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EXCLUSIVE: Hart leaves Team Howard

Middaugh to replace the man who played for just two skips in a 21-year career

Richard Hart embraces Craig Savill at the 2011 Brier

by George Karrys

TORONTO – Richard Hart has retired from high-performance curling by  announcing his departure from Team Glenn Howard, one of the most successful high-performance foursomes to ever play The Roaring Game.

The 2007 world champion and 1998 Olympic silver medallist had already taken a partial step back from the sport this past season, dropping his commitment to Team Howard’s World Curling Tour schedule by three tournaments. While not necessarily unexpected to some, his decision will nevertheless send shock waves throughout the sport.

Consistently ranked in the top three teams in the world – or pretty much the the top two alongside Alberta’s Kevin Martin – Team Howard has been a veritable curling machine for the past seven years. Heavily backed by sponsorship dollars and virtually unparalleled in their consistency of winning, the foursome are all charter members of the National Team program; they own and operate a profitable Fantasy Curling Camp; and they even have a professional video documentary set for release late in 2011 or early in 2012.

Yet Hart has chosen to walk away.

Team Howard does "Movember" to fight cancer in 2008

The 42-year-old lefthander informed longtime teammates Howard, Brent Laing and Craig Savill of his decision on Wednesday. He spoke exclusively with The Curling News late Thursday morning.

“Man, has this been a tough decision,” said Hart. “This is something (wife) Margaret and I have been thinking about and talking about for the last four or five months. I mean, I don’t think a day’s gone by when we haven’t discussed it. We tried to figure it out, tried to figure out a way that we could somehow continue on, but we just couldn’t come up with it.

“I am permanently retired from high-performance curling,” Hart continued.

“With the way the game’s changed over the last 10 years, to compete at that level you have to be willing to make that time commitment… and I just couldn’t. If you want to be the best… it’s not just a matter of signing up for a bonspiel and throwing a few rocks anymore.”

“I’m definitely looking forward to taking a full season off.”

Gosh, those guys were colourful!

Inevitably, Hart’s decision centered around his career. As a project manager and vice president of his family-owned electrical engineering firm based in Pickering, Ontario, increased work responsibilities had become a factor. With a senior partner in the firm set to retire this year, the pressure had climbed a notch.

Just a few short weeks ago, Team Kevin Koe lost third Blake MacDonald to his busy work schedule plus family commitments. MacDonald, who has been replaced by Saskatchewan’s Pat Simmons, actually planned to quit the highest levels of the sport a year ago, but postponed his decision by a year after Team Koe won the 2010 Brier and world championship.

Just prior to the London Brier in March, longtime Team Brad Gushue third Mark Nichols announced he was taking a hiatus from the sport, although he stressed that he was not retiring.

“I’ve been going through it in my mind for so long now, and it’s just that there was nothing else I could do,” said Hart. “My two options were to basically turn pro as a curler, and leave my work as I know it right now, or the other way… to leave curling and start focussing more on work.

“We talked a little bit on the weekend (at the Players’ Championship in Grande Prairie), but not too much,” Hart revealed. “I basically left it that I would call the guys next week, as there were a couple more things I wanted to look into. But I called them all yesterday, and told them I couldn’t continue.

“It’s emotional for me, for sure. It’s really hard. One of the things that I considered in this decision – and it’s nothing you can really control – but one of the toughest things that I’m afraid of giving up is my friendship with the guys, because you just don’t know how it’s going to all play out.

“When it’s all said and done, Team Howard’s record in terms of win-losses is right there for everybody to see, but that’s not really how I evaluate our team. It was so much more than that for me, and for the guys as well. It was about four great friends who played the game the way we wanted to play it.

“That’s what I’m going to miss. We’ll still be friends obviously, but now for half the year they’re going to be unavailable, they’ll be busy competing, and I now won’t be. So I look forward to spending some time with them this summer, and playing some golf, but at the end of the day I spent half my year… probably spending as much time with those guys as I did with my family. And it will never be the same, just because of that.”

Hart has definitely left the door open to play the game he loves in the future – just not at the elite level.

Hart with the 1998 Mike Harris Olympic team (Edmonton 09)

“The stuff I love about curling is still there, so if I were to get back into it I would be looking into playing in local bonspiels with good friends,” said Hart. “After I told Glenn (my decision) I mentioned that when he’s finished with this next Olympic run, if he wants to get together play for some fun I’d be up for that.

“I find it hard to believe I won’t be throwing rocks at all, even once in a while by myself, after practicing almost every day for 20 years.”

Hart, who plans to spend more time with his bantam-aged sons and their budding curling careers, also believes his ex-teammates will soldier on.

