Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Rock or the Soo? The battle for the 2017 Brier

In addition to knocking heads on the ice, Brad Gushue and Brad Jacobs are also shaking hands and kissing babies off of it. 

Of course they do that everywhere, but this time it's with the purpose of trying to win over appeal for bringing the Brier to their region.

As the Sun's Terry Jones reports, it appears the decision of host site for the Brier in two years comes down to St. John's or Sault Ste. Marie.

Jacobs said his team is at the call of their coach Tom Coulterman when it comes to the Soo bid. 
"He's the chair of the committee and we're basically on board to do everything we can to help to promote the Brier and bring it to Sault Ste. Marie. 
Gushue is actually spearheading the bid for St. John's trying to convince everybody he meets here into putting $50 down on tickets to bring the national rock concert to The Rock. 
He said they came here with about 1,000 sold and hopes to leave here with more than 1,500 and get 2,000 when they close it off at the end of the month. Winning the Brier might make it an even bigger number. 
"Our goal was 1,500. If we can top that it will show Curling Canada that the interest is there in Newfoundland and St. John's. And we have some government guarantees that we've put forward.
The Brier was last in St. John's in 1972. That was also the only time it was held there. And the Soo hosted the last time in 1990. Both venues would be termed smaller centres, but that seems to be where the Brier is going to be played more often than not for the next little while.

So two questions: Where would you rather go to attend a Brier? Where do you think Curling Canada would rather hold it?

Monday, March 2, 2015

Koe's puking over, Alberta starts winning.

Once the puking stopped, Kevin Koe's curling touch returned. 

In what was probably the story of the opening weekend of the Tim Hortons Brier, the Alberta powerhouse, the team that Koe created after jumping ship from his defending champions, was not winning. In fact, the rink started 0-2 and looked mediocre at best.

So what was the problem? It appears the skipper was dealing with a case of the bad tank, possibly food poisoning, that had him upchucking between ends in his first game. But according to George Johnson of the Calgary Herald, he recovered in time to get Alberta into the win column.

Kevin Koe’s back to fighting trim, fully over a bout of flu/food poisoning that had left him occasionally emptying the house during the curtain-raising 8-7 extra end loss to B.C.’s Jim Cotter on Saturday night. 
Team Alberta’s position was as unsettled as its skip’s tummy had been heading to the evening draw Sunday. But staring down the barrel of potentially ruinous 0-3 start, Koe recaptured his championship form, finishing at a that’s-more-like-it 93 per cent, and the hosts posted their first win, a must-have, 7-3 triumph in nine ends over the youthful Mark Kean rink from Ontario during Sunday’s 6:30 draw.
Marc Kennedy said the barfing skip was at the point where they had to look at Plan B/

“Oh yeah, there was some puking going on between ends,’’ revealed third Marc Kennedy. “We had discussed him not even playing, what our backup plan was. We left the option up to him, whether to play. And he did. But how do you compete against some of these skips when you’ve got wobbly legs. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Should curling be one of Canada's official national sports?

One of my favourite writers, the great Roy MacGregor of the Globe and Mail, turned his attention to curling this weekend and penned a wonderful article based on the premise that curling should be made one of Canada's official national sports.

Right now, there are two in that category: lacrosse and hockey. Hockey became official after a private member's bill by MP Nelson Riis passed.

Back in 1994, Mr. Riis’s intention was to name only hockey, by far the most popular sport, but a determined lacrosse lobby fiercely argued that the country’s original game must not be ignored. 
“During debate, that almost derailed the legislation,” remembers Mr. Riis, who in 2000 left federal politics for private business in Ottawa. “So we compromised and made hockey our national winter sport and lacrosse our national summer sport. I suppose we could continue that process and name curling our spring sport.”
MacGregor said part of the sport's appeal comes down to the players.

