Terry Jones on the heartache that strikes all but two teams at the Canadian Olympic Trials
BEST OF THE BEST
A history of Canada’s Olympic Trials events – the results, the medals, the question: Which year saw the greatest field of all time?
ALTERNATE VIEW: “THIS STUFF IS B.S.”
Colin Hodgson worked hard as an Olympic Pre-Trials fifth player, but a notorious former Brier fifth says alternates take themselves too seriously
DEADLINE: REAL SOON
Here’s the big question: What are YOU planning to handle February’s Olympic bonanza of interest at your curling club? We’re guessing you haven’t even thought about it…
CURLING TV/WEB GUIDE
We’ve got Trials coverage, where to find the new WCF Olympic Qualifying Event, and more in our monthly guide to all things curling on TV and the web
Who won the grass court challenge… a holiday shopping list for the curling fan… Hodgy here, Hodgy there… Reaction to Thomas Ulsrud’s howler in Medicine Hat… Where does Team Howard (and perhaps John Morris) go after 2014… and more in our monthly Newsdesk section
WE WANNA BE A PART OF IT
A new $300 million project will feature curling in New York, New York
SPECIAL OFFER FOR AMERICA
For Yanks only: Subscribe to The Curling News and get a free gift subscription for a friend, this month only
MINORITY REPORT: CURLING IN CHINA PART I
We’ve got the proof and the on-site correspondent: Robbie Gallaugher says curling has indeed arrived in China
Our Quebec columnist’s idea was adapted and implemented by the Canadian Curling Association… so, um, where’s his cheque?
CAST YOUR VOTE
… For the Travellers All-Star Skins Skins Game competitors, from now through December 8
WOODY WINDS UP
Senior Columnist Larry Wood on Sports Hall of Fame prospects, Canada’s “utterly ridiculous” eligibility rules; Olympic qualifying in the future; the drumbeat of Brad Gushue; Sportsnet’s sad Grand Slam showcase… and more!
Team Rachel Homan, defending Canadian women’s curling champions and world bronze medallists, is partnering with Pinty’s Delicious Foods, making the Canadian food company an official sponsor of one of the country’s most exciting young teams.
“We are excited to be partners with Team Homan. It’s a natural extension of our curling involvement. They’re a very accomplished team, competing in a deep talent pool, doing exciting things for women’s curling.” said Tony Spiteri, Vice-President of Marketing at Pinty’s Delicious Foods.
“It’s great to have Pinty’s sponsoring our team this season,” said Emma Miskew, third for Team Homan. “Having sponsors like Pinty’s makes it easier for us to focus on playing the sport we love.”
Based out of the Ottawa Curling Club, Team Homan now boasts the largest Twitter following of any high-performance curling team, and a loyal fan base reaching from coast to coast. Read more about Team Homan at their official website.
Pinty’s has been serving Canadians with quality food products for 70 years. Pinty’s is returning for a second year as the presenting sponsor of the Travellers All-Star Curling Skins Game, hosted this year in Banff, Alberta and televised live on TSN from January 11-12, 2014. Curling compliments Pinty’s sport partnership interests that also include NASCAR, the Toronto Blue Jays, the CFL and the NFL in Canada.
[The Curling News photo copyright ® by Anil Mungal – click on image to increase viewing size]
WINNIPEG – What a show in Winterpeg. Great crowds, great curling, and two great champions headed to Sochi – no doot aboot it.
It was a tough week for many on the ice, and for some off-ice, too.
Our blogstar Colin Hodgson lost his hair, although that was long overdue – and charity was the beneficial end game.
Good buddy Geurtez of CurlingZone went to the hospital for a test, just to ensure he’s going to make it past seven odd weeks of curling travels. Slow down, fella.
And new CCA communications boss Al Cameron probably lost his mind over the Ron Burgundy chaos, and that was just to start the week.
We think our Photo Editor made it home alive, but we haven’t debriefed with him yet.
As Hodgy hinted, be sure to check out the upcoming January issue of The Curling News for amazing behind-the-scenes stuff you didn’t see on television, plus our predictions moving forward, as we ramp up our all-star coverage of curling at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. You can subscribe here.
