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Friday, December 7, 2012

Grassroots Curling goes behind the scenes at the Canada Cup

Curling is finally on TV again - the Master's (Slam event) from Brantford a month ago, and the Canada Cup (CCA Season of Champions event) from Moose Jaw a week ago. Yes, the season is off and running.

For me, the season has been off and running since the summer when I started my new job writing and editing stories for the CCA website, Dream job, what can I say?

I've been attending Season of Champions events for years, but this was the first time I had the chance to attend not as fan, but as a part of the well-oiled machine that is a championship event.

Some things I learned:

1. Curlers are the best

Jeff Stoughton undertakes another interview, this time with
Resby Coutts, aka "The Curler"
On and off the ice, the athletes were terrific. It's not a great feeling to lose a game (or games, in some cases) and have someone stick a microphone in your face and say, "So, tough game. What are your thoughts?" But the players did it anyway, disappointment or frustration showing, but making an effort. (Okay, there were a few bad moments - the occasional broom got smacked around, not gonna lie). And the ones who just couldn't face talking after one game made up for it after another. Impressive, all round.

2. Event host committees and volunteers are awesome

If you have ever organized a bonspiel at your curling club, you know how much work it is to make an event run smoothly and keep everyone happy (Does that ever happen??). Multiply that by thousands and you'll get a sense of the huge responsibility these organizers take on, and the number of people they have to serve, answer to, help, support, and just generally put up with. 

The Moose Jaw volunteers were always smiling, always helpful, always there, even if it meant sitting in a back hallway of a draughty arena on security duty, out of sight of the game. I can't say enough about the people who directed me, brought me hot drinks on the media bench, ran my interview requests down to the athletes, drove me between hotel and arena, served me food in The Patch (and retrieved my garbage - I mean, really? Can I move in with you please?) It was humbling, and very much appreciated. And in the larger picture - what a great event they put on!  How great? Attendance record - best Canada Cup ever.

The view from the media bench
3. It takes a lot of effort to produce 500 words of copy, photos, video etc. on deadline

Actually, I knew this already, but I wasn't prepared for the grind of those five days. Watch the game - that would be five concurrent games most of the time - take notes, write up snippets of action, try to stay warm, run downstairs at game end for media scrum, run back to watch other games, continue to try to stay warm, run back down for additional media scrums, run to media room to write up draw summary, edit copy, add photos and video links, post on website - by which time the next draw had begun and I had to start over again. (Thank goodness for the wonderful soup and those gigantic TV screens in The Patch!) Three times a day. When it was done, a midnight drive back to the hotel and fall into bed, ready to go the next day before light.  Loved. Every. Minute.

And the last thing I learned was....

4. Saskatchewan is flat.

 Just in case you didn't know. But it's full of great people and - last week - some wonderful curling. 

Driving from Regina to Moose Jaw across the flat, flat, snowy, flat prairie...

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Howie's Curling Trophies

Howie's curling trophies, 1950s to 1970s, Liverpool CC (Photo Jean Mills)
Two random curling moments recently clarified something for me: curling in Canada starts at the grassroots and grows from there. And we wouldn't have it any other way.

Moment #1:

I'm at our cottage in Nova Scotia, chatting with a lovely elderly Chinese woman who is visiting her daughter and Canadian husband (our cousin). She is interested in my job. 

Me: I write about curling for the Canadian Curling Association website.

Her: Curling?

Me: (with actions) The sport on ice. You slide a large stone down the ice. Other players sweep it. (Okay, not a great description, but her English was limited.)

Her: Ah. I don't know it.

Me: The Chinese team is good. They've won medals at international competitions.

Her: (after thinking for a moment). No one plays it. Just the professionals.

Moment #2:

A few days later, I'm visiting another cousin. He and his wife have been cleaning out his elderly mother's house before selling it. He's brought his late father's curling trophy collection to the cottage and has set it up along the deck railing so I can have a look.

