The rings roared louder than they ever did before in Halifax last week.
Not only did the Nova Scotia capital break the Canadian Curling Trials attendance record, it surpassed its own mark of largest attendance at a Brier west of Manitoba back in 2003 -- just as organizers told the Sun it would before they even started. Halifax wound up with a record 159,235, just slightly more than the 158,414 for the Brier.
But that is not good news for Brandon, which would love to get another trials after setting the bar for those to follow in 1997. And it looks like Edmonton will get the 2009 event.
The attendance reflected the fact that the actual curling was much better than fans would see at either a Brier or a Scott. Everyone involved should bow down to Hans Wuthrich, the greatest icemaker in the world. And shouldn't we be grooming more of him?
The only other event where you could witness such performances would be at a Grand Slam and there just happens to be another one coming to Winnipeg in early January -- and Newfoundland's Brad Gushue should be here.
Anyway, here are just a few of our observations of the past week that featured 20 of the best teams in the world, not just Canada:
Way too much was made of Stoughton's remark that Gushue had "no chance" to win, believing that Russ Howard -- who did nothing to earn his way into the trials -- would mess with the chemistry of a team that did (although Keith Ryan had been replaced by Mike Adam, the second who sat). Even Howard admitted he wondered about affecting team chemistry. And Manitoba's Kerry Burtnyk told the Morning Roar, the CCA's in-house daily tabloid, something similar.
And now that Gushue won, every front-end player who earns his way into future trials will be wondering if he'll be replaced by a veteran who couldn't get in on his own.
Having said that, this corner was guilty of getting caught up in the "no chance" debate, too. Funny thing is, Stoughton said something similar about B.C.'s Jay Peachey and no one raised an eyebrow. Peachey did not win a single game.
But Stoughton did admit he was wrong. Then, Gushue beat Stoughton in the final and he wouldn't have gotten there without Howard calling the shots. Or maybe he was indeed inspired by his mother, who is battling bowel cancer. Or both.
Don't know how Manitoba's Jennifer Jones would have done if she had not spent a night in the hospital literally screaming with pain due to kidney stones but we sure would have liked to have found out. Put it this way, at their best, the Jones foursome is certainly as good as, if not better than either Alberta's Shannon Kleibrink or B.C.'s Kelly Scott, the two female finalists. And the playoff games would have been a lot more interesting had Jones been a part of them. We may find out just how good Jones is at this year's Scott, where she will be Team Canada.
But it was very strange for Jones to try to keep her health a secret amongst a gaggle of girls.
Not that we have anything against Kleibrink winning, even if she did beat Manitoba natives Scott and Sasha Carter. Great to see Kleibrink eradicate those demons of having to watch that great Sandra Schmirler circus shot repeatedly for the past eight years. And, from lead to skip, Kleibrink had the most solid squad in Halifax, even if she did start 1-3.
Kevin Martin made two circus shots that defied description in the same end to defeat fellow Albertan Randy Ferbey in their opening game of the trials. Neither side, however, was the same after that game.
On the women's side, give it to Alberta third Amy Nixon, who made two great shots in the semifinal.
Best game (men)
That would be the round robin match between Stoughton and Gushue, hands down. All four players on both sides were simply outstanding. Newfoundland third Mark Nichols made two outstanding shots that got Gushue out of trouble while Gushue's double-kill in the ninth salted the game away.
Best game (women)
The one where B.C.'s Kelly Scott cracked a three in the 10th end to tie Kleibrink, then stole one in the extra end to beat her. Kleibrink got her revenge in the final, though.
Players most fun to watch
Alberta third Amy Nixon dancing a jig with her dad at the fifth-end break of the women's final and Manitoba third Jon Mead revolving his bald head around on the Jumbotron, mimicking a rock spinning back into the paint just after a rock spun around back into the paint.
The performance of Gushue, who went 8-1, then won the whole thing. Then there was Howard himself, who may have found a way to lengthen his career -- keep playing second and calling games.
Biggest disappointment I
Alberta's living legend Randy Ferbey getting no sniff of the playoffs after winning pretty much everything else the last few years.
Biggest disappointment II
Nova Scotia's living legend Colleen Jones also failing so miserably in front of her hometown crowd.
"Sometimes, it sucks to be me." -- Saskatchewan skip Jan Betker after losing her opening game. Then, she went out and lost her second.
Best quote II
"I peed all over my hands." -- Alberta lead Christine Keshner after her first drug test just after winning her first trials final.
While Ferbey is still a go-to guy when it comes to getting some of the best quotes, Stoughton was right up there, especially when he criticized the crowd for cheering Ferbey misses. Both Gushue and Howard were in there, too.
As for the women, Betker's second, Joan McCusker, is still the best, along with Colleen Jones. And Amy Nixon is coming on strong. But Kelly Scott is the sweetest.
When Don Bartlett, Martin's lead, confessed through tears that his commitment to qualify for the Olympics cost him his marriage.
Too much was also made of Pat Ryan uttering the word "retire" at the trials. Our sister paper in Edmonton reported months ago that Ryan only planned to club curl at his new home in Red Deer, Alta., unless he won the trials. Then again, he never actually used the word "retire."
Forget about it
Never mind that Ontario's Wayne Middaugh, currently the hottest team on the circuit, failed to get to the trials. Middaugh had enough chances with his old foursome and even had he qualified, his team likely would have been ruled ineligible after his former second, Joe Frans, failed a drug test at last year's Brier.
Both CCA and COA officials were noticeable by their absence on the final weekend of the trials as they were attending meetings in Europe. Embattled CCA CEO Dave Parkes was spotted lurking about early in the week but soon disappeared. And hey, now that we think of it, great week for TV. Welcome back, TSN!