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Team Shuffle 2015: Disrespect for the Brier?

Koe blows up team – before the worlds

By George Karrys

From yellow to purple (with apologies to both)

Okay, the annual team shuffle didn’t really begin today. There have been team lineup changes for next season that have been announced already, with one of the bigger ones ones coming well before the STOH (Team Kelly Scott disbanding) and this one fairly recently.

But today’s triple reveal is a whopper, and for very big reasons.

While watching daughter Carly Howard compete at the Canadian University championships in Regina, Glenn Howard confirmed to the Regina Leader-Post that his longtime second Brent Laing is moving to Alberta, and will compete next year with Team Kevin Koe.

We spilled it on Twitter and there was the expected reaction. But then came word that Kevin Martin‘s longtime front end of Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert, Olympic champions all back in 2010, have split from Martin and joined Team Koe, too.

All of this is big news in any curling year, but this is particularly stunning given a couple of facts.

First off, Team Koe is also Team Canada, newly-crowned Brier champs (Koe, Pat Simmons, Carter Rycroft and Nolan Thiessen) and soon headed to the worlds in Beijing. Second, thanks to the new Brier (and STOH) format changes, that Team Koe was already pre-qualified for next year’s Brier in Calgary as Team Canada.

If Laing had constituted the only team change, that meant someone else was out, from a Brier championship team, whether he would soon be leaving of his own accord or soon be released. But now, given these seismic changes, the skip of the defending Brier champion team has just forfeited his 2015 Brier berth. In the very first year of the berth taking effect.

Wow.

It’s pretty much unprecedented that news of such team changes are revealed this early, before a squad departs to wear the Maple Leaf at the worlds. It’s also utterly wild to think that numerous players have actually considered – with one now deciding – to give up a confirmed berth in the Brier.

This leaves Simmons, Rycroft and Thiessen with some thinking to do. If they stick together an add a fourth, they keep the Brier’s Team Canada berth, despite the absence of Koe – or so we think?

However, Rycroft has already declared his intention to retire or at least take the 2015 season off from competition – will that now change? Simmons, we know, has maintained a business and residence in Alberta for three years now – does he want to return home to Saskatchewan?

If Koe is willing to take a pass at a Brier berth, how many other high-performance curling athletes are?

Yes. Many are boggled.

This is what we’re getting at. A few years ago, all this would be unthinkable. The Brier was a huge, huge championship curling event – the biggest, bar none, of which every Canadian male curler dreamed about.

Nowadays, and the ongoing Team Koe machinations prove this, the Brier’s primary function – as far as the nation’s top teams are concerned – is merely to provide a qualifying route into the Olympic Trials.

And indeed, 2015 is the (non-Olympic qualifying) season where unusual team moves might be made – such as Koe’s stunning changes… such as John Morris (Brier finalist, and next in line – we assume – to get the Brier berth) either taking the year off or relocating to the B.C. coast (both are rumours, by the way)… and such as Richard Hart returning to play third for Team Howard on a one-year, fun-filled farewell tour (another rumour, folks).

All of this boggles the veteran curling mind. Since when have we seen the legacy of the Brier so – what’s the word we’re looking for – disrespected, however unintentionally this may be intended, by the top high-performance competitors in the land?

And how does this help the Canadian Curling Association challenge various opinions that are swirling about, everything from “relegation sucks” (see the upcoming April issue of The Curling News) to the Association’s present high-performance event focus being a dangerous game (see “Are the Olympics killing curling?” on the cover of our November 2013 issue and also “What the Olympics and Slams have done to Competitive Curling” by Mike Fournier at a later date online)? Not to mention obvious problems within the CCA’s own house, represented by the six-months-and-counting conflict with its Ontario member organization?

Disrespect is, I admit, a pretty strong word, even if couched by “unintentional”, and it’s one the top competitors would never use nor intend to. But the question remains: Is this continuing decline of the Brier brand really the cost of doing business in this 21st century world of curling – a world in which our sport, like many others, is changing at a rapid pace?

Perhaps. But the mind still boggles.

What on earth could be next, lurking ’round the curling corner?

[Composite Laing/Koe image by Gary Darakjian; original Sportsnet images by Anil Mungal]

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Sochi 2014: Playoffs in sight

The amazing culture of curling

by Mike McEwen

Missed the hockey guys. Oh well.

SOCHI, RUSSIA – I’ve had a few comments mentioning it’s great to see that Brent Laing and I can tolerate each other and cheer on Team Canada Women’s Curling at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Haha! Maybe I shouldn’t have used “tolerate” as the descriptive word!

