by Dean Gemmell
KINGSTON, Ont. – For the first time, I’m at a major curling event with my almost 10-year-old daughter. The two of us arrived at the Tournament of Hearts today, catching half of the afternoon draw and all of the evening games.
My kid likes the sport quite a bit, and will watch it on television or online with me. She has some sweet shoes from BalancePlus with 1/4” hinged teflon. But I don’t push it on her. I once heard Kevin Martin say that you shouldn’t start kids curling before they can really enjoy it — it’s too slow a game and not an especially easy endeavour for a youngster. I tend to agree. So, for now, I just bring her to the club with me when she wants to go, let her slide a mile on those slick shoes and help her enjoy learning how to throw the rock.
I hoped seeing a big-time event in an arena might spark something in her.... but I wasn’t completely convinced. I thought she might find it dull. I figured she might notice that many in the less-than-capacity crowd were five or six decades her senior. I worried that the quiet passages that plague curling at times might make her think the sport was a snoozer.
But it’s working. She wanted to sit in the very first row, about eight feet from the hack on Sheet D. (It was actually kind of odd for me to watch a game from a vantage point that close instead of from a more distant spot in the arena, like the media bench or, say, the Patch.)
So there we were, watching and listening to Heather Nedohin and Kelly Scott, closer than most other sporting events would ever let you get. My Continental Cup teammates were nice enough to say a mid-game hello, which might help me when it comes to imparting a bit of curling wisdom in the future. My daughter was nervous because she was cheering for Team Canada — she loves to back a winner — and the outcome wasn’t decided until the last rock.
We’ll see how things go on Wednesday but so far, so good.
After that, how about a look at the STOH through the eyes of a jaded player and media guy? Let’s start with what looks to be some serious separation between the Big Three — Canada, Manitoba and Ontario — and the rest of the field. Huge separation, in fact. Bob Weeks started a debate on Twitter about where the gap was bigger between the top and the bottom of the standings — at the STOH, or the Brier? Well, it sure looks big here. Ontario’s Rachel Homan and Co. are playing with brutal efficiency, Jennifer Jones is pouring on the offense early and Heather Nedohin has the confidence that comes from being a defending champion. I’ll be shocked if the final includes a team from outside of this group. It’s curling, and you just never know, but this bet seems like Locksville.
Alberta is on a Misery Tour. I hate seeing that, when what should be the highlight of a curling career starts to turn into a nightmare. They have to believe they can salvage the week with some wins down the stretch.
Other thoughts? Well, maybe it’s because I’m here with my nine-year-old and I’m back at the hotel shortly after the last rock was thrown, but I have no idea where the Patch is. I hope that’s because it’s not a priority for me on this trip and not a problem of poor wayfaring.
The media bench isn’t exactly packed, but that’s more of a statement about the media business than it is about curling.
Many in the crowd are kind and friendly, sort of like grandparents, which they inevitably are.
The shotmaking is very good — lots of papered guards and some nice big-weight hits — even if the tactics are, at times, a bit dull.
Even on a night when a few games were over early, it was pretty damn entertaining. I’m pleased that my daughter is engaged and excited about watching elite female athletes compete. I’m glad I made it here. I hope a few more Ontarians decide to do the same.
Dean Gemmell is a U.S. curling champion (with Team Heath McCormick), a curling author (Fit To Curl with John Morris) and a podcaster at thecurlingshow.com. He also writes occasional columns for The Curling News, one of which appears in the upcoming March “Brier” issue.
Kruger Products/CCA photos by Andrew Klaver