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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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Night at the Patch

by Margo Weber
EDMONTON – Last night was a good one for those that like a party, but the gist amongst the crowd was that tonight, the final night, will be the big one. Can’t wait!
Here’s some fun things you would have heard and seen if you were at the Patch last night…
• TSN talkie Ray Turnbull confirmed his departure from TV after this year, to much resounding boos from the audience. He also confirmed his homosexual relationship with Tiger Woods.
Kari MacLean from Team Krista McCarville had a steady line-up of males waiting to talk to her.
Kevin Koe’s wife, Carla, walked up to Wayne Middaugh and said “Wayne, I could have made those two shots with my hiking boots on.”
Susan O’Connor of Team Cheryl Bernard promised to be the ‘drunkest girl in the patch’ after their final game tonight, regardless of outcome.

• The rest of Jason Gunnlaugson’s team wanting to get in on autographing some boobs (heavily censored photo above).

• A re-cap on the big screen from the night before when Middaugh third Jonathan Mead danced around in undershorts (his) and a black bra (some else’s).
Patch it up, folks! It’s always a party!
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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.
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Playah: Brent Laing

 

by Margo Weber

EDMONTON – What’s up, Playah? My pick for today’s superstar is you, Brent Laing.

You rocked the house against Randy Ferbey this morning. You have Olympic rings in your eyes and you are quickly becoming one of those killer seconds. You were almost perfect in your game today, outcurling Scott Pfeifer by more than 10 per cent, and he threw mid-eighties! You made a seriously sweet long raise double, ouch! And a squeaker hit through a tiny port… I felt that, yowza!

Tonight you play off against Kevin Martin for a spot in the final, you’ll be battling another hot shot second, Marc Kennedy. You’ve got your work cut out for you, but guess what. My husband is a serious Glenn Howard fan and will be wearing a white belt at Rexall Place tonight.

I will mention that Ben Hebert made the tick shot twice, perfectly, for skipper Martin in this morning’s game against Kevin Koe… but, nah. I’m sticking with you, Lainger.

Keep ‘er going, Playah!

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Men keep it simple

 by Margo Weber
EDMONTON – Okay, this is the situation for the dudes.

Tonight, Glenn Howard and Kevin Martin play for a spot in the final. Loser goes directly into the semifinal.

Jeff Stoughton (4-2) and both Kevin Koe and Randy Ferbey (3-3) are still in the mix.
However, if Stoughton beats Pat Simmons tonight, he is in the semi. Everyone else is out. If he loses, then he must play a tiebreaker against the winner of the Ferbey/Koe game.

See? The men keep it simple!

PS: The editor, gk, has asked me to remind you all about the TCN Twitter feed. I just checked it out myself and my gawd, there is so much extra curling stuff on there – including big news from the Euros over in Aberdeen, Scotland – that I think you could use the info to publish an extra edition of The Curling News every month.

So click here and check it out.

[CCA photo of Kevin Martin by Michael Burns]
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Playah: Carter Rycroft

by Margo Weber
Welcome to our first installment of Playah of the Day. We thought it would be a good idea to give props to the hard-working athletes out there and, in this forum, showcase talent both on and off the ice. Daily we will provide you, the reader, with our take on who the real superstar of the day is.
This person must be tearing up the sheets. This person must be showing mad skillz. This person must be hot enough to be the curling poster boy for The Bay’s Olympic apparel… okay, there’s only one guy that fits that description: Carter Rycroft.

The second for Kevin Koe – who are now 2-0 – rocked a stellar 94 per cent in today’s afternoon game against Jason Gunnlaugson. He makes this stuff look easy.

I knew this guy would be a curling superstar ever since we both played in the 1993 Alberta Junior provincials. Even then he had boyish charm, superb curling prowess and the desire to win.
Oh Carter, I’ll never forgive you for losing not once, not twice, but thrice to Les Sonnenberg only to send him off to the Pepsi Nationals whereupon he would be disqualified for drinking at a junior event.
Carter, we know you would have done the same thing. That’s why you’re our Playah of the Day.

[CCA photo by Michael Burns]

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Margo Weber: The Olympic Dream

[Welcome back Margo Weber; blogstar from the 2009 Tim Hortons Brier, she is back to pontificate on the Tim Hortons Canadian (Olympic) Trials. Here’s her big-picture portrait of this amazing Olympic canvas…]
by Margo Weber

It all comes down to this, folks… because it’s finally here, what everyone has been talking about. The Roar of the Rings.

