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Threepeat Curling in Vegas

Follow #SamInVegas this week, starting Thursday

By Sam Corea

In 2013, I began seeing TV ads showing scenes of curling action cut with the bright lights of Sin City and an announcer asking the question “Curling in Vegas?”  Well, here we are four years later with the third edition of the Continental Cup of Curling in Las Vegas.  And here I go again to take in the Vegas curling experience for the third time, and for your benefit, dear reader.

It seems Las Vegas has become a permanent stop on the international curling event calendar. And it’s Canadian travellers who are supporting curling in Vegas, despite the lower value of the loonie, as they look for any reason to escape the winter cold to enjoy some desert sun and curling.  I am one of those Canadians this year, as the usually mild West Coast winter weather has been anything but balmy with sub-zero temperatures and half a dozen snowfalls in Vancouver since December. So, sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-teens, coupled with watching Team North America battle with Team World will help chase away the January blues.

In 2014, the teams were scouting each other in Vegas as that edition of the Continental Cup was held just weeks before the Sochi Olympic Winter Games. Last year’s edition, in my view, suggested that the teams were more focused on friendly competition and fun.

This year, with the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games just 13 months away, organizers tell us the event is a chance for curling fans to get an advance look at many of the teams who will be chasing gold in South Korea (and we’ll have lots to say about that in future editions of The Curling News).

Of course, we’ve got some curlers who’ve been to many Continental Cups and the last two editions in Vegas. But there are many first-timers this year, so I’ll be looking to get their impressions of curling in the desert (along with Elvis and Marylin Monroe impersonators escorting them onto the ice) for my social media posts this week and weekend, which you can follow on two platforms: The Curling News Twitter feed and also on The Curling News Facebook page.

During last year’s Cup in Vegas, the former director of marketing for Tourism Nevada told me that Canadians love Nevada and they love curling, so hosting these events in the land of casinos, big buffets and showgirls is a natural fit. And the slogan adopted by those involved – Las Vegas Rocks – just seems to roll off the tip of the tongue.

Attendance for the 2016 Continental Cup topped 62,000 – the most people to ever watch a curling event in the United States.  Officials are gambling that the success of the 2014, 2016 and 2017 Cup events will result in even more bums in the seats in the spring of 2018, when the Orleans Arena hosts the Men’s World Curling Championship – soon after the PyeongChang Olympic Games.

I don’t think the novelty of being in an arena in Vegas filled with curling fans has worn off yet. In fact, as I tell folks I’m heading to Vegas for a curling competition, some still raise an eyebrow, but admit that it seems like something fun to do in January.

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Vegas 2014: An amazing curling sight

4,300 watch Mixed Doubles curling. In Vegas.

by Sam Corea

Amazing scenes – they’re curling in Las Vegas!

LAS VEGAS – Okay, I’ll admit it… this isn’t my first visit to Vegas. In fact, I am sort of a Vegas veteran. But this is definitely the first time I’ve seen the Roaring Game played in the desert.

A few years ago, sport folks in Nevada and California had an idea that curling may be a good fit for the land of casinos, showgirls and mega buffets. Even earlier than that, U.S. curling honchos were thinking the same thing.

After all, it had been a while – some 15 years-plus – since the first-ever Vegas curling venture (see our November 2012 print edition).

Anyway, both groups took a gamble and voila, here we have the 10th edition of the Continental Cup of Curling, contested in the 5,000-seat Orleans Arena.

The unique event features six teams from Canada and the U.S.A. (Team North America) competing against six World teams (from Scotland/GBR, Sweden, Norway and Japan) in various formats including traditional curling, mixed doubles, singles and both skins and mixed skins play.

Adding to the uniqueness of this particular event is that it is a partial preview of the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi next month; nine out of the 12 teams here will be going for Olympic gold.

‘Nuff said!

Last year, event organizers were happy with the sale of 500 event passes. That figure has jumped to about 3,400, with about 80 per cent of tickets snapped up by Canadians.

The place is filled, the fans are rocking, and it’s wild stuff.

“Obviously, we’re delighted with ticket sales and delighted with the Canadian fans who have come down to the desert in the heart of a really bad winter,” said local organizing committee co-chair Anne Warner Cribbs. “I think it’s great for curling as a sport and it’s great for curling in the U.S.”

