Posted on

Gold for Canada, STOH finale tomorrow

VANCOUVER – If you thought Canada has dominated the world of wheelchair curling, you would be wrong.

Yes, Chris Daw and company struck gold at the debut of the sport at the 2006 Paralympic Games, but in six world championships there’s been just a silver and a bronze… and, in the last three worlds, two fourth-place finishes and a sixth-place ranking.

That all ended today as Vancouver’s own big Jim Armstrong and company – with one member of that 2006 team on the ice, Vernon’s Sonja Gaudet – took apart Sweden by a 9-2 count to win the 2009 World title.

Story here.

WCF photo by Al Harvey.

Tomorrow: Canada versus B.C. at the Scotties.

Ironic, according to one writer, that it was Marla Mallet who allowed Team Canada into the party (playoffs) to begin with, where “they’ve been trashing the joint ever since… already knocked over the kitchen table, spilled red wine on the carpet and made a heck of a mess behind the couch.”

To the winners: a trip to Korea, a return to the 2010 STOH in Sault Ste. Marie, another two years of Sport Canada funding, a berth in the Canada Cup, lots of CTRS points, more Kruger jewelry and bragging rights.

And all of it comes to you live, tomorrow night, for the first time on a prime time Sunday night… and for the first time on TSN.

Posted on

Nine lives for Jones?

Blogreaders may recall that we do like the earliest version of the U.S. rock band Aerosmith, although we truly despise one song of theirs… particularly after it has been played non-stop for a week.

After staring, mouths agape, at yet another miraculous escape for Team Canada’s Jennifer Jones yesterday – at the expense of the unfortunate spud Islanders – we reveal our curling interpretation of the VIP access pass to the 1997-98 Aerosmith “Nine Lives” Tour, above.

Following their successful 2007-08 tour, Team Canada’s 2008-09 tour of intimidating the opposition is once again in full gear, and the question remains: can anyone stop this team?

If they’re playing well, the answer is clear – no.

If they’re struggling, the answer still seems to be – no.

Will Saskatchewan – another team that wears green – be able to derail the train today?

Posted on

China, Sweden take Universiade gold

by Paul Webster

HARBIN, China – Hats off to the Chinese women, skipped by Bingyu Wang, who pulled off the win in the gold medal game here in Harbin, China. They are the 2009 World University Games champions and met the expectations of their top ranked status!

Likewise to the Swedish men’s team, led by Niklas “I’m Not Scottish” Edin. Great team all week, and a great finish.

For the match details, head to this great WCF page.

I want to acknowledge the unbelievable accomplishment of the Canadian women’s team, skipped by Hollie Nicol, who earned the silver. To take the top seeding into the playoffs (with an undefeated record), win the semifinal and then take the world number two team to the 10th end in a world championship is remarkable, and something these five ladies and coach John Nicol should be extremely proud of.

I know the result is perhaps not the storybook ending they were dreaming about, however in the years to come it will be pretty cool for them to know that they competed toe-to-toe against the world’s best.

The game had its share of big shots and big misses and Canada seemed to want to recreate their comeback in the semifinal, but the Chinese simply kept pressing and eventually out-shot their opponents.

I want to congratulate this team and their coaches for the amount of work they have put into this team, and this tournament.

The ice conditions were fantastic, again, and now we thank the icemakers : Scott Henderson of Scotland and Doug Wright of Canada. After a chat with Doug during the final it was amazing to hear some of the difficulties they experienced during this championship that we simply didn’t realize – everything from a dripping roof to broken windows?! – when everything had been promised to be “okay”. They even ended up tarping the ice the night before the finals, to ensure no water would drip onto it.

I want to take this opportunity, as well, to apologize for my somewhat shortsighted comments regarding practicing with new sets of rocks prior to the finals (see above link). Keith Wendorf, the WCF Technical Consultant to this FISU championship, informed me that this has never been the case at a world championship and I simply had my facts wrong. Okay!

