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Montreal 2014: Homan, Harper and The Flag Guy

Bring back the curlers we have lost

By Mike Fournier

Robot curling? Homan (left) and Co. crushed them all

MONTREAL – So it was as expected in the end; Rachel Homan and her team of Ontario robots destroyed the competition. Rachel did not have to throw her last rock all week. It felt like the other teams were pretty much playing for second place all week.

Val Sweeting‘s Alberta gang gave it a valiant effort in the final, but you just can’t miss shots early and get down two or three to Homan. You are fighting an uphill battle against a team that is just not going to miss many. The sixth end looked a little hairy after a few misses, but Homan threw two pistols to get out of pretty much the only trouble they were in all game.

Some random thoughts…

Stephen Harper in the House!

I was impressed to see the PM in the house for both the bronze medal game and the final. Regardless of what many Quebecers might think of his politics, it was still pretty cool to have him there. (Although I honestly thought his security detail was going to tackle the superfan who runs around the arena with a Canadian flag). However it was surprising that an Alberta guy would be wearing a Team Canada sweatshirt!

The Hairband

I need to get a hairband to curl, just like Alberta third Joanne Courtney. It just looks so cool. Maybe I can find one that comes with hair.

The Tick

Okay. I acknowledge that Homan is the best team in the country (excepting, perhaps, Jennifer Jones). I acknowledge that she calls a brilliant game, and is capable of dominating a tournament like few other women’s teams in history. But I am just going to say it: I don’t like the Lisa Weagle Tick shot that everyone raves about.

Of course when you are tied in the 10th end and you have hammer, the tick is brilliant. But in the fourth end? Really? Seems like a wasted rock – especially when you miss it.

I think there is a reason that most competitive teams play a come around to the top four instead of the tick in most ends other than 10. It’s because it is a shot you will make more often, and you force the other team to throw their next one into the rings. It makes more sense to me. Even if I thought my lead would make the tick two out of three times, I think I would still call the draw more often.

Lisa Weagle missed a few ticks in the final, and her team found herself in a lot of trouble in those ends.  I am not saying it’s not impressive when she makes them, I am just wondering why she calls them.

Don’t tell me “Mike you must be wrong – because they are winning.” I know… they are awesome. They did not come close to losing this week. But they win because they make way more shots than the other teams, not because of the brilliant tick strategy.

What hosting meant to Montreal curling

So the finals are done, the crowd has gone home. What did the STOH mean to Montreal?

I spent a large part of the week walking around – in both the arena and the Lounge. I talked to the countless volunteers, the fans from all over, the teams, the bartenders (okay maybe I spent a bit too much time with the bartenders).

Le Flag Guy!

I have to say I think the Montreal STOH was a big success. I am sure the organizers will say it would have been nice to have a few more people in the stands, and the “no beer” policy in the arena also drew more than a couple of complaints. But from Thursday on the crowds were respectable and very animated. It was a fun place to be.

Perhaps the most important success story of the event is that it seemed to re-animate the Montreal curling scene. Montreal used to be the heart of curling in Quebec. It had more clubs, more curlers, more parties and more fun places than anywhere else, by far. But this success has waned. Clubs have closed, many curlers have drifted away and many of the tournaments that drew teams from all over are but memories of a past era.

I will admit, when I heard that Montreal would be hosting this, I was afraid. I was afraid that we would not have the volunteer base or the fan required to run a national championship. I am happy to report that I was wrong to be scared. Fans came. Volunteers volunteered.

The championship was a great gathering of the Quebec curling community. I walked around and saw so many people that I had not seen in 10 or 15 years – people who love curling, but just don’t get out as much anymore. Or people who had given up the game, but were drawn out to watch a few games this week. It was great to see them all, and I seemed to hear a lot of people saying how they missed curling, and want to get back into the game.

Montreal (and Quebec) still has a vibrant curling community; I think this event showed us that all we need to do is re-engage it. The STOH showed us that it is possible.

The powers that be spend a lot of effort trying to think of how to draw new people into curling, when maybe we should spend more time trying to bring back the curlers we have lost. I think they are an easier sell, and this week convinced me that there are a lot of them around.

Let’ s hope we can keep the momentum going from what we have generated here.

And finally…

It was fun, but I am kinda glad the week is done, and for one reason: I no longer have to tell the story to everyone I see about what happened in my 10th against Jean-Michel Menard at provincials!!!