Cribbs, by the way, won a gold medal in swimming for Team U.S.A. at the 1960 Olympic Games.

My plan to come to Vegas for this event was formulated over the past year. Once we heard that curling was coming to Vegas, the talk at the Vancouver Curling Club (where I used to curl before moving to Toronto last fall) questioned how the sport would work as a showcase event in the ultimate showcase town of Sin City.

Well, we found out during Thursday night’s draw – I’m here with former Van teammates – that curling is working out just fine, thank you, and it’s doing so just a few blocks away from the glittering lights and marquees of the Vegas Strip.

The 1960 Olympian hard at work

Most of the fans are knowledgeable and applaud the great shots (from both teams), although I did hear someone in the stands behind me ask the ultimate novice question: “Why are they sweeping the ice?”

In the concourse there are some curling table-top activities. One thing I noticed about the merchandise – it’s selling fast!

As for the athletes, Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones said, “I think it’s great for curling to have it in such a big city like Las Vegas, and any exposure we can get is fantastic.”

Debbie McCormick of Rio, Wisconsin said “The crowds here are great and it’s great training for us heading into Sochi. It is just so much fun playing in this atmosphere.”

I’m looking forward to the rest of the weekend, which also includes something called the USOC (United States Olympic Committee) “Road to Sochi” event.

For more on how the news of this event exploded onto the curling scene last fall, check out this archived blog post from October 2013, which features a great photo montage of Niklas Edin plus the requisite Hangover film reference!

[Top photo by Chris Holloman, Katipo Creative – click on images to increase viewing size]

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Big curling event to Vegas

Woo-hoo! Is Sweden’s Niklas Edin goin’ to Vegas?

The news has just been revealed: a major curling championship is headed to Las Vegas.

But what’s this? The December 2012 issue of The Curling News is due to arrive this week – it’s in the mail, actually – and you’re telling me that this Vegas news is on the cover? Howzzat?

Oh yeah. It’s Vegas, baby.

Here’s an opening excerpt from our December 2012 cover story, penned by ace columnist Larry Wood:

The gamut of prospects fairly boggles the mind. To say nothing of frying a cranial nerve or two… or even seven.

We’re talking here about curling in glittery, gaudy, downtown Las Vegas.

Make that international curling in glittery, gaudy, downtown Las Vegas. Involving the finest rockchucking dudes and dollies on the planet, don’t you know?

Of course, we have to be kidding, right? Well, now that you mention it, no. This is not a joke. And it’s not just a crazy dream, either. It’s bona fide championship curling in Sin City. Indeed!

Like, close the front door, right? What, in the name of Ken Watson, will they think of next? Mixed doubles in the Galapagos, perhaps?

Leave it to the combine of global curling nabobery – the World Curling Federation, USA Curling and the Canadian Curling Association. It has announced… practically simultaneous to TCN press time, you understand… that the 2014 edition of the World Financial Group Continental Cup will be staged in glittery, gaudy, you-know-where.

To be precise, the 10th edition of curling’s answer to Ryder Cup golf is slated Jan. 16-19 for the swank Orleans Arena, home to hockey’s Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL (formerly East Coast Hockey League), not to mention a couple of NCAA basketball tournaments.

Oh yes! It’ll be the first Continental Cup to hold forth outside the borders of Canada… and isn’t that about time?And the first for a Vegas curling event of practically any magnitude.

What’s that, you inquire?

Will there be casino chaperones for the participants? Also the media hacks who suddenly will find any excuse to cover this particular curling event?

Can you say “Team World Booze Ban Continues”?

Any bets on which men’s team will wake up with hangovers and a tiger in the bathroom? Chickens on the floor? How about that fun bunch with the gaily-coloured trousers?

Verily, it should be quite a rock concert. The Orleans Arena comes adjacent to its own hotel and casino. So the whole shebang will be centered in one just-off-the-strip location – on West Tropicana just a few blocks west of the real biggies, in fact.

The Orleans casino is the second largest in Vegas, and the complex includes 2,000 hotel rooms, 70 lanes of bowling, 18 movie theatres and 12 restaurants.

The horseshoe-shaped arena opened in May, 2003, featuring 5,736 permanent seats plus 1,405 retractable seats on the open end of the horseshoe. There is separate handicapped seating, plus 20 VIP suites seating between 12 and 22 and two larger party suites that will accommodate up to 36 each – likely, in this case, the back-room panjandrums of the curling world.

