Monday, March 31, 2008

Worlds a record for TSN

The Women's world championships set a viewing record for TSN. Not surprising with Jennifer Jones on her run and the Cinderella story of the Chinese curlers. Here's the release from TSN.

TSN’s coverage of the 2008 Ford World Women’s Curling Championship was the network’s most-watched World Curling event ever with an overall average audience of 381,000 viewers, as Team Canada skip Jennifer Jones clinched gold on home soil.

The previous high for a World Curling Championship on TSN was 366,000 viewers in 1996.

TSN’s prime time telecasts during this year's Worlds averaged 487,000 viewers. The most-watched telecast was Friday evening’s Page Playoff game (March 28) which drew 613,000 viewers as China defeated Canada 7-5.

TSN televised all 11 of Team Canada’s round robin games, as well as the Page Playoffs. had live coverage of 6 World Curling Championship draws, while all 13 draws were available on-demand. The website averaged nearly 8,000 unique visitors per draw, marking a 160% increase over last year’s World Curling Championship.

China still the story

Take nothing away from Jennifer Jones and her fine rink from Winnipeg, but the real story of the Women’s World Championship is still the Chinese team, silver medalists.
Let’s face it – five years ago if you said you had to beat Japan and China to win the world championship, people would laugh at you.

Jones won the global crown yesterday with a nice showing, a dominant one. As they did at the Scotties, the put in a gritty performance to earn the title which eluded them last time around. They finally took the easy road in this game, which for this squad this year has definitely been a road less traveled. Applause all around.

But let’s face it – China stunned everyone, many who weren’t even aware the country had a curling program (although they’ve been in the worlds a few times now). Their performance even surprised themselves, never thinking they’d reach the world finals. Guess eight to 10 hours a day of training pays off, huh?

Check out the Google new clippings of Sunday’s final and you’ll see that a vast majority talk as much about the Chinese team as the Canadians. Everyone is simply amazed as well they should be. In eight short years, Bingyu Wang went from being a hockey coach’s daughter to a dazzling skip.

Perhaps the only thing that prevented her from winning yesterday was a lack of experience. It was clear the Chinese team didn’t perform as they had all week. They admitted to being nervous. To me, it was obvious they probably have no idea just how good they are. With that killer draw weight Wang exhibited all week, she could have played a much more aggressive game against Team Canada in the final and maybe come out on top but the inexperience showed. There were a few questionable strategy decisions, but still, the execution was exceptional.

So here’s to Team China, what a week. And here’s to Team Canada, on top of the world at last.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

China's no surprise

Should we really be surprised by the play of the Chinese curlers in Kelowna? To me, the only thing surprising is just how short a time it took for them to reach the world-class level. The fact they did it is not that shocking.

If you pour the resources, the time, the money into a program as the Chinese have done, then I think you can expect results. Don’t forget, the Chinese team does nothing but curl. They don’t have to work to put food on the table or pay the hotel bill at the next Tour stop. They are 100 per cent curling, 100 per cent of the time.

In some ways, it shows what an antiquated system we have in Canada where the curlers are, for the most part, left to their own until they become national champions. There is some funding from Sport Canada, obviously, and some sponsorship, but most try to juggle full or close to fulltime jobs which puts them at a disadvantage.

Canadian curlers are really the only athletes in an Olympic sport who do continue to work (there are others, I know, but I’m generalizing here). Think of the ski team which competes in Europe and North America. Erik Guay isn’t going back between races to put in a few hours at the Beer Store or the lawyer’s office.

Now I don’t think our system is terribly flawed by any means and I don’t think you’re seeing any kind of seismic shift here just yet that’s going to knock Canada or any other curling power off the top step. It’s more that China has joined the party in a legitimate way.

Friday, March 28, 2008

I'm taking my rock and going home!

Back to blogging here after a few days off due to an injury. While coaching my son’s hockey game the other night, I took a puck to the face, good for a few broken chiclets and a beauty of a shiner. I should have taught him to curl.

