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London Brier: A Final in Jammies

Stoughton says: Corn Brooms Rule!

by Kimberley Tuck

LONDON – The Keith’s Patch was hopping Saturday night as the excitement from an action-packed semifinal spilled from the arena to the bar. A really big bar. Make that bars with an “s”.

Organizers used 18 school buses to transport fans to and from the Patch at the London Convention Center which, according to the buzz, was a huge improvement from London’s STOH back in 2006. Each of the bars lineups were three or four rows deep, and pretty much everyone was walking around double-fisted due to the wait time. The entertainment was great – Chevelles are “Patch” regulars – and I’ve been told it was great all week.

There were some complaints about the party zone, of course, and the one that seemed to come up on a regular basis was the closing time of 1:00am. Some of the people that mentioned this to me would have stayed in the Patch all night if they were allowed (I told you I would blog your complaint for you, Rick A., so your voice has been heard).

I would think that organizing committee chief Peter Inch – whom I spotted, sleeves rolled up, collecting empties off the tables at 1:30am in the Patch by the way – has to be delighted on this overwhelming morning after. All of his committee chairs, the volunteer corps, the Canadian Curling Association guys should feel the same.

Kim The Statistician on the left. Distracted.

There were several competitors in the Patch so it was nice to say “Hi” and catch up on the gossip. I also ran into my fellow mixed teammate who was letting loose (mostly due to his wife, my other mixed teammate, being out of town) and was double-fisting all night, but I’m not sure that was due to the wait time at the bar 😉  So, good friend that I am, I made sure he got home safely and after a very late night (3:30am I think) I finally crawled into bed.

I figured I was due for a little sleep-in Sunday morning; this would be a relaxing wrap-up day as I was off duty for my official event task of statistical scoring. I decided to take my son Teegan (age four) to the JLC to watch the bronze medal game, and then head home and jump in my jammies to watch the final on TV!

Dustin Eckstrand in Brier bronze action

With all the advance hoopla about the bronze match, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Some media guys tweeted a prediction of a low-scoring, bang-bang all-takeout affair. I figured it would be a lopsided final score, as I had spotted three members of Team Alberta in the Patch – they were still there when I left at 1:30am – but also due to the fact that it had to be extremely hard on those two teams. Each suffered very close, highly emotional, pressure-packed playoff losses and now each had to try to get up for a game that, in the grand scheme of things, really meant nothing.

I got the clear impression from the chatter going on around me that with nothing to do all day – prior to the 7:30pm final, of course – that most fans felt they might as well come watch the 2:30pm bronze game. The Canadian Curling Association argues that the game is necessary to try and mimic the playoff format of the world championships but here’s the thing: the Brier and the STOH are not the worlds of the Olympics, where the third-place medal holds a lot more value than a third-place finish at the Canadians.

I am NOT retiring! It's a break! Honest!

The other point – and I know you are likely tired of hearing about this – is that the game is a way to get more ticket sales revenue and promote the sport… but then I found out the match was televised on TSN2, which is a subscriber-only channel. How does this game help market curling to the masses when most households don’t get the channel?

Of all the guys on the ice today, I think that Dustin Eckstrand (the Alberta fifth) enjoyed himself the most – it was a great way for him to gain some experience playing in the big show, in front of a big crowd, on the only sheet on the ice in play. Regular Alberta second Marc Kennedy had, of course, received permission to leave the Brier to be with his wife, who was expecting their second child yesterday.

This is what it's all about

I think Brad Gushue and Team Newfoundland and Labrador took a great approach to the game; they were really loose and the interacted with the crowd, even tossing shirts into the seats and taking the time to sign them (when they could) during the between-end breaks. This was stuff you hardly ever see at the Brier, as pointed out by my editor in today’s Toronto Sun.

I also believe the squad embraced their opportunity to compete one last time with teammate Mark Nichols before his hiatus from the sport, and that this helped them defeat Kevin Martin 10-5. Although meaningless in the standings the match clearly had great meaning for them, and especially for Gushue and Nichols, who have been teammates for some 13 years.

I snuggled up to focus my attention on the final, and the commentary of the TSN crew. With friends on both teams and great story lines – many runner-up finishes for ON and no titles since 1999 for MB – I kind of wished they both could win!

Team Ontario, stoic but silent near the end

It was really all Manitoba last night. With the precision of a surgeon, skip Jeff Stoughton made every shot for every extra point, and the play of second Reid Carruthers – the rookie on the team – was certainly impressive; he made it look like he’s been playing with those guys forever.

Although it was a pro-Ontario crowd that so wanted to see their hometown favourites hoist the Brier trophy, they were all curling fans and, regardless of your home province, you can’t be a fan of curling without being a fan of Jeff Stoughton.

As the Manitobans slide those Brier champion rings onto their fingers and look forward to the worlds in Regina, I am sure I can safely say that all of Canada will be behind them. And so, on behalf of all of Canada, congrats on the great victory and go get ’em at the worlds!

Jon shows Steve how to Hulk Out

I as I watched the closing ceremonies I thought back over the week… and what a week it was.  I had a great time volunteering, and I would suggest that to everyone, and of course I enjoyed sharing my blog thoughts with all of you.

