London Brier: Leading The Blind

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PEI wraps it up to a standing ovation

PEI wraps it up to a standing ovation

by Kimberly Tuck

LONDON – No one said that playing in the Brier is easy, but one team had an especially hard time this past week: Eddie MacKenzie and his crew from PEI, who finished 1-10.

I would have to assume that they enjoyed their week overall. Certainly the debate over their disciplinary fine – which I wrote about here, and which is now confirmed here – was a low point. However, as they stood to gain some $7,000 from the competition anyway – not to forget the pledge from Team Ontario to chip in to cover half the fine – I can only hope that this point is not quite so low. After they conceded in their final game to Nova Scotia Thursday night, the crowd gave them a cheer as if to say, "That's okay, guys" and with a hearty wave to the crowd, the bleeding had stopped.

I HATE the bronze game! Grrr!

I HATE the bronze game! Grrr!

As the dust settled, the four top teams of the week found themselves playoff bound... but I'll bet you weren't expecting them to finish in that order. When was the last time we saw Ontario or Alberta even in the Page playoff 3 vs 4 game (2:30pm ET, TSN) let alone playing against each other?

And now for another controversy. There has been a lot of chatter about the new bronze medal game and it has become crystal clear that, according to the competitors, this is not a popular addition to the Brier. However, the Canadian Curling Association has tried to make things interesting by giving $30,000 to the winner and $20,000 to the loser. (50K for the bronze game? I would never complain about that. – ED)

If the stars align (mis-align?) and Alberta and Ontario find themselves in that bronze medal game – for their third head-to-head battle this week – I can tell you there just might be more than money on that line.

Now for a pet peeve. While watching last night's Page 1 vs 2 game (and writing – wink, wink!) I wanted to mention a little peeve of mine, one that I hope will help those spectators (who feel the need to shout) actually think before they open their mouths. There is nothing more distracting (and disrespectful) than a lone voice yelling "NEWFOUNDLAND" while a Manitoba player is sitting in the hack, preparing to throw. Fans can scream, yell, cheer, ring a bell, blow a horn, whatever... but seriously, when a competitor is in the hack – just like a serve in tennis – zip it!!!

Hulk sweep. Then Hulk smash.

Hulk sweep. Then Hulk smash.

It may or may not bother the players on the ice, but man, I wish someone would have shut that guy up! I wish Steve Gould could make a visit to his fellow's home club – assuming he curls, of course – and sit on the backboards for whenever that clown gets in the hack, and then screams at the top of his lungs –"MANITOBA!" Whereupon I would say "Woo-hoo!"

Dude, don't make Gould angry. You wouldn't like him when he's angry. John Morris isn't the only Brier competitor who can Hulk Out, you know.

During last night's the fifth end break the CCA showcased two kinds of disability curling – blind curling and wheelchair curling. Despite the frosty (like we haven't heard that word enough) conditions these folks took to the ice to display their talents. The lead on the blind curling team was an 82-year-old man who has no sight whatsoever, and his third was a member of my home club in Ilderton who dreams of establishing blind curling in London.

Tim Prohaszka has grown up curling; his Dad Peter was among the founding members of the Ilderton CC. In 1988, after 20 years of curling, Tim discovered he had glaucoma and his sight has been diminishing ever since, but he has continued to curl and been very active at our club. It was actually Tim's sister Cathy Cassidy that first informed him of a Kitchener group that gets together every Friday to curl, practice and prepare. He's since joined up with the Canadian National Institute of the Blind to help promote the sport to others who are also visually impaired.

Tim Prohaszka in Brier exhibition action

Tim Prohaszka in Brier exhibition action

I caught up with Tim after his on-ice exhibition and asked him how it felt being out there. "It was AWESOME!" he declared, with a big smile on his face. Tim was pretty hard core back in the day: he competed in the 1985 Ontario men's Tankard and, to this date, his was the only Ilderton men's team to do so. He also noted that the exhibition combined with his preparations for the upcoming Ontario Blind Curling Championships (in Oshawa starting March 19) has brought back a lot of fond memories, such as the days when curled with his sight against the likes of John Base, Ed "the Wrench" Werenich and of course The Howard Boys (as he called Russ and Glenn).

I asked him: What is the hardest part about adjusting to visually impaired curling? Tim's reply was that when you curl with sight you take a lot of things into consideration when throwing – especially the far end (and the broom) "moving" towards you as you slide. Without that cue, Tim has had to learn to slide at a broom held by a "guide" at the near hogline, right near the optimal release point, and focus on the feel of throwing the rock and the leg drive required to get the stone to the other end.

The guide is there to help give the thrower the line, and can only tell him the turn to throw and the split-time upon release. Then the thrower has to judge the stone as it travels down the ice but without – in most cases – being able to see the "away" end until they get closer to it. They do have two sweepers, and in the case of the gentleman who was completely blind, the team's fifth player was allowed to act as the sweeper in his place.

The sky is falling. Actually, the Jumbotron is.

The sky is falling. Er, the Jumbotron.

I told Tim I was going to write a little something about this in today's blog, as I didn't even know that blind curling was "out there"... and he replied: "That's precisely why we are doing it. We want to let people know that this sport is out there for people and to get out and give it a shot."

Ultimately, Tim would like to see this sport join the Paralympic Winter Games lineup but he admits that this is probably a ways down the road – the provincial championship is not officially sanctioned; first blind curlers need to prove to the CCA that this is a viable sport worth promoting, and the only way to do that is to create interest and increase participation (Tim might like to hear that the World Curling Federation is reported to be moving toward sanctioned Blind Curling competition – ED).

Good luck Tim, as you head to the provincial blind championships next weekend... may the Curling Gods shine favourably on you and your teammates!

The match itself was a pretty decent game, but the uncharacteristic play of NL third Mark Nichols was the likely chink in the Newfoundland armour. The Brad Gushue stalwart, who is taking a year (or more) off from competition after this season, played poorly compared to Jeff Stoughton stalwart Jon Mead, who is putting on a curling clinic despite the occasional battle with on-ice demons from the past.

With a killer steal in the ninth end and a draw to the button in the extra-end, the Manitobans earned a spot in Sunday night's championship final... and you remember that prediction I made, right? So far, I am 50 percent correct!

Anil Mungal photos copyright The Curling News®