Anyway, in all my years of covering curling, can’t say I’ve seen anything as wild as the performance of the Scottish women. They have to go with three when their team mutinies?

The only thing I’ve seen close was in 1990 at the Brier in Sault Ste. Marie when Harold Breckenridge pulled himself late in the week because of what he described as “mental anguish.”

However in that situation, the fifth agreed to play.

So from what I understand, the Scottish coach elects to pull the skip in favour of the fifth. The skip grudgingly accepts. Then the second says if the skip isn’t playing, she isn’t playing. So the coach asks the skip back and she says no. So the skip and the second sit in the stands while the remaining three play – and win.

Is this really the world championships or the high school league? What kind of player quits on their team because the coach makes a change? This is a huge embarrassment for the Scots. I can imagine there are a few steamed Scots back home.

I love this statement released by the RCCC.
"The Royal Club regrets this situation but supports and stands by the decisions taken by its coaches."

So formal, so proper, it almost makes you laugh, but I suppose they don’t have many other ways of dealing with it.

I looked on a few of the Scottish newspaper sites but they didn’t have much in the way of details. I was expecting some juicy stuff, but they just picked up the wire feed for the most part.

I can’t honestly remember any athlete in any situation ever refusing to play. All I can say is I’m pretty sure we’ve seen the last of these two in international play.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

New countries come to the fore

A few years ago, you would have laughed if someone told you Canada had a string of games involving Czech Republic, Italy, Russia and China. But not any more. If you ever wanted any evidence the Olympics are helping curling, see these countries. And these aren’t the hapless throw-ins we used to see once in a while at world championships. You know, the odd time a team from some almost-non-curling country would qualify for the worlds and would show up look very much like a team from the C league at your club. That made it all the worse when they’d win a game.

I think Russ Howard lost to France in ’93 and I think Al Hackner lost to Italy in ’82 – I might have the years wrong and perhaps the countries reversed, but back in the day, it was unheard of for this to happen. I don’t even think the Italians curled indoors at that time – of course much has changed. That doesn’t happen any more – these teams are all legit, really only lacking a little experience.

I watched a little bit last night with Canada taking on Russia and I was really impressed with the Russian skip. My only question is are there any other players in Russia of this caliber? Or is Ludmilla Privovkova another Dordi Nordby, someone we’re going to see at the world championship for the next 20 years?

I have to say that the Canadians looked good (What’s with the curly hair Jennifer? Did you have time to put curls in it or did you not have time to straighten it? Inquiring minds want to know) even though they were playing somewhat poorly. What I mean by that is when you can win games when you don’t have your best stuff, it shows some fortitude and clearly the Canadians weren’t at their best last night. Somehow they gutted it out and won which you have to do during a week like this. (I heard Cathy O has the flu which may be part of the story.) An impressive, non-impressive display if that makes any sense.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Advantage of the Maple Leaf

There is always a lot of talk about the growth of curling outside of Canada and how the best teams in the world are just as good as the best teams in Canada. That’s probably true to a certain extent, although it’s very clear we have a lot more depth than anywhere else.
But what is still present in any international competition is the presence of the Maple Leaf. Canada is still the big Kahuna at these tourneys and teams definitely either gear up to play them or perhaps fear playing them. Sometimes both.
Now that might not be the case with every team, but it is for most whether they admit it or not. And it was certainly in play yesterday when Jennifer Jones took on the Czech Republic, whose skip, Katerina Urbanova, admitted her nerves got the best of her. Here’s what she told Jim Bender of the Winnipeg Sun:
"It was the first time against Canada, so I was excited and nervous, both," Urbanova said. "We knew that it would be difficult and we would have to play a risky game against a team like that, and we did. But we didn't play very well."
In fairness, here’s this kid, playing on the world stage for the first time in front of what’s probably the biggest crowd she’s seen in curling and possibly for the first time in an arena. Welcome to the big leagues.
I was pretty impressed with the deliveries of the Czech gals – fundamentally, they were pretty solid. Strategy. . . not so much. But they’ll learn.
You have to believe that even against the most seasoned of teams, the Maple Leaf provides a mental advantage. Whether the Canadian curlers take advantage of that is another matter.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Questions after Day 1 at the WWC

