Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/3/2016 (2141 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — The broom itself is close to 40 years old, an artifact Mike McEwen rescued from the garage. But the thing people most commonly ask about is: what’s with all that tape?
"The tape?" McEwen said with a laugh. "The tape is basically structural at this point."
It took all of one draw last weekend at the 2016 Canadian men's curling championship for McEwen’s utterly unique throwing broom to become a bit of a national celebrity in its own right.
There’s no sporting event in this country that so celebrates quirky quite like the Brier and so it didn’t take long for TSN to pick up on the redneck delivery device making its Brier debut right alongside the skip of Team Manitoba.
It might not be pretty, but it is the only broom McEwen has used to deliver a rock since he adopted a "Manitoba tuck" delivery in his final year of juniors at age 20.
And so, not surprisingly, McEwen has grown more than a little attached to it — eliciting in him the same emotions of fear, sadness and fierce protectiveness most guys reserve for the women in their lives.
"I’d probably cry if I lost it," McEwen said. "And I’d be mad. But I’d get over it. Eventually."
McEwen says he also once almost got in a fight over it. "(Alberta’s) Marc Kennedy was fooling around with it during the University Games. And he was banging it around and almost broke it. I was hot. I got pretty mad at him. And then I taped it up even more."
While corn brooms mostly disappeared from curling around about the same time as curlers stopped smoking on the ice, there has remained a tiny sliver of players — almost all of them users of the Manitoba tuck — who have continued to use the old-fashioned brooms for balance as part of a unique delivery that requires the thrower to bend forward and slide low on the ball of one foot.
The tuck is a delivery almost unique to Manitoba, although former Curl Manitoba president Resby Coutts likes to point out "they also use it in parts of northern North Dakota and eastern Saskatchewan."
Curling schools in Manitoba at one point stopped teaching the tuck delivery, believing the more conventional, flat-foot delivery to be more technically sound. But it never did disappear entirely and remains in wide use in Manitoba, particularly among male curlers who are simply replicating curling greats such as Jeff Stoughton and Kerry Burtnyk.
(Reigning Canadian junior champion Matt Dunstone of Winnipeg, for instance, has an awesome tuck delivery.)
Three of the four McEwen team members throw with a tuck delivery — lead Denni Neufeld and, in particular, third B.J. Neufeld mimic the impossibly low tuck their father, Chris Neufeld, used during his long years as second for Vic Peters — while McEwen second Matt Wozniak throws what is called a "modified tuck."
All those tuck deliveries means a lot of corn brooms scattered around the ice when you’re playing McEwen. And that became an issue Sunday when TSN microphones picked up Ontario skip Glenn Howard complaining he was "going to break a leg."
Howard later explained in an interview he once rolled an ankle tripping over a straw broom but added he has long since accepted it is an occupational hazard whenever you play a team of tuckers.
"Those guys bring a lot of baggage to the ice," Howard said with a laugh.
McEwen says his broom began its playing career as a regular old corn broom but it was modified over the years. He sawed down the handle to lighten it. And then came all that tape.
"It was just so old and so dry that it eventually started to break apart," McEwen said. "And so I just kept adding more and more tape just to keep it together — duct tape, electrical tape, whatever was around."
As for the colour scheme of black, red and yellow? "I added the yellow because of Manitoba. And then the red got added when we were Team Canada at the University Games."
A win here in the Brier final this weekend and there will be another trip to the hardware store for some more of that rare — and highly prized — red duct tape.
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.