“They’re disappointed for sure, but they totally understand where I’m coming from,” said Hart. “And Team Howard’s success will continue, with whoever they decide to pick up and replace me with. There’s no doubt in my mind that they’re going to continue on and do great things.”

The early frontrunner for Hart’s spot was always going to be ex-Howard teammate Wayne Middaugh, who replaced Hart three times on the WCT this season. Middaugh shone in one particular event, the Canada Cup, in which the modified Team Howard won the title with a classic victory over Martin (remember Hart ♥ Middaugh?)

Indeed, as word began to spread around the curling world, Middaugh confirmed that he had signed up to replace Hart on Team Howard.

Hart’s legacy may well be unmatched as the ultimate third; a man who never chose to move up and skip a team himself.

“It’s been seven years with this team, 11 years with Glenn overall and 10 years with Mike (Harris),” said Hart. “21 years of curling and I’ve played for just two skips. I’m pretty proud of that, and of all that those teams accomplished.”

Anil Mungal photos copyright Capital One and/or The Curling News • Olympic Team 1998 photo by Michael Burns – click images to increase size

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Regina Worlds: What A Finish

Th-th-that’s all, folks!

by Jill Officer

REGINA – Everyone prepares differently for curling games, especially big ones like the world championship final. But Team Canada and Team Scotland had no problem signing autographs for fans along the boards prior to the pre-game practice. Great to see this.

Also before the practice session, the wife of Scottish skip Tom Brewster wife showed up with balloons and a birthday present for Tom: a Saskatchewan Roughriders football jersey! And wouldn’t you know it… as it turns out, it’s also Canadian third Jon Mead’s birthday, too!

Clearly it was going to be a great birthday for one of these guys tonight… and a disappointing one for the other. Brewster turned 37, while Mead turned 44. Just before the game, a portion of the crowd started singing Happy Birthday, but I couldn’t quite make out whether it was sung to Jon or Tom. Likely Jon, but maybe both!

Remember Green Day earlier in the week? Well, the green Team Canada jackets that were donned by Jeff Stoughton’s team on Tuesday were signed by the boys and auctioned off in the patch after the bronze medal game.  The total money raised was $16,050 and it all went to the Sandra Schmirler Foundation – awesome! Below is how much each jacket went for…

Jeff Stoughton – $7,000
Jon Mead – $3,000
Reid Carruthers – $2,100
Steve Gould – $2,000
Garth Smith – $950
Norm Gould – $1,000

Aside from the few green jackets in the crowd, it was mostly red and white today. The most, actually, that we’ve seen all week for a single draw.  And these red and white fans were very excited and enthusiastic. They were also a very appreciative crowd, cheering for other teams that walked around the arena… including Team Sweden, who defeated Norway for the bronze medal earlier today.

I’m not going to lie… I didn’t have the greatest feeling during the first few ends of the gold medal game, as Scotland came out firing and the Canadians weren’t quite as sharp. As they did in the semifinal, the Scots jumped right into an aggressive tactical game and, well, Canada didn’t look as loose as they have all week for the first half.

Skipper Stoughton was still looking to score a deuce in the very first end, even as the Scots lay four stones in the rings. Jon and Jeff finally got something going, and lay two on Brewster’s final shot, but he made a spectacular double amid the mess of granite and, suddenly, Stoughton’s second shot was a draw against five. Gulp!

‘Nuff said?

The Scots then took a deuce, and then stole to lead 3-1. They were making absolutely everything, and the 21- and 22-year-olds in front of Brewster looked like veterans.

But finally, in the fifth end, Canada strung some good shots together and scored a triple. It was noticeable to me that they then settled down.  They started smiling more, and joking around. Stoughton even pulled his trademark spin-o-rama on a blank in the seventh end after the crowd loudly cheered for him on to do so.

In the end, it was some critical misses that seemed to unglue the Scots. A stunned Stoughton didn’t even have to throw his last one… Canada were champions again! and Jon Mead had won his first world title in three attempts… after losing to Scotland in both 1996 and also in 1987 (the world juniors!).

Congrats to the Canadians, one and all. Two global titles for Jeff and Steve, and what an amazing “rookie” Brier and worlds year for Reid!

As for Mr. Mead, what can I say? After quitting the sport after stunning Olympic Trials disappointment in 2006, he returned to play for a few years with Ontario’s Wayne Middaugh, then he rejoined Stoughton for this one-year experiment, and now the sky is the limit. He was the most passionate and pumped-up of the Canucks all week, and no wonder – he was moved to tears after the game, as he had competed this week in memory of his mother, who died two years ago… and he had just thrown a monkey off his back by winning his first global title in three attempts, after losing the 1996 world final and also the 1987 world junior final – both to Scotland!

