Several Manitobans will hope for protracted stays in the hub city of Calgary when a half-dozen marquee curling events begin next month.
None will stay longer or put in more hours than Greg Ewasko.
The Oakbank resident is regarded as the go-to guy when it comes to creating the finest ice conditions for top-flight curling events locally and across the country.
Curling Canada has the 44-year-old married father of two on speed dial.
Ewasko has done 12 Briers, one Scotties Tournament of Hearts and a pair of Olympic Trials, in addition to several Grand Slam of Curling events and international championships in Beijing and Sweden. He’s also been the head ice-maker for Manitoba’s provincial championships for more than a decade.
But Ewasko maintains the biggest test of his professional career begins in mid-February when six events are held in succession at Winsport Arena at Calgary Olympic Park. He’ll be confined to the bubble — away from his wife, Monique, and his two sons, Owen and Sam — for 77 days.
"I would definitely say it’ll be the most challenging. This hub-city thing is huge," he said this week. "Everyone wants to get out curling. I want to get out ice making. I love ice making and I’m all game for this."
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many sports to establish competition "bubbles,’’ most without fans, to prevent the spread of the virus. Curling Canada is hosting a condensed version of its Season of Champions, with the Scotties, Brier, Canadian mixed doubles and world men’s championship, all inside an empty rink.
The Grand Slam of Curling then moves in to host two lucrative events, the Players’ Championship and Champions Cup.
Ewasko leaves for Cowtown on Feb. 9 to construct the playing surface for the Scotties. He will then tear it out and replace it with new logos and ice for the Brier. The sheets will undergo a major makeover no fewer than four times over about nine weeks by a talented contingent of ice technicians — coming and going from across the country — including Mark Shurek of Stonewall and Matt Rankin from Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Memorial club.
The crew will also include Audra Lindsey of St. Albert, Alta., set to become the first female ice tech to work at a major Canadian championship.
Events at the club level, provincially and across the country have been scrapped owing to the pandemic. Ewasko said he hasn’t even been inside a curling club since October, focusing on his business, Down Under Directional Drilling, but is pumped about returning to Calgary.
"It’s a totally different surface all the way through. It’s going to be a challenge but we’ve got excellent people coming in to work," Ewasko said. "(Curling Canada) flew me out in the middle of October to check out Winsport and get my two cents on things. I’d been there before for a Grand Slam event and it’s a fantastic venue."
The turnaround times are incredibly tight, down to the precise hour. The crew has six days to install the ice for the Scotties (Feb. 18-28) and then 68 hours to modify the site for the Brier (March 5-15). Once the Canadian men’s championship is over, the crew has 70 hours to revise the ice for the national mixed doubles (March 18-25).
Ewasko and company will then have a chance to catch their breath, with six days before new ice is required for the men’s worlds (April 2-11). The back-to-back Grand Slams begin the middle of April.
The look of the ice will change but what can’t is the feel.
"We will have some of the same competitors from the Scotties and Brier playing in the mixed doubles, so, my goal is to have really good ice all the way. That’s what you hope for — good, consistent, swingy ice," Ewasko said. "At the Scotties, the women are going to have four-and-a-half to five feet of curl, 25-second ice (hog line to stop), the men (at the Brier) will have four-and-a-half to five feet of curl, 25-second ice (hog line to stop).
"Everything has to be consistent. That’s what I’m aiming for and, hopefully, it happens."
Danny Lamoureux, Curling Canada’s director of club development and event operations, maintained the federation is fortunate to have the right person for the job at its disposal.
"It’s his incredible dedication and love of making a perfect sheet of ice," said Lamoureux. "Greg is tireless, the volunteers love working with him, he’s always happy and he pays incredible attention to detail to make sure the ice is absolutely perfect. When I know Greg’s going into the building, I don’t lose any sleep over what’s going to happen in the ice area. I know it’s going to be done perfectly.
"He’s honest with players and he doesn’t play favourites. He gives the same straight answer to a team at the bottom or (reigning Brier champion) Brad Gushue’s team. He’s always at the backboards to make sure that players have a chance to talk to him before any draw. I love the guy. He makes my job so much easier."
Recruiting Lisa Weagle is about to pay off for skip Jennifer Jones and her Winnipeg-based crew.
Dawn McEwen is expecting a child in April and won’t join the team in Calgary, opening up full-time work at the lead position for Weagle.
Weagle, a three-time Canadian champion, world champion (2017) and Olympian (2018) was dropped from the Rachel Homan team after the 2020 Scotties but accepted an invitation in mid-March to join the illustrious St. Vital quartet, led by Jones and featuring the accompaniment of third Kaitlyn Lawes, second Jocelyn Peterman and McEwen.
The move to a five-player rotation raised some eyebrows then but looks ingenious now as the team prepares to represent Manitoba next month at the Scotties.
"We really felt at the time like having a five-player team would be advantageous for a number of reasons — injuries, illness — and this is one of them. It’s something we’d been thinking about for the past couple of years and then Lisa kind of fell into our laps. We’re excited about Dawn’s pregnancy but it just worked out to have such a great-quality player in Lisa," Jones said Friday.
"She’s fit in beautifully in terms of team dynamics and her personality and, obviously, her play. Lisa and I have had the opportunity to practise quite a bit together, so that’s been great."
Jones lost the 2020 provincial final to Gimli’s Kerri Einarson but defeated Tracy Fleury of East St. Paul in the wild-card game on the eve of the Scotties in Moose Jaw, Sask., to join the rest of the field. Einarson soared to the national title and heads to the bubble as Team Canada, while Jones was appointed Team Manitoba when Curl Manitoba scrapped all playdowns owing to the pandemic.
Not to be left out, Fleury is also booked in as one of three Scotties wild-card teams.
Assistant sports editor
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