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Tuesday, 12 January 2016

#BetweenTheSheets: Sounds From The Skins
#TwineTime talks to All-Star curlers in Banff

As I sit back home fondly remembering my time in Banff over the weekend, I cannot help but feel a slight sense of sadness for it all coming to an end.  The TSN All-Star Curling Skins Game was a great experience from start to finish.  The unique, intimate venue allowed fans to really engage and participate in the action on the ice while providing the all-star curlers the opportunity to show a more playful, fun side of themselves.

As a blogger, it can sometimes be difficult to find time to interview the athletes we all watch and cheer for on the ice week in and week out during the season.  Luckily for me, this weekend provided an opportunity I would not normally have....the chance to talk, even for a few brief minutes, with some of the top curlers in Canada.  By the end of the weekend, I had some one-on-one time with 10 different all-stars, including 6 Olympic Champions!  I even was fortunate enough to snag one special interview...but more on that below.

My interview schedule started on Friday night with Val Sweeting, following her semi-final win over rival Rachel Homan.  The full interview can be found on my Friday review blog HERE.

#SuperSaturday would see three semi-final games played throughout the day, both men's and the remaining women's.  This would mean I had ample opportunity to get to know a few of the players.  For a full review of the games on the ice, visit my Saturday rewind blog HERE.

The first match was the men's semi-final between Team Gushue and Team Simmons.  After the Team Gushue victory, I had some time to talk with winning skip Brad Gushue about the skins environment, St. John's hosting the 2017 Tim Hortons Brier and his rivalry with Matt Blandford:

TwineTime (TT):  Congratulations on the big win today.

Brad Gushue (BG):  Thank you.

TT:  How do you feel about the game?

BG:  Great.  I thought we played really good.  I thought Mark (Nichols) played phenominal.  I felt really good.  The last rock I threw a little wonky but we got the result we needed.  It was a good game.  It was fun.  I thought we read the ice and had a good feel for it.

TT:  Excellent.  The skins game is a totally different format from what you play all year.  How do you prepare for it, especially after a holiday break?

BG:  You know, for us, we didn't change anything.  We don't give up many steals as a team so that's good.  You aren't going to lose many skins that way.  We felt if we could chip away and maybe get a couple deuces, I like our chances.  Unfortunately with this format you have to win (ends) 7 or 8.  You can win the first 6 (ends) and still lose.  It's a little bit of timing and I don't want to say luck but you have to time the good end and make sure you win the 7th or 8th.  We did that.  We put ourselves into a position going into the 7th where if we win that we win the game and if we didn't we could still win the 8th.  We gave ourselves a couple options, which is nice.

TT:  For sure.  So what is your favorite part about participating in the skins?

BG:  I like it being the only game and having the fans so close.  It's a very intimate setting.  You can have fun and chat with the fans.  Even though we are playing for some big money, I feel very relaxed more so than in a Brier game or even a slam game.  Even though the money is bigger, it is more relaxing for me and I seem to enjoy it a little bit more.

TT:  Were you guys able to feed off the energy of the crowd?  They seemed to be pretty engaged with you guys on the ice.

BG:  Yeah, it was fun.  Mark is really good at doing that too.  We can engage with them but focus back in when we need to.  We have been around the game long enough and been around this environment long enough where we are able to enjoy it.  Generally when you enjoy it you are going to perform better at it.  I think that is what helped us today.

TT:  Excellent.  Your season has been very successful so far.  How do you keep that momentum going up to provincials and, hopefully, towards the Brier?

BG:  Yeah, it's going to be a challenge.  We have our provincials in two weeks.  With this weekend it will help us get ready and back into the swing of things.  But if we are fortunate to get through the provincials it is going to be a long break so we are a bit concerned about that.  If we do get through, we are going to have to put a plan in place and a schedule in place to get ready because 6 weeks is a long time.  6 weeks without games is a long time.  We have to make sure we are physically ready and mentally ready and game ready.

TT:  Now you were monumental in helping to bring the Brier to St. John's in 2017, how do you feel like that will help #growthesport in the province of Newfoundland & Labrador?

