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STOH 2013: Kingston in February ie. Curling is Awesome

I know! 9:00 am! Can you believe it?

by Dean Gemmell

KINGSTON, Ont. – Two things left a big impression on my second day at the Canadian women’s national with my nine-year-old daughter. First, it’s really cold. Second, souvenirs for a kid are really tough to find.

What’s up with that second point? There wasn’t even a T-shirt or a hoodie in a kid’s size at the souvenir stand. This isn’t a problem unique to the STOH either – about the best thing I could bring back for my kid from the men’s worlds in Basel was a coffee cup. That went over big.

I realize that business reality dictates you have to sell every bit of merchandise you can at a curling event because a 2013 STOH shirt doesn’t sell so well in 2014. But roll the dice a bit, and stock a few things for kids.

But that’s a small quibble. We had another great day, making it through both draws, right at ice level again. In the afternoon, we watched a great battle between my Continental Cup teammates, with Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones besting Heather Nedohin’s Team Canada. We watched the cool efficiency of Rachel Homan’s Ontario team against Jill Shumay of Saskatchewan. No longer a high wire act, either winning or losing in spectacular fashion, this Homan team is now like an accomplished surgeon, deftly removing the hope of winning from their opponents.

Of course, this morning’s opponent – Jones – won’t lack for confidence. It should be a great game at 9:00am eastern time – seriously? First Nedohin vs Jones at 2:00 pm, then Jones vs Homan at 9:00 am. This really does need to be reviewed.

Dean’s daughter with Laine Peters

I was reminded that curlers are great people, as players from both teams went out of their way to say a few words to my daughter during the game. Team Nedohin/Canada gave her some items from the team gift bag, enough that I’m sure she’ll be begging for Booster Juice on the ride home. I saw competitors take a moment to acknowledge enthusiastic Special Olympians in the stands. And I ran into my skip from the 1988 Brier – a Labatt version, because, yes, I really am that old – and we talked like 25 years hadn’t passed. Good people, these curlers.

Unfortunately, at the evening draw, I also saw more empty seats than is ideal. A 7:00 pm start without the Big Three probably didn’t help, as everyone competing on the ice had at least three losses. I realize draws are tricky, but if I was on the organizing committee I would have been a grumpy bear last night.

Kelly Scott won another game when she was down two playing the ninth end. Why do I feel like she does such things more often than most? Do the CurlingZone stats of Gerry Geurts and Co. back me up on that? Kind of amazing, she is. Almost as amazing as her request, made to her teammates, for a hog-to-hog time of 9.8 seconds. I really think I heard that. After that, I was timing everything – most shots seemed off the requested time by about 0.5 seconds. Amazingly, most shots were still made.

Arrrrrrggg – Rachel Homan – ggghhhhhh

Alberta got in the win column against the Territories. Their reaction at the end of their was tepid but maybe that’s how it goes when you’re 0-6 heading in. Quebec’s Alison Ross let a game get away with a fairly horrible ninth end. The veterans from Nova Scotia also tried to let a game get away but, perhaps because they’re veterans, did not.

I’ll finish with a few more thoughts before I settle in for this epic battle at a 9:00 am draw (it’s been years since I made a 9:00 am draw that didn’t require my presence on the ice) before we hit the road back to New Jersey.

• There are shuttle buses running from the arena to the HeartStop Lounge (aka the Patch). The shuttle routine is always less than ideal but I hope they’re making it work. I didn’t try to find out.

• Considering the average age of many of the patrons, I’m not sure about that HeartStop moniker.

• I dig a restaurant like Morrison’s for breakfast. Even when they forget my toast.

• I like seeing that wind farm from my hotel room. I don’t like the wind in my face.

• I’ll double down on my bet that there’s no way one of the Big Three doesn’t win this thing. The parlay? Nobody from outside the Big Three is in the final.

• Curling is awesome. It really is. Why else would I be in Kingston in February?

Dean Gemmell is a U.S. curling champion (with Team Heath McCormick), a curling author (Fit To Curl with John Morris) and a podcaster at thecurlingshow.com. He also writes occasional columns for The Curling News, the latest appearing in the upcoming March “Brier” issue.

Kruger Products/CCA photos (first and last) by Andrew Klaver

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Yichun Curling: We made it

By Molly Bonner [click on images to increase size]

Molly practicing for the Opening Ceremonies

YICHUN, China – My apologies for the delay. After an eventful day full of travel and a busy, exciting first day of practice the competition is about to begin… and we are back in action on the blog train!

