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Sweden skip injured on eve of 2012 Worlds

Niklas Edin in January 2012

Sveriges herrlag i curling tvingas göra en radikal lagändring!

The big news in Basel, site of the imminent 2012 World Men’s Curling Championship, is that Team Sweden has been thrown into turmoil due to a chronic injury affecting skip Niklas Edin.

Word of more problems in Edin’s wonky back come just one day before the opening stones are thrown at the St. Jakobshalle, and during today’s all-important practice sessions. Edin will definitely miss Sweden’s first match against hosts Switzerland, and third Sebastian Kraupp will replace him at skip position. Alternate Oskar Eriksson will enter the lineup at second stone.

“Niklas’ back is getting better and better but he can’t play the first match,” said Swedish national coach Peja Lindholm, a retired three-time world champion skip.

Edin has suffered from back problems since the age of 10. His difficulties reached a peak during the 2010 season, but he was able to finish fourth at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games – thanks to a steady diet of painkiller medication.

Kraupp (far left) and Eriksson

Edin underwent surgery for multiple herniated discs in June of that year, but has suffered various relapses off and on ever since.

Edin is frustrated. “I have never missed a game in my life,” he told Sweden’s Nya Wermlands Tidningen.

The 26-year-old Kraupp is no stranger to skipping duties: he captained a Karlstad squad for several years before Edin was recruited to the team in 2008.

Eriksson, meanwhile, is no slouch either – he skips Sweden’s second-ranked men’s team, he captured gold at the world juniors and he also jumped into two games for Team Edin at December’s European Championships, when Kraupp fell ill.

Sweden is scheduled for games against China and the Czech Republic on Sunday.

Edin and Kraupp photos by Anil Mungal/Capital One

Eriksson photo by Andrew Klaver/World Curling Federation

 

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Grand Slam Curling on Global

Global TV will broadcast the Grand Slam finales

The announcement came today that the men’s and women’s finals of the Players’ Championship will be broadcast live on Global Television, April 21-22.

Shaw Media owns Global Television as well as 18 specialty networks including HGTV Canada, Food Network Canada, History Television and Showcase. The Players’ Championship is the fourth and final event in the annual Capital One Grand Slam of Curling series.

The Players’ Championship gets underway at the Credit Union Centre in Summerside, Prince Edward Island on April 17.

Who will commentate? How about this odd couple: 2010 Olympic Silver Medallist skip Cheryl Bernard of Calgary, and old CBC/NBC warhorse Don Duguid?

“I’m really excited about this opportunity”, said Bernard, whose team missed qualifying for the Players’. “I have always wanted to try commentating but since I am always playing, there was never a chance. So when this became available, I jumped at it, and then to find out I will be sitting beside the master, Don Duguid, well that’s just icing on the cake.”

“I’m looking forward to being back on Canadian television,” said Duguid, who won the Brier and worlds in 1970 and 1971. “To be able to team up with a great champion like Cheryl will enable us to provide a new perspective on this event. The Grand Slam fans are going to see a very innovative broadcast as we will be committed to interacting with the fans and also taking them behind the scenes.”

“The Capital One Grand Slam of Curling is an outstanding addition to our lineup,” said Shaw SVP Barbara Williams. “As the crown jewel of the Grand Slam series with an elite field of competitors, it’s the perfect addition to our extensive PGA Tour coverage, adding up to a great weekend for Canadian sports fans.”

Each Slam event boasts a line-up featuring the world’s best teams competing for the Capital One Cup, awarded to the one men’s team and one women’s team that accumulate the most points throughout the season based on their performance in selected Capital One Grand Slam of Curling events. As such, the combined purse for Summerside will be $370,000.

The 16 top-ranked teams in the world that have qualified for the Players’ Championship are:

MEN

Team Mike McEwen, Manitoba
Team Glenn Howard, Ontario
Team Kevin Martin, Alberta
Team Niklas Edin, Sweden
Team Jeff Stoughton, Manitoba
Team Kevin Koe, Alberta
Team Brad Gushue, Newfoundland/Labrador
Team John Epping, Ontario

WOMEN:

Team Jennifer Jones, Manitoba
Team Sherry Middaugh, Ontario
Team Heather Nedohin, Alberta
Team Cathy Overton-Clapham, Manitoba
Team Eve Muirhead, Scotland
Team Silvana Tirinzoni, Switzerland
Team Chelsea Carey, Manitoba
Team Stefanie Lawton, Saskatchewan

Taking place during the Players’ Championship will be the semi-final event for the Capital One Million Dollar Button contest. Seven lucky participants from across Canada will be given one chance to draw to the button, with the participant who’s rock lands closest to the button declared the winner of the semi-final. On Sunday April 22, one finalist will throw one rock in an attempt to draw to the button for a chance at $1 million.