Managed to catch the last few ends of the Canada vs. Switzerland match last night and a few questions went through my mind:

• What is with Mirjam Ott’s delivery? She fishtails to the left so badly that after she lets go of the rock, she has to paddle with her hand to stop from going way off to the side. You wonder how good she’d be if Lino DiIorio could work with her

• Why is it so many European teams have that strange release where as soon as they let go of the rock, they whip their arm back towards their body? It’s as if they’re trying not to get caught going over the hog line. Has anyone told them about the Eye on the Hog?

• Is Team Canada playing as well as it can? I thought the Canadian rink played well, not great but OK. Of course as I mentioned, I only saw a few ends. You can bet they don’t want to get into a position where they have to win eight in a row again.

• The Russian team is doing ads for Strauss? What up with that?

• When did the Czech Republic start curling?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Setting up the women's worlds

The women’s world championships get underway today and it’s a chance for Jennifer Jones to make up for that disaster in Paisley, Scotland in her last trip to the world championships. Not a stretch to say that event was probably the worst in the history of the world championships. There have been some pretty crazy world championships over the years, but that may take the cake and it’s hard to fault Jones for her poor performance there. Although the conditions were the same for everyone, that became not much more than a crapshoot and hardly a reflection of good curling.

To prepare for this week, Jones and her team spent a lot of time last week throwing rocks on the ice at the Brier, practicing on the arena conditions.

In the old days, any Canadian team would go into the world final as the favourite. I think Jones will do that this week, but the era of just walking through most of the field are over. Long gone. The other countries don’t have the depth Canada does, but they do have a remarkably talented team or two. I think Switzerland’s Mirjam Ott and Debbie McCormick of the U.S. will be the main contenders but there are a number of others who’ve benefited from the Olympic money being poured into the training of these players. The Russians and the Chinese are perfect examples of this.

As I’ve written before, I think Jones is probably the most determined and focused curler in the game today. She seems to have a Tiger-like drive in her. That will put her in good position to finally win a world title, but it won’t come easily. And as we saw in the Brier final last week, bad ice doesn’t just happen in countries outside of Canada. No matter how good you are, there’s always an element of luck in any championship.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

University Curling Takes Off

While the big boys were knocking heads in Winnipeg, a bunch of University students were in Guelph, Ont., creating a bit of history. For the first time, there was a sanctioned Canadian University Curling Championship.

It was organized by the CCA with the help of the CIS. I probably wouldn’t have known about it had I not bumped into Danny Lamoureux in the airport in Toronto while making my way from Orlando to Winnipeg. Danny had popped into Guelph to see the action and by all accounts, it was a good show. Two teams from Laurier won the event.

When I was in university, we curled, but it was an Ontario-only thing. Still, there were a lot of good players. In my years of representing the University of Windsor, we played against John Kawaja and Graeme McCarrell (York) and Glenn Howard (Waterloo) to name a few.

I can actually remember the game against Glenn. His team was made up of a guy who I don’t think had ever curled before and another player who was so drunk when we played, he just threw his rocks and then sat on the backboards, well, lay there actually. I believe he finally passed out about the seventh end. And yes, we managed to win. In fact, I think we won the whole thing that year, but my memory is fading and I’m too lazy to go over and look at the trophy shelf.

As you can no doubt tell, in those days, it was a pretty good party. And I’m sure it was in Guelph too, although I think the curling was a little more serious. Seeing as how this was the first year of the event, they ran it like a bonspiel with 19 men’s teams and 17 women’s (sadly, my alma matter, Windsor, wasn’t there. Maybe that ban on curling we caused is still in effect.). There were some pretty talented curlers in the field, too. Charley Thomas skipped Calgary and Cody Maus did the same for Western. There were even coaches with every team! (When we played, our coach was famous curler Peter DeKoning, who was in charge of getting the beer and filling out the taxi chits).

