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The Sky Is Falling

Actually, it’s not, but the hysteria is at an all-time high. And said hysteria centers around the two cities that battle for alleged Canadian curling supremacy, Winnipeg (the former champion) and Edmonton (current king o’ the hill).

If you haven’t heard, two skilled ex-Kevin Martin third rockers from Edmonton are joining Manitoba’s two remaining curling legends next season. Mid-90s Martin castoff Kevin Park (in CurlingZone photo with Team Kevin Koe in 2007) now joins Team Jeff Stoughton, and 2006 Martin castoff Don Walchuk is soon to join Team Kerry Burtnyk.

That was a Winnipeg Free Press link; here’s what the Winnipeg Sun thinks of all this (here and here).

Finally, in brief, from the FreepPaul Wiecek is clearly pining.

It was only a matter of time, folks, and curling will see more of this stuff in the years to come. Look what we’ve had already: Colleen Jones with a B.C./Ontario team; Jon Mead tucking in with Toronto’s Wayne Middaugh; B.C.’s Brent Pierce with an Edmonton threesome; Newfoundland’s Brad Gushue teamed with an Albertan – and now with a Manitoban – Shannon Kleibrink with an import from Saskatchewan; Jennifer Jones with an Ontarian on board… after a Vancouverite.

And don’t forget Team Kevin Martin v.3 – the third is from Ontario (albeit born in Winnipeg) and the lead bleeds Saskatchewan green.

Elsewhere:

• The World Curling Rankings have been released, with Canada solidifying its number one position in both men’s and women’s and China making huge moves up the chart …

Jan Betker is back on the ice next year in Regina …

• New Newfie Ryan Fry is the latest to sit in the hotseat on The Curling Show

• Catch the latest webisode of Capital One Curlers Corner? Yep, it’s still running, with last week’s episode still on the Grand Slam homepage until roughly Friday, whereupon another will slide into place …

• Here’s two tales of Desert Ice curling in Phoenix, here and here

• Nova Scotia’s rebuilt Windsor CC is moving forward, while the third and final jerk responsible for the original club’s destruction finally faced the music

Curling Today recommends you visit the CurlTV voting page to help choose a best shot of the season. We do, too!

• DID YOU KNOW: that Jennifer Jones appeared on Toronto’s FAN 590 sports radio? Did you know that you can listen to it here?

DID YOU KNOW II: that some Tibet protestors showed up at the women’s words in Vernon? A handful of them stood up twice to show their signs to Team China, and otherwise sat, watched the games and cheered for Canada. About as passive a protest as one could ever see… but that’s curling for ya!

• DID YOU KNOW III: that Babies love curling?

These guys (and gals) did indeed get their rocks off …

• This blogger was at the Pacs where he (or she) first saw China’s future female star skipper …

• Aw, boo… someone turned off the webcam

• It’s the 2009 U.S. Olympic Trials! Get yer tickets …

SongMonk has two reasons why curling is “fun” …

• And finally, memories of an old This Hour curling sketch from 2005; nice to see Jenn Hanna with old Ontario teammate Dawn Askin, and of course Don Wittman

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Curling shrapnel

SUDBURY – Well, it’s all over. And the curling can now begin.

The curling road warriors made it to the club for the opening banquet… and here’s a final photo from Mike R, late last night, displaying the dance floor. And a piece of shrapnel.

Have a great weekend, all!

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Red Bulls

HIGHWAY 400 – In this limo pic, we are facing B.C. lass Sara Wark and former Mark Dacey second (and Brier curling champion) Rob Harris, of Halifax.

Looks like that’s Newfoundland’s Steph Ledrew on the left, too.

According to Mike R, “Sara and Rob ate the whole bag of chips and a 12-pack of Red Bull.”

Yikes!

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Farmer Ryan

SOMEWHERE ALONG HIGHWAY 400, SOUTHERN ONTARIO – They’re on the road again.

Last year we showed y’all some funny pics taken from a long limousine ride from Toronto to Sudbury; it was the charity/celeb curling skips on their way to the season-ending Heart to Heart Bonspiel.

Well, here it is one year later and more mayhem is ensuing along Highway 400.