What sticks out the most for me – as a competitive curler – was the exceptional play, all week long, of Team Manitoba. You could just tell from day one that these guys were going to be tough. I can’t even imagine the great disappointment for Glenn Howard and his teammates – they are so strong, and after representing Ontario six consecutive times you have to wonder if and when so many runner-up finishes are going to take a toll.

I also note that for the first time in four years Alberta will not be taking that Tankard home, and that Team Martin finally lost their Brier game win streak at an amazing 30. There is local pride that London played host to the country and that once again Peter Inch and his committee did not disappoint.

A special thank you must go to my hubby for holding down the fort while I spent more time at the JLC than I did at home this past week! I’d also like to thank editor gk for inviting me to blog for all of you lucky readers of The Curling News 😉  Congrats once again to Jeff, Jon Mead, Reid, Steve Gould and to all the playoff teams… heck, congrats to all the teams. You just competed in… The Brier!!

Anil Mungal photos copyright The Curling News®.  Click on each image to increase size.

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London Brier: on to the final

by Kimberly Tuck

Marc Kennedy delivers for Alberta on Saturday

LONDON – So here is the blogpost I wrote and sent last night. Which never arrived. And which I was not aware of, because my phone died. And which has now been re-sent to the editor just before the championship final gets underway AAAAAHHHHH!

Yes, it’s been a long week.

You can tell it’s Brier playoff time – the games and the JLC arena environment have that “do or die” feel to them. Saturday’s Ontario versus Alberta playoff was a fantastic game that was made even more enjoyable by the involvement of crowd. Definitely pro-Ontario, of course, but very respectful of both teams on the ice.

There’s always a comedian in the crowd and the Page 3 vs. 4 playoff was no exception. I’m not sure how well it was picked up on TV, but during the eighth end Kevin Martin and his team were having a discussion on what shot to play. A fan yelled from the stands: “Listen to your skip, he got you a gold medal” which caused a crowd guffaw. Martin gave a chuckle, and thanked the fan for his input. Very cool.

It wasn’t a game of stellar curling; I think both teams made some great shots but they certainly had some misses. Overall, Ontario outplayed their opposition but Glenn Howard needed his team, as he was the low guy on the totem pole (at 76 per cent overall) while each of his mates finished in the mid 90’s.

Okay. That WAS close.

The game became a ton of fun – and quote tense – when head official Keith Reilly had to arrive in the ninth end to declare which team had scored – by eyeballing two stones! Both were too close to the centre pinhole for the measuring stick, so math and science went out the window and Keith had a tough call to make. He played it pretty cool, but at that moment I wouldn’t have wanted to be in his shoes.

That decision went to Alberta, but the final cheer that reupted 15 minutes later gave me goosebumps… the home team had won the game and would be moving on to the semifinal. The only thing better than hearing that was watching the excitement on the faces of Team Ontario; joy that they would be playing in the semi but also joy that maybe, just maybe, they have finally gotten that Martin monkey off their backs.

Martin’s team – in fact, all of the playoff teams – were NOT impressed about having to play today’s bronze medal game, but both the Albertans and Brad Gushue‘s NL team mixed things up a lot. Many great shots and the nearly 7,000 people in the stands loved the increased interaction with the players.

Team Ontario whoops it up

With all those thousands of people in the stands – with nothing to do during the TV break between ends – the CCA has enlisted Stuart Brown to emcee the event. His duties include not only between-end entertainment but also the arena introductions of teams and players before the draws and co-host duties at the Keith’s Patch after the games.

I first met “Stu” at the 2005 Canada Cup in Kamloops, where he was emceeing and I was competing. Stuart has been working with the CCA since 2002 when he first emceed theSTOH in Brandon.  Throughout the Season of Champions event calendar you can find Stuart ca– at the Continental Cup, the Canada Cup, the STOH, the Brier and either the men’s or women’s world championship (whichever is being held in Canada that year).

Stu has a natural way with the crowd and believe me when I say: This guy is hysterical! When I asked Stuart which event is his favourite, he very politically replied that he “enjoys them all equally”… but he said that each event has its own feel, and “the Brier is more dressed up”. It was no surprise to hear him say that his favourite part about his job is the people: “The people make the event, I can’t do what I do without the responses I get from them, I feed off them” he chuckled.

Part of Stu’s schtick is to poke fun at certain fans, and you might think it hard to embarrass someone who makes his living embarrassing others. But when I asked Stu about his own most embarrassing moment, his answer was a beauty: “During the semifinal of the men’s worlds in Moncton, I accidentally called Kevin Martin ‘Kevin Howard’ in a big WWF voice!”

OOOPS!

Stuart is from Barrie, Ontario and is a freelance announcer… so if anyone out there is looking for a fantastic emcee, you need to look him up: I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!

And now, the final. This match will showcase two great veterans in Jeff Stoughton and Glenn Howard… prediction complete!  Shall I go on and forecast a winner…? Nope, I’m not sure I’m ready to put myself out there like that (hehehe) but I can tell you – it will be a hell of a game!

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London Brier: Leading The Blind

PEI wraps it up to a standing ovation

by Kimberly Tuck

LONDON – No one said that playing in the Brier is easy, but one team had an especially hard time this past week: Eddie MacKenzie and his crew from PEI, who finished 1-10.

