A Day in the Life: The Canadian Mixed Curling Championship

On Wednesday, I watched all three draws of the Canadian Mixed Curling Championship at the Rideau Curling Club in Ottawa. Along the way I chronicled the day’s events.

9:57: I arrive at the Rideau Curling Club just as the teams are being announced for the morning draw. On tap we have Ontario v. Saskatchewan, Quebec v. PEI, New Brunswick v. Manitoba, and Alberta v. British Columbia. The best game in that group is ON v. SK.

I prepare for the national anthem – I don’t really understand why we play it before sporting events – but it is not played. Things are looking up.

10:01: The games start. Bold prediction #1: I will hear the words “nice shot, eh,” said at least 137 times today. There is something about curling that makes people say “eh” a lot.

10:03: I’m offered a cup of coffee. I think there might be a rule against watching a morning curling game without drinking coffee. The most Canadian thing I’ve ever heard was said by my friend and teammate Dean Moser on the way to a morning curling game: “I can’t curl without my Timmies.”

10:09: Saskatchewan skip Shaun Meachem wrecks on a guard to give up a steal 1.

10:10: Manitoba skip Sean Grassie makes a hit against 3 to score 1.

10:11: PEI skip Rod MacDonald rolls out on a hit and Quebec steals a point.

10:12: Alberta skip Darren Moulding misses a tough tap back, but still scores 1.

10:13: The scoreboard says Manitoba scored 2. I’m already seeing things. I thought it wouldn’t be until at least the afternoon draw that this happened. I may not make it. Perhaps I should just focus on one game at a time?

10:17: Saskatchewan third Kelly Wood throws a hit and slides all the way into the other house and actually has to dance out of the way of the stones. Impressive.

10:43: Moulding makes a terrific in-off for 3. The reaction of the crowd is rather muted. “That was a nice shot” says a man in the front. Even with the coffee, it’s still too early to get excited.

10:59: British Columbia skip Keith Switzer comes up short on a draw and Alberta steals five. In related news, the bar opens in one minute.

11:00: The bar – the most important place in a curling club (the ice is a distant second) – opens.

11:05: The first adult beverage of the day is poured – I’m stunned it took a full 5-minutes, this may be a record long between the bar opening and a drink being bought at a curling club. The honour goes to a man in a Quebec jacket who has ordered an ‘animal-themed’ beer. I love this country!

11:10: Manitoba has a 3-2 lead on New Brunswick and is the first game to hit the fifth end break, which is the five minute respite teams get in the middle of game.

11:28: All eyes suddenly shoot to sheet C where New Brunswick third Marcel Robichaud breaks out a Russ Howard-esque sweep call. It works and they score 1. Crowd upstairs reacts with laughs and shock that his lungs didn’t explode. That he still has those chops this late in the week in no small accomplishment.

11:57: I talk with Jannelle, director of player relations, to organize post-game interviews. A more helpful individual at this tournament, I have not met.

12:00: Make the final on sheet D Alberta 9, British Columbia 2.

12:01: Alberta lead Anna-Marie Moulding tells me that she’s happy with the way the team is playing, saying “I think we’re clicking as a unit and playing really well.” With the team at 7-1 they’re in good position heading towards the playoffs. “We’re in control of most of the games and throwing well,” said skip Darren Moulding. “You want to get the bye, but just getting into the playoffs gives you a chance so that’s the goal. We still need to win a few more games here.”

Of course he’s not looking past anyone though, saying “we’re not done yet – we’re not in the playoffs yet so I just want to win every game we play and see where that puts us.”

12:07: Ontario scores 3 in the 8th and you can make the final on sheet A Ontario 9, Saskatchewan 3.

12:08: Ontario lead Amy MacKay says that the team’s two losses on Tuesday didn’t hurt their spirits, saying “it just made us more determined.” Of course that doesn’t mean that they’re not going to keep their eyes on what the other teams are doing: “we always have an eye [on other games], but we just have to keep winning now.”

12:35: Quebec scores 2 to complete a tough 8-7 win over PEI. The Quebec team immediately turns their attention to sheet C where New Brunswick, with whom they are tied in the standings, are in a tight game with Manitoba.

12:36: Manitoba skip Sean Grassie makes a rather delicate tap back to score 1. What seemed like a quick and easy draw just got a little more interesting as we’re going to an extra end.