I'm fascinated. Howie's trophies are a grassroots curling life captured in miniature, each award commemorating a season or bonspiel or game that required effort and skill and thought. Years of throwing rocks for fun or in competition. Hours on the ice, with friends and rivals. Hours off the ice, too - watching, talking about, and celebrating the sport and the people who play it.

In Canada, our world-class "professional" curlers have lots of trophies and medals. But I bet they also have a truckload of bonspiel prizes and tiny cups and shiny metal curlers captured mid-delivery on a wooden base with a plaque reading something along the lines of "Club Champion 1999."

Two moments, two kinds of curling life. Maybe with the success of the Chinese curling teams on the world stage, the sport in that country will work backwards - building a grassroots curling movement from the top down so that more Chinese curlers have a chance to enjoy the sport for fun and recreation, not just for high-level competition...

...and along the way, build up their own precious collection of trophies, like Howie's.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Remembrances of (curling) things past...

Jacket and broom, tucked in the corner since
 the season ended in April...
Ah, summer. Love it.

But as I was doing some tidying up today, I found myself in the back door hallway picking through jackets and fleeces that needed to be put away, and what did I find, but my son's curling jacket and broom.

Talk about flashback!

Despite the heat, and the slower pace, and the brighter sunshine, and all that goes with late June and the approach of the true, short Canadian summer, I was suddenly overcome by a Proustian moment: transported to those wintry Tuesday and Thursday after-school sessions at our local curling club, coaching my son's school team.

Well, "coaching" might be too strong a word. I directed, supported, advised and encouraged.

The  kids were actually led by two experienced young skips who, with the support of their parents and our school's Director of Varsity Sports, had got the whole thing rolling on their own. They made up their teams, followed their skips' advice, watched and learned by example, and allowed me - heck, they even asked me - to play with them during practice when we were short a body.

It was curling at its purest: a bunch of kids playing for fun - and learning while they were doing. Could they all slide, throw and sweep with perfect technique by the end of the season? Nope. But they were well on their way, having modelled themselves on their two well-trained skips.

And, thanks to my obsession with curling etiquette, they knew where to stand, when (and when not) to move, how to respond to good shots and bad, and what a role sportsmanship plays in the sport. They even learned how to manage that wacky scoreboard and picked up some with-hammer/without-hammer strategy as well.

By the end of the season, they were hooked. And every one of them was signed up for next season.

A sudden glimpse of a curling jacket and broom tucked in the corner...

The sights and sounds and feelings resurface - happy memories of a season past.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Name that team! That curling team, I mean...

The curling season is over, summer is creeping in, and - let's face it - I'm bored.

One of many little pieces of paper I collect - this one with
cool curling team names I noticed at the club.
So I'm going through the stack of papers piled on my desk. I'm a writer, which means everything I read is a possible prompt for a story, interview or article. My collection of scrawled notes and ripped-out articles and yellow stickies grows over the months, until eventually I have to sit down and bring order to the chaos.

Which is what I was doing today when I found this: a list of team names I copied down at my curling club in February. It was a Wednesday night, and I had just come off the ice with my Ladies' team. The club manager took the microphone to rally the teams for the next draw - a mostly-beginners business league.

A league with great names!

As she read them out, I listened with growing interest. Anyone who loves words and works with language as much as I do can't resist the sound of people playing around with puns and adjectives and allusions etc. Once the teams hit the ice, I scurried over to the glass where the draw was posted, and I scribbled down some of the names. For posterity. For fun. For this blog.

So here goes: fun with curling team names. Some more creative than others...

Legion of Broom
Rock Stars (okay, not so original)
New World Curlers
Stocks & Stones
Hack Ups
Don't Hit The Hack
Nick's Bitter End
Drunken Hacks
On the Rocks...

And my personal favourite...

The Sheet Disturbers.

Enough with the Team (insert skip's name here) already! Give me a creative curling team name, any day. Any day soon would be nice. (Only another couple of months until the ice goes back in...)

