On Saturday night, eight teams kicked off the round-robin draw of the at the Rideau Curling Club in the nation’s capital. While a couple hundred people watched from temporary bleachers behind the glass that separates the lounge from the ice, the Mixed was not the biggest event in the curling world over the weekend. That distinction went to Canadian Open in Medicine Hat, part of the Grand Slam of Curling.
Unlike the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Tim Horton’s Brier, the Mixed does not receive a lot of attention. Where the Scotties and Brier are played in arenas with each draw broadcast nationally, the Mixed is played in curling clubs with only minimal television coverage.
While the Mixed has the same 12-team round robin format as other national championships, it is different in that only 3 teams make the playoffs. Despite the fact that this can often lead to tiebreakers – which are exciting but can lead to logistical nightmares for organizers – the event doesn’t earn the national attention of the Brier and Scotties.
Part of the reason for the discrepancy is that, unlike men’s and women’s play, there is no world competition for mixed curling. The champions of the mixed are granted two entries to the Canadian Mixed Doubles Championship (for which there is a world championship), but that doesn’t hold the same allure as winning the opportunity to represent Canada internationally.
The event is also the first of the Canadian Curling Association’s Season of Champions and provincial champions are crowned in the spring, meaning there is not much momentum with casual curling fans leading into the event.
Despite these issues, the Mixed does have a rich history that continues to attract some of the best curlers this country has ever produced. Past champions include Jeff Stoughton, who has won the event twice (1988, 1991), Peter Gallant (1987), Rick Folk (1974, 1983), and Kevin Koe (2000).
Shannon Kleibrink, a bronze-medal winner at the 2006 Olympics, is the only woman to win as a skip (2004), six-time Scotties champion Colleen Jones won as a third in 1999, and 2010 Olympic silver medallist Cheryl Bernard was named the all-star third last year in Mount Royal, QC.
There is no shortage of experience on display in Ottawa this week as Rob Harris (NS), Rod MacDonald (PEI), Steve Moss (NWT), and Gary Oke (NL) have all played in the Brier. Two past champions, Manitoba’s Sean Grassie (2009) and Ontario’s Cory Heggestad, are also in the field. PEI third Kathy O’Rourke has played in the Scotties six times, including a silver medal appearance in 2010, while New Brunswick’s Sylvie Robichaud is the only woman skip in the competition.
This week marks the 51st edition of the Canadian Mixed and, despite the lack of national attention, it remains a premier curling event. Even if winning doesn’t guarantee an opportunity to represent Canada, being crowned a Canadian curling champion is a rare opportunity. The Mixed may retain the distinction as Canada’s forgotten championship, but, for at least one team, this week will be memorable.
Notes: Yukon, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and Newfoundland and Labrador faced off in a pre-tournament competition to win the final two sports in the main draw, which went to Northwest Territories and Newfoundland and Labrador…Ottawa’s Rideau Curling Club is celebrating its 125th anniversary in 2013. Its first member was Lord Stanley and its first president was Sir Sandford Fleming. Over the past couple of the years the club as undergone some substantial renovations, including the installation of a new ice plant…There are only two games during the Monday morning draw (Northwest Territories v. Newfoundland and Labrador and Northern Ontario v. Nova Scotia). It is the only draw during the championship where there will not be four games…At the start of play Monday, only Quebec (3-0) remains undefeated while Northwest Territories and Newfoundland and Labrador (0-2) are still looking for their first win.