Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Their hands say 'hurry hard'

Canadian Deaf Curling Championship crew at MCA

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AS 412 teams got down to playing the first of 1,564 games Thursday night in one of the Roaring Game's most storied and long-standing events, Michael Raby and his team heard virtually nothing at all.

But the defending Canadian Deaf Curling Championship foursome was all smiles as they were introduced during the opening ceremonies of the 2009 MCA Bonspiel at the Fort Rouge Curling Club.

"This is practise time for us before we represent Canada for the world championships (in Winnipeg) in April," Raby said through American sign language interpreter Mandy MacSki before Thursday's 6 p.m. opening draw.

"We hadn't heard about this bonspiel until a couple of months ago, this is the first time for us here. It'll be a good challenge for us, there's lots of great players. It will be a great opportunity for us."

Raby, along with third David Guillemette, both hail from Gatineau, Que., and curl together in a recreational curling league in nearby Ottawa. Second Damian Hum lives in Calgary and lead David Joseph is from B.C.

The foursome had a test Thursday in the world's largest bonspiel in the form of 2007-08 Manitoba junior champion Kyle Peters, but it's just the first of a guaranteed minimum six games in an event that has been cut to five days from seven.

Former Manitoba champion Randy Dutiaume, Brad Haight, the Peters foursome and other well-known rinks were in the bonspiel for the five final Safeway Championship berths available, but Raby and his group are here just to curl.

The foursome, which has competed in the Quebec provincial men's championship before, won the 2007 Deaf Olympic Games gold medal in curling. But how do they communicate in a game that's so much about yelling and screaming?

"Using our hands and our eyes," Guillemette said. "We don't use our voices, we communicate through signals. We have a certain sign that means hurry hard or slow it down and our eyes are very important in the game of curling."

The entire team is excited to be here.

"I heard that one year, there were 1,270 teams in this bonspiel," Guillemette said. "I have quite a few deaf friends in Manitoba and they're forever telling us to come and participate because this bonspiel is the largest in the world."

Despite changes to the bonspiel that were designed to attract more curlers, especially from rural Manitoba, the 412 registered this year are 29 fewer than the 441 last year.

"You've got teams from Texas, from Wisconsin, from Ontario, from Alberta, from Winnipeg, from rural Manitoba," said MCA executive director Shane Ray. "Show me something else that's going to bring that mix of competitors together.

"I'm excited by it and I think the curling community's going to start to get back behind this event and we will bring those numbers up."

chris.cariou@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 30, 2009 C1

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