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Canadian Seniors in Ottawa

There’s a bunch of amazing curling events on tap this weekend, including the 2010 Canadian Seniors in Ottawa (event website here).

Have you paid any attention to Seniors curling lately? More and more legends are qualifying for this age group and are winning their provincial championships to make it to the national shootout. Just take a look at some of the women’s teams:

Agnes Charette (QUE)… Christine Jurgenson (BC)… Laura Phillips (NL)… Heidi Hanlon (NB)… and Diane Foster (AB) to name a few.

And the men? We’ve got Al Hackner (NONT)… Brad Heidt (SK)… Brian Rafuse (NS)… Pierre Charette (QUE)… Mark Johnson (AB)… Wes Craig (BC) and more.

Hackner and Foster are recent champions, with Hackner losing the 2007 world senior final in Edmonton on an amazing last shot by Scotland, and Foster winning the 2008 world seniors in Vierumaki, Finland.

We’ve got some other neat tidbits for you to chew on. Did you know that:

• The first national Canadian Ladies’ Championship (the “Dominion Diamond D”) was held at the Ottawa Hunt in 1961, two years after its curling rink was opened? (And yes, that makes this the 50th Anniversary season of Ottawa Hunt curling)

• The Hunt staged the 1986 Ontario women’s provincial, won by Marilyn Darte (Bodogh)?  (She went on to win the Scotties and Worlds)

• Marilyn’s sister Christine, who played second on that squad, is skipping this year’s BC Seniors entry?

• The Hunt also hosted the 2008 CN Canadian Women’s Open Golf championship, and the 1976 Canadian Senior Men’s Curling Championship?

• The 2010 ladies’ team from B. C. won the championship in 2008 after going 10-1, and went on to win the 2009 worlds in New Zealand… but with Pat Sanders at skip stone?

• The 2010 Alberta champs are the same three (third, second and lead) that won the Canadian Seniors in 2005 and 2007, but with a different skip each year? This year it’s Mark Johnson; in 2007, it was Pat Ryan; and in 2005…? The skip was Les Rogers.

Brian Rafuse also represented Nova Scotia in 2008, going 9-2, but failed to win? (The title went to Sask’s Eugene Hritzuk)

Agnes Charette won the Canadian Seniors in 1997, 1999 and 2001, but went 6-5 at her most recent appearance, in 2008?

• Al “The Iceman” Hackner won in 2006 with the same line-up, except that Rick Lang has been replaced by Art Lappalainen? And did you know that Artie is the brother of curling media legend Chico Heseltine‘s son-in-law? (Er, no, we bet you didn’t know that last one)

• The action will be fast and furious, and lots of fun, and it all starts tomorrow? (Yes, we bet you did know that one)

[Thanks to event co-Chair Carol Lawless for the photo (that’s her, by the way) and to curling legend Terry Begin for the tidbits]

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First Shot: STOH tickets

It’s your First Shot for Scotties curling tickets!
The latest version of the Canadian Curling Association e-newsletter “Hittin’ the Button” arrived this morning, offering pre-sale tickets to the 2010 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, January 30-February 7 in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

There are four new ways for you to see the first national sports championship ever held in the new Essar Centre.

Pick the package that works best for your schedule. Four options. Seven draws. Each one includes the championship weekend.

And all ticket packages include your pass to the Heart Stop Lounge, the biggest “Do in the Soo”! Join the crowd for a beverage, a bite and great live entertainment.

To grab your tickets now, head to this Essar Centre ticket page and enter promotional code CCAPROMO.

To ensure that you receive notification of all future Season of Champions ticket launches, sign up for the CCA “Hittin’ The Button” newsletter by visiting this URL.

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NONT Curling Week

The Northern Ontario Curling Association has launched the inaugural “Curling Week in Northern Ontario” presented by Bearskin Airlines, with a trip for two to the STOH and a very cool historical poll all part of the celebration.

From today, October 31 through November 8, the campaign aims to honour the history of the Roaring Game in Ontario’s north by increasing curling’s visibility and encourage participation.

Curling clubs across Northern Ontario are participating in many different ways. Some are hosting an Open House and “Learn to Curl” clinics while others are hosting celebrity matches, Halloween parties, challenge games and more.

For the full list of activities planned by various curling clubs, visit the NOCA website.

“Northern Ontario has a proud curling history and we have much to celebrate,” said Al Gemmell, President of the Northern Ontario Curling Association.