Four of the semifinalists qualify onsite at each of the four  Capital One Grand Slam of Curling events throughout the season, and an additional three semifinalists will be randomly selected from online entries.

 

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Brier 2012: The Playoffs

The Bronze Battle

by Kevin Palmer

The Curling News® photos by Anil Mungal – click on images to increase viewing size

I recall an article that showcased the relationship between football stars Peyton and Eli Manning when they were growing up.

Peyton, the older brother, would always beat Eli, the younger, at virtually every sport or game. They both remember the moment when Eli finally beat Peyton – in a basketball one-on-one – with a huge dunk on the very last play. Legend has it that Peyton wouldn’t speak to Eli for days after that.

For some reason, such a degree of sibling rivalry doesn’t easily reveal itself in curling. The closest thing we’ve seen in a while may be Manitoba’s Lyburn brothers – fiery Scotsmen, both – who played on different teams this season. As we know, they reunited once Team Rob Fowler qualified for the Brier; eldest Allan throwing third and the youngest, Willie, now along as the fifth man.

Watching the Koe brothers trade shots in Saturday’s entertaining Page playoff 3 versus 4 battle, however, made it easy to picture the two of them, age 16 and 14, throwing rocks – possibly in a game of skins – to see who buys the french fries. I wonder about the first time kid brother Jamie ever won (assuming he did) and how that must have felt (for each of them)… and whether or not eldest Kevin spoke to his brother afterwards.

Of course, there were other players on the ice Saturday, and eventually, the more talented and seasoned team won. The disappointing thing about underdog is that eventually, and more often they not, they lose. Everyone is congratulating the Territories for their great week, the playoffs, and the bronze medal game. It was a great showing and I cheered them on with every step, as most fans would. We should also be impressed with the play of Team Alberta and Kevin himself – that team had/has more expectations on their shoulders, ie. everything to lose. Anyone who’s curled enough has memories of playing games like that one, and being on the wrong end of an upset. The Albertans gutted out a fine performance and got their job done… but for Jamie, it still must still sting a little.

Brier Championship action

Ontario certainly deserves their berth in the final, but the outcome didn’t happen as easily as the Page 1 versus 2 game appeared. They played five extra-end games during the week (it could easily have been six), they had a lead on intravenous for part of the tournament, and they battled through several on-ice situations that could have gone the other way.

The semifinal between Manitoba and Alberta had plenty of drama, including some key misses at the wrong times. After the seventh end it still seemed like anyone’s game, though Alberta had stepped up their play following the break. Several MB attempts at runbacks in the sixth and seventh ends led to a key steal and a force of one. Then, in the eighth end, Alberta cracked a huge four points and it was all but decided; a key pick on Fowler’s first throw allowed Koe to split the rings and lay three, then Fowler was a little heavy and and straight on his freeze attempt – boom, an Alberta hit for four. A couple of double-takeout options had been discussed; in hindsight, perhaps that would have been the better call.

When the first Brier bronze medal game was played last year, I don’t recall if I actually watched. This year I found a reason to watch, even if it was only to shirk some husbandly duties. I agreed with those last year who suggested the game wasn’t necessary, but perhaps I was wrong. I still don’t think it’s required, I always found these events during the Olympics to seem unnecessary. Why not just give out two bronze medals? It always seems disappointing when a team gets that close then doesn’t share the podium. But on Sunday, I did enjoy the game and it appeared the MB and TER players did also. On Thursday, when many thought they would fold and miss the playoffs, the Territories squad came through with two great efforts and earned their playoff spot with an impressive 7-4 record. The Territories also handed Ontario their only loss in the competition.

The final was an obvious rematch of the 2010 Brier final in Halifax, with a lineup change for both combatants: Ontario’s Richard Hart and Alberta’s Blake McDonald replaced by Wayne Middaugh and Pat Simmons, respectively. And as this blogpost from March 15, 2010 shows, the Albertans were victorious despite being in the same Page 3 versus 4 hole that they were at the start of the 2012 playoff weekend.