Good on the CCA and especially Danny L. for putting this all together. It’s a noble venture.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Final, final Brier thoughts

Here are a few leftover thoughts from the Brier:
• I wrote a column that appeared in some editions of the Globe this past Saturday. It was on the need for the CCA to fix the draw at the Brier and Scotties so big games are held at appropriate times during Brier week. This year’s bad example was the Alberta-Ontario titlt at 9:30 Thursday morning. I interviewed Warren Hansen about this issue and listened intently but I still think there is a way around his problem. It just doesn’t seem like it could be that hard to arrange this. The column is here.

• I think one of the problems with the Brier’s aging demographic is that the event is treated like something for old folks. Before the start of the final, there was a brass quartet playing. Now it was nice and everything, but when I go down and see the Raptors, I’m not hearing Glenn Gould during the shoot-around. And the opening is great with tradition and bag pipes and all, but perhaps it should be jazzed up just a little. Maybe some spotlights for the players’ introductions or something. Even the entertainment during the commercial breaks. While Disco Stu was quite good most of the time, doing things like The Twist made it seem like Geritol time. I guess it’s a chicken-egg thing – do you keep it old because the old people are there or do you make it young in hopes of bringing younger people in?

• Congrats to Sweep!’s Jim Henderson who won his second consecutive Scotty Harper Award for the best curling story of 2007. This is the top prize for the curling media. Next year, we’re banning all photographers from the writing contest (lest they keep kicking us writers’ butts).

• Great to see Jack Matheson at the closing banquet. The CCA did a nice thing by paying tribute to Matty and Bob Picken, who has covered his last Brier. I have two ever-lasting memories of Pick – the first is that booming voice dominating any scrum into which he stepped. The second is from the ’97 Trials. After every draw, Pick would get on the PA and read off the results of every local spiel in Manitoba. Unfortunate part was the only people left in the building were us scribblers – everyone else had gone to the Patch.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Brier bust

Final Brier thoughts:
* You can read the game story I wrote in the Globe here, but safe to say of the 20 or so Briers I’ve been to, this was one of the worst, even than some of those in the pre-free guard zone days.
Full credit to Kevin and his team for winning. They were the better team on this day, but it was a real slog out there and you have to think that John Morris’s doggy style finish to every throw had something to do with it.
In my humble opinion, with the ice as crucial as it is, a new part of curling etiquette is going to be to treat the sheet just like a putting green in golf. You don’t walk across someone’s line on the green and you shouldn’t leave melt spots on the curling sheet. In fact, if I was the CCA, I’d consider putting something in the rule book about this.
* I was asked to vote for the Hec Gervais award last night, which goes to the all-star in the playoffs. Each voter picked three people and for the first time, none of my picks was a skip. I had Craig Savill first, Marc Kennedy second and then the eventual winner, Johnny Mo.

* For the record, I left the Patch at 1:30 on Saturday night and Morris was still there, dancing away the night. (So was his dad for that matter.) In what other sport would that happen?
* Winnipeg put on a good show this week. It was well organized, the Patch was close and the town seemed to have a buzz. Too bad the final didn’t live up to advance billing. Too bad also that more fans didn’t show up, especially for the final between these two (maybe people had a premonition of what was to come). The announced number was 9,223. While 160,000 for the week is still a pretty good number, I know the organizers are a little disappointed.
* Russ Howard got lots of positive comments about his work on TSN. I spoke to several high mucky-mucks in television and curling, and everyone thought he was superb. The only dissenter appeared to be the woman sitting beside Jim “Hollywood” Henderson of Sweep! on the plane home this morning. She thought he was too negative. I’m thinking Russ will likely be around for a while.
* So the CBC didn’t announce the big $1 million shoot out; I heard there may have been some legal issues to sort out still, but I received an e-mail this morning stating that it will indeed still be taking place. I also heard the TSN is well down the road in organizing its own million-dollar draw, this one to take place at the Brier next year. I wonder if the same guy/gal could win both? In any case, there won’t be any shortage of dramatics next year.
* I ran into Jeff Stoughton in the media room yesterday (not sure how a curler got in there, but I digress) and he told me that some time ago he helped out a guy who had one a chance to draw the button for $25,000. The guy wasn’t a curler per se, an so Jeff gave the guy a bunch of pointers and in the end, the fellow got his shot in the four-foot, good enough for $10,000.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Draw the button, earn $1 million