“We encourage everyone to visit their local curling club during Curling Week. This time is a great time to try curling!”

Visitors to participating curling clubs can enter a free draw for a trip for two to the opening weekend of the 2010 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, beginning January 30.

The prize package includes airline flights from any Northern Ontario location from which Bearskin Airlines flies, one double occupancy room for three nights at the Great Northern Hotel and Conference Centre, and tickets to opening draws.

The contest is open to Northern Ontario residents only, aged 18 years of age or older.

The NOCA website also features a poll on the “Top 5 Moments in Northern Ontario Curling History.”

Options include the first Brier championship for Northern Ontario in 1950, “The Shot” by Al Hackner at the 1985 Moncton Brier, Heather Houston’s back-to-back Scott Tournament of Hearts titles, the first Northern Ontario Wheelchair Championship, and seven others.

The Top five choices selected by the public will be unveiled in November.

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The Curling News: April 2009 issue

The final issue of the 52nd season of The Curling News has been sent to subscribers, so all that remains is to get it to you.

Click here to subscribe today.

You won’t want to miss our take on the curling world, in this critical pre-Olympic season, which includes:

The Brier: Kevin Martin’s Men are really that good

The Scotties: Larry Wood wraps it up

The Wrench Speaks III: One last blast from Eddie Werenich

They Said It: an awesome finale to the 2009 season… including Bill Cosby!

Matt Hames on drawing for the hammer

• The Capital One Grand Slam in Grand Prairie

Vancouver Olympic Centre: open for business

The Dominion Club Corner: The Dominion Club Championship is underway

• Larry Wood on the World Cup of Curling

The Canada Cup: it runneth over

The Curling News TV Guide: April 2009 (but of course)

AND MORE!

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One helluva Scotties

What a show.

From start to finish, the 2009 Canadian women’s curling championship – the Scotties Tournament of Hearts – had it all. And this wrap-up story, by local Victoria Times-Colonist sportswriter Shari Epp called it well:

Sunday’s game was the finale to a terrific week of curling. Blowouts were scarce, extra end games became the norm, and nearly everyone had a shot at the playoffs. This year’s Scotties was a roller coaster of expectations that soared one minute and plunged the next.

Amen, sister.

B.C. skip Marla Mallett, who seemed to be a lightning rod for controversy right from the opening bell – actually even prior to that, during the Hot Shots skills competition – played some great curling. Plain and simple. Both when she was in hit mode, and when she was challenging for the lead, such as right from the get-go of the championship final against the eventual winner, Jennifer Jones (Times-Colonist photo by Adrian Lam from this story; and you can see 12 more cool pix here).

Epp described that like this:

It became clear, after the first end, nobody had a clue what would happen in the game. Rocks were everywhere, and Mallett and (third Grace) MacInnis looked about as flustered as they might playing Wednesday night ladies league.

Al Cameron’s On The Rocks had another interpretation:

Mallett showed me something tonight, both on and off the ice. She went at Team Canada from the word go … Based on what we saw on Sunday night, she’d be worthy of the (Team Canada) uniform.

You can see all kinds of video highlights here… photos, publications, stats and newsbytes over here… a new-ish view on skipper Jones located here… all the local Times-Colonist stories and tidbits compiled here… and the last word from CP here.

Times Colonist photo by Adrian Lam (with story here).

Thanks to The Curling News contributing bloggers Margo Weber and the very busy Elaine Dagg-Jackson.

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Bring it on, baby

One game left. Bring it on, baby. That’s what we’re here for. If it’s meant to be, we’re going to make it happen.

Marla Mallett

We love it. We love playing in these big games. We’re not scared of them, we love them. And we just love being out there together and enjoying the moment together.
Jennifer Jones

by Elaine Dagg-Jackson

VICTORIA – The thing about being a competitor at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts is that once you’ve been there, nothing else will do.

For nine glorious days, real life melts away and you experience a fantasy state of life – living in a beautiful hotel, having three gourmet meals a day prepared for you, a team driver at your beck and call, and enthused curling fans cheering for your shots.

As rookie Scottie participant Kari MacLean – who roomed at the Empress Hotel this week with veteran Lorraine Lang – described it, “Lorraine tried to tell me what it would be like, but now that I’ve been here I get it, and all I want to do is get back!”

Surely that determination is related to some of the amazing matches we have witnessed here in Victoria, where it seemed that no game was in the bank until the last rock was thrown. I witnessed more upsets and comebacks than I have ever seen before, and I thought this year’s field was possibly the most equal of all time.