BG:  I think it is going to do a ton for us.  The Brier, year in and year out, is the biggest event.  Obviously every four years the Olympics takes over but in 2017 it is going to be the biggest event up to that point.  The ticket sales are going to be phenominal, we are going to be sold out.  If we can get some young kids down there to see it and see the kind of environment that they could play in if they practice and work at it, it may draw more people to the clubs.  Even with adults for the social part of the game.  It is going to do nothing but help.  How much I have no idea.  It is going to be on the stakeholders with Newfoundland Curling and for the clubs and provincial association to put a plan in place to really capitalize on it.  Hopefully that is what is going to happen.  I haven't been a part of that but I intend on getting that conversation started.  Hopefully we can do a good job on capitalizing on it and not let the opportunity go to waste.

TT:  And not to look too far ahead but is it a bit of pressure that if you make the Brier this year, there could be an opportunity to have two Newfoundland teams at the Brier in 2017?

BG:  Oh no, absolutely that is a goal of ours.  We would love to have two Newfoundland teams.  It also guarantees us a spot because you never know what is going to happen at provincials.  If we can solidify our spot a year in advance, that would be really nice.

TT:  For sure.  I did an interview with Matt Blandford and he was the last man to beat you at a provincial championship and he said you guys have a great rivalry.  Any comment back to Mr. Blandford?

BG:  *laughing*

TT:  *laughing*  He did mention you have beaten him more times than he has beaten you.

BG:  *laughing*  He has beaten me a couple times.  He was the last team to beat us at provincials.  Beyond that, I am sure he has probably beaten us another time.  The only other guy who really only had any long-term success against us or beat us was Mark Noseworthy.  He seemed to up his game when he played us and fortunately for us we always beat him in the final.  I think we beat him 3 years in a row in a final.  He would beat us in super league play or in the round robin.  But yeah, Matt did beat us too.  I remember that game.  Matt played really well.  Matt is a good curler.  We played him a couple times with his Calgary team.  He has really developed into a good curler.  I think he is playing out of Yukon this year so there is a good chance for him to get to the Brier and hopefully we get to play him there.

TT:  Excellent.  Well good luck and we will see you in the final.

BG:  Thanks.

After interviewing the 2006 Olympic Champion, you have a strange sense of accomplishment as a small blogger.  How can you follow that up?  Well the next match of the day was the second women's semi-final between 2014 Olympic Champs Team Jennifer Jones and the #TwineTime projected 2015/16 Rookie of the Year Team Kelsey Rocque.

At the end of the game I had the chance to briefly talk with the two-time defending Canadian and World Junior Champion Kelsey Rocque:

TT:  First skins game for you, how did you feel out there?  How did you like it?

Kelsey Rocque (KR):  It was really, really fun.  I have never played in an environment like this before obviously and it was really cool to play against Jen Jones.  It is a great experience.

TT:  You went shot for shot with her the whole game.  It came down to the end.  You cannot be too disappointed with that?

KR:  Yeah, definitely not.  It wasn't the greatest played game but we for sure went shot for shot.

TT:  How did you feel going into that last draw?  What happened?

KR:  I felt ok.  It just got tight early.  It was really fudging up in the middle and just dies really fast if you get a little tight.

TT:  Now looking forward you guys have Alberta provincials coming up is that right?

KR:  Yup.

TT:  How are you guys preparing for that?

KR:  We are going to go back home and practice and hang out.  It is the next event we leave for so hopefully some rest and recovery and a lot of practice.

TT:  Excellent.  A lot of people online, myself included, have been saying you guys are really the Rookie of the Year team this year.  You have been playing outstanding curling all year.  How do you feel about that?

KR:  We have been having a really good year, especially with me coming right out of juniors and not having the experience of the girls.  It is only our first year together.  For the most part we have been having a great season and we cannot complain too much.

TT:  Excellent.  How did you like the energy of the crowd today?

KR:  It is really cool.  It is so loud and exciting.  I just love being here, all 4 of us do.

TT:  Excellent, it was great to watch.  Good luck at Alberta provincials.

KR:  Thank you.

Next up, a HUGE #fanboy moment as a curling fan and blogger....the opportunity to have a brief one-on-one interview with 2014 Olympic Champion, current Canadian Champion Jennifer Jones to talk skins, the crowd and catch up with hubby Brent Laing:

TT:  Nice to meet you and congratulations on the win today.