Ontario – 2012 champions

Unlike the previous contest – as Jim Nantz would say, “one for the ages” – this one is soon to be forgotten. I’m certain that Glenn, Brent Laing and Craig Savill will remember it for years to come. After losing four of five Brier finals in the past six years, and an Olympic berth as well, this win must feel very special. It would have been easy to start to feel jinxed, like it’s never going to happen again, and lose your passion.  But Team Howard has continued their steady play and never wavered from the top level of the game, even after injecting new third Wayne Middaugh into the mix (okay, a pretty good third, but you never know how that’s going to turn out).

The final game showed what happens when one team is a little off and the other is simply not missing. I can’t even comment on strategy, other than to suggest the Albertans may have wanted to try food-poisoning Wayne earlier in the day; he shot 98 per cent and was awarded the Hec Gervais award as playoff MVP.

Well done Ontario and Team Howard, and good luck at the worlds in Basel, Switzerland.

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Brier 2012: Doogie Fowler

Quebec skip Brier Bob prays for coffee

by Kevin Palmer

The Curling News® photos by Anil Mungal – Click on images to increase viewing size

SASKATOON – If you watch a TSN morning game during the Brier, it always appears that the live arena attendance is smaller than for a night draw.

I’ll pass on a little known secret: the attendance is just as big, however, the spectators are all lined up at the concession stands for their wake-up coffee. The hardest part is deciding which line you are actually standing in, since said line reaches around the entire oval of the arena.

As you already know, Thursday morning featured must-win games for Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, with hometown Saskatchewan attempting to play spoiler against Manitoba. If you were betting on the underdog, you lost in every single case. The playoff-bound powerhouses – Ontario, Manitoba and, um, er, the Territories – all came through with impressive wins.

And it was a great job by Team Jamie Koe. After a 5-1 start they had dropped three games in a row, and they had also lost control of the hammer by the fourth end of their NB match. A steal of two in five put them in control, but then they surrendered a three in the sixth.

Calmly, Jamie led his squad to a rebound deuce in seven and another steal of two in the eighth frame (after back-to-back raise attempt field goals by Terry Odishaw) on their way to a tiebreaker clinching win.

Separated at birth? Howser (left) and Fowler

Meanwhile, RobDoogie HowserFowler clinched at least a tiebreaker with his convincing win over Scott Manners. A three-count in the first end gave the Manitobans full control and they never looked to be in much danger.

Rob enjoys his takeouts so much, he often follows them down the ice to the end of the sheet. It hurts my groin to even watch as he slides the length of the ice at nearly the same speed as the stone he just fired. Myself, I prefer more of the Jamie Koe-style of throwing; starting to stand up even before the rock has been released.

The afternoon draw saw Alberta defeat Nova Scotia to set up their battle with Ontario in the evening. Manitoba continued its hot streak and moved Northern Ontario aside 10-4, and secured at least the number three playoff spot. New Brunswick upset B.C. 7-5 and Team Jacobs would then need a disappointed Jim Cotter team to win over J Koe to gain their tiebreak in the evening draw. That outcome was not to be, as The Other Koe swept the day with a convincing 8-3 win over B.C. and a lock on the fourth and final playoff spot – no tiebreakers.

See you real soon, bro!

It marked a historic event; the first time the Territories had made the playoffs since that format began in 1980. It was also a historic event for gamblers, as it marked the first TERR game to go under the 12 ½ point total all week.

The featured TSN night game was the annual Thursday night tilt between Alberta and Ontario. There was more at stake than just first place here: an Alberta loss would push Kevin Koe down to the Page playoff 3 vs 4 game – a rematch with his brother – and a loss for me against Steve Lobel in the annual Brier Bet for our respective provinces. Clearly Glenn Howard knew that Steve needed a victory after a decade of Randy Ferbey and Kevin Martin dominating this wager.

There are 160 stones thrown in a full 10-end curling game, and Koe versus Howard showed how important just a few shots can be. Kevin had a possible chance to score two early, but rolled out by a few inches on a hit attempt, resulted in a blank.  A missed draw in the fourthby Koe led to a Howard steal. In the next end, a hit and stick on the blank attempt by Kevin and at the break Howard now had the hammer, tied 1-1.