From a reporter’s point of view, curlers are profoundly more interesting than today’s hockey stars. They not only try to answer your questions, but they do so without hiding behind clich├ęs. There is no mention of “playing the right way,” “at the end of the day” or “it is what it is.” In curling, “going forward” doesn’t require saying because it’s the only way to go. 
They are also much easier for fans to relate to, as unlike today’s fabulously rich young men who play professional hockey, curlers are considered amateurs who might be lucky to cover expenses through bonspiels. “Curlers need jobs,” says Mr. Jacobs, who makes his living in banking. 
MacGregor even suggests the Bank of Canada turn its attention to the Roaring Game.

The Bank of Canada inexplicably dumped hockey from the back of the five-dollar bill and replaced it with something from outer space. Next makeover, which cannot come fast enough, they should consider curling – Canada’s third national sport.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A lousy two centimetres

Two centimetres. Less than an inch.

That was the difference between Nova Scotia playing on and going home.

Any way you slice it, it's a hard thing to stomach and I'm sure the CCA Curling Canada was none to happy about seeing this result, a kind of perfect storm of bad possibilities.

On Friday, PEI defeated Nova Scotia in the final game of the pre-qualifying round robin, creating a circular win-loss record. That brought into play the first tiebreaker which was the totals of the pre-game draws to the button.

Before each game, one team member threw two shots -- an in-turn and an out-turn -- with the total distance recorded. The two game total was registered and when all the cyphering was done, Nova Scotia came third, just a lousy two centimetres behind Yukon.

As a result, PEI and Yukon will play in today's final with the winner moving into the main field. Nova Scotia will head home. For the first time in the Brier's history, there won't be a Bluenoser team in the Brier. And they'll face the same task again next year. N.S. skip Glen MacLeod told CBC.ca it was a tough loss to swallow.

"Two centimetres was all it was," MacLeod said. "As far as the game goes, P.E.I. was the better team today. 
"The format, I'm not too fussy about. The draw to the button is a little disappointing. It's an easy shot. We had that in our hands."

It's hard to digest the change and there is understandably outrage from the curling folks in Nova Scotia.

If PEI was to lose today to Yukon, there would be equal frustration from the folks in that province.

But there would also be jubilation from the folks in Whitehorse where it would mark the first Brier for a team representing just the Yukon as opposed to the Territories.

The funny thing about this change is that judging from social media response, which understandably really isn't a perfect way of measuring things,  it isn't popular with curlers and it isn't popular with fans.

For example, here's Brad Gushue talking to CBC.ca about it:

"I'm not a big fan of the relegation," said Newfoundland and Labrador skip Brad Gushue. "I think it's a little embarrassing for the teams. The way they're playing out here with nobody watching and no ceremonies or anything, it's not right. 
"It's disappointing not to have one of Nova Scotia or P.E.I, who have been in the Brier since I think the '30s. It's a little bit odd."

For fan response, just go on Twitter. Or Facebook. I have yet to see a positive response to this situation.

That same CBC.ca article had a quote from Jean-Michel Menard saying he was now in favour of the 14-team format used at the Junior, where rinks are divided into pools. He said he wasn't a fan of that at first but thinks it's better than relegating teams.

I have to agree. I wasn't a fan of pools for a number of reasons. The primary one is that not every player plays everyone else. But the more I think about it, the more I think it's an improvement over relegation.

First is that every team gets to play. Second is that -- finally -- the Page Playoff System would be used the way it was intended when it was created.

Right now, the cut is deep and still bleeding. To be sure, no one likes change.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Pre-qualifying could come down to draw to the button

So here's a scenario that the CCA  Curling Canada -- or any curling fan -- probably doesn't want to see. But it's possible a team could be eliminated from the pre-qualifier by a draw to the button. 

So far, Yukon defeated PEI and lost to Nova Scotia. The Bluenosers beat Yukon. If PEI defeated Nova Scotia in the game this afternoon, then the there will be a circular tie. The tiebreaker? The pre-game draws to the button. 