Jennifer Jones (JJ):  Nice to meet you.  Thank you.

TT:  How did you feel about the game?

JJ:  It felt good.  It's our first game on the ice (for 2016) so you know you are going to have a couple of misses out there but I thought they played great and we were able to make some big shots when it mattered to pick up the win.

TT:  How do you guys prepare for the skins game?  It is a totally different format than what you play the rest of the year.

JJ:  We honestly don't prepare any different.  It's curling at the end of the day.  It's just that it is 8 mini-games.  It's a lot more rocks in play then maybe we normally have but we are also a team who likes a lot of rocks in play.  It is something we are very comfortable doing.

TT:  What is your favorite part about coming back to the skins every year?  You are a seasoned vet at it now.

JJ:  *laughing*  That it is the skins.  You get to come back.  You are in Banff.  Look at the mountains.  There are so many amazing moments.  It's great for the women to be here, we are thrilled.

TT:  What about the crowd?  How did you feel about the crowd today?

JJ:  It's awesome.  They are right here which is exciting.  We don't get to play with such an intimate crowd  very often.  It makes the event even more special.

TT:  And they seem to love you.  Every time you get to talk to them, they get really happy.

JJ:  It is great.  Kelsey is from Alberta so it was a really lively crowd today.  It made for a really exciting game.  I am sure it will be the same tomorrow.

TT:  Speaking of tomorrow, you get another Albertan.  You could really be crushing Alberta hopes this weekend.

JJ:  *laughing* I hope so.  No, no just kidding.

TT:  You get Val tomorrow, how do you feel about that match up?

JJ:  They are a tremendous team.  We know we are going to have to play our best.  They are also some of the best people on tour and we always have a ton of fun playing against them.

TT:  Have you heard anything from Mr. Brent Laing while he has been over in Scotland?

JJ:  I have.  We just facetimed.  They are having a great time over there and just loving Scotland.  I am sure they cannot wait to come back home.  There is nothing like coming back home to Canada.

TT:  And they have their quarterfinal game coming up this morning...

JJ:  Tomorrow morning..

TT:  *laughing* Whatever the time difference makes it being.

JJ:  *laughing*  Yeah it's night time for them.

TT:  Well good luck and look forward to seeing you again on Sunday.

JJ:  Thanks a lot.

Have to admit, after talking to two Olympic champions in a span of a few hours gets your heart racing a bit.  Sure, I know for traditional media members who talk with these athletes on a regular basis it may be no big deal but for a fan of the sport and someone who enjoys the sport, the chance to connect with them is a big deal.  And the experience was far from over.

The final match for #SuperSaturday truly was a Saturday Night's Main Event contest with 2014 Olympic Champs Team Brad Jacobs squaring off against Team Mike McEwen.

Following the game, I had the chance to talk with a skip I have been cheering for and been a big fan of for many years now, Mike McEwen as we talk skins prep, curlers giving back, a new coach and fatherhood:

TT:  A great game tonight, how did you feel out there?

Mike McEwen (MM):  Felt good.  You know it is skins and it is going to come down to 7 and 8.  We kind of got unlucky.  Matty's picked and we sort of got in a situation where we had to bang our way out.  We would have liked to get it to a draw to the button for the win.  But it didn't happen.  Otherwise it felt great.

TT:  It was an interesting game.  Lots of stealing ends.

MM:  Yeah it was pretty aggressive the first four ends and then tightened up the last four.  You try to jockey to have to two shots to win rather just one opportunity.  I thought we played really well.  The margin of error is so small and sometimes that is all it takes to lose.

TT:  For sure.  Do you guys do anything different to prepare for the skins in comparison to the rest of the year and other events?

MM:  We played a practice game and talked a lot about strategy, maybe more so than we normally do.  So yeah, we prepped a little bit.  You definitely set up ends a little differently than you would normally.  The first couple of shots are different.

TT:  We were watching social media during the game and you got some comments about the new jerseys.  Let's talk about them.  They are going towards supporting a good cause.