12:50: Grassie makes a run-back double takeout to sit 2. New Brunswick skip Sylvie Robichaud needs to draw the eight-foot to win.

12:51: She puts it on the button.

12:52: Make the final New Brunswick 5, Manitoba 4.

12:54: Despite the loss, Manitoba lead Calleen Friesen is pleased with how the team is playing: “we’ve been playing better now than we did before,” she said. She also notes that the conditions are terrific, saying “it’s very nice ice to curl on.”

12:57: A visibly disappointed Scott McCamis, Manitoba’s second, sums up the loss by saying “they’re a really good team and it could [have gone] either way and it didn’t work out for us.” The team is off in the afternoon so they have a lengthy break before the 7:00 draw. He insists that’s not a problem though, saying “we do a lot of bonspieling where it’s three games a day and there are pretty good breaks between draws so I don’t think we care which two draws we’re on.”

That’s similar to what Northwest Territories lead Debbie Moss told me on Monday: “On a split day we’ll go back and de-brief and go over our game and see what we can improve on. We’ll relax a little bit, we won’t do too much because you want to stay fresh and prepare for your evening game.”

It’s also McCamis’ birthday. And while the loss stings, he’s quick to point out that “it beats working for sure.”

1:39: The media room and the officials room are one and the same. As I write, officials go through their assignments and get ready for the next draw.

1:58: Teams are called to ice for the 1st practice of the afternoon draw. It’s pretty loud in the lounge so it’s tough to hear the announcement. British Columbia, Northern Ontario, and Quebec make it to the ice while the official looks for PEI.

1:59: PEI finds its way to the ice and practice starts.

2:06: Franz Ferdinand plays while the teams practice. The music-on-the-ice set up definitely needs to be adopted for Thursday night men’s league.

2:09: After a 9 minute practice, each team has to throw a draw for the closest to the button – this determines who gets last rock in the first end. This is surprisingly exciting and in some games is the most compelling part.

2:13: Nova Scotia, Northwest Territories, Alberta, and Newfoundland and Labrador take to the ice for practice. I love that in curling it’s referred to as practice. In every other sport we would call it ‘warm up.’ Distinctly Canadian.

2:23: The sound of bagpipes is the cue that curling will soon be played.

2:24: The games for the afternoon draw are: Quebec v. Newfoundland and Labrador on sheet A; Northern Ontario v. Alberta on sheet B; British Columbia v. Northwest Territories on sheet C; PEI v. Nova Scotia on sheet D.

2:25: The players stroll on the ice in a line clapping to the pipes. They stop on the hog line and turn to face the lounge as we watch through the glass – this is as close to a genuinely ‘fishbowl situation’ that I’ve ever been a part of. Each game is announced and the crowd applauds. Of course the players can’t hear the applause, although I’m sure they appreciate seeing the hands move.

2:27: Officials announce to the players that “the ice is yours and the game may begin.” So polite!

2:28: Nova Scotia lead Katarina Hakansson delivers the first stone of the draw and is quickly followed by Northwest Territories lead Debbie Moss, and Alberta lead Anna-Marie Moulding. Newfoundland and Labrador lead Sigrid Fitzpatrick is the last to throw because, in typical Newfoundland style, skip Gary Oke is in the midst of a conversation at the other end and doesn’t put the broom down.

2:29: I’m confused – the schedule said the games would start at 2:30. Doesn’t starting early screw up the T.V. schedule? Oh, right…

2:51: Gasps are followed by applause as Northwest Territories skip Stephen Moss makes a great shot to score 3 and take a 3-1 lead on B.C. Bold prediction #2: the Northwest Territories will get their first win in this game.

3:13: Newfoundland and Labrador may be 1-5 but Gary Oke is having more fun than anyone else on the ice. Bold prediction #3: he will win the event’s sportsmanship award.

3:30: People crowd around sheet B as Northern Ontario skip Charlie Robert attempts a tough shot through a tiny port – he could score 2 or give up a steal of 2. Tough, tough shot.

3:31: He makes it perfectly – elicits an in-unison ‘wow’ from the crowd. Someone says “I knew it was there. Of course you always curl 100% behind the glass.” Truth.

I played on this same sheet of ice two weeks ago. It’s amazing to see what people who actually know what they’re doing can do on the same surface.