Team Alberta found a way to get back on the Scotties ice even after being eliminated on Thursday at the end of round-robin play. An enthusiastic but humbled Cheryl Bernard team participated in a wheelchair curling demonstration game against a very capable local team. This took place immediately following the three-four game.

While I am sure Cheryl and company were happy to get back on that Scotties ice one more time, I think they left the ice with a new degree of respect for the skill of those who throw curling shots from a chair!

On that note, congratulations to Vancouver’s Jim Armstrong and his Canadian wheelchair curling team, crowned world champions yesterday afternoon on hometown Olympic (and Paralympic) ice.

Will another Vancouver team become STOH champions tonight?

A number of teams won the hearts of the fans here in Victoria, and Saskatchewan was certainly on of them. In the three-four game on Saturday, crowd-pleasing Stefanie Lawton and co. put up a valiant fight against veteran Jennifer Jones and Team Canada. Every time Canada pulled ahead in the score, a driven Lawton found a way to stay alive.

Team Saskatchewan earned the respect and support of the crowd early in the Tournament and captivated them all week. Enormously disappointed after being eliminated, Lawton and company remained on the field of play long after the game… soaking up every last moment of their 2009 Scotties experience. I know parents/coaches Linda and Bob Miller must have been bursting with pride, watching from back home in Saskatchewan.

The evening game saw more of the same indelible spirit as Marie-France Larouche’s Team Quebec fought back from a 0-5 deficit in the semifinal. Both teams entertained with crowd-pleasing shots all game. In the end the experience of the Jones squad proved insurmountable but Team Quebec won the hearts of everyone here – once again – at the Scotties.

When you’re on the ice competing at an event like this, normal life fades away and for one amazing week, you feel like anything is possible. Tonight the Tournament draws to a close and the 60 athletes of the 2009 Scotties will leave Victoria with memories of competition, friendship and determination to find a way to get back to this amazing event.

Tonight there are only two teams left alive and ten more who are plotting their return. Tonight one team will be crowned 2009 Scotties Canadian Champions – will it be the veteran Team Canada, which has pulled wins out of the clutches of defeat, or the rookie Marla Mallett team from British Columbia, which have revelled in the ice conditions all week here in Victoria?

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Gold for Canada, STOH finale tomorrow

VANCOUVER – If you thought Canada has dominated the world of wheelchair curling, you would be wrong.

Yes, Chris Daw and company struck gold at the debut of the sport at the 2006 Paralympic Games, but in six world championships there’s been just a silver and a bronze… and, in the last three worlds, two fourth-place finishes and a sixth-place ranking.

That all ended today as Vancouver’s own big Jim Armstrong and company – with one member of that 2006 team on the ice, Vernon’s Sonja Gaudet – took apart Sweden by a 9-2 count to win the 2009 World title.

Story here.

WCF photo by Al Harvey.

Tomorrow: Canada versus B.C. at the Scotties.

Ironic, according to one writer, that it was Marla Mallet who allowed Team Canada into the party (playoffs) to begin with, where “they’ve been trashing the joint ever since… already knocked over the kitchen table, spilled red wine on the carpet and made a heck of a mess behind the couch.”

To the winners: a trip to Korea, a return to the 2010 STOH in Sault Ste. Marie, another two years of Sport Canada funding, a berth in the Canada Cup, lots of CTRS points, more Kruger jewelry and bragging rights.

And all of it comes to you live, tomorrow night, for the first time on a prime time Sunday night… and for the first time on TSN.

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Not cheering for BC: Weber

Say hello to yet another TCN blogger, folks.

Margo Weber is a competitive curler from Calgary and an avid observer… most recently from her couch, as she is taking time away from the ice lanes to raise a family. In her first effort, she says she knows whom she is NOT cheering for in Victoria…

by Margo Weber

It’s probably no surprise to Marla Mallett that her team from BC has made the 1-2 playoff game at the 2009 Scotties Tournament of Hearts. But I bet it’s a surprise to everyone else.

In a field that included Team Canada’s Jennifer Jones, Saskatoon’s Stephanie Lawton and Calgary’s Cheryl Bernard, the play of Team BC has been no less than remarkable.

So can BC hold up their first place status and win one of two chances to make the final? This team made the 1-2 game by virtue of their eighth win on Wednesday night, however has subsequently lost their last two round robin games. If they can’t get things back on track, it’s going to be a long summer of what-ifs for Mallett and her squad from the Vancouver Curling Club.

