Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Skins Games and other past events

It’s at this time of year that I think back to the other skins game that used to take place between Christmas and New Year. It was originally known as the GM Goodwrench Skins and was a local, Ontario event. It morphed into a bigger deal and was shown on Sportsnet and had a number of different sponsors over the years, including M&M Meats if memory serves me correctly. There were lots of great teams involved, many of whom had to fly to Toronto on Christmas Day in order to make the show. Paul Savage was the guy behind it.

Eventually, like many other curling events, the sponsorship dried up and it went away.

It got me to thinking about other events that have come and gone. Of course there have been many. My favourite was the old Royals Classic, which started off as a carspiel then turned into a cashspiel with some significant dough. This was one of the most effective spiels I’ve ever seen that combined serious curling with serious partying.

What other events that no longer exist do you miss?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Olympics fuel local growth

Here's my Globe column today on how curling associations are preparing for a surge in interest in playing the sport thanks to the Olympics.

I've often taken curling associations to task for their lack of preparedness to capture those who get interested in the sport thanks to it being seen on television. But this time, I think the CCA and USCA are ahead of the game. Now, of course, it's up to those at the club level to utilize the programs put in place and try to get people from in front of their televisions onto the ice.

Anyone have any examples of clubs that are taking advantage of the high profile the Olympics will give and using it to recruit?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Your help for the decade in curling

I usually do a Globe column on the best of the year but this time I’m looking back on the entire decade. So I’m welcoming your help in deciding some of the following:

* Team of the decade

* Game of the decade

* Shot of the decade

* Quote of the decade

* Story of the decade

Leave me your thoughts and you might seem them in my next column.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Globe column on John Benton

Here's my latest Globe column on American lead John Benton. What a great story and although I only interviewed him over the phone, he seems like a wonderful guy, someone you just can't help but cheer for.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Trials' wrap

I made it home to balmy Toronto (temp +2) today, wrapping up a good week in Edmonton. Some thoughts:

* Overall, the Trials was a great success. I think Jackie-Rae Greening (who is really one of the nicest people you'll ever meet) and her gang did a first-class job of hosting the biggest and easily the best Trials to date. And I've been to them all. Edmonton really is the centre of the curling universe.

* Talking to a number of players over the final weekend, it's clear that Kevin Martin and his team aren't going to win any popularity contests among their peers. Almost to a man, the players I talked to said the new Olympic squad isn't really a team in the true sense -- they are more a business. "I've never seen the four of them do anything together other than curl," said one Western Canadian curler. "I don't know if they really like each other." The betting is that if the team starts losing (which, admittedly is a long shot considering the way they played) at the Olympics, there will be lots of finger-pointing. That said, I have no problems with Kevin and the rest. They've been good to me from a professional standpoint and on the ice, they're mighty impressive.

* TSN pulled in its largest television audience for a curling event ever -- 1.2 million -- for the men's final. The 875k for the women's game was great too. Of course the men's game had the perfect ingredients. Two high-profile teams, one from audience-rich Southwestern Ontario and lots on the line. I don't think they'll surpass this for the gold medal game in Vancouver.

* Possibly the only people in Ontario happy that Glenn Howard lost are the organizers of the sponsorless Ontario men's final. Howard would have passed on the provincials if he'd won the Olympic berth. And the next highest-profile curler in the provincal, Wayne Middaugh, isn't entering so it would have been wide open.

* The CCA seems much better prepared to support its Olympic teams this time around. The winners got $50,000 to help out with travel and accommodation and tickets for family members. At the last Games, Russ Howard told me it cost him $24,000 to bring his family along for the trip to Italy. And there's a designated person -- the Great Jock Tyre -- to look after the needs and wants of the family members.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

One final done, one to play

One down and one to go. Yesterday, Cheryl Bernard finished off what’s been a great week for her Calgary squad by winning the Olympic berth with a victory over Shannon Kleibrink.

For the first five ends of that game, it looked like no one wanted to win. It was among the sloppiest big contests I’ve ever seen. I’m sure somewhere, Bingyu Wang and Anette Norberg were smiling watching the two teams make mistake after mistake.
But the second half was much better, or at least a lot more exciting. Right down to last shot, just like it should be.

To me, the difference seemed to be just how mentally prepared the Bernard team was. I mean, they were laughing and smiling throughout the match, no matter what the situation. They really seemed to be handling the situation with calm. Kleibrink looked tense to me, so did Amy Nixon, but she’s almost always wound up.

Interesting to note that after the game, you could see just how PO’ed Nixon was at the loss while Kleibrink, in the media scrum seemed to be “Oh well, we tried our best.”
I’d prefer an attitude like Nixon’s personally.