[STOH photo by Andrew Klaver/Kruger Products Ltd. Other image by the author. Click on images to increase viewing size]

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Montreal 2014: Homan roars into STOH final

It had to be done (the poutine)

By Sam Corea

Poutine and Steamie. Avec Pepsi.

MONTREAL – The 2013-14 curling season is turning out to be my “North American curling tour” with stops in Kitchener, Las Vegas and now Montreal (and Toronto, my new curling home).

I started my Montreal visit with a stop at La Belle Province – a local fast food restaurant – to have a mandatory hot dog (steamie) and order of poutine, since fellow columnist Mike Fournier blogged this week that there was no poutine to be found at the Maurice Richard Arena.

Great stuff.

After a late lunch, I took the Montreal Metro over to Parc Olympique, site of the 1976 Olympic Games.

For a westerner, I didn’t know what to expect from a championship curling event in Quebec. We’re not on the Prairies here. But all the elements of a championship curling event are present – signage, carpeting and TV lighting have dressed up the arena nicely. Built in 1962, the circle-shaped rink with the domed roof is quite similar to the Agrodome in Vancouver, site of the 1997 STOH.

Coincidentally, that’s the only other time I’ve attended a Canadian women’s championship.

Sammy sez…

Watching the round robin of the STOH on TSN this week, it was hard not to notice the lack of big audiences in the stands. But for the 1 vs 2 Page playoff game on Friday night, there was a decent, cheering crowd of 2,300 – complete with flag-wavers and cowbell-ringers, plus folks in the requisite red and white Team Canada hats.

Perhaps some Montrealers caught some Olympic fever from the Sochi Games (instead of the flu that’s been going around here this week – we have a big bottle of hand sanitizer in the media room and the press are encouraged to use it) and decided to see an Olympic sport – live! But also noticeable was a pro-Team Canada contingent as the Rachel Homan team is from the not-too-far-away Ottawa Curling Club.

As for the game, Team Canada booked a spot in Sunday’s final after a tense 5-4 win over Chelsea Carey and Team Manitoba.

“We battled through and stayed tough,” said Homan. “Their team didn’t miss.” She was right; Carey might have careered it last night, and still fell to the undefeated Ontarians.

Homan was happy with the fan support. “Lots of people made the trip down on the train (from Ottawa) even though it’s a Friday night game and they had to probably take a half day off from work. I really thankful for all the fans who came out to see us win this.”

Indeed, Carey was shooting 100 per cent as of the seventh end. “It was a good game,” she said. “We lost, but we played really well. It was a good battle and hopefully we get another shot at them in the final.”

[Click on images to increase viewing size]

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Montreal 2014: Still no poutline

Quebec needs your cheers

Feel for these ladies. Please.

By Mike Fournier

MONTREAL – Quebec is having a tough week. I sat and watched the home team take an absolute arse-kicking at the hands of Manitoba yesterday. I believe the largest crowd of the week watched Allison Ross get absolutely pasted, by a football-like score of 15-3 against Chelsea Carey. This leaves the Quebec side at 1-8.

So you had a bad day?

Allison and her team are having a bad week. There is no hiding from it, and it seems to be what everyone in the crowd is talking about. Everyone asks me why, as if I understood the mysteries of curling slumps. All I can say for sure is that I have seen it happen to everyone, and have lived through it as well.

I have been there: games where you just can’t seem to find draw weight – games where you feel you cannot hit and stick on a takeout anywhere. It happens. Curling is a lot like golf: when you miss that first three or four-foot putt in a round, it makes it easier to miss the second one. However, when I have a bad curling weekend, it usually means we are out of a bonspiel by early Saturday morning, and we skulk out of town with our tail between our legs without anyone noticing.

But Allison is having a bad week at the STOH in Quebec. In the case of a national championship, you still need to play 11 games, and eight ends in each of them. And in this case, she is in front of pretty much the entire Quebec curling world, as well as family and friends. You have to feel for her.

To the people who say: “It doesn’t look like they are having any fun out there.” You are right. They are not. Losing is no fun, and Allison and her team are competitors. She practices hard, she plays hard. She wants to win. She wants to play well.

So keep cheering them on. It is easy to cheer for a team that is winning: “way to go, keep it going” and so on. But when a team is losing we tend to avoid eye contact, and there are a lot less positive e-mails or posts on the team Facebook page. Unfortunate, because that is when they need it the most!