Congrats also to the brave Scots, and the Swedes and Norwegians, who put on such a great show all week. Congrats to Pantsmeister Thomas Ulsrud, who won the coveted Colin Campbell Award for sportsmanship, as voted on by his fellow players… the second straight Norwegian to win it, after his third Torger Nergard won it last year in Cortina (as skip).

Heck, congrats to all the competitors!

Thanks for reading folks, and now I must run to do a final standup for Global TV Regina! Make sure you tune in to this here blog, and the Twitter account and of course CBC-TV next weekend (and here for online pay-per-view outside of Canada) for the season-ending Players’ Championship from Grande Prairie, Alberta! It all starts Tuesday night… and I’ll be out on the ice this time, without a computer or camera in sight!

Photos by Anil Mungal and Jill Officer copyright The Curling News® – click on images to increase size

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Regina Worlds: CAN vs SCO

Wow! That’s crazy!

by Jill Officer

REGINA – Too bad the 3-4 game wasn’t much of a match. Poor Swedish skip Niklas Edin struggled with the ice which has become straighter during the playoffs.

They still managed to have a bit of fun in the eighth and final end. Third Sebastian Kraupp showed off his crazy good balance and delivered his two rocks in a one-legged squat of sorts (see photo at left). The crowd loved it! Then Edin tried to duplicate Team Canada’s Jeff Stoughton with a flat-foot spin-o-rama… and while it wasn’t as sharp as Stoughton’s, it was still awesome to watch.

And so it was Norway versus Scotland in the semifinal. Norway was gaining speed and confidence – 7-0 and throwing some 86 per cent as a team after a poor start to the competition – and Scotland is coming off a loss to Canada.

Kim Brewster!

I noticed that Scottish Skip Tom Brewster is in the building well in advance of his games. I’m not sure if he’s done this all week, but before the 1-2 page playoff game and again before last night’s semi, he was in the building a couple of hours before game time. So what does he do? Basically, I’ve seen him wandering the halls in the bowels of the building, both inside the arena and on the concourse amongst the crowds. Interesting. I guess everyone has his or her own pre-game routine!

Did you know that Tom Brewster’s wife is Canadian? Yes, Kim Brewster was born in Edmonton and Tom simply wooed her to go to Scotland for him. And she was an original curling Calendar Girl, too!

Not only that, but her brother is Sean Morris, the husband of 2010 Olympic Silver Medallist Cori Morris, who played with Cheryl Bernard in Vancouver. Sean and Cori arrived in Regina yesterday to cheer on their brother-in-law.

So my week on the media bench is coming to an end, and I thought I’d share some reflections on how exhausting it is to be on the bench verses the exhaustion you feel when you actually play in an event such as the worlds.

Viewing the games from the tribune is great. You have front row seats; the internet is comfortably at your fingertips and you can still watch live and hear the TSN broadcast – so you get the benefits of live curling and broadcast TV. Sure, there is some writing and interviewing to do here and there, but it’s a good gig. How can you complain with all that… and all you can eat Tim Horton’s donuts.

Let's get pumped again!

However, for some reason, it is almost MORE exhausting than playing in an event like this! On Wednesday night, when Canada had the night off, I took the night off, too. By 8:00pm, I could hardly keep my eyes open!

Being up here is mentally exhausting. Perhaps it’s the lack of exercise to provide you with some energy; perhaps it’s the lack of pressure to perform. All I know is that it is very tiring. Competing in an event is very tiring as well, but when you’re out on the ice, you have to be energized, focused and ready to go and there is much less opportunity to zone out.

Team Scotland was much more zoned in during the semi-final against Norway than they were against Canada last night. Zoned in enough that they will again face Canada in tonight’s gold medal Game. What an accomplishment for Brewster and his young lads, because the Norwegians had simply been on fire.

Mr. Stoughton, by the way, has an interesting history with Scotland. He defeated a Scottish team in the final of the 1996 worlds, then lost to them in 1999, in that famous match against Hammy “Let’s Get Pumped” MacMillan (be sure to view starting at around at 1:10).

It could be a dandy today!

Crazy Kraupp photo by Anil Mungal, copyright The Curling News®
Kim Brewster photo by Ana Arce
Let’s Get Pumped Again photo by Michael Burns / CCA

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Regina Worlds: Youth Olympians

Youth Olympians headed to Innsbruck

by Jill Officer

REGINA – It was a packed house last night as Team Canada stepped on the ice. You couldn’t even hear the lone bagpiper during the pre-game march because of the loud Canadian fans.

In front of that same crowd, the Canadian Youth Olympic curling team was introduced at the fifth-end break. The Youth Olympics is a new initiative from the International Olympic Committee that is like the Olympics, but for youngsters between the ages of 16 and 18. The first Summer Youth Olympics was held last year in Singapore, so now the first Winter Youth Olympics will take place in Innsbruck, Austria in January of 2012.