As many of you are aware, our spouses are the bookends (skip and lead) of Team Jennifer Jones. And yes, it’s also very true that on the World Curling Tour and Grand Slam circuit, I usually loathe Brent and his Team Glenn Howard performances against us.

However, off the ice it’s a different story and believe it folks, that’s the case most of the time and with most of the teams on tour. Chalk it up to the amazing culture of curling. Curlers like curlers, and Brent and I are no exception. Maybe that’s why our other halves like us too (please let there be other reasons – LOL!).

So, with mutual respect like that between us it makes our job easier in the stands… Job? Yep, we’re more than just the average fan. We park our butts in some uncomfortable seats for hours on end supporting our girls just like everyone else, but with each game, every end, and every shot we are constantly analyzing (and sometimes agonizing) like only a competitive curling spouse can!

Skype session with infant – cuuuute!

When needed we are only a quick meeting, phone call, or text away. It could be just to reassure, boost confidence, or provide feedback… strategy, ice conditions, slow rock? Or how about a quick Skype session on a gondola with daughter, Isabella, back home? Very cool!

It’s a tough gig, but rewarding, and I give full credit to all the friends and family who have been doing this for much longer than I. Having the best fans… is anyone else thinking: Advantage to Team Canada?

With all the watching I’m doing, now is as good as any to weigh in with only a few round-robin games left in the schedule for the women. Although, I keep getting bugged that the camera catches me on my phone too much… it’s Twitter’s fault! (Plus: distraction is a stress relief)

No surprises in my opinion of Team Canada. With a 6-0 record and three round-robin games left our ladies look good, confident, comfortable, and the playoffs are in sight. Tonight would seal that position with a win against Russia.

It’s going to be loud… really loud in there tonight. The most simple shots from Team Russia, whether made really well or not-so-much, are going to be cheered with incredibly loud chants of “Russ-cee-ya” all night! The atmosphere is actually quite entertaining and I would imagine the big screen is going to pop up with “SHHHHHH” or “TCCCCCC” (in Russian) all night long. These screens often showcase “crowd educating” messages during the matches. However, if the girls stay on course, look for them to silence the Russian fans with their game play on the ice, and on the scoreboard.

This 3D moving billboard thing is… really weird

The other teams at the top of the standings are pretty much who I thought they would be. Great Britain, Sweden, China, and Switzerland are all in the playoff picture, but at the moment I’m not seeing enough complete performances (strategy and/or shotmaking) from this group. The next three days will better indicate who will push their play to a higher level. I’m leaning towards the defending world champs, Eve Muirhead and Team Great Britain, to do just that.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to watch a great deal of the men’s curling competition. I don’t think anyone would have put the Swiss out of playoff contention this early! On the other side of the coin, I am not surprised to see the men’s Chinese team doing so well with Canadian coach Marcel Rocque on board. I had a hunch these boys would handle the ice and atmosphere, and be in the mix the final days.

Well, from counting the empty water bottles beside me I am plenty rehydrated. Perfect, I’m in the right establishment to remedy that… Canada Olympic House! Time to pre-game and get ready to take on the boisterous Russian crowd tonight!

[Hockey Boyz photo by Anil Mungal/The Curling News – other pics by Mike McEwen]

[Click on images to increase viewing size]

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Winnipeg 2013: Game of the week

Jacobs versus Morris is bigger than you know

by George Karrys

“They all want us to lose, right?”   “That’s right.”

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]

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Winnipeg 2013: Athlete Support Inc.

Wild on ice, wild in the seats

Up and down, game after game for Nicole Kennedy

By Colin Hodgson

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.

Marc Kennedy (left) sweeps against Howard

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?

“Always.”

[Canadian Curling Association action photo copyright ® by Michael Burns]

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Winnipeg 2013: Randy Ferbey’s Olympic picks

The Ferb speaks (of course)

Randy Ferbey at his final roar, in 2009

If there’s one thing that might be considered to be missing from our December 2013 issue, it would be celebrity picks for the 2013 Canadian Olympic Trials, underway in just over an hour in Winnipeg.

We’ve published picks for the Trials and occasional Briers in recent issues. Folks like Al Hackner, Mark Dacey, Cheryl Bernard and Sherry Middaugh have bravely guessed the winners amongst the fields, putting themselves on the record.

There’s no picks in our latest issue, but we do have an entry for you right now, courtesy of another of our superstar regulars – Mr. Randy Ferbey.

