by Kimberley Tuck
LONDON – The Keith's Patch was hopping Saturday night as the excitement from an action-packed semifinal spilled from the arena to the bar. A really big bar. Make that bars with an "s".
Organizers used 18 school buses to transport fans to and from the Patch at the London Convention Center which, according to the buzz, was a huge improvement from London's STOH back in 2006. Each of the bars lineups were three or four rows deep, and pretty much everyone was walking around double-fisted due to the wait time. The entertainment was great – Chevelles are "Patch" regulars – and I've been told it was great all week.
There were some complaints about the party zone, of course, and the one that seemed to come up on a regular basis was the closing time of 1:00am. Some of the people that mentioned this to me would have stayed in the Patch all night if they were allowed (I told you I would blog your complaint for you, Rick A., so your voice has been heard).
I would think that organizing committee chief Peter Inch – whom I spotted, sleeves rolled up, collecting empties off the tables at 1:30am in the Patch by the way – has to be delighted on this overwhelming morning after. All of his committee chairs, the volunteer corps, the Canadian Curling Association guys should feel the same.
There were several competitors in the Patch so it was nice to say "Hi" and catch up on the gossip. I also ran into my fellow mixed teammate who was letting loose (mostly due to his wife, my other mixed teammate, being out of town) and was double-fisting all night, but I'm not sure that was due to the wait time at the bar ;) So, good friend that I am, I made sure he got home safely and after a very late night (3:30am I think) I finally crawled into bed.
I figured I was due for a little sleep-in Sunday morning; this would be a relaxing wrap-up day as I was off duty for my official event task of statistical scoring. I decided to take my son Teegan (age four) to the JLC to watch the bronze medal game, and then head home and jump in my jammies to watch the final on TV!
With all the advance hoopla about the bronze match, I wasn't sure what to expect. Some media guys tweeted a prediction of a low-scoring, bang-bang all-takeout affair. I figured it would be a lopsided final score, as I had spotted three members of Team Alberta in the Patch – they were still there when I left at 1:30am – but also due to the fact that it had to be extremely hard on those two teams. Each suffered very close, highly emotional, pressure-packed playoff losses and now each had to try to get up for a game that, in the grand scheme of things, really meant nothing.
I got the clear impression from the chatter going on around me that with nothing to do all day – prior to the 7:30pm final, of course – that most fans felt they might as well come watch the 2:30pm bronze game. The Canadian Curling Association argues that the game is necessary to try and mimic the playoff format of the world championships but here's the thing: the Brier and the STOH are not the worlds of the Olympics, where the third-place medal holds a lot more value than a third-place finish at the Canadians.
The other point – and I know you are likely tired of hearing about this – is that the game is a way to get more ticket sales revenue and promote the sport... but then I found out the match was televised on TSN2, which is a subscriber-only channel. How does this game help market curling to the masses when most households don't get the channel?
Of all the guys on the ice today, I think that Dustin Eckstrand (the Alberta fifth) enjoyed himself the most – it was a great way for him to gain some experience playing in the big show, in front of a big crowd, on the only sheet on the ice in play. Regular Alberta second Marc Kennedy had, of course, received permission to leave the Brier to be with his wife, who was expecting their second child yesterday.
I think Brad Gushue and Team Newfoundland and Labrador took a great approach to the game; they were really loose and the interacted with the crowd, even tossing shirts into the seats and taking the time to sign them (when they could) during the between-end breaks. This was stuff you hardly ever see at the Brier, as pointed out by my editor in today's Toronto Sun.
I also believe the squad embraced their opportunity to compete one last time with teammate Mark Nichols before his hiatus from the sport, and that this helped them defeat Kevin Martin 10-5. Although meaningless in the standings the match clearly had great meaning for them, and especially for Gushue and Nichols, who have been teammates for some 13 years.
I snuggled up to focus my attention on the final, and the commentary of the TSN crew. With friends on both teams and great story lines – many runner-up finishes for ON and no titles since 1999 for MB – I kind of wished they both could win!
It was really all Manitoba last night. With the precision of a surgeon, skip Jeff Stoughton made every shot for every extra point, and the play of second Reid Carruthers – the rookie on the team – was certainly impressive; he made it look like he's been playing with those guys forever.
Although it was a pro-Ontario crowd that so wanted to see their hometown favourites hoist the Brier trophy, they were all curling fans and, regardless of your home province, you can't be a fan of curling without being a fan of Jeff Stoughton.
As the Manitobans slide those Brier champion rings onto their fingers and look forward to the worlds in Regina, I am sure I can safely say that all of Canada will be behind them. And so, on behalf of all of Canada, congrats on the great victory and go get 'em at the worlds!
I as I watched the closing ceremonies I thought back over the week... and what a week it was. I had a great time volunteering, and I would suggest that to everyone, and of course I enjoyed sharing my blog thoughts with all of you.
What sticks out the most for me – as a competitive curler – was the exceptional play, all week long, of Team Manitoba. You could just tell from day one that these guys were going to be tough. I can't even imagine the great disappointment for Glenn Howard and his teammates – they are so strong, and after representing Ontario six consecutive times you have to wonder if and when so many runner-up finishes are going to take a toll.
I also note that for the first time in four years Alberta will not be taking that Tankard home, and that Team Martin finally lost their Brier game win streak at an amazing 30. There is local pride that London played host to the country and that once again Peter Inch and his committee did not disappoint.
A special thank you must go to my hubby for holding down the fort while I spent more time at the JLC than I did at home this past week! I'd also like to thank editor gk for inviting me to blog for all of you lucky readers of The Curling News ;) Congrats once again to Jeff, Jon Mead, Reid, Steve Gould and to all the playoff teams... heck, congrats to all the teams. You just competed in... The Brier!!
Anil Mungal photos copyright The Curling News®. Click on each image to increase size.