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Tuesday, 13 March 2018

#Brier2018 Takeout Shots

#BetweenTheSheets: The Brier 2018 Takeout Shots
The Hits and Misses of the Rumble in Regina

The 2018 Tim Hortons Brier is in the books.  When the final rock came to a stop on the button Sunday evening Canada rejoiced.  Yes, Team Canada I mean as Team Gushue successfully defended their Brier championship from a year ago and will now attempt to win back to back world championships in Las Vegas in April.

But the Team Canada fans were not the only one's celebrating.  All of Canada should be celebrating.  Curling fans were treated to a great event over the 10 days of competition....from the Hot Shots and Wildcard play-in game to the Championship Final.  There were moments of greatness.  There were moments of sadness.  There were moments of frustration.  There were moments of high energy excitement.  The Brier truly offered something for everyone, new and old fans alike.  Heck I even had a fan from Sydney, Australia watch a game online and engage on social media with questions and noted his new found love for the sport.  How cool is that?

The #TwineTime blog enjoyed the entire time in Regina.  From the action on the ice to the fun in the patch to the time spent watching my brother start to fully enjoy curling, a great time was had.  Lets start by thanking Curling Canada for once again accepting this blog into the media bench family once again.  I continue to be humbled and thankful for every opportunity and experience!

But it cannot always be a love affair right?  Hits and misses occur every event...and not just in the shots taking place on the ice.  With #TwineTime having a front row seat to the action all week there were quite a few notes made in preparation of the wrap-up blog post.

Time to summarize the Brier experience with the 10 (end) Takeout Shots:

1: The #YQR Crowd - Ok let's clear this up from the top.  This Brier was never going to surpass nor duplicate the energy that electrified the entire province of Newfoundland last year.  But no city in our great country would have either.  We all knew the follow-up location after St. John's was in tough even before the announcement.  But the Regina crowds were strong all week, even with the #Snowmaggedon disaster opening weekend.  Sasky fans are knowledgeable and love their curling and what more could you really ask for?  They cheered for great shots by all teams.  They cheered loud for their home province boys but also supported the field.  Nunavut got cheers and applause all week.  Newfoundland and Quebec became surprise fan favourites, especially in the #patch (more on that in a moment).  And they loved seeing the top teams like Canada, Ontario, Alberta and Northern Ontario battle in the #Final4.  Sure I may be biased as Regina is my home town and I grew up loving curling from being raised here but the fans were great and packed the Brandt Centre!

2: #Patch - Welcome to the largest Patch in Brier history.  It was HUGE folks.  Even when the venue was packed with people it never really felt super packed.  Of course that can work for and against you.  When you are in there it is great.  You see a lot of people but you can still walk around and find people and not feel like you could never move.  On the flip side, a massive space can also make it feel like it is not as busy or as full as it really is.  For people who want to be in the "party" a vast space with people spread out everywhere may not feel like a great party atmosphere.  The early night close and last calls during the week were disheartening as there were always people looking for a party and wanting to continue the celebration.  The Friday night after the #Elite8 concluded was awesome but still felt a bit early for last call being before 1 a.m. and the dance floor just really picking up around 12:15 a.m.  Band selection during the final weekend was debatable as some enjoyed and some did not, especially their set list on Saturday night (plus why was the same band playing Friday and Saturday night??).  The patch is what it is.  A chance for fans to relax in between draws and party the night away at the end of the day.  Fans and teams got to interact.  #TeamFlow Quebec became VERY popular, especially with the ladies.  This blogger, who spent some time chatting with the boys in between draws and in the patch, had a few Quebec fans come up and ask "where are those Quebec boys? I really want to just maul them...they are so hot!".  Ok then....LOL  And Newfoundlands #TeamEnergy rocked the dance floor and every time I turned around skipper Greg Smith was taking pics with fans.  Many of the teams were doing the same, these are just two examples of teams utilizing the patch to #growthesport by making themselves available to fans.  Do the players want to kick back and relax after a long day?  Sure they do but those who make an effort in the patch to be fan available are the ones who truly embrace the spirit of what the patch is.  And of course you know #PolarPower Jamie Koe was the most popular every night!