Take it away Ferb!

MEN

1. Glenn Howard (5-2) – Obvious choice to finish first
2. Kevin Martin (5-2) – Some question marks still?
3. Kevin Koe (5-2) – Hottest  team coming in
4. Jeff Stoughton (4-3) – If Jeff plays well he could win this by himself
5. Mike McEwen (3-4) – Could and should be better
6. Brad Jacobs (3-4) – These guys just might surprise again
7. John Morris (2-5) – Too much to ask for a new team
8. John Epping (1-6) – Sorry John, just too tough a field

MEN’S PLAYOFFS

Semifinal: Stoughton over Martin
Final: Howard over Stoughton

WOMEN
1. Jennifer Jones (5-2) – Best skip in the field
2. Rachel Homan (5-2) – Peaking at the right time?
3. Stefanie Lawton (4-3) – Might be time for her to finally win the big one
4. Renée Sonnenberg (4-3) – Surprise of the field
5. Heather Nedohin (4-3) – Kind of an up and down season
6. Chelsea Carey (3-4) – Too inconsistent
7. Val Sweeting (2-5) – Maybe four years from now
8. Sherry Middaugh (1-6) – Sorry, time has passed her by

WOMEN’S PLAYOFFS

Tiebreaker: Lawton over Sonnenberg
Semifinal: Jones over Lawton

Final: Jones over Homan

[Canadian Curling Association photo copyright ® by Michael Burns – click on image to increase viewing size]

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OTR Curling Recap

Well. That was quite a show, eh?

And that’s quite a photo from yesterday, eh? We like it because John Morris looks funny. Sorry, Johnny (click to zoom in).

You can watch the latest all-curling edition of TSN’s Off The Record on the OTR webpage, located here. Just click on the video player on the right, and you’re off and running.

You can also view the various segments through this page.

It starts with host Michael Landsberg and defending Casino Rama Skins champ Randy Ferbey (Up Front, 4:52). Some highlights:

Ferbey on arch-rival Kevin Martin: “I think he thinks too much of his team and not the sport, and other teams in general… as curlers we’re trying to grow the game and I think Kevin is too much into himself.”

Ferbey on teammate David Nedohin‘s injury: “Dave was working out, doing some squats and popped his S1 in his back, so he’s out indefinitely.”

Middaugh on his new teammate: “Back when I was playing with the Howard family I thought Randy was just another one of those western curlers that all they could do is throw it hard down the ice.”

Middaugh on tomorrow’s battle against Glenn Howard: “It’s been quote a while since (Glenn has) beaten a men’s team at the Skins.”

Randy on his curling future: “I feel I’ve got lots to offer; I’m not gonna quit until I have to.”

The show itself then followed, in two segments (7:31 and 5:21) and there was… much teasing.

Landsberg teased Murdoch about Tom Brewster; about Canada deserving two Olympic curling teams; about hockey; about his accent (eh?) and about winning silver in Vancouver (!!).

Landsberg (and Ferbey) teased Howard and Martin third Johnny Mo about the Brier being tougher to win than a Grand Slam.

And so on.

Anything else? Heck, yes.

Stay tuned to the video player for a highly amusing Next Question segment with Glenn Howard (4:17) and, finally, Really Off The Record boasting a final 4:52 of five-way banter to wrap it up.

As for the questions submitted by our faithful readers? A couple of them wriggled their way onto the show – well done peeps!

The Casino Rama Curling Skins Game gets underway tomorrow at 1:00pm ET in Rama, Ontario… and is televised live on The Sports Network, in High-Definition.

Bonus trivia question: at the very end of Really Off The Record, a specific word was bleeped out. What is interesting is that Landsberg then wondered aloud if, in fact, the word would be bleeped out during the editing process.

What was the word?

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Curling Super Spare

Another exclusive from The Curling News, from us to you: David Nedohin is out of this weekend’s Casino Rama Skins Curling Game, and guess who is in?

The defending champion Randy Ferbey squad will have a new, very temporary fellow throwing last bricks when they take on Team Glenn Howard on Saturday (1:00pm ET, TSN). And this fellow knows Team Glenn Howard, and specifically Cliffy, very well indeed.

This fellow also knows skins curling very well. Indeed.

Recognize the face? Recognize the uniform?

(Put the two together, as our ace photog Anil Mungal has done here, and we suddenly develop a mild headache. This looks so… not right.)