“It was unreal,” said Thomas Scoffin, the skip of the team, after the introduction in front of the large Canadian crowd. “I’ve never been part of anything like that before.”

COME OOOONNNN!

The team, made up of two girls and two boys, was selected after a comprehensive process that combined on-ice performance at the recent Canada Winter Games as well as a formal application process – and that included a written essay, academic consideration, involvement in their communities and interest in other athletic and cultural activities.

Wow – I don’t know any curler that has to go through all that to get on a team! These guys, and gals, must be good!

The lucky athletes that were selected are Scoffin, who is from Whitehorse in the Yukon; Emily Gray of O’Leary, Prince Edward Island; Corryn Brown of Kamloops, BC and Derek Oryniak of Winnipeg.  The team leader and coach will be Helen Radford of Halifax. It was nice of the Canadian Curling Association to fly them all in for the on-ice presentation, which saw them march out in their different provincial jackets and then be presented with their new Team Canada colours!

The team will execute some preparations and team building in the fall leading up to the event. “We’re going to meet up a couple of times in the upcoming months,” Brown told me. “We need to figure out how everyone plays, and each of our different releases.”

This is interesting for a number of reasons. First of all, this is only the second Canadian national team that is selected – the other being the wheelchair curling team. All other national teams “win to get in” and there are always a few people calling for coaches and officials to select all-star teams for other competitions… like the regular Olympics.

Jon Mead shows Jeff Stoughton his “Hulk Face”

And here’s something really interesting: there will be two types of events taking place at the Youth Olys. The first is the regular mixed event, and the second will be… Mixed Doubles, which was not put forward by the WCF for Olympic consideration (this is important as five new disciplines were approved this week, from women’s skip jumping to things like team figure skating and mixed relay biathalon… but that’s another debate).

But the real twist is that these mixed doubles duos will be made up of two curlers from different countries! I wonder how that will work with language barriers?

The editor informs me that my fellow TCN columnist Roger Schmidt, who is based in Switzerland, wrote about the approaching Youth Olympics stuff almost two years ago, and commented at that time how the WCF was scrambling to get its member countries to ensure that they could even field a team. Apparently, that youth age curling bracket is really underdeveloped around the world, and that is easy to understand when we in Canada have a U18 championship that is a) combined with the U.S. and also includes teams from Japan, b) named after a charity and c) isn’t sanctioned by any official associations.

Sweden plans to rock hard today

Now back to the event we’re all watching right now!  The men’s worlds are down to the crunch. Whether I’m sitting on the media bench or competing down on the ice, I love playoff time. The music gets pumpin’ between ends, emcee extraordinaire Stu Brown entertains the crowd and the atmosphere is awesome.

Unfortunately, the Page playoff 1 vs 2 game itself wasn’t so awesome. Not that it was terrible, but it certainly didn’t have the entertainment value that people hope for in the playoffs. It was played reasonably wide open, and Scottish skip Tom Brewster missed a few late shots, and all that matters (to me!) is that Canada won and are into the world championship final on Sunday!

Earlier in the afternoon, the red-hot Norwegians beat the scrappy French 5-4 in a tiebreaker and will face Sweden in the Page 3 vs 4 game this afternoon. Earlier in the week, Team Thomas Ulsrud had to accompany Team Niklas Edin out onto the ice before their game against Canada, bow before them, and serve them with their brushes and curling shoes on bended knee… like servants! Pretty funny stuff, and all this was because of a bet the two teams made during a couple of pre-worlds practice games – and the Swedes won both games!

Something tells me today’s game, while friendly, will be taken very seriously. At stake is a spot in tonight’s semifinal (for the winners) while the losers will be bumped down to Sunday’s bronze medal match.

Anil Mungal photos copyright The Curling News® – click on image to increase size

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Regina Worlds: Cardboard Cheaters and More

NOR vs CAN by Leslie Ingram-Brown

by Jill Officer

REGINA – Wow, that was one wild end-of-round-robin-Thursday.

It was no surprise to me that Team China gave Canada a game in the morning. Although I’m not totally sure how that happened because the Chinese didn’t exactly play “lights out”. I think there were just a few fine shots made, here and there, that kept China in the game. But make no mistake, Jeff Stoughton and his team really did have control of the match despite being tied coming home, before Stoughton made his draw for the win.

The skipper said after the game that he felt his opponents were trying to keep the game close. But one of the biggest questions in the game came when the Chinese, without last rock, threw their lead’s first stone into the house in the ninth end. No one is really sure what the strategical thinking was on that call, but the Canadians were obviously happy they could blank it out. On Stoughton’s last rock of the ninth end, he had to opportunity to do his famous spin-o-rama, but he didn’t… and the crowd booed him for it! Even lead Steve Gould apparently booed him!