How’d you like to throw one rock for $1 million?
You’ll have the chance next year and the details will be announced tonight on the CBC’s broadcast of the Tim Hortons Brier final.
Scooping TSN’s series of million dollar opportunities (i.e. the Kick for a Million and the Shoot for a Million), the CBC, Capital One and the Grand Slam are going to announce a Draw to the Button for $1 Million. I don’t know exactly how it will work, but from what I can tell, there will be a nationwide contest to find a curler who will attempt – probably at the Players Championship – to throw one rock with the chance of winning the cool million.
This type of event has been popular for the last few years. I was at the Argo game a few years back when some fellow kicked a field goal to win the million. The crowd reaction and the news of the feat went across the continent.
Then earlier this year, TSN did the same thing for hockey where a fellow put 16 pucks in the net from the far blue line to earn the money.
Now the same thing is coming to curling. Stay tuned to the broadcast tonight for the news.

A day at the semi

A day at the Brier without a column to write:

* I leave the hotel at 11:30 and see Pat Simmons waiting in the lobby. He doesn’t appear to have any bandages anywhere.

* First end: Simmons makes his first two shots and the suicide watch is downgraded to yellow.

*Second end: Jill Officer is shown on the Smooch Cam all by herself. Somewhere in Finland, George Karrys is crying.

* Third end: Ontario fifth Steve Bice disappears for a few minutes, returning with five cookies. He and coach Scott Taylor being to chow down.

* Four of the five cookies are gone by the end of the fourth end.

* I miss the CBC track cam. All they have now is a big boom camera, conveniently located at the exit to the media room forcing the ink-stained wretches to duck and dodge while trying to get a coffee as this large metal arm zips overhead. Bob Picken never leaves the bench.

*At the fifth-end break, former CCA president and Dave Parkes fan Zivan Saper comes by the press bench with a bucket to collect money from the press for the Sandra Schmirler Foundation. He sees me and says: “The Globe flew Bob Weeks in for the final weekend to be the enemy.” Huh?

* Taylor eats the last of the five cookies but Bice disappears again and brings out a plate for the team. Howard, Hart and Savill chow down.

* The CBC brings Don Duguid into the booth to call the action for an end as part of its farewell to the Brier which provides the awkward moment of the week when the cameras show Dugie and Mike Harris shaking hands. That, of course, means Harris squeezes the famous baby finger of Dugie, the one that holds more curling knowledge than Harris supposedly knows.

* Seventh end: The in-house announcer gets everyone up to do the twist. Somehow, I imagine this is how exercise hour at the retirement home looks.

*Eighth end: The wave breaks out in the MTS Centre, proving that curling fans really are stuck in the ‘70s.

* As soon as the last rock in the eighth – an open hit – leaves Simmons’ hand, the crowd yells out “Clean, clean.”

* Ninth end: Team Howard calls a time out. Isn’t it amazing how when a team calls a time out, they never know where to signal. They all make the T sign and then do 360s, hoping to attract the attention of the mysterious clock master.

* The crowd located by the boom starts to get angry when the camera continually blocks their view. “Move the Camera” they yell. At the least the CBC is going out like it came in.

* How good are Savill’s two chips in the 11th? They easily allow Ontario to win the game.

* Pat Simmons comes into the scrum and his eyes get watery and his voice cracks. He stays there and answers questions though. There isn’t anyone anywhere who doesn’t feel for this guy.