As well, adding one to two hours of additional ice time at night would definitely put a stress on our ice technicians and officials. Now, if given the chance, I would still love the opportunity to take a new set of rocks and practice with them… Keith, if you’re reading…? We will simply have to do a better job of matching stones next time.

This is China’s first big international competition and they have done a fantastic job. A competition like this defiitely starts at the top and kudos to Li Dongyang, General Secretary of the Chinese Curling Association (the CCA of China!). I also want to thank Scotland’s Jeannette Johnson, FISU Representative, who has a tremendous amount of experience with world curling events and was able to guide a new organizing committee with, what seemed from the outside, a degree of strong success. Of course we will never know all the hard work – and headaches – that went on behind the scenes.

Thanks as well to Keith, who is also the Director of Competitions for the WCF, for his hard work behind the scenes. I have known Keith since 1993 and I think his schedule gets busier every year. His work supporting the officials and organizing committee definitely brings some professionalism and player/coach background to every event, and I know this is appreciated by the coaches and athletes alike.

Donna Stadzell and her crew of Mary Pat and Urs ensured everything was looked after on the offciating side of things, and we really didn’t have a hiccup all week. They took a rookie force of officials and made it look like a veteran squad (see photo).

Hey, can anyone see Keith in that photo? Even if you click to zoom in? 🙂

We have a couple of days left here in Harbin, which will see the entire Canadian contingent head to the Harbin Tiger Zoo. A rumoured four hundred tigers await, and livestock that is sent in for feeding… all while you stare from a safari bus.

Not sure I’ll be blogging about that!

Posted on

Not cheering for BC: Weber

Say hello to yet another TCN blogger, folks.

Margo Weber is a competitive curler from Calgary and an avid observer… most recently from her couch, as she is taking time away from the ice lanes to raise a family. In her first effort, she says she knows whom she is NOT cheering for in Victoria…

by Margo Weber

It’s probably no surprise to Marla Mallett that her team from BC has made the 1-2 playoff game at the 2009 Scotties Tournament of Hearts. But I bet it’s a surprise to everyone else.

In a field that included Team Canada’s Jennifer Jones, Saskatoon’s Stephanie Lawton and Calgary’s Cheryl Bernard, the play of Team BC has been no less than remarkable.

So can BC hold up their first place status and win one of two chances to make the final? This team made the 1-2 game by virtue of their eighth win on Wednesday night, however has subsequently lost their last two round robin games. If they can’t get things back on track, it’s going to be a long summer of what-ifs for Mallett and her squad from the Vancouver Curling Club.

Mallett (Kruger Products Ltd. photo above by Andrew Klaver) has certainly not let the extra pressure of being the home team diminish their chances. They don’t even seem to care what the crowd thinks.

They chose not to participate in the Ford Hot Shots at the beginning of the week because they feared it would be a distraction from the real goal – winning the Scotties.

Mallett also plays a less-than-crowd-pleasing style of game that is unbelievably boring and pretty lame for the fans. So they are less concerned about the event sponsors and the crowd, and more concerned with their own play. Fair enough.

But Mallett herself got distracted enough in last night’s round robin game against Team Canada that she actually stopped herself in the hack, got up and refocused. Apparently bothered by some opposition team movement at the other end of the sheet, she was later shown jawing to Cathy Overton-Clapham about holding still.

Was Cathy O doing the hokey pokey? How could someone of this curling calibre be so easily distracted over something so minute?

For those that watched the TSN telecast, you heard Linda Moore comment how Mallett had to refocus quite a few times in the BC provincials due to minor distractions. Shouldn’t something as trivial as a little movement in the background not bother her at this point?

Yeesh, this is the home team, and the crowd is cheering “British Columbia” every five seconds. Yet she feels the need to talk to Cathy O about her movements. Weird.

Okay, so let’s pretend BC does win tonight – or in the semi – and then faces one of three really good teams in the final. And let’s pretend she even wins that and goes on to represent Canada at the Worlds in Korea. How will she fare?

As a fan of Canadian curling, my support will certainly be behind her in hopes that she captures the world title. But I would be a little nervous about their chances.