They will be playing Ontario in what will likely be a meaningless game in the standings tonight – sorry, that’s the pre-relegation era talking, using the word “meaningless” (see yesterday’s blog).  But I guarantee Quebec will be giving it their all to win. I will be there cheering them on.

Eight ends? Really?

The CCA implemented a rule that during the round robin, teams must play at least eight ends. On one hand I get the logic of this rule; people are paying to watch. They need to keep the players on the ice for at least two hours. But yesterday seemed to highlight to me why this rule has no place at the STOH.

The early handshake is part of the charm of curling. It relives the team that is having a bad day from having to endure an hour of meaninglessly throwing rocks up and down the ice when they really just want to go and regroup or have a beer. It also saves the team that is winning from the uncomfortable feeling that they are clubbing a baby seal, in front of the seal’s home fans at that. I am sure Chelsea Carey drew no pleasure in running up the score, and the fans drew no pleasure from watching. It was awkward. It is just not curling. I get it for the playoffs, when there is only one game on the ice. But for the round robin, it makes no sense at all.

Big teams pulling away

The rest of the field seems to be playing out as expected in a round robin that has offered little in the way of surprises so far. The four teams that were at the Olympic Trials are predictably pulling away from the field. Rachel Homan (Ontario), Carey, Stefanie Lawton (Sask) seem all but guaranteed a playoff spot. Of the three, Homan seems to be a notch above so far, but there is a lot of curling left. Val Sweeting (Alberta) seems to be having a bit more trouble, and might bring some of the four or five loss teams back into the fold.

Some random thoughts:

  • I am guessing some of the teams and their fans got to enjoy the pleasure of Montreal traffic yesterday! Five centimetres of snow = a two-hour drive home at rush hour. Bienvenue à Montréal.
  • Strangely, in the games I have watched, nobody seems to be able to make a draw after the seventh end. It looks like the ice gets a bit flat in the slide path, and every draw seems to come up a few feet short or crash the center guard. I am just surprised the teams don’t seem to have figured this out yet.

[Kruger Products photo by Andrew Klaver – click on image to increase viewing size]

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Montreal 2014: Quebec STOH so far

Un autre virus! Pas de poutine!

Mike Fournier is a columnist for The Curling News and also blogs – impressively – at In The House. He is in Montreal for Quebec’s first hosting of the Canadian women’s curling championship in decades, and we have republished his most recent blogpost below…
Here we go again…
MONTREAL – Why are all the teams the same colour as Saskatchewan’s jackets?
So far, the big story at the STOH has been the flu, or food poisoning, or the plague, or whatever has been passed around more than a cold sore at the Brier Patch.
Here is a pic of me at the event, at left – Day 4.
Definitely the worst job this week: Hotel Cleaning Lady at the Westin! Almost every sheet has a fifth player on the ice, and Saskatchewan and BC are competing with only three players. The Quebec second just left her game after the fifth end, looking a lovely shade of Saskatchewan green. The players are in full sanitizing mode – no more shaking hands or sharing lip gloss in the locker room.
I actually saw someone Purell her rock before throwing.
As for the actual curling, Rachel Homan seems to be back to her juggernaut form from last year, tearing through the competition only slightly less violently than the flu. Val Sweeting has looked good as well. If Saskatchewan can manage to keep finding three or four people healthy enough to curl, they are looking good for a playoff spot as well.
Feel good story of the week is definitely the Sarah Koltun team from the Territories, who have quickly become the crowd favourites (apart from Quebec of course). They are all younger than my sliding broom, and cuter than an internet cat video. You have to cheer for them.
Curling Morphs in Quebec!
There will be an interesting battle at the bottom as teams fight to avoid finishing last or second-last, as these provinces will have to face RELEGATION. This means that they will have to return home and tell all of their peers that as a result of their bad week, next year’s provincial champion will have to play a pre-STOH playdown in order to get into the tournament. Not an enviable position. I am hoping Quebec can pull a few wins out in the next few games to avoid that pressure at the end of the week!
So how is Montreal doing so far as a host?
Well, hit and miss. The site is awesome, the ice is awesome, the crowds have been okay. The HeartStop Lounge has been fun. And we have fans in Morph suits.
However, the concessions stands have been a bit shaky. I am sitting in the only arena in Quebec where I can’t buy a hot dog or a poutine. I was unaware that you could call yourself a Quebec arena if you don’t sell poutine. The local rink in the park sells poutine. The churches sell poutine. How can the Quebec STOH not have poutine available in the stands?
And did I mention we can’t buy beer in the arena? Really. I believe I have never watched a live curling game without alcohol. It is a strange experience. I saw Dan Gregoire walking around the crowd looking lost. I barely recognized him without a beer in his hands.
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Quebec’s Sabourin joins Team Jennifer Jones

