood – and is now off to Italy.

Brewster lead Colin Campbell chatted with The Curling News last weekend, and was ready for the disappointing news.

Dave (Murdoch) has done pretty well at the Europeans and won bronze, and as a result I can’t see (the coaches) changing the team for the Olympics. It could be a pat on the back and better luck next time.

The first two of many news reports is here and here.

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Your Pal and mine

The big Norwegian, Pal Trulsen (photo) did it again, and the imminent January issue of The Curling News will have the scoop. He is European Champion for 2005 and his sights are squarely set on scoring another Olympic gold medal just a few short weeks from now.

Sweden’s Peja Lindholm lost the final – for the second year in a row – but his women’s counterpart Anette Norberg has won her fifth title in a row, and sixth in the last seven years, and is so far above and beyond any team heading into Torino it’s not funny. And apologies to Team Shannon Kleibrink, but you’ve got your work cut out for you. There is a women’s dynasty in the sport of curling, and it’s Swedish.

CurlTV has followed up their surprise Olympic Trials coverage with the big news that they have secured the rights to morning draw games and other action throughout the CCA’s entire Season of Champions roster: the 2006 M&M Meat Shops Canadian Junior Championships, the 2006 Strauss Canada Cup, the 2006 Scott Tournament of Hearts, the 2006 Tim Hortons Brier, the 2006 Ford World Women’s Championship and the 2006 World Men’s Championship.

This in addition to the next Grand Slam of Curling shootout, the BDO Classic Canadian Open, Jan. 5-8… which includes an Olympic exhibition match (Team Kleibrink versus whom?)… and a new junior development initiative in Winnipeg.

You’ve really gotta sign up for CurlTV, folks. What the heck are you waiting for?

In other news, all of Team Howard are going to Italy for the Russ show; the Scots are under fire from the Dutch over the “magic broom“; the decisions are surely made but Thursday is the announcement day for the British Olympic curling team selection; and the NBC Olympic website is now up, including a decent curling page

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Catching up, and in mourning

After a few days of rest, we’re back… and it’s true. The Brad Gushue and Shannon Kleibrink teams won the Trials, and Ferbey, Martin, Jones, The Other Jones, Stoughton, and The Other Howard… didn’t.

Gushue leads the media impressions report by a 2-1 margin, but that doesn’t mean Calgary isn’t going ga-ga over their new Olympians. In fact, other western provs like Saskatchewan are in on the fun, as the third-coach tandem of Amy and Daryl Nixon hail from The Gap, and only left for Cowtown in 1995.

Something didn’t ring right when, at the athlete reception in Halifax, CCA brass talked about shipping Kleibrink and Gushue to Scotland and then Italy in early January. Let’s see… for Team Kleibrink, the skip has two kids and a husband transferred to the U.S., the second is nursing a three-month old, and the third and second both work for a law firm.

On the Gush side, there’s the mammoth BDO Classic Canadian Open in Winnipeg, one of the Grand Slams, hitting the ice in early Jan.

Kudos then to CCA for listening to the players. Gushue is now headed to the Peg, while there are rumours of a special Team Kleibrink appearance on the final Slam Sunday as well. Stay tuned for more.

On the press watch these days, there is a minor furor over a Toronto sports columnist – sorry, satiristtaking shots at Newfoundlanders. A day later he has clarified his intentions of satire, claiming that:

There is nothing in my columns that readers don’t see every week on the CBC’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes. And, while I’m no Shaun Majumder, the tenor (if not the quality of humour) of my columns is no different than anything written for his show — and most of that stuff is written by Easterners.

Is he right? Check out Majumder’s “Raj Binder At Curling” segement right now on the 22 Minutes website.

Not to be outdone is the bad boy of Halifax, Jeff Stoughton, who of course noted that Gushue had “no chance” of winning the event. This week it emerged that he’s often misunderstood, and that he also likes to have fun with ink-stained wretches. Heck, we could have told you that. And as if to confirm this, here’s what the ‘Toban had to say after the final:

Anyone who goes through here (the Trials) and plays as well as they did and beats everybody who’s here, they’re more than great representatives for us to bring back the gold medal.

Overseas, the European Championships wrap up Saturday, and Scotland’s highly-controversial women’s team has crashed out in the tiebreakers. Meanwhile, the men’s squad is in first place and through to the semifinals, which means it may well be that David Murdoch is off to Torino with certainty. Rhona Martin’s status (photo) on the women’s side, of that we’re not so sure.