3: #FormatFrenzy - Yes I discussed this already in the Brier Midterm Grades blog post so I will not harp too much on it here but it seems to remain a controversial topic.  I am going to pick on Brad Gushue a little bit here so I apologize now...and you all know I like The Goo so I don't mean this in a mean way.  Gushue was recorded earlier in the competition saying one of the things he didn't like about this format was not being able to see the other teams from the other pool, like Jacobs and Carruthers for instance.  Is that really an issue though?  Did you see those other teams more under the old format?  If you were playing when they were, you aren't watching their games.  When they play and you aren't, you can always go to the arena and watch or, in the case of scouting, is that not what your fifth/coach is doing anyways?  Plus, the old format had an even more unbalanced schedule where now you had 2 game day followed by 1 game day and back and forth (for the opening pool RR anyway).  I am not sure this is a strong rationale argument against the current format.  I still hold firm on saying lets give this another year and see how it grows on people.  Sure we had blowout games BUT did we not see blowout games in the Championship Pool as well (looking at you Manitoba).  Also remember, you cannot just look at scorelines and right away assume these games were horrible one-sided affairs.  One or two bad ends can cost you a game in 8 ends but for 6 or 7 of those ends there could be fine shot making and great games in play.  Besides the intensity sure ramped up for the #Elite8 and #Final4 no?  Speaking of.....

4: #MarchMadness - Welcome to March Madness for NCAA basketball.  Did you know they have a 68-team format spread out over a few weeks and always see buzzer beater games and blowouts?  Curling is very similar with this format.  We will have extra end last shot draws or miraculous hits for the W.  We will also have blowout games over after 6 ends but they have to play 8 because those are the rules (or 9 ends in the playoffs).  And, believe it or not folks, even the top ranked teams can get blown out and eliminated.  Better change the system then right?  Of course not!  What the NCAA does is market the tournament for what it is...excitement and high energy of teams working their way through a tournament to be crowned champion.  Why can curling not do the same?  You have your play-in game to become #TeamWC, similar to the play-in games added to the NCAA tournament.  You reach the mid-way point of the week and knock out half the teams.  Hmmm sounds like the opening weekend of March Madness.  You reach your #Elite8 phase.  You reach your #Final4.  You have your championship match and crown your victor.  Maybe the problem isn't necessarily in the format itself but in the marketing of the new format?  Why not market this tournament in a similar #MarchMadness format?  We even seed the teams!!!  Lets really make this fun and exciting.  Lets have some #BracketBusters.  Lets have our favourites.  And lets have the teams embrace the roles and their seed.  I entered the Brier as the #9 seed and advanced to the #Elite8 and proved to be a bit of a #BracketBuster knocking off the #1 seed.  I get the seriousness of the event but the NCAA tournament is pretty serious as well (plus a huge money maker) and they embrace the fun aspect of the product.  The time has come for Curling Canada to step up their marketing game and appeal to the new market....you know that market of sports fans out there who currently are not flocking to the curling rink to sign-up for leagues or pay for tickets to attend events live.  If we step outside the house and off the sheet of ice and really put some outside the box creativity into a marketing package this event could get more traction.  Even just walking around the merchandise area this week it was VERY familiar from every other Brier I have attended.  We have flags, mugs, shirts, polos, jackets....basically the same as every year just with a slightly different logo.  How about we throw together some socks?  Boxers?  Scarves?  Something....anything.  Can something change?  Or am I the only one who thinks this?

5: #Sportsmanship - When NL skip Greg Smith won the Sportsmanship Award a few fans on social media were questioning the decision.  "How could a player who broke their broom head in an opening game receive a sportsmanship award at the end of the week?" was the big question.  Look at the big picture folks.  The "broom head issue" happened in Smith's very first Brier game, a game he had a chance to win....oh and he is 21 years old and a guy full of emotion.  Smith wears his heart on his sleeve, on and off the ice.  Had you all been able to see Team Smith throughout the week each game and the emotion and energy and fun they were having, even while the scoreboard was not on their side, you would perhaps have a very different opinion.  I partly blame TSN on not fully capitalizing on Smith's potential.  People in the stands were a bit slow to warm-up to him (especially after the broom incident) but by their third game people were loving him and laughing with him and enjoying the action on the ice.  I had conversations with numerous people in the crowd and at the patch saying all they wanted was to meet Smith and shake his hand/take their picture with him and thank him for being who he is and adding character and personality to the ice.  We have many athletes who hold back or show little emotion throughout a game/event and fans are growing tired of it.  We want our athletes to be true to themselves and show who they are.  Let the fan base in on getting to know you and let them be a part of the experience with you.  Greg Smith, you did this all week and you are more than deserving of this award!  Emotion gets the best of us all.  Have you ever had a moment in a work setting or family gathering where emotions get the best of you?  *everyone raise your hand*  Exactly!