In this photo, taken by the mysterious Mike R, we have Newfoundland’s Ryan Ledrew consuming the champagne of beers. As Mike says, not sure if it will speed him up or slow him down …

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New Team Gushue confirmed

In an exclusive interview with The Curling News Blog, 2006 Olympic champion skip Brad Gushue has confirmed his new team for the upcoming 2007-08 season… and it does indeed welcome a new western Canadian and also the return of a longtime local teammate, both of whom also spoke to TCN for this story.

As speculated, Ryan Fry of Winnipeg and former Gushue lead Jamie Korab will suit up for Gushue and third man Mark Nichols next season.

The skip – whose team with Nichols and the departed Chris Schille and Dave Noftall finished 10th on The Curling News Gold Trail list at just over $62,000 in season winnings – spoke to TCN early this afternoon.

“We’re pretty excited,” said Gushue, referring to himself and Nichols. “We were contacted by both Ryan and Jamie shortly after the Brier, and we weren’t sure what we wanted to do (for the next season).

“We were intrigued.”

Gushue adds that he was unlikely to appear at Victoria’s Bear Mountain Classic, a major World Curling Tour cashspiel held just before his hometown Tylenol Players’ Championship, except that he and Nichols considered it “a good opportunity to sit down and speak to Ryan in person, about what he was thinking and wanted to do with us.

“He’s now got three other guys very close to his age who are trying to build the same thing. His goals were very much in line with ours.”

The deal was then confirmed during the TPC at Mile One Stadium in St. John’s But what are the goals, exactly?

“It’s obviously Vancouver and also 2014 too,” the defending Olympic champion confirmed.

Fry’s motives, of course, were well-publicized earlier this week (examples located here and here). But he spoke briefly with The Curling News too, before hopping on a Thursday morning flight to Sudbury, Ontario for the season-ending celebrity/charity Heart to Heart Bonspiel.

“It’s like switching from one team to another; except they’re about 5,000 miles away,” said Fry, who finished third in Manitoba with Jeff Stoughton after winning the Bison title with him in 2007.

“I’m really excited. If things go as planned, we can hopefully make some headway to getting into the top four in the country.”

Gushue admits that he and Nichols were delighted to hear that Fry was willing to move to and live on The Rock, full-time… and avoid the new provincial residency restrictions that forced second man Schille to depart the team and return to Alberta.

“We were shocked,” Gushue confirmed. “We thought we’d won the lottery, that’s a good way of putting it.”

And what about Jamie Korab, the Gushue loyallist who was cut adrift following the 2007 Brier? Curling fans saw the split as a typical divorce among teammates but for Newfoundlanders… well, they went somewhat bonkers.

“Jamie seems to have the drive again,” said Gushue.

“I think he’s been quoted recently as saying he overreacted last year and took it a bit personally. He knows what it takes to win and he knows he really didn’t have the drive that year… I think he regretted how things went down and of course then it snowballed and snowballed. It really got out of hand.”

“People have to realize we have the smallest talent pool across Canada,” Gushue added.

“It’s hard to try and find the right fit, the diamond in the rough, so to speak. So it’s been a challenge. If we had thousands of players to draw from like they do in the rest of the country… at the same time, I’m not going to apologize for trying to build as strong a team as you can. I do think that it’s part of the game now.”

Gushue also spoke about his two years since Turin and drew what might become a parallel to another rival skip, who also changed his team following an Olympic appearance… Kevin Martin, the 2008 world champion.

“We’re disappointed (with the last two years),” said Gushue. “Ever since the Olympics we’ve been struggling to find four guys with the same goals, the same drive. The fact that Ryan and Jamie both have that drive is amazing.

“I think a great example is Kevin (Martin). The last couple of years (of his old team) he didn’t seem to have that sparkle in his eyes any more. Then he gets these three young guys with strong goals and a work ethic and I’d say there is a spark there now.”

So what does Korab think about his skip’s comment that he seems to have the drive back?

“I would agree 125 per cent,” Korab declared.

“Without a doubt, back in ’06 we win the gold, Canada’s first Olympic gold for the men, the pinnacle of our sport, blah-blah,” said the excitable Korab.

