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Huge curling changes for Brier and more

Could this be ALTA vs CAN at the Brier?

by George Karrys

The world’s biggest national curling association issued a news release today, but the news itself was unlike any released in years. Indeed, the Canadian Curling Association is charting a new path into undiscovered waters – and with that, a harsh blow has been struck against curling’s biggest and loudest gorilla in the room.

We’re talking about tradition.

“The 2012 National Curling Congress was an excellent opportunity for our members across the country to come together in Ottawa (last) week,” said CCA boss Greg Stremlaw. “Our sport has so many success stories from the past year so it was rewarding for us to provide updates to the membership as well as celebrate accomplishments, including the CCA’s Hall of Fame Luncheon – the organization’s latest initiative.”

“With the final equitable opportunity to access Canadian Championships now approved, we were able to formalize exciting changes to the CCA’s two marquee properties, the Tournament of Hearts and the Brier.”

After decades of coast-to-coast arguments and more recent coast-to-coast-to-coast hyperbole – which led to a 2010 commitment to make the Canadian championships more equitable – the Canadian men’s (Brier) and women’s (STOH) grand events are finally in for big changes. The 2014 Brier winner will receive an automatic entry into the 2015 Brier as Team Canada, while a Northern Ontario women’s team will be added to the 2015 Tournament of Hearts.

This means that the Brier and STOH will become 15-team championships that are then whittled down to a “main” – and more familiar – 12-team event, echoing the changes made to the 2012 Canadian Mixed and Canadian Seniors. And the teams at the bottom of the Brier and STOH standings will have to play a qualifying event to win their way back in for the following season.

For traditionalists, this is surely the End Of The World come nigh. The most holy Brier Tankard could be lifted in triumph by a team that did little more than win the trophy the previous year. Thirteen of the 14 teams will still have to battle over weeks and months, from December through February, in city and zone and regional and provincial championships in order to qualify for the Brier – while one team gets a bye.

This has, of course, been deemed just fine and dandy in Canadian women’s curling since the early 1980s, when that Team Canada was first created. But the men, as befitting their proud status as the ultimate power base of the sport, have always approached the concept of a Brier Team Canada with something between curiosity and abject, red-faced horror.

And now the women get to keep their Team Canada, and like the men, will also have a Northern Ontario team to go along with separate squads from the Yukon Territory, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

And there’s more.

Jones and Howard: will they or won’t they?

Canada will finally join the rest of the world and host a national Mixed Doubles championship. This will happen very quickly, ie. this coming season, as the next World Mixed Doubles Championship will be hosted by Fredericton, New Brunswick, in April 2013. This is a rush job as the new championship has no dates, site location nor event structure to announce, and whatever gets thrown together will be reviewed after a two-year trial period.

The CCA will also be reviewing something else after 2013 and ’14 – the most interesting decision that normal Canadian residency rules will not apply for Mixed Doubles. This means that Ontario’s Glenn Howard can compete with Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones (photo at left); that Alberta’s John Morris can team with British Columbia’s Kelley Law; or that some city rivals – like Edmonton’s Kevin Martin and Calgary’s Cheryl Bernard – can perhaps bury the NHL hockey hatchet.

Presumably, until we hear otherwise, just about anything like this now goes – at least when it comes to Canadian Mixed Doubles.

But wait, there’s still more.

The biggest change to a new 2012-14 Rule Book will see the CCA incorporate “reverse timing” for all of its championships, where each team will be given 40 minutes of “thinking time” in which to play a 10-end game, plus five minutes to play an extra end.

This is the reverse of the traditional timing approach when each team was given 73 minutes to play, with the clock running from the time the opponent’s stones came to rest until the playing side’s stone stopped. The new approach marks the amount of time it takes to put a stone into play (or thinking time) versus the time a team is actually taking to play a shot.

This welcome change comes just two-or-so years after the World Curling Players’ Association adopted “thinking time” for its Capital One Grand Slam of Curling series, and gained immediate and near-universal support from athletes and coaches.