MM:  Yeah it is The Dream Factory based in Winnipeg.  It is an opportunity to help kids who have life-threatening illnesses and have a wish come true.  Our main sponsor, AFIG Financial Services, did a major golf tournament this summer to raise some money and we thought this would also be a great opportunity to do a special edition jersey and donate a bit of money ourselves.  These jersey's will go to The Dream Factory association to auction off.  Hopefully we can make a little bit of a difference in somebody's life.

TT:  That is very cool.  It is great to see curling athletes giving back.  Congrats to you guys on doing this.

MM:  Thanks.  Thank you very much.

TT:  Good luck going into Manitoba provincials.

MM:  We are more prepared than ever.  We have beefed up our bench with Jon Mead.  We are more prepared than we have ever been and that is all we can ask for.

TT:  And how are things going with Jon being your coach for this year?  Good things have been happening.

MM:  Yeah.  But then he goes away and is not with us.  *laughing* He is not cheap.  It is tough to take him on the road with us everywhere.  But when he is with us we perform very well.  We won a grand slam with him on the bench.  A Canada Cup final with him there.  He kind of completes the team and rounds us out really well.  He has that demeanor off the ice that kind of loosens us up.  He also has a really good eye for all the finer details of the game.  He has been there and done everything just about.  He has been an amazing edition.  It is what we wanted to do, beef up the line-up going into provincials.

TT:  For sure.  So basically you need to win more skins games to afford him but at the same time he is not here so do you blame this loss on him then?

MM:  *laughing*  Yeah.  Or you can spin it the other way and say maybe we can't not afford to bring him.  Make it a double negative there.  Maybe we should just buck up.  But his wife and kids may say otherwise.  Everyone needs a balance with hitting the weekend's on the road.  He has a life balance too so we try to take him as often as we can.

TT:  *laughing* Fair enough.  Now speaking of life balances, you are here, Dawn is here, new baby is here too correct?

MM:  Yup, she is.

TT:  Is this the first big event with the family together?

MM:  No, she has been to a few events.  This is the first event my mom got to be grandma and take her to Banff and experience some really cool events.  Curling is just one part of it.  Dawn is going to be in Vegas next weekend for the Continental Cup so there is no way she is going to get to go to this event and Vegas.  I am going to parent next week.  We are happy to have her come around with us on tour as much as we could, especially when she is young.  Dawn especially...you know how mom's are?

TT:  *laughing*  Yeah, of course.

MM:  *smiling*  She can't even part.  I don't blame her.  She is an excellent baby!

TT:  Excellent.  Well congratulations on fatherhood and congratulations and good luck on the rest of the season.

MM:  Thank you very much I appreciate it.

TT:  Thanks Mike.

MM:  Thank you.

So cool my #TwineTime friends.  I have always heard Mike McEwen was a great guy and easy to talk to and I can now say this is the absolute truth.

No rest for the voice though....as soon as I finished speaking with Mike, 2014 Olympic Champion Brad Jacobs was standing next to me.  Brad and I spoke about skins strategy, appreciation for curling fans and manscaping?

TT:  Aggressive game today right from the get go.  Was that the plan all along to go hard right from the beginning?

Brad Jacobs (BJ):  That's skins.  That's was skins does.  Score doesn't matter.  You are trying to get two points when you have hammer.  You are trying to get steals.  Score doesn't matter, you can go after your opponent every end.  Both opponents kind of go at it and everything comes down to the last couple of ends.

TT:  So what is it about skins that works so well for you guys?  Third year here, defending champions.  What about the game do you like so much?

BJ:  It's fun.  There are lots of rocks in play.  You are playing shots that you normally wouldn't play that are challenging and you play them often.  It's a really fun format for the fans.  It's a really fun format for all the teams.  Everyone really loves it.  I don't think we would want to play this format all the time because it is a little bit unpredictable but it is super fun.  To come to Banff and play in this event, we are fortunate to play here and be in another final.

TT:  And how was the crowd tonight?

BJ:  I think the crowd was great.  They were cheering for both teams.  They may have been cheering for McEwen more than us by the sounds of it but that is the way it goes.  We are fine with that.  The crowd is amazing.  Every time we come out to this event, or any event, not only are we trying to execute and win games but we also try to do our best to entertain the crowd and make sure every ticket they purchase to a curling game is well worth it.  That is our job as performers out here.  We also have that in mind and we try to do that.