They swapped deuces. In the ninth end, tied 3-3 without last rock, Koe is attempting to either steal or force Howard to one. Alberta second Carter Rycroft rubs a guard in the attempt to set up the inning, and the end result is a score of three by Howard and the win for Ontario. Steve, your Kaptain Koe T-shirt will arrive next week.

The first round of playoffs are set: ON vs MB in the 1-2 playoff tonight, and Koe vs Koe in the 3-4 on Saturday afternoon…

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Brier 2012: Tiebreakers and relegation?

Manitoba skip Rob Fowler (far right) slides into play

by Kevin Palmer

The Curling News® photos by Anil Mungal – Click on images to increase viewing size

SASKATOON – There was plenty at stake Wednesday night at the 2012 Brier as every game had possible playoff implications. Ontario’s Glenn Howard, the leader in the clubhouse, had the evening off, and that left the rest of the field to do battle heading into Big Thursday.

I, too, was “rested” for that draw… although I did use the stairs on two occasions (and it felt great).

Mike Gaudet of Prince Edward Island comes in at 2-6, playing for pride and trying to play spoiler. Their opponents are the Jim Cotter team from B.C., who are 4-4 after their morning loss to Ontario. PEI opens with a deuce. B.C. is held to one but then steals two in the fourth end and another in the fifth. They appear to be in control at the break, but a sixth-end PEI deuce precedes a big a steal of two in the eighth and the Kelowna squad sits at five losses, hoping for help from others.

Newfoundland came in with five losses and battles the Terry Odishaw rink from New Brunswick in the battle of “New” provinces. A tight battle which included only one critical deuce, scored by Odishaw in the seventh end. Trailing one with hammer in the last end, Brad Gushue is unable to score two to win or even the single to tie and they drop to six losses and no chance for a tiebreaker berth.

NONT skip Brad Jacobs has a big day today

Northern Ontario, at 4-4, pummels Nova Scotia 11-4 to stay at four losses. Okay, it was actually a lot closer until POW! – a four-ender in the ninth had them shaking hands and left anyone who bet on the under (total of 12 ½ points) crying in their Original 16 beer. Northern Ontario still has destiny in their own control of their fate, or something like that – anyway, it’s in their hands.

Original 16 beer. This sounds different. Wait a minute… whatever happened to Labatt, ie. Canada’s official Beer Of Curling since the first Labatt Brier in 1980?

Just asking.

The TSN game was the traditional Wednesday night contest, Manitoba versus Alberta. Quite non-traditional was the game airing on TSN2 as opposed to the main channel, which covered a Maple Leaf hockey game. Readers ie. subscribers of The Curling News knew this, as the Curling TV Guide (in the subscribers-only section of every issue) was accurate in its listing.

Key steals in the fourth and fifth ends gave Brandon’s Rob Fowler control, 5-2 at the break. And despite a rebound deuce from Calgary skip Kevin Koe, Manitoba was able to pull out an 8-5 win and keep their hopes for the first Page playoff 1 vs 2 game alive.

It was a huge loss for Alberta – only their second of the tournament – as they could have secured that Friday night playoff spot with a win.

AB third Pat Simmons missed the team photo

An interesting decision by Koe in the fourth end led to a key point: trailing 3-2 with hammer, Kevin chose a raise attempt for two rather than a draw for one. He managed to make contact with Fowler’s shot stone but jammed it onto his own in the back twelve, and surrendered the steal. This was an unfortunate break and a justifiable decision, at least mathematically. If Kevin expects to make contact at least 70 per cent of the time (and I suspect the reality is closer to 80 per cent) – even if he only gets a deuce 20 per cent of the time, his chances to win are the same as a draw for one, assuming he makes the draw  – we’ve seen a few of those missed this week.

Unlike almost a quarter of the women’s field at the Tournament of Hearts, Alberta third Pat Simmons seems to be, thus far, the only Brier competitor to be really smacked by the flu. Just minutes after my exploration of Brier fifth men was published, it appears that Alberta alternate Blake MacDonald might be needed for more than the typical coaching and housekeeping chores. We shall watch and see.