 

adventure | ad
’ven ch ər; əd- |
(noun)
• an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity
• daring and exciting activity calling for enterprise and enthusiasm

To say that Wednesday was an adventure would be an understatement, and then some. Our Beijing comrades were right: the weather can be very treacherous in a Yichun winter – so treacherous, in fact, that our flight from Harbin to Yichun was cancelled. Oops.

After we debarked the plane in Harbin we were notified of the cancellation, and it was comforting to have familiar curling faces with us, knowing that we were all in the same boat (bus, in this case). Three of the international teams – Canada’s Shannon Kleibrink, Sweden’s Anna Hasselborg and Silvana Tirinzoni’s foursome from Switzerland were all aboard our Harbin flight, along with Keith Wendorf and his wife, Susan – the World Curling Federation emissaries and official umpires of the event.

View from the icy arctic Chinese bus trip

So there we sat in the “Flavor Tang” (the Chinese version of a food court), next to the Swiss team, passing time prior to the much-anticipated (sarcasm) six-hour bus ride on roads that are likely to be icy, dangerous, snow-covered etc… and they were.

After the two-hour wait in Harbin and some pre-boarding chaos, there we were: bus full, luggage that wouldn’t fit in storage piled in the middle walkway, some of us equipped with beer or chocolate to pass the time.

“You just can’t make this (stuff) up,” we kept thinking, as we finally got underway.

While some of us preferred to keep our eyes closed others stayed at the utmost attention, hoping for any sign of Yichun in the distance.

Our destination reminded me of a summer resort combined with an old planation in the southern United States, which made us all the more grateful to be “home” for the next week.

After our first night’s rest and conversations with our translators, we learn of a Chinese belief: that sleeping on a very hard bed will keep women slim!  Let’s just say that many of the competitors are expecting quick results after no less than seven nights of sleep in Yichun!

Thursday, finally, was our first day seeing and curling inside the new venue – after all, the ice was created only a week ago. Each team was allotted two hour-long practices in preparation for the Friday morning start of competition.

Canada’s CTV visited Yichun a week ago: link at right

Yichun – the “Forest City” – is considered a town or small city by the Chinese people. After all, there are “only” 1.3 million people here.

Speaking of million: a sports network (is it CCTV 5? – Ed.)  will be broadcasting every draw of this event, and expects over four million viewers for the final.

It’s fun to see all of the hard work that has gone into this event, and to think of the massive effort required to make  Yichun become the curling capital of China. Watch this online video from Canada’s CTV (screen shot at left) for a report on just how big the sport investment is in this area.

The Chinese people are full of excitement and are showering the foreigners with assistance and gratitude. Our translators, Amy and Lily (English names of course) are true problem-solvers and go-getters, something that seems to be a common theme among the Chinese – they make things happen quick if a situation arises.

As Keith stated at the team meeting, it’s time to “christen the venue, make new friends, and enjoy the competition.” The spirit of curling is now alive and well here in Yichun.

Calgary skip Shannon Kleibrink enjoys Keith’s, er, gift

Last night we sat with Team Canada at the “Welcome Reception.” It was a traditional Chinese meal in which all items are placed on a “Lazy Susan” and circled about the table… quite similar to what one might consider “family-style” dining back in North America.

A few of us American competitors were more adventurous than others (can you guess who wasn’t?) and a couple of those people are feeling a bit ill – be it the food, climate, jet lag or whatever.

Friday brings the Opening Ceremonies, for which the organizers held a two-hour practice session. It is sure to be a great show as local politicians and other dignitaries join us on stage.

Day one of the Yichun International Ladies Competition is next: and I can’t wait to play! Now to dream about things like pizza and chocolate as we go to rest on our “get-slim” mattresses. Cheers!

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Brantford curling wrap

Kim Tuck fires a stone in Brantford

by Kimberly Tuck with photos by Robert Wilson

First off let me apologize to my readers for not providing a day-by-day blog of the events as they unfolded this past weekend in Brantford, as I had promised. Although our team got off to a quick start by winning our first two games, the schedule that we fell into over the following two days of curling didn’t leave me much time to write… or even eat and sleep, for that matter! I will definitely need to have a little sit down with the drawmaster – love you, honey!

So let’s wrap up the weekend with a few of my observations and experiences…

Thursday evening officially kicked off the event with one game on both the women’s and men’s side being played, plus practice ice was offered to teams who wished to take advantage of the opportunity. The event also added a new dimension by inviting about 40 junior curlers from the three host facility to come to the main host club, the Brantford Golf & Country Club, to watch the team practices and mingle with them afterwards – and chase autographs. Teams skipped by Cheryl Bernard and Kevin Koe took time with the kids and there was even a special appearance by legendary hockey dad (and Brantford’s own) Walter Gretzky. The kids seemed like they were enjoying themselves immensely, and they particularly enjoyed words from Koe second Carter Rycroft, who when asked by one of the juniors why he started curling, he replied with a chuckle “because I can’t skate!” to much laughter from the crowd. In my opinion this is a fantastic addition to the event, and I hope that the organizers will keep running with this idea.

