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Curling fans labelled “the worst”

Hardcore fans of televised curling have been declared “the worst” – worse than hockey fans – according to a new book by former CBC executive vice president Richard Stursberg.

The Great TV Curling Debacle began early in 2005, after the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation had negotiated a new television deal with the Canadian Curling Association. The Sports Network (TSN), which had been first to demand a new all-or-nothing coverage deal, was completely excluded.

Cue the screaming, crying and – as Stursberg writes below – an incredible level of abuse.

Less than a year later, the deal had been broken apart and TSN was back in, sharing power with CBC.

Less than a year after that, the CCA and TSN signed a new deal and the CBC was out.

Stursberg’s time at CBC was certainly controversial and his duties started in the fall of 2004, just as the CBC was planning its exclusive curling coverage. The resulting debacle ranks as one of the most bizarre stories in sport television history in addition to one of curling’s greatest embarrassments, and the timing of this book comes just a few months after another CBC curling embarrassment. Here’s an excerpt from the book, The Tower of Babble: Sins, Secrets and Successes Inside the CBC.

Curling fan rage “utter incoherence”

by Richard Stursberg

Two weeks after we lost the Olympic bid, the roof fell in on curling.

We owned many of the most important properties, including the Brier and the Scott Tournament of Hearts. Unfortunately, we could not put all the games on the main channel. There were simply too many scheduling conflicts. In a brainwave of negligible proportions, we thought it might be a good idea to put the games that were being played during the week on Country Canada, a small digital specialty channel we owned.

At that time, Country Canada had only about a million subscribers and was located on a part of the cable dial so remote that finding it required a compass and orienteering equipment. Our plan was to use the curling properties to help sell Country Canada. We would start advertising well in advance of the tournament that if viewers wanted to watch the matches, they needed to phone their cable provider and order Country Canada.

The cable companies loved the idea, and we organized a sales and marketing campaign to support it.

We started three months ahead of the tournament. The cable companies promoted it. Their sales representatives in the call centres were briefed. We put bill-stuffers in the mail. We promoted its availability on our sports shows. We advertised in rinks around the country.

Everyone worked hard to make sure that all the curling fans knew that they had to subscribe to Country Canada. After three months, it was clear the campaign was a flop. Not nearly enough people signed up. There was no possibility that the hardcore curling fans would be able to see all the Brier matches.

With some trepidation, in late February 2005 we launched our coverage. No sooner did people discover that the games were inaccessible except on Country Canada than the shouting and moaning began.

Nobody knew where Country Canada was on their dial.

Nobody knew that they had to pay for it.

Nobody even knew what it was.

A torrent of angry letters, emails and phone calls began pouring into the CBC.

Remember this website?

The problem was compounded by the fact that the regulations governing Country Canada limited the amount of sports we could broadcast on any particular day. As a result, we sometimes switched away from the game before it was over. Thus, even those who managed to find Country Canada and subscribe to it were badly treated. Nobody could believe that we would leave the match before it ended, but we did.

The papers had a field day with the CBC’s bizarre incompetence.

There was much laughing at our expense. Even CBC radio covered the controversy in an aggressive and unpleasant way.

The principal flak-catchers for all the discontent that comes the CBC’s way are a group known as Audience Relations. They inhabit a windowless set of offices in one of the more obscure parts of the Toronto Broadcast Centre. The work is unenviable and their lives brutish.

All day, aggrieved viewers and listeners bombard them with complaints. A certain show is too sexy. Peter Mansbridge‘s tie is hideous. The correspondent in London is a communist. They hate the music on Radio 2.

Whatever. All day long, they sit there being lambasted by tidal waves of grievance and invective.

As the curling controversy mounted, it became clear that the Audience Relations department was imploding. Shell-shocked employees could be seen, trembling and glassy-eyed, stumbling out of their warren. They twitched and spooked like veterans of too many firefights.

Even their leader, normally proud and fearless, seemed tentative and jumpy, uncertain which way to direct his broken troops.

Nancy Lee and I decided to visit the wretches and buck them up with doughnuts and encouragement. They welcomed us with desperate enthusiasm. We listened to their tales. Some were near tears.

The enraged curling fans, it turned out, were the most abusive and unpleasant complainers they had ever had to deal with. One hardened veteran said she could not believe the invective.

“I could tell from her voice that she was old. It croaked and creaked. She called me ‘dearie’ and then described the CBC as a bunch of ‘poisonous toads’ and ‘s**t bags.’