Let’s look at the possibilities for today, Thursday, the big climax of the round-robin… and the potential tiebreakers…

 

  • Ontario has qualified for the 1-2 game, making Howard the No. 1 or 2 guy in five of the last seven Brier RRs.
  • Koe can secure top spot with two wins today or can drop to as far as a tiebreaker with two losses.
  • Two wins by Manitoba today, combined with a loss by AB, will give MB second place. Two Ls could mean they’re out.
  • Jamie Koe (TER) has had some recent problems. Two wins and he’s in, one loss and his squad need some help.
  • Northern Ontario is currently tied with the Territories boys at 5-4. Two wins gets them into at least a tiebreaker.
  • New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and B.C. (five losses) all need to win their games and also get some help from Manitoba.
  • Saskatchewan can play spoiler. Their last games are against Manitoba and Northern Ontario.
  • NL, Quebec and PEI will battle Sask to see who would be demoted next year – if they change the Brier format.
Could Team Canada – and the concept of relegation – be coming to the Brier?

That’s right – relegation. If you’re a Canadian curling follower you’ve been hearing about this since the fall, and if you read The Curling News you learned all about relegation in action at the Canadian Mixed, which was played at Sudbury back in November. There’s talk at this event of possible additions to the Brier field, which would require relegation for the bottom two provinces. A team from Nunavut would be added, plus the infamous Team Canada as found in the women’s Tournament of Hearts, while the Territories would be split into two teams, Northwest Territories and Yukon.

With 14 teams in play, speculation says there would be a new Brier pre-event or qualifier featuring a four-team playoff to see which two provinces/territories becomes part of the traditional 12-team round robin. The losers would then get to hang around and watch curling all week – what fun! Needless to say, this plan makes no sense for any number of reasons although, as a fair representation of the strange and politically correct Dominion of Canada, the concept seems to fit. Sort of, or somehow.

In my opinion, giving a berth to the defending champion, aka Team Canada, just plain stinks. It undermines the traditional concept of winning your province, it gives the winner an unfair advantage over their Brier competitors and, dammit, it just doesn’t feel right. Team Canada has won the women’s STOH 30 per cent of the time since they started this nonsense, and six times in the last 11 years. Somewhere, someone is looking at a marketing plan to ensure that an extra Kevin Martin, Howard or Jeff Stoughton gets on Brier TV every year, but at what point is the sport considered above the dollar? (Hasn’t curling’s soul already been sold to television? Might as well sell out straight to the green, they might make more money that way –Ed.)

Okay, rant over – back to this Brier.

Like any fan, I’m hoping for a few tiebreakers to make Friday interesting. I only hope they don’t use the classic technique deployed during the 1992 Tournament of Hearts. Some may recall that a three-way tie was broken by each skip pulling a number out of the buttocks bottom of a stuffed Scotties puppet (the mascot). Team Canada, skipped by British Columbia’s Julie Sutton, was awarded a bye to the final thanks to her adept veterinary skills… another great marketing idea from many years ago.

As the Brier tension mounts, my stomach is churning – from too many media donuts plus a lack of vegetables. Only two more days (for me) and it’s time for the Post-Brier Cleanse, with wine and fruit in replace of beer and poutine. I can already see the pounds falling off.

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Brier 2012: Famous Fifths and more

Guilty as charged

by Kevin Palmer

The Curling News® photos by Anil Mungal

Ryan’s Express photo by CCA/Michael Burns

(Click on images to increase viewing size)

SASKATOON – Monday was Green Day at the Brier, where patrons were encouraged to wear green clothing. To no one’s surprise, most wore Saskatchewan Roughrider jerseys, and I spotted one unfortunate fellow with a jersey that did not have Lancaster or Durant on the back, but instead read “Rider Fan by Marriage”.

And of course, the green men were back in form, donning their spandex suits; in case you are also interested in amusing friends and colleagues at work, or embarrassing your daughter during her junior high basketball game, you can get your own suit here. Other fans improvised their suits, with splattered green paint, wigs and extra large tighty-whitey underwear making fine and able substitutes (green handprints on the buttocks were a nice touch). The original green men are consummate professionals and came prepared, sporting fanny packs, whereas I spotted one of the painted amateurs sporting what appeared to be an iPhone in his trousers (insert your own joke here).

Brad Gushue reflects after the Koe loss

Tuesday morning saw me in my hotel room, staring out the window at a blizzard and simultaneously watching Brad Gushue battle Alberta on TV. The fifth end break of Draw 9, the exact middle point of the Brier, saw the 1-4 Team Newfoundland & Labrador trailing undefeated Alberta by a 3-1 score – and we all know how that one ended. First overall at last year’s Brier in London is a distant memory… but until they’re mathematically out of the playoffs, we’ll save the post-op on Team Gushue for another day.