“And then maybe I was a little lackadaisical. We lose the Brier final, still have a good year, but I guess I thought things would come easy. I didn’t train as hard, didn’t work as hard as I had. And when you make it to that level, people are gunning for you. So you’ve gotta work hard.

“So to say I have the drive again would be an understatement.”

Korab said he understands – now – how the decision to cut him from the team wasn’t meant to be personal.

“I got cut,” said Korab. “The guys didn’t do anything to hurt me, they made the best move for the team and looking back, I agree (with their decision).”

Korab reports that yes indeed, he and his former mates had a few conversations in the lead-up to this year’s Brier – and at the event itself.

“There wasn’t much contact during the summer, but we weren’t going to hold out forever,” said Korab.

“We had a few good conversations at provincials, and then I was actually out at the Brier and I wished the boys the best of luck. It wasn’t fake, it was really nice. I also got to see Brad’s baby, I hadn’t had a chance to see her before.

“Meanwhile me and Ryan we kinda get talking, and he suggests it would be great if we’re both on that team, and I say ‘Well yeah, it would be great, except…’

“Anyway, we literally threw it out on the table and started talking. And when the calls came in there was a lot of excitement.”

Gushue and Korab will appear on local St. John’s television (NTN) Thursday evening for the formal announcement to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The people of curling, meanwhile, have this announcement here and now.

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TPC wrap, Gushue rumours

Some decent on-ice action at last weekend’s Tylenol Players’ Championship, and many thanks to Dean Gemmell of The Curling Show for providing some on-the-blogspot observations. Make sure you check out TCS’ most recent interviews – from MVP Marc Kennedy and World Champion skip Jennifer Jones – and keep your eyes on that URL for more interviews to close out the newly-expired 2008 season.

Glenn Howard (Insight Sports photo by Anil Mungal) ended up stealing some of K-Mart’s April thunder by winning yesterday’s men’s title tilt, which now puts Howard directly into the 8-team 2009 Canadian Olympic Trials, alongside Martin.

Howard also won the last two Capital One Grand Slams of the season, while Martin took the first two. And, of course, there was that abysmal Brier final which really didn’t settle anything at all between these two giants, and which still leaves a sour taste today, a full month later.

The women’s final was intriguing, if not particularly well-played. Regina’s Amber Holland was the better skip on the day, and now has another year-plus to bring her teammates up to speed on the nuances of big-league curling. Runner-up Krista McCarville has won two of the last three Ontario championships, so she is clearly no slouch.

Al Cameron was the first to report that Brad Gushue is losing at least one player, and a key one at that. The rumour mill is is full swing and seems to center on Winnipeg’s Ryan Fry and, wait for it, former Gushue castoff Jamie Korab both joining (in Jamie’s case, re-joining) the squad.

Meanwhile, is anyone asking the Newfoundland & Labrador Curling Association why they would change the residency rules now? In other words, were they on the hunt for Schille’s scalp?

And one last Grand Slam thought – for now, anyway… how is it possible that CBC’s website didn’t run one official photo from any of the Grand Slams all season long? In other words, why did they run file photos from previous Olympic Trials (some as old as eight years ago) or from other non-Slam events to accompany all the Slam copy? Is anyone at CBC Sports or Insight Sports talking to their online partner? Just asking …

Elsewhere:

• CurlTV wants your vote for Shot of the Year! Just head to this here page and click away, then cast your vote …

• Here’s Donny Barcome’s thoughts on his hometown Worlds; and all of us at The Curling News wish Don and family the best as the family patriarch, Don “Doc” Barcome Sr., battles on …

• It was Johnny U Day in Lac du Bonnet …

• Finally, have you seen the video for Team Shattered Dreams? ’Tis a classic, we fear …

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Rock Report V: Hebert blows a tire

by Dean Gemmell

ST. JOHN’S – Loads of great shotmaking across all four sheets even as two games failed to go the distance.

Team Wayne Middaugh, down two playing the third against Team Pat Simmons, caught a bad break when Wayne’s last-rock hit for three seemed to pick and was suddenly transformed into a steal of one. By the time Middaugh managed a deuce, they were down 5-0. Maybe it was the curling gods finally smiling on Pat after the dose of misfortune they meted out at the Tim Horton’s Brier in Winnipeg.