First, this is a very defensive team, and the Victoria ice seems to lend to this style of play. But the ice in Korea is sure to be completely different than ice at home – isn’t it? – and the question is: would they be able to adjust?

Second, if Mallett is easily distracted by other teams, the World Championship will not be the place for her. International teams are very different from Canadian teams. If you want to see a bunch of ladies jumping up and down, and high fiving just for making a hit and roll – watch a few games at the Worlds.

I’m going to have to throw my hopes behind a team that isn’t afraid to mix it up. Best of luck to Team BC in their quest, but I want a Canadian gold in Korea, and I’m going to have to cheer for someone else. How about someone like Quebec’s Marie-France Larouche who puts the broom on the edge of the eight foot, goes down to the other end of the sheet and draws to the can without blinking an eye. Typical Mallett strategy would be to scan the house for any cross-house double so that she doesn’t have to draw.

Or how about Saskatchewan, which has the major distraction of an illness in the family of the skip and third, yet has still rallied to a third-place round robin finish despite losing their first three games?

Or Team Canada, an absolute powerhouse in women’s curling which has the major distraction of being Team Canada? Even when these girls are struggling they just plain refuse to roll over and die themselves, as we saw in last year’s STOH and just a few minutes ago, in the 2009 tiebreaker against poor PEI.

There are so many great teams in the Scotties this year that I just don’t have it in me this time to cheer for the home province. Sorry, BC.

Posted on

Will anyone step up to the plate?

by Elaine Dagg-Jackson

VICTORIA – Who is going to win this Scotties Tournament of Hearts?

That’s the question everyone is asking here in Victoria as the final days of this 2009 championship unfold.While BC’s Marla Mallett clearly dominated the leaderboard all week, she lost her last two games and, well, we all know that when it comes to the playoffs, anything can happen.

This was clearly illustrated just last year when Jennifer Jones upset the rock-steady Shannon Kleibrink in a stunning last-rock final. With every game on the final day of round-robin play crucial to the standings, there remains five teams – B.C., Quebec (Kruger Products Ltd. photo of Marie-France Larouche by Andrew Klaver), Saskatchewan, P.E.I and Canada – in contention become the 2009 Canadian champs.

For now, a few teams are able to grab some much needed rest. I chatted with one of the athletes who qualified for the three-four playoff last night and while she was clearly elated with a strong finish, she declared “I’m just so exhausted!”

My friend Luann Krawetz, who happens to be a University of Victoria basketball hall-of-famer, watched the game with me last night and her grasp of curling performance always amazes me.

She says curling is the only sport that places such demands on athletes where they need to excel physically, mentally and spiritually over such a long period of time. Where basketball athletes will play one game every other day in a four- or five-game series, curling athletes play two three-hou games per day in a 12-team round robin.

“It’s incredible!” says Lu.

It is much more fun watching the game with Luann, ever since I taught her not to yell “miss!” like they do for a free throw in basketball!

I’ve been more than a little surprised that the field here remains wide open. No one has stepped up to the plate to serve notice that they are really challenging for the title, and the trip to the Worlds in Korea.

From my perspective, B.C. has been the steadiest team this week, demonstrating patience, a calm and focused demeanor, and a full grasp of how to successfully play the conditions.

Saskatchewan has been gathering momentum and P.E.I, Canada and Quebec are all certainly playing well now – particularly the Islanders, who are up 4-2 on Team Canada at the fifth-end break of the tiebreaker!

It sounds obvious, but I feel the team that really embraces the ice conditions and the environment in the final games will come out on top.

It was fabulous to see so many of the teams letting off some steam in the Heart Stop Lounge last night. The music was great, the atmosphere fun and my daughter Steph was kept busy answering those all important questions from the sidelined Scotties participants of what to see and do in Victoria… and where the best shopping was, now that they finally have time to enjoy it!

Posted on

World Wheelchair curling playoffs

VANCOUVER – So your curling fandom revolves around the Scotties, does it?