[The Curling News photo copyright ® by Anil Mungal – click on image to increase viewing size]
WINNIPEG – I’ve been doing triple duty this week in the ‘Peg, and although my head feels many pounds lighter, it’s tough to continue emoting in written prose. Everything else these days come in quick digital bursts – 140 character-tweets, live score comments, etc.
So here’s a Quick Digital Burst-like summary of the 2013 Canadian Olympic Trials women’s final. For all kinds of gorgeous written prose, be sure to devour the upcoming January print edition of The Curling News by clicking on the SUBSCRIBE tab above.
• Crowd is obviously behind hometown skip Jennifer Jones and her team. Call me Captain Obvious.
• Sherry Middaugh drew in on her first stone, of course, but Jones didn’t hit it. She froze. Not bad. Didn’t work out but second Jill Officer was there for the triple.
• Jones’ shot for three was freaking ape**it in the hurr. [Er, we don’t know what any of that means – Ed.]
• Sorry, Ed.
• Jones really does need to work on her celebrations, though. Maybe a School of #celly instructed by Brad Jacobs? If he wins this afternoon’s men’s final versus John Morris, the two of them will be spending some time together over the next three months…
• Middaugh not sharp early. Making unforced errors to lighten the load on JJ.
• The arena music at the break was ridiculous, with the MTS Centre turned into a German discotek club. Hell of a subwoofer they have here. I was contemplating doing The Windmill and The Worm on the bench.
• Jones made a strange call in the fifth end, against three she decided to hit instead of draw. Front end changed the call, to the delightful cheering of the crowd. Pretty comical.
• Middaugh gets fortunate for a deuce in sixth end. Can’t believe they measured. Good thing they measured the yellow first before the red or else they would have broken the dial.
• Crowd went from silent to losing their minds during the measurement. I thought the umpire was going to have a heart attack.
• When it rains it pours. In the ninth end, Leigh Armstrong‘s guard picked and stopped halfway down the sheet. My Lord, what timing.
• Time out on her last in the ninth? Seriously?
• 10th end is one long celebration because of the improbability of a four-ender. Jones has been smiling for a few end in a row now. That will either infuriate her haters, or melt their hardened hearts.
• Crowd is smart and cheered at the right times. Especially for the losing teams. Great reception for Middaugh and third-place finishers Team Rachel Homan.
• Sherry very classy in defeat. Heck, she’s been classy her entire career. Obviously it wasn’t her day but she gave the volunteers and media the time of day, even on her worst.
• Amazing to be here to experience the excitement of the Olympic Trials. Heartbreak and despair contrasting joy and celebration – both on display simultaneously. Such a chilling thing.
[CCA photos copyright ® by Michael Burns – click on images to increase viewing size]
WINNIPEG –Men’s semifinal up now, Kevin Martin vs John Morris – the rematch.
Awesome stuff. Defending Olympic champions on both teams, a multiple Brier and World champion dying to go Olympic, and three super guys from B.C. who have skills and experience but have never been in this kind of spotlight before.
Tonight, it’s the women’s final – Jennifer Jones vs Sherry Middaugh.
Both are veterans of multiple Olympic Trials competitions spanning multiple decades, but this is the first final for both – and for all eight players.
Big, heady stuff with Sochi 2014 on the line. And, subject to Russian travel visa approvals (kidding!) one of either Wayne Middaugh or Brent Laing will be going to Sochi, too.
Attitude is often everything in this game.
Far too many times, curlers are seen losing their minds over mistakes big or small, especially in crucial games. This is a trap that Team Chelsea Carey had been planning on avoiding and given their comeback ride into a tiebreaker, it seemed they were successful. But not quite how you might think.
WINNIPEG – Eight teams, three playoff spots, one champion.
The Phone Booth (MTS Centre) here in the downtown core is becoming quite the pressure cooker. As the week presses on, the playoff teams are becoming more and more focussed and the pressure to not miss out – well, that is now monumental.