I would have to assume that they enjoyed their week overall. Certainly the debate over their disciplinary fine – which I wrote about here, and which is now confirmed here – was a low point. However, as they stood to gain some $7,000 from the competition anyway – not to forget the pledge from Team Ontario to chip in to cover half the fine – I can only hope that this point is not quite so low. After they conceded in their final game to Nova Scotia Thursday night, the crowd gave them a cheer as if to say, “That’s okay, guys” and with a hearty wave to the crowd, the bleeding had stopped.

I HATE the bronze game! Grrr!

As the dust settled, the four top teams of the week found themselves playoff bound… but I’ll bet you weren’t expecting them to finish in that order. When was the last time we saw Ontario or Alberta even in the Page playoff 3 vs 4 game (2:30pm ET, TSN) let alone playing against each other?

And now for another controversy. There has been a lot of chatter about the new bronze medal game and it has become crystal clear that, according to the competitors, this is not a popular addition to the Brier. However, the Canadian Curling Association has tried to make things interesting by giving $30,000 to the winner and $20,000 to the loser. (50K for the bronze game? I would never complain about that. – ED)

If the stars align (mis-align?) and Alberta and Ontario find themselves in that bronze medal game – for their third head-to-head battle this week – I can tell you there just might be more than money on that line.

Now for a pet peeve. While watching last night’s Page 1 vs 2 game (and writing – wink, wink!) I wanted to mention a little peeve of mine, one that I hope will help those spectators (who feel the need to shout) actually think before they open their mouths. There is nothing more distracting (and disrespectful) than a lone voice yelling “NEWFOUNDLAND” while a Manitoba player is sitting in the hack, preparing to throw. Fans can scream, yell, cheer, ring a bell, blow a horn, whatever… but seriously, when a competitor is in the hack – just like a serve in tennis – zip it!!!

Hulk sweep. Then Hulk smash.

It may or may not bother the players on the ice, but man, I wish someone would have shut that guy up! I wish Steve Gould could make a visit to his fellow’s home club – assuming he curls, of course – and sit on the backboards for whenever that clown gets in the hack, and then screams at the top of his lungs –”MANITOBA!” Whereupon I would say “Woo-hoo!”

Dude, don’t make Gould angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. John Morris isn’t the only Brier competitor who can Hulk Out, you know.

During last night’s the fifth end break the CCA showcased two kinds of disability curling – blind curling and wheelchair curling. Despite the frosty (like we haven’t heard that word enough) conditions these folks took to the ice to display their talents. The lead on the blind curling team was an 82-year-old man who has no sight whatsoever, and his third was a member of my home club in Ilderton who dreams of establishing blind curling in London.

Tim Prohaszka has grown up curling; his Dad Peter was among the founding members of the Ilderton CC.  In 1988, after 20 years of curling, Tim discovered he had glaucoma and his sight has been diminishing ever since, but he has continued to curl and been very active at our club. It was actually Tim’s sister Cathy Cassidy that first informed him of a Kitchener group that gets together every Friday to curl, practice and prepare. He’s since joined up with the Canadian National Institute of the Blind to help promote the sport to others who are also visually impaired.

Tim Prohaszka in Brier exhibition action

I caught up with Tim after his on-ice exhibition and asked him how it felt being out there. “It was AWESOME!” he declared, with a big smile on his face. Tim was pretty hard core back in the day: he competed in the 1985 Ontario men’s Tankard and, to this date, his was the only Ilderton men’s team to do so. He also noted that the exhibition combined with his preparations for the upcoming Ontario Blind Curling Championships (in Oshawa starting March 19) has brought back a lot of fond memories, such as the days when curled with his sight against the likes of John Base, Ed “the Wrench” Werenich and of course The Howard Boys (as he called Russ and Glenn).

I asked him: What is the hardest part about adjusting to visually impaired curling? Tim’s reply was that when you curl with sight you take a lot of things into consideration when throwing – especially the far end (and the broom) “moving” towards you as you slide. Without that cue, Tim has had to learn to slide at a broom held by a “guide” at the near hogline, right near the optimal release point, and focus on the feel of throwing the rock and the leg drive required to get the stone to the other end.

The guide is there to help give the thrower the line, and can only tell him the turn to throw and the split-time upon release. Then the thrower has to judge the stone as it travels down the ice but without – in most cases – being able to see the “away” end until they get closer to it. They do have two sweepers, and in the case of the gentleman who was completely blind, the team’s fifth player was allowed to act as the sweeper in his place.

The sky is falling. Er, the Jumbotron.

I told Tim I was going to write a little something about this in today’s blog, as I didn’t even know that blind curling was “out there”… and he replied: “That’s precisely why we are doing it. We want to let people know that this sport is out there for people and to get out and give it a shot.”

Ultimately, Tim would like to see this sport join the Paralympic Winter Games lineup but he admits that this is probably a ways down the road – the provincial championship is not officially sanctioned; first blind curlers need to prove to the CCA that this is a viable sport worth promoting, and the only way to do that is to create interest and increase participation (Tim might like to hear that the World Curling Federation is reported to be moving toward sanctioned Blind Curling competition – ED).