Did you know there is a Canadian team battling in a world championship right now? And in relative obscurity? And in British Columbia, not far from the Victoria STOH?

The last time we saw Jim Armstrong he was teaching some poor patsy the three-man lift, a gimmick that has been carried on in fine fashion by famous lead players Jamie Korab (Team Brad Gushue), Ben Hebert (Team Kevin Martin) and others.

It was right around his days as president of the World Curling Players’ Association, and somewhat far removed from his playing career which saw him compete in six Briers, losing the 1987 final to Russ Howard.

So it is initially, admittedly, a bit shocking to see the big man wheeling round the brand new Vancouver Olympic/Paralympic Centre, wearing the Maple Leaf for the first time as skip for Team Canada at the 2009 World Wheelchair Curling Championship (WCF photo by Dallas Bittle, click to zoom).

But we get used to seeing this. Armstrong looks comfortable – enough – and patient in his chair. Only playing for two years, after first being invited to “hang out” with Team Canada at a training camp, Armstrong is now the skip of a national team that has been rebuilding ever since 2006 Paralympic champion skip Chris Daw left the scene.

We asked Jim if he’s ever tempted to just stand up, get out of that chair and walk over to the stone he wants to freeze to, or hit, or draw around.

“Yeah,” said Army.

“But that first step would be ugly.”

Was he initially nervous, playing for Canada for the first time in his career?

“Yeah I was, a little bit,” said Armstrong.

“I think anytime you’re in this setting, if you’re not getting the butterflies there’s something wrong.”

There are some colourful characters in wheelchair curling. German skip Jens Jaeger lets out occasional whoops and likes to take mock, exaggerated bows to his coaches and fans with every victory.

Jaeger hasn’t been in the worlds since 2005 – when he finished in 13th place – but he smoked everybody at the Worlds Qualifier in Prague, and he is pretty much smoking everybody here in Vancouver – he’s through to the Page 1/2 game Friday night, against Sweden. He’s certainly come a long way.

Canada plays another colourful team, the United States, in the Page 3/4 game, also Friday night at 8:00pm. They finished third, Canada fourth. They also won bronze last year. And they have a few wild childs on that team, let us tell you.

Then there’s China and Korea – two teams among five that finished just one game out of the playoffs – which are the loudest teams around. Both squads like to yell at the rocks, from release to finish, as if they want to just stand up, get out of those chairs and run over to the stones to sweep them. Chinese skip Haitao Wang has a particularly brutish, gutteral baritone… which you can hear from the players’ lounge.

These guys – and gals – can shoot, too. And they’re incredibly pleasant, funny and grounded, even compared to the majority of able-bodied curlers.

“There are no asses in this game,” says Armstrong.

“And I’m guessing its because they’ve all got a story about how they got here.”

You got that right, Army.

Here’s hoping that Vancouverites come out and support the wheelies, support Team Canada. There’s only a handful of draws left: Frday night (8:00pm), Saturday morning (9:00am) and the Gold and Bronze Medal games on Saturday at 2:30pm.

Admission is just five bucks.

So get down here. Here’s the event website.

For those outside Vancouver, you can follow the results here… and read a ton of draw summaries here… but best of all is some live blogging, focussing on Team Canada games, going on at the popular Wheelchair Curling Blog.

If you can get out of your chair – unlike these athletes – then come on down. Otherwise, get online and check it out.

Posted on

Sad news from Scotland

Word from Scotland that one of the world’s great curling publications, The Scottish Curler, may cease operations after the May 2009 issue is, in our opinion, a disaster for the sport’s homeland.

And a damned shame for all curling fans.

A statement, which will appear in the forthcoming March issue, is now posted at the über-popular companion blog, Curling Today.

Clearly there are hopes that the publication may continue, in either print and/or online form… although this might not resemble the product of years past. And a glorious past it is, in which The Scottish Curler has a full three years on The Curling News, having been founded in 1954.

