Saturday, December 29, 2012

What are your resolutions for 2013?

I've never been good at writing down my resolutions and so perhaps that's why I've never been very good at keeping them. So here are my 10 on-ice resolutions for the coming year:

1. Practice
2. Replace the brushing head on my broom
3. Keep a record of the rocks at my club or at least tell myself that it's me, not the rocks, that are inconsistent
4. Practice
5. Work on that soft in-turn
6. Find time to enter a few club events
7. Spare once in a while
8. New gripper pads on my non-sliding shoe will make icemakers happy
9. Take some non-curling friends out to try the game
10. Did I mention practice?

How about yours?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Russians in the spotlight after Euro win

The Russian women's team that won the European Championships recently has been thrust into the spotlight as that country counts down to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. The focus has been intensified on Anna Sidorova but also on the coach, Thomas Lips from Switzlerland who talked about the dynamic between coach and curlers.

“At the beginning they had to learn from my side what a game should be. But also I had to learn what kind of people these girls are. We spoke a lot together and I think we found a way how to work together. The main point was the confidence in each other,” the Zurich-born coach says.
Sounding remarkably like a guy who has read Coaching Psychology for Dummies, Lips said that the victory at the Euros won't add any pressure to the team heading into Sochi because pressure is just a bad word.

“Pressure is the wrong word, because it means that one would be afraid to execute,” he notes, adding that even if the girls don’t win any medals but finish fourth it will be regarded as progress.
You can read the entire article here. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Northern view of relegation

Danielle Inglis pens a nice story on Thomas Scoffin, the Whitehorse skip who has made a regular trip to the Canadian Junior since he was 12 back in 2007. He's become a seasoned curler these days and that's the reason he was profiled on the CCA's web site. 

He's quite different from the 12-year-old I interviewed for the Globe and Mail back at that Canadian Junior in St. Catharines, Ont. At that time, he was a shy young guy who didn't say too much. He was a delightful story, however, and it's nice to see his passion for curling has remained. 

The article does offer up one glaring quote from Scoffin, concerning the relegation system that's in place for the Junior and will be for all events in 2014. 
“From personal experience, if that rule was in effect when I was first starting [competitive curling], I don’t think I would have had any opportunities, as our team wouldn’t have been strong enough to qualify,” says Scoffin. “I recognize that it’s tough to find an inclusive format for everybody, but I would be concerned that it would deter [young curlers in the north] from starting to curling competitively.”
And that's the problem with relegation, especially so for an event such as the Junior. Teams in the Territories don't have that much opportunity to play competitively against their peers without huge financial and travel sacrifices. It's possible that when a curler such as Scoffin finishes up his junior career and a younger, inexperienced team from the Yukon arrives on the scene, it may never make the national final. Scoffin pointed that out to Inglis. 

“Recreational curling is alive and well, however [not being guaranteed a spot to compete at nationals each year] could be a deterrent for up-and-coming competitive teams. They can choose to switch to any other sport. It would really hurt junior curling in the north.”

The complete article is here.  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The passing of Wheels

There was some sad news yesterday when the curling world learned of the passing of Keith “Wheels” Reilly. He'd been in the hospital for some time.

Reilly did just about everything there is to do in curling. He was part of the Alf Phillips Jr., rink that won the Brier in 1967. And, of course, he was part of one of the most infamous incidents in international curling when they played in the world championships that year. Here’s how it was recalled in my book The Brier:

 Near the end of the round robin, the Canadian team was in the running along with Scotland and the United States. Despite a late-night sampling of the sponsor Scottish Whiskey Association’s products, Phillips hammered a hapless Norwegian team in an early morning contest. In the afternoon, a showdown for first place was looming between Canada and the United States, and the Phillips team decided to return to the hotel for a short nap. They emerged from the rink and found two buses waiting to transport the teams but no driver. Phillips boarded one, and, finding it running, summoned Reilly to join him. The skip then began a short tour of Perth that ended when he parked the bus on top of a guardrail. “Originally we had intended to just hide it,” remembered Reilly. “But we got stuck on a roundabout and couldn’t get off. We tried to pick up some passengers to help us, but once they got a look at who was driving, no one wanted to get on.”