But there’s still more – a separate club seating section that holds another 248…

Alas folks, that’s all we’re going to leave you with; you’ll just have to grab (ie. subscribe to get) a copy of the December issue to read all the rest… a rest which includes many more details, including not one but two additional tales of of Vegas curling that are contained in our sport’s lore – from both the past and the very current present, in fact.

Don’t delay, subscribe today

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Curling booze ban makes waves

by George Karrys / Canadian Curling Association photos by Michael Burns

Beer ponger Bingyu Wang boogies at practice yesterday

It started with some chats on Facebook. Then Calgary Herald curling scribe Al Cameron – who also spouts off for The Curling News once in a while – blogged this reveal. This prompted the Canadian Press to jump in. Then came this amusing display of punnery from the Vancouver Sun.

The story, such as it is, is that Team World – who are taking on Team North America in the Continental (kinda Ryder) Cup of Curling starting today in Langley, B.C. – have instituted an alcohol ban amongst their ranks.

Stung by his World team’s crushing loss to North America last year, World coach Peja Lindholm of Sweden – who witnessed the Slaughter in St. Albert firsthand – and World captain David Hay of Scotland have dropped the hammer this time.

“We have a code of conduct as a group about how we should be behaving and how we should treat the event,” Hay told the Sun. “In today’s modern world, sponsorship is exceptionally hard to get for any sport. We’re very lucky we have (sponsors) backing this event. In my view, it’s extremely disrespectful to our sponsors to turn up at any part of this competition not 100 per cent fit for the job. We’ve got lots of time to celebrate or commiserate on Sunday.”

Said Lindholm: “We’ve seen players who haven’t been sharp on every shot, and that’s not professional. Are we taking the fun out of the event? I must say this: If you need alcohol to have fun, you must be a very boring person.

“The players are here because they’re the world’s best. They should have a relaxed feeling. We will have fun. We just don’t want the fun to be too much fun.”

Well now… obviously, the secret is out. Curling athletes enjoy partying, and imbibing, off the ice – at the Continental Cup, anyway.
Norwegian skip Thomas Ulsrud, who is once again Pantless for this event, said the feeling was that last year’s team socialized too much.

“This will be the first week our team only drinks soft drinks for a whole weekend,” Ulsrud told the Canadian Press. “I guess it’s going to be a new experience for us as well. We’ll see how it goes. Maybe we’ll be even better.”

Members of Team North America, including Amber Holland and Glenn Howard, appear to be surprised by the Team World approach.

Smile for the camera – if you're on Team North America

“We’re all adults here,” Holland told the Canadian Press. “So I think everybody has to test their judgment on what they have to do off the ice to best perform on the ice.”

“I don’t get it,” said Howard. “I’m so old school. If you want to have a drink, go have a drink. Come on. We’ve got to have some fun out here.”

Clearly this is a growing scandal of epic proportions. Team North America includes U.S. players: what if mainstream U.S. media catch wind of this, and discover that the U.S curling stars do NOT have a booze ban? Good heavens.

And there’s something else. At the 2007 Continental Cup in Medicine Hat, the athletes from both teams were surprised and delighted to see the Chinese women – led by skip Bingyu Wang, photo at top – arrive at North America’s late-night hospitality suite, grab some drinks and play their first-ever game (in wide-eyed wonder) of Beer Pong. It was, trust me, quite a sight to see.

How, pray tell, will Wang’s continuing education in party games continue in Langley? Will Cola Pong or Juice Pong resonate without the beer?

So many questions.

[The 2012 Continental Cup of Curling begins today in Langley, B.C. and wraps up on Sunday afternoon. Consult the Curling TV Guide in the January issue of The Curling News for all broadcast information]

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The World is Flat(tened)

NEVER A DOUBT: CCA photo by Michael Burns

by Kevin Palmer

ST. ALBERT – I’m looking for the words to describe the victory by North America in the 2011 version of the Continental Cup. Premature?  Anti-climactic?  Dominatri… er, I mean Dominating? After all, this editorial has been written on the final Sunday morning, with lots of curling still to come.

