New Jersey boys rockin'

BARRE CAMPBELL -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:34 AM ET

Don Baird and his "junkyard dogs" have travelled all the way from New Jersey to compete in this week's City of Ottawa International Bonspiel.

Their home club, a tiny two-sheeter, is located beside a busy railroad track and across the road from a service centre for big-rig trucks, 50 km from Lower Manhattan in a South Plainfield, N.J. industrial park. Baird has never tried to cross the road and recruit new members. It might work in Canada, but not in the States. They have 120 club members, and are getting more.

"We had a big influx since the last Olympics. Our phone was just ringing off the hook and we had a 50% increase in membership overnight," said Baird who grew up on a farm in southwestern Ontario, but moved to the U.S. for work.

TV coverage in the 1998 Winter Games in Salt Lake City was a big key. NBC showed taped highlights of the Olympic curling tournament, but switched to airing entire games in prime time because viewers liked watching.

"Curling finally got real television coverage," said Baird.

Before the Olympics, Baird and his fellow club members got their TV fix at the club through a special satellite system that provides Canadian channels.

His teammates Jason Valetutto, Aaron Dubberley and Clay Duncan had never curled in Canada until they entered the City bonspiel and hit the ice against Prescott's Peter Lapensee.

They're amazed by the number of curling clubs in Ottawa, or the fact it would take about 20 minutes to walk between two of those clubs (the Ottawa and the Rideau in Centretown).

The closest curling rink to theirs is located about an hour north of New York City. Another is two hours south, outside of Philadelphia.

The New Jersey boys had some fun during their game yesterday at the Navy. Nobody seemed too upset when two of their rocks didn't get past the hog line in the opening end.

And Baird, who uses one of those old "Rink Rat" brooms that makes a booming sound when he sweeps, made what looked like a nice shot on his last rock in the second end.

Facing four opponent counters without last rock, he completed a tricky hit-and-roll to the back four-foot behind cover.

"Nice shot," said Lapensee.

"It's not the one I called," replied Baird with a chuckle. The New Jersey team ended up with a steal, and went on to a 7-0 victory.

CANADA CUP: Jan Betker and Anne Merklinger each posted a pair of wins to clinch top spot in their sections at the Canada Cup of Curling. Merklinger edged Heather Smith-Davey 5-4 before pounding Marie-Fran Larouche 8-2. Betker and Merklinger will meet today in a Page playoff match, with the winner advancing directly to tomorrow's final and the loser going to a semi-final later today.


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