Reilly also became an exceptional coach, guiding many top teams. He led Alison Goring’s rink to the 1990 Scotties Tournament of Hearts title.

And made his mark as an umpire, where he was on the scene at Briers, Scotties, world championships and just about every other major event you can name.

Reilly also was a champion of change. I remember him telling me how the governing bodies weren't giving any opportunity to new officials to break into the game. The OCA would put people through courses, charging them for that, but then just use the same people time and time again.

 I had many great chats with Reilly over the years, usually at big events where he would give me many great scoops that became stories. He also just loved to talk about the game and would tell you why certain players weren’t performing well technically or why events weren’t running well. He just seemed to have his finger on the pulse of everything.

 Deep down, it was very obvious that Reilly loved the game, loved being a part of it and loved giving back to it. I will truly miss his friendship.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Who is the best curling analyst on TV?

Who is the best curling analyst on TV? free polls 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Richie takes to the mike

Richard Hart debuted as an analyst in the afternoon draw of this week’s Grand Slam of Curling in Kelowna and, by my measure, did a solid job.

Hart, of course, played for many years for Mike Harris and then Glenn Howard. He retired two years ago to spend more time at work and with his family.

Last year, he sat in on a few of the broadcasts of The Dominion Tankard Ontario final on community television and was very good. Sportsnet made an easy choice when it invited him to sit in alongside Harris and Rob Faulds.

I did find it interesting that off the top of the broadcast, there was no mention of regular Joan McCusker. Faulds introduced Hart as the new guy, so not sure if this is a trial and Joan is out or if Hart is just filling in. (Update: Hart will be working this event and the next one in Port Hawkesbury. McCusker will return for the Players, when there are women's teams as well). 

Speaking from experience, being an analyst isn’t that easy. You have to watch the game off the monitor rather than down on the ice so you know what the viewer is seeing. Then you have to listen to a guy from the truck talking in your ear, telling you what to do and you have to know when to talk and when to shut up.

With curling, the less said is often better since the players are mic’ed up and can carry the conversation alone.

Then there’s the mistake of telling people what they’re seeing rather than why they’re seeing it. As the legendary golf announcer Henry Longhurst once said, broadcasters should be caption writers.

Hart, by my measure, was a natural right away. He made his knowledge show in the first end when Craig Savill’s second shot – a come-around attempt – clipped the guard and rolled behind the corner guard.

“Better than the called shot,” he said. There were chuckles from Harris and Faulds, but it turned out to be prescient as Howard ended up with a deuce.

And later he explained how the Howard front end of Savill and Laing communicate with the skip or third about the weight. It was something that only a player who had been on that team would now and it was revealing.

In the evening game between John Epping and Kevin Kow, he pointed out why the Epping team sweepers were carrying an intended draw to the button to the back rings.

“Sweepers on that last one were careful not to leave it directly back button. They didn’t want to get caught leaving a freeze on the button.” Smart stuff.

Later the same end he called out the Koe front end for a sweeping mistake, as they overswept a stone that put the Albertans in big trouble. In the same end, he criticized Epping for a poor guard. 

On it went throughout the broadcasts as Hart showed his experience with not only the game but also the players in the game.

Harris was his usual self, not afraid to call out what he believed to be a bad call or an interesting strategic move. He also offers up the odd laugher, which is needed from time to time. If there’s any issue I have with Mike it’s not about the curling talk but that once in a while he does Faulds’ job and does play-by-play instead of analysis. That’s really a minor quibble however. As far as I'm concerned, he's solid. 

Faulds might be the smartest guy in the booth and he didn’t say much, being the perfect traffic cop. He lobbed them up to Harris and Hart and stayed out of the way.

Overall, I enjoyed the debut. It really was fun to watch and listen. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Martin: "Like getting kicked in the nuts, only super hard."