3:40: Northwest Territories gets another 3. I’m feeling more confident about bold prediction #2.

4:03: A murmur comes over the crowd as Northwest Territories sits 7. B.C. with one shot left.

4:04: The draw is heavy and Northwest Territories steal 3 to take a 9-3 lead.

4:29: Newfoundland and Labrador gives up a steal of 1 and you can make the final Quebec 8, Newfoundland and Labrador 2.

4:35: Northern Ontario calls a timeout on sheet B; PEI calls a timeout on sheet D. Upstairs where the timers sit, this as busy as it has been all day.

4:36: Northwest Territories skip Stephen Moss draws for 1 and it’s handshakes on sheet C. Make the final Northwest Territories 10, British Columbia 4. I believe I had that one.

4:38: Nova Scotia calls a timeout on sheet D – the announcements in the timer area are coming fast and furious.

4:42: A loud gasp as Northern Ontario second Rob Thomas (not this Rob Thomas) flashes a hit. Everyone watching understands the feeling.

4:45: PEI calls another timeout. That’s 3 timeouts in one end – I’m starting to wonder if this end will ever, you know, end.

4:47: The timeout worked as PEI skip Rod MacDonald makes a peachy double take-out to sit 3 – all in the four-foot.

4:48: That wasn’t the last shot in the end? Really?

4:49: Nova Scotia skip Rob Harris throws as hard as he can and gets rid of 1 of the PEI stones. PEI takes a 7-4 lead coming home after an end that took approximately 40 minutes.

4:50: There are only two games still on the go. Of course they’re not right next to each so I have to keep jumping back and forth.

4:51: Northern Ontario skip Charlie Robert draws for 1 and it’s tied at 6 through 9 ends. The biggest positive out of that: no extra end.

4:57: PEI runs Nova Scotia out of rocks and you can make the final PEI 7, Nova Scotia 4. That likely takes Nova Scotia out of the playoff mix. Make your own joke about there being a half hour difference between this and the finish of the Newfoundland game.

5:02: A loud gasp as Alberta’s Darren Moulding ticks a guard with his first shot. Northern Ontario has a stone at the top of the button, but Charlie Robert’s guard over curls by two inches and Moulder can pick the one in the four foot for the win – he has a stone in the twelve foot which would count if he rolls out.

5:04: A clear sense of relief from the Alberta squad as they make the shot and you can make the final Alberta 8, Northern Ontario 6 – easily the best game of the draw.

5:37: Back upstairs the kitchen is working hard as everyone gets their dinner orders in so they can eat before the last draw of the day at 7:00.

6:00: On the ice, the crew is hard at work – scraping, sweeping, re-pebbling – to get the ice in pristine condition. Scoreboards are changed, time clocks are reset, and spectators start to wander into the club.

6:20: The music starts again. This time it’s “Some Nights” by FUN. I’m starting to re-think my previous contention that music during games is a good idea.

6:31: First practice for the evening draw starts: Saskatchewan, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia on the ice.

6:33: Team New Brunswick heads upstairs to do their stretching. Far too many people downstairs – much safer to do this upstairs.

6:35: “Sexy and I Know It” blares through the club. The New Brunswick front end momentarily stops their stretching to get their dance on.

6:44: Northwest Territories, Northern Ontario, Manitoba, and New Brunswick are told that they can step on the ice to cool their sliders. It’s important for players to cool their sliders before they slide – sliding on a warm slider hurts the ice and erodes the pebble faster.

6:50: Tonight’s games are: Nova Scotia v. New Brunswick on sheet A; Newfoundland and Labrador v. Manitoba on sheet B; Ontario v. Northern Ontario on sheet C; Saskatchewan v. Northwest Territories on sheet D.

Newfoundland and Labrador v. Manitoba might be the most interesting game of the night. If the team out of the Corner Brook Curling Club can win, Manitoba would be in jeopardy of being relegated next year. (The bottom two teams will have to play against the two teams who didn’t qualify for the main draw, Nunavut and Yukon, next year in a pre-tournament qualifier)

6:55: More bagpipes!

6:56: Gary Oke holds up the procession – emerges and immediately starts laughing with team Ontario. Everyone should have this much fun curling!