Team Glenn Howard’s win over Team Greg McAulay was clinical. If they weren’t such nice guys, it would have felt downright mean. Howard (Insight Sports photo by Anil Mungal) basically ended it in the first when he scored four, using one of his patented down-weight taps to do it.

Team Kevin Koe dismantled Team Kerry Burtnyk who, despite my earlier ramblings about their seeming malaise, found a way to qualify. Good for them. After a rough early outing against Kevin Martin, Team Koe appears to have its mojo back.

And any time Martin and Randy Ferbey play, it’s good for curling. So much great shooting and all that back story. It was no different tonight. Martin was comfortably in control until the seventh when Ben Hebert blew a tire – his gripper came flying off in a way you might see at your club’s fall Open House – and burned a Marc Kennedy runback as he hit the deck. Eventually, Ferb third David Nedohin drew about three-quarters buried in the top four and Martin failed to tap it far enough, surrendering a steal of one.

Hebert made amends by starting the eighth with two ticks, the second one leaving the Ferbey stone just a breath away from the side boards. Nedohin hung around to sweep it but one had to think that if he had been joined by Scott Pfeifer and Marcel Rocque – instead of Ferbey – they might have been able to get it those last couple of inches. After that, things went according to plan and Martin needed only a draw to the eight-foot with his last rock to win the game.

Team Ferbey probably didn’t need one more defeat against Martin to chew on over the summer but they have it nonetheless.

Watching the play tonight brought the differences among the men’s teams into even sharper focus. Martin and Howard, possibly the two greatest skips the game has seen, are leading extraordinary teams and have created some definite distance between themselves and the field. Koe is awfully close. Simmons is narrowing the gap. For now, Ferbey and Middaugh come up just behind them. After that, everyone is chasing.

The good news is that there are some very good young guns in the mix. It may take a few years but eventually the tides will turn. Take the advice Ben Hebert offered in a recent issue of The Curling News and enjoy the forty-something superstars while you can.

Finally, Amber Holland was next door in the CurlTV booth for the last couple of ends of Ferbey-Martin. Team Krista McCarville was in the pub overlooking the ice. I’m not sure who wins and who loses on that one.

Since there’s only one direct flight each day between St. John’s and Newark and I have to be in New Jersey on Monday, I’ll miss the games today. With Martin, Howard, Koe and Simmons on the last big day of the season, I definitely lose on that one.

Later.

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Rock Report IV

by Dean Gemmell

ST. JOHN’S – The ice, swingier than it was earlier in the weekend, definitely had both teams vexed. For most of the first seven ends, the story was about crashes, half-shots and opportunities missed. But the game redeemed itself somewhat in the final end, as Amber Holland made a double to count two for the 2008 Tylenol Players’ Championship victory (Insight Sports photo by Anil Mungal).

Not the hardest double you’ll see but one of those shots that gets tough when it’s for a win. And, in this case, for a Pre-Olympics Trials spot. And nine grand. And 10 more CTRS points. And maybe a shot at Sport Canada funding.

It wasn’t the crowd I’m sure organizers were hoping to see. Unfortunately, I’m guessing the arena won’t fill up a whole lot more for a Brad Gushue-free quarterfinal draw on a night of nasty weather and playoff hockey on the tube.

The curlers who have played here in the past tell me there’s been a steady ebb in attendance at events in St. John’s since the heady days of the Gushue Olympic run. I know there won’t be a Capital One Grand Slam here next year and while it seems a shame – George Street being a big reason for that sentiment – you can’t bring an event to cities that don’t turn out for it.

But enough about that. A great night of curling is ahead of us, including a Randy FerbeyKevin Martin matchup. The men are stretching things out but not jogging on the spot. No jumping jacks either.

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Rock Report III

ST. JOHN’S – Krista McCarville versus Amber Holland was not the women’s final that betting sorts would have put their money on. With a national broadcast on CBC, I think it’s good for the sport – it won’t feel like a rehash of the Scotties. Casual fans may know McCarville from her Scotties appearances in the past but Holland will be an unknown for most viewers.

Team McCarville has looked very good, building comfortable leads in many games. Team Holland has had the more typical run, winning the close ones. The logical pick would be McCarville but perhaps the nail-biters will have steeled Holland (Insight Sports photo by Anil Mungal) for the gut check that is the final.