Good luck Tim, as you head to the provincial blind championships next weekend… may the Curling Gods shine favourably on you and your teammates!

The match itself was a pretty decent game, but the uncharacteristic play of NL third Mark Nichols was the likely chink in the Newfoundland armour. The Brad Gushue stalwart, who is taking a year (or more) off from competition after this season, played poorly compared to Jeff Stoughton stalwart Jon Mead, who is putting on a curling clinic despite the occasional battle with on-ice demons from the past.

With a killer steal in the ninth end and a draw to the button in the extra-end, the Manitobans earned a spot in Sunday night’s championship final… and you remember that prediction I made, right? So far, I am 50 percent correct!

Anil Mungal photos copyright The Curling News®

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London Brier: Concourse and Controversy

Kim Tuck, Austyn and The Tankard

by Kimberly Tuck

LONDON – Let’s have a show of hands. How many people think Tuesday night’s round robin game between Ontario and Manitoba was a sneak preview of Sunday’s championship final?

How many people think last night’s round robin game between Manitoba and Alberta was a sneak preview of Sunday’s championship final?

How many people think tonight’s round robin finale between Ontario and Alberta will be a sneak preview of Sunday’s championship final?

You can’t see me, so I will tell you that my hand shot up into the air with the first option. Manitoba is clearly showcasing the Jeff Stoughton of old – not to forget ace third Jon Mead – and if they keep rolling it could be their year. Ontario, Alberta, and Newfoundland are also tied for first with Manitoba and are looking strong… but I see a few chinks in the armour that might leave an opening for The Bison Boys.

I took a walk through the John Labatt Centre (JLC) concourse today with my little niece Austyn Croucher who came to the Brier for her first curling experience. She is only two years old and really doesn’t have much interest in the game yet (her Auntie will make sure to steer her in the proper direction)  but we had some fun looking at the different curling exhibits and displays, at which the workers were all eager and willing to hand out little souvenirs and such.

Brier Bear T-shirt

There was the souvenir booth with the typical wares for sale. I spotted a very cute Brier Bear T-shirt for kiddies, but found it strange that the oldest mascot of curling was shown smiling with a toboggan in his hands…? Hmm, what’s wrong here?

There’s the Governor General’s Curling Club (founded in 1874) that travels with a nostalgia/history exhibit for the CCA to help showcase the roots of our game. The classic golden Labatt Tankard trophy is on display, as is this current Brier Tankard trophy. They also display some old pictures, past Brier videos and of course curling stones.

Now, I have seen my fair share of curling stones (trust me when I say that) but I have never seen a triangular-shaped stone.  This thing looked like it weighed about 100 pounds… and that monstrosity would make one hell of a mess on a takeout, eh?

There is also the traditional pin traders with their tables. I figured I might have a valuable pin in my collection they might want to have, but when I asked if they had the Canadian Mixed pin from Iqaluit (in which I participated in 2009) they said yes… and with much less excitement than I asked in my question. D’oh!

A little ways down the hall is the Capital One booth, boasting all kinds of fun stuff including the dryland “rocks” and houses from the Rocks and Rings school educational program. This, I think, is a fabulous program – there is no other way to bring the game to the kids in hopes that they will eventually try the real thing on the ice. It would be fantastic to see this program expand even faster than it apparently is already; I realize that this takes dollars and I hope the money continues to be there.

Mmmmm. Curling donuts.

In the middle is the title sponsor’s booth, where they are selling a special donut in honour of the Brier – I’m not sure how many calories it carries, but it looks great all sprinkled up in Brier colours… and if you can’t get to the JLC to pick up one of these donuts but you are in London, you should be able to find one at any store. I wonder just how many donuts they have baked this week so far…

Big shout out to Glenn Howard for taking a moment to pose for a picture with my niece and I… what good is an aunt with connections if you don’t use them? Thanks Glenn!

The frost still seems to be a problem and its quite evident in the evening draws. The $40,000 dehumidifiers are here, and I’m pretty sure they’re working… in fact, I can hear them kicking in as I sit here. We aren’t on the seaside so why is there so much frost? Wonder what today is going to be like with the weathermen calling for nine degrees above celsius here in London… get out your hair brooms, boys!

Yesterday I had a front row seat to a little controversy that has those on the media bench talking. The Ontario versus PEI game ended after only five ends with the score – 11-1 – favouring Ontario. Brier competitors are required to play a minimum seven of the 10 ends, but the Islanders conceded quite early.

Rumours are swirling that PEI and crew are going to be fined by the canadian Curling Association, and the price tag of that fine – depending on who you talk to – is anywhere from $200 to $1,000. The last number I heard was $500, to which Team Ontario offered to pay half – which will no doubt upset the CCA as well. There different versions on how things went down… did they ask the officials, or did they just quit? I happen to see both sides of the issue and I understand why the rule was put in place, but is it a good rule and should they be enforcing it in this case with a fine?

Curling guy with two cuties... thanks Glenn!

My feeling is NO. This game was over after the first two ends. You could certainly tell by the body language of the PEI skip that he did not want to be on the ice. What I don’t understand is why, in these types of situations, the athletes can’t go to the home-end official to radio the head official (Keith Reilly) with the request that they would like to concede?