Pregnancy sidelines hard-throwing Jill Officer

Joelle Sabourin, second from left, with Team Osborne

First, Winnipeg got the Jets. Now, the world’s best women’s curling team – based in the Peg, of course – gets a bit of joie de vivre this fall.

Winnipeg curling star Jill Officer started the ball rolling with an online reveal – her first pregnancy!

Officer then told The Curling News that Quebec curling veteran Joelle Sabourin will replace her on the powerhouse Jennifer Jones foursome this fall and winter, in tandem with regular Jones alternate Jennifer Clark-Rouire.

Officer’s due date is December 2 – right in the middle of the all-important Canada Cup in Cranbrook, BC – and with the curling season starting up well past the midway part of her pregnancy, it was decided that she will sit out the first half of the season entirely.

Officer plans to “stay loose” throughout the fall and is hoping to rejoin the team in time for the Manitoba women’s provincial scheduled for Portage La Prairie, January 25-29. Should they qualify, it will be Jones’ first provincial appearance since 2008.

Jill Officer (left) with Team Jones last February

After running through a draft list of substitute options, Sabourin was chosen by Team Jones as Officer’s replacement due to a couple of factors: her previous intention of not competing in 2011-2012 – so much for that! – and her friendship with Jones lead Dawn Askin.

Askin, an Ottawa native, was a teammate with Sabourin in 2005. The Quebecer was the alternate for Ontario’s Jenn Hanna – with Askin at lead – when Jones made that legendary in-off double-takeout to win the Canadian women’s championship final in stunning fashion.

Sabourin has competed in five Canadian women’s championships since 1997, including 2008 and 2009 with skip Marie-France Larouche. Her 2011 squad, skipped by Chantal Osborne, lost the Quebec final 8-7 to Larouche.

Sabourin confirmed that she will play in the major World Curling Tour events – plus the Canada Cup – while Clark-Rouire will fill Officer’s shoes at the smaller tour stops and also in the early rounds of Manitoba women’s playdowns.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity and an honour to play with these guys,” Sabourin told The Curling News.

“When Dawn called me… I had recently made my decision not to play next year and I was okay with it, but then she called soon afterward and asked me and I said ‘You’re kidding me, right?’

“I’m gonna work hard on my side – I’m not Jill, but I can throw hard and I’ll be practicing my peels for sure. I was biking because I have a race coming up… but now I’ve added kickboxing, four days a week, also to get ready.”

Team Osborne photo courtesy of Curling Quebec

Team Jones photo by Andrew Klaver / Kruger Products Ltd.

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Brier 2006: Electric and infectious


It was well past midnight and National Team coach Jim Waite was still lecturing on uniform sizes, documents and other stuff. Suddenly, the Regina hotel salon was invaded by a horde of clapping, chanting curling fans, many clutching cases of beer.

Hold on
, yelled Waite. We have to get through this, and then you can party with them, just give us five more minutes.

Six minutes later the Canadian Curling Association bureaucracy was finished, and the latest round of leaping, hugging and backslapping began.

Just being around Canada’s first francophone Brier champions is inspiring. The excitement is electric and infectious.

It’s not hard to imagine a similar party with Team Ontario – or Manitoba or Alberta – being a much quieter, businesslike affair… all in a day’s work for the big-name teams, and low-key satisfaction of a job well done.

Instead, it becomes apparent that Team Quebec’s Francois Roberge (photo middle-front) – who dropped himself from skip position three years ago and recruited Jean-Michel Menard (photo left) from faraway Gatineau to man the tee – is quite possibly the most excited champion in the history of curling. Three hours after the match, his feet are still far off the ground.

