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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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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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Classic Corngate Curling Video

Kevin Martin, circa 1991. We kid you not.

Huzzahs to our friend Bob Cowan at Skip Cottage Curling, the authority on all things Scottish in curling.

First, he recently launched a new blog design… and now, in recent months, he has begun transferring and posting all kinds of ancient videotaped curling footage onto the interweb. Oh joy.

In this posting today, Bob has showcased nearly 10 minutes of VHS footage from the 1991 Safeway World Men’s Curling Championship, featuring a young David Smith of Scotland and a remarkably young – and full-haired and moustached – Kevin Martin, the recent Olympic champion at Vancouver 2010.

As many curling fans are aware, this marked Martin’s adult debut on the world stage and, quite frankly, the peak of his unpopularity. This was mostly due to what we shall dub “Corngate”… and which we shall now explain.

In their round robin match, Martin trailed the Scottish team by a few points at the halfway mark, whereupon he and teammate Kevin Park pulled out corn brooms – the classic, original curling sweeping device – to give the ice surface some more, er, character. A move that was fully within the rules (at that time) but which was considered unethical by many… including the pro-Canadian crowd.

The expected rematch took place in the final, and once again the Scots took the early advantage and… again… the Edmonton squad pulled out the straw. The Winnipeg crowd was not appreciative of this move.

“Listen to the crowd booing and jeering. Quite right, too,” offers BBC commentator Richard Harding.

But the Scots had learned from this strategy, and with some help from some Canadian compatriots, they were prepared to counteract the sticky corn with hog hair brushes purchased from a local curling shop. Scotland went on to prevail, and captured their first world men’s championship in 24 years.

Fantastic stuff.

Click here for the Skip Cottage Curling story page, which will lead you to the video.

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Team Canada on ice: first look

Here is a first look at Team Canada, men’s version, on the ice at the Vancouver Olympic Centre.

In The Curling News photo at left, skip Kevin Martin (left) and alternate Adam Enright prepare to keep the path clean for John Morris as the first of two practice days winds down.

“Today was about getting used to the building and really getting that Olympic feel,” Martin told CTVOlympics.ca afterwards. “I was here about 10-15 minutes early to take in the building. Every building is different so I wanted to get a feel without playing a game.”

“It was moving really well, at least four and a half feet,” said Martin. “It was mostly moving late and it was pretty finicky with weight.”

While the team eased into things on Sunday, they plan to get in a more structured session on Monday.

“Today was more mechanical for the guys. They were throwing well and getting comfortable,” said Martin. “Tomorrow (Monday), we’ll do more sweeping and game situations.”

[Click on image to increase size. Copyright owned by The Curling News (2010)]

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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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Dude is gonna be a star

by Margo Weber

Okay, so I didn’t go to the final game, and watched it at my in-law’s house. They had a pre-Christmas dinner. We do more than one Christmas on that side of the family.
As soon as the game was over and last rock was thrown… the TV was turned off. Sigh. My favourite part… and I missed it.

I don’t have much to say about the game, except for the obvious: the Kevin Martin squad was the team to beat. They played better, they were just plain better. They will be our best representatives from a skill standpoint… not that I’m in love with his international record but hey, let’s not beat a dead horse here.
I still see some shiny medals coming home to Alberta. I suspect gold in colour, but who knows.

I look forward to seeing how outrageous the John Morris campaigns will be. I’d imagine we’re going to be seeing him rake in some serious cash for advertisements etc. Especially if he helps bring home the gold. Right now, every curling fan in Canada knows who he is. The Olympics are a whole different animal. Dude is gonna be a star.

I like to think of opportunities for curlers at a time like this. The Martin and Cheryl Bernard team members are funded to the tune of $1,500 each a month, tax-exempt, for 30 months. And if they win gold, it will be even more profitable to stick it out and curl and curl and curl and curl and in some cases, treat it like a job.
Don’t get me wrong, nobody’s getting rich curling. But things like getting cash for Olympic medals (is it still $20,000 for gold?) certainly help out the wallet.
Just don’t blow it all on souvenirs.
Photo caption:
KMART: Geez young fellah, you are so gonna overshadow me in Vancouver!
JMO (contemplatively): Yes. I know.
[CCA photo by Michael Burns]
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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!