In almost all the games this week I have seen Keith Reilly sitting beside Warren Hansen… do you not think they could take a look at the situation, see that three other sheets were still in play, have a little chat, and make the decision to let them concede? Should they stick with their policy – no concessions until  after the seventh end – and the team does so anyway, then yes… fine away. The CCA is starting to sound a little like the NHL with regard to inconsistent disciplinary action (I remember reading about Russ Howard’s Brier broom toss two years ago, right here on The Curling News Blog). I realize that spectators buy tickets this might be the only chance that they get to see Ontario – or PEI, for that matter – and that might be the reason fans came to the game… but who really wants to sit and watch a team get their asses handed to them? Do you think Glenn and Co. enjoyed being out there anymore than PEI?

I just think that fining a team because they wanted to concede ASAP due to a drilling is silly, particularly when we hear the F-word, broom slamming and other curling etiquette violations occurring and going on regularly –without fines. I am sure this will cause some discussions as there are arguments for both sides…but just that fact alone should indicate that perhaps a flexible rule – giving the head official the final decision – might be more beneficial than such a black-and-white regulation

Finally, the big question heading into tonight’s final round robin draw: is Team Alberta headed for the Page playoff 3 versus 4 game?

Stay tuned!

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London Brier: Alternate Reality

by Kimberly Tuck

The Dustmeister

LONDON – You might have seen them sitting behind the scoreboards, watching intently as the games before them unfold, eyeing every stone that is thrown by their team. Staying alert, just in case their call gets heeded: “Put me in, Coach!”

They are the alternates, the official name of the “Fifth Man”. Each team is required to bring an alternate from their respective province to slide and sweep in case someone falls ill or gets hurt. Teams employ different reasons for choosing their alternate but, this year, youth seems to be one of the deciding factors. Out of the 12 teams here, nine of the alternates are getting their first Brier experience.

Now, these guys don’t just get to come to the Brier and hang out; they will all have specific jobs to do, all of them deemed very important to helping their team get to that end goal of becoming Brier champions. Some of these jobs won’t be very exciting, and will be quite laborious… like filling water bottles and carrying out the “snack bag” (okay, well, maybe that happens more at the women’s STOH, along with carrying the broom bag, changing broom heads, and things like that).

But are more important tasks like scouting stones during the games (that’s where those binoculars come in handy, they aren’t just for searching the crowd to see who is here) and when their respective team is off for the evening, you often see them and the coaches sitting in the stands – with notebook and bionics in hand – watching who is throwing what rocks… and what sheet is doing what… and who is playing like what. This information will find its way into team pre-game meetings to help assemble a game plan of how they are going to attack their next opponents.

Some of these guys made it onto the ice for the Hot Shots competition – and some of them got to sweep for players from other teams, not necessarily their own. Cool, eh?

Monsieur Dumontelle

I took a few minutes to talk to some of the alternates who are undergoing the Rookie Brier Experience… to find out how they are enjoying themselves, what exactly it is they do for their team, and how being at the Brier compares to the likes of a Canadian Juniors.

First on my hit list was 25-year-old Alberta alternate Dustin Eckstrand, or “Ducky” as he is so lovingly called (thanks Johnny Mo). I caught Dustin after he entered the eighth end of a 9-2 trouncing of PEI, and I asked him how it all felt: the overall experience, and that first slide.

“It’s all been great, and I think that alot has to do with the team I am with,” he said. “It’s a special feeling to take that first slide in front of the crowd, and the first roar that went up during the Hot Shots gave me goosebumps, and you know you are at the Brier!” When I asked Dustin what role he might have that is somewhat out of the ordinary, his reply made me smile.

He is the team “Wing Man”, of sorts. He’s the guy that either accompanies essentially Ben Hebert or Johnny Mo (I’m just saying!) when they go out, to make sure they stay on curfew… or if they stay out too late, he’s the guy who has to crawl out of bed and go get them! LMAO! I thought only wives did that, eh Wayne? (Tuck that is).

I then caught up with 26-year-old Matt Dumontelle, the alternate for Northern Ontario. The fellow has also been in awe of his first Brier to date, but due to his team’s close games he hasn’t been able to enter a game yet. Having played in the 2004 Canadian Juniors, I asked Matt how this event compares?

“No comparison at all, it’s just unreal,” said Dumontelle. “It’s a bit of a surreal week, seeing the guys you see on TV all the time and being out there with them, hearing all the comments and taking it all in.”

Scott and Glenn (both left) with Steve and Russ

Sunday night Scott Howard of Team (southern) Ontario got his first shot at gracing the sacred ice. The 21-year-old son of skip Glenn Howard was substituted in for Craig Savill in the eighth end. The crowd started to buzz when they realized he was going in, and although he got off to a wobbly start – his practice slide wasn’t the most graceful – he dropped his first stone in the top four-foot, just as called, and his second shot ended up in the top eight and directly in line… for a 100 shooting percentage in his first Brier appearance – thank you very much!

The best part was the roar of the crowd when both his shots came to rest… cheerworthy of some crazy Marc or Mark (Kennedy or Nichols) runback quadruple, yes, but this was for precisely-placed draws and, most likely, also for his cute smile and nonchalant waves to the spectators… as if he’s done it a million times before.