Finally, the Canadian sports world is mourning the death of TSN’s Paul McLean, who succumbed to cancer Wednesday night at only 39 years of age. Booted upstairs into management the past few years, “Mac” was a long-time curling producer, delivering the shows which inspired a curling nation, and during the Trials he was still on the phone with friends.

His hijinks and humour in the Dome truck, as well as his solid professionalism, will be sorely missed.

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The Veteran Youths

Well. Transport yourself back nine days, and we’ll bet you’d never have expected this.

After a week-long display of youthful exuberance, the young turks from Newfoundland and Labrador came through in the clutch. They did it in front of a record Olympic Trials crowd, many of them clad in bright orange, and a high number – as yet undetermined – of TV eyeballs.

And the changing of curling’s guard is not fully complete, thanks to the stunning presence of legend Russ Howard. Added to the lineup at the first Slam of the year, with the gracious Mike Adam willingly stepping back to fifth man (surely a candidate for Most Selfless Act in Canadian sports history), the new Team Brad Gushue (photo) rocked its way through curling’s strongest teams in three different events, the last being the Roar of The Rings.

9-1 in that one, against the (alleged) best of the best.

Newfoundland and Labrador is in hysterics. Watch for Premier Danny Williams to announce a national day of celebration, at which Howard will be declared an official, not just honourary, Newfoundlander. We’ll bet the Prem was Blackberrying his staff as soon as the last-rock measurement was confirmed, followed by the explosion of cheering, yelling and crying.

After the required hour of media probing and postulating, the winning squad enjoyed their first doping test. For the record, lead Jamie Korab emerged first, with his skipper coming in last. Awaiting the squad were more HBC gear to wear, an Ana Arce Calendar prominently on display (there was much attention paid to this) and a quick meeting with the CCA.

When the vetern Howard strode in, he saw us and shook his head, giggling. Who knew? Russ said. Do I have to get a tattoo on my ass now?

Later on, coach Toby MacDonald played the harmonica at the Athletes’ Reception, which included yesterday’s women’s champs (see yesterday’s Blogpost) and cracked jokes about being single for that night only, and Korab being single all the time. As our friend Terry Jones wrote, this really is a remake of the famous Jack McDuff story.

Team Stoughton, meanwhile, partied it up at the Patch and then The Lower Deck until the wee hours, alongside some of the Gushies. Calm and professional as ever.

Speaking of Stoughton… there’s already some calls for third Jon Mead’s head because of a missed line call in the 10th end. Such logic defies a few things, namely that the shooter had to roll away and absolutely could not stick; that the match result certainly did not hinge on the execution of that single shot; and also that Jon Mead’s shooting was of peak performance through the entire week, including the final.

Should a high-performance curler’s net worth to a team be judged a single line call alone? We don’t think so. But that’s our opinion.

Mead spoke quietly with us between dances with his wife at the Patch.

We left it all out there. It’s not so bad if you can honestly say that. I can tell you there is not one thing we would change. I’d never prepared for anything so much in my life.

Second stone Garry VanDenBerghe, almost jovial, at the Patch:

I told Jonny that if he gets down on himself for this I’ll kick his ass. Nobody played better than him. Nobody.

Some of the best reads today include Jim Bender, who points out that Mead may retire before some fans get their wish to see him fired, Bender again, Jonesy, then twice, and finally thrice, Bender’s opponent Paul Wiecek in Winnipeg (subscription only), Toronto’s Dave Perkins, Robin Short of St. John’s, who broke the story of Maureen Gushue’s battle with cancer, and who also arranged an e-mail address where fans can send congratulations to the champs: champ@thetelegram.com … and finally Calgary’s Al Cameron (subscription only) who has a nice piece on the tattoo dilemma of Team Kleibrink and who also quotes Russ as such:

I can’t imagine there’s too many (Olympians) older than me. Hopefully they’re curling against us if there are.

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Eight years later

For Calgary’s Shannon Kleibrink and proud new mom Glenys Bakker, the wounds of 1997 are healed. And for pixie Amy Nixon and wild woman Christine Keshen, a dream that’s barely started is already in full swing.

Giving the new curling Olympians jackets and scarves adorned with the Canadian Olympic Team logo (photo) was a nice touch. More than one observer noticed the presence of blue with the red and white – also in the ribbon attached to the medal – but what the hey, Americans are our friends, right?

Right?

The Curling News celebrates with the victors, who won their seventh match in a row, showed true grit in overcoming back-to-back opposing steals in the eighth and ninth frames, and won it on a nifty highlight-reel shot, thus guaranteeing extra news impressions tonight and tomorrow (always an eye on marketing, yep, that’s us).