“Another old lady screamed at me for five minutes. She told me to do terrible things to myself with a toilet brush. I have never been so abused by anyone.”

Our 2005 cover story on the patchwork deal

They showed me emails that consisted of strings of curses and maledictions, one expletive after another, brutal and angry. The viewers seemed sometimes in such a rage that they fell into utter incoherence.

“You are a pack of s**t-brained idiots. You cut away before the last end! What a collection of ignorant, stupid, ugly, demented, moronic pieces of crap. Death to the CBC. Death!”

The effect was startling. I had no idea that people could be so rude.

“Is this typical?” I asked. “Is this what happens if we have an outage during a hockey game?”

“Oh, no,” they said, “the curling fans are the worst. Far and away the worst. Hockey fans are never as bad. And the old ladies are the worst, far and away.”

As the firestorm progressed, the advertisers were also getting clobbered by the unhappy fans. Some seemed to feel that Scott paper was responsible – it was, after all, the Scott Tournament of Hearts.

They threatened not to buy any more Scott paper. For its part, Scott was, not surprisingly, quite upset with the whole sorry business. As the fiasco unfolded, they were being towed under with us.

I called the head of Scott’s marketing department to apologize and engage in some mea culpa. Scott was a big and important customer of the CBC. I explained that we were blitzing the country with ads explaining where to find the games, that we would never again leave a game before it is over, that all the really big matches, the finals, would be on the main network, etc., etc., woof, woof.

His response was not warm. He clearly agreed with the curling fans that we were a collection of idiots, although he was too polite to put it that bluntly. Doubtless we would pay for our stupidity in the future.

The Canadian Curling Association, which owns the curling championships, was equally unhappy. They demanded that we turn the property over to TSN. We refused.

They announced that they would unilaterally abrogate our contract with them. We threatened to sue them. They said rude things to us. We turned the whole mess over to the lawyers. Eventually we realized that the relationship was beyond repair and released them.

They signed almost immediately with TSN.

From the book The Tower of Babble: Sins, Secrets and Successes Inside the CBC, ©2012. Published in 2012 by Douglas & McIntyre: an imprint of D&M Publishers Inc. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

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2012 Players’ Championship: The Finale

John Epping fist-pumps upon victory

SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. – John Epping of Toronto scored the winning point on his last shot to defeat Glenn Howard of Coldwater, Ont. in the men’s final of the 2012 Sun Life Financial Players’ Championship at Credit Union Place.

Epping’s squad from the Donalda Club scored three in the second end for a 3-1 lead, and looked good for a critical deuce in the sixth end until Epping’s last stone caught a piece of debris, scoring only one for a 6-4 lead.

Howard’s Brier and world championship foursome managed a deuce in the seventh end for a 6-6 tie but Epping faced only a draw to the full eight-foot rings on his last throw, and made it perfectly.

Epping’s unexpected run to victory saw him beat Howard earlier in the round-robin, and he also eliminated Edmonton’s Kevin Martin in the semifinal by scoring three in the seventh end and then stealing the eighth.

Epping’s team of Scott Bailey, David Mathers and Howard’s son Scott Howard cashed $28,000 for the win and another $10,000 for finishing third in the Capital One Cup race, which celebrates Grand Slam prowess.

“It’s a dream, this is something you dream of as a kid,” said the 29-year-old Epping. “When you look at the event, I don’t think anyone could pick us to win this, and probably a lot of people didn’t pick us to make the playoffs. “But we’ve had a good season, we worked hard. We had a bit of a slump, a couple weeks where we didn’t play so well, but the boys were so resilient, they came back. What a way to finish the year. We get go out on such a high and the expectations are going to be probably higher next year and that’s what it’s all about.”

Despite the loss, worth $32,000, Howard was still a big winner in Summerside. Earlier in the final Grand Slam event of the season he clinched the Capital One Cup’s $50,000 men’s top prize as well as the 2011-12 Canadian Team Ranking System (CTRS) points crown, which gives his team a direct berth into the 2013 Canadian Olympic trials.

There's that coach! Horning in again!

“To win a couple of Grand Slams, the provincial, Brier, worlds, Capital One cup, trials spot, you always have all those goals in mind, but you never think you would get them all so I couldn’t be happier,” said Howard, who is back at work at his Beer Store management job on Tuesday morning. “Obviously we came up a little short here but John outplayed us, and we had a few misses we shouldn’t have and lo-and-behold, they pulled it off and congratulations to them. They had a great week.”

