Duguid's Brier set the bar

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:14 AM ET

The Winnipeg Arena will close its doors for good next month. Until then The Sun will bring you the stories that made the Old Barn memorable. From the original construction to the final buzzer, we'll take you through the history of a building that was never spectacular but always colourful as a sports venue.

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The Old Barn might be going down but the memory of one special week there will be forever indelibly etched in his mind.

Back in 1970, Donnie (The Digit) Duguid skipped a squad to the Brier title in front of his hometown fans in Winnipeg Arena.

"That was the start of big crowds in Brier history," Duguid recalled. "That set the bar for the Briers to come. It was great for curling. I mean, we had the bye in the first round and there were still 9,500 people at the Arena to watch. And it was such a great field."

That was about capacity of the place at the time. And record crowds came to watch legendary teams such as Alberta's Hec (The Gentle Giant) Gervais, Saskatchewan's Bob (Peewee) Pickering and B.C.'s Lyall Dagg.

"We played Pickering in the last game and you couldn't get a seat in the house," said Duguid, who was supported by Rod (The Arrow) Hunter, second Jim Pettapiece and Bryan Wood.

Funny thing is, Duguid was worried about how those hometown supporters would react had his first-year squad started off with a losing record.

"Playing in front of fans at home is wonderful if you're winning but, it's a lot worse if you're not winning," he said. "We were a first-year team so it was kind of unusual for us to win. But we were a very good team, right from lead to skip. We were a young team but we deserved to win."

The talented foursome kept right on posting victory after victory.

"It was like a big party," Duguid said. "You can't beat Winnipeg fans because they know more about curling than anyone else and they were very appreciative.

"It was the centennial year (for Manitoba) and we were winning. The crowds got louder and louder as the week went on. The more we won, the louder it got. They had as much fun as anyone else."

Duguid beat Gervais when the ice was still green but, by the time his foursome faced Pickering in the last match, it had settled in and was fast. But his team adjusted and captured the Canadian curling crown.

And when Duguid clinched the Brier title, bedlam reigned, raising the roof on the big barn.

"When we won, the crowd went nuts," Duguid said. "I remember Stewie McPherson grabbing me, then CBC grabbed me for an interview. The next day, the newspaper headlines said, 'Duguid for Mayor!'"

Duguid, of course, went on to win the first of two straight men's world crowns and the first of three straight captured by Manitoba.

But the bottom line was that curling had arrived as sport on the national scene and the Brier started to rival Grey Cup week as the event that could draw an entire country together.

Duguid went on to become a well-respected curling analyst for CBC-TV and continues to work colour for NBC's curling coverage in the U.S.

And 28 years after he won the Brier at Winnipeg Arena, Duguid watched his son, Dale, compete at the Brier in the same old barn.

So forgive the elder Duguid if a tear wells up in his eye the day they rip that Arena down.

"There's a lot of memories there, a lot of good memories," he said.


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