Speaking of Gould, he had some harsh thoughts after the match on Team China’s on-ice tactics, and the big c-word was mentioned (cheating)… which you can read about by clicking here. What do you think?

Stoughton was asked after the game if (hypothetically) he was one of the other teams playing against his team, how would he have played that ninth end? Stoughton responded by saying “very well.” And after a brief silence in the scrum, he added “I’m not going to tell you!  They (opposition) read the papers too!”

Who are you calling a cheater!?

I’m getting the sense that many curlers won’t admit if they have any superstitions before their games. They call them “routines.” I did a little story for Global Regina today on whether there are some players that have any superstitions, but few would admit to any.

Scottish Skip Tom Brewster acknowledged a couple; he said that  if he found a lucky penny before the event he is sure to carry in his pocket, and that he doesn’t change his socks! Meanwhile, Swedish third Sebastian Kraupp said that he has a lucky pair of underwear that he wears for championship games. Unfortunately for him, he spent 40 minutes the other day searching his bags looking for them, with no success, so he’s sure he left them back home in Sweden. Oops.

I don’t really blame any athletes for declining to acknowledge superstitions. I’ve recently wondered if my pre-game and overall event routines actually are superstitions… but I also don’t want to admit it!

Hats versus Pants! Who wins?

Did you know that Neil Houston, 1986 world men’s champion (with skip Ed Lukowich) and current Event Manager of the Ford Worlds was the mind behind the invention of the sensored hog-line handles? During an Up Close and Personal session in the Patch yesterday, Houston talked about the idea. He said he remembers the year that Randy Ferbey was playing in the Worlds in Switzerland and his team suffered three hogline violations in one game. After that, Houston thought “Enough! Something has to be done to remove the human error.”  He pursued the idea, which included discussions with Canadian cross-country ski officials, as they use a similar technology in their sport. Then, a group of students from the University of Saskatchewan took it on as a project and it ended up being manufactured by a Saskatchewan-based company. The first time the handles were used? The Continental Cup, in December of 2001… just nine months after Ferbey’s hogline problems in Switzerland.

Canada’s one-dimensional support team

Last night there was still the possibility that five losses could make it into the playoffs, and officials dropped off a big fat booklet outlining all the scenarios. Crazy. In the end, Stoughton missed his last shot in a colourful battle with the Norwegians and France beat the U.S. meaning that Sweden gets third place, and it’s NOR vs FRA today in a tiebreaker for fourth place!

Canada, of course, finished first and Scotland second, meaning those two teams will clash in the Page 1 vs 2 game for a spot in the final.

There was more craziness, between Norway’s pants (of course) and Team Canada’s stovepipe hats… and of course the Canadian coaching staff, which brought out some life-size cardboard cutouts of themselves in the fourth end, so that they could take some popcorn into the stands with a rowdy group of fans. I went up and asked the coaches whose idea this was, and while they all pointed at coach Norm Gould (who refused to take credit for the idea). They had the cutouts printed here in Regina through an event sponsor.

But the best part came between the ninth and 10th ends of the game when Coach Norm, along with alternate Garth Smith and National Coach Rick Lang began yelling and cheering, which caught the attention of the squad down on the ice. Turns out there was a group of nine of them – the team, coaching staff, national coach Paul Webster plus the team’s driver) that had purchased 50/50 tickets… and lo and behold, they won the $18,840 pot!

Are you kidding me?!

Photos 2 through 4 by Anil Mungal copyright The Curling News® – click on all images to increase size

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Olympics 2018: The Final Three

Who will you root for, curling fan?

From a curling perspective, Vancouver 2010 was always going to be the Olympic sport’s high-water mark.

In just under three years, the world will gather in Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games and boy, we were surprised when they won that bid!

Shortly thereafter, we gave you a sneak peek on the cities that were assembling a bid for the 2018 Winter Games.

The list of 2018 candidate cities has been whittled down to just three – Annecy in France, Munich (Germany) and PyeongChang, South Korea – and the big decision will be made in less than three months, on July 6.

All three cities just finished selling themselves at today’s session of SportAccord, the massive international sport conference in Monaco. How massive is this annual gathering? Well, it’s big enough to attract World Curling Federation Secretary-General Colin Grahamslaw who would otherwise be in attendance at his organization’s flagship event in Regina, wouldn’t you think?

Here’s the lowdown on the candidates – from that curling perspective…

Was ist los? Schwimmensstockschießen?