Saturday’s Sun Life women’s final saw Saskatoon’s Stefanie Lawton defeat Cathy Overton-Clapham of Winnipeg 7-2 to win the $28,000 top prize and a total $53,000 cash haul. Overton-Clapham’s silver finish was good enough to clinch the women’s Capital One Cup title, and she cashed a total of $74,000 for the week.

Edmonton’s Heather Nedohin missed the playoffs but still clinched the CTRS women’s title, and a berth into the 2013 Canadian Olympic trials.

Other top money winners included semifinalists Martin ($41,000), Jennifer Jones and Mike McEwen of Winnipeg ($27,000 each) and Sherry Middaugh of Coldwater, Ont. ($15,000).

At the fourth-end break of Sunday’s men’s final, Beth Tetreault of Thessalon, Ont. threw a single stone in an attempt to win CDN $1 million. Tetreault was the finalist in the fourth annual Capital One Million Dollar Button contest after emerging from a pool of qualifiers on Saturday.

Tetrault’s stone failed to reach the target, and she was consoled with a $5,000 prize. The six contest semi-finalists were Tegan Stride of Bedeque, PEI, Bill McCormick of Kingston, Ont., Shannon Anderson of Dawson Creek, BC, and online contest entrants Michael Laird and Emilia Borrrelli of Edmonton and Dan Robichaud of Saint John, NB.

The Capital One Million Dollar Button is Canada’s first-ever million dollar curling contest – and if curling fans are lucky, it will be returning for a fifth season this coming fall. Full contest details are available at:milliondollarbutton.ca.

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2012 Players’ Championship: Sunday

Stefanie Lawton (at right) and her winning team

SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. – It’s a rematch of Father versus Son in today’s men’s final of the 2012 Sun Life Financial Players’ Championship.

Back on Thursday, Glenn Howard‘s world champions lost to Toronto’s John Epping – the squad that features Glenn’s son Scott Howard at lead position. Now, following Saturday night’s semifinals, the two will tangle again – this time live on the Global Television network (12 noon ET).

Yesterday afternoon, the women’s crown went to Saskatoon’s Stefanie Lawton, a 7-3 winner over Winnipeg’s Cathy Overton-Clapham. Lawton scored a first prize of $28,000 for the victory.

“It means a lot to us to win this event, we never have,” said Lawton, who lost the Saskatchewan women’s provincial final back in January. “And to be out here at the end of the season and still still curling well definitely means a lot. It feels great.”

Overton-Clapham scored $24,000 in runner-up winnings but also claimed the 2012 Capital One Cup, which signifies excellence in the four capital One Grand Slam of Curling events throughout the season. The title is accompanied by $50,000 top prize, meaning her team actually took home the biggest women’s cheque of the week: a whopping $74,000.

So, Cathy… how you doin’?

And Slider loves you, too!

“(It’s) pretty awesome, amazing, (I) never thought we’d ever have a chance to win that much money in curling,” said Cathy-O. “We’re really fortunate to have Capital One on board and that we were in the running for it. We’re really excited. It’s very overwhelming, to be honest with you.”

Overton-Clapham won the Autumn Gold Classic in Calgary in October and then qualified for the semi-finals in the Manitoba Lotteries Classic in her hometown of Winnipeg to sit first in the Capital One Cup rankings heading into Summerside. Lawton finished second, worth another $25,000, and Jennifer Jones placed third. ($10,000).

Subject to official confirmation from the Canadian Curling Association, Heather Nedohin of Edmonton has clinched the 2011-12 Canadian Team Ranking System (CTRS) points total, and with that a direct berth into the 2013 Canadian Olympic Trials in Winnipeg. Sherry Middaugh needed to win the 2012 Sun Life Financial Players’ Championship title to pass Nedohin, but lost in in Saturday morning’s semi-finals after eliminating Nedohin in a tie-breaker on Friday night.

And now, back to today’s men’s finalists. How did they get there?

Well, folks, Hogtown’s John Epping made a rather stunning semifinal comeback of improbable proportions, upsetting Edmonton’s Kevin Martin by a 6-4 count. Epping trailed 4-2 in the seventh end – these are eight-end games, don’t forget – when a missed hit by Martin allowed Epping to score three and take a 5-4 lead. In the final end, Martin had tough double-takeout for two points and the win, but his last stone didn’t curl enough, and Epping ended up with the victory.

Epping pulled a Zowie on the Old Bear

A win like that over K-Mart is rare enough, but consider this: the Martin Men scored two in the first end, a lead that is typically safe for the team. Very, very safe. In fact, going into last night’s game the team – which was formed in 2006 – boasted an astonishing 98-1 won/loss record when scoring two in the first end with the hammer.

