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The 8-ender: Walchuk not to be confused with Imelda Marcos; Ferbey's jab losing sting

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1. It's not normally  news when a curler gets a new pair of curling shoes. But then there's nothing normal about Kerry Burtnyk third, Don Walchuk.

Walchuk told Edmonton Sun curling writer Con Griwkowsky last week that he recently acquired new curling shoes for the first time since, wait for it, 1988, to replace the tattered, duct taped pair that he had become famous for.

"I've been hearing stuff throughout the rinks for four or five years regarding my shoes," Walchuk told Griwkowsky. "It was almost becoming a cult thing. They reckoned it was a symbol of me."

Curling shoes have come a long way -- particularly this decade -- and Walchuk said he's hopeful the new technology might extend his career.

Speaking of new shoe technology, the folks at Asham Curling Supplies told me this weekend that a new hollowed-out teflon disc that they developed has become the slider of choice this winter among many of the province's top curlers. Jeff Stoughton and Jennifer Jones are among the curlers checking them out.


2. I don't have an iPhone, nor do I want one.  In fact, if the boss would let me, I'd give up my cellphone entirely.

But for those of you folks out there who do have an iPhone, there's been some buzz on the net about a new curling game you can download for it.

Here's the sales pitch: "Throw, curl and sweep in gorgeous realtime 3D graphics using intuitive touch controls. Age of Curling takes you through different epochs and places. Venues range from a 1920 factory building to a modern Olympic stadium."

Sounds fun -- and it has to be better than every other curling video game out there, all of which so far have been absolute crap in my opinion.

Google 'Age of Curling' if you're interested.


3. This year will go down as a spectacular period in the history of Manitoba curling, with national titles for Manitoba teams in women's, junior women's and mixed -- and a world title in women's.

Small wonder then that three of the five nominees for the Manitoba Sportswriters, Sportscasters Association Team of the Year -- which were released last week -- are the teams of Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes and Sean Grassie.

Lawes had a spectacular run in junior and is clearly the next big Manitoba export in curling. Grassie also had a great run in mixed -- and before you poo-poo mixed, remember that's where Jeff Stoughton got his start.

But with the only world title among the three -- and the high-drama way her team went about it -- my vote this year has to go to Jones.


4. It seems Manitoba isn't the only place where the number of entries into the zone playdowns has been plummeting.

The Hamilton Spectator reported last week that just 54 teams entered the 16 women's zone playdowns in Ontario this month.

That's an average of just over three teams per zone. As sad as that sounds, it's actually slightly higher than the average in last week's Manitoba women's zone playdowns.


5. Edmonton's Randy Ferbey -- once the undisputed heavyweight in men's curling -- has yet to win a bonspiel in nine straight events this year.

The drought comes after back-to-back years of failing to qualify for the Brier and people -- including the teams' own families -- are noticing the four-time Brier champs aren't putting up results like they used to.

"It's funny," lead Marcel Rocque told the Edmonton Journal last week, "because family and friends and acquaintances the last two years, according to them, we've been, 'in the tank.'"

No hard feelings says Rocque. "People's expectations of us are to always be on top or close to it. We expect that of ourselves, as well, so we understand that."


6. Build it and they will come. Alex McKinney, a 70-year-old dairy farmer from north of Kingston, built his own one-sheet curling club after a couple of years of mild temperatures forced the cancellation of an outdoor bonspiel he used to hold on a nearby lake.

McKinney attached the Loonie Curling Club -- the only one-sheeter on the member rolls of the Ontario Curling Association -- to a guest cabin and he's already got a name team curling out of his club.

Three-time Ontario men's runner-up Greg Balsdon is curling out of the Loonie this year and will become later this month the first team in recent memory to enter the Ontario playdowns curling out of a one-sheeter.


7. Jeff Stoughton third Kevin Park was attempting an interesting trick over the weekend -- he was trying to help a second team qualify for next year's Canada Cup.

Park filled in last year and helped Edmonton's Kevin Koe win the 2008 Canada Cup, qualifying Koe for an automatic return this winter. And now over the weekend, Park's in Edmonton at a Canada Cup qualifier attempting to help Stoughton and his news mates qualify.


8. And finally, curling fans will get a major dose of the sport on TV this week as TSN opens its first year as the exclusive broadcaster of the Canadian Season of Champions with wall-to-wall coverage of the Continental Cup from Camrose, Alta.

TV coverage of the unique international event -- which features teams from Europe against North America in events ranging from straight curling to skins to mixed doubles -- begins with a women's draw at 9:30 a.m. this Thursday and continues right through 3 p.m. Sunday, when TSN will air the final skins game.

Winnipeg's Jennifer Jones will be among the 12 teams competing. North America holds a 3-2 advantage in the event over the years.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 15, 2008 C6

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