* Sunday, Martin vs. Howard. Does it get any better?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Simmons still classy in defeat

Have to hand it to Pat Simmons. After what was easily the most devastating finish to a curling game in his career, Simmons came and chatted with the press – I know a few curlers who wouldn’t have done that. In fact, there was a rather strange situation that developed in the scrum area of the MTS Centre. First off was Kevin Martin who was swarmed by the assembled masses, myself included. After a few of Kevin’s answers, I looked over my shoulder and there, standing by himself with no one around him, was Simmons, glumly staring at the ground, almost as if awaiting the executioners. It was a strange sight – Martin surrounded by 40 or 50 people, Simmons all alone.
On a selfish note, Simmons’ horrible pick left me scrambling. I had two stories written, one with Saskatchewan winning and the other with Martin coming out on top, but when the end came as it did, I had to move to Plan C and put together a new piece in about, oh, eight minutes. That was the time I had until deadline.
The game last night was an odd one and not just because of the ending. How often do you see Kevin Martin miss two big-weight hits – his missed one in the first end and another in the fifth, both times leading to steals of two for Sask.
And I thought there were some odd calls in the game too. Why was Martin guarding in the fifth? Why not peel the Sask rock out of the rings and force him to one?
After that end was over, there was some heavy talking behind the sheet between Martin and Marc Kennedy, over what I presume was that call.
And why did Simmons throw away that shot in the 10th? Why not at least peel off the corner guard? If you don’t have confidence in your team to make a peel at this point, what does that say?
The worst miss of the night had to be Simmons’ shot in nine. It’s his bread-and-butter – nose hit and he wins the game. From my vantage point behind the sheet it sure looked as if he flipped it wide. Nothing but ugly there.
So after writing the eight-minute story, I headed over to the Patch and caught Streetheart. Somehow I remember them being better. I don’t think I recognized any songs until they did the Stones’ Under My Thumb. The Patch was definitely rocking last night but I must be getting old. Standing around and yelling in people’s ears to try and have a conversation isn’t as much fun as it used to be. I left and shared a van home with Ontario coach extraordinaire Scott Taylor who was going to rally his troops for a 9:30 a.m. practice this morning.
For those interested, I have an extra column in the paper this morning about the scheduling of games. You’ll find it here. While I have sympathy for Warren Hansen on this issue and respect for his answers, somehow I think this is something that could – and should – be worked out.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Thursday impressions

Finally made it to Winnipeg late Thursday, in time for the evening draw. Most of the excitement was over by then, of course, with the exception of the Saskatchewan-Manitoba tilt, which didn’t last long. Burtnyk sure didn’t look his normal self. As many folks pointed out, his losses came to all the playoff teams. I don’t think his play at the Canada Cup last week where he went 1-4 helped his confidence coming in here. While he didn’t get much help in front of him, Burtynk threw two stinkers in the fifth, one that came up way short and the next that wrecked on a guard. Sure you can blame frost or whatever, but he missed nonetheless and although he came down the ice stone-faced after the second miss, you could tell he knew it was over.
Some general observations about what I saw here:
• Crowds are a little thin and from what I read in the local bugles, the walk-up is somewhat disappointing. I think I saw that organizers are hoping to get to 165,000.
• An interesting and well done story in this morning’s Free Press about the age of the fans at the Brier. It’s no secret that curling attracts an older audience, but hasn’t this story been written for about 15 years now? So either the fan base is getting really old or newer, older people are coming in. There won’t be any shortage of older people over the next 20 years as the baby boomers hit retirement age so maybe the sky really isn’t falling. Maybe curling should embrace the older generation.
• After flying all day and having to carve out a story for the Globe, I took a pass on the Patch last night. But I’ll ensure to provide a full report after tonight’s visit.
• Pat Simmons had the quote of the night when he was asked what he’d have to do to beat Kevin Martin tonight: “My team is going to have to play very, very well and I’m going to have to be perfect.” Even that might not be enough.
• The Alberta team, with nothing on the line, looked loose, relaxed and almost cavalier last night against the Territories. They seemed to spend a lot of time watching the Howard-Rafuse game on the next sheet and also casting an eye to the Jumbotron to watch the Manitoba-Saskatchewan tilt. For the record, the Territories didn’t play too poorly.