Friday saw the Classic come to life with action at all three clubs. Our team went head to head against Team USA with Patti Lank at the helm. It was a good battle and when the dust settled we had come out victorious; our next opponent was Team Silvernagle from Alberta. The game again was close and it came down to Silvernagle’s last shot which didn’t quite go as she had hoped – leaving us shot, without having to throw our last one for the win. Day 1 was in the books and we were still on the A-side… which wasn’t the case for some the women’s favourites, such as Jones, Holland, Overton-Clapham, Scott, Lawton and Nedohin – all these teams lost their opening round games!

Team McEwen’s Matt Wozniak does Movember

The same thing was happening on the men’s side as Koe, Epping, Gushue and Jacobs also lost their openers. “Movember” was in full force, with mustaches on the faces of many of the guys… and have you ever wondered what some of the top curling teams eat while they are competing? Well, when we sat down in the players’ lounge Friday night to have a bite to eat after the game, we just happened to be sitting beside Team Martin whose lead, Ben Hebert, was enjoying a lobster tail dinner. Yes, I said lobster… oh my, the trials of a poor curling team!

One of the biggest topics of discussion was the new draw format that was designed by committee member Mark Stouffer which showed the games, scores, times and locations in a pyramid format. This took a little getting used to – curlers have always been slow to accept change – but once we got used to it was understood and although I personally commented to the powers-that-be on how it made my eyes hurt, it will be back next season.

As play continued on Saturday, our team went on a bit of a slide. We lost our A-semi to Krista McCarville of the north and we ran smack  into Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones on the B-side. We put up a good fight, but for the second time this season she sent us into the last-chance C-side.  This set us up for an all-Ontario match up with Chrissy Cadorin; we stayed on top and finished with a W. Day 2 was in the books and we were still alive, on the C-side.

Saturday was also a tough day for Holland, Kleibrink, Lawton, Overton-Clapham, Bernard, Scott and Andrea Kelly who were out of the event. The men’s side also lost some notables, Peter Corner, Jean-Michel Menard, Braeden Moskowy and Mike Harris by the end of Day 2.

In recognition of their event sponsors, the organizing committee held a VIP reception on Saturday night which was attended by not only the sponsors, but the committee, some of the players from the participating teams and special guests. Walter Gretzky showed up again, and not only spoke to the group but also mingled with the VIPs. Various local politicians were also on site and presented the committee with accolades in honour of their success of their fourth annual event. I popped my head in after my game and it looked like a good time was being had by all, but more importantly the sponsors were able to see firsthand how important their contributions were to making this a huge event.

The hospitality room at the host hotel, the Best Western Brant Park Inn, was in full swing Saturday night. This tournament is not only known for its stellar field but for its great hospitality, and because it’s one of the last spiels in the “cashspiel season” teams look forward to letting loose… loose and by the looks of many before their first games Sunday morning, plus rumours of bedtimes spanning between 1:00am and 4:00am I’m sure I can safely say that this was a fun one.

Team Howard lead Craig Savill with superdad Walter Gretzky

You could tell that Sunday was make-it or break-it day for the teams still alive and vying for the championship titles and the $12,000 winners cheques, as the screams where higher and more desperate and the sounds of brooms banging the ice and back boards filtered across the sheets. I would be lying if I said that I haven’t, in the duration of my curling career, slammed a broom at one time or another (I can however count such occasions on one hand) but I can proudly say I haven’t broken one!

As the day carried on and teams fell away the final A-side qualifiers (Eve Muirhead and Middaugh) and B-side qualifiers (Jones and McCarville) were joined by the C qualifiers (Heather Smith-Dacey, Erika Brown, Laura Crocker and yours truly with Alli Nimik…(can I get little whoop-whoop?).  The A-side qualifiers on the men’s side (Sven Michel of Switzerland and Rasmus Stjerne of Denmark) and B qualifiers (Glenn Howard and Mike McEwen) were joined by C qualifiers Koe, Niklas Edin, Greg Balsdon and Mark Kean to round out the playoff squads.

Quarterfinal matchups slotted our team against Jones, hoping three times would be the charm; but Jones’ team got out to an early lead and never looked back and so ended our weekend. Jones then went on to lose to Middaugh in the semifinal and Sherry went on to defeat Brown of the USA to claim the Sun Life title. On the men’s side, Howard’s team fell to Niklas Edin who then went on to defeat Stjerne in the semi and Michel in the final to become the new men’s champion.

