Savill returns to Ottawa arena for first event since memorable Brier night in 2016


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OTTAWA - A couple of Czech players took pictures of the TD Place arena upon arrival at the world men's curling championship over the weekend.

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OTTAWA – A couple of Czech players took pictures of the TD Place arena upon arrival at the world men’s curling championship over the weekend.

Their coach, Craig Savill, was standing nearby. With hands in his pockets, he gazed out at the ice thinking back to a memorable Brier moment from 2016.

“I haven’t been back in this building since,” Savill said. “When I walked back out here, I looked around and it brought back a lot of emotions of that time, which was a pretty cool spirit of curling moment.

Czech Republic coach Craig Savill, right, looks on as his team plays New Zealand at the Men
Czech Republic coach Craig Savill, right, looks on as his team plays New Zealand at the Men's World Curling Championship in Ottawa on Saturday, April 1, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

“It’s something I will never forget.”

Savill, then 37, was halfway through chemotherapy treatments for Hodgkin lymphoma during the national playdowns that year.

He hoped to play in his hometown Brier with a team from Nova Scotia, but a cancer diagnosis a few months earlier put his curling plans on hold.

Savill instead served as an honorary alternate for the penultimate round-robin draw. He received a huge ovation when he led the Canadian team’s walkout during introductions.

The crowd popped again when he put on the familiar Ontario colours later in the evening. Savill moved from bench to bench and watched many of his former teammates in action.

Late in a Canada-Ontario game between two teams out of playoff contention, Savill zipped up his jacket and took a few practice slides on the ice.

Former teammate John Morris, who played with Savill as a junior, enthusiastically tapped his broom on the ice in excitement.

Action stopped on the three other sheets as Savill took centre stage. The crowd fell silent as he settled into the hack.

Savill, who won the Brier on Ontario teams skipped by Glenn Howard in 2007 and 2012, smoothly delivered a guard with his first stone.

He buried the next one at the top of the four-foot ring. The effort drew the loudest ovation of the week.

“I really appreciate Curling Canada allowing me to do that and the players for encouraging it,” Savill said. “I didn’t want to throw a rock because I was just weak and hadn’t curled for a year.

“Then when I got the opportunity, I just remember shaking quite a bit. It’s funny how muscle memory kind of takes over.”

Savill, a married father of two, grew up in Ottawa. He now resides in Kensington, P.E.I., and works as a financial planner.

“Thinking back, it was pretty neat to have a crowd doing that and players stopping their games and being able to watch that moment,” he said. “It also spurred me on because I was right in the middle of my chemo treatments and it was kind of a down moment of it taking a toll.

“It energized me for the rest of the treatments along the way.”

Savill was cancer-free for almost five years before it returned. He went through more treatment and also had a stem cell transplant, he said.

“Now I’m a year-and-a-half from that so fingers crossed,” he said. “I keep seeing my oncologist, but I’m healthy right now.”

Savill has spent the last three years coaching the Czech team.

He attends occasional events with them but it’s mostly a remote position, so he provides them with training plans and helps via video calls.

“It’s been three years and I keep stretching (before games),” he said with a laugh. “So I’ve got to stop that somehow. But I go to these events and it’s slightly killing me that I’m not out there throwing.

“But I’m pretty happy in my role too though.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 3, 2023.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

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