In other news, the CCA announced:

• A fifth consecutive year of positive financial outlook, to the tune of a $227,508 surplus;

• A $250,000 allocation into the Curling Assistance Program (CAP) in support of capital projects and membership growth;

• That Alberta won both the Dominion Member Association Cup (for excellence at national championships) and the Governors’ Cup, which marks the biggest year-to-year improvement (average point basis) at national championships;

• A formal Hall of Fame Induction Luncheon (held June 14) to honour the recent inductees to the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame – Pat Sanders of British Columbia, Millard Evans, Marv Wirth and Ken McLean of Alberta, and André  Ferland of Quebec;

• An updated Business Plan and Organizational Strategy for the Association; and

• The annual shuffle of Members of the Board of Governors, which sees New Brunswick’s Ron Hutton appointed as Chair; Nova Scotia’s Hugh Avery appointed as Vice-Chair; new Governors (five-year term) Yves Maillet of NB and Shirley Osborne of NS plus one-year term replacement Jim Mann of British Columbia; and retiring Governors Bernadette McIntyre (Saskatchewan) and Mitch Tarapasky (Manitoba).

One thing is certain: curling continues to embrace change, and the latest changes to CCA competitions show that very little in this ancient sport is sacred. Be sure to subscribe to receive your copy of the upcoming November 2012 issue of The Curling News for much more on these changes, as we’ll have updated details, poll results and tons of feedback from the names behind the game.

Event photos by Anil Mungal are copyright ® Capital One (Martin/Koe) and The Curling News (Howard/Jones). Click on each image to increase viewing size.

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$100K for SickKids curling

A Capital One Rocks & Rings junior clinic kicked things off

Boom.

Capital One Canada and the organizing committee for the 2012 Capital One Celebrity Bonspiel announced today that more than $100,000 was raised for SickKids Foundation at their third annual event, held June 1-2 in Toronto.

And the über-generous curling world can once again pat itself on the back.

Twenty-six celebrity curling skips made up of Canadian and international world champions, Olympians, and national and regional champions teamed with nearly 100 other recreational participants at the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club.

The total amount of monies raised now sits at $243,000+ in just three years.

“We are obviously delighted with the response from the event participants, sponsors and volunteers” said event co-chair Jeff Steski in a news release. “We did not expect to reach the six-figure mark in donations so early in the life of this event, but the generosity of the curling world has revealed itself once again.”

It’s not how you play – it’s how (good) you look!

The fourth annual Celebrity Bonspiel in support of SickKids Foundation will be held May 31 to June 1, 2013 at Toronto Cricket.

“We want to thank the curling community for once again opening their hearts and wallets to help support the SickKids Foundation,” said Ian Cunningham, aka the Grand Poobah of Curling at Capital One Canada.

“The money that has been raised will make a real difference in the lives of some very important kids.”

Winnipeg skip Mike McEwen captured the main event title with a victory over Silvana Tirinzoni of Switzerland. McEwen had previously won the third event trophy in 2011, at his first Bonspiel appearance.

Second event honours went to Ottawa’s Craig Savill who upended Winnipeg’s Reid Carruthers.

Savill – of course – is a member of Glenn Howard’s reigning 2012 world men’s championship team while Carruthers – of course – is a member of the 2011 world men’s championship squad led by Jeff Stoughton.

Savill also defeated event arch-rival Kaitlyn Lawes in opening-draw action, marking his third win over Lawes in consecutive years. As a consequence of her loss, Lawes was forced to wear an inflatable swim toy throughout the event (photo below) and also engage in other as-yet-unidentified embarrassments.

Kaitlyn Lawes with “Leif”

When questioned by The Curling News, Lawes admitted only that Savill’s victory meant that she had to “do stuff”.

In the third event final, Quebec veteran Pierre Charette, a six-time Brier competitor and the president of the World Curling Players’ Association, defeated 2012 U.S. men’s skip Heath McCormick, who resides in Sarnia, Ontario.

As readers might have guessed, this event demands a rather strict emphasis on fun. Each of the 26 participating teams consisted of a celebrity skip (ie. captain) who teamed with three recreational curlers, including first-time rookies.

Each participant registered individually for the Bonspiel, and undertook his or her own personal fundraising campaign.

McEwen’s victorious teammates were Henrik Londen and Roberta Minna of the host Cricket club, and Simon Elkin of Leaside.