All in all the event was another big success, so much so that my sources say that Sun Life will be continuing its partnership and title sponsorship of this event for next season and, possibly, three or four more years down the road. Because this year was so big – with 64 teams – there is also talk of moving it to the Wayne Gretzky four-pad arena… now wouldn’t that be something!

Before I say goodbye, I want to personally thank all of the organizing committee members who worked so hard to put this event on and look after every detail, to the host clubs and their volunteers for their great hospitality, to the ice techs for all their hard work in preparing and maintaining great surfaces for us to perform on and last but not least to title sponsor Sun Life Financial and their supporting sponsors for their backing of this event – it wouldn’t be what it is without you. I give these thanks on behalf of all the competitors, not just my team!

Lastly a personal thank-you goes out to my editor for allowing me to share my thoughts with you, and lastly, congratulations to the winning teams of Sherry Middaugh and Niklas Edin.

As the cashspiel portion of our season comes to a close and teams set their sights on the playdown trail I would like to wish everyone the best of luck and good curling… and I hope to see you all at next years’ Sun Life Financial Invitational Curling Classic.

[Photos COPYRIGHT by Robert Wilson – click to view larger]

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URGENT: Conan Blimp by 2pm ET

Vote for curling before 2:00pm ET today

We interrupt your Thursday with this special news bulletin!

The delightfully wacky late-night TV host Conan O’Brien is apparently flying a blimp all ’round the United States, engaging in endless tomfoolery along the way.

Team Coco, as his minions are known, just tweeted a query that will decide the next sport the Conan Blimp shall be “covering” and the choices the public can vote for are: Grand Prix racing, Curling, and Topless Anything.

Here’s the rub: the voting closes at 2:00pm eastern time TODAY, which was just one hour away from this time of posting. The curling world is hereby urged to rally hard and fast, vote for Curling and – who knows, perhaps there will be bonus coverage of Topless Curling?

The point is this: you need to vote NOW. There seems to be only one way to vote, and that’s via Twitter, so log onto your account, head over to @TeamCoco and send them a tweet that reads, simply:  #Curling

Then, why not consider forwarding this notice to any friends who have Twitter accounts and ask them to vote for #Curling too?

Hurry hard!

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Quebec’s Sabourin joins Team Jennifer Jones

Pregnancy sidelines hard-throwing Jill Officer

Joelle Sabourin, second from left, with Team Osborne

First, Winnipeg got the Jets. Now, the world’s best women’s curling team – based in the Peg, of course – gets a bit of joie de vivre this fall.

Winnipeg curling star Jill Officer started the ball rolling with an online reveal – her first pregnancy!

Officer then told The Curling News that Quebec curling veteran Joelle Sabourin will replace her on the powerhouse Jennifer Jones foursome this fall and winter, in tandem with regular Jones alternate Jennifer Clark-Rouire.

Officer’s due date is December 2 – right in the middle of the all-important Canada Cup in Cranbrook, BC – and with the curling season starting up well past the midway part of her pregnancy, it was decided that she will sit out the first half of the season entirely.

Officer plans to “stay loose” throughout the fall and is hoping to rejoin the team in time for the Manitoba women’s provincial scheduled for Portage La Prairie, January 25-29. Should they qualify, it will be Jones’ first provincial appearance since 2008.

Jill Officer (left) with Team Jones last February

After running through a draft list of substitute options, Sabourin was chosen by Team Jones as Officer’s replacement due to a couple of factors: her previous intention of not competing in 2011-2012 – so much for that! – and her friendship with Jones lead Dawn Askin.

Askin, an Ottawa native, was a teammate with Sabourin in 2005. The Quebecer was the alternate for Ontario’s Jenn Hanna – with Askin at lead – when Jones made that legendary in-off double-takeout to win the Canadian women’s championship final in stunning fashion.

Sabourin has competed in five Canadian women’s championships since 1997, including 2008 and 2009 with skip Marie-France Larouche. Her 2011 squad, skipped by Chantal Osborne, lost the Quebec final 8-7 to Larouche.

Sabourin confirmed that she will play in the major World Curling Tour events – plus the Canada Cup – while Clark-Rouire will fill Officer’s shoes at the smaller tour stops and also in the early rounds of Manitoba women’s playdowns.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity and an honour to play with these guys,” Sabourin told The Curling News.

“When Dawn called me… I had recently made my decision not to play next year and I was okay with it, but then she called soon afterward and asked me and I said ‘You’re kidding me, right?’

“I’m gonna work hard on my side – I’m not Jill, but I can throw hard and I’ll be practicing my peels for sure. I was biking because I have a race coming up… but now I’ve added kickboxing, four days a week, also to get ready.”