Zowie!

“Wow, that’s a crazy stat,” said a stunned Epping. “They just hit so well, I think he’s the best in the game in managing the scoreboard. It’s shocking, but the way he plays, I guess it doesn’t surprise me. I’m glad to be number two.”

“We got really lucky that Kevin whiffed that hit (in the seventh end). We thought we had a deuce in line and after Scott (Howard) threw his we thought he would make that double. (Martin) threw a couple that he didn’t throw as well as he usually does and then his last one he gave us enough room to pick it clean.”

In the other semi, Howard advanced to the final with a 7-3 win over Winnipeg’s Mike McEwen. Howard hit for two points in the first end, then forced McEwen to draw for a single point in the second. In the third end Howard laid the big hurt, hitting for four points and taking a 6-1 lead.

The semifinal victory  for Howard clinched the men’s Capital One Cup and the $50,000 top prize winnings. On Friday, Team Howard clinched the 2011-12 men’s CTRS rankings crown, and with that – subject to official CCA confirmation, of course – the second men’s berth into the 2013 Canadian Olympic trials.

A win today would give Howard one the best – and most lucrative – two months of curling ever seen in the sport.

Once again, today’s final will be hosted by play-by-play man Don Landry and colour analyst Don Duguid, although second analyst Cheryl Bernard is unable to make it.  Make sure you tune in for the final major of the season!

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2012 Players’ Championship: Saturday

Duguid, Bernard and Landry rehearse for today's big show

SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. – There will be a new women’s titleholder at the 2012 Sun Life Financial Players’ Championship.

Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones lost in the semifinals this morning to Saskatoon’s Stefanie Lawton by a 6-3 score. Leading 4-2 after four ends of play, Lawton tallied a killer steal in the fifth frame and then managed to hold Jones to a single in the sixth.

Lawton’s opponent in the final will be another Winnipeg squad skipped by Cathy Overton-Clapham. Cathy O scored an enormous 7-6 extra-end victory over Sherry Middaugh of Coldwater, Ont. in the other semi. The result also knocks Middaugh out of contention for the 2011-12 Canadian Team Ranking System (CTRS) crown, which includes a direct berth into the 2013 Canadian Olympic Trials.

Middaugh had eliminated CTRS points leader Heather Nedohin of Edmonton is Friday night’s tiebreaker.

Today’s final (12 noon eastern time on Canada’s Global Television network) will not matter regarding the trials berth; according to sources, Nedohin has clinched the CTRS points crown and with that the second women’s direct berth into Winnipeg 2013. Naturally there is quite a bit of mathematics involved, and the Canadian Curling Association needs to give the final word, so consider this to be about, oh, 90 per cent accurate.

Today’s final will mark the debut of one of the most interesting television commentary teams ever assembled for the sport of curling. Former CBC and current NBC Olympic analyst Don Duguid, who skipped the 1970 and 1971 Brier and world championship teams, will be partnered with 2010 Olympic silver medallist Cheryl Bernard, while Toronto-based sports host – and curling fiend – Don Landry handles the play-by-play.

This should be interesting!

Tonight’s men’s semifinals, by the way, will feature Toronto’s John Epping, Winnipeg’s Mike McEwen, Edmonton’s Kevin Martin and world champions Glenn Howard of Coldwater, Ont. Action gets underway at 7:30pm eastern time; check this page later for the semifinal matchups.

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2012 Players’ Championship: Friday

Team John Epping is now 4-1 at The Players'

SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. – It’s Fabulous Friday at Credit Union Place and with the weekend’s finals looming large, each and every game at today’s $370,000 Sun Life Financial Players’ Championship is enormous.

This morning, John Epping of Toronto crushed 2011 world champion Jeff Stoughton of Winnipeg by a 7-1 score in just five ends. Now armed with a 4-1 won/loss record, Epping has defeated Kevin Koe (7-6 in an extra-end last night) as well as the pre-event number one, Mike McEwen plus brand-new world champion Glenn Howard. As Fast Eddie Lukowich might say, “Zowie.”

Team Epping, if you recall, started off the season with quite a bang but by December they had fallen off the radar, and they eventually missed qualifying for their provincial championship. Now, clearly, the squad is back in form.

Meanwhile, McEwen has won three games in a row following an awful 0-2 start. This morning, the Winnipeggers upended mighty Kevin Martin of Edmonton by a 6-4 count, dropping the defending Players’ men’s champs to 4-1.