6: #RaisedExpectations - This is a delicate subject folks but lets dive into it collectively and with best intentions.  We are in a new generation.  A social media landscape where all actions are under a microscope, whether you want them to be or not.  Athletes around the world live in a fish bowl nowadays and the time has come for curlers to recognize they are not immune.  The sport is fighting right now for inclusion into the professional sport discussion and trying to continue to grow past the amateur sport phase.  This is growth and this is great for curling.  But with growth comes responsibility.  The days of showing up at a Brier or Scotties or tour event and playing your games followed up by just drinking away all night are gone.  Ok not gone but maybe need to be more private?  You want to be a professional athlete and treated with the same respect as such then your actions need to be held to the same standards, more so at national championship events.  Lets be honest, some curling fans only truly get into the sport during the Scotties/Brier because they enjoy waving their provincial/territorial flag and showing pride in where they live.  Fans are not necessarily going to know who you are as the representative or know your background or history.  They are there to cheer you on because you have their province/territory name on your back.  And that comes with heavy weighted responsibilities.  Every action you take is under watch.  When you are in public you are being watched.  When an athlete decides to verbally admit to having a limit on the number of autographs they will sign after games or an athlete going out and getting intoxicated and destroying hotel rooms is not the look of a professional sport and its athletic representatives.  Sure have fun and enjoy....and drink!  But be responsible with your new found fame...even if it is just for a week.  On and off the ice is the same, as athletes you are always ON and representing your province/territory, your fanbase and your sport.  One small action (see Smith above) can create a ripple effect of judgement, sometimes positive sometimes negative.  And sports fans can be fickle beasts with long memories.  Whether in the patch or in the hotel or out at a local establishment, take advantage of the envious position you are in.  People are looking up to you, especially the next generation of the sport.  You are becoming idols and mentors.  You are role models.  Seize this, and not just for your own personal ego.  Go out in the patch crowd and chat with fans.  Be engaging.  Be friendly.  Enjoy a few cold ones but in a responsible manner.  You want to be a professional athlete, actions need to follow.  You simply cannot have it both ways of being designated a professional sport and a professional athlete but have complete anonymity with your actions.  Is it fair?  Perhaps not but if you want the sport to elevate to the professional level you have to take the advantages with the responsibilities folks!  Ever notice what athletes in professional sports (ie: hockey, baseball, football) are doing in between games all season, including playoffs?  Besides training they are out doing public engagement for their team and sport.  Visits to hospitals and schools.  Talking to people at public events OUTSIDE the arena and playing field.  Imagine that?  Hmmm the Pasqua Hospital was literally a walk or 90sec drive to the Brandt Centre.  Imagine a team taking time out on one of those early one game playing days and visiting patients who may have been watching on TV.  How is that for #growthesport.  Oh but the athletes need to rest and train and practice and all that jazz?  Don't hockey players and football players need the same?  You cannot tell me a hockey player can take time out during the Stanley Cup finals or a football player during Super Bowl weekend for public appearances but curlers cannot do the same at a national championship event?  Come on....#BeBetter!  If you want to be a professional sport and be recognized as a professional athlete, step up your game boys and girls and start acting like it...and not with ego or entitlement but rather giving back ALL the time.  Hosting camps and attending charity curl events is great but that is a very small piece of the puzzle here...and those are events where people are paying to see you.  If junior hockey players in the WHL can make public appearances to help the team and sport identity, why can't you!?!  Hey, I am a blogger so I clearly understand the dichotomy of this argument and recognize the very small role I play in this subject.  But maybe just maybe lets work together in making sure people see the positive and greatness in our sport and our athletes.

