Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

On The Broom: The good, bad and goofy

Three cheers for Kerry, kudos to Kevin, last rites for former curling capital

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It's that quiet time between Christmas and New Year's, a welcome period of respite between the breaking of the first toy and the turkey rotting.

And so that can mean only one thing at On The Broom -- it's time once again to honour the good, bad and goofy from another year in curling.

And so without further ado, ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, we present the 11th annual Rockhead Awards:


Best dramatic performance -- Jennifer Jones, Cathy Overton-Clapham, Jill Officer, Dawn Askin

The most talented team in women's curling won a world championship in 2008 -- and they did it in the most dramatic fashion possible. First, the Winnipeggers got a relatively routine miss by Alberta's Shannon Kleibrink with the last rock of the Canadian final to become Canadian champions. And then a couple weeks later, in the world semifinal against Japan, they needed nothing less than a two in nine and back-to-back steals in the 10th and extra ends to spare the curling world the almost unimaginable prospect of a China-Japan world final.

A routine victory by Jones and company over China in the world final seemed, by comparison to all the earlier dramatics, almost anti-climactic.


Most promising newcomers -- Kaitlyn Lawes

Winnipeg's Lawes has been curling since she was tiny, so she's hardly a rookie. But you couldn't help but get the feeling this year that we were witnessing the coming-out party of something very special.

Lawes won the Canadian junior championship back in February and then added to her credentials this fall when she curled an aggressive schedule against women's teams and held her own quite nicely.


Most emotional standing ovation -- For Kerry Burtnyk

Folks in these parts love Burtnyk for his courage and his grace and they let the world know it at MTS Centre last March, giving Burtnyk a long and hair-raising standing ovation as he left the Brier ice for the final time, having finished out of the playoffs.


Most underwhelming performance -- Winnipeg curling fans

If there was any doubt remaining about Winnipeg having lost its status as the curling capital of the world, it was settled in March when 160,000 or so fans limped through the doors of a beautiful downtown arena to watch the second biggest spectacle in curling after the Olympics. Double that number and we'd have been an Alberta Brier; as it was, it was just disappointing.


Best performance by a mixed ensemble -- Sean Grassie, Allison Nimik, Ross Derksen, Kendra Green

Snicker if you want, the bottom line is Grassie and company did something this year that no one from Manitoba has done since 1991 -- win a Canadian Mixed title.

And before you dismiss that as kissing your sister, remember this: the last skip to win Manitoba a mixed title? Some guy named Jeff Stoughton, perhaps you've heard of him.


Best foreign import -- Don Walchuk

The two best men's teams in Manitoba -- Kerry Burtnyk and Jeff Stoughton -- looked to Alberta this year for replacement thirds. Stoughton picked first and took Kevin Park; Burtnyk picked second and took Don Walchuk.

As 2008 turns to 2009, the early returns suggest Burtnyk got the better of that deal. Stoughton's won more money this winter, but Burtnyk sits higher on the all-important Canadian Team Ranking System and has a Canada Cup berth that Stoughton does not.

It's still a close race, but I give the nod to Burtnyk and Walchuk as the calendar turns.


Best performance by a potential Next One -- Mike McEwen

Like Lawes, Winnipeg's McEwen had a bit of a coming-out party of his own this year. He won the Manitoba Curling Tour championship last spring, but really came into his own this fall with an impressive performance on the cashspiel circuit and a semifinal finish at a massive Canada Cup qualifier a couple weeks ago that earned his team a coveted berth in the Canada Cup.


And finally, best international performance -- Kevin Martin

Edmonton's Martin had done everything else there is to do in curling with the exception of winning gold on the world stage. It was the last blemish remaining on his curling resumé and he took care of it with authority in Grand Forks last April, winning gold to forever rid himself of that monkey and claim his place as one of the greatest -- maybe the greatest -- curlers in the history of the game.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 29, 2008 C6

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