From a purely selfish point of view, Bernard is a better winner. She gives better quotes than Kleibrink, who is nice but usually a bit stilted in the scrums.


On the men’s side, I don’t think you could draw it up any better. The top two teams in the world going for the biggest prize. What’s the difference here? Probably just a shot somewhere along the line, either one made or one missed.

I think you had to be impressed with the Howard team’s performance in the semi against Jeff Stoughton. They were very, very good. For that reason I’m going to give them the edge today even though the record favours Martin.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Dumping Controversy

Dump-gate or Brush-gate or Broom-gate.

Call it whatever you want, but Richard Hart’s calling out Ben Hebert for dumping on Thursday night has the potential to colour the final should Glenn Howard get past Jeff Stoughton today (which is no sure thing).

Most folks know that in the ninth end of their round-robin game, Hart accused Hebert of breaking a rule by lifting his broom and leaving debris on the ice to slow down a Martin shot.

Hart was hot when he came off the ice, as much at losing as by Hebert’s alleged actions. But I caught up with him before he practiced Friday and he cleared the air.

“In no way was I trying to call them cheaters,” he stressed. “I perceived that a rule was broken and I said something about it. Whether that rule was broken or not, that’s not up to me to say. I thought I saw a rule get broken, I asked for them to look at the [replay].

“If a rule was broken, it should be addressed [by officials]. If it wasn’t then maybe they should say something to me to shut my mouth.”

Now despite the fact that Hebert denied dumping, a number of players I talked to said they were happy Hart called Big Ben out.

“It’s about time someone said something,” one player said to me. “He’s brutal, so obvious.”

I should point out that when I asked a couple of these players if Hebert was the only one who does this and they said no, but he was the most prominent rule violator.

The rulebook says that an official has to make the call and there are three options if the rule is broken. Leave the shot as is, remove the rock from play or replace it where you think it would have finished without the dump.

But trust me – no official anywhere is going to make that call, no way, no time. They don’t have the cojones.

Hart also said that there will undoubtedly be some uneasy feelings if the two teams meet. He said that he and Howard sat down at breakfast Friday morning and saw Hebert and Martin across the room. They waved. Hebert waved back. That was about it, though. There was a chill in the air.

The real problem here is a problem curling has had for some time. You don’t want officials to have the power to affect the game but you want the rules to be enforced.

The hog line umpires are a perfect example. When they were around the players raised bloody hell at the inability of the officials to do that job properly – just ask Randy Ferbey or Paul Savage. Yet they don’t want guys to break the rules by sliding over the hog line. The Eye on the Hog fixed that but I don’t see a solution for dumping.

Still, it will be interesting to see what happens if Howard gets past Stoughton today. That should be a good game, likely without any tension.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Wednesday at the Trials

Notes from Wednesday at the Trials:

** Here’s something I’ve never heard before. Just before the start of practice, an announcer comes on the PA system and says. “One minute to red practice. Players may cool their sliders but no practice slides.” Cool their sliders? Has anyone else ever heard this? For the record, the players seem to ignore the advice. Guess they cooled their sliders down back at the hotel in the mini-bar.

** Too bad the Martin-Ferbey match got out of hand so early. It really deflated the crowd who were looking for an edge-of-the-seat game rather than the one they got. For the record, Dave Nedohin’s shot in the second was a) really tough and b) almost perfect. A half-inch difference and he’s got the possibility of getting one.

** Ferbey, by the way, is the best quote among the curlers here. Although sometimes you can’t quote him. After yesterday’s game I asked him what he was thinking when he saw Martin take three. “Fuck,” he said, laughing. That didn’t make it into the Globe.

** The daily newspaper put out for the Trials is called The Morning Roar and it features a Q+A with two teams every day, one men’s. one women’s. The questions are the same everyday for each team and are a bit off the wall, making for interesting reading. For example, one question is Who is the most annoying celebrity. Jason Gunnlaugson’s choice? Linda Moore.

** Stupid Media Question of the Day: A guy asked Jennifer Jones if she thought the competition here this week was going to be tough.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Rating the Hurry Hard

So while spending the day watching the curling here, I decided to rate the sweeping-calls of the skips – and one third – on the women’s side of the draw. Here’s the scale I used --Vocal Strength represents how loud the player is. Sustainability is how long the person keeps the yell going. Repetition is a measure of how many times the player repeats the instruction. Whiney Factor is how annoying it is to listen to the instructions if you were a sweeper.

Jennifer Jones
Vocal Strength: 9
Sustainability: 7
Repetition: 7
Whiney Factor: 4
Notable: Uses the word “Really” a lot as in “Really Hard.”