TT:  And you guys seem to really bring the intensity, which the crowd really seemed to enjoy tonight.

BJ:  Absolutely.  That is the only way to play.  Any sport at this level, you play as intense as you possibly can.  I think when spectators see that, they appreciate that.

TT:  Very true.  So you get Gushue tomorrow in the final.  You guys know each other pretty well.

BJ:  Oh yeah.  It is going to be a back and forth aggressive battle.  I am sure there is going to be some great shots made.  Once again, hopefully super entertaining for the crowd and hopefully we can get past them.

TT:  My last question for you is with a new look going on, rocking the facial hair.  Lots of people talking about it on social media.  What's going on with the new look?

BJ:  *laughing*  You know, a couple of things.  I always wanted to try and grow a beard and I have never really able to get past that itchy stage.  I finally was able to get past it.  My dad told me to just push through it and you won't even know it's there.  And also my hair line is not getting any better.  I went for the shaved head.  My wife doesn't necessarily like it.  Most women so far in my life have negative things to say about it.

TT:  *laughing*  That was going to be my next question to you, how does the wife like it?

BJ:  *laughing*  It is what it is.  You know I am not out to impress anyone.  This is maintenance free for me.  I'm not looking for anymore stress.  And you know what?  I like it!

TT:  Well maybe eventually you can match the gentleman in the crowd who had his beard dyed in the Pinty's colors tonight.

BJ:  Yeah, I don't know about that.

TT:  How long are you going to go with it for?

BJ:  My barber told me to come back and see him in a few weeks and that was about a week or so ago.  I try to trim it up and maintain it.  I don't want it to get out of control or anything.  Keep it under control and hopefully people get used to the new look.

TT:  Well if it works and you keep winning with it maybe it will be your lucky charm.

BJ:  *laughing*  You never know.

TT:  Excellent.  Good luck in the final tomorrow.  Thanks Brad.

BJ:  Take care.

Phew, what a day rock heads.  Three massive games on the ice.  5 big player interviews in the books.  Almost feeling like a real journalist out there.  Before I left the arena, I took a look around and just soaked it all in, feeling very appreciative and humbled by this experience.

Now bring on #ChampionshipSunday!!!  For a full end by end recap of both championship games, check out my blog post HERE.

The women's final saw Team Jennifer Jones make an amazing comeback to beat Team Val Sweeting.  Following the game, I had the opportunity to speak with Team Sweeting vice Lori Olson-Johns to discuss the special environment of the Skins Game, interaction with the crowd and her husband getting some possible TV love:

TT:  That was an exciting game with an exciting finish.  How did you feel about it?

Lori Olson-Johns (LOJ):  You know what, it is so fun to play in this environment.  We are honoured to be chosen to participate in this event.  Any time you are playing a final against Olympians, it is pretty cool.  It was a great match all around.  It came down the final rock and that is what you want.  Obviously we would have liked to hold up the cheque but they are a great team and it was a great game all around.

TT:  It was also high energy from the crowd.  You guys had a lot of support of course being from Alberta.

LOJ:  Yeah, it feels great.  You know it is so nice to be out here and having your friends and your family because it is here in Alberta.  It just feels great to have that support.  We love it.  We love how intimate the setting is.

TT:  You seemed to really gravitate towards it.  You played with fans in between ends, you took pictures.  Your husband was into it.

LOJ:  *smiling*  My husband was trying to get some prime time TV time I think today shouting out.  He's great.  You know it helps me relax out there when people are loose and I think that is when I play my best.  At the end of the day this is a game and it is nice to remember those things.  I go home to great kids, a great husband, my job.  I don't have much to complain about.

TT:  That is great to hear.  And now you guys prep for Alberta Scotties coming up next?

LOJ:  Absolutely.  A week from now.  That is our goal, to get back to the Scotties and be Team Alberta in Alberta, that would be a dream come true.  So a week from now we will be dialed into that event.

TT:  Excellent.  Well congratulations.  Great game today and best of luck at Alberta Scotties.  I will see you there.

