Sunday, December 14, 2014

Jones rink deserves team of the year award

In the coming weeks, the Canadian Press will announce its sports award winners. There are winners announced for male, female and team of the year.

Earlier this week, the Lou Marsh Award was handed out to bobsledder Kaillie Humphries. That drew some criticism from many who felt that hockey player Drew Doughty should have won. Don Cherry was one of the most vocal in that camp. Of course most of the folks complaining, such as Cherry, are hockey pundits. I'm sure there weren't many in the bobsleigh camp who were hoping for Doughty.

Nothing wrong with that but it shows that we all have some bias towards the teams that we see/cover most often.

While fully admitting that, when the team of the year is announced, it's my belief that it should go to the Jennifer Jones team which won gold in Sochi. As those of us closely aligned to the roaring game, of course, this seems an obvious choice. Jones and the team of Dawn McEwen, Jill Officer and Kaitlyn Lawes ran through the field at the Winter Games, going undefeated to capture the gold. It was a truly magnificent performance.

Others who will no doubt be up for the award will be the men's and women's Olympic hockey teams, the Calgary Stampeders and also Brad Jacobs' team.

CP has handed out this award since 1966 and only two curling rinks have won it. It's obviously hard for a curling team to stand out; Canadian curlers are expected to win all the time so it's not always big news to those not that close to the sport.

The only curling rinks named winners of this award were the Sandra Schmirler team in 1998 and the 2006 Brad Gushue team.

Do you feel the Jones rink deserves to win this time?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Curling in Brooklyn -- the New York Times reports

Outside of the Olympics, curling doesn't get much ink in in the U.S., and especially not in the famed New York Times. 

So there was reason to take notice when the paper did a story on the re-birth of curling in Brooklyn. Writer Lisa D. Foderaro did a good job of explaining the game and the gathering at the new curling facility.


Akin to shuffleboard on ice, curling was popular in New York City in the 1800s, another time when men grew Smith Brothers beards, and it was played on frozen ponds and lakes. Now, the LeFrak Center at Lakeside, as Prospect Park’s new skating complex is known, is resurrecting the game. 
More than 100 people turned out for an open house in mid-November. Because of the demand, the organizers at Lakeside decided to create three instructional leagues instead of one.

It appeared to be a healthy, happy gathering  at the new club and what they handed out at the end of the evening, may have been one of the attractions.

For now, curling at Lakeside is a decidedly adult sport. That fact is attributable to yet another curling custom — broomstacking. “Traditionally, the winner buys the loser a beer,” Ms. Peace said, nodding toward the bottles of Brooklyn Lager. “We provide everyone with a free beer at the end.”

Of course since the Olympics, curling has gained niche appeal in the U.S., popping up in new spots such as South Carolina. And how many of us have met an American who thinks that they're going to take up curling as a way to get to the Olympics? Ya, never mind those of your fellow countrymen who have been at it for, oh, 20 years or so.

Still, if there's one country (maybe the only?) that's seen significant grass roots growth thanks to curling in the Olympics, it's the U.S. as this NYT article shows.

Changes behind the microphones


A few comments on the changing of the guard in the broadcast booths of both TSN and SportsNet.

First up is the retirement of Linda Moore at TSN. Moore stepped down after 25 years of calling shots for the network due to some health issues.

Moore, in my opinion, was a wonderful broadcaster. She was always prepared, always had information at her fingertips and knew when to talk.

Her style was far more understated and calming compared to her longtime partner in the booth Ray Turnbull. He was gregarious, outgoing and dealt a lot more on emotions.

Moore often focused on the mental side of things and used a lot of stats in her comments. I think she also did a lot of work to stay current and keep up with the new teams, bringing valuable info out.
If she had one fault – in my own personal opinion -- I think at times, she actually leaned too much on the numbers and the coaching-style info (she is a level 4 coach) and not as much on the personality of the players. That’s my own preference of course.

Off the ice, you won’t meet a nicer person than Linda. She’s just a charming, warm and kind individual. She always has time for the fans and her friends and she will definitely be missed. She has been a huge supporter of the game in so many ways. I hope whatever health issues she has, she's able to conquer and that it doesn't impact her life in any way. 

In Moore's place, TSN said it will use a rotation of guest analysts for this year’s events and the first tryout went to Cheryl Bernard.

(I have no knowledge of who else will get a shot in the booth, but I’d be surprised if we didn’t see Jennifer Jones there at some point this year.)

For a first-timer in the booth, I thought Bernard did a marvelous job, especially when the women’s games were on. You could hear her gaining confidence and style as the week progressed. At first, some of the comments were quite basic but as the week at the Canada Cup progressed, she improved, providing insights that weren’t obvious to the viewer.