Suffice to say that Ontario curling fans who are upset about missing a certain high-powered matchup at next month’s Tankard in Napanee can now head to Casino Rama on Saturday, for a very special edition of such a missing matchup.

We don’t have the details why, as of yet, but no doubt all will be explained on tonight’s all-curling Off The Record Skins Curling Special, 6:00pm ET on TSN. Hey, perhaps this fellow will even phone in to the show.

Speaking of, have you submitted your question(s) to the curlers for today’s show taping? We’ve got six stellar queries so far, but with the taping scheduled for early afternoon today, this is your last call to contribute

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Curling Skins Questions?

Tomorrow, Thursday January 14, is Curling Skins Day on the TSN talk show Off The Record (OTR).

Once again, the four skips taking part in this weekend’s Casino Rama Skins Game will be in the hotseats for a half-hour of jabbering, laughing, frowning and finger-pointing.

Make that three skips and one third.

Glenn Howard, Randy Ferbey and Scotland’s David Murdoch will be there. But Kevin Martin‘s chair will be taken by third man John Morris, which could make things quite interesting.

Remember, ace TCN blogger Margo Weber declared that Johnny Mo is going to be a star in Vancouver. Does that star begin ascending on Thursday?

Anyway, a question about questions. Specifically: what kinds of questions would you ask any of these curling stars, if TSN happened to invite your contributions?

Not to toot our own horn too much… but if you post your question ideas in the Comment(s) field below, you just might see and hear your question pop up on Thursday’s show.

TOOT!

[Morris photo montage by Anil Mungal]

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A Christmas Curling Carol

Christmas is coming… and TCN publisher George Karrys has this curling take on the Charles Dickens holiday classic, as it appeared Monday in his weekly Sun Media column.

Which do you prefer: Ebenezer Martin, or Kevin Scrooge? (Photoshop job of Kevin Martin by Anil Mungal)

For more curling news, be sure to follow the TCN Twitter feed. We had planned to celebrate our one-thousandth Tweet but, whoops, it looks like we passed that milestone a while ago, and currently sit at more than 1,400 postings (as of Thursday morning).

We hate it when that happens!

Among the awesome curling newsworthys you will find are:

• Team Cheryl Bernard gets their Olympic tattoos

• 130-year-old outdoor curling clubs hits the ice

• CTV Olympics video player allows you to “call the play” from previous Olympic moments, and the CTV guys are huge fans of one such video for the 2006 Olympic men’s curling final

• Men’s, women’s and junior playdown results

• Merry Ho Ho greeting from the Swiss Olympic women

• VANOC Marketplace offers Olympic curling tickets for legal re-sale

• Team Ferbey makes list of Top 10 team sport dynasties of the decade

And more. So much more.

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Not a fashion show?

by Margo Weber
EDMONTON – There comes a time when we have to put the actual curling skills aside, and state the obvious.
As we have mentioned before, this is not a fashion show… but at these 2009 Roar of the Rings Olympic Trials, it seems the women in particular have been preparing in a big way.
There’s the TV time. There’s the big crowds. Let us ponder, for one moment, what it would cost to come and look your best while competing at such an event. A few hundred dollars, in some cases?
I’m pretty sure some entire teams got makeovers within the last week or two. There’s some serious French manicures out there. There is not one natural strand of hair in sight when the women take the ice (except perhaps on Amber Holland).

But they’re looking good! As a whole, this sport has come a long way. Gone are the days of Cathy King’s huge plastic earrings. Good job, ladies. And good on Mondetta for the attire the players are sporting. I’d say the outfits are flattering on most.

Let’s talk about the earrings. I think Kelly Scott has more piercings in her little ears than my entire six person family. Kim Schneider, from Holland’s squad (CCA photo by Michael Burns) has some seriously huge hearts dangling from her lobes.

Regarding the hair. I’ve been waiting for some of the skips to tie back their hair a bit, I got it Wednesday morning when both Crystal Webster and Cheryl Bernard ponytailed it up. Previous to that, I was thinking about leaving a little bag of ponytails behind each sheet.
I realize that although most skips don’t partake in sweeping duties… I think it’s their duty as players… possible future Olympic athletes… to look like athletes….to convince people that this is indeed a sport. Maybe we could start with a bobby pin or two… just put the frickin’ hair back so you can see where you’re going!

I’ll leave the men alone… for now. I see no harm in the crazy white belts the Glenn Howard team insists on wearing. As for the hair, I do applaud the Kevin Koes and Jonathan Meads for not fighting with nature and just shaving it all off. Nice work, boys.