Manitoba versus Nova Scotia was a sloppy game littered with strange misses. Ice, as always, can be tricky. As often as we talk about the challenges the ice technicians face during these events, I always wonder how bad the ice was in the 1960s and 70s when they didn’t have a team of technicians and computers to help. We can put a man on the moon, and caramel into a chocolate bar, but we can’t get curling ice to do what we want. There’s likely some poetic analogy of man’s attempt to control nature, but I’m not qualified to comment, so we’ll move on.

There are still thoughts of Northern Ontario’s loss to Ontario the other night. Moose skip Brad Jacobs made a great final shot to score two and force an extra end, a soft weight hit that spun his shooter to grab an edge of the button. In the extra end the steal looked likely, but Glenn Howard was able to make a long raise on a NONT stone and tap his own rock for the win, a big shot that drew big applause and big celebration from Team Howard. Glenn and third Wayne Middaugh even shared an awkward embrace during their handshake-chestbump-whatever. Kids, please don’t try this at home – you might break your on-ice microphone.

COMIN' ATCHA: Alberta skip Kevin Koe draws the line

We saw Kevin Koe finally lose a game, but he and his Alberta crew are still steady, boring and efficient. Kevin himself has the relaxed, methodical saunter of a professional golfer, his expression rarely changing from one of pleasant delight without actual enthusiasm – and its eerily intimidating. I expect Kevin wears the same face right before drawing to the button as he would while pushing a shopping cart at Safeway, or doing the laundry. It’s not premature to predict – as so many have already – that everyone other than Howard and (K) Koe are playing for bronze in this Brier. For more on the numbers between these two titans, check out this column.

Last night at the Brier showed why curlers stopped drinking (too much) beer and started working out. Everything felt a little flat, weary, and tired… like a Judd Apatow comedy that should have ended 20 minutes earlier. A long week of hotel to arena to patch to arena to patch to arena to patch to hotel, repeat, is going to take its toll on fans. I’m sure the players must start to feel it. Four blowouts were on display in one draw, and we hadn’t seen that all week. Of course, hosts Saskatchewan made a hit for three in the eighth end to arrest that blowout and the crowd went wild, but they were still down two, without hammer, with two ends remaining, so they were likely going to lose (97% of the time in fact) but at least the locals had a reason to cheer.

RYAN'S EXPRESS: The good old days, with no fifth in sight

If mid-week is tough on fans and players, imagine how the fifth men must feel. The unheralded alternate position player has to suck up his pride and join a team which likely beat him in the provincials. Then they make him their subordinate, helping to fetch drinks, carry jackets and broom bags and schedule meal plans for the team. He has to dress in uniform each day, sit behind the scoreboard, and hope he’s not caught on camera sleeping or stuffing his mouth with nachos. He talks to the team coach – a lot – and throws practice stones with said coach, too. He does get to play a few ends here and there so he is eligible for a medal, should it be forthcoming, at the end of the week. Then, if he’s lucky enough to be on the winning team, that uncomfortable scene happens where he’s not sure when and where to stand on the podium for what photograph. It’s like being the new boyfriend at the photo shoot during a family wedding.

If you recall, Saskatchewan went on to steal the ninth end and trailed by just a single point coming home. Their chances just increased to 11%, but back to our regular column.

I spoke with a couple of the high profile alternates this week to see if my theories were right. They have much less bitterness and resentment than you might think. In fact, they seem to be having a great time.

Blake MacDonald tries to remember the in-turn

Blake MacDonald won a Brier and World Championship with Kevin Koe two years ago. He took a step away from curling this year and presto, his old team manages to win Alberta and return to the Brier. Despite only playing 10 games this year in a Thursday men’s league and playing one cashspiel with Jamie King, the Koes asked him to re-join as their Brier fifth man. Blake says it’s a strange feeling, and it’s tough being in a position where he can’t actually be on the ice to help the team. He’s committed to the role and constantly scouting rocks on all sheets during each draw, engaging with the officials over possible rock handle malfunctions, and trying to do what he can to help. Of course, arranging dinners is also part of the job, and making sure the team spends quality time in the Patch to grow its market brand is also an important task.