Roberge and lead Maxime Elmaleh (photo second from right) both speak passionately of their love of curling and the Brier. I cannot believe it, says Roberge, who is called “Frankie” by teammates and opponents alike. I have watched every Brier final since 1985, I watch like crazy, declares “Max”.

Roberge, the all-star third, confirms that he too is a Brier TV junkie, whereupon he is asked if he wants to hear The Call – the last words pronounced by legendary CBC commentator Don Wittman during Menard’s winning throw– right then and there, or if he would rather wait to see it on videotape. Now, now, tell it to me now! Roberge exclaims.

Jean-Michel Menard… trying to become the first Francophone team to ever win the Canadian Men’s Championship… will he do it? (whack) He does!

Simple yet classic. The veteran Witt timed it perfectly; “He does!” came just after the final rock made contact and just before the athletes exploded into the air in celebration.

Roberge was in tears, listening to the words. He balled his fists together and shook them with his eyes closed… and promptly went in for another hug. Of course.

Later, a fan shows off the video of their victory stone, shot on a tiny digital camera from far up in the stands. The boys crowd around, then start screeching and hugging again. Frankie watches it twice.

The team – which includes second Eric Sylvain (photo second from left), himself a former skip – are all big U2 fans, and like many athletes use music – and other superstitions – to support their mental approach to the game. During (the Quebec provincial) the song I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For was on, and that was not good, says Roberge. I said turn it off, it’s negative!

Then, here at the Brier, we have the hotel room number 2006, and I say that this means something! And the first song in the van is the first line from the U2 song Sunday Bloody Sunday … “I can’t believe the news today

Through Brier week there was much media coverage of the challenges Quebec curlers face to grow the sport in their province. Prior to Regina 2006, Menard’s team took the unpaid job of such self-promotion very seriously, and now they find themselves to be the driving force of what is sure to be a renewed effort in publicity, promotion and participation. Menard himself won the Brier’s Ross Harstone Award, a sportsmanship honour bestowed by his fellow players, which also includes in its critiera a committment to promoting the sport of curling.

Roberge had one of the best media quotes of the week: What I want is for Quebec to stay in Canada, so I can get back to the Brier. But first comes the World Championships, and Roberge reports that immediately after the final, the first 25 Quebecers were committed to making the 7-hour drive to Tsongas Arena in Lowell, Mass. The team hopes many more will take advantage of the close proximity and make the trip.

The squad – minus their skip – returned home to Quebec City yesterday and a victory party was held at their home Victoria Curling Club. Menard lives in faraway Gatineau, just outside of Ottawa, and enjoyed a victory celebration of his own at the airport.

Here’s an on-the-scene report from a TCN spy:

JM arrived late. Lots of TV and radio reporters…TVA, CBC French and English, TQS, CTV, Le Droit newspaper and a few that I am not sure about. He had to do a few interviews over the phone for the radio and other reporters that couldn’t be there. Lots of friends and family were there. The Rideau Curling Club manager and members; the president of the Gatineau Curling Club that is not built yet; friends from his work… his uncles… a few members from the Ottawa Curling Club… I would say around 50 or so! JM was very happy!

Leaving Regina on Monday night, gold medallist Russ Howard spoke about the Quebecers. It might have been difficult for Howard to watch his brother Glenn Howard lose the final, but the Olympian spoke almost proudly of the newest champions.

I played in a spiel with my son just the weekend before the (Olympic) Trials in Quebec, and they (Team Menard) were there. We played them twice. They are just great guys. Everybody at that event was so happy to see us there, and we were just four guys who drove through the middle of the night from New Brunswick. They treated us like kings.

I was near the ice after they won, and Maxime leaned over the boards to me and he was crying his face off. He yelled You’re my hero and I told him You’re MY hero.

Russ added that he was very nearly laughing at Elmaleh, whose emotional state was so powerful that his anguished face looked more hurt than happy. Amazing to see, said Howard.

Congratulations Quebec, on winning only your second Brier title in 77 years (following Jim Ursel at Montreal’s Veladrome in 1977) and the first for a true francophone team. As stated earlier:

In an Olympic year, which saw five Newfoundlanders and a living legend from New Brunswick-by-way-of-Ontario win the first-ever men’s Olympic gold for Canada, nothing should surprise any of us anymore.

Links:

CCR Scotty Harper award winner Allen Cameron
Terry Jones
Perry Lefko
Jim Bender
The Bender Awards
Donna Spencer