7: #TheShuffle - Should we just start the debate now?  We know what happened after the Scotties, it was a post-mortem of team announcements.  Anyone who isn't expecting the same to happen with the men is lying to themselves.  We will dive into this more in a future blog post I am sure but we can certainly start taking some stock in the rumor mill post-Brier.  As we saw with the women, everyone flocked to Buffalo Hunting....should we see the same with the men?  Well it certainly looked like the two Manitoba teams in Regina were on their last legs.  The McEwen breakup rumors are not new, they have been around for years.  They stuck out another Olympic cycle but it appears this train has reached its destination.  The team did not look like themselves this week, both on the ice performance but also in team dynamic.  There were eye rolls and communication gaps.  So what happens now that the break-up announcement has been made?  Well McEwen and Carruthers are best buds.  And Carruthers had an underperforming Brier losing their final 5 games, including being outscored 30-12 in their championship pool games.  Plus did anyone else notice just as much of a lead presence in the team shooting discussions as the vice, almost like too many cooks in the kitchen?  Is Moskowy already planning a move back home to Sask?  Could Rama be prepping Hodgson for the next chapter?  This is assuming as well Hodgson is not hitting the IR sometime in the near future.  There seemed to be a nagging hip or lower body injury being monitored.  Or maybe the three best friends (McEwen, Carruthers, Hodgson) finally team up and try to form their own version of a #TeamBFF Manitoba super team?  And what about Matt Dunstone?  Can't see him staying in green.  Does he rejoin his junior champion squad?  Maybe he jumps forces with #TeamBFF?  How about the Muyres boys and Moskowy?  What about Pat Simmons coming back and perhaps hitting the ice with Steve Laycock?  Hey Catlin Schneider, what are you doing next season?  Perhaps a mentorship partnership with Simmons and you come back home to Saskatchewan?  Speaking of Schneider, what happens to his former team of Team Cotter?  Cannot imagine Johnny Mo is staying "in" BC and with Team Joanisse already announcing their breakup, what happens out west?  Team Geall, your play!  Plus don't forget about Marc Kennedy's retirement announcement.  What happens with the current Team Koe squad?  Do they simply replace or do they all go their own ways now?  John Epping is also no stranger to shifting the house in front of him, does he do the same?  Most would say for certain he does.  Jean-Michel Menard has been the face of Quebec curling for years but after failing to make the Brier this season we will be seeing a shuffle here.  What about #TeamFlow?  Could they stick together and perhaps take advantage of a defending champion role?  We know Team Jacobs has announced they are sticking together but outside of them, will any of the other teams competing this week survive the post-Olympic ax?  Time will tell but I think we can start making some pretty clear assumptions folks!  Remember next season is the throw-away year, in terms of Olympic qualification points I mean.  If guys are looking to make moves, both for their curling and personal lives, next season is the one to make the shift.

8: #TheGreatDivide - Nunavut forced to play 8.  WC/NOnt allowed to shake after 6.  BC/NB forced to play 8.  What is going on here?  Did we see the two-tiered system play out right in front of our eyes at the Brier by the Curling Canada officials?  It sure seemed that way didn't it!  Earlier in the competition Nunavut was down big after 6 and both teams approached the official asking if they could shake hands and end the game.  They were informed the rules state games must be played to the completion of 8 ends.  Ok those are the rules.  But then what happened in the RR game between WC and Northern Ontario where they were allowed to shake hands after 6?  I was at this game.  I saw it go down.  Yup Jacobs scored 6 in the opening end and it was game over early.  And yes, in the 6th end Jacobs threw both his skip stones through the house.  And yes, with his first McEwen pulled a spinorama shot.  This all went down folks.  So why when these teams said they were going to shake hands and end the game was it allowed?  Advance to the next morning draw.  NB scores a whopping 7 on BC in the 6th end and when those teams asked if they could shake hands they were told they needed to play 8 ends.  In a placement draw game....after both teams had already been eliminated.  Huh?  Anyone else see some hypocrisy going on here?  Now I am sure the officials and Curling Canada have a very professional and, in their opinion, valid response to this.  But will any response actually justify this?  From the pure perspective on the fans watching at home and in the stands, this left a very odd and sour taste in the mouths of many.  Oh you think I was the only one raising an eyebrow here?  Quite the opposite.  I had a few people bring this up in conversation at the patch Friday night.  I fielded a few messages on social media.  I even had colleagues and friends watching at home asking what was going on here and why two "grand slam elite teams" were allowed to shake after 6 ends while others were denied the same request.  Sure McEwen/Jacobs could have said they were just going to go up and down the sheet with takeouts and blank the next two ends, which would have been boring for the fans in the stands (TSN had already abandoned this game...finally....although after forcing curling fans to endure 5 ends of play).  But so what?  If that is the game those two teams wanted to play so be it.  Rules are rules right?  What were they going to do if told no?  Walk off the ice and refuse to play?  Of course not!  The quick response is maybe the 8 end requirement is not needed, especially if the game is not a TV game or is no longer being featured.  But the bigger question that fans and teams should be asking is why it is ok for some but not for others?

9: #TeamCanada - What is there left to say about Team Gushue that has not been said in the past 2 years?  This is arguably the top team in the world over the past two seasons and continued to showcase their talents en route to their repeat title W in Regina.  Gushue, Nichols and Gallant were all 1st Team All-Stars while Walker was named 2nd Team (although overall percentages showed Gallant tied for the top spot).  This was the best team all week, losing only one game in the opening RR to Alberta....whom they sought revenge on in the final.  The focus now shifts over to Las Vegas as Team Gushue, once again Team Canada, will try to pull the very rare Tim Hortons Double-Double claiming the Brier and World Championship titles in back to back seasons.  This would be quite an impressive feat having only been done 5 times in the past by only 4 skips: Ernie Richardson (1959/60 and 1962/63), Ron Northcott (1969/70), Don Dugid (1970/71) and Randy Ferby (2002/03).  The #TwineTime blog will be in Vegas for the second half of the event and will look forward to seeing Team Gushue chase the history books.  The entire Brier event was exciting to watch but all week you just had a feeling this was going to be culminate with a #defendtheice moment.