You can see it on faces and hear it in their voices. Urgent cries of motivation hint at the level of desperation going through the minds of the competitors at the Roar of the Rings. After all, this is the make or break event, the culmination of years of hard work and countless hours of preparation.
New kids on the block Team Brad Jacobs are taking it in stride, off to a perfect 5-0 record. I’m not sure they feed off the crowd intensity or cause it – probably both – but it’s great to see Jacobs and Co. share their agony after misses as well as the thrill of the big makes with curling fans. They seem to have a symbiotic relationship with the spectators.
Does this team have the cajones to win a throw-down with The Bear, Kevin Martin, on his own turf? Martin is the defending Trials and Olympic champion, after all, and he’ll bring a calm, veteran discipline and experience to this challenge of youthful intensity.
I will be glad to be in the building for this heavyweight horn-lock, tonight at 6:30pm Central time. The winner goes straight into Sunday’s men’s final to take a shot at representing Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Meanwhile, the loser still has some work to do.
• I spent some time in the stands last night, and those fans were intensely pro-Jennifer Jones. Half the crowd left (briefly) during that game’s fifth-end break while the other three sheets were still in play; I had to ask people in people in front of us to sit down and stop blocking our view.
• Jones is into the women’s final at 5-1, while Rachel Homan – who missed a simple draw to beat Jones – is at 3-3 with a few others. And I notice I just wrote “simple draw”… but there’s nothing simple at the Canadian Olympic Trials.
• Jonesy had missed a few opportunities to end that game early.
• I have a pair of the limited-edition CCA gloves and 3,495 people have tried to steal them.
• Chelsea Carey is now at 4-2 and seems to be gaining momentum and confidence. Another plus for these ‘Toba fans. If Carey makes it to the final, this place might explode.
• The seats here at the MTS Centre are super-small. And the Swiss guys I was sitting with are huge – they looked like praying mantises crammed into their spaces. I’m talking about Team Sven Michel, the new European men’s champions who are also heading to Sochi for the Olympics in February.
• Here are some awesome flash quotes from the Svenner. His team are kind of a big deal here. They were approached and congratulated all day yesterday by Swiss-Canadians, plus a few savvy purebreds who know their curling:
This event is crazy. It’s the biggest event we’ve ever seen. So many people are here. It’s unbelievable. If we were to do this in Switzerland we may have 100 people show up. Including coaches.
We are hoping (this) many people can come out for the Olympics in Russia. The ice conditions will be similar and great. We just hope to get these kinds of crowds.
Everybody in Switzerland is jealous of us right now, that we can come here to watch. They have playdowns this week. We are happy to be here instead.
[The Curling News photos copyright ® by Anil Mungal. Click on images to increase viewing size]
At 2:30pm ET today, less than an hour from this time of posting, defending Brier champ and world silverado Brad Jacobs (4-0) takes on defending Olympic champion third John Morris John Morris (3-1) at the Canadian Olympic Trials.
You should know the storylines.
Both came out of the last-gasp Trials qualifier in Kitchener a couple of weeks ago.
Both are in the top men’s three, and there are only three teams that will make the playoffs.
Both squads scream youth and vitality, and represent a continuing and definitive changing of the guard from the legendary Kevin Martin – Glenn Howard – Jeff Stoughton power trio.
Three of these eight guys – Jacobs, his second E.J. Harnden and Morris – are super-hunk models in the hottest curling product in the world right now, the 2014 Men of Curling Calendar.
Morris, the veteran, has been filling the curling souls of his British Columbia teammates with unprecedented confidence.
Jacobs’ 2012 lineup changes – Ryan Fry in from Newfoundland to play third, Harnden now at second – have driven the Soo squad into the stratosphere.
This should be a great show, which Canadian fans can watch live on TSN. But there is far more at play here, enough to arguably make this clash the official Game Of The Week… even acknowledging the upcoming Martin/Morris tilt in the final round-robin draw.
If Morris loses, a number of things happen:
• Jacobs is guaranteed a spot in any tiebreakers or the semifinal…
• The fallen titans of last night’s heartbreakers, Howard and Stoughton, are still alive…
• Even Kevin Koe, 0-4 and widely written off with Olympic dreams dashed, ain’t out of it.