In addition, Howard has lost another one! Team Niklas Edin of Sweden, who have New Brunswicker James Grattan skipping in Summerside, beat the champs 5-3 for their first win of the week. Team Howard is now 3-2.

Things are getting interesting, folks. But that’s not all.

Coach Russ leans into the scene

On the women’s side, Winnipeg’s Cathy Overton-Clapham is undefeated at 6-0 and is booked into the semifinals. What’s the secret to their success, one wonders? Perhaps it’s the coach – some guy named Russ Howard (photo at left)?

Russ’ daughter Ashley Howard plays front end for Cathy O, in case you didn’t know.

Meanwhile, the sideshow between Edmonton’s Heather Nedohin and Sherry Middaugh of Coldwater, Ont. continues. As of Thursday evening, Nedohin had rebounded from her 0-2 start and posted three straight wins, the latest an 8-6 victory over winless Chelsea Carey. At the same time, Middaugh‘s foursome dropped a 6-5 decision to Stefanie Lawton (4-2) of Saskatoon and that put Middaugh at 2-3. That’s not a good place to be when you’re trying to snatch the 2011-12 Canadian Team Ranking System (CTRS) berth into the 2013 Canadian Olympic trials away from, er, Heather Nedohin.

But lo and behold, there was a sole women’s match on the ice late last night in Summerside… and it featured Middugh versus Nedohin. And in a must-win game for Middaugh her troops claimed a 4-2 victory, and that leaves the two Olympic dreamers with 3-3 won/loss records heading into today’s games.

Zowie!

But forget Jennifer Jones, folks. After a 1-2 start the defending Players’ champs are now 4-2 after a thumping of Scotland’s Eve Muirhead. And why would you forget Lawton, since her squad is 4-2 as well?

Yo! Bear! When's the playoffs?

So… which of today’s remaining games are our picks for Titanic status? In other words, those that are simply Not To Be Missed?

11:00am ET: Jones vs Overton-Clapham – for those who still love the rivalry

2:30pm ET: Stoughton vs Gushue – Stoughton has ex-Gushue third Mark Nichols going up against his old skipper

2:30pm ET: Howard vs Martin – the classic head-to-head battle

2:30pm ET: Koe vs McEwen – the head-to-head battle of the future?

2:30pm and 6:30pm ET: Women’s Tiebreakers – if necessary, of course

6:30pm ET: Howard vs Koe – the Brier final redux

As for the playoffs, the women’s semis (and any required men’s tiebreakers) get underway Saturday morning at 7:30am ET, with the women’s final at 12 noon ET on Global Television. The men’s semis take place Saturday night at 6:30pm ET, with the men’s final on Sunday at 12 noon ET on Global Television.

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2012 Players’ Championship: Thursday

This photo had to pose a lighting challenge

SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. – Heather Nedohin has the Canadian Olympic trials berth in her sights, and Cathy O is Five-And-Oh.

The $370,000 Sun Life Financial Players’ Championship is in full roar at Credit Union Place, and as the final major of the 2011-12 curling season, the excitement is holding its own against warm weather and NHL hockey playoffs.

Cathy Overton-Clapham of Winnipeg improved her leading women’s record to 5-0 with a 4-3 win over hard-luck Chelsea Carey. Three extra-end losses on Wednesday, coupled with the last-rock loss to Overton-Clapham has made this a tough week for the Morden, Man. skip who dropped to 0-5. With her last stone of the match, Overton-Clapham had shot stone buried behind a guard, and Carey’s final throw slid a foot too heavy.

Nedohin, of Edmonton, moved to 2-2 with a 7-6 extra-end win over Stefanie Lawton (3-2) of Saskatoon, and the match was a humdinger. Lawton stole the first end when Nedohin missed a double-takeout, and then the Edmonton foursome scored with a two-point draw in the second when Lawton’s tap attempt overcurled, exposing the four-foot rings.

Sh*tballs! Now we're 2-2!

After trading singles, Lawton scored a deuce of her own for a 4-3 lead. The sixth end proved to be huge, as Nedohin scored three: Lawton’s last rock was heavy and bounced off two Nedohin stones in the back of the four-foot, leaving the Edmonton skip a hit for the 6-4 lead.

Lawton scored a single in the seventh end, and then stole the tying point in the eighth end when Nedohin only removed one stone on her last-shot double to win. However, the STOH champions made a brilliant draw to the button on their last stone to win the game in the extra frame.