Got a chance to hear more of Russ Howard this morning in the tiebreaker and he really is excellent with his insight. In the first end, when Gushue’s draw shot with his first one came up short, Howard pointed out that in practice, players tend to aim at the middle of the 12 foot and draw to the button. Not many, Howard said, will draw to the side of the button. As a result, there was a lot of pebble down the path where he threw and he ended up coming light. That’s the type of thinking that will make Howard an excellent broadcaster.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Brier beats Leafs

Hard to follow the Brier from here in Orlando, but I did pick up one interesting note: Tuesday night's broadcast on TSN drew an audience of 490,000, which by itself if impressive but here's the other part of the story: the Leafs vs. Philly brought in 460,000, meaning curling beats the Leaf Nation. Please, insert your Leaf/Toronto joke here.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Opening weekend at the Brier

Some observations about the opening weekend’s play at the Timmies Brier:

• Let the records show that it was in the third end of the second draw that Linda Moore broke the seal and talked about the various possibilities of causes of rocks picking. She mentioned carpet fibres, ceiling ash and disintegrating grippers. The players are reportedly stepping on a sticky surface prior to the ice, with the idea being the sticky surface grabs anything from the shoes.

• Linda, Ray and Vic have mentioned several times how the Brier this week might be won by the front ends. I’ll state right now that the best lead-second combo – when you consider shot-making and sweeping m-- is from Ontario. Savill and Laing are remarkably talented and extremely underrated.

• Caught Russ Howard’s debut on Sunday afternoon and I’d have to say he was very good. He was concise but extremely informative, not only looking at shots being played but two or three shots down the line. He also had intimate knowledge of many of the players on the ice, noting tendencies such as inexperience of the New Brunswick team on arena ice. If he can put a little more passion in his voice, he’ll be great.

• Watching BC – Sask. . . . Yikes! Does anyone want to win?

• Outside of the performance of the Newfoundland and Labrador squad, are there any real surprises so far? Maybe Quebec, but that’s about all I can see.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

New Globe Column

Here's my Globe column for today, a look at the end of an era with CBC's farewell to the Brier after more than 60 years.
In this column, I never got into the differences between TSN and CBC but it's safe to say that the broadcasts are varied, mostly because the CBC is there for two games while TSN does a week of shows. As a viewer, I think you get comfortable with TSN, you develop more of a relationship with its broadcast because it goes on all week. It's somewhat more casual than the CBC and that's a good thing. When the CBC comes in, it becomes a big show, an event if you will. Nothing wrong with that -- it is, after all, the final (and semi). It will be interesting to see if TSN does anything different for the final next year. I suspect it will. I would also hazard a guess that most people prefer TSN's commentators to the CBC's. Again, I think a lot of that is familiarity. I actually like the CBC's team and I especially think Mike Harris is superb because he isn't afraid to criticize when it's necessary. Some weird synchro lady doesn't like him as you can read here, but judging by what she wrote, it's pretty clear she doesn't know much about curling. Or the real world.
And I love Linda, Ray and Vic, too. Hey, it's just one big love-in at this blog.
Interesting to see some of the picks for this year's championship. In the Globe this morning, I went way out on a limb and said Glenn Howard will beat Kevin Martin in the final. Al Cameron thinks Brad Gushue will get it done. says Martin is the betting favourite. Murray McCormick says it's Howard.
With the blizzard-like conditions raging outside here in the T-Dot, it's going to be a good day to spend with Linda, Vic and Ray.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Pre-Brier ramblings

A few rambling thoughts from my alleged mind:

• Here’s another example of a too-crowded-curling calendar. I’m flipping through the paper this morning and I see a headline about the Canadian gals going to a tiebreaker for the playoffs at the World Junior. Is that on?

