Impossible to hurry hard Curling's power couple sits idle as COVID-reduced season slowly slides along
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/10/2020 (706 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Decks of cards have stayed in the cupboard and board games in the closet at the McEwen home in Charleswood, all for the sake of a happy marriage.
Dawn and Mike McEwen haven’t resorted to challenging each other in cribbage or Scrabble as they find creative ways for a competitive outlet during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You know what? I can’t play cards with Mike. He’s too competitive for me. It ends up going sour really fast,” says Dawn, chuckling as she speaks her truth.
A petulant Mike McEwen? He’d taken such huge steps the last four or five seasons since being known as much for his flare-ups, on and off the ice, as he was for his astute shot calling and precise deliveries. Alas, the poised, well-spoken Winnipeg skip still has a cranky side.
“If he loses, he’s not happy. I just can’t do it,” Dawn says, with another giggle.
Mike gets a free pass for expressing some occasional irritability these days, as does Dawn. Things are simply not as they should be for Manitoba’s curling power couple. Even though elite curling is back in a limited fashion with new rules in place owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, neither has thrown a rock of any consequence this season.
“This is not what I’m used to. It feels weird… not doing a whole heck of anything, yet,” Dawn says. “The girls were away in Ontario and Kaitlyn (Lawes) had to quarantine. She and I are actually getting on the ice together in the next couple of days, so that’ll be nice. But it’s been solo (practising) so far.”
The curling layoff goes all the way back to their national championships.
The Jennifer Jones team from St. Vital, with Dawn at lead, fell 8-3 to Ontario’s Rachel Homan in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts semifinal in late February in Moose Jaw, Sask. Two weeks later, Mike and his West Kildonan team of third Reid Carruthers, second Derek Samagalski and lead Colin Hodgson were edged 7-6 by John Epping of Ontario in a tie-breaker to bow out of the Brier in Kingston, Ont., the first week of March.
In a normal season, the Jones and McEwen teams would have played in a pair of Grand Slam of Curling events in March and April, however, both were cancelled as part of a North American shutdown of competitive sports.
Earlier this month, the Jones team participated in two events in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont., winning one and losing the final of the other, Dawn chose not to accompany the team and was replaced by Lisa Weagle (former lead for Ottawa’s Rachel Homan) who was recruited over the summer to form a five-player rotation this season.
“I think it’s my comfort level. Things are fluid for me right now and I’m taking things as they come,” says Dawn, a 2014 Olympic gold medallist, two-time world champion and five-time Canadian titleist. “It’s a totally different world we’re living in right now and I want to be feeling safe and comfortable with things. My teammates have been really great about it all.
“It’s great because they’re streaming all our games. I tuned in for some of it, and talk to them throughout the events,,, and totally feel included.”
Jones is in the field for an event in mid-November in Alberta, however, Dawn won’t play there, either. She’s been practising on her own but will hook up on the ice with Lawes next week.
For Dawn, there’s a competitive craving that has yet to be satisfied. But parenting daughter Vienna, 5, and ensuring the kindergartner is healthy and happy, is the only that matters right now.
“There’s an aspect that gnaws at me, for sure. But I can’t take two weeks to quarantine at home, being separated from my daughter (Vienna), it’s just not a reality for me right now,” she says. “We’re definitely not used to this. We met through curling, and our lives are a lot of travelling and crossing paths, so it’s different for us. But I’ve said to Mike a few times, there are days you want to pull your hair out. But it’s been really nice, too, having this extra time with Vienna. That’s been a silver lining in our situation.
“There’s a lot of heartbreak going on in the world with this virus, and we’re very lucky to be in the situation we’re in.”
Her husband, who has curled in five consecutive Canadian men’s championships, shares a similar philosophy. Mike’s team — the world’s seventh-ranked men’s team — hasn’t been on the ice together since the Brier but is eyeing a mid-November return to competitive play in Penticton, B.C. (the 24-team Ashley HomeStore Curling Classic, set for Nov. 13-16, with a purse of $84,000).
“The whole thing’s a little bit sobering. I think for a lot of athletes, we’ve never had to dig so deep before to stay motivated and positive, That’s the hardest part,” Mike says. “It’s definitely reframed things. Even though for us as a team there’s been this two-month delay, it’s been good as far as recovery and getting some pretty good perspective on family. But yeah, for sure, it’s eating at all of us on our team to get out there.”
Hodgson now lives near Red Lake, Ont., while Samagalski is in Carberry. Carruthers and his skip will throw together for the first time next week.
“We actually have these weeks and months to see if there are some little tweaks and interesting things we can find out about ourselves and about our team that might end up paying off in the long term,” Mike says.
All of the nation’s elite women’s and men’s teams are attempting to orchestrate some semblance of a competitive fall season despite COVID-19 hammering the calendar.
The Grand Slam of Curling was cut from six events this winter to just two in April and the annual Canada Cup (which offers up Olympic Trials berths) slated for November was scrapped. Only a handful of big-money events remain on the calendar from coast to coast.
The 2020-21 curling season is critical as teams try to lock down Trials berths, but Curling Canada has placed its entire qualifying process on hold during the pandemic.
After the trip to B.C., Mike’s crew will only play locally, including the Dekalb SuperSpiel in Morris at the end of November, an event at the Fort Rouge Club in January and the possibility of competing in provincials in Selkirk in February.
The schedule is tentative at best.
“We’ve got a little bit pieced together. We’re trying to be as safe as possible, and Penticton is just within our comfort level right now. It’s pushing it but we feel they are going to run a really solid outfit there. But most of our stuff will be within the province,” he says. “As a team we decided to mitigate our risk.”
It seems all but certain Curling Canada will follow the examples of the NHL and NBA, staging high-profile events consecutively in a hub city some time in the new year — likely with no fans in the stands.
The Scotties championship is scheduled for Thunder Bay, Ont., in February and the Brier in Kelowna, B.C, in March. However, expect an announcement soon that plans have been altered dramatically.
Word now is that Calgary could be the site for back-to-back national playdowns.
“Anything I’ve seen or heard, the arrows point in that direction. It seems like that’s a province that would be the most aggressive in trying to host these things, where as other areas of the country might not be as motivated,” said one curling official, familiar with the planning.
The Assiniboine-Memorial Club on Vimy Road is hosting the Atkins Curling Supplies Classic this weekend, an event with 15 men’s teams and seven women’s squads.
Reigning provincial champion Jason Gunnlaugson of Morris is in a field that includes William Lyburn, Braden Calvert, Jacques Gauthier, J.T. Ryan and Sean Grassie, all of Winnipeg.
Gunnlaugson, second Matt Wozniak and lead Connor Njegovan, will play a man short, as third and import, Adam Casey, stays home in Charlottetown because of the mandatory quarantine in Manitoba.
“It’s not realistic for Adam to come at this point,” says Gunnlaugson, who played in his first Brier in March. “It’s our first event. We’re excited but a bit cautious in the current environment.”
Winnipeg’s Darcy Robertson and Kristy Watling, and Mackenzie Zacharias of Altona are in the women’s field.
The finals are on Sunday.
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).
Updated on Friday, October 23, 2020 5:22 PM CDT: Fixes multiple typos