The major reason is financial, but there is also the issue of the upcoming retirement of editor Bob Cowan, pictured above, who first breathed new life into the tome seven years ago. And should an online version continue, we have our doubts as to whether or not it could ever match the sheer volume, quality and passion of Cowan’s output, which began with this wee introductory post almost two years ago.

And what of Curling History, the new blog introduced back in June, which focusses on the sport’s ancient history? While still young at heart and sometimes overlooked by the energy of Curling Today, this effort has found many fans including yours truly. We are big fans of the Roaring Game’s beginnings, and it would be a shame to lose this one, too.

Although the title of this blogpost is all doom-and-gloom, we choose to look to the future with optimism. As such, we wish the owners – and any potential future partners – the best of luck in ensuring this title continues, just as we wish Bob Cowan all the best in his well-deserved retirement!

Posted on

China, Canada into Harbin finals

by Paul Webster

HARBIN, China – After starting the day slowly – and seeing themselves in a 5-1 deficit at the fifth-end break – Canada turned up the heat on Great Britain and managed to pull off a huge win in the semifinals of the 24th Winter Universiade.

Playing in their first ever world playoff game, Canada – skipped by Wilfred Laurier University’s Hollie Nicol – looked a veteran team in both composure and the consistency of their pressure on the Great Britain squad.

The Scottish girls – well, they are Scottish after all – have three World Junior Champions on their team, and they definitely let their guard down in the second half, and didn’t react well to the pressure the Canadian were applying. A number of key misses by their third Kay Adams did not present many great options for skip Sarah Reid.

The Canadians have simply played great all week. With the win, the girls have ensured our Canadian University Team a medal – they simply have to play the final to decide the medal’s colour! And the ladies will be playing none other than hometown heroes China in the gold medal match.

In the other semi, the Chinese demolished Russia 11-2 – not even close. China, ranked as the number one team, now has the chance to confirm that expectation. After all, the skip is Bingyu Wang, and she has two members of her 2008 world runner-up team on board.

In men’s action Sweden beat the Chinese men’s team and they certainly have been the class of the field all week. Norway will play Sweden in the final after having beaten the upstart Koreans in the other semi.

Some interesting notes:

• For Russia this was the first of three straight world championships – here, then at the World Juniors in Vancouver, and then at the World Women’s in Korea. They have elements of their national women’s squad on each team and rotate amongst younger and older players depending on the event.

I have to say, however, that skip Liudmila Privivkova (photo above) looks extremely burnt out. I’ve seen her play in numerous events and she definitely had her worst event of the last few years right here in Harbin. And now it’s off to North America, then rigt back to Asia!

• With the win Canada had choice of hammer or rocks…. we chose the hammer. We then got to select rocks from any sheet for the final. Normally teams will select from a few sets to make, what they feel, is a perfect set. These will then be moved to the championship sheet and the teams will get to practice to see how this new set, on the new sheet react.

However, this is not an option at this championship. I’m not sure why, nor is Norwegian coach Ole Ingvaldsen. Ole has attended hundreds of championships and he is quite sure that this is the first time a team cannot practice with their selected rocks prior to a final.

It was suggested that the team simply selects one entire sheet of rocks… which of course defeats the purpose of being able to take certain rocks from certain sheets.

Jut my two cents, but it’s interesting that nothing ever remains consistent from championship to championship. It woudn’t take much time out of the schedule to provide a 30-min team practice tonight and this afternoon. Ensuring the best playing conditions should be a priority, shouldn’t it?

Posted on

Ordinary curling champions

by Elaine Dagg-Jackson

VICTORIA – We’re seeing some inspiring performances from some amazing athletes at this 2009 Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

Along with the champions of the day like Team Jennifer Jones are the stars of tomorrow, like Quebec’s Marie-France Larouche, Saskatchewan’s Stefanie Lawton, Ontario’s Krista McCarville and others who are wearing their provincial colours here in Victoria.

Grace McInnes, a Scotties rookie who plays third for BC’s Marla Mallett, has shown poise and focus all week. And of course Yukon/NWT’s stunning defeat over Team Canada last night was a bright moment in the career of Kerry Galusha (and she won again this morning, too).

