As men's provincial championships get under way in most provinces/territories (selfish plug, stay tuned for my preview on Wed!), it got me remembering my time at a provincial championship. Ok, obviously I am no athlete and did not participate on the ice but I think I still played a vital role while in Lacombe last year for the 2014 Boston Pizza Cup, the Alberta men's provincial curling championship.
Last February I was given the opportunity to attend the entire week of festivities as a representative of Curling Zone. My job was simple yet important: attend every draw, sign into the site and update the scores of all games end by end. Now this may seem like a minimalistic task but, what I discovered, many people were refreshing the site throughout the week following their family members, friends and favorite teams. You have to get those scores updated fast and accurately. There is no room for error! Yup, I felt a bit like the Superman of Curling Updates. Update faster than a speeding bullet, be stronger than a freight train to withstand the cold sitting so close to the ice.
Let me take a quick step back. Normally this all important role is played by curling zone legend I discovered Colin Hodgson, or C_hodgy to his friends, fans and those familiar with the site. For this event however, Colin would be competing. At the time, Hodgson was the vice skip for Team Charley Thomas. Team Thomas qualified through the Southern Alberta playdowns. This presented a double opportunity. Colin, a native of Lacombe, would get to curl at men's provincials on his home ice, in front of many of his family and friends. This also meant an opening was at the table for curling zone. At the time, I was fortunate enough to have met Colin and he was kind enough to put in a good word for me with Gerry Geurts and vouch that I would do a great job. I would come to learn quickly how important it was for Colin to curl on his home turf. He was a local superstar all week. Fans, young and old, always coming up and saying hello and congratulating him. Telling him how proud they were of him and sharing stories of him growing up. The town just lit up it seemed having a local guy competing. Media constantly wanting to interview him. Watching him spend some rocks and rings time with the kids, including his niece and nephew. He was a superstar that week...and I was about to be the small speck on the outskirts of that star. I would like to mention here as well, Colin's teammate second Matthew Ng also is from Lacombe and I noticed the same acts of kindness and respect for him all week as well. I imagine this the similar treatment all curlers get when they have the opportunity to step on the home ice to compete. It is a special moment for the athlete, family, friends and the community Once I got the acceptance email, I quickly booked off the week from work and headed down the QEII to Lacombe, AB.
|In the middle of competition, Hodgson took time for some Rocks & Rings|
I had never been to Lacombe, located just north of Red Deer in Central Alberta. I didn't really know what to expect. What did the arena look like? What was there to do? What were the people like? How do I even find the arena? Would I get lost? Millions of tiny questions raced in my head. All those were erased when I arrived. Colin pulled the double act of kindness in speaking with his family and asking them if I could stay with them for the week. With hotels hard to come by during a provincial event, this was a life saver. Not only financially but also helping me feel at home and comfortable. People who knew the town, knew the sport, knew the arena, knew where I could get something to eat! All important factors when you are volunteering for an important role. Mr. and Mrs. Hodgson were nothing short of friendly, hospitable and respectful. They opened their home to me and treated me like a member of the family. They made me breakfast on the go for the times where I was a bit slow getting up in the morning. They provided me with water and snacks to keep my energy up when I was sitting in the players box for three straight draws right at ice level. They drove me to the arena and back to my home for the week and provided a perfectly comfortable room and bed to sleep on. As a first time visitor, and first time meeting these people, I could not have had a better experience. I cannot thank them enough for all they did for me. If this was the type of hospitality I was in for from the people of Lacombe, I was in for an unforgettable week.
As a huge fan of the sport, the opportunity to sit at ice level and watch four sheets of competitive curling action at the same time was a dream come true. Ok, it may not seem like much to many of you, but I loved every second of it. Every draw had intrigue. These were not just guys on the ice playing a sport they enjoy for fun. These were guys on the ice pouring every ounce of blood, sweat and tears into chasing the dream of wearing the Alberta colors at a national championship. These were guys who had sacrificed careers, time with family, experiences with friends to chase a dream of becoming a national and, perhaps, a world champion in the sport they love! And I had the front row seat for all of it.
Sitting up close and updating the scores was fun....but only half of the real excitement. The opportunity to be so close to the real athletes on the ice was a highlight. Watching World and Olympic Champion Kevin Martin and World Champion Kevin Koe walk by before a match and just give a friendly "Hello" to me was something. They didn't have to say anything. They could have just walked right by and ignored me but they didn't. In fact, all the athletes on the ice were friendly. Some said hello almost every draw. Some asked if I was freezing cold or keeping warm enough. Others asked if I was remembering to eat in between draws. While they may have had 1 or 2, sometimes 3, bye's in a row...not me! I was there for every draw. Sitting on the bench with my borrowed laptop, signed in and ready to report the scores from all their games. As I said, none of them had to say anything to me. They were focused on their games and trying to win. Yet, they still took time to engage in a conversation with some guy bundled up in a few layers of jackets, donning his 2010 Winter Olympic Red Mitts. It was surreal. I was a fan boy in a world of male athletes.