Mallett (Kruger Products Ltd. photo above by Andrew Klaver) has certainly not let the extra pressure of being the home team diminish their chances. They don’t even seem to care what the crowd thinks.

They chose not to participate in the Ford Hot Shots at the beginning of the week because they feared it would be a distraction from the real goal – winning the Scotties.

Mallett also plays a less-than-crowd-pleasing style of game that is unbelievably boring and pretty lame for the fans. So they are less concerned about the event sponsors and the crowd, and more concerned with their own play. Fair enough.

But Mallett herself got distracted enough in last night’s round robin game against Team Canada that she actually stopped herself in the hack, got up and refocused. Apparently bothered by some opposition team movement at the other end of the sheet, she was later shown jawing to Cathy Overton-Clapham about holding still.

Was Cathy O doing the hokey pokey? How could someone of this curling calibre be so easily distracted over something so minute?

For those that watched the TSN telecast, you heard Linda Moore comment how Mallett had to refocus quite a few times in the BC provincials due to minor distractions. Shouldn’t something as trivial as a little movement in the background not bother her at this point?

Yeesh, this is the home team, and the crowd is cheering “British Columbia” every five seconds. Yet she feels the need to talk to Cathy O about her movements. Weird.

Okay, so let’s pretend BC does win tonight – or in the semi – and then faces one of three really good teams in the final. And let’s pretend she even wins that and goes on to represent Canada at the Worlds in Korea. How will she fare?

As a fan of Canadian curling, my support will certainly be behind her in hopes that she captures the world title. But I would be a little nervous about their chances.

First, this is a very defensive team, and the Victoria ice seems to lend to this style of play. But the ice in Korea is sure to be completely different than ice at home – isn’t it? – and the question is: would they be able to adjust?

Second, if Mallett is easily distracted by other teams, the World Championship will not be the place for her. International teams are very different from Canadian teams. If you want to see a bunch of ladies jumping up and down, and high fiving just for making a hit and roll – watch a few games at the Worlds.

I’m going to have to throw my hopes behind a team that isn’t afraid to mix it up. Best of luck to Team BC in their quest, but I want a Canadian gold in Korea, and I’m going to have to cheer for someone else. How about someone like Quebec’s Marie-France Larouche who puts the broom on the edge of the eight foot, goes down to the other end of the sheet and draws to the can without blinking an eye. Typical Mallett strategy would be to scan the house for any cross-house double so that she doesn’t have to draw.

Or how about Saskatchewan, which has the major distraction of an illness in the family of the skip and third, yet has still rallied to a third-place round robin finish despite losing their first three games?

Or Team Canada, an absolute powerhouse in women’s curling which has the major distraction of being Team Canada? Even when these girls are struggling they just plain refuse to roll over and die themselves, as we saw in last year’s STOH and just a few minutes ago, in the 2009 tiebreaker against poor PEI.

There are so many great teams in the Scotties this year that I just don’t have it in me this time to cheer for the home province. Sorry, BC.

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Will anyone step up to the plate?

by Elaine Dagg-Jackson

VICTORIA – Who is going to win this Scotties Tournament of Hearts?

That’s the question everyone is asking here in Victoria as the final days of this 2009 championship unfold.While BC’s Marla Mallett clearly dominated the leaderboard all week, she lost her last two games and, well, we all know that when it comes to the playoffs, anything can happen.

This was clearly illustrated just last year when Jennifer Jones upset the rock-steady Shannon Kleibrink in a stunning last-rock final. With every game on the final day of round-robin play crucial to the standings, there remains five teams – B.C., Quebec (Kruger Products Ltd. photo of Marie-France Larouche by Andrew Klaver), Saskatchewan, P.E.I and Canada – in contention become the 2009 Canadian champs.

For now, a few teams are able to grab some much needed rest. I chatted with one of the athletes who qualified for the three-four playoff last night and while she was clearly elated with a strong finish, she declared “I’m just so exhausted!”

My friend Luann Krawetz, who happens to be a University of Victoria basketball hall-of-famer, watched the game with me last night and her grasp of curling performance always amazes me.

She says curling is the only sport that places such demands on athletes where they need to excel physically, mentally and spiritually over such a long period of time. Where basketball athletes will play one game every other day in a four- or five-game series, curling athletes play two three-hou games per day in a 12-team round robin.

“It’s incredible!” says Lu.