It has to be special, achieving your first Brier experience in front of a home crowd, but to be able to do this with your father and be a member of one of the top picks to Make The Final! (sorry, Vic)… well, that has to make it all that much more golden.

The only thing possibly better would be the sight of Glenn and Scotty versus Russ and Steven Howard – Ontario versus New Brunswick – and oh, how Grandpa Bill would have loved to see that! Two years ago, three quarters of this gang did in fact have a battle at the Brier, but the addition of Scott would take it to another level.

Makes me wonder… who would have won that battle?

The Curling News photos by Kimberly Tuck; Four Howards photo by Michael Burns/CCA

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London Brier: Sandra Schmirler Day

by Kimberly Tuck

Marcia, Lindsay, Jan and T-Bird

LONDON – Today was an important day: Sandra Schmirler Day at the Brier.

All day today the Sandra Schmirler Telethon was in operation, raising money for the neo-natal care of babies in crisis. Working the phones live from London were two-time world champion skip Marilyn Bodogh, her 1986 teammate Cathy Chittley-Young, Sask curling dynamo Bernadette McIntyre, former Anne Merklinger third Theresa Breen, BC’s Lindsay Sparkes and Jan Betker and Marcia Gudereit from the original Team Schmirler, just to name a few.

This is such an important foundation – here is the website – and it presents an opportunity curlers and fans of the game can give back, to uphold a legacy that started with the three-time world champion and 1998 Olympic champion, the late Sandra Schmirler.  The number to call to make a donation is 1-866-210-6011 so as the Sunday evening Brier matches wind down, please call… every penny helps.

The Quebec corner

One of the best parts about sitting on the media bench is not just the great view of the games, but a fantastic view of the fans. What makes playing in an event like this so much fun is the energy you can pull from your respective fan base. Of course there are fans that are truly dedicated to their teams but, overall, this has proved to be a very knowledgeable crowd that is very respective of the efforts of all the players on the ice.

Roars are erupting from every corner of the JLC as they cheer the makes, and groan with the misses. It’s a great atmosphere that you can’t really get a feel for on television.

Looking out over the sea of people, I see that every team has their cheering section. There’s the Quebec corner, the Nova Scotia corner, the Saskatchewan group… and although they are sitting quite close to Nova Scotia (and their hats are yellow too) you can’t mistake the enormous cowboy headgear of the Alberta fans.

That's the fact, Jack!

There’s Jack Cox who, in his 80th year, still runs the Ontario flag across the away end after every Ontario point. Go Jack Go!

Then there’s the ladies who I think might be cheering for Ontario but as their shirts give away, they are cheering the experience, the good time and camaraderie that we who are all passionate about this game enjoy so much.

For what other sport can you go out and do battle for three-plus hours, and then meet up in the bar afterward for a drink… at which the winner buys the first beverage (to be reciprocated) and regardless of how the game went (in most cases) the two squads sit together and have a good time?

Cat has your tongue, right?

There is just something about curling that brings people together, the connection that we all share, kind of like NASCAR but on a less scary (and less toxic fume) scale.

So when you make your way to the JLC to catch a game this week for those of you that can, just take a moment and watch the people. I can guarantee you it will bring a smile to your face, and give you a sense of belonging.

Here’s a neat column by London Free Press reporter Morris Dalla Costa that ran a couple of days ago… and the opening paragraphs spell it all out:

So you’re one of those sports fans who can take curling or leave it. There are times when you like it, and other times when it just doesn’t cut it for you. But as a sports fan, you’ll watch an event when the best of the best are participating because you know you’ll get to see more of what you like than what you don’t. Then this Brier is the one you want to see.

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London Brier: Wayne Middaugh makes his picks

If youve seen the epic March issue of The Curling Newsdescription here – than you know the identity of the three special guest experts who picked their Winners, Almosts, Not Quites and No Chances for this years London Brier. We also announced in those pages that a fourth expert would weigh in on opening weekend, right here on the blog, with his or her opinions. Now for the reveal – and say hey to two-time world champion skip Wayne Middaugh.

Here are his words…

Middaugh at the recent BDO Canadian Open in Oshawa

Wayne Middaugh’s Brier Picks 2011

by Wayne Middaugh

VICTORIA HARBOUR, ON – First, let me qualify my picks by saying any one of these teams could beat me for fun as the 2011 playdowns were not kind to Team Middaugh, as we didn’t even qualified for our provincial. As those who can, play, the rest of us… write.

Things seemed so much easier in the 90’s.

T 1st – ONTARIO: Sending the A-Team to this event and they just know how to win. The other 11 teams know that they know how to win, and that alone may be enough.

T 1st – MANITOBA: How can a team with one of the best all-around guys in curling not be a favorite? If Jon can keep his clothes on this week, they will still be playing on the final weekend.

T 1st – ALBERTA: No team, past or present, has ever worked harder to be the best… and they are. But any team can beat anybody in a one-game elimination; I expect Team Martin to be playing on the weekend but what happens after that is anyone’s guess.

