Life is sweet at The Skins
by Colin Hodgson
BANFF, ALBERTA – The Skins Game is quite a unique curling event, to say the least. Where else would you see Ryan Fry playing back end with Kevin Martin? Ryan Harnden sweeping Brad Gushue’s stones along with Brent Laing – that’s not a typical sight.
Team combinations like these are very odd to see but wonderfully refreshing in a sport where familiar faces and lineups tend to dominate television time.
However, what’s most unique about the Travellers All-Star Curling Skins Game isn’t the lineups. The entire atmosphere around the event is quite incredible… and it’s all in the details.
From the moment I arrived at the luxurious host hotel – The Rimrock – on Friday, I was blown away at the magnitude of the preparation in play to showcase the Skins. On arrival, bellhops sporting top hats greeted me warmly – in rich English accents, and swinging classic corn brooms like canes.
The fun doesn’t even come close to stopping there. Magnificently carved ice sculptures welcome fans to the hotel, as well as curling stones and other fitting related items spread sporadically throughout the lobby. Nice touch.
After checking in and heading up to my room, there was a prompt knock on my door. It was the hotel manager, personally thanking me for coming to the event and spending my time with them. A handshake was followed by a gift of hand-crafted brandy-filled chocolates by the resident pattiserie… and by now I was generally feeling blown away by the level of effort taken on by everyone involved with the event.
I decided to head down to the lounge to have a choice beverage or two before the evening’s proceedings took place. Olympic gold medallists and world champions littered the lounge floor, happily mingling with common curling fans. Honestly, for the average curler to meet the athletes they see on television – how cool is that?
It doesn’t stop there; the entire lounge menu had been changed to match the curling theme. Specials and Skins Game pricing added that little extra touch, so that you knew this was a big deal… and the competitors LOVE IT. Televisions were showing Friday afternoon’s draft show, as the All-Stars sat down as a big group and razzed each other mercilessly. Only the uniqueness of this type of event could play host to a scene like this.
Off to the Cocktail Party. A live jazz band in the middle of the room set the mood, and an ice sculpture fountain serving flavoured shots and other beverages was hard to miss – and to not visit a few times more than one should. An elegant assortment of hot and cold foods was impossible to say no to and, well, no one did.
Everyone’s favorite curling commentator Vic Rauter led the festivities as only he could, honouring Olympic representatives who were all in attendance – the Sochi-bound Dawn McEwen, Jill Officer, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jennifer Jones, Ryan Harnden, E.J. Harnden, Ryan Fry and Brad Jacobs.
Said Mark Nichols: “There is no other event like the Skins Game. I’ll never get the chance to play with some of these guys other than here. They treat us like Kings.”
Game one of three is over, and the makeshift squad of Jeff Stoughton, Dave Nedohin, Laing and Ryan Harnden (photo above) smushed Gushue, John Morris, E.J. and Ben Hebert.
The second semi goes tonight, starting at 9:30pm ET on TSN in Canada. For live in-game updates and observations, follow my Twitter feed!
[Action photo by Greg Paupst/TSN – click on image to increase viewing size]