Now just let that sink in for a moment.
Oh, my. Oh, my.
[The Curling News photo copyright ® by Anil Mungal – click on image to increase viewing size]
WINNIPEG – What a joy it must be, you might think, to sit with the wife of Team Kevin Martin second man Marc Kennedy during the Olympic Trials, right?
You would be WRONG, unless you enjoy extreme stress, a roller-coaster of emotional collapse and triumphant fist-pumps… as illustrated by these photos by TCN shooter Anil Mungal (click on images at left to increase viewing size).
And given the insanity of last night’s on-ice mayhem – which included K-Mart scoring four in the ninth end and stealing the 10th to beat Glenn Howard against massive mathematical odds – I must say there was quite a show going on in the seats.
What a ride it must be for this native Nova Scotian. She has been a part of Brier championships, World championships, Olympic Winter Games – on home soil – and most stressful of all, the Canadian Olympic Trials. Don’t you dare say she isn’t part of it.
The stress a family member undergoes when watching loved ones play for their dreams is utterly unbearable. I myself have put my loved ones in this place before, and it’s not a fun place to have them.
“I feel helpless,” says Nicole. “Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t marry a banker that worked nine to five. I look around and feel the excitement and get the kindest curling fans in my section, like always. They calm me down and chat me through the situation and I understand how having a banker would be so boring!”
It’s a fact – family members have it tough. Watching the people closest to them realize their dreams – or falter in their efforts – is never an “even keel” feeling. How do the better halves of top curlers deal with events like this?
“I feel like it’s mine too,” says Nicole. “I certainly will never stand on a podium, so it is the next best thing. It’s wonderful, the sacrifices our family makes feel like they are worth something.
“Marc is an awesome daddy, and this is something he can share with his girls forever. I am so proud of what he has accomplished. For how hard he works and how much he puts in, he deserves great things. The Vancouver Olympics were a dream come true for him and for our family.”
So… is the sacrifice worth the hardship?
[Canadian Curling Association action photo copyright ® by Michael Burns]
WINNIPEG – It’s early, and this could be a little bit premature, but something weird seems to be going on over these first two days. Take all the odds and predictions from the “experts” and throw them out the window, because we don’t seem to have any favourites anymore.
For instance, Manitoba teams are merely mediocre at a combined 4-6, even with the huge crowd support at the MTS Centre.
Many of the expected favourites coming in are already off to the dreaded two-loss start – which doesn’t allow any room for error.
As I sit here and report from the media bench, my phone continues to buzz as the upsets continue. “WHAT IS GOING ON???” is the general theme of the 47 texts I receive each hour.
The thing is… I don’t really know how to answer that question.
The ice looks pristine and has been in exceptional condition since day one. Yes, the stones are papered which makes them curl sharper early in the week… but no more so than any at other event. Yes, the crowd is big and loud, but not to the point of unleashing air horn blasts during player backswings.
And yes, these in fact are the stones that were so criticized for inconsistency at the start of the Edmonton Brier back in March. That problem has been addressed, though, by a) flipping the stones and b) “evening” through continued use, including at the recent Road to the Roar in Kitchener.
Well, friends. The only thing I can think to say at this point in the week is more of a reminder.
This isn’t a provincial playdown. This is not a World Curling Tour event. This is not the Brier or the STOH. This is the Canadian Olympic Trials, and weird things happen when it comes to this amazing, thrilling quadrennial show.
[Canadian Curling Association photo copyright ® by Danielle Inglis]
WINNIPEG – As I’ve successfully packed the proper undergarments and toiletries to get me through an undoubtedly sleepless week in Winterpeg, I can’t help but revel in what has to be the most complete field in any event in curling history.
Just to be safe, however, I’ll be checking out page 3 of the December issue of The Curling News at the arena shortly, where all the fields (and win/loss records) have been published dating back to 1997, and for which TCN is asking folks to tweet in with their choice of “best ever”.
Guaranteed, however, that I will have forgotten some crucial items – such as socks or a hat to hide the entangled mop on my head I call hair.