We’ve been waiting for this for years and it promises to be the best display of curling… possibly ever. This is an event with the best men’s and women’s curlers in Canada. Two teams will be crowned Olympians and go on to represent our country at home in Vancouver in February.

This is huge.

The last Olympic Trials I saw in person was in Brandon in 1997. I held my breath when Sandra Schmirler made ‘the shot’, and I sat right behind the sheet when Mike Harris casually walked away to get a drink of water, and walked back an Olympian.

I have very clear memories of sitting down with Shannon Kleibrink after her eventual loss to Team Schmirler, and with tears in her eyes she said she wasn’t upset at that moment because she’d lost the game… she just missed her kids.

This is a big deal. People put their lives on hold for this. Some wait just a few more years to start a family. Some set their careers aside, and even let them slip. Certainly most players sacrifice every vacation day they have just to prepare themselves for what might be. The Olympic Dream is a costly one.

Schmirler famously burst into tears after her final rock in that game. She was barely able to shake hands. She later explained that she simply did not know how she was going to leave her babies.

Some teams have been a threat for years. Kevin Martin, Glenn Howard, Jennifer Jones… they all qualified two seasons ago. They’ve been waiting, planning and preparing. Jason Gunnlaugson and Crystal Webster were pleasant surprises… perhaps they have less pressure on them. Maybe they will carry less on their shoulders as they march into Rexall Place. Someone like Jeff Stoughton knows he should be there… and will just take it one game at a time.

For us spectators, we sit… and wait… and, now, finally, we get to watch. And be glad we aren’t the parent of someone out there on the ice.

But we all know there are curling superstars in the making out there. Regardless of what happens, at least some of the athletes on the eventual Olympic teams will be brand new, frst-time Olympians.

They likely have no idea how their lives will change.

[CCA photo of Cheryl Bernard (nice shaaawwwt!) by Michael Burns]
• Behind-the-scenes pics of Opening Ceremonies and gab session
• Winner of our Glenn Howard curling condom trivia contest (say what?!)
… and more!
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2010 Curling Calendar On Sale

A new curling calendar launches today, featuring action photography of some of the biggest names in The Roaring Game.

The 2010 Capital One Curling Calendar is now on sale for $16.95 (before shipping and handling) and features such rock stars as Jennifer Jones, Kevin Martin, Brad Gushue, Stefanie Lawton, Team Kevin Koe, Scottish wonderkid Eve Muirhead, and more.

“It’s a great idea and it’s an honour to be included,” said Glenn Howard, one of sixteen Olympic hopefuls who are skipping teams at Edmonton’s Roar of the Rings Olympic Trials starting December 6.

Howard’s image, captured by Capital One Grand Slam of Curling photographer Anil Mungal, appears on the cover. His team also makes an appearance inside.

“This is great for curling fans and it provides excellent exposure in an Olympic year. Curling is booming these days.”

The 13-month wall calendar hangs 9.5” x 24” in wire-o-bound for a perfect finish, and is printed in brilliant colour on the same high-grade,  glossy stock as the 2009 Women of Curling Calendar. Each calendar is also packed into a corrugated sleeve to prevent shipping damage.

The 2010 Capital One Curling Calendar is an all-ages, all-curling product and even includes event listings from far across the sport spectrum. Events both in Canada and around the world – even during the summer months – are included, making this a handy curling reference guide.

Net proceeds will be split equally between The Curling News and Shoot For A Cure Curling, the charitable campaign of the Canadian and American Spinal Research Organizations, which aims to cure spinal injuries and paralysis and boost awareness of wheelchair curling, an official 2010 Paralympic sport.

Click here to order your 2010 Capital One Curling Calendar… just in time for the holiday season!

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Olympic curling roadsign

Our friend Terry Jones is back on the curling beat, and not a moment too soon.

The veteran Sun Media sports scribe, who also authored the 2007 book The Ferbey Four, was at a “32 days out” ceremony for the massive Roar of the Rings event coming to Edmonton December 6-13.

Otherwise known as the Tim Hortons Canadian Curling Trials, the event is basically the “Olympic Trials” which will declare Canada’s representatives for Vancouver 2010.

As Jones tells us here, many of the late week draw matchups were revealed as part of the news conference.