We also sympathize with Team Kelly Scott, who played so well today and all week, improving their offensive game some twenty percentage points in the ten months between the STOH and these Trials, only to lose it in the very last 15 minutes.

And now it’s the Calgarians with the chance at their 15 minutes of fame and fortune. At least until public and corporate Canada packs away their flags and kazoos the day after the Torino 2006 closing ceremonies and promptly forgets about our amateur winter athletes for another four years.

Do we sound bitter? If so, so what? Prove us wrong, oh public and corporate Canuckleheads. And while you’re bristling at the sudden accusatory tone we have presented, why not remember Jeff Stoughton’s words earlier this week, when he rushed to the defense of a beleaguered Team Ferbey:

For some reason Canadians seem to hate a winner. The poor guy, he’s out trying his best and people are cheering misses. I think that’s pretty ignorant and rude of the crowd to do that to a true champion that’s out there.
I don’t know why. It seems the Canadian mentality is that they don’t seem to love their winners and these guys are certainly big winners.

Love your winners, folks. Starting with Kleibrink and finishing with either Stoughton or Brad Gushue tomorrow.

After all… the Americans wouldn’t dream of doing otherwise for their own.

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M&M new CCA sponsor

A quick break from the riveting women’s final of the Olympic Trials (photo from the third end) to report the breaking news that M&M Meats Shops is the new title sponsor of the Canadian Junior Championships.

With the ink still wet on the two-year deal – and still amid the fallout of the cancellation of the long-running M&M Meat Shops Skins Game – this continues M&M’s committment to the sport. Also a former sponsor of the Grand Slam of Curling, M&M continues to sponsor the Wayne and Sherry Middaugh teams, as well as numerous grass roots events in the Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario area, home turf for the M&M corporate office.

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Turning back the clock

Jeff Stoughton’s Buffalo Boys are back in a national final, their first since the 1999 Brier. And this time they are shooting for the Olympic Games.

Stoughton climbed all over Calgary’s John Morris early, then beat back a comeback attempt to slide into Sunday’s final versus Newfoundland’s Brad Gushue.

Morris, down 6-1 at the break, lost his last three games to finish with bronze for the week.

More on the men’s final after tomorrow’s women’s final, live on CBC at 1:00pm ET.

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Second chance

Eight years later, Shannon Kleibrink (photo) is getting a second chance.

She lost the Brandon ’97 Trials to Sandra Schmirler on “The Shot” we have seen on endless highlight reels. This time, with old third Glynnis Bakker throwing second, Amy Nixon at third and calendar wannabe-girl Christine Keshen at lead, she gets another crack.

Morris versus Stoughton in the men’s semi tonight. Morris holds a 7-4 won/loss record over the Winnipeggers dating back to the 2001 Trials, and also won this week’s round-robin game 8-4. However, Stoughton won both of their matchups in this calendar year: 5-3 at last April’s Players’ Championship and 6-4 at the first Slam of this season, The National.

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Oh, Sherry

Team Stefanie Lawton of Saskatoon (photo) are through to the semi – currently down 2-1 against Calgary’s Shannon Kleibrink after four ends – after defeating Ontario’s Sherry Middaugh 9-4 in a tiebreaker.

A big four-ender in the eighth frame ended it early, but there were other indicators of tentative play from Middaugh. In the fourth end, with her own guard in play, Middaugh elected to hit a stone in the back 12-foot rings… a call reminiscent of a long-bygone era in the sport. Or so one would think.

Yes, things tighten up in the playoffs. Emotions, for one. But must strategy also tighten up, particularly when one has been playing fairly aggressively all week?

Two exclusives, from last night in the Keith’s Patch: Team Jan Betker is not entering STOH playdowns in Saskatchewan. The squad will compete in January’s Strauss Canada Cup and the first-ever women’s Players’ Championship in April… and just might call it a career afterwards. “Joan (McCusker) and I were retiring after last season,” said lead Marcia Gudereit. “Then we got this (Olympic Trials) spot. We haven’t talked about it, but we may be done.”

Item two: Team Glenn Howard, agonizing runner-ups in the last two Ontario championships, will not enter playdowns either. They are committing to compete in one of the Grand Slams which conflicts with their regional playdown.

Not really an exclusive: Pat Ryan is retiring from competitive play. Now living in Red Deer, Alta., Ryan plans to park it for the playdowns. That’s what he is saying, anyways. His now ex-teammates have picked up Jeff Richards, son of Kelly Scott coach Gerry Richards, to replace him.