Prior to each game a member of the team throws an in-turn and and out-turn with the combined distance to the button being recorded. Here's what's happened so far. 

Game 1
Yk 20.8
PEI 25.1

Game 2
Yk 97.5
NS 23.7

So Yukon's total is pretty high. It has to hope that Nova Scotia beats PEI, in which case Nova Scotia and Yukon go to the final. If PEI wins, it has to hope that one of the two messes up its draws to the button. 

The top two teams will move on to the final to be played on Saturday. 

Sad start to the "Prior"

Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun recounts the opening game of the pre-qualifying between P.E.I. and Yukon, describing it as sad. And hard to argue with him. Two teams that have won their region/province battling it out in front of almost no one, with no ceremony or even introductions. 

It might have been interesting. But it was hardly a happening. 
There were no bagpipes. Nobody carried a sign with the name of their team. Nobody carried their flag. There were no introductions. 
Just one P.A. announcement: “The game will begin in one minute.” 
It was sad. 
And it’s going to get even sadder.This morning Nova Scotia, a legitimate province that won the very first Brier back in 1927 and interrupted what would have been a five-in-a-row run by Alberta’s Randy Ferbey to win its most recent one in 2004, will play the Yukon. That’s the territory that didn’t even bother to send a team to compete in the Territories finals last year in Yellowknife.

If you think there's pressure on guys like Koe, Morris  and Jacobs, think about these guys playing just so they don't have to go home on Sunday. Here's Adam Casey:

“P.E.I. has been in every Brier since 1936 and everybody I talk to in P.E.I. is saying ‘Get us out of this relegation.’ I’m looking at it as a hurdle on my way to a full Brier.”

In the Free Press, Paul Wiecek outlines just how significant the changes to the format are:

To put the magnitude of this change into context, consider there has never been a Brier that has taken place without Nova Scotia, a charter participant and the winner of the first Brier in 1927. 
It's been almost as long a run for P.E.I., as the province has participated in the Brier every year since 1936. 
But all that tradition ends this weekend as a new era for the Brier begins in which the four lowest-ranked teams from the previous year must take part in a play-in round immediately prior to the Brier.
And kudos go to Jeff Mackinnon of the Calgary Herald for putting in print what social media has been calling this event -- the "Prior." And he tells the story of how the PEI team just made it to Calgary in time for its game.

Casey’s gone on record as saying the new Brier pre-qualifying is “stupid.” He arrived in Calgary four days before the start of play Thursday to workout at The Glencoe Club, but struggled when he moved over the Saddledome. His team arrived in Calgary at four hours before Thursday’s game because of flight delays.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Stoughton announces his R . . . . .

He has trouble using the word, but Jeff Stoughton announced on Twitter that he is calling it a career.
The three-time Brier winner and two-time world champ said the time is right for him to step away and perhaps seek off-ice opportunities to stay close to the game.

In the Winnipeg Free Press story, he said he won't ever leave curling completely.

"I still want curling to be a part of my life in the future," Stoughton said. "I still want curling as a big part of my life. Hopefully, now that I’m stepping away, this opens up some doors for me."
I'd think that probably means he's hoping to do move to TV, but if so, that field is a bit crowded right now. Mike Harris and Kevin Martin are all over Sportsnet and Russ Howard is locked in at TSN. However, if there's a second feed at TSN as reports indicate, maybe Stoughton could join the second team.

In any case, Stoughton's retirement (there, I said it if he won't), marks the end of a tremendous career. As a curler Stoughton was exceptional and was part of the Big Three --along with Martin and Glenn Howard -- that dominated their era. He was impressive with a number of different lineups and when he was on, he was virtually unbeatable.

The Winnipeg product will play two more events -- one in Grand Prairie and the Players Championship in Toronto, assuming he qualifies.

As a journalist covering the game, Stoughton was always a pleasure to talk to. He was accommodating, a good quote and win or lose, always prepared to stand in front of the microphones. Classy is the word that comes to mind when I think about Stoughton.