6:57: It is announced to all that today is Manitoba second Scott McCamis’ birthday. The announcer says that he’s “29 plus a few years.” The players erupt into a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday.” McCamis looks mortified. This is fun!

6:58: Inexplicably, O Canada is played for the first time today. I will get to the bottom of this.

7:00: For the second straight draw Nova Scotia lead Katarina Hakansson throws the first stone of the draw. Right on time too! Much better for the television coverage! Wait, what?

7:32: Saskatchewan’s draw against two comes up short and they trail the Northwest Territories 3-0 after two ends. A tough start for the team from Swift Current – hopefully this isn’t foreshadowing the Grey Cup.

7:42: There is a noticeably bigger crowd tonight. The club seems to have become a post-work destination for some of the regular Rideau Curling Club members

In the corner of the lounge, tonight’s band, Everything Zen, is setting up. Looking ahead at the entertainment schedule, 10 Cent Wings are playing on Saturday night. Bold prediction #4: more than 20 people will show up expecting 10 cent chicken wings. It’s actually a brilliant name for a band. People see 10 Cent Wings on a poster for a pub and they’re going to show up. Of course they could get angry that it’s a band and not cheap food. Scratch that, it’s a dangerous name. Uh oh, I’m starting to argue with myself – I just Dan Dierdorf-ed myself. I’m starting to lose it.

7:46: Ontario skip Cory Heggestad makes a hit for 4 to take a 6-2 lead. Despite the fact that they’re the home team, there is little reaction from the crowd.

7:48: Saskatchewan scores 3 to tie Northwest Territories – a Saskatchewan fan screeches in celebration. Saskatchewan fans are always easy to spot at a curling event.

7:54: I order my first adult beverage of the day. I’ve been in a curling club for nearly 10 hours without one. Bold prediction #5: that will never happen again.

8:20:  In what may be an unprecedented development, all four games reach the 5th end break at the same time. In related news, the bar is busier.

8:31: Using all my investigative know-how, I get an answer to my question on the national anthems. The decision is left to the host committee, but it is expected that the anthem will be played at least once a day.

8:41: You can make the final on sheet B Manitoba 8, Newfoundland and Labrador 3.

9:00: The band starts to play – granted only an acoustic set so as to not disturb the games.

9:20: Northwest Territories skip Stephen Moss draws for 2 and the team from Yellowknife is giving Saskatchewan a good run. 7-6 Saskatchewan after 9.

9:22: Nova Scotia skip Rob Harris hits for 1 and there is a bit of an upset brewing on sheet A as the team out of the Mayflower Curling Club in Halifax is up 8-4 on the team out of Curl Moncton through 9 ends.

9:25: Ontario cracks a 3 in the 9th and it’s handshakes on sheet C as Ontario beats Northern Ontario 11-7 in the ‘civil war’ game – also the highest scoring game of the day.

9:29: Nova Scotia runs New Brunswick out of stones and sheet A is done for the night. Make the final Nova Scotia 8, New Brunswick 4. This makes the playoff race more interesting as teams with 5 losses still mathematically alive. More likely that 4 losses could make it.

9:34: Northwest Territories has one buried in the four-foot, with one Saskatchewan stone to come.

9:35: In the final shot played on the day, Saskatchewan skip Shaun Meachem puts it on the button and you can make the final Saskatchewan 8, Northwest Territories 6.

9:37: Meachem says that those shots are “a little nerve wracking when you haven’t been super consistent, but the ice is really good so if you throw it [well], your sweepers will make it for you.” With a game in the morning against New Brunswick, Meachem notes that it’s a big game because “the winner would be in a pretty good spot, so that’s going to be one we’re looking forward to.”

Because he’s representing Saskatchewan, I have to ask him about the Grey Cup. His response: “Go Riders!”

9:47: As I make my way down to the lounge, I bump into Rideau Curling Club members Ryan Stammers and Nancy White. The social part of the evening has begun.

10:12: The band starts playing “Sweet Caroline” and I’m struck by one question: great sing-along song or greatest sing-along song?

10:24: The band starts to play “Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy.” I have no comment.

10:28: I made it past the 12 and a half hour mark and, as far as I can tell, didn’t go crazy. Mission accomplished!

10:30: Before I leave I take a quick look at the standings board. With only three teams making the playoffs and four draws to play, this will be an interesting push to the playoffs.

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