Nedohin needs to reach the semi-finals to clinch a berth into the 2013 Canadian Olympic Trials. If Sherry Middaugh (Coldwater, Ont.) is to snatch the berth, she needs a) to win the Sun Life Financial Players’ Championship and b) Nedohin to miss the playoffs.

Middaugh didn’t help her cause and dropped to a 2-2 won/loss record after losing her Thursday morning game to Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones (3-2) by an 8-4 count.

Jones gave up a steal in the first end when her draw crashed on a guard in front of the house, but responded with a runback for two in the second end. Jones stole another point in the third end when Middaugh, who was facing multiple points on her last stone, was forced to make a draw to concede one.

After getting two back in the fourth end with a draw, the critical blow for Middaugh came in the sixth when Jones notched a deuce to take a 5-3 lead.

In the other early morning women’s match, Silvana Tirinzoni (3-2) of Switzerland came from behind to to beat Scotland’s Eve Muirhead by a 9-7 count. It’s been a miserable week for the 1-4 Scots – Tirinzoni stole a pair in an extra-end for the victory.

Behold Mark Nichols, as a Stoughtonite!

Meanwhile, the men are slowly but surely catching up to the women in number of games played. In the second of four Thursday draws, Kevin Martin (3-0) of Edmonton won the battle of Olympic golden boys with a 4-2 result over Brad Gushue (1-2) of St. John’s; Mike McEwen defeated fellow Winnipegger Jeff Stoughton by a 4-3 scoreline (both are now 1-2) and Kevin Koe (2-1) of Edmonton earned a 6-3 win over the winless Team Niklas Edin (skipped this week by new Brunwick’s  James Grattan).

In the fourth men’s matchup, John Epping of Toronto scored a major upset victory – by a 6-3 count – over provincial rival and world champion Glenn Howard of Coldwater, Ont. Both squads are now at 2-1.

Howard’s son Scott, who served as alternate on his father’s world championship squad two weeks ago in Basel, Switzerland, plays second for Team Epping.

The elder Howard struggled early, and came up short on a draw in the first end against one Epping stone. Things took a strange turn for the worst two ends later, as Howard third Wayne Middaugh missed a takeout after falling in his delivery, which was followed by a Howard miss. The bizarre scenario resulted in a steal of two points for a 3-0 Epping lead.

Other highlight matches today will see Jones take on Muirhead (3:00pm eastern time), McEwen face off against Gushue (6:30pm ET) and a battle between the last two world champions, 2011’s Stoughton and new kingpin Howard (also at 6:30pm ET).

ATLANTIC PRIDE: Grattan and Gushue

In other Players’ news, our friends at CurlingZone have hogtied a couple of video cameras to the statistician’s desk, and this means that rabid curling fans can check out the on-ice action from both the home end and also the away end. It’s anything but fancy, but it just might satisfy those too impatient to wait for the weekend finals on Global TV.

And that’s not all, folks: the Players’ Championship will also host the Capital One Junior Draw to the Button contest, which involves local youth curlers, as well as the popular Capital One Million Dollar Button… in which even semifinalists will compete for the chance – and only one person will get that chance – to draw to the button and win big.

How big? How about $1 million?

But how did these contest winners make it to Summerside, you ask? Heres’ the scoop: three qualified from the previous Capital One Grand Slam of Curling events: the World Cup of Curling in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., the Canadian Open in Kingston, Ont., and The National in Dawson Creek, BC.  Three additional names were drawn from online entries on the contest website (at milliondollarbutton.ca). And the seventh and final entrant will be declared here in Summerside in the next few hours.

And who are the six MDB contestants to date? Here they are:

Beth Tretreault of Thessalon, Ont. (World Cup qualifier)

Bill McCormick of Kingston, Ont. (Canadian Open qualifier)

Shannon Anderson of Dawson Creek, BC (The National qualifier)

Michael Laird of Edmonton (online qualifier)

Dan Robichaud of Saint John, NB (online qualifier)

Emilia Borrrelli of Edmonton (online qualifier)

Best of luck, everyone!

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2012 Players’ Championship: Wednesday

Sh*tballs! We're 0-2!

Two draws are in the books at the 2012 Sun Life Financial Players’ Championship, and given the small field – eight men’s teams and eight women’s teams – the early results are more important than in previous editions of this event.

For example, STOH champion and world bronze medallist Heather Nedohin of Edmonton is 0-2, after a 3-2 loss on Tuesday night to Switzerland’s Silvana Tirinzoni and a Wednesday morning loss to Winnipeg’ Cathy Overton-Clapham, who is now 2-0.