|Rocking the Red Mitts to stay warm|
|Team Blandford supporting one another getting ready for another end|
Sometimes it was fun to just catch some of the guys in awkward or weird positions while standing around in between shots or ends. I would grab my phone and just snap a quick pic and tweet it out to them during the games. Usually, after the games when the guys would be checking their phones, I would receive some witty comments back. Guys like Team Jamie King lead (at that time) Jeff Erickson was probably my favorite target. I think I caught him in a few weird stances or facial expressions that I could tweet out. He was always a good sport about it though, laughing it off or coming up with a funny response. To this day, I still engage in the random twitter conversation with him. And then there was the big guy, Nolan Thiessen. For many draws, I was lucky enough to have Colin's sister Amber join me on the bench. Having someone to converse with during the games and an extra set of (often better) eyes watching the games was a huge help. Every time we had Team Koe in front of us, whom Thiessen was lead for, we often found ourselves shadowed by Nolan standing against the bench. He would be standing either right in front of us or right beside us and we could not see around this guy. He is huge. I don't mean wide, I mean length. The dude is tall. You can always tell watching on tv that he is not a short guy, but he towers over most of the other guys on the ice. I mean, I am 6'3 and I felt like a leprechaun standing anywhere near the guy. Amber and I would sit behind him trying to talk one another into just poking the tree Thiessen and see if he would move. We never would do it though. We would never even say anything. When you have a giant oak tree standing in front of you, the smart thing to do is not cut it down but just move to the side. Now, to be fair, I doubt Nolan was doing this on purpose. He was usually just catching his breath from all the hard sweeping he was doing and leaning against the boards is the perfect way to do so. Many of the players would do it. But many of the players don't block out the light when standing in front of you like Thiessen did. Finally we had to just take a picture of him and tweet out "The Tree is blocking our light again". Of course, I directly mentioned Nolan in the tweet, unsure how he would maybe react. Being called a giant tree is not exactly a huge compliment...not an insult either...but not a compliment. As with everyone else, he took it with a sense of humor and just laughed it off.
|Jeff Erickson was one of my favorite targets during the week|
|Caught Carter Rycroft stretching his back perhaps?|
Being lucky enough to not only attend but, in a small way, participate in the 2014 Boston Pizza Cup will have a special place in my heart. The kindness of Mr. and Mrs. Hodgson. The conversations we shared. The curling games we watched. Seeing Mrs. Hodgson get a bit teary-eyed watching her son curl so great that week and see his success (they finished 4th, qualifying for the playoffs and losing to eventual winner and eventual Brier champ Team Koe) was something I will never forget. The family bond the Hodgson family shared with me was unforgettable and I will always be thankful for them letting me in and sharing their experience watching their son curling at home with me.
|Hometown boy Hodgson vs Team Kevin Koe|
The fans were great. The volunteers were kind and friendly. In fact, some volunteers even would bring me coffee and/or hot chocolate in between ends. One was even kind enough to bring me blankets from home I could sit on and wrap myself in to stay warm. How is that for volunteer hospitality? Everyone just had a sense of community. Everyone was family. The volunteers, the athletes, the sponsors, the organizers, the fans....it was something you rarely see at sporting events. This was special! This was unique! This was something I am so proud I had the opportunity to be a part of. If you live in a city or town where a provincial or national championship is being hosted, I cannot encourage you enough to try and get involved in some way. Volunteer some time, in some way. The experience, the memories, the relationships will last a life time I promise you!
|The BEST volunteer I met that week!|
Thank you once again Gerry and curlingzone.com for providing me, a boy from Saskatchewan who grew up loving the sport of curling while watching and playing with his grandparents, the opportunity to experience this event from a different perspective. I hope I made very few errors and did not disappoint you and all the curling fans who tuned in during the event.
Thank you to the athletes for your kindness. It is often said curlers are some of the most down to Earth and friendly athletes you can ever find. I can 100% say, based on first-hand experience, this is completely true. They all brought out the little fan boy in me for the week...and I loved every second of it.
|The Boston Pizza Cup|
And, the only proper way to end this blog entry, huge thank you to the entire Hodgson family. You did not have to take me in and treat me as a member of your family but you did. You were not only completely hospitable but you went above and beyond. I can only hope I was able to convey even half of the appreciation I felt in comparison to the welcoming, friendly open arms you all showed. My biggest regret is not getting a picture with you all before I left. I suppose the memories in my mind will have to do. Thank you Colin as well for providing me with this experience. You saw a fan in me, had faith in putting your name behind endorsing me for this volunteer role and gave me memories I will never forget. You were the rock star all week and it was a honor to be associated with you, on even the smallest of scales. As many of you know, Colin now lives in Winnipeg curling as lead for Team Reid Carruthers. All the best of luck to him and Team Reid in their quest for the Manitoba Buffalo this week in Brandon as well as on his future curling career (plus I hear he is a really great chef).
|Media man getting to feel like a rock star with Fan Favorite Colin Hodgson|