London Brier: Stephen Harper in the house

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by Kimberly Tuck

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LONDON – The Brier is off to a roaring start, with Saturday's attendance attracting over 12,300 people into the JLC for the first two opening draws.

The first matchups were definitely pro-Ontario. With the crowd still buzzing from Richard Hart's Hot Shots win they were looking for more to cheer, and the players didn't disappoint. The loud roar that went up as Team Ontario marched into the arena was electric. Even our own Prime Minister, the Honourable Stephen Harper took in the games!

Rumours travelled quickly through the volunteer corps that he was going to be at today's game, and the RCMP officers dressed in jackets and ties with ear buds was a good giveaway that he was indeed in the building. Sure enough, just before the teams were piped onto the ice, he appeared. You would think that the PM would be sitting in one of the corporate boxes, right? In fact, he was in the stands just off to my left as I sat at my statistician station behind sheet A.

He spent a lot of time shaking hands and posing for photos as people passed by on the way to their seats, but as these are curling fans, he was able to watch the action – most of the fan interaction took place between ends. I wondered: did the Canadian Curling Association know he was coming, and did they gave him tickets? So I did some investigating, and one of my sources said that yes – he had been invited months ago, but the CCA weren't aware that he was going to attend until yesterday. And no, he wasn't given tickets, he bought his own... eight of them, in fact. London Mayor Joe Fontanna was also there, as was our area MP Joe Preston.

It was pretty funny to watch the players as word trickled out that he was sitting in section 102! They each took their turn gawking and gave a sort of smile, as if to say "that's kind of neat." I even bugged one of my fellow statsies to use his binoculars – not to check out the result of shots at the away end, but to check out how and what the PM was up to – I won't mention any names, he knows who he is! ;)

Turns out Harper been a curling fan for years, and he's been going to Briers and other curling championships for a long time (see this story and video). Lo and behold, I spotted a photo of him late last night (above) posted on this webpage – LOL!

For the record, the PM was in London for his son's high-school volleyball tournament (Ha. As if that was random. We think next year's volleyball tourney will take place early in March, in Saskatoon – ED).

Enough about politics! As the games began it wasn't hard to see that the rain – soon turning to snow – was causing not only havoc on the roads outside but also on the ice inside... as the theme for Saturday was HOLY FROST! At least two sweepers bit it as they hit the frost line and the look on the faces of ice techs Hans Wuthrich and Mark Shurek faces told me it wasn't a minor problem.

The Curling News media view

The Curling News media bench view

Apparently the JLC has three exhaust fans but no dehumidifiers. With the big crowd, the frost moved in quickly and heavily. On every sheet you could find hair brooms in use and from sheet to sheet you could see ice that was a discoloured, thicker shade of white – not at all shiny as it typically looks. Normally you experience a little frost in arena settings but that is usually on the sides closest to the fans sitting by the outside sheets. This frost was everywhere, and it made draw weight a guess for the thrower and judging weight for the brushers even more difficult.

So it was surprising to me that in the 10th end of the Ontario versus New Brunswick match, ON skip Glenn Howard didn't try the double, or even a little hit n' roll on his last shot. He elected to draw, and despite all 6,500-or so fans urged on Laing and Savill with calls to sweep, the throw came up short and the Ontarians gave up a steal of two and the game. Ouch. On any given day Glenn makes that draw but today wasn't like any given day... based on the conditions alone, it was a tough shot.

The frost seemed to be much better the night game. In the latter stages the CCA put out an news release about the frosty situation at JLC. Seeing as the weather report is calling for more of the same, "the CCA made the decision to import a portable de-humidification system which will be operation on Sunday through to the conclusion of the event". The price tag for rental cost of the equipment required, along with its installation, is estimated to be approximately $40,000 and will be paid out of the event operational budget. As I left the building, word was that the unit was on route and that it would be installed overnight. Sounds like the ice crew had a late night... as did I!