Team Osborne photo courtesy of Curling Quebec

Team Jones photo by Andrew Klaver / Kruger Products Ltd.

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Curling stars for SickKids in Toronto

Olympic and world champions confirmed for second annual SickKids Foundation fundraiser

Only 20 spots remain – so act fast

Toronto, ON – No less than 30 of the world’s top curling athletes are confirmed to participate in the second annual Capital One Celebrity Bonspiel, a unique curling tournament which offers single-entry participants the chance to curl for fun with Olympic and world champion competitors.

Just 20 spaces are left for the event, which runs  June 3 and 4 at the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club.

2010 Olympic curling champion John Morris (Edmonton, Alta.) and 2006 Olympic champion Brad Gushue (St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador) will be there, along with Scotland’s Eve Muirhead, the world’s only four-time world junior champion, and Cissi Ostlund and Sara Carlsson, the reigning world women’s champions from Sweden’s Team Anette Norberg.

The reigning Ontario champion skips will also participate. Veteran Glenn Howard of Coldwater is a three-time world champion while recent GP Car and Home Players’ Champion finalist Rachel Homan of Ottawa has turned the curling world upside down at the age of 21.

A special, anonymous celebrity skip will also be appearing to captain the Capital One team.

Last year’s inaugural event raised over $68,000 for SickKids Foundation, the fundraising arm of Toronto’s world-renowned Hospital for Sick Children.

“Raising funds for the SickKids Foundation is a natural fit for Capital One as we strive to help Canadian children succeed in life,” said Ian Cunningham, Chief Marketing Officer, Capital One Canada. “Curling fans continue to be fantastic supporters of charitable causes and we are proud to help them raise monies for the SickKids Foundation, while also providing a great weekend of curling fun.”

Other celebrity curling imports include Winnipeg superstars Jennifer Jones, Mike McEwen and world champion Reid Carruthers from Team Jeff Stoughton.

“We have also confirmed Kim Schneider from Amber Holland’s Saskatchewan team,” said event co-chair Jeff Steski. “That means we have at least one player from every playoff team at this past year’s Brier and Scotties (Canadian) championships.”

The weekend kicks off with a junior curling clinic on June 3, hosted by the Capital One Rocks and Rings school educational program. The celebrity competitors will then meet their “new” teammates at an evening mixer.

Saturday, June 4 features the Celebrity Bonspiel, consisting of three four-end curling games, followed by the event finals and the closing gala dinner.

Registration for the 2011 Capital One Celebrity Bonspiel is conducted entirely online via celebritybonspiel.com

Fundraising and sponsorship inquiries are welcome by sending an email to: sickkidsbonspiel@rogers.com

Click on the graphic to increase size

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Election 2011

Canada votes; our political curling notes

Subscribe now! I command thee! Oh, and go vote.

Good day curling fans. We have something intensely Canadian today.

We have talked politics before – Canadian, American and international – and always with some degree of a curling angle.

The most notorious was our Curling Politics post from September of 2008, which essentially endorsed Prime Minister and curling-mad Conservative leader Stephen Harper (photo). This garnered a few critical comments, including a scolding from one reader who declared “There’s no place for politics in the the curling magazines of the nation.”

Oh, please.

Another reader hoped that our “choice of the Conservatives (had) a little more depth to it than the quality of curling-related press releases.”

Okay, fair point.

Within a month, our Curling Politics II posting attempted to quantify our support for, quite simply, all things curling. When we compared two different government curling grants, for example, we suggested that:

The question now seems to centre around identifying ‘good’ pork from ‘bad’ pork. When it comes to curling, says us, it’s all good.

We shall not spend much time on the issue of today’s Canadian federal election, which is the third in the last six years and fourth since 2004 (sigh). But in the spirit of the above, we decided to see if there were any recent and substantive “curling” reasons to support one party over another… with that word – substantive – not including personal appearances at curling championships (sorry, PMH).

Indeed, we might have found something. According to the website for Canada’s Economic Action Plan, often referred to as the stimulus spending spree that followed the recent U.S.-driven economic recession, the search term “curling” returns a whopping 11 pages of results. Apparently the ruling Conservatives haven’t ignored The Roaring Game, as this results sample indicates:

Upgrades to Capital Winter Club (NB)… Replace the roofing at the North Grenville Curling Club (ON)… St. Benedict (SK) curling rink upgrades… Rehabilitation of the Rideau Curling Club (ON)… Construction of a three-rink curling arena connected to the recreational centre in Chapais (PQ)… Modernization of the twin arenas and curling rink in Whitecourt (AB)… Upgrade to the Victoria Curling Club (BC)… London Curling Club (ON) – Replacement of windows and lighting… Upgrades to Granite and Fort Rouge Curling Clubs (MB)… Start of construction on Maniwaki multipurpose curling centre (PQ)… Upgrades to the Cornwall and Montague Curling Clubs (PEI)…

The list goes on and on, and this might be food for thought, Canadian curling fans… but that’s all. This year The Curling News will not endorse any political party, although we will urge all Canadian citizens to do their civic duty and go vote.