My eyes were focused behind the sheet last night, watching the young curlers from the Victoria Curling Club who were experiencing their very first live Scotties. It reminded me of the year 2000, when I took my then-12-year-old daughter Steph to her first STOH in Prince George. Steph got the chance to watch BC’s Kelley Law win five sudden-death games to become the Canadian champions.

What was unique about this is that in that same season, Steph and I played with Law third Julie Skinner in the good ol’ Tuesday night ladies league at the Victoria Curling Club. And at that moment, Steph realized that ordinary people can become champions.

Now 22, Steph has participated at six national championships (five Juniors and one Mixed) and even travelled with Law to the 2007 Scotties in Lethbridge as the team Alternate.

Time will tell how this 2009 Scotties imagery will inspire my young friends from the VCC.

Back to the games. Although the crowd has not been quite as big as organizers hoped early this week, that is sure to change as we approach the weekend. Meanwhile, those who are here at the Save on Foods Memorial Arena are showing their true colours.

BC, Canada and Manitoba have large contingents supporting their teams, but one of the most colourful is the Alberta family members who are their supporting Tam Bernard each game, and showing us just how far ordinary guys will go to support their gals.

On the ice things are getting exciting with team BC pulling into sole possession of first place yesterday (they’re 7-1 now) and some crucial games for those with two or three losses coming up.

The teams that find a way to get a little better each day are the ones who will find themselves in the playoffs later in the week. Building confidence and momentum is critical to winning a championship, and a number of the women are demonstrating tremendous poise under the pressure of this tournament.

As my friend Jay Tuson (BC third, 2001 Brier) commented last night in the Heartstop Lounge: “when the jackets come off you know things are heating up out there!”

Posted on

China update: CAN in semis

by Paul Webster

HARBIN, China – Our girls team, the Wilfred Laurier team skipped by Hollie Nicol, has secured the top spot in the playoff round (9-0) and will face Great Britain in the semifinal (6-4) of the WUG – the World University Games.

Playing in the other semi are pre-tournament favourites Russia (6-3) and China (7-2).

The GB girls had to win a tiebreaker against the Czech Republic this morning and despite a rough start (down 5-1 after three ends) the ladies from Scotland pulled it off in 10 ends, winning 8-5.

I’m writing this blog as our girls get ready to hit the ice for a 12:00pm practice. It’s an interesting situation as they get to practice on the semifinal sheet but the GB team will not be given this option.

Of course, we haven’t complained.

The girls chose hammer over rocks and we’ll find out soon what rocks they’ll be given.

The Canadian men’s team, the Laurier squad skipped by Mike Anderson, has been relegated to the position of number one fans! They had a disappointing tournament, to choose their own words, finishing in the middle of the pack at 4-5, and definitely struggled to find their A-game all week. I have to say, however, that they have definitely done our country proud in how they represented themselves both on and off the ice. Victories against Great Britain and USA made the tournament result a little sweeter. This is a funny game sometimes.

We met up with the men’s team from Great Britain last night in the residence bar and had a few beers – truly only a few, as the supply ran out! Our Canadian men’s hockey team had a table full of empties and really got the jump on us.

It was really cool to sit down with your fellow competitors and talk about the game – any game, any sport. We really don’t know how lucky we are in Canada to have a such a strong base of athletes. When people find out that the teams we have sent are our 38th-ranked women’s team and 86th-ranked men’s team, they just shake their heads.

Men’s playoffs: Sweden verus China in the 1 vs 4 game, and Norway vs Korea in the 2 vs 4 match. Sweden has simply been the class of the tournament, and China are the surprise team in the other direction; the y squeaked through a tiebreaker (over Switzerland) after leading the pack the majority of the week.

Both Chinese teams are looking like they are having trouble with the pressure of being the top teams in an event hosted on their home soil.

Today will hold a lot of… shopping. I have been instructed from afar to look for cheap Coach purses… and the girls have promised to help me out.