Who can blame me though? It’s hard not to be excited (or confused between curling fields and hotel essentials) for what is sure to be one hell of an event. A remarkably fierce yet balanced field complements a brilliant MTS Centre – home of the Jets – and a highly intelligent curling crowd of Winnipeggers sprinkled with fans from across the country.
Follow me this week on my adventures at the Canadian Olympic Curling Trials, right here at The Curling News Blog, and take in what so many believe to be the pinnacle of the sport. Get an insider’s view of your favorite competitors and learn about some of those you might not be so familiar with. Let’s buckle up now, in fact, and get started with my preview (with help from Meghan Knutson) of the 2013 field…
Team Renée Sonnenberg: This northern Alberta foursome barged through the Road to the Roar in Kitchener last month in a dominant fashion. While the team has struggled to find consistency on tour, there were no visible deficiencies to their game in the Olympic Pre-trials as they walked through the competition unscathed. If Sonnenberg can put together a similar performance in Winnipeg, she just might play spoiler to the favorites.
Team Chelsea Carey: The daughter of Manitoba curling hall of famer Dan Carey, Chelsea has lived and breathed the sport over the past four years leading to this Olympic Trials berth. Arguably the most intense competitor on the ice, Carey has experienced peaks and valleys over the last few years. Much like fellow Winnipeggers Team McEwen, this squad has been at the top rungs of the sport on the Grand Slam circuit with, however, a lack of final-game success at the provincial level. Can Team Carey sport the Maple Leaf on their backs in Sochi before their first Manitoba Buffalo at the Canadian women’s championship?
Team Jennifer Jones: Team Jones has been as dominant as anyone over the four-year Olympic qualifying process. Developing their own brand in the eyes of curling fans over their curling career, there is sure to be no lack of support at home for this team. Expect to see Jones thrive off of the boisterous crowd in high-pressure situations. Experience, as always, will play huge a factor over the mentally strenuous week, and Jones has a plentiful amount of just that. Plus, Jones has struggled at the past two Olympic Trials, and that’s got to be gnawing at her.
Team Heather Nedohin: The acrobatic Albertan is back on the big stage two years after her STOH victory in Red Deer. Nedohin wears her heart on her sleeve, making her an awkward photography favorite. The key to success for this team is their uncanny ability to grind out wins with timely shotmaking. That famous word sh*tballs will likely be in the public eye – um, ear – if Nedohin is around come the weekend.
Team Valerie Sweeting: A bit of a surprise team out of the Road to the Roar, Valerie Sweeting certainly turned a few heads. The southpaw skipper put together a very solid week leaving some heavy favorites in her wake. Riding the high of Kitchener, the young Albertans have nothing to lose at these Olympic Trials, which can be a scary thing for the competition. Look for Team Sweeting to play spoiler at least a few times as this young team continues to grow stronger with age.
Team Stefanie Lawton: The big question is which Stefanie Lawton is going to show up? The Grand Slam-winning powerhouse or the provincial final-challenged underachiever? When on her game, Lawton is lethal and typically unchallenged. On the other hand, they can’t seem to get over the hump of winning the Saskatchewan provincial final. Perhaps the lack of arena ice in Sasky women’s provincials has adverse effects on team results. Either way, the tour superstars needs to show up if they want a chance to experience Russian hospitality.
Team Sherry Middaugh: This veteran skip has shown signs of greatness on tour over the past couple of seasons, although lackluster performances at the Ontario provincial are an area of concern. Middaugh will need to keep it together, tidy up the small details to live up to their potential to make the playoffs. Once there, who knows what can happen?
Team Rachel Homan: Highly touted as the top-ranked women’s team, Homan’s been on the warpath, proving the young kids have got some game. Defending Canadian champions, world bronze medallists, Grand Slam winners, WCT titles and a TON of cash in the bank unquestionably show what Homan is capable of. We’ll see this week if they really are Team Robot, and can systematically eliminate the field on their way to the Olympic Winter Games.