First it was Glenn Howard. Now Kevin Martin.

These old guys are really, well, um, getting old.

It was announced that Martin underwent surgery yesterday for a hernia. It’s the ailment that prevented him from playing well at the recent Canada Cup. He Tweeted that the operation, done in New Westminster by Dr. Konkin, went well.

Howard had a similar operation over a year ago, although he managed to have his during the off-season.

I’m sure the old dogs were comparing notes and groins in the locker rooms in Moose Jaw (OK, maybe not groins).

In any case, Martin, who will sit out this week’s Grand Slam in Kelowna (he’d being replaced by Joe Frans), described – in detail – to the Edmonton Journal how it felt to play with the problem.

Hmmm. . . great. Your intestines popping out during your slide. I’d say this falls under the definition of TMI. And getting kicked in the nuts really hard? I wonder how many times John Morris has actually thought about doing that over the years?

In any case, as far as surgeries go, this one isn’t that major and Martin says he’ll be back on the ice in January, in time for the Continental Cup. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Olympic curling facility behind schedule

Hmmm. . . this doesn't sound good now does it?

The arena that will host the curling competition at the 2014 Olympics is behind schedule. How far? Well, organizers cancelled the Cup of Russia slated for the end of the month. However, Dmitry Svishchev, the president of the Russian Curling Federation, said there's nothing to worry about. Yet.

There's no need to panic," Svishchev said. "The arena is Sochi is technically ready. All that is left to do is a technical examination."

Technically ready. Right. And technically, I'm eligible to compete in the Brier. But that's a long way from happening.

The Ice Cube Curling Centre is slated to host two big events next year. The World Wheelchair championships go Feb. 14 and the World Junior Feb. 26. The president said that the arena will be ready and not only that but that it will be the best curling facility anywhere in the whole wide world.

"I didn't imagine that a curling venue could be so fantastically well-equipped with first-class facilities."

Apparently that means it will have ice and everything!

The full story is here.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Protecting your head from a curling concussion

I have to admit it: the first time I saw someone wearing one of those protective headgear pieces at a curling club, I had no idea what it was. I thought maybe it was a head warmer or something.

But these days, the Ice Halo and Sport Band may not be exactly commonplace, but it certainly is more usual than unusual.

And now, the inventor of the Ice Halo is being recognized. Barbara Armstrong of Barrie won a Barrie Business Award for her invention which is sold in 15 countries. Armstrong came up with the idea out of necessity, as explained:

I have seen scores of people slip and fall over the years but I hadn’t seen anyone hurt their head until playing in a bonspiel a few years ago at a Toronto club. A hard takeout from another sheet just ticked a rock and shot over to another sheet where a sweeper preparing to slide out alongside the next stone had his feet taken out from under him. He landed hard, hit his head and blood started coming out. 
Thankfully, the gentleman turned out to be OK, but just seeing the blood on the ice and him being carted off on a stretcher by the paramedics was enough to shake me up.

Of course it wasn’t enough to get me to wear the Ice Halo. I guess like a lot of curlers, my ego is bigger than my sensibility.

For those in Ontario reading this, there’s also a great article by Rory Munro in the Ontario Curling Report this month on a team of London women who have embraced the Ice Halo and even started dressing them up, adding decorations to them.

The team is headed up by Dr. Shannon Venance, a neurologist and Associate Professor of Clinical Neurological Sciences at Western University. She noted the increasing number of falls in her league.

“Last year we had three or four women we curl with take unexpected falls on the ice with significant whacks to the back of their heads. It’s just such a horrifying sound when you hear it,” Venance told Munro. “There were goose eggs, concussions; two of them were out of curling for two to three weeks,” said the fifth-year curler.
“Part of what I do as a neurologist is thinking about the brain and the safety of the brain. Concussion in sport is really in the news these days and a concussion can be debilitating. Some people don’t ever recover,” said the doctor.

That’s scary stuff, to be sure. But will it drive more people to wear the Ice Halos? It’s an interesting and increasingly important question that curlers need to ask.