Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/3/2016 (2140 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — The Brier final in 2001 — which was the last time they held a Canadian men’s curling championship in the nation’s capital — is infamous for two things.
- A pigeon in the arena rafters left a deposit on the championship sheet during the third end, creating an indelible moment of Canadian television as play ground to a halt and millions watched as Gimli icemaker Hans Wuthrich used a dustpan to do a cleanup on sheet C; and
- A bizarre ending in which Manitoba’s Kerry Burtnyk decided to concede the game during a commercial break following the ninth end, creating Brier history in the process as Alberta vice-skip David Nedohin became the first curler ever to win a Brier while in the bathroom.
(True story: in the scrum that followed, a reporter asked Nedohin: "No. 1 or No. 2?" Nedohin vowed, wisely, to take that secret to his grave.)
That’s a whole lot of potty talk for the first four paragraphs of a sports column, and I apologize. But I’m using a rare fecal-encrusted, inverted trapezoid lead to get to my larger point: there was a time when all this goofy, amateur-hour stuff was the charm of curling. In a world of sports as high finance, the beauty of curling was it was just a bunch of profoundly ordinary people doing things that were extraordinary — and, often, extraordinarily dumb.
So why, then, does all that same amateur-hour stuff at this year’s Brier in Ottawa just feel, well, amateur?
What was once charming looked this week — at least from my vantage point on the ever-shrinking media bench — to be simply bush league.
Take, for instance, the way organizers handled a little innovation in modern sport called video review. In a week in which the CFL announced yet another expansion of their video review, this is how video review worked for curlers at the 2016 Brier: if you were fortunate enough to be curling in the game that was being televised on TSN and being shown up the big screens in the arena, then you had video review. Sort of. If curlers wanted to see something again — a burned rock in one instance, a dicey hogline violation in another — they’d stop play, point at the screens and then frantically wave at the TSN booth, at which point some producer upstairs would replay the shot in question for the curlers and, simultaneously, the entire country.
It was comically amateurish. But at least it was something.
But what happened, you’re asking, if curlers on the other three sheets that weren’t being broadcast in the arena wanted a video review? Tough tamales. Welcome back to the 70s, kid.
No joke. Except that it was.
I asked a senior Curling Canada official this week what exactly is the video review policy of the governing body of the sport in this country. "Please don’t go there," was his verbatim answer.
Yeah, ignore it long enough and video review will just go away. A passing fad. Just like the internet.
And then there was the whole Craig Savill thing.
Let me first stipulate, unequivocally, Savill is a nice man and a wonderful two-time Brier champion, and I think it was great that with Savill battling cancer right now, Brier organizers here in his hometown decided Thursday night to make him an honorary coach for all the teams on the next-to-last round-robin draw.
Savill wore uniforms for Canada, Alberta and Ontario over the course of the evening and sat during the draw at the home end, along with the fifths and regular coaches.
Wonderful stuff, all of it. Crowd loved it, players loved it, TSN loved it, and even Twitter loved it.
But where it went rogue, in my view, was in the eighth end of the Ontario-Canada game, when someone decided it would be nice if Savill got to actually throw a pair of lead rocks for Ontario.
Now, it’d be one thing — although still wildly inappropriate in my view — if Savill had entered some meaningless game between New Brunswick and P.E.I. as an ineligible player. But Savill entered a game in which the defending champion, Canada, was fighting for its playoff life at an event in which Sunday's winner qualifies to go the Canadian Curling Trials next year.
Name me another event with Olympic implications — heck, simply name me another Canadian championship — in which an athlete who hasn’t qualified gets to play a little, just because it makes everyone feel warm and fuzzy.
And then there was the small matter of the ice this week.
Conditions went bad in a big way at midweek, and the official explanation from organizers was, basically, "How were we supposed to know it might warm up and rain when it's nearly spring?"
The unofficial reason for ridiculously frosty ice conditions this week was actually even more bush league — and that’s saying something.
Humidity isn’t a problem if you have a dehumidifier, as any homeowner knows. But the arena here didn’t have a dehumidifier, and by the time the ice headed south for the rapidly approaching spring, it was too late to bring in a portable one.
Memo to organizers: if you’re not going require the presence of stock dehumidifiers in an arena as a condition of hosting a Brier, how about you make it conditional on organizers that they rent some portable ones just in case they do need them?
I’m told the cost of renting some portable dehumidifiers for a Brier in Regina a few years back was $60,000. That seems a small price to pay to provide the playing surface for an event that lives in Canadians’ homes for nine days every year.
So how bad was the ice Wednesday and Thursday? Manitoba skip Mike McEwen told me it was the second-worst ice conditions he’s ever played on. I repeat — ever.
The worst ice McEwen every played on? He says it was at a bonspiel in Newfoundland.
Care to guess where next year’s Brier is being held?
Look, I don’t know — maybe I’m just cranky. Maybe the lousy ice and ineligible player and ridiculous video review non-policy this week was every bit as charming as that pigeon and Nedohin winning a Brier with his private parts firmly in hand.
But it just seemed to me this week like people weren’t laughing with curling — they were laughing at it.
And that’s no joke.
Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.