ANNECY – The last time a tiny French town hosted the Winter Games was Albertville in 1992. Although curling was only a demonstration sport that year, The Roaring Game was tossed into an even smaller town – Pralognon-La-Vanoise – and it was a complete disaster. Nobody showed up to watch – and we mean nobody – and two of the four sheets of ice melted and were unusable for the entire tournament. Yes, France desperately needs a curling boost and yes, it is great to see the wonderfully stubborn Thomas Dufour playing so well in Regina, but who is to say that a decent curling showcase in Annecy will make any difference to the sport’s shameful level of domestic ignorance?

MUNICH – The German city lost out on a chance to host next year’s world men’s curling shootout (to Basel, Switzerland) but they just might land the Olympic Winter Games. The event would be hosted in the same European time zone as Annecy and the Germans, like the French, are also desperate for grassroots curling growth. Based on what we’ve seen to date, Munich would be great for curling; the organizing committee has shown some dynamic creativity in including the sport throughout its marketing activities (see the photo at left). And something tells us the German people would be more enthusiastic for our grand game than our Gallic friends.

PYEONGCHANG – A betting man would pick the Koreans to win this one, hands down. This is their third consecutive bid to host the Winter Games (they finished a surprisingly strong second to Vancouver in 2010 and they also lost the 2014 vote to The Vlad Putin Show) and they are determined to win this one. Plus, Sochi is pretty close to Europe, which could be a negative for both Annecy and Munich, and 2018 will mark the 10th annniversary of the Beijing 2008 Olympic (Summer) Games.

From a curling perspective, the Koreans have done their share of winning at the annual Pacific Championships to qualify for various worlds over the years. This year alone, Korea qualified for both the worlds in Esbjerg (women’s) and Regina. Moreover, Korea hosted the last Asian worlds  – the 2009 world women’s in Gangneung, located fairly close to PyeongChang – so they have a venue ready to go.

So there you go. If you were an International Olympic Committee bigwig – and a curling fan – which candidate city would you vote for?

Click on images to increase size

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Regina Worlds: Randoms

by Jill Officer

Chris Svae – troublemaker!

REGINA – We’re back to red and white here at the worlds today after a very successful Green (Tues)Day. Pretty much everyone and everything here was green except the beer in the Patch! I thought that would have been the icing on the cake if they’d have done that.

Guess what? Turns out that the charismatic and good-looking skip of Team Norway, Thomas Ulsrud, would like to have dinner with my skipper, Jennifer Jones. In the “Getting To Know You” questions of the daily paper, the Eye Opener, he listed Jennifer as one of the three people, living or dead, that he would invite to a dinner party. He also said, however, that if he could be a star in any other sport, his choice would be… ballet! Ballet?! Seriously?!

I found out later that Norwegian second Christoffer Svae was the one that actually filled out the Q & A for him. Maybe it’s Svae that wants to have dinner with Jennifer? Ulsurd did say, of course, that “it wouldn’t be a bad thing” if he could invite her to a dinner party.

When Pat writes, you’d better read!

Denmark continues to struggle. Tommy Stjerne said after the game that his team has had a hard time adjusting to the ice. The conditions here are very different from what they play on at home. He says there is so much more curl and the speed is much faster.

Stjerne says this is his last world championship. After he beat his son Rasmus in the Danish championship final, he said he would never do that again. The young Stjerne really is a bright spot for curling – he beat Canada’s Brett Gallant to win the 2009 world junior title, and he lost the recent European championship final to Ulsrud.

USA skip Pete Fenson and some attractive reporter

Random Thought 1 of 2: I’m waiting for Canada third Jon Mead to take out his skip – or one of their opponents – with his rubber gripper. Jon always tosses his gripper about 20 feet in the air in an attempt to get it behind the boards before he throws his stones. So far he’s been on target with both his gripper and his rocks. So far.

Canada is still very loose – laughing with each other, chatting with the crowd and even raising their arms when the wave in the arena comes around. Jeff Stoughton was asked after Team Canada’s afternoon win over Sweden if he was worried about Jon’s play earlier in the week. The skip said, “I was never worried, but Jonny’s back.”

Ramdom Thought 2 of 2: The editor sent along some curling tweets that he deemed to be “random and weird” and, well, I somewhat agree. Here’s a couple:

From @bulechka: can someone please buy a pair of black socks for Jeff Stoughton?

From @data_wonk: Is there anything stranger than Russ Howard smiling at the camera during TSN’s curling intro?

From @ottguy: Just want to point out the last time I saw John Baird he told me he had never tried curling. How unCanadian.

Another reason I’m in Regina this week is to do some on-camera work for Global Television. Pat Simmons, the five-time Saskatchewan representative at the Brier, and myself have been providing analysis of the games during the station’s live sportscasts. I have also been doing some fun little pieces on the event.