In the words of one of the country’s better political writers, “it is better to risk buyer’s remorse than to let others do the shopping in your place.”

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EXCLUSIVE: Hart leaves Team Howard

Middaugh to replace the man who played for just two skips in a 21-year career

Richard Hart embraces Craig Savill at the 2011 Brier

by George Karrys

TORONTO – Richard Hart has retired from high-performance curling by  announcing his departure from Team Glenn Howard, one of the most successful high-performance foursomes to ever play The Roaring Game.

The 2007 world champion and 1998 Olympic silver medallist had already taken a partial step back from the sport this past season, dropping his commitment to Team Howard’s World Curling Tour schedule by three tournaments. While not necessarily unexpected to some, his decision will nevertheless send shock waves throughout the sport.

Consistently ranked in the top three teams in the world – or pretty much the the top two alongside Alberta’s Kevin Martin – Team Howard has been a veritable curling machine for the past seven years. Heavily backed by sponsorship dollars and virtually unparalleled in their consistency of winning, the foursome are all charter members of the National Team program; they own and operate a profitable Fantasy Curling Camp; and they even have a professional video documentary set for release late in 2011 or early in 2012.

Yet Hart has chosen to walk away.

Team Howard does "Movember" to fight cancer in 2008

The 42-year-old lefthander informed longtime teammates Howard, Brent Laing and Craig Savill of his decision on Wednesday. He spoke exclusively with The Curling News late Thursday morning.

“Man, has this been a tough decision,” said Hart. “This is something (wife) Margaret and I have been thinking about and talking about for the last four or five months. I mean, I don’t think a day’s gone by when we haven’t discussed it. We tried to figure it out, tried to figure out a way that we could somehow continue on, but we just couldn’t come up with it.

“I am permanently retired from high-performance curling,” Hart continued.

“With the way the game’s changed over the last 10 years, to compete at that level you have to be willing to make that time commitment… and I just couldn’t. If you want to be the best… it’s not just a matter of signing up for a bonspiel and throwing a few rocks anymore.”

“I’m definitely looking forward to taking a full season off.”

Gosh, those guys were colourful!

Inevitably, Hart’s decision centered around his career. As a project manager and vice president of his family-owned electrical engineering firm based in Pickering, Ontario, increased work responsibilities had become a factor. With a senior partner in the firm set to retire this year, the pressure had climbed a notch.

Just a few short weeks ago, Team Kevin Koe lost third Blake MacDonald to his busy work schedule plus family commitments. MacDonald, who has been replaced by Saskatchewan’s Pat Simmons, actually planned to quit the highest levels of the sport a year ago, but postponed his decision by a year after Team Koe won the 2010 Brier and world championship.

Just prior to the London Brier in March, longtime Team Brad Gushue third Mark Nichols announced he was taking a hiatus from the sport, although he stressed that he was not retiring.

“I’ve been going through it in my mind for so long now, and it’s just that there was nothing else I could do,” said Hart. “My two options were to basically turn pro as a curler, and leave my work as I know it right now, or the other way… to leave curling and start focussing more on work.

“We talked a little bit on the weekend (at the Players’ Championship in Grande Prairie), but not too much,” Hart revealed. “I basically left it that I would call the guys next week, as there were a couple more things I wanted to look into. But I called them all yesterday, and told them I couldn’t continue.

“It’s emotional for me, for sure. It’s really hard. One of the things that I considered in this decision – and it’s nothing you can really control – but one of the toughest things that I’m afraid of giving up is my friendship with the guys, because you just don’t know how it’s going to all play out.

“When it’s all said and done, Team Howard’s record in terms of win-losses is right there for everybody to see, but that’s not really how I evaluate our team. It was so much more than that for me, and for the guys as well. It was about four great friends who played the game the way we wanted to play it.

“That’s what I’m going to miss. We’ll still be friends obviously, but now for half the year they’re going to be unavailable, they’ll be busy competing, and I now won’t be. So I look forward to spending some time with them this summer, and playing some golf, but at the end of the day I spent half my year… probably spending as much time with those guys as I did with my family. And it will never be the same, just because of that.”

Hart has definitely left the door open to play the game he loves in the future – just not at the elite level.

