Scotties sputter in Oly shadow

GEORGE KARRYS, For QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:38 AM ET

It was a tough year for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, aka the Canadian women's curling championship.

The annual rockfest ran almost a month early, due to that big Olympic thing which starts soon. And its proximity to Vancouver 2010 meant battles for media space with endless pre-Games features.

Canada's Olympic women's team, the Cheryl Bernard foursome from Calgary, wasn't there (apart from a brief promotional visit). They could have tried to qualify to represent Alberta, but the handful of days between the STOH and Vancouver competitions was deemed too tight.

The location, Sault Ste. Marie Ont., wasn't exactly a tourism hotbed.

The curling itself was, at the beginning of the week, abysmal. The teams clearly struggled with the playing conditions and the television commentary turned into a public relations exercise in corporate apologies.

Speaking of television, the numbers were strong -- as usual -- but the veteran TSN curling trio of Vic Rauter, Linda Moore and the retiring Ray Turnbull often seemed tired and bored. Online critics criticized and then sang the praises of the second-year morning crew, Toronto's curling-savvy Brian Mudryk and curling legend Russ Howard. Everyone, it seems, is just waiting for Vancouver.

There is a dash of uncertainty around the Scotties, too.

Event chief Robin Wilson of Vancouver has suddenly bade farewell after 29 years at the helm, and while her special sendoff marked a magical night, many are asking why is she leaving ... and why now?

One bright spot was the appearance of more than a few fresh-faced rookies. Many of the first-time competitors, 17 in total, were young, attractive and showed off decent skills, and a few of them also showed nerves of steel.

Of particular note were P.E.I. youngsters Erin Carmody and Geri-Lynn Ramsay, who teamed with veterans Kathy O'Rourke and Tricia Affleck to impress all observers. The Spuds finished first in the round-robin at 8-3, battled back from an early playoff loss to mow down Ontario in the semifinal, and threw a serious scare into Team Canada's Jennifer Jones before falling in an extra end in a taut championship final.

Another was Ontario second Ashley Miharija, who moved from alternate position to second stone for Krista McCarville's squad and helped solidify a stronger front end.

Jones' Winnipeg crew heads to the Ford Worlds in Swift Current, Sask., in mid-March, but first Jones will blog for Yahoo! from the Olympic curling venue in Vancouver.

As for the Ontario Men's Tankard in Napanee?

With Wayne Middaugh not entered in the competition, the path was clear for Glenn Howard to win his fifth consecutive championship, and earn yet another trip to the Tim Hortons Brier.

Howard went undefeated and in the end, the only surprise was his opponent in the final. Instead of old friend and ex-teammate Peter Corner, who lost the previous two finals, it was 2003 champion Bryan Cochrane of Ottawa.

Next month's Brier will be different, with no Kevin Martin in the Halifax field and Brier rookie Kevin Koe finally representing Alberta, after defeating Randy Ferbey in the provincial final.

Team BC are also rookies -- with Jeff Richard stunning both Bob Ursel and Sean Geall in the final playoff games -- as is Ian Fitzner-Leblanc of the host province.

Howard and Newfoundland's Brad Gushue are familiar faces, as is New Brunswick champion James Grattan, who now skips Russ Howard's former team.

The eldest Howard did not enter provincial playdowns for the first time in 38 years.

The remaining men's provincial championships take place next weekend.

GEORGE KARRYS, AN OLYMPIAN, IS: CURLINGURU.COM


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