You can see Pat’s blog Simmons Says and you can watch some of my stuff at (hee-hee) Officer’s Patrol! Let me know how you think we’re doing!

Anil Mungal photos copyright The Curling News®

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Regina Worlds: Good Heavens

Good heavens!

by Jill Officer

REGINA – Green Day is here!  No, not the American punk-pop band, but rather a day here at the worlds where everyone is encouraged to wear green… including Team Canada! As many know, Saskatchewanians are very proud of their provincial colour, which also happens to be associated with the much-supported CFL team, the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

It’s evident here today that we are indeed in Rider country. Fans were encouraged to wear green to the games today, but looking around here, 95 per cent of the people wearing green are actually wearing Riders paraphernalia. Even the Riders themselves are involved today; a few of them dropped in to the Keiths Patch for an “Up Close and Personal” interview session with emcee Stu Brown.

Funny-looking Gappers, eh?

Of course there was a big cheer for Team Canada as they entered the building for the pre-game march wearing the much-talked-about green Canada jackets, of which this here blog boasted the first pictures!

Team Canada skip Jeff Stoughton even donned the jacket for the beginning of the game, but took it off a short time into the first end and was playfully booed by the crowd. Stoughton said after the game that the official told him that he had to remove the jacket (Why? – Ed.) However, when the game was over, he put it back on as he left the ice surface, to a huge cheer from the fans.

Seems to me that the Canada boys were pretty loose going into today’s match. During pre-game practice, third Jon Mead was bopping along and even singing to the Black Eyed Peas, and Stoughton has been seen chit-chatting with the crowd. That easygoing attitude is paying off for the Canucks as they took complete control of their game against France, scoring a three-ender to start things off and adding another treble soon afterward.

Good heavens! Again!

One team whose attitude is not so loose right now is Norway. They sure don’t seem like themselves on the ice – the team has been struggling since the beginning of the week. Skip Thomas Ulsrud said yesterday that he feels they are throwing it well, but not getting results… but today he simply said his team is playing like “crap.”

I also spoke with their coach, Ole Ingvaldsen. Ole says they are struggling, and then they’re pressing too hard, and when they are still not getting results they are losing confidence.

We all know that curling teams are a tight-knit group, but the Chinese team seems wound a little too tightly.

When the Eye Opener – the daily event newspaper – asked the question “What three people, living or not, would you invite to a dinner party?” all four members of the team said they would invite their teammates! Most other players, if you are wondering, mention celebrities such as Barack Obama, Tiger Woods and Tom Hanks. Then again, perhaps Team China’s questions were answered by a team “official”…?

Big showdown tonight, with first place on the line: undefeated Canada versus undefeated Scotland!

Leslie Ingram Brown photos for The Curling News – click on images to increases size

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Regina Worlds EXCLUSIVE: Green Day

EXCLUSIVE!  EXCLUSIVE!  EXCLUSIVE!

Visual proof was required for some!

Kudos to Jill Officer of The Curling News for chasing down a bonafide scoop at the worlds in Regina!

Here they are – are the first-ever photos of the green jackets Team Canada will wear on the ice later today when they challenge France (1:30pm local on TSN) and Scotland (7:30pm local on TSN). UPDATED: apparently the boys will march out for each game wearing the green, but will not compete in them. Too bad!

Judging by the photos – you can see a third image on the official TCN Facebook page – our intrepid reporter barged into Team Jeff Stoughton‘s rooms at the athlete hotel to get the pics. Attagirl!

Today is, of course, Saskatchewan Day at the Regina worlds at the Brandt Centre. In late March, word first broke that event organizers – and we suspect Canadian Curling Association event manager Neil Houston of having something to do with this, by the way – had  managed “to convince the Manitoba team to put on green Team Canada (jackets),” said Derek Boe, chair of the event.

“I don’t know if they’re (Winnipeg Blue) Bomber fans or not, but they’ll be wearing green for at least one day,” said Boe.

Indeed, the squad are in fact big fans of the Winnipeg-based Canadian Football League team, and that could have thrown a wrench into today’s plans. However, the Winnipeg foursome has been assured that Green Day is in honour of Saskatchewan — and not the arch-rival Roughriders.

SASKATCHEWAAAAAN!

Stoughton confirmed his Bomber pride to Kirk Penton of the Winnipeg Sun. “Oh yeah,” Stoughton said firmly. “We’re blue and gold through and through, so when we checked we said, ‘This isn’t going to turn into a Rider Pride thing.’ We’re all for Green Day, and that’s our bottom line.”