Remember, all Nedohin has to do to claim the second women’s CTRS (Canadian Team Rankings System) berth into the 2013 Canadian Olympic trials is win at least three of her seven round-robin games this week in P.E.I.

Now, that might seem easy enough to do for the reigning Canadian champions but, again, the field is small – and it boasts the top-ranked teams on the World Curling Tour this season. As such, the Ned Gang can’t be too pleased with their start in Summerside, PEI.

A pick dearly cost Muirhead (crouching)

It’s Ontario’s Sherry Middaugh, along with Cathy O, who stand to benefit the most from any Nedohin struggles. Middaugh sits second in the CTRS points race and Cathy O sits third, which shows just how strong their seasons were despite both not competing in the Canada Cup nor the STOH/worlds.

And Middaugh also sits at 2-0 after wins over Chelsea Carey (Morden, Man.) and Eve Muirhead. The Scottish star is already at 0-2 after a great winning shot from Overton-Clapham on Tuesday night and an unfortunate pick this morning against Middaugh, which resulted in a steal of three – and which could have been five!

Fewer eyes might be on Saskatoon’s Stefanie Lawton coming into the event, but her troops are now 2-0 after a huge 7-2 victory over defending Players’ champion Jennifer Jones and another win (7-5) over the Swiss.

Jones, meanwhile, has just defeated arch-rival Carey (now 0-2) by a 7-6 count to even her record at 1-1.

Women’s draw three continues at 10:00am local time while the men’s first draw begins, with Brad Gushue of St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador (with local P.E.I. hero Brett Gallant throwing third) taking on 2011 world champion Jeff Stoughton of Winnipeg, and Sweden’s Team Niklas Edin (with New Brunswick’s James Gratten replacing the injured skip) battling Brier finalist Kevin Koe of Edmonton.

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Sun Life Financial jumps into curling

Sun Life Financial has joined the national curling scene

The 2012 Players’ Championship starts tonight in Summerside, Prince Edward Island and the big news of the day, just announced by the Capital One Grand Slam of Curling, is that a new title sponsor has been announced – just in time for the event and the weekend finals on Global Television.

“Sun Life Financial is delighted to announce our relationship with The Players’ Championship of curling,” said Mary De Paoli, EVP and Chief Marketing Officer of Sun Life Financial.

“The Sun Life Financial Players’ Championship is a natural fit for us as curling is a truly iconic Canadian sport and this event features the best curlers in the world.”

This marks Sun Life Financial’s first foray into big-league curling on a national level. They already sponsor one of the World Curling Tour’s most popular eastern stops – the Sun Life Classic – but the odds are good that this sponsorship comes from the local level (Brantford, Ontario). Ditto for the previous Sun Life Classic, aka the one in Thunder Bay, Ontario that enjoyed its heyday in the 1980s and 90s.

You can check out The Curling News blogstar Kim Tuck’s firsthand account of the Brantford Sun Life experience here and here.

“We’re very pleased to welcome Sun Life Financial as the official title sponsor of The Sun Life Financial Players’ Championship,” said Kevin Albrecht, Chief Executive Officer of the Grand Slam of Curling. “The Sun Life Financial Players’ Championship has an exciting new format this year as for the first time ever, the top right teams on the world rankings will battle it out for the largest prize purse in curling. The combined purse for the men’s and women’s divisions, including the year-end Capital One Cup, will be $370,000.”

As we told you recently, the men’s and women’s finals of The Players’ will be broadcast live April 21-22, beginning at 12:00pm (eastern time) on the Global Television national network.

“The field for The Sun Life Financial Players’ Championship is definitely the toughest we have faced all year.” said Kevin Martin, 2010 Olympic champion and the defending men’s Players’ champion. “It is such a difficult event to win as every game is against a team ranked in the top eight in the world.”

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2012 World Men: Medal games

by Rodger Schmidt

CCA photo by Michael Burns (click on image to view larger)

CAN vs SCO – one more time for gold

BASEL, Switzerland – Tom Brewster and Scotland had a long day on Saturday, but all that really matters to them now is that they are in the World final– again.

About 360 days ago this same lineup was in this same position against a Canadian team led by Jeff Stoughton. Brewster will be coming in to the final with confidence after his Saturday at the St. Jakobshalle. Glenn Howard and company looked occasionally vulnerable at times on the frosty pond called Sheet B, and Brewster had superb draw weight, and who knows might have happened had his draw in end six not forgotten to curl on its way in to the four-foot.