Calling a curling game is not as easy as it might seem with the biggest task being knowing when to talk and when to shut up. In essence, you have two other broadcasters in the booth as well as eight more on the ice.

To me Bernard navigated this better and better with every job and she brought good perspective, especially when commenting on the women’s style of play versus the men’s.

The other newbie to the microphone this year is Kevin Martin. Like Bernard, I’ve found Martin to be improving with each broadcast. He certainly has as much knowledge of what’s happening on the ice as anyone and also lots of background on the players. The toughest part is learning what the viewer will find relative and interesting. He’s doing that better and better.

I think Martin is going through just what Russ Howard had to learn when he first stepped into the booth. Because you are so advance in the game, you want to make sure you’re not talking over the heads of the viewers and providing details they can’t understand. So far, Martin’s done a good job of offering up explanations in a way that every knee-slider can see.

I’d love to see him bring out more info on the players’ styles, deliveries, quirks on the ice, etc., and not just the X’s and O’s of the game. He knows these guys well and can offer up those details. 

But all in all, he’s a great fit as a broadcaster.


So final question: Who do you think are the best commentators? Who would you like to see become one?  

Monday, December 8, 2014

Brad Jacobs: "That was horrible curling"

Never one to mince words, Brad Jacobs summed up his team's performance at the Canada Cup on Sunday to the Sault Star's Peter Ruicci in one short sentence: "That was horrible curling."

Hard to disagree. The reigning Olympic champions were lambasted by Mike McEwen in the final by an 8-3 margin. McEwen's Winnipeg four took two in the first and stole three more in the second for a 5-0 lead no doubt sending lots of folks over to watch Gotham. 

Jacobs seemed to have a tough time reading the ice and was heavy with his final-rock draw in the second. That led to the early lead for McEwen.

That was horrible curling, as bad as it gets,” Jacobs said when reached via cell phone minutes after the match had ended. 
“It's terrible it happened on television.” 
Asked about the difficulty in reading the ice, Jacobs said: “That was definitely one of the problems. The ice tricked all of us a little bit.”
For McEwen, it marked the sixth win in seven events, a ridiculously fast start. As well as they played, the skip noted that getting five points in the first two ends was a shock, as he told Canadian Press. 

"That was a gift," McEwen said of the steal and the 5-0 advantage. "That's not going to happen against a team like that very often, it might not happen again for years. It just shows that being off just a little bit, whether it's a few extra feet of weight or a few inches of line can dramatically swing a game."

In the women's final, Val Sweeting put on a finishing kick to knock off Rachel Homan's team scoring three points in the last two ends for a 6-3 win. The skip gushed cliches to the Canadian Press after the win. 

"A great team game, probably our strongest game all week, start to finish and from lead to skip," said Sweeting after high-fiving part of the large crowd of supporters from her hometown of Vegreville, Alta., just east of Edmonton.

Of course there's more to this story with Sweeting's former teammate Joanne Courtney jumping over to join the Homan squad in the off-season and also the sudden line-up change for Sweeting as well. As Don Landry points out at Yahoo.ca, it's been a strange year for Sweeting. 


It's an amazing story line. Sweeting loses the 2014 Scotties to Homan. Sweeting's teammate, Joanne Courtney, leaves for Homan's squad. Sweeting adds seven time New Brunswick champ Andrea Crawford. Crawford abruptly leaves the team just before The Masters begins at the end of October. Sweeting wins that event, anyway, with Cathy Overton-Clapham at vice, as Olson-Johns wasn't available to join the team at that point. 

As Landry points out, it's probably not the last time these two sets of teams will face off in big contests.

Friday, December 5, 2014

ESPN to show Season of Champions events online

ESPN, the American sports broadcasting giant, has reached a deal with the Canadian Curling Association and TSN to show some Season of Champions events south of the border. 

That's a huge win for curling, of course, even if the games will be relegated to ESPN3. It means American fans can tune in to watch event such as the Canada Cup or Scotties or Brier. 

In a release, the CCA head honcho Greg Stremlaw offered up the following: 

“We couldn’t be happier to have ESPN on board, and to give curling fans south of the border this opportunity to watch Canada’s elite curlers in action,” said Canadian Curling Association Chief Executive Officer Greg Stremlaw. “We know there’s an appetite in the United States, particularly with snowbirds who spend their winters in warmer weather, Canadians working or attending school south of the border, and the many curling enthusiasts who travel throughout the United States. We’re excited that these fans will be able to get their curling fix this season.”

Now don't expect to be sitting in the grill room after your round of golf in Florida in March, and seeing some Brier rock-tossing on the television. ESPN3 is an online, streaming channel only, meaning you just get it over the internet, perhaps on your tablet or handheld device via the ESPN app.