The much-anticipated and possibly crucial all-Edmonton battle between Kevin Martin and Randy Ferbey will be on the Wednesday afternoon draw, which also features Edmonton’s Kevin Koe versus the other pre-qualified team skipped by Ontario’s Glenn Howard.

Thursday morning features Ferbey-Howard and Martin-Koe, and Thursday night will feature Ferbey-Koe and Martin-Howard.

Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones, Calgarian Cheryl Bernard, Saskatoon’s Stefanie Lawton and Calgary’s 2006 Olympic bronze medallist Shannon Kleibrink have their feature games against each other Wednesday morning, Wednesday evening and Thursday afternoon.

As any curling fan worth his or her salt knows, the remaining squads will be known after the Road to the Roar in Prince George, B.C., which starts up pretty darned soon.

Jonesy also tells us that ticket sales are already at 134,844 for the eight-day event, and single draw tickets go on sale this Saturday.

Tickets are $50 a pop for the women’s final (Dec. 12) and the men’s final (Dec. 13), while the semifinals are $40 each. The early round-robin draws are $30 each.

For heaven’s sake, this has got to be one of the last wakeup calls for curling fans to get their butt to Edmonton, for this showdown of the ages.

“We can’t believe this event is only a month away,” said host committee woman Jackie-Rae Greening. “Probably in our lifetime we won’t have the opportunity again to watch a trials where the winners get to represent Canada on their home turf at the Olympic Games. Now it’s getting so close, it’s getting so exciting.”

The last word goes to K-Mart, who unveiled some kind of countdown road sign, along with Kleibrink, at yesterday’s newser (photo by inews880AM, click to zoom in).

“I think the level of curling has increased significantly, the curlers have been training harder and have all become better than we were four years ago,” said Martin.

“That’s going to make this event even better and hopefully is going to make Canada even better at the Olympics.”

NOTE: have you signed up to follow The Curling News Twitter account?

If not, you’ve already missed today’s info on New Brunswick’s mixed team; Stoughton and Burtnyk on their Road to the Roar (and McEwen and Gunnlaugson, too); the husband of Sandra Schmirler and his honour at carrying the Olympic Torch; and Brad Gushue as an “interesting choice” to publicize the Tim Hortons Brier… considering that he hopes to not compete in it!

Head to the page and click on “Follow” to get tuned in to the digital curling world!

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Curling Photo Feedback

This photo captures the millisecond following the moment of impact of Kevin Koe’s last-shot attempt to win the Grey Power World Cup of Curling.
The angle-runback missed by a hair, ticking a front guard, and two of Koe’s team members react with obvious dismay.

The photo was shot the stands at the Hershey Centre by Allen Hofstetter of Paris, Ontario.

Allen and his wife Lynne Gawley-Hofstetter started a little curling supply business called Hit The Broom Curling Gear about four years ago. The Paris Curling Club, just outside of Brantford, had lost its informal “supply guy” so the Hofstetters starting displaying curling equipment on tables at the club.

“The response was amazing,” said Allen.

In a contra deal for the selling space, Allen built a large trophy case for the club’s basement. Now the company supplies Paris and also travels to surrounding clubs during popular bonspiels.

The squad also befriended the victorious Team Glenn Howard around the same time. The friendship is such that Howard lead Craig Savill even mailing one of his official Brier shirts to the couple’s 13-year-old son, Tucker, in 2007.

In addition, the squad was sent this photo, which soon made its way to The Curling News Blog, where is has been published here, with thanks to the Hofstetter clan.

A full-size version of the photo will appear in the upcoming December issue of The Curling News. Got your subscription yet?

Incidentally, Howard third Richard Hart has been corresponding with TCN writer Matt Hames this week, following Hames’ awesome blog and twitter posts during the World Cup final last Sunday.

Hames, who has blogged about the Hart discussions is correct to note that “Prior to the internet, this world class player would never have been able to get this kind of feedback about (his own) game.

“True, he could have watched the tape of the final on CBC and got the commentators’ take on the game, but that’s more an official take. Mine was kind of off-the-cuff riffs on the game in general.

“(Hart) may or may not find value in the feedback, but he’s at least taking the time to acknowledge that feedback can be valuable.”

On a final note, the World Cup feedback from television is quite good. Sunday’s final scored 441,000 viewers on CBC-TV, while Saturday’s quarter-final matchup between Koe and Brad Gushue earned 483,000 viewers, which is up 83 per cent over last year’s numbers.