Despite the format of loading more points towards the weekend, the outcome appeared inevitable after Friday night’s sweep by North America which gave them a huge 90-18 points lead.

And when Jennifer Jones and John Morris led their squads to victory on Saturday night, we were all spared the sight of answers to tough media questions in our morning newspapers, such as (to North America): “How will you be able to sleep on such a large lead, won’t you be nervous?”… and (to The World): “Given that you are so far behind, do you see any advantage simply because you have nothing to lose?”

It may take some time for all of this to sink in. Assuming we still remember the event in three weeks – quick, how many points did North America score in the 2007 Continental Cup? – our memories should include:

1. The great job by the City of St. Albert (and Edmonton). The volunteers and fans who overpaid and ventured out in some 10 centimetres of snow (at -34C) and showed how a small arena can make an event appear important on television (even if it probably isn’t).  Take note WCT: perhaps a Grand Slam in a smaller venue with full stands – like that second Quebec Slam – would change some impressions.

2. Team North America were almost too impressive, reminding us all that although the game has become an Olympic sport and many governments are funding hand-picked players in an effort to usurp Canada, there is still a long way to go.

3. Oh, and the Americans played great, too.

4. The wild Vancouver 2010 Olympic spectator cheerfest which surprised all regular curling fans cannot, and perhaps will not, be duplicated. Several efforts were attempted, and with some level of success, but the advanced age and sobriety of the typical curling fan seems to limit their ability to reach Vancouver levels of face paint, pompoms, decibels etc.

5. The skills competition, aka Singles, though different, should not be a “regular draw”. On Saturday, I sat beside a man and his grandmother. Confused by what was happening, she kept asking him why they weren’t curling. How unfortunate for her that this Saturday afternoon was her one chance to take in the Continental Cup and for $30 she got to watch, well, a really neat practice session. Meanwhile, I spotted a volunteer who was having trouble looking up from her Sudoku game.

The lack of excitement is evident and even if you’re following the points there aren’t enough on the line at this stage of the competition to even matter. Each time the announcer called out the results, it didn’t seem to mean much. “Four points for North America” kind of lacks excitement when they already have 133.

(Ed note: Warren Hansen of the CCA would agree with you re. the Skills moniker and possible other tweaks, as this Edmonton Sun story reveals)

Still with the Singles, perhaps they could move it to the beginning of the competition and make it a no-charge attraction in an effort to increase sales…? Possibly a Wednesday night event, immediately before or after the opening banquet, offering more bang for the sponsors and their hospitality dollar? TSN could then start off their Thursday broadcasts with a scoring update with highlights, just as awards shows highlight award winners who actually recieved their trophies earlier in the day, or even the week.

6. Only two games over the first two days were close – and one was Mixed Doubles. As the official Curling Math Guy, I shall point out that this constitutes a whopping 11 per cent of excitement.

7. John Morris also appeared to be confused by the format. I won’t fault him, few fans can follow it either. While skipping during Saturday night’s Mixed Skins, he repeatedly mentioned they were playing for a “conservative” deuce in the seventh end. This was incorrect strategy.

If they scored a deuce, North America would gain six points. A conservative end should reduce the chances for a steal but also increase the possibility of a carryover, in which case Team World would get the hammer in the final end, with a possible 15 skins up for grabs. If NA gave up a steal, they would still have hammer and a chance at nine points.

I’ll skip the math formulas, but given where NA was at the time, the preferred approach is to go all out for the deuce in the seventh end.  It is likely that Johnny Mo was following a reasonable logic of trying to win the game, something this format doesn’t always require.

And there you have it – my personal thoughts. I do believe there is room on the calendar for this event, and that there are many reasons why we should all want it to succeed. Unfortunately, the 2011 results might not help that cause.

And here are two more thoughts, just for fun, written by supposed experts (ie. the media) first from Edmonton – all offense – and from Calgary – all defense (what is this, a hockey game?).

It will be interesting to see the final television numbers, although the real opportunity is for this event to reach beyond a Canadian audience and help market the game around the world. And on that note, it’s worth mentioning that for the first time ever, the Canadian TV coverage (TSN) was available for online webviewing around the world… what were the numbers? Was the stream easy to find? What’s the verdict?

Which begs the question: when will the powers that be actually host this event across the pond?

And hey… isn’t North America actually part of “The World”? Just wondering.