Manitoba’s Willie Lyburn is the brother of third Allan Lyburn.  Their father, Hugh Lyburn, brought them to Manitoba from Scotland during their teens. Hugh was able to leave Scotland only after escaping from an underground prison for rogue curlers, seen in the first photo on this page.

Willie skipped his own team this season and had an outstanding year, and made it to the semifinals of the Manitoba provincial last month, only to lose to brother Allan and then watch him win the whole damn thing and get his first Purple Heart. Then Allan did what any older brother would do, and asked Willie to come along and carry his bags. However, Willie doesn’t have an ounce of ill-will and is enjoying every part of the experience. He told me he couldn’t be happier for his brother and a smile never left his face, except when father Hugh was delayed in returning with our round.

Twitter fiend in action

Another famous fifth is Scott Howard for Ontario. Scott’s dad Glenn just happens to be the skip. I couldn’t reach Scott for comment but he’s been using Twitter to share his experience in Saskatoon, and his comments offer insight into the valuable strategic contributions he’s been able to provide to his teammates.

For example, during their Monday night game against Northern Ontario, Scott tweeted: “Taking advantage of the Tim Hortons supplies, munching on a chocolate donut…I’m a fatty.”

Yes, whoa… ahhh… oops. As we know, Scott Manners slid his final stone past three Nova Scotia rocks in the four foot and it ended, final score Bluenosers 10, Saskatchewan 7. The numbers, and the law of averages, win again.

Now it’s Thursday, the finale of the round robin, and our leaders are at 7-1, with the other Koe at 5-3, Manitoba and Nova Scotia at 4-3, B.C. and Northern Ontario at 4-4 and look here, Mr. Gushue has won again, and is now at 3-5. And not quite out of this thing yet.

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Brier 2012: Saskatoon great host so far

Host skip Scott Manners basks in the adulation of a really weird group of Saskatchewan fans

by Kevin Palmer

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

SASKATOON – What other sport is as strange as this?

I was struck with that thought yesterday, watching Draw 4 of the 2012 Brier. By strange I don’t mean the game itself: I grew up in Winnipeg, watching grown men sweep with brooms while sliding on one foot. The odd part is that the event itself, the Brier, is still arguably (along with the Olympic Winter Games) the most important event in this old Scottish game.

Oh… and those fans in the all-green body suits, too. That was/is strange.

For Sunday afternoon, the 15,500 seat arena was well-stocked with Saskatchewanians and other visitors who came from all across this vast country. In what other sport do three or four of the elite teams in the world compete against eight or so average teams? In many cases, these elite squads do fierce battle in their respective province to gain entry, hopefully every few years, while some average teams with average players show up year after year, almost as if this is an annual bonspiel, travel plans made in August. It’s as if the Lakers, Heat, Celtics and Bulls played a basketball tournament against Canadian University teams, and attendance was 10 times that of the NBA finals.

I’m not complaining, I’m just observing.

WHAT THE...? Is Glenn Howard getting heckled by the green spacemen? His aunt? Who knows?

It’s the 30th Anniversary of the Brier Patch. I know this because it’s available on a T-Shirt. This led me to wonder if beer was consumed at these events before 1982 – and I’d suspect it was. The logo for Brier Bear adorns the T-shirts that are available for children. But the Bear, in the logo, is wearing skates. So far, no one has been able to explain the reason why, but it will be a quest for this week to find the answer.  Another quest-like question: what is the maximum number of logos that can appear on the ice surface? (I lost count at 74).

In other logo-related news, Saskatchewan third Tyler Lang, was seen photographed wearing a Toronto Blue Jays cap after his team’s come-from-behind win in the provincial final (steals in both 10 and 11 against Bruce Korte). I know this because it was a widely-circulated photo, with the four guys clutching the Sask trophy, and it also appeared on the cover of the March issue of The Curling News, owner of this here website blog. Thanks to this widely-circulated photo, Tyler has apparently received a plethora of Jays-related SWAG from the baseball team itself, which he unfortunately cannot wear at the Brier due to even rules on logos (he’s now sporting a nifty green cap adorned with “SASK”, see bottom photo). His is one of five caps I counted on the heads of curling athletes during the Sunday evening draw – of seven in total, I believe. Tyler gets my vote for “Best Cap” award at this year’s Brier, with BC’s Jim Cotter and his plain, ordinary blue cap clearly in last place.