T 4th – BRITISH COLUMBIA: Jim is one of the nicest guys in the game and has played in Briers, Olympic Trials and Slams so he has the experience… but I don’t see this team doing any better than fourth.

T 4th – SASKATCHEWAN: Pat is one of the nicest guys in the game – look at all these nice guys – and has also played in Briers, Olympic Trials and Slams etc. so he also has the experience. However, fourth will be a good week as the rest of the team still needs some seasoning at their positions.

T 4th – NEWFOUNDLAND – The Colleen Jones of the Brier; you go every year, you’re going to win sooner or later… with this field it looks like later.

T 7th – NOVA SCOTIA: Can they find the magic of 2005? Just haven’t played enough to survive the long week and make the same serious charge. Best thing about having Shawn there is that the Patch will do well.

T 7th – NORTHERN ONTARIO: Took two in nine, stole three in 10 to win their province? Really? Who does that? If they didn’t use up all their good breaks that afternoon they may do better than T7… if not, T7.

T 7th – NEW BRUSNWICK – They had to be there so the entire Howard family can take part in this year’s Brier; even with all that mojo that Steve brings I don’t see anything better than T7.

T 10th – TERRITORIES, PEI and QUEBEC: Just not enough experience on the WCT against the best teams in the game to really know what it takes to win on a national stage. Have fun, and enjoy everything that is The Brier.

PREDICTION:

The most entertaining match of the week will be the newly-instituted bronze medal game that none of the top six teams even want to play in, but will – with the CCA’s gun pointed squarely at their heads. I’m not sure what in that game will be entertaining, only that it will.

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London Brier: Stephen Harper in the house

by Kimberly Tuck

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LONDON – The Brier is off to a roaring start, with Saturday’s attendance attracting over 12,300 people into the JLC for the first two opening draws.

The first matchups were definitely pro-Ontario. With the crowd still buzzing from Richard Hart‘s Hot Shots win they were looking for more to cheer, and the players didn’t disappoint. The loud roar that went up as Team Ontario marched into the arena was electric. Even our own Prime Minister, the Honourable Stephen Harper took in the games!

Rumours travelled quickly through the volunteer corps that he was going to be at today’s game, and the RCMP officers dressed in jackets and ties with ear buds was a good giveaway that he was indeed in the building. Sure enough, just before the teams were piped onto the ice, he appeared. You would think that the PM would be sitting in one of the corporate boxes, right? In fact, he was in the stands just off to my left as I sat at my statistician station behind sheet A.

He spent a lot of time shaking hands and posing for photos as people passed by on the way to their seats, but as these are curling fans, he was able to watch the action – most of the fan interaction took place between ends. I wondered: did the Canadian Curling Association know he was coming, and did they gave him tickets? So I did some investigating, and one of my sources said that yes – he had been invited months ago, but the CCA weren’t aware that he was going to attend until yesterday. And no, he wasn’t given tickets, he bought his own… eight of them, in fact. London Mayor Joe Fontanna was also there, as was our area MP Joe Preston.

It was pretty funny to watch the players as word trickled out that he was sitting in section 102! They each took their turn gawking and gave a sort of smile, as if to say “that’s kind of neat.” I even bugged one of my fellow statsies to use his binoculars – not to check out the result of shots at the away end, but to check out how and what the PM was up to – I won’t mention any names, he knows who he is! 😉

Turns out Harper been a curling fan for years, and he’s been going to Briers and other curling championships for a long time (see this story and video). Lo and behold, I spotted a photo of him late last night (above) posted on this webpage – LOL!

For the record, the PM was in London for his son’s high-school volleyball tournament (Ha. As if that was random. We think next year’s volleyball tourney will take place early in March, in Saskatoon – ED).

Enough about politics! As the games began it wasn’t hard to see that the rain – soon turning to snow – was causing not only havoc on the roads outside but also on the ice inside… as the theme for Saturday was HOLY FROST! At least two sweepers bit it as they hit the frost line and the look on the faces of ice techs Hans Wuthrich and Mark Shurek faces told me it wasn’t a minor problem.

The Curling News media bench view

Apparently the JLC has three exhaust fans but no dehumidifiers. With the big crowd, the frost moved in quickly and heavily. On every sheet you could find hair brooms in use and from sheet to sheet you could see ice that was a discoloured, thicker shade of white – not at all shiny as it typically looks. Normally you experience a little frost in arena settings but that is usually on the sides closest to the fans sitting by the outside sheets. This frost was everywhere, and it made draw weight a guess for the thrower and judging weight for the brushers even more difficult.

So it was surprising to me that in the 10th end of the Ontario versus New Brunswick match, ON skip Glenn Howard didn’t try the double, or even a little hit n’ roll on his last shot. He elected to draw, and despite all 6,500-or so fans urged on Laing and Savill with calls to sweep, the throw came up short and the Ontarians gave up a steal of two and the game. Ouch. On any given day Glenn makes that draw but today wasn’t like any given day… based on the conditions alone, it was a tough shot.

The frost seemed to be much better the night game. In the latter stages the CCA put out an news release about the frosty situation at JLC.  Seeing as the weather report is calling for more of the same, “the CCA made the decision to import a portable de-humidification system which will be operation on Sunday through to the conclusion of the event”.  The price tag for rental cost of the equipment required, along with its installation, is estimated to be approximately $40,000 and will be paid out of the event operational budget. As I left the building, word was that the unit was on route and that it would be installed overnight. Sounds like the ice crew had a late night… as did I!

