by Kimberly Tuck with photos by Robert Wilson
First off let me apologize to my readers for not providing a day-by-day blog of the events as they unfolded this past weekend in Brantford, as I had promised. Although our team got off to a quick start by winning our first two games, the schedule that we fell into over the following two days of curling didn’t leave me much time to write... or even eat and sleep, for that matter! I will definitely need to have a little sit down with the drawmaster – love you, honey!
So let’s wrap up the weekend with a few of my observations and experiences…
Thursday evening officially kicked off the event with one game on both the women’s and men’s side being played, plus practice ice was offered to teams who wished to take advantage of the opportunity. The event also added a new dimension by inviting about 40 junior curlers from the three host facility to come to the main host club, the Brantford Golf & Country Club, to watch the team practices and mingle with them afterwards – and chase autographs. Teams skipped by Cheryl Bernard and Kevin Koe took time with the kids and there was even a special appearance by legendary hockey dad (and Brantford’s own) Walter Gretzky. The kids seemed like they were enjoying themselves immensely, and they particularly enjoyed words from Koe second Carter Rycroft, who when asked by one of the juniors why he started curling, he replied with a chuckle “because I can’t skate!” to much laughter from the crowd. In my opinion this is a fantastic addition to the event, and I hope that the organizers will keep running with this idea.
Friday saw the Classic come to life with action at all three clubs. Our team went head to head against Team USA with Patti Lank at the helm. It was a good battle and when the dust settled we had come out victorious; our next opponent was Team Silvernagle from Alberta. The game again was close and it came down to Silvernagle’s last shot which didn’t quite go as she had hoped – leaving us shot, without having to throw our last one for the win. Day 1 was in the books and we were still on the A-side... which wasn’t the case for some the women’s favourites, such as Jones, Holland, Overton-Clapham, Scott, Lawton and Nedohin – all these teams lost their opening round games!
The same thing was happening on the men’s side as Koe, Epping, Gushue and Jacobs also lost their openers. “Movember” was in full force, with mustaches on the faces of many of the guys... and have you ever wondered what some of the top curling teams eat while they are competing? Well, when we sat down in the players’ lounge Friday night to have a bite to eat after the game, we just happened to be sitting beside Team Martin whose lead, Ben Hebert, was enjoying a lobster tail dinner. Yes, I said lobster… oh my, the trials of a poor curling team!
One of the biggest topics of discussion was the new draw format that was designed by committee member Mark Stouffer which showed the games, scores, times and locations in a pyramid format. This took a little getting used to – curlers have always been slow to accept change – but once we got used to it was understood and although I personally commented to the powers-that-be on how it made my eyes hurt, it will be back next season.
As play continued on Saturday, our team went on a bit of a slide. We lost our A-semi to Krista McCarville of the north and we ran smack into Winnipeg's Jennifer Jones on the B-side. We put up a good fight, but for the second time this season she sent us into the last-chance C-side. This set us up for an all-Ontario match up with Chrissy Cadorin; we stayed on top and finished with a W. Day 2 was in the books and we were still alive, on the C-side.
Saturday was also a tough day for Holland, Kleibrink, Lawton, Overton-Clapham, Bernard, Scott and Andrea Kelly who were out of the event. The men’s side also lost some notables, Peter Corner, Jean-Michel Menard, Braeden Moskowy and Mike Harris by the end of Day 2.
In recognition of their event sponsors, the organizing committee held a VIP reception on Saturday night which was attended by not only the sponsors, but the committee, some of the players from the participating teams and special guests. Walter Gretzky showed up again, and not only spoke to the group but also mingled with the VIPs. Various local politicians were also on site and presented the committee with accolades in honour of their success of their fourth annual event. I popped my head in after my game and it looked like a good time was being had by all, but more importantly the sponsors were able to see firsthand how important their contributions were to making this a huge event.
The hospitality room at the host hotel, the Best Western Brant Park Inn, was in full swing Saturday night. This tournament is not only known for its stellar field but for its great hospitality, and because it’s one of the last spiels in the “cashspiel season” teams look forward to letting loose... loose and by the looks of many before their first games Sunday morning, plus rumours of bedtimes spanning between 1:00am and 4:00am I'm sure I can safely say that this was a fun one.
You could tell that Sunday was make-it or break-it day for the teams still alive and vying for the championship titles and the $12,000 winners cheques, as the screams where higher and more desperate and the sounds of brooms banging the ice and back boards filtered across the sheets. I would be lying if I said that I haven’t, in the duration of my curling career, slammed a broom at one time or another (I can however count such occasions on one hand) but I can proudly say I haven’t broken one!
As the day carried on and teams fell away the final A-side qualifiers (Eve Muirhead and Middaugh) and B-side qualifiers (Jones and McCarville) were joined by the C qualifiers (Heather Smith-Dacey, Erika Brown, Laura Crocker and yours truly with Alli Nimik…(can I get little whoop-whoop?). The A-side qualifiers on the men’s side (Sven Michel of Switzerland and Rasmus Stjerne of Denmark) and B qualifiers (Glenn Howard and Mike McEwen) were joined by C qualifiers Koe, Niklas Edin, Greg Balsdon and Mark Kean to round out the playoff squads.
Quarterfinal matchups slotted our team against Jones, hoping three times would be the charm; but Jones’ team got out to an early lead and never looked back and so ended our weekend. Jones then went on to lose to Middaugh in the semifinal and Sherry went on to defeat Brown of the USA to claim the Sun Life title. On the men’s side, Howard’s team fell to Niklas Edin who then went on to defeat Stjerne in the semi and Michel in the final to become the new men’s champion.
All in all the event was another big success, so much so that my sources say that Sun Life will be continuing its partnership and title sponsorship of this event for next season and, possibly, three or four more years down the road. Because this year was so big – with 64 teams – there is also talk of moving it to the Wayne Gretzky four-pad arena… now wouldn’t that be something!
Before I say goodbye, I want to personally thank all of the organizing committee members who worked so hard to put this event on and look after every detail, to the host clubs and their volunteers for their great hospitality, to the ice techs for all their hard work in preparing and maintaining great surfaces for us to perform on and last but not least to title sponsor Sun Life Financial and their supporting sponsors for their backing of this event – it wouldn’t be what it is without you. I give these thanks on behalf of all the competitors, not just my team!
Lastly a personal thank-you goes out to my editor for allowing me to share my thoughts with you, and lastly, congratulations to the winning teams of Sherry Middaugh and Niklas Edin.
As the cashspiel portion of our season comes to a close and teams set their sights on the playdown trail I would like to wish everyone the best of luck and good curling... and I hope to see you all at next years’ Sun Life Financial Invitational Curling Classic.
[Photos COPYRIGHT by Robert Wilson – click to view larger]