Team Kevin Martin: What hasn’t this team done? Olympic gold, multiple world titles, Grand Slams left and right, it goes on and on. Team Kevin Martin in its current form – recently adding four-time Brier champ David Nedohin at third) not only holds records, they completely obliterate what it means to be curling champions on all fronts. Toss in 2006 Olympic champion skip Brad Gushue as their fruit-cutting, granola bar-toting alternate in case of injury, and no curling guru will count these guys out of winning the big cheese. Vegas odds: 4.96
Team John Epping: Since he grabbed the last direct Olympic Trials men’s berth over 2013 world finalist Brad Jacobs and Gushue, Team John Epping is definitely the dark horse in this stellar men’s field. Statistically the lowest-ranked team at the Trials, this shock-and-awe team can play when all cylinders are firing. With a Player’s Championship title two seasons ago, Epping knows he can win big games against this field. Whether they put it together at MTS Centre is unknown but either way, Epping is no stepping stone for the other teams vying for the long flight to Sochi. Vegas odds: 21.00
Team Brad Jacobs: The Muscle Machines are riding the wave right now. An incredibly hot 2013 season featuring a Brier win and worlds silver carried into the start of this season, as the Men of Curling Calendar models took three World Curling Tour event titles and nearly $44,000. Not too bad for some Northern Ontario boys from the Soo. The flame-throwers are looking to avoid being doused this week and continue what has been a dream 12 months, by any curling standards. Vegas odds: 6.36
Team Jeff Stoughton: For what will be his last kick at the only event that has eluded his grasp, Stoughton’s arsenal is fully stocked with the addition of 2006 Olympic champion Mark Nichols, second Reid Carruthers and longtime superstar third Jon Mead. Stoughton will aim to leapfrog his second-place finish in 2005 and third-place 2009 experience by using the hometown crowd as leverage – the cheers and jeers of the Edmonton Brier last March will be in full effect at the MTS Centre this week, with huge support in Stoughton’s favor. The two-time world champ will be tough to beat, especially with his “white-out” crowd sporting that colour throughout the week. Vegas odds: 5.89
Team John Morris: Sharp-shooting heartthrob Johnny Mo is sure to be at the top of every eligible bachelorette’s Christmas wish list… but he’s got only has one thing at the top of his: to shock the world and bring Jim Cotter’s B.C. troops over the hump. The controversial departure of Morris from Kevin Martin’s Alberta squad last April seems to have turned out well for all parties, and Cotter’s – or should I say Morris’ – display of shotmaking at the Road to the Roar in Kitchener is testament to how well Morris chose his new teammates. Judging by their recent form, don’t rule Morris out of making a splash. Vegas odds: 19.00
Team Mike McEwen: The young guns from the wicked west. It’s unfortunate to be a young team in a province boasting Jeff Stoughton; a 10 time provincial and three-time Brier winner. Lack of provincial titles aside, McEwen has proven time and time again that his squad is among the most elite. One of the hardest teams on tour to play against (trust me, I’ve taken my lumps against these guys), you can get great Vegas odds with McEwen; a team that has been the hottest foursome on the planet for extended periods of time over the last four years. Vegas odds: 8.07
Team Kevin Koe: Fresh off a Canadian Open victory and looking sharp, Team Koe is the last foursome that opponents want to see get hot. Brier and world champions in 2010, Koe has the big-weight cannon with pinpoint accuracy that few players in the world possess. It seems Kevin Koe has planned his season successfully to peak in Canada’s favorite frigid winter destination of Winnipeg. Vegas odds: 6.80
Team Glenn Howard: Much like Jeff Stoughton, Glenn Howard has done everything there is to do in the curling world except win an Olympic medal. Fifteen Brier appearances – yes, you read that right, 15 BRIER APPEARANCES – along with 14 medal-round finishes, four Brier titles and four world championships. Glenn Howard is the definition of consistency in the sport of curling, plain and simple. The top-rated team heading in, and with two of the best shooters in the history of the game at the back end, Wayne Middaugh and his buddy will undoubtedly be there on the second weekend, daring someone to take this one from them. Vegas Odds: 3.13
[Canadian Curling Association photos copyright ® by Michael Burns]