The best sports moments occur when the gulf between winning and losing is vast. Here’s why this game isn’t just another cashspiel final.

We’ll start with the lesser differences between seeing your name engraved on the trophy and getting a candy dish:

Winner gets $25,000. Loser gets $16,000. Personally, I sort of wish that difference was greater. (Remember, I’m the guy who thinks the Capital One Grand Slam Series should have just one event that is winner-take-all.) Still, who wants to leave nine grand on the table?

The winner gets 40 CTRS points; the loser gets 30. I guess 10 points is 10 points.

And the big difference:

The winner gets an automatic berth in the Canada’s Olympic Curling Pre-Trials event. The loser does not. For these two teams, who aren’t a lock to get in otherwise, this is huge.

Clearly, it’s not just another cash spiel final to wind up the season. As I watch the teams jog on the spot and do jumping jacks behind their sheet – why do the women so relish the calisthenics while the men completely eschew them? – I wonder if they’re doing any tallies in their heads.

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Rock Report II

by Dean Gemmell

ST. JOHN’S – The second draw of the day is underway, and the usual Friday morning gaggle of school kids provides a constant backdrop of chatter in the arena.

I think it’s safe to say that a few players are suffering from the malady known as The Banquet Effect. This might have been a good morning for an Old Time Curling Challenge – force everyone to sweep with corn while they smoke cigars and try to shake out the cobwebs. Team Kevin Koe, in their vintage Hec Gervais gear, would look the part.

In an “A” Qualifier on Sheet A, K-Mart and crew just seem to keep rolling along. After forcing Koe to one in the first, they score three in the second. They force again in three and then score two in four. All this despite the fact John Morris told me he’s been battling a ferocious bout of food poisoning. One has to wonder how well John will play when he’s 100 per cent healthy again.

Howard and Simmons are on Sheet B in the other “A” Qualifier, the game featured on cbcsports.ca. Howard seems to be at full throttle and in complete control after grabbing four in three. Not much else to report there other than the fact that Craig Savill is wearing a ball cap. Perhaps the glare is a bit wicked this morning.

Sheet C is vacant, save for some diligent women currently practicing. On that note, here’s a photo of Chery Bernard (by Anil Mungal, courtesy Insight Sports). We’re talking about men a lot, so here’s a femme pic. Cheryl, incidentally, is through to the women’s playoffs.
Greg McAulay, named Comeback Player of the Year at last night’s awards banquet, is in a “B” battle with Winnipeg’s young Mike McEwen outfit on Sheet D. Knotted at three after four.

In another “B” bout on Sheet E, Team Wayne Middaugh, with recent addition John Epping in the lineup, is playing Kerry Burtnyk. I’m curious to see how the great young shooter Epping will fit with this veteran rink. While I didn’t see a lot of him playing with Mike Harris this year, it didn’t seem to work too well in the little bit I did catch. I think he’ll be better with this squad because I don’t think he’ll be as quick to weigh in on shot selection.

Hmm. Just as I write that, he makes a runback triple.

Despite winning that trip to the Brier this year, Team Burtnyk looks to be in a serious funk. Actually, that trip to the Brier probably didn’t help. One wonders if Rich, Dan and Kerry might not wish they could climb into the Time Machine and go back the start of 2006-2007, when they won five Asham World Curling Tour events in a row. The value of The Doctor and his headband collection may be have been underestimated.

On that note, Rob Meakin, as reported elsewhere, is back in the Burtnyk lineup. He still looks young when he throws the rock. Not so much when he sweeps. He’s holding the broom on Kerry’s shots and that appears to be wise. That might be something we’ll probably see more of in the future. An older player doesn’t have to bring the heat at lead that a second or third has to be able to provide. And it only makes sense to have a younger guy sweeping skip rocks. We saw Team Pat Simmons move Gerry Adam into the rings for Pat’s shots this year. While Gerry always seems to post good numbers and I’ve never seen Steve Laycock throw the high hard one, I would consider moving the younger guy to second… if I was Team Manager.

Finally, since I’m right over Sheet E, I’m seeing a lot of Middaugh third Jon Mead. When he throws the heat, I don’t think there’s a delivery that looks cooler…