In addition to title sponsor Capital One, the event was supported by BlackRock, iShares, Equifax, Raymond James, Goldline and some 56-year-old rag called The Curling News.

Event photos by Anil Mungal are copyright ® Capital One Celebrity Bonspiel and The Curling News. Click on each image to increase viewing size.

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World Curling Questionnaire

This column first appeared in the April 2012 print edition of The Curling News, and then appeared in the enhanced, supersized digital version of that issue – which can be read here.

It is republished here in blog format given the World Curling Federation’s active request for feedback, which can be accessed from here.

by Rodger Schmidt (March, 2012)

LETHBRIDGE, Alberta – As I observe Team Russia doing battle at the 2012 World Women’s Curling Championship (I’m one of their consultants) the deadline for this final column of the season looms large.

This screed was originally intended to focus on the recent departure of World Curling Federation vice president Patrick Hürlimann. The resignation of this influential executive committee member, who skipped Switzerland to men’s Olympic gold at Nagano 1998, was quite sudden and quite alarming to some – except for Canada, of course, who had deemed Hürlimann to be Public Enemy No. 1 in recent years. Or so I’m told.

Then I thought of providing a kind of questionnaire to our readers, centering on topics that should be explored in the off-season. It strikes me that we should not throw our curling shoes into the basement closet until September without scheduling some summer “State of The Game” pondering time.

It also strikes me that the sport is moving in two very different directions – north and south – and that this pondering should ask if, how and/or why the major organizations that govern this sport can engineer either one of these rail lines. The northbound train is fuelled by Olympic TV dollars, and carries the few elite curling athletes of the world – and their entourages – to places that curlers have never been before. This is a good ticket, if you can get one, for this train is bound for glory.

Heading in the opposite direction is the train of everyday curlers – recreational league players, club members and facility dues-payers – and this could soon be a funeral train, ie. the train in vain. This one is fuelled mainly by good people, making this the train of good intentions.

But alas, just as I was pulling my model train out of the station I was derailed by the World Curling Federation conductors, who have announced a questionnaire of their own. I am now up someone else’s track.

The WCF, of course, represents the sport internationally and facilitates the growth of the sport through a network of Member Associations – or so it says on their website. This puts WCF brass at the helm of the entire railroad, so questions about things like train schedules and routings are quite justified.

The good news for curling travellers is that the WCF is reaching out – to all of us. They want all curling commuters to give their input on some key rule changes that they are determined to implement some day. The next someday, incidentally, has been pushed back to just after the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, which is a mere two years away. However, the WCF needs your (and my) advice now, so we should all be quite eager to respond to this questionnaire.

The document is addressed to mostly northbound train riders – curling athletes, ex-athletes, coaches, media mavens, umpires, ice technicians et cetera – but I would strongly encourage southbound ticket holders, represented by the “Curling Fan” category, to give their views as well. Do visit the WCF website and seek out the questionnaire and do your part in helping the curling powers-that-be fix this game, once and for all.

If you don't click (see above link) you won't be heard...

The questions are based on the same concepts that have been volleyed about for the past decade. These are the same topics featured on the WCF AGM agenda two years ago in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, back when the Federation thought they could plow through their rules overhaul. On that confusing day in April 2010 those changes were pulled from the table, at the last minute, when it became clear that the member nations might not vote on the recommendations along party lines.

So here we go again, and stop me if you’ve heard these jewels before. There are six questions in this questionnaire and it can be summarized like this: The Fed wants the games shortened from 10 ends; they want sudden-death playoffs (not the Page playoff); they don’t want tie-breakers; they don’t want time-outs; they don’t want coaches (oh no!) and they don’t know how many Free Guard Zone stones – four or five? – should be allowed. But mostly, they want to be able to use your participatory scribblings to support these changes… so be aware, my friends, of what is going on here.

Sadly, there is not much here for the southbound train riders; they play fast enough, and they don’t need time-outs – or even playoffs. Their emphasis is on fun and recreation, with a bit of fitness thrown in, and hopefully – some day – the WCF will pay more attention to this train, and not leave its riders stranded.

On the other hand, it is good to see the WCF attempting to appeal to the broader base via its much-improved website. So take some summer time to ponder and let the World Curling Federation know where you stand. But don’t get railroaded – tell them which train you want to ride.