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London Brier: Hot Shots and The Patch

Mmmm... Patch...

by Kimberly Tuck

LONDON – I made my way over to the JLC yesterday and today to check out the Ford Hot Shots skills competition taking place before the start of the Brier.

There were a few fans dotted about the seats on Friday and quite a few more for today’s finals. For those of you who might not be familiar with the hot shots format, each of the players throw six shots – the hit n’ stay, the draw to the button, a draw through a port, the raise, the hit n’ roll, and the grand finale – the double takeout. The result of each shot is then scored (out of five) with a total point value of 30.

At the top of the pile at the end of the first round were Alberta’s Kevin Martin and Ontario’s Richard Hart with 27 points and Quebec front-ender Christian Bouchard with 26 points. You might think that the fellow who wins the Hot Shots is likely on the same team that also won the Brier that year… but when I looked back (over the 17 years of Hot Shots) this has happened only once. In 1999, Steve Gould of Manitoba won the car and then went onto to win the Brier with Jeff Stoughton and Co. (Steve is still cooking with Stoughton, all these years later).

So it makes you wonder – do you really want that car?

Mmmm... beer cart guy...

As I sat on the media bench behind the sheets today, I wondered if that thought had crossed the minds of either Hart or Martin, arguably the top favourites to win this event. And the winner? It was Richard Hart, who finished off rival Martin with an exciting hit and roll to the button. This win now gives three out of the four Ontario players a Hot Shots victory, with only Brent Laing left to honk the horn of that Ford vehicle. Craig Savill won in 2009 and skipper Glenn Howard was the winner at last year’s Brier.

After yesterday’s Hot Shots I made my way over to the Keith’s Patch for the volunteer appreciation and kick-off party.  If last night’s attendance was a sign of things to come, the Patch will be the place to be. Some 850 people attended last night which included a great performance by local country musician Shelly Rastin.  The teams were introduced, along with their honourary hosts, and then stayed to mingle with volunteers, Big Ticket holders and fans.

Great improvements have been made from London’s 2005 Tournament of Hearts – there are four designated bar areas in the room so you pretty much can’t walk anywhere and not pass a bar – but if for some reason you miss it they also have these big carts full of ice and beer and atop the cart is a flashing red light… so all you have to do is look up and follow that light to find your Alexander Keiths. The Patch has a great feel to it, and a very good time should be had by all.

SOCIABLE!

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London Brier: Monster Jam

Kimberly Tuck is a competitive curler from Strathroy, Ontario who competed with Team Jo-Ann Rizzo at the 2005 Olympic Trials in Halifax, and also won silver at a recent Canadian Mixed. Kim is also one of the principals behind the family curling business, Canada Curling Stone… and now she is behind-the-scenes at the Brier in London for the greatest curling publication of all time, The Curling News. Are you ready for the London Brier, blogfans?

WHOA! Right off!

by Kimberly Tuck

It seems like just yesterday that the Canadian Curling Association announced that Peter Inch and his London and area committee had been awarded the 2011 Brier.

Countless hours of planning and preparation have been undertaken within every category of the massive undertaking since that announcement, and the local curling community has been buzzing with excitement as we prepare to host the premiere of curling events: The Brier, aka the Canadian Men’s Curling Championship.

Just two weeks ago I took my four-year -old son Teegan to see “Monster Jam” at the John Labatt Centre (JLC). As I walked through the gateways and out into the stands the spectacle revealed itself: junk cars, the Monster Trucks themselves, and dirt. Lots of dirt. Some 40-odd dump-truck loads, or so I am told.

I found it hard to picture the four sheets of curling ice that were soon to replace that mess.  The roaring engine of “Captain’s Curse” and the thrilling stunts of the rookie “Backdraft” would soon be replaced by boisterous calls to sweep by the likes of veteran and hometown hero Glenn Howard and awesome shotmaking by players such as Olympic champion Marc Kennedy from Team Alberta.

Much better!

Of course, when I entered the arena bowl of the JLC for a sneak peak on Wednesday night there was no sign of that muddy track. What was laid out before me was the familiar smooth (yet pebbled) sheets of curling ice. As I stood there, taking it all in, I pictured the seats filled with fans, the Brier Bear mascot, and of course the stars of the show – the players themselves.

A sense of anticipation came over me as I wondered who will be the last team standing, the ones that will hoist that Brier Tankard into the air? Which provinces will mount a charge against Alberta in the attempt to give the Brier Tankard a new home, and which teams will unfortunately fall short of achieving The Dream™? There can only be one Brier champion, naturally, and only one foursome gets to take that sought-after victory march down the ice, arms in the air to the drone of the bagpipes.

Fasten your seat belts and stay tuned, as I take you on an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of this Brier. I will be juggling volunteer duties with The Curling News Brier beat here at the JLC and there will be observations and comments, ideas and arguments, maybe a couple of up-close player interviews… and certainly my favourite Brier moments during the next nine days to come.

The Brier. It’s finally here!