In actual curling news, Newfoundland skip Brad Gushue starts out 0-3 and their locker room cannot be a happy place. They can take solace that these losses came at the hands of other contenders and, of the heavy favourites, only Alberta and Kevin Koe remains on their schedule. In 2007, Gushue started 1-3 and then came within one brain-fart call in the ninth end of the final to possibly leaving Ontario’s Glenn Howard with an 0-5 mark on their Brier finals resume, instead of 1-4.

Koe looks strong so far, and not just Kevin. The Territories’ Jamie Koe, Kevin’s kid brother, sits at 2-1 after an upset win over Ontario.  The favourite coming in, Howard and new/old teammate Wayne Middaugh haven’t looked sharp (photo above) and were lucky that Gushue threw a draw against them on his ninth-end hit on Sunday night. The steal of two helped Ontario to an extra-end win and the avoidance of a 1-2 start. Nova Scotia started 3-0 but they dropped a game to New Brunswick in the evening draw and have yet to play Manitoba, Alberta, Newfoundland or Ontario.

Ladies and gentlemen: your Best Cap award winner

Sask skip Scott Manners (top photo), the “tweener” from Lloydminster who’s spent most of his curling days battling in Alberta, has looked calm and relaxed, as has his rookie squad. The crowd is clearly behind them, though I expect come Sunday’s final they’ll be cheering for another Saskatchewan native, playing in the blue and yellow of Alberta. Pat Simmons represented Saskatchewan five times at the Brier and now throws third stones for Kevin Koe. Pat will be looking for history to repeat this week: the last Saskatoon Brier was won by Mark Dacey, a Saskatchewan guy wearing a different uniform (Nova Scotia).

Saskatoon appears to be a great host so far, as I would expect. I’m not sure if it’s been made public, but we appear to have a Brier “rotation” similar to the way the Royal & Ancient manages the (British) Open Golf Championship. A five-city tour: Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina and Winnipeg combines with  two or three other locations (Halifax, Ottawa and London in recent years) to round out a seven-year cycle. This makes economic sense, I expect, but I’d love to see them attempt a Toronto or Montreal Brier. Perhaps one day, but for now, I’ll celebrate with Saskatoon.

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Vol. 55 Issue 5: March 2012

  • Layout 1ON THE COVER

    Brier 2012 is poised to begin, and the rookie skips are ready. Saskatchewan’s Scott Manners even has a publicist

  • LOVE THY CURLING TEAM

    Guy Scholz harkens back to our February LOVE issue with tales of the team, aka the curling sanctuary

  • THE CURLING NEWSDESK

    The overhaul and reopening of the Turner Curling Museum… Hart vs Hebert: the ultimate “dumping” debate… As David Nedohin cheers his wife at the STOH, he reminisces about and pinpoints the death of CurlTV… R-Diddy a viral curling sensation… and more

  • THE CURLING NEWS TV GUIDE

    The Brier, world women’s, world juniors online and ESPN Classic repeats: all of March’s curling television coverage listed for your viewing pleasure

  • THEY SAID IT

    Martin, Middaugh, Stoughton, McEwen, Hebert, Korab, Fowler, Rennie, Los Compadres and more: our popular collection of quotable quotes from around the curling world – including online

  • CONTEST ALERT

    WIN a chance to play against Skins/World Champions Team Kevin Koe at your local curling facility!

  • CURLING IN AMERICA

    Behind the scenes at the NFL Super Bowl’s “Command Center of Curling”

  • MOVE OVER, JENNIFER

    The other Jones, Colleen, reunites her squad with Sochi 2014 in mind

  • CURLING AT A NEW LEVEL

    Roger Schmidt has been to the mountain, and curled on it. A breathless report from an outdoor event in the Italian alps

  • THE DOMINION CLUB CORNER

    The Crystal Heart bonspiel showed no fear, and embraced positive change

  • THE MIND GAME

    In the first edition of our new Strategy department, Saskatchewan skip Braeden Moskowy got way too excited at the start of a game – and it cost him

  • WE GET MAIL: TEAM TWITTER

    They emerged from their computers and mobile devices and curled – together – in Rochester, New York

  • CAMPER CONFIDENCE SOARS

    HOT SHOTS curling campers of all skill levels take a crash course in the Roaring Game – and see immediate success

  • …and More! Don’t delay, subscribe today!