Clouds of controversy for curlers

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:37 AM ET

The 2003-04 season began with promise after an uneasy truce between the two battling factions -- but was soon marred by several other controversies. First, the rebellious Grand Slammers settled their differences with the Canadian Curling Association, meaning that Canada's top teams not named Ferbey or Morris would be back on the Brier ice trail. And squads named Stoughton, Burtnyk, Boehmer and Peters would return to provincial qualifiers.

Yet, there were still those who refused to accept that the Slam had actually stayed alive and used the Canada Cup controversy as fodder to spew their venom. Both original and non-Slam squads staged a sit-down strike to protest perceived favouritism towards Alberta's Randy Ferbey concerning a ruling by Cup officials. Although non-Slam teams were involved in the protest, the Slammers bore the blame. Consequently, the CCA introduced a rule to fine such protesters, but there was no punishment for any officials who screwed up.

Fast forward to the Brier where Ferbey was involved in more controversy. This time, CCA officials told his foursome it had to remove a sponsorship name on their clothing, despite the fact it included their own name. Ferbey then just missed making Brier history in Saskatoon when his foursome failed to win its fourth straight national title. And while Ferbey was going down in flames to Nova Scotia's Mark Dacey, an obnoxious fan started to heckle David Nedohin, who throws last rock for Ferbey. Alberta lead Marcel Rocque then shook his fist and threatened the idiot, who was escorted out of SaskPlace. Good thing Rocque had no Ron Artest in him.

Off the ice, the CCA was forced to announce the loss of Nokia as the Brier's title sponsor -- during the Brier! Then, over the summer, the CCA announced an exclusive TV deal with CBC, which meant the end of TSN's popular coverage and that had curling fans across the country up in arms. As a result, McCain Foods later withdrew its sponsorship of the TSN Skins Games after the current campaign, which also meant the end of the popular SuperSpiels.

TRIBULATIONS

On the women's side, Nova Scotia's Colleen Jones won her record fourth straight Scott Tournament of Hearts, despite a minor incident when Nancy Delahunt kicked rocks off the ice before their opponent (Quebec) had a chance to confirm the score during the final.

The Manitoba scene went through some tribulations of its own. The idea of adding exemptions to the Safeway Select was debated all season. First, the suggestion to add the top Manitoba team on the CCA's new Canadian Team Ranking System was denied -- causing much gnashing of curling teeth -- then later accepted. Although other provinces had already awarded that exemption to last season's top CTRS team, the Manitoba Curling Association decided to give it to the top CTRS team midway through the current one -- which of course denied Jeff Stoughton that exemption as the top CTRS team in all of Canada.

The MCA also conducted a survey to re-examine its annual bonspiel, then decided to ditch the Select berth awarded to the winner of the minor-event playoff. That came after Dave Boehmer had made a mockery of that route to the provincials. He defaulted his first six games while competing at a Slam event, then hopped a midnight train home and rattled off 17 straight victories. Discarding that spot opened one up for the exemption to the top CTRS squad (whew!).

But that was not all. The MCA disqualified a junior from provincial play after the curler was charged with impaired driving. And some squads competing at the provincial Scott protested playing meaningless games at the end of the round-robin format by conceding after the requisite number of ends, regardless of the score (one game was tied).

On the ice, John Helston/Martin Bailey was the only Manitoba team to win a Canadian crown (Masters). And Stoughton saved some Buffalo pride when his foursome became the fifth team -- and first from Manitoba -- to earn an Olympic trials spot as the top CTRS squad. Actually, Stoughton saved his own pride after he blew the men's provincial final to Swan River's Brent Scales due to a strangely-played last end. Scales then tied the Manitoba record for futility when he finished 3-8 at the Brier.

Brandon's Terry McNamee (Mixed) and Lois Fowler (Scott), as well as Petersfield's Daley Peters (junior), at least made it to the playoffs in their respective nationals.

The CCA named a Manitoban, Barry Greenberg, its new president. Greenberg spent his first summer defending the CBC deal, then lauding Tim Hortons as the new Brier title sponsor.

The CCA also introduced the Canada Cup Bonspiels, where the respective winners got Olympic trials berths and the top-four respective squads got Canada Cup spots.

The East St. Paul club was awarded the national seniors and local Slammers are pumped about hosting a Grand Slam spiel at the spanking new MTS Centre next month -- possibly the first of three here.

In other words, it was a fun-filled season both on and off the ice. Can't wait to see what the curlers do for an encore.


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