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Huge curling changes for Brier and more

Kevin vs Kevin or ALTA vs CAN at the Brier?

Could this be ALTA vs CAN at the Brier?

by George Karrys

The world's biggest national curling association issued a news release today, but the news itself was unlike any released in years. Indeed, the Canadian Curling Association is charting a new path into undiscovered waters – and with that, a harsh blow has been struck against curling's biggest and loudest gorilla in the room.

We're talking about tradition.

“The 2012 National Curling Congress was an excellent opportunity for our members across the country to come together in Ottawa (last) week,” said CCA boss Greg Stremlaw. “Our sport has so many success stories from the past year so it was rewarding for us to provide updates to the membership as well as celebrate accomplishments, including the CCA's Hall of Fame Luncheon - the organization's latest initiative.”

“With the final equitable opportunity to access Canadian Championships now approved, we were able to formalize exciting changes to the CCA's two marquee properties, the Tournament of Hearts and the Brier.”

After decades of coast-to-coast arguments and more recent coast-to-coast-to-coast hyperbole – which led to a 2010 commitment to make the Canadian championships more equitable – the Canadian men's (Brier) and women's (STOH) grand events are finally in for big changes. The 2014 Brier winner will receive an automatic entry into the 2015 Brier as Team Canada, while a Northern Ontario women's team will be added to the 2015 Tournament of Hearts.

This means that the Brier and STOH will become 15-team championships that are then whittled down to a “main” – and more familiar – 12-team event, echoing the changes made to the 2012 Canadian Mixed and Canadian Seniors. And the teams at the bottom of the Brier and STOH standings will have to play a qualifying event to win their way back in for the following season.

For traditionalists, this is surely the End Of The World come nigh. The most holy Brier Tankard could be lifted in triumph by a team that did little more than win the trophy the previous year. Thirteen of the 14 teams will still have to battle over weeks and months, from December through February, in city and zone and regional and provincial championships in order to qualify for the Brier – while one team gets a bye.

This has, of course, been deemed just fine and dandy in Canadian women’s curling since the early 1980s, when that Team Canada was first created. But the men, as befitting their proud status as the ultimate power base of the sport, have always approached the concept of a Brier Team Canada with something between curiosity and abject, red-faced horror.

And now the women get to keep their Team Canada, and like the men, will also have a Northern Ontario team to go along with separate squads from the Yukon Territory, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

And there’s more.

Howard and Jones: will they or won't they?

Jones and Howard: will they or won't they?

Canada will finally join the rest of the world and host a national Mixed Doubles championship. This will happen very quickly, ie. this coming season, as the next World Mixed Doubles Championship will be hosted by Fredericton, New Brunswick, in April 2013. This is a rush job as the new championship has no dates, site location nor event structure to announce, and whatever gets thrown together will be reviewed after a two-year trial period.

The CCA will also be reviewing something else after 2013 and '14 – the most interesting decision that normal Canadian residency rules will not apply for Mixed Doubles. This means that Ontario's Glenn Howard can compete with Manitoba's Jennifer Jones (photo at left); that Alberta's John Morris can team with British Columbia's Kelley Law; or that some city rivals – like Edmonton's Kevin Martin and Calgary's Cheryl Bernard – can perhaps bury the NHL hockey hatchet.

Presumably, until we hear otherwise, just about anything like this now goes – at least when it comes to Canadian Mixed Doubles.

But wait, there's still more.

The biggest change to a new 2012-14 Rule Book will see the CCA incorporate “reverse timing” for all of its championships, where each team will be given 40 minutes of “thinking time” in which to play a 10-end game, plus five minutes to play an extra end.

This is the reverse of the traditional timing approach when each team was given 73 minutes to play, with the clock running from the time the opponent’s stones came to rest until the playing side’s stone stopped. The new approach marks the amount of time it takes to put a stone into play (or thinking time) versus the time a team is actually taking to play a shot.

This welcome change comes just two-or-so years after the World Curling Players' Association adopted “thinking time” for its Capital One Grand Slam of Curling series, and gained immediate and near-universal support from athletes and coaches.

In other news, the CCA announced:

• A fifth consecutive year of positive financial outlook, to the tune of a $227,508 surplus;

• A $250,000 allocation into the Curling Assistance Program (CAP) in support of capital projects and membership growth;

• That Alberta won both the Dominion Member Association Cup (for excellence at national championships) and the Governors’ Cup, which marks the biggest year-to-year improvement (average point basis) at national championships;

• A formal Hall of Fame Induction Luncheon (held June 14) to honour the recent inductees to the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame – Pat Sanders of British Columbia, Millard Evans, Marv Wirth and Ken McLean of Alberta, and André Ferland of Quebec;

• An updated Business Plan and Organizational Strategy for the Association; and

• The annual shuffle of Members of the Board of Governors, which sees New Brunswick's Ron Hutton appointed as Chair; Nova Scotia's Hugh Avery appointed as Vice-Chair; new Governors (five-year term) Yves Maillet of NB and Shirley Osborne of NS plus one-year term replacement Jim Mann of British Columbia; and retiring Governors Bernadette McIntyre (Saskatchewan) and Mitch Tarapasky (Manitoba).

One thing is certain: curling continues to embrace change, and the latest changes to CCA competitions show that very little in this ancient sport is sacred. Be sure to subscribe to receive your copy of the upcoming November 2012 issue of The Curling News for much more on these changes, as we'll have updated details, poll results and tons of feedback from the names behind the game.

Event photos by Anil Mungal are copyright ® Capital One (Martin/Koe) and The Curling News (Howard/Jones). Click on each image to increase viewing size.