10: #Nickism - If you were following along with this very blog on twitter you should be very familiar with a Nickism.  The added bonus of the Brier being in my home town was getting to spend some time with my brother and taking him to a few days of curling.  He loved it!  He felt like a rock star meeting so many teams, athletes and fans.  He became a mini-celebrity.  His comments throughout the games were amazing: "They have N-O on the back of their shirts to mean 'No you can't beat us' right?" or "Oh so that's what those bumper things are for at the end.  They are butt bumpers for the guys to sit on and relax.  They look comfortable."  How can you not love it?  Special thanks to all the teams who said hi to Nick, signed autographs, took pictures and even surprised him with a few gifts (looking at you #TeamPacific BC with the jersey and #TeamFlow QC with the signed flag).  For the most part almost all the teams were extremely friendly and accommodating with Nick.  The Brier atmosphere created life-long memories for him and, at the end of the day, what more could I really ask for as not only a curling fan but a brother?!

Extra End: #FearTheMoose - I feel for Team Jacobs.  For the second year in a row they lose the 3vs4 PPG.  Sure they had their moments during the week where they did not look as strong but heading into the Championship Pool you certainly felt they would be a contender to challenge Gushue.  All props to Team Bottcher for not only beating them in the final RR game to claim the 3rd seed (and hammer in the playoff game) but then returning to the ice the next day and knocking them off again.  This team has been very dominant picking up W's during their last 4 Brier appearances but then seem to hit a wall in the playoffs.  Now for the more personal side.  Two years ago Jacobs results was the cheery on top of my Brier Pool sundae securing the overall title.  Last year their loss cost me the shot at defending my title.  And this year, their loss once again denied me a spot in the Top 4 making some money.  If you listened to the Brier Preview blog post with special guest Matt Hall you would have heard me make mention of this ominous fact....now the question is who is really jinxing who?  Is Jacobs robbing me of Brier Pool glory or is #TwineTime the actual mysterious figure preventing them from finding success?  How about this Team Jacobs: Lets try again next year?  Can we still be friends?

What do you think #curling fans?  How would you rate the Brier this year?  Share your comments on the final takeout hits above or any other thoughts you have with me in the comments section below or hit me up on twitter.

#StayTuned as well....we have LOTS of curling still to come this season.  The Elite 10 grand slam event starts this week (yikes for those teams who competed in Regina, especially late into the week).  This blog will not be doing an event preview this year either.  As I have mentioned in the past, this "slam" event is not one I am a huge fan of.  But even personal reasons aside, until this event is held for both the men and women I will not be covering it.  This is 2018...why do we have a men's only slam?  Now of course rumor has it the addition of a women's field into the event is coming (perhaps 2019?!) so stay tuned for a potential announcement.  And if not, and you agree with this blog, share your thoughts with those in power and let them know you support #genderequality!

We also have the Women's World Curling Championships starting this weekend in North Bay, ON.  Team Jones, now Team Canada, will try to keep the title with the maple leaf after Team Homan won the world championship a year ago.  She will not have an easy time though....an event preview WILL be coming your way soon.

Not to mention two more slam events this season and the Men's World Curling Championships in Las Vegas (which #TwineTime will be attending).

Sidenote: in non-curling news, the NCAA #MarchMadness men's basketball tournament hits the hard court this Thursday with the first round of games.  For those interested in adding some intrigue and fun to the tournament, join the #TwineTime Tournament Challenge!  Fill out a bracket...or two...or three...and see how you do against the competition.  No cost and enter just for the thrill of it...and perhaps some bragging rights.  Can you beat #TwineTime?  And yes, there is a Women's #TwineTime Tournament Challenge group as well!

Thanks again Curling Canada and everyone who I met and chatted with during the entire run of my time in Regina for the Brier.  I was fortunate to catch up with old friends.  I was lucky enough to meet new friends.  I was even surprised to meet a few twitter followers and humbled by teams and fans knowing who I was and being familiar with the blog.  Thank you as well to the countless amount of volunteers.  They truly do outstanding work and put in the long hours to help make the event a success.  I certainly drank my fair share of coffee when they asked if I needed anything...those 9 a.m. draws were a bit tough some mornings.

Thank you to everyone....I hope you enjoyed the coverage!