Stefanie Lawton
Vocal Strength: 6.5
Sustainability: 8
Repetition: 3
Whiney Factor: 5

Shannon Kleibrink
Vocal Strength: 6
Sustainability: 4
Repetiion: 7
Whiney Factor: 7

Amy Nixon
Vocal Strength: 11
Sustainability: 11
Repetition: 11
Whiney Factor: 11
Notable: By far the loudest and the most urgent. Makes Russ Howard seem like a mute.

Cheryl Bernard
Vocal Strength: 8
Sustainability: 5
Repetition: 7
Whiney Factor: 5
Notable: Her voice seems to drop and octave when she gets really into it.

Amber Holland
Vocal Strength: 5
Sustainability: 5
Repetition: 6
Whiney Factor: 2

Krista McCarville
Vocal Strength: 7
Sustainability: 4
Repetition: 7
Whiney Factor: 2

Crystal Webster
Vocal Strength: 5
Sustainability: 7
Repetition: 4
Whiney Factor: 6

Kelly Scott
Vocal Strength: 4
Sustainability: 4
Repetition: 6
Whiney Factor: 4

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Monday at the Trials

Some observations after my first day in Edmonton:

The women take warm up a lot more seriously than the men. I’m not talking about on the ice, but everything that happens before that. You seen them stretching and jumping around, doing something to get their heart rates up, I guess. The men mostly look around and tell jokes with each other.

Kevin Martin walked out for his second game today and quickly doffed his jacket to reveal that he’d put on Jules Owchar’s shirt with the name on the back. He walked around for about 10 minutes before someone pointed it out and he went and changed.

The day after I had a story on just how great Hans Wuthrich is at making ice, the guys came off after their draw saying how tough the ice is. “We’re better than this,” said Glenn Howard. It should be pointed out that he has full confidence that the guys will fix things up before long.
Oops. In fairness to me, I wrote the article on Hans well before anyone had curled on the ice here at Rexall Place. It was more of a general article on Hans and his past successes. Still, timing is everything isn’t it”

If you’re coming to Rexall Place to take in a game, eat beforehand. A slice of pizza is $6 – makes me think Rogers Centre is actually reasonable.

When we’ve been living in the balmy fall-early winter conditions in Ontario, it’s awfully tough to get used to -25 degree temps here in Edmonton. You have to dress in expedition wear just to walk over to the patch. I haven’t made it yet. Yes, I’m a wimp.

There are only eight teams in each draw. So why is it two of them get stuck wearing these bile-green coloured jackets?

Old curlers don’t fade away – they become reporters. Sitting on the bench behind me here in Edmonton is the reigning World Seniors champion Eugene Hritzuk, reporting for a radio station.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Follow Me on Twitter

OK, made it to Edmonton where it's a balmy -25 this afternoon.

And in other news, I've succumbed to pressure -- you can now follow me on Twitter at bwoncurling.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

What to expect at the Trials

The Trials start today and for the fourth time, the best teams in the country will gather to determine who gets to wear the Canadian uniforms at the Olympics. Here’s what you can expect to see this week:

The Great Play: As Glenn Howard said, this will be the greatest curling event ever. Hard to disagree with that. The qualifying format this time around is undoubtedly the best in the history of the Trials. All 16 teams are quality and it’s hard to call anyone an underdog.

The Unexpected: The trials have a history of producing some strange results (step right up, Mike Harris). There is one big reason for that – it’s because you get people who overload mentally, thinking too much about what’s at stake rather than the next shot. You can’t perform if you’re under pressure and there’s no more pressure-packed curling than the Trials. It’s a little tougher this time around since all the teams reached here the long way rather than in previous qualifying formats.

The Ice: Expect it to be perfect. Hans Wuthrich is in charge and he’s being blessed by cold weather in Edmonton (actually f&*&^ing freezing weather), which can only help. It will be a little less curl than the men would like or play in the Grans Slams, but be enough to make great come arounds.

The Dissension: Expect one or two teams who drop out of the race for the playoffs early to self-combust. Most of these teams are on a make-it-or-break-it plan, meaning if they don’t win the Trials, they’re history and history might get moved up for someone who goes 0-4.

The End of the Line: If they don’t win, will this be the end of the line for some players? Will Randy Ferbey keep playing? How about Wayne Middaugh? K-Park? Lorraine Lang? You could be watching the end of some great careers this week.

The Changing of the Guard: It’s clear that this time around – if it hadn’t happened already – that the Olympics has surpassed the Brier and Scotties as the most important event in the game. The Canadian championships are great events, but the best in the game now have their viewfinders focused on four-year cycles.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Trials Preview

Here's my preview of the Trials, as it appeared in the Globe yesterday. It was featured in a new Monday Olympics section. Later this week, I'll give you my fearless predictions on who I think will win.