Hart with the 1998 Mike Harris Olympic team (Edmonton 09)

“The stuff I love about curling is still there, so if I were to get back into it I would be looking into playing in local bonspiels with good friends,” said Hart. “After I told Glenn (my decision) I mentioned that when he’s finished with this next Olympic run, if he wants to get together play for some fun I’d be up for that.

“I find it hard to believe I won’t be throwing rocks at all, even once in a while by myself, after practicing almost every day for 20 years.”

Hart, who plans to spend more time with his bantam-aged sons and their budding curling careers, also believes his ex-teammates will soldier on.

“They’re disappointed for sure, but they totally understand where I’m coming from,” said Hart. “And Team Howard’s success will continue, with whoever they decide to pick up and replace me with. There’s no doubt in my mind that they’re going to continue on and do great things.”

The early frontrunner for Hart’s spot was always going to be ex-Howard teammate Wayne Middaugh, who replaced Hart three times on the WCT this season. Middaugh shone in one particular event, the Canada Cup, in which the modified Team Howard won the title with a classic victory over Martin (remember Hart ♥ Middaugh?)

Indeed, as word began to spread around the curling world, Middaugh confirmed that he had signed up to replace Hart on Team Howard.

Hart’s legacy may well be unmatched as the ultimate third; a man who never chose to move up and skip a team himself.

“It’s been seven years with this team, 11 years with Glenn overall and 10 years with Mike (Harris),” said Hart. “21 years of curling and I’ve played for just two skips. I’m pretty proud of that, and of all that those teams accomplished.”

Anil Mungal photos copyright Capital One and/or The Curling News • Olympic Team 1998 photo by Michael Burns – click images to increase size

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Regina Worlds: CAN vs SCO

Wow! That’s crazy!

by Jill Officer

REGINA – Too bad the 3-4 game wasn’t much of a match. Poor Swedish skip Niklas Edin struggled with the ice which has become straighter during the playoffs.

They still managed to have a bit of fun in the eighth and final end. Third Sebastian Kraupp showed off his crazy good balance and delivered his two rocks in a one-legged squat of sorts (see photo at left). The crowd loved it! Then Edin tried to duplicate Team Canada’s Jeff Stoughton with a flat-foot spin-o-rama… and while it wasn’t as sharp as Stoughton’s, it was still awesome to watch.

And so it was Norway versus Scotland in the semifinal. Norway was gaining speed and confidence – 7-0 and throwing some 86 per cent as a team after a poor start to the competition – and Scotland is coming off a loss to Canada.

Kim Brewster!

I noticed that Scottish Skip Tom Brewster is in the building well in advance of his games. I’m not sure if he’s done this all week, but before the 1-2 page playoff game and again before last night’s semi, he was in the building a couple of hours before game time. So what does he do? Basically, I’ve seen him wandering the halls in the bowels of the building, both inside the arena and on the concourse amongst the crowds. Interesting. I guess everyone has his or her own pre-game routine!

Did you know that Tom Brewster’s wife is Canadian? Yes, Kim Brewster was born in Edmonton and Tom simply wooed her to go to Scotland for him. And she was an original curling Calendar Girl, too!

Not only that, but her brother is Sean Morris, the husband of 2010 Olympic Silver Medallist Cori Morris, who played with Cheryl Bernard in Vancouver. Sean and Cori arrived in Regina yesterday to cheer on their brother-in-law.

So my week on the media bench is coming to an end, and I thought I’d share some reflections on how exhausting it is to be on the bench verses the exhaustion you feel when you actually play in an event such as the worlds.

Viewing the games from the tribune is great. You have front row seats; the internet is comfortably at your fingertips and you can still watch live and hear the TSN broadcast – so you get the benefits of live curling and broadcast TV. Sure, there is some writing and interviewing to do here and there, but it’s a good gig. How can you complain with all that… and all you can eat Tim Horton’s donuts.

Let's get pumped again!

However, for some reason, it is almost MORE exhausting than playing in an event like this! On Wednesday night, when Canada had the night off, I took the night off, too. By 8:00pm, I could hardly keep my eyes open!

Being up here is mentally exhausting. Perhaps it’s the lack of exercise to provide you with some energy; perhaps it’s the lack of pressure to perform. All I know is that it is very tiring. Competing in an event is very tiring as well, but when you’re out on the ice, you have to be energized, focused and ready to go and there is much less opportunity to zone out.

Team Scotland was much more zoned in during the semi-final against Norway than they were against Canada last night. Zoned in enough that they will again face Canada in tonight’s gold medal Game. What an accomplishment for Brewster and his young lads, because the Norwegians had simply been on fire.

