The Curling News® photos byAnil Mungal– click on image to increase viewing size
SASKATOON – What other sport is as strange as this?
I was struck with that thought yesterday, watching Draw 4 of the 2012 Brier. By strange I don’t mean the game itself: I grew up in Winnipeg, watching grown men sweep with brooms while sliding on one foot. The odd part is that the event itself, the Brier, is still arguably (along with the Olympic Winter Games) the most important event in this old Scottish game.
Oh... and those fans in the all-green body suits, too. That was/is strange.
For Sunday afternoon, the 15,500 seat arena was well-stocked with Saskatchewanians and other visitors who came from all across this vast country. In what other sport do three or four of the elite teams in the world compete against eight or so average teams? In many cases, these elite squads do fierce battle in their respective province to gain entry, hopefully every few years, while some average teams with average players show up year after year, almost as if this is an annual bonspiel, travel plans made in August. It’s as if the Lakers, Heat, Celtics and Bulls played a basketball tournament against Canadian University teams, and attendance was 10 times that of the NBA finals.
I’m not complaining, I’m just observing.
It’s the 30th Anniversary of the Brier Patch. I know this because it’s available on a T-Shirt. This led me to wonder if beer was consumed at these events before 1982 – and I’d suspect it was. The logo for Brier Bear adorns the T-shirts that are available for children. But the Bear, in the logo, is wearing skates. So far, no one has been able to explain the reason why, but it will be a quest for this week to find the answer. Another quest-like question: what is the maximum number of logos that can appear on the ice surface? (I lost count at 74).
In other logo-related news, Saskatchewan third Tyler Lang, was seen photographed wearing a Toronto Blue Jays cap after his team’s come-from-behind win in the provincial final (steals in both 10 and 11 against Bruce Korte). I know this because it was a widely-circulated photo, with the four guys clutching the Sask trophy, and it also appeared on the cover of the March issue of The Curling News, owner of this here website blog. Thanks to this widely-circulated photo, Tyler has apparently received a plethora of Jays-related SWAG from the baseball team itself, which he unfortunately cannot wear at the Brier due to even rules on logos (he’s now sporting a nifty green cap adorned with “SASK”, see bottom photo). His is one of five caps I counted on the heads of curling athletes during the Sunday evening draw – of seven in total, I believe. Tyler gets my vote for “Best Cap” award at this year’s Brier, with BC’s Jim Cotter and his plain, ordinary blue cap clearly in last place.
In actual curling news, Newfoundland skip Brad Gushue starts out 0-3 and their locker room cannot be a happy place. They can take solace that these losses came at the hands of other contenders and, of the heavy favourites, only Alberta and Kevin Koe remains on their schedule. In 2007, Gushue started 1-3 and then came within one brain-fart call in the ninth end of the final to possibly leaving Ontario’s Glenn Howard with an 0-5 mark on their Brier finals resume, instead of 1-4.
Koe looks strong so far, and not just Kevin. The Territories’ Jamie Koe, Kevin’s kid brother, sits at 2-1 after an upset win over Ontario. The favourite coming in, Howard and new/old teammate Wayne Middaugh haven’t looked sharp (photo above) and were lucky that Gushue threw a draw against them on his ninth-end hit on Sunday night. The steal of two helped Ontario to an extra-end win and the avoidance of a 1-2 start. Nova Scotia started 3-0 but they dropped a game to New Brunswick in the evening draw and have yet to play Manitoba, Alberta, Newfoundland or Ontario.
Sask skip Scott Manners (top photo), the “tweener” from Lloydminster who’s spent most of his curling days battling in Alberta, has looked calm and relaxed, as has his rookie squad. The crowd is clearly behind them, though I expect come Sunday’s final they’ll be cheering for another Saskatchewan native, playing in the blue and yellow of Alberta. Pat Simmons represented Saskatchewan five times at the Brier and now throws third stones for Kevin Koe. Pat will be looking for history to repeat this week: the last Saskatoon Brier was won by Mark Dacey, a Saskatchewan guy wearing a different uniform (Nova Scotia).
Saskatoon appears to be a great host so far, as I would expect. I’m not sure if it’s been made public, but we appear to have a Brier “rotation” similar to the way the Royal & Ancient manages the (British) Open Golf Championship. A five-city tour: Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina and Winnipeg combines with two or three other locations (Halifax, Ottawa and London in recent years) to round out a seven-year cycle. This makes economic sense, I expect, but I’d love to see them attempt a Toronto or Montreal Brier. Perhaps one day, but for now, I’ll celebrate with Saskatoon.