This left Howard a dramatic double-takeout for four points which seemed to end the game, however, no one told Brewster… and it wasn’t until Howard finally hit the four foot with a draw in the extra-end that Howard could make plans for the Sunday final.

Whether conscious or dreaming, Brewster and Co. spent the night contemplating how offensive they should be in the grand finale.. The Scottish skip has the draw shots to do it but will he put it all on the line every end – or wait for Howard to give him something before makes a move?

*      *      *

The ice over the last two days has been extremely frosty due to the warm, wet weather in Switzerland and the inability of the facility to keep the climate outside. This made for a number of flat-ice picks, or frost-ice picks, in the back half of the 1-2 playoff and semifinal games. It caused Howard to give up a steal on end 10 of his 1-2 game and it led Sweden to get in trouble and give up three points to Scotland on end five of their semifinal .

Based on the weather report anything could happen on Sunday. The ice crew has brought in additional mobile dehumidifiers and parked them along the sides of the sheets in an effort to suck water out of the building, but it is anyone’s guess as to how effective they are.

*      *      *

12 teams began the title hunt a week ago, and it’s telling that the four teams remaining in this competition are the teams that most people would have expected to be here.

These four squads have played the most competitive games over the past few seasons and they are the most “game-hardened” teams in Basel; as such there is a clear divide between these four and the other eight. The world is changing and it will become more and more difficult for teams that can’t afford the time and money to play as semi-professionals to break in to the top four ever again in these competitions. Nations aspiring for future Olympic Winter Games will be further challenged to break with tradition, and restructure programs in order to build teams and maintain programs over a longer period of time.

*      *      *

As I reported in my column in the April issue of The Curling News, the World Curling Federation has a new Vice President following the resignation of Patrick Hürlimann. The Swiss skip who led his team to Olympic gold back in 1998, has decided that family – and feeding them – comes first, and thus decided he could not continue as a future Presidential candidate, nor even to continue as a board member.

The WCF has elected Bent Ramsfjell of Norway to replace him as VP.

Interestingly, Ramsfjell is a Olympic gold medallist too – he won his as lead for Pal Trulsen in 2002. This setting of standards for future WCF Vice Presidents means the next VP is 75 per cent likely to come from Newfoundland.

 

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Kelly Scott seeking new lead

Look to the stars, Kelly – ye may find a lead!

Kelowna skip Kelly Scott has lost a player and is recruiting for a new lead in a run to the 2013 Olympic Trials.

Are you a female curler who lives in British Columbia?

Well, then… she just might want YOU!

As told to The Curling News, lead Jacquie Armstrong has stepped away from the high-performance curling grind after three years with Team Scott.

Armstrong, who helped Scott win the last three B.C. STOH titles and finish second at last February’s national shootout in Red Deer, has her eye on work and family – and less curling.

“It was an incredibly difficult decision for me to make,” Armstrong told The Curling News.

“I love the game, the competition and especially my teammates but my work is becoming ever more demanding on my time, and it’s been more difficult to juggle family, a career and curling.

“Making a commitment I knew I truly couldn’t deliver on wouldn’t be fair to anybody,” Armstrong continued. “Next season I’ll be watching and cheering on ‘my girls’ and who knows, I just might take the toaster circuit by storm.”

“Everything is on super terms,” Scott told The Curling News. “We will miss Jacquie’s contributions to this team but we completely understand that curling has to be her third priority right now.”

Jacquie Armstrong

Armstrong will probably remain affiliated with the team as the fifth member.

Meanwhile, third thrower Dailene Sivertson has chosen another route and has departed the squad to explore other options. Sivertson’s spot in the lineup will be filled by a very familiar face – longtime Scott third Jeanna Schraeder, who sat out the entire 2011-12 season to focus on the birth to her third child.

That leaves Scott, Schraeder and Sasha Carter looking for a lead for next season and beyond – and this is an active and very public search.

“(We) are thrilled to announce (that we are) teaming up for another run together,” said a team statement. “(We) are excited to begin (our) nationwide search to round out their team at the lead position. (We) welcome any questions or interest; contact us via (our website).”

“We certainly have our sights set on the Pre-Trials, Trials and the Scotties,” Scott continued. “We really want to hear from any potential leads out there, and any interested players.”

Happy to help, Kelly. And there you go, folks; consider reaching out and sending a message to Team Kelly Scott –  they could be looking for you!

Kruger Products photos by Andrew Klaver (click on image to increase viewing size)