It is much more fun watching the game with Luann, ever since I taught her not to yell “miss!” like they do for a free throw in basketball!

I’ve been more than a little surprised that the field here remains wide open. No one has stepped up to the plate to serve notice that they are really challenging for the title, and the trip to the Worlds in Korea.

From my perspective, B.C. has been the steadiest team this week, demonstrating patience, a calm and focused demeanor, and a full grasp of how to successfully play the conditions.

Saskatchewan has been gathering momentum and P.E.I, Canada and Quebec are all certainly playing well now – particularly the Islanders, who are up 4-2 on Team Canada at the fifth-end break of the tiebreaker!

It sounds obvious, but I feel the team that really embraces the ice conditions and the environment in the final games will come out on top.

It was fabulous to see so many of the teams letting off some steam in the Heart Stop Lounge last night. The music was great, the atmosphere fun and my daughter Steph was kept busy answering those all important questions from the sidelined Scotties participants of what to see and do in Victoria… and where the best shopping was, now that they finally have time to enjoy it!

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World Wheelchair curling playoffs

VANCOUVER – So your curling fandom revolves around the Scotties, does it?

Did you know there is a Canadian team battling in a world championship right now? And in relative obscurity? And in British Columbia, not far from the Victoria STOH?

The last time we saw Jim Armstrong he was teaching some poor patsy the three-man lift, a gimmick that has been carried on in fine fashion by famous lead players Jamie Korab (Team Brad Gushue), Ben Hebert (Team Kevin Martin) and others.

It was right around his days as president of the World Curling Players’ Association, and somewhat far removed from his playing career which saw him compete in six Briers, losing the 1987 final to Russ Howard.

So it is initially, admittedly, a bit shocking to see the big man wheeling round the brand new Vancouver Olympic/Paralympic Centre, wearing the Maple Leaf for the first time as skip for Team Canada at the 2009 World Wheelchair Curling Championship (WCF photo by Dallas Bittle, click to zoom).

But we get used to seeing this. Armstrong looks comfortable – enough – and patient in his chair. Only playing for two years, after first being invited to “hang out” with Team Canada at a training camp, Armstrong is now the skip of a national team that has been rebuilding ever since 2006 Paralympic champion skip Chris Daw left the scene.

We asked Jim if he’s ever tempted to just stand up, get out of that chair and walk over to the stone he wants to freeze to, or hit, or draw around.

“Yeah,” said Army.

“But that first step would be ugly.”

Was he initially nervous, playing for Canada for the first time in his career?

“Yeah I was, a little bit,” said Armstrong.

“I think anytime you’re in this setting, if you’re not getting the butterflies there’s something wrong.”

There are some colourful characters in wheelchair curling. German skip Jens Jaeger lets out occasional whoops and likes to take mock, exaggerated bows to his coaches and fans with every victory.

Jaeger hasn’t been in the worlds since 2005 – when he finished in 13th place – but he smoked everybody at the Worlds Qualifier in Prague, and he is pretty much smoking everybody here in Vancouver – he’s through to the Page 1/2 game Friday night, against Sweden. He’s certainly come a long way.

Canada plays another colourful team, the United States, in the Page 3/4 game, also Friday night at 8:00pm. They finished third, Canada fourth. They also won bronze last year. And they have a few wild childs on that team, let us tell you.

Then there’s China and Korea – two teams among five that finished just one game out of the playoffs – which are the loudest teams around. Both squads like to yell at the rocks, from release to finish, as if they want to just stand up, get out of those chairs and run over to the stones to sweep them. Chinese skip Haitao Wang has a particularly brutish, gutteral baritone… which you can hear from the players’ lounge.

These guys – and gals – can shoot, too. And they’re incredibly pleasant, funny and grounded, even compared to the majority of able-bodied curlers.

“There are no asses in this game,” says Armstrong.

“And I’m guessing its because they’ve all got a story about how they got here.”

You got that right, Army.

Here’s hoping that Vancouverites come out and support the wheelies, support Team Canada. There’s only a handful of draws left: Frday night (8:00pm), Saturday morning (9:00am) and the Gold and Bronze Medal games on Saturday at 2:30pm.

Admission is just five bucks.

So get down here. Here’s the event website.

For those outside Vancouver, you can follow the results here… and read a ton of draw summaries here… but best of all is some live blogging, focussing on Team Canada games, going on at the popular Wheelchair Curling Blog.

If you can get out of your chair – unlike these athletes – then come on down. Otherwise, get online and check it out.