Penton then told a story about Riders GM Brendan Taman, a big curling fan who spent 10 years in Winnipeg. Never afraid of a little self-deprecation, Taman hoped the green wouldn’t rub off too much on Stoughton. “Let’s hope he doesn’t lose in a championship like we have in the last two years,” Taman said.

The GM then joked he could have a spot for one member of Team Canada member in his training camp. “Maybe Steve Gould,” he said, “as a linebacker.”

There’s more. It turns out that Canada third Jon Mead was born in Regina, and moved to Winnipeg at age four.

“I’m one of those CFL fans who likes the Bombers and hopes everyone else gets lost on the way to the football field,” Mead told the Regina Leader-Post. “I love Saskatchewan, but wearing green is not going to make me cheer for the Roughriders next season.

“We want to do everything we can to share in this with everybody. I think it’s all done in the right spirit. For one week to be Saskatchewanians, I have no problem with that.”
We wonder… is this is the first time a colour other than white, red and black has been worn by a Canadian team at the world championship? We do recall some of the Maple Leaf crests appeared in green (!) on the backs of player sweaters, back in the old days. But as for outright uniform colour changes, we don’t think so… folks?
Jill Officer photos copyright The Curling News®
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Regina Worlds: Lighting It Up

As we mentioned on Saturday, The Curling News Blog will be hopping with activity during the men’s worlds in Regina. And here, now revealed, is our blogstar for the event – second stone superstar out of Winnipeg, Jill Officer!

You’ve seen her stuff before – eg. the 2008 Brier in Winnipeg – and here she is again! She’s barely unpacked her bags and there’s already mayhem afoot!

Can I sit here? What about over there?

by Jill Officer

REGINA – Sorry I’m late, folks! I just arrived here this afternoon, and now I’m in the blogzone for The Curling News here at the Ford World Men’s Curling Championship!

Why am I late to the party? Our foursome, Team Jennifer Jones, was competing in the Victoria Curling Classic on the weekend and we were victorious, with a win over Shannon Kleibrink of Calgary in the final on Sunday.  But now on to more important things….world curling in Regina!

As I entered the Brandt Centre today, I quickly remembered walking around this place just three years ago when we were Team Manitoba at the STOH in 2008.  It’s a great facility.

The first thing I did was hit the lounge – not for a drink, but for some lunch. I had literally only been on the ground here in Regina for an hour when something very interesting happened in the Sweden versus Norway game. As I ate lunch, I was looking at my Twitter feed on my phone and hey preston… that’s how I learned that the two teams were in the process of replaying the second end of their game.

As soon as I got hooked up on the media bench (the photo of CCA media guy Jeff Timson and myself is by Kirk Penton of the Winnipeg Sun) I found out what happened. It was on third stones in the second end, and Sweden was throwing. Now for those of you who don’t know, each and every stone here has a sensor in the handle to monitor hogline violations. If a rock is released before the hogline, the light on top of the rock turns green until about halfway down the sheet, when it shuts off. Most stones react this way, and that’s a good thing.

But if the rock is released after the hogline – a very, very bad thing – a flashing red light appears, indicating a violation. If that happens, the offending team is to stop the rock and remove it from play before it comes to rest. That stone is toast!

In this case, the two little lights on top of the rock turned both red and green! The Swedes, not knowing what was wrong – or what to do – let the rock play out, but in the confusion of it all, they also didn’t sweep the rock to make the shot that was being called.

What to do? The "Lightgate" debate

Head Official Rae Kells said she wanted “to do what was fair for both teams.” Initially she was going to allow the shot to be replayed, but when the two teams could not agree on the original positioning of the stones prior to the incident, it was agreed that the entire end had to be replayed.

The end resulted in a steal of two for Norway and a 4-0 lead, after Swedish skip Niklas Edin rolled out on an open hit. Although Sweden tried to make a comeback, Thomas Ulsrud and Co. held on for the win.

In the postgame interviews, both skips said they have never, in their careers, ever had to replay an end before.

Ulsrud said he left the decision up to Edin and the Swedes (as did the officials) to either replace the rocks at the correct angles or replay the end, but Edin said he didn’t feel right replacing the rocks because the Norwegians were unsure of the correct placement and angles.

It seemed Edin’s bigger issue with the whole situation was the fact that there was a dead battery in the handle. He said they should be checked before every game to prevent situations like this, as it was not the first time this week there was a malfunctioning light on a rock.

Both teams are now at two losses and both have yet to face undefeated Canada. Norway also has to face undefeated Scotland.

Here is the website of the company that created and manufactures the rock sensor technology, by the way. Just in case you’re interested.

And that wraps up just the first couple of hours of my time in Regina at the men’s worlds… and I haven’t even seen Team Canada play yet. This can only get better!

“Lightgate” photo by Leslie Ingram Brown