And ESPN3 is definitely not showing major league stuff. A sift through the lineup shows Division II football, international rugby and NCAA wrestling. 

Still, just to get access to the U.S. and, as Stremlaw says, allow Snowbirds some access to see the games (which, if figure will make up the majority of the audience) is a good step.

Of course ESPN has lots of ties to TSN. In fact, the American outfit owns a chunk of its Canadian brother, making a deal such as this much easier to put together. 

You can read the full release here

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Will the Canada Cup replace the Brier?

An interesting article this week from Terry Jones in the Edmonton Sun, discussing Warren Hansen's theory that the Canada Cup will eventually become the most important curling event in the land, replacing the Brier. 
The theory goes that with the advent of the non-provincial-based teams aimed more and more at the Olympics, the Brier won't be the be-all and end-all it once was. 

“It won’t happen quick, but I believe it’s what it will eventually become,” said Hanson. 
“I think, in time, it’s going to become a stronger event because it has the best teams in it. It’s the No. 1 way you get a berth in the Olympic Trials. That, in it’s own right, is going to give it strength. 
“There’s lots going on right now which may change the structure of a lot of things. Ultimately, something different is going to have to evolve.”

Hansen believes that right now, there are really only about half a dozen teams in the country that would be deemed the cream of the crop. And in more and more of those cases, the teams wouldn't be eligible for the Brier under the current rules for residency. So the focus is less on less on getting a Purple Heart and more and more on a Gold medal. 
We probably have about six teams in that inner circle and probably another six or eight just outside of it. Go beyond that and it gets pretty thin. For the smaller provinces to ever be competitive at the Brier, with what everybody is doing here, it’s virtually impossible. 
“With the whole Olympic thing, that’s where the focus is. In the inter-provincial competition, which goes back to 1927, it was club-based. You went from club play to regional play to provincial championships to the Brier and it was the biggest show in the sport. 
“But curling has evolved to where the top teams don’t have any club association at all. It’s four guys and they may be two from Alberta, one from Manitoba and one from Ontario. That’s where’s it gone because of the Olympics.”
Of course Hansen would compare the two CCA-operated events -- the Brier and the Canada Cup. But indirectly with this theory is that events that don't demand everyone come from the same locale will grow while others slip. So that means the Grand Slam of Curling should also become more important (although it doesn't hold the same rewards as the Canada Cup just yet).

You have to wonder when teams will start forgoing the playdowns to focus on the Slam and Canada Cup? I don't think that's a far-fetched thought; in Ontario, for example where they haven't moved on from the paleo era, getting from start to finish to win the province can take four weekends to complete along with a full week at the provincial final itself.

The Brier will also stop being the national curling event it's been this year when there's a pre-qualifier (whatever that means) ahead of the competition. For the first time this year, not all the provinces/regions will be represented. A New Brunswick or PEI may be forced to sit out due to the silly rules now in place.

Hansen is right. The Canada Cup may one day soon become the biggest event in Canadian curling outside the Olympic Trials. And that day may be here before you know it.



Sunday, November 23, 2014

The End of the OCR



If you've been a curler in Ontario over the last four decades, you probably know the Ontario Curling Report. At least, I hope you do. It's been a staple at clubs since the '70s.

But this month, we printed our last edition. The OCR is hanging it up its broom and throwing its last rock.

I've been lucky enough to be the editor of that paper for the last two decades and have thoroughly enjoyed it. We accomplished a lot over the years, and were integral to getting Labatt's to return to the Purple Heart, to getting the Free-Guard zone implemented and to punting a number of officials who simply had to go. Last year, we finally got answers to the "member not in good standing" debacle the CCA put the OCA into and helped change the course of the OCA's leadership. I don't want to take full credit for all of these things; just that we helped move the needle and provided much-needed information.

We didn't always make friends with people in high places and I'm told that is still the case with at least one high-ranking mandarin, but we were always happier to serve the curlers first. I think if there's one thing I'm proud of with the OCR it's that we served the curlers above all else.

We also had a lot of fun over the years with the regular Top 10 lists and the Behind The Glass rumours section. Frank McCourt's cartoons had a home with us too. He is an amazing cartoonist with a slightly twisted mind!

So why did we end it? The simple reason is money. There simply isn't the financial support for a curling newspaper any more as the world turns digital. People get their news now from places like curlingzone.com and can read scores and results via Twitter, often directly from the players themselves.

The other reason is that it's been a long run, the four publishers -- myself, Alf Phillips, Peter Birchard and Ken Thompson, along with sales guru Paul Savage -- are all getting up there and perhaps have lost a little of our enthusiasm.

But we didn't want to close up shop without one final issue, which is out now. It's been a great run but the time to say goodbye was right.