(Any cool team names out there?)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Thoughts from The Tim Hortons Brier 2012

The view from Section A, Row 12, Seat 7
I've just come home from Saskatoon, where I spent the weekend enjoying the big party that is The Brier. And what a party - not just in the Patch, but in the hotel, at the rink, and around town as well. Saskatoon put on an amazing show.

Some thoughts:

1. Volunteers make the world go round. That is never more true than at an event like this. Those bright green (we were in Saskatchewan, after all) jackets were everywhere, worn by friendly, helpful, busy, smiling and ever-present volunteers who could not do enough to make us feel welcome and looked after.

2. Saskatoon is a beauty. The river, the bridges, the architecture, the trails, the trees forming a canopy over Spadina Crescent... what a gorgeous city.

3. Glenn Howard deserved this win. Watching Glenn lose over the past few years has been, well, painful. This is an incredibly talented and skilled team, but too many times they have come up short. Howard was not to be denied this year, especially with MVP Wayne Middaugh setting him up. Maybe it wasn't a strongly pro-Ontario crowd, but Glenn earned that win, and I think the fans knew that.

4. The Koe story. This was one of the highlights of the week - the brothers facing each other in the Page 3-4 game. It was fraught with emotion (which isn't exactly something you think of when you see those boys on the ice). Clearly, it wasn't fun for either of them. But what was fun, was watching Jamie and his YT/NWT team work their way up, hold on to that playoff spot, prove that they are able to play with the big kids. The team from the north had a lot of supporters - and most of them from south of 60. Both Koes came out on the short side of their playoff games, but what a couple of classy curlers - and what a great story.

5. Annoying fans. I mean, really, people. Heckling Glenn Howard when he got into the hack to throw? Really?

Nice trophy....

7. Relegation and the Team Canada issue. I heard lots of conversation about whether there should be changes to the Brier eligibility format. Relegation games. Ditching Northern Ontario. Bringing in a Team Canada model as they do at the Scotties. Some fans from Alberta, who we spoke to while hanging out the Patch between games, were vehemently opposed to the Team Canada idea. Their view: all curlers should have the chance to represent their province or territory at a national championship, and no one should be given a free ticket. The consensus? There's no right answer.

8. Curlers are awesome. Travelling back and forth to the arena in the vans arranged for VIPs (yes! I was a VIP, thanks to my writing/editing work with the CCA), I had the chance for conversations with all sorts of people - Peter Waugh, the CCA Volunteer of the Year; Michael Burns, the photographer who captures all those CCA photos you see on the website; Brian Mudryk, the TSN broadcaster; and curlers from the teams competing on the ice. Easy conversation, lots of laughs, inside info (which stays inside!) and a fascinating glimpse into the experience of being a high-performance athlete at a national championship. Awesome.

Can't wait for Edmonton in 2013...!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Marie-France Larouche, you are my hero

Dear Marie-France,

You don't know me, but I feel as if I know you.

I'm one of those curling fans who has watched you at the Scotties all these years, you and your variety of teams out of Quebec. I've cheered for you as you chipped away at the top teams in the country, so often in the running for the title, even if you didn't always make it to the final.

Okay, you didn't make it to the final this year either. But you're still my hero, and here's why:

When you stepped on the ice to play the dreaded Bronze medal game at this year's Scotties Tournament of Hearts, you and your team were completely committed to winning. So what if it's not the final? So what if it's generally thought of (by the athletes, apparently) as a mean-nothing game put in place to sell one more block of tickets or TV advertising? So what?

It was a game for a medal, and as you said to TSN's Brian Mudryk during the fifth end break, the game meant something to your team and to curling in Quebec. You played to win, and you brought your best effort.

And when you came up short against a team that clearly didn't care whether they won or lost, whose skip all but said so in the post-game interview - shrugging off the game as if it didn't matter - you let your disappointment show in tears.

Curlers respect the game and their opponents. Today you and your teammates were the only ones who demonstrated that.

And for that, you are my hero.

I'm so sorry you lost that game - but you are still a winner.