Mr. Stoughton, by the way, has an interesting history with Scotland. He defeated a Scottish team in the final of the 1996 worlds, then lost to them in 1999, in that famous match against Hammy “Let’s Get Pumped” MacMillan (be sure to view starting at around at 1:10).

It could be a dandy today!

Crazy Kraupp photo by Anil Mungal, copyright The Curling News®
Kim Brewster photo by Ana Arce
Let’s Get Pumped Again photo by Michael Burns / CCA

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Regina Worlds: Youth Olympians

Youth Olympians headed to Innsbruck

by Jill Officer

REGINA – It was a packed house last night as Team Canada stepped on the ice. You couldn’t even hear the lone bagpiper during the pre-game march because of the loud Canadian fans.

In front of that same crowd, the Canadian Youth Olympic curling team was introduced at the fifth-end break. The Youth Olympics is a new initiative from the International Olympic Committee that is like the Olympics, but for youngsters between the ages of 16 and 18. The first Summer Youth Olympics was held last year in Singapore, so now the first Winter Youth Olympics will take place in Innsbruck, Austria in January of 2012.

“It was unreal,” said Thomas Scoffin, the skip of the team, after the introduction in front of the large Canadian crowd. “I’ve never been part of anything like that before.”

COME OOOONNNN!

The team, made up of two girls and two boys, was selected after a comprehensive process that combined on-ice performance at the recent Canada Winter Games as well as a formal application process – and that included a written essay, academic consideration, involvement in their communities and interest in other athletic and cultural activities.

Wow – I don’t know any curler that has to go through all that to get on a team! These guys, and gals, must be good!

The lucky athletes that were selected are Scoffin, who is from Whitehorse in the Yukon; Emily Gray of O’Leary, Prince Edward Island; Corryn Brown of Kamloops, BC and Derek Oryniak of Winnipeg.  The team leader and coach will be Helen Radford of Halifax. It was nice of the Canadian Curling Association to fly them all in for the on-ice presentation, which saw them march out in their different provincial jackets and then be presented with their new Team Canada colours!

The team will execute some preparations and team building in the fall leading up to the event. “We’re going to meet up a couple of times in the upcoming months,” Brown told me. “We need to figure out how everyone plays, and each of our different releases.”

This is interesting for a number of reasons. First of all, this is only the second Canadian national team that is selected – the other being the wheelchair curling team. All other national teams “win to get in” and there are always a few people calling for coaches and officials to select all-star teams for other competitions… like the regular Olympics.

Jon Mead shows Jeff Stoughton his “Hulk Face”

And here’s something really interesting: there will be two types of events taking place at the Youth Olys. The first is the regular mixed event, and the second will be… Mixed Doubles, which was not put forward by the WCF for Olympic consideration (this is important as five new disciplines were approved this week, from women’s skip jumping to things like team figure skating and mixed relay biathalon… but that’s another debate).

But the real twist is that these mixed doubles duos will be made up of two curlers from different countries! I wonder how that will work with language barriers?

The editor informs me that my fellow TCN columnist Roger Schmidt, who is based in Switzerland, wrote about the approaching Youth Olympics stuff almost two years ago, and commented at that time how the WCF was scrambling to get its member countries to ensure that they could even field a team. Apparently, that youth age curling bracket is really underdeveloped around the world, and that is easy to understand when we in Canada have a U18 championship that is a) combined with the U.S. and also includes teams from Japan, b) named after a charity and c) isn’t sanctioned by any official associations.

Sweden plans to rock hard today

Now back to the event we’re all watching right now!  The men’s worlds are down to the crunch. Whether I’m sitting on the media bench or competing down on the ice, I love playoff time. The music gets pumpin’ between ends, emcee extraordinaire Stu Brown entertains the crowd and the atmosphere is awesome.

Unfortunately, the Page playoff 1 vs 2 game itself wasn’t so awesome. Not that it was terrible, but it certainly didn’t have the entertainment value that people hope for in the playoffs. It was played reasonably wide open, and Scottish skip Tom Brewster missed a few late shots, and all that matters (to me!) is that Canada won and are into the world championship final on Sunday!

Earlier in the afternoon, the red-hot Norwegians beat the scrappy French 5-4 in a tiebreaker and will face Sweden in the Page 3 vs 4 game this afternoon. Earlier in the week, Team Thomas Ulsrud had to accompany Team Niklas Edin out onto the ice before their game against Canada, bow before them, and serve them with their brushes and curling shoes on bended knee… like servants! Pretty funny stuff, and all this was because of a bet the two teams made during a couple of pre-worlds practice games – and the Swedes won both games!

Something tells me today’s game, while friendly, will be taken very seriously. At stake is a spot in tonight’s semifinal (for the winners) while the losers will be bumped down to Sunday’s bronze medal match.

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