Martin has a vision

Ted Wyman -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:46 AM ET

ST. JOHN'S -- Kevin Martin knew how hard it would be to sell the Grand Slam and accompanying Brier boycott to Canadian curling fans as soon as he heard the reaction from a member of his own family. "People like my grandma ... she has passed away now but back when we started, she thought I was nuts," Martin said yesterday, recalling the early days of the Great Grand Slam Debate. "'What are you doing?' she would say to me. 'The Brier is the show ... you've got to go to that.'"

Martin, of course, did not take Grandma's advice and proceeded with a plan to band together with other top curlers around the country in an attempt to reshape the game.

This week's Players' Championship at Mile One Stadium marks the end of the third Grand Slam season and Martin, one of this country's most outspoken curlers, suggests that his actions and those of his colleagues have had a profound effect on the sport.

"In terms of a sport changing, this is very fast," Martin said. "It's progressing quicker than I ever thought it would. I think it's clear to see as you go across Canada, that the sport is growing."

Growing, but by no means at its ceiling.

Martin maintains a vision for the game that he believes could be implemented simply with a little help from the Canadian and provincial curling associations.

"My take on it is the most important thing is the youth," said Martin, a 37-year-old businessman from Edmonton. "Giving them a reason and an opportunity to become good at their sport and keep playing our sport are the foundations."

Players who participate in the World Curling Tour and Grand Slam have a pretty good chance of having a long season -- up to six months in length -- and Martin would like to see all competitive curlers have that opportunity.

That could be realized if the Canadian and provincial associations would consider standardizing playdowns, allowing exemptions for top Tour players, and working together with organizers of the Grand Slam to come up with a schedule that accommodates everybody.

SIX-MONTH SEASON

"Four years ago, the season of the upper-level curler was playing on the cash tour before Christmas, then switching to a playdown situation," Martin said. "Our young curlers would play in their playdowns, lose out in the regionals and then they were done.

"How does a guy who wants to become good, become good in a three-month season? We are killing him and we are killing our sport. Now, instead of having a three-month season, the top guys at each level have a six-month season. You look around here and there are a lot of young guys still curling at the beginning of April."

Martin's vision has been met with some resistance and some acceptance. The exemptions proposal has been floated in several provinces, with Alberta, Saskatchewan and Quebec buying in and Manitoba curlers voting against it.

Martin is undeterred.

"It's not that tough," he said. "If you don't get the vision, though, it's hard to make it happen. I think the grassroots guys (in Manitoba), if they see the whole picture, the same guys won't vote that way next time."

Martin sees a future schedule that includes all four Grand Slam events wrapped around the Brier and world championships after Christmas each year. This season, two of the Slam events were played before Christmas.

"Long-term, we have to have one Slam in January, one in February, one in March and one in April," Martin said.

"You would have provincials all on one weekend across Canada and all the top teams are in them. The Tour will promise we won't touch that week, we won't touch the Brier week and we won't touch the worlds. After Christmas is when we need to worry about young guys like (Brad) Gushue and (John) Morris. We need to have them curling every week, no matter what."


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