LOJ:  Thank you.  Excellent.

After a cheque presentation, on-ice celebrations and a little team selfie, I had the opportunity to chat with Team Jennifer Jones lead Dawn McEwen on what she loves about the skins, motherhood and what her and I have in common:

TT:  Congratulations on the big win today.  How did it feel out there?

Dawn McEwen (DM):  Thanks.  It felt great.  I thought it was a really exciting game to play on both sides.  It's always exciting to win these types of events.  It was really fun.

TT:  What do you like most about coming to play the skins game?  You guys are seasoned vets here.

DM:  It is really nice to have that intimate atmosphere with the fans and joke around.  Obviously having it in Banff is a beautiful setting.  The whole format is super fun and exciting for the players and the fans.  We are super fortunate to be involved with it.

TT:  Excellent.  Were you able to play off the energy of the crowd today?

DM:  Oh, totally.  Curling fans are great.  They are super friendly and supportive.  It just makes it that much more comfortable out here.

TT:  I was talking to your husband Mike last night about parenthood.  How is that?

DM:  *smiling*  It's great.  I love it.  She is four and half months now.  It is way better than I ever anticipated.  It is just amazing.

TT:  Right on.  Well actually we have something in common.  We both worked for Public Works (and Government Services Canada).  I was based in Edmonton.  You were in Acquisitions, is that correct?

DM:  Oh right on.  Yeah I still am, just on mat(ernity) leave right now.

TT:  Right on.  I also worked in acquisitions for awhile too.

DM:  Oh wow, very cool.

TT:  So how do you manage that work-life balance with curling?

DM:  Very supportive co-workers and management.  They have been very supporting since day 1 of me curling.  I would never be able to play without their support.  I am sure they are back home, watching and cheering.  My headquarters is in Ottawa and whenever I go back to Ottawa they always have stuff on the boards, pictures, newspaper clippings.  They are very supportive.  I am very lucky to have great employers and management to work with.

TT:  Very cool.  Last question now, with you guys having the bye to the Scotties (as Team Canada), you have Continental Cup next weekend but then after that how do you guys stay fresh, on top of it and prepared?

DM:  Yeah, just training.  Lots of training leading up to this.  We are fortunate enough to be in this position and to not have provincials so we know what we need to do leading up to the event.  I think we are in a good place.

TT:  Excellent.  Best of luck for the rest of year.  Thank you very much Dawn.

DM:  Thanks, I appreciate it.

As the women's final closes, preparation begins for the men's final.  A battle of Brad vs. Brad.  Following the hard fought affair seeing Jacobs defeat Gushue, I had the opportunity to chat with 2006 Olympic Champ and Team Gushue vice Mark Nichols about skins strategy and the 2017 Brier at home in St. John's:

TT:  What a great final.  Lived up to expectations for the crowd.  How did you feel being out there today?

Mark Nichols (MN):  Always a tough game when you play against Team Jacobs.  I don't think we played as good as we did in the semi-final and left a few shots out there.  They played really well.  The score doesn't show how close it was.  But that's skins.  It was a ton of fun, we just would have liked to have a shot or two more.

TT:  It seemed at times having the hammer was almost a detriment.  You guys played great defense.  They played great defense.  Both teams really pushed hard for those steals.  It was an interesting game.

MN:  Yeah that's skins.  The strategy changes a little bit too.  You are not afraid to leave rocks in play.  If you give up a big end, it doesn't matter for the next.  That is a strategy thing.  Skins is a whole different beast.

TT:  For sure.  Speaking of strategy, how do you guys prepare?  Coming off the Christmas holidays, coming into this event, what do you do to prepare for this?

MN:  We try to stay sharp.  Throw a lot of rocks.  I don't think you worry too much about trying to change anything.  You work on a few things over the break and try to play solid.  You know we played very well in the semi-final...we still played well in the final...it's just a couple shots here or there would have made a huge difference.

TT:  For sure.  And for you personally, why do you enjoy coming to this event: the crowd, the energy, the money?

MN:  *laughing*  Well yeah the money is always good.  But it is just different.  The crowd is right on top of you.  There is a lot of energy.  And, like you said, there is a lot of money on the line.  We don't play for this much money anywhere else on tour.  You would like to take advantage of those opportunities when you get them because you don't get them that often.

