LONDON, ONT. -- Kevin Martin will be happy to see them go, Glenn Howard will be sorry to see them go and icemaker Hans Wuthrich says we haven't seen the last of them in any event.
The 64 curling rocks in play at the Tim Hortons Brier -- plus a handful of spares -- are making their farewell tour this winter as the Canadian Curling Association phases out perhaps the most readily-identifiable set of curling rocks anywhere in the world.
Distinctively short and squat in shape and a mottled dark grey in colour, the rocks are owned by Curl Manitoba and have been used to determine every Canadian mens curling championship since 1998, almost every one of the world curling championships staged in Canada during that period and three Olympic curling Trials.
But now that the CCA has purchased the shiny new set that were used in Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics, the Curl Manitoba rocks will no longer be required for use in national championships beyond the end of this winter.
And it's about time, says Martin, who feels the rocks in use here have exceeded their best before date.
"Over time, you have to sand them -- we don't question that at all," Martin said this week. "But as you do it, again and again and again, it's like a photocopy picture. The first photocopy is pretty clear, but the next one and the next one and the next, it starts to get a little blurry... it's not a surprise. That's why they're bringing in the new ones."
Ontario's Howard says the rocks are no longer perfectly matched the way they once were. "I think they've been some of the best rocks I've played with my entire life. They were consistent and they curled, that was the key, the way they curled," says Howard. "That being said, I've seen more inconsistencies this year than ever before and that tells me maybe their lifespan is done."
Made of natural granite -- Blue Trefor, in the case of the Curl Manitoba rocks -- all curling rocks are by their nature utterly unique. But these rocks are perhaps even more so. They are larger in diameter then more modern stones because of their unusually squat profile, while at the same time weighing less than most stones because of the years of sanding required to keep them in game shape.
From here, the rocks will be shipped to Regina, where they will be used to determine the 2011 World Men's Curling Championship. After that, they will be returned to their permanent home in Manitoba where they will go back to relative obscurity, returning to the exclusive use of Curl Manitoba for determining Manitoba curling championships.
"They need to rematched, for sure they need to be rematched," Wuthrich said. "But there's nothing wrong with the rocks themselves. They just need to be redone and they'll be good for any championship."