• Good to see the fine folks in Winnipeg have started to buy tickets. Still, surprised they’re not yet at the break-even point, especially with this field. It brings up two good points: 1) I think it’s safe to officially move the centre of curling’s universe to Edmonton and 2) the CCA has to start making the draw after the teams have been decided so you avoid Manitoba vs. Ontario Monday at 2 p.m. and Ontario vs. Alberta Thursday at 9:30 a.m. What possible reason could there be for making the draw prior to knowing who is representing what province? Putting the big games in the evening can only bring more bums into the seats.

• The Tim Hortons Brier starts tomorrow and I won’t be there. In fact, I won’t be getting to Winnipeg until Thursday afternoon due to my other job taking me in the other direction, Florida and the PGA Tour. There’s a trade-off here: better weather but the athletes aren’t quite as accommodating.

• Three tired story lines I hope I don’t see this week: the Saskatchewan drought (is this really a drought? Take the great Richardsons out of the equation and it’s won a grand total of three Briers. Where are the stories on the great Northern Ontario drought?); theories on why rocks pick (hair, carpet fibres, dust from the ceiling, grippers falling apart, exploding rocks); the Territories long, difficult journey to get here.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

That "Curler" Burtnyk

Traveling home from Calgary today I picked up the National Post, a fine journal which I don’t read that often.
There was a story in the paper about Kerry Burtnyk by Chris Cariou of the Winnipeg Free Press. It was well done and outlined Burtnyk’s preparations as the home-province favourite for the Tim Hortons Brier.
What caught my eye, however, was the headline. It read: “Curler Burtnyk Right On The Money.”
Why, I wondered, did the headline writer (the person who writes the story doesn’t write the headline) feel it necessary to include the word “Curler?”
They didn’t use the word “Footballer” when talking about Bret Favre’s retirement or “Baseballer” when discussing Geku Taguchi’s signing with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Now perhaps I’m reading too much into this and it was a space issue – they needed to fill an extra line – but to me it just smacks of ignorance. It’s as if they person writing the headline believed that no one would know the name Burtnyk and so it was necessary to precede it with the word curler.
I really think the non-curlers at some media outlets underestimate the star power of the biggest names in the game. I think most sport fans would recognize the name Burtnyk. It’s almost insulting to see “Curler Burtnyk” there, but perhaps I should be thankful there was a curling story at all in the Post.

Monday, March 3, 2008

New Globe column

My Globe column for today is here.

Have to say that after watching yesterday's Strauss Canada Cup final, it's amazing how the game changes when there's no curl. Yesterday's ice was not only quite straight but had the odd fall here and there -- just like the bad old days (and what ever happened to Don Lewis anyway?). Both finals were low-scoring, both were a bit dry although there were some good ends. The bottom line is the free-guard zone is nothing without good ice.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Canada Cup in the News?

What a difference a week makes.
Last week, paper, television, radio and the internet were full of curling coverage of the Scotties.
This week, with another supposedly big event on – the Strauss Canada Cup – there scant little news about who is doing what.
A search of web sites of the national media revealed little: There was nothing in the Toronto Star, nothing in the National Post, nothing in the Sun, a small mention in the Globe and Mail. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that at the Winnipeg Free Press site, the landing page headline was "Jones in Playoff Against Scott." That was the overall home page, not just the sports page. Oh you curling-crazy 'Tobans. (I should point out that beside that headline was a story on Winnipeg in the running for a monopoly square!)
Without getting into a discussion about what sports get covered and what don’t, it says a great deal about the Strauss Canada Cup as an event, at least to the outside world. It doesn’t have any appeal to sports-directors who apparently just view it as another curling event. Because it isn't a national championship, no one seems to care. Coming as it does a week before the Brier starts and a week after the Scotties finishes more or less assures it will get lost.
If you’re a curler, you probably know where to go to find the information, but if not, you probably wouldn’t even know this event it on. There is just no buzz about it at all.