TT:  For sure.  Now looking ahead, you have provincials coming up and then if you make it through the Brier.  I talked about it with Brad (Gushue) yesterday, looking a bit into the future with the 2017 Brier coming to the hometown in St. John's.  Big opportunity to have two Newfoundland teams at a Brier for once, which would be great.  Do you think about that in the back of your mind or do you go with one event at a time?

MN:  Well you always think about it and how great it would be to play in a Brier in your hometown.  If we are ever lucky enough to be Team Canada at that Brier and have two Newfoundland teams, that is even better.  It is better for the draw, better for the fans.  We want to see as many people come out to watch that event as we can.  Like you said though, we are working one event as a time.  Let's get through provincials and make sure we are ready to go for that event.  We can then move on from there.

TT:  Excellent.  Actually I also know someone who is related to you.  I worked with him in Edmonton.  He always speaks very highly of you and talks about how great and nice of a person you are.

MN:  *laughing*  Well I pay him a lot of money to tell people that.  Our family is really close.

TT:  Excellent.  Well best of luck and hopefully we see you guys at the Brier.

MN:  Thank you very much.

As I wrap up my interview with Mark, I notice Ryan Fry quickly running out the door.  I wanted to grab a few quick minutes of his time and he was very open to chatting with me about the big win and what's next for Team Jacobs:

TT:  Congratulations on the big win today.  How did you guys feel on the ice tonight?

Ryan Fry (RF):  Thank you.  It felt good.  We played two great games and it felt good to start 2016 off with a win.

TT:  It was a very suspenseful game going down the last skin, as most skins games do.  The collection of 4 skins at the end though, you can never foresee that kind of suspense.

RF:  Yeah, it is so weighted heavily to the last part of the game.  You try to prepare yourself for that but that was a bit over the top.  But you know we will take it.  We played a good end and we got rewarded for it.

TT:  For sure.  Now coming out of the Christmas break, what did you do to prepare for the skins?

RF:  It really is just like everything else.  You are just planning to make shots.  The strategy changes a bit but the shot making really does not change.  It stays the same.

TT:  It's been a bit of a struggle this season, in comparison, collecting tour wins.  How do you feel about your season so far?

RF:  You know the season has been a little up and down.  We have played really well sometimes and horribly sometimes.  It is a big transition in trying to peak and build towards 2018.  It is a learning curve.  We are trying to get back to where we were.  We are trying to take it one step at a time.

TT:  Tonight, were you able to feed off the energy of the crowd with the skins environment?

RF:  For sure.  It is such a cool atmosphere having the fans so close to you.  You can hear everything and they can hear everything you say.  Sometimes that is not so good and sometimes it is good.  *laughing*  It is a great time.

TT:  Now any plans to celebrate with the nice winnings tonight?

RF:  The guys are going back on a flight to Sault Ste. Marie tonight.  I will probably have a couple drinks with the sponsors tonight.

TT:  Well enjoy, much deserved.  Thank you.

RF:  Thanks man.

As most of the curlers mentioned, Banff is truly a stunning backdrop for this event.  If any of you have the opportunity in the future to attend this event....or even just the time to come to Banff for a vacation....I highly recommend it.  I mean, could this view be any better?

How cool is it to chat with all these outstanding athletes?  At the end of the event, I still cannot believe I had some one-on-one time with 10 all-start curlers this weekend....6 of whom are Olympic Champions.  That is an all-star cast if I ever saw one.

I am very appreciative of each one of them for taking some time to chat with me...a blogger with a passion for the sport.

Now I promised a special guest interview...but I am going to leave you all in suspense for just a bit longer.  I want to devote a special blog post just to this interview.  It wasn't a super long interview but it was still a special one.  Stay tuned...it is coming very shortly I promise.

I hope you all enjoyed the #TwineTime coverage of the TSN All-Star Skins Game, whether from the recap blog posts or following the live event tweeting all weekend (hopefully both!!).  I am thankful to each of you for the support.  This opportunity and experience would not have happened without each of you taking time to read the blog and support it.

Bring on 2016 folks....it's going to get fun and interesting now!

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