Stand-in gives Sarnia a place among winners

RYAN PYETTE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:34 AM ET

SARNIA -- As a volunteer player rep, one of Steve Bice's duties for the TSC Stores Tankard Ontario men's curling championship was to find the players the media had requested to interview.

After grabbing a broom and helping short-handed Glenn Howard win the provincial final with a 9-5 victory over Wayne Middaugh yesterday afternoon, Bice was the guy everyone wanted to talk to at the Sarnia Sports and Entertainment Centre.

The 25-year-old Sarnia native, a former Ontario champion at Sarnia Northern, had been placed on a list of potential emergency replacement players, but never dreamed he would be standing in the team picture for the provincial champions. He was notified Saturday night after the Middaugh-Epping semifinal by the Howard rink that he may be pressed into service if second Brent Laing had to go home to Huntsville to be with his pregnant girlfriend.

When Laing's girlfriend's water broke, Bice was looking at being tossed into a terribly pressure-filled situation.

"From what I heard Saturday, I thought they were going to go with three (players) but Rich Hart called me (yesterday) and asked if I wanted to play," Bice said. "I got to the arena early and threw rocks for about a half-hour with Glenn holding the broom to get the feel of the ice. I had never curled on it before."

The McMaster University grad and Lambton College student played lead while Craig Savill shifted to second in place of Laing. After delivering his final rock in the 10th end, his youthful enthusiasm took over and he performed a little fist pump in celebration of his contribution to Howard's important win.

"I was pretty nervous . . . I threw my rocks a bit further past the guards than I normally would've," he said.

Bice had earlier tried in vain to qualify for the Ontario championships on a Renfrew rink with Matt St. Louis, who later became a part of Damien Villard's colourful entry this week. The surprise hometown connection to the winning team was a major highlight for the host city, which put on a first-class show with a dedicated group of volunteers, but struggled to draw fans into the seats at the centre.

"I don't know what you do to sell this event," host committee co-chairperson Ted Evans said. "There was a snowstorm early in the week and people from out of town wouldn't have come because of it. We did some promotion in Port Huron, but they always say Sarnia attracts from the south and east.

"Maybe TV (coverage) had something to do with it (attendance) but I don't know. I know we ran a very good event and that the curlers were very happy with the hospitality we provided here."

Evans pointed to the crazily long-haired Villard, who became somewhat of a curling cult hero and stayed all week, even after being eliminated from competition.

London company TSC Stores, which oversaw the first of a three-year sponsorship agreement with the Ontario Tankard, thought the exposure of the event from the TV coverage on Cogeco cable (picked up by Rogers in London) more than made up for shortage of spectators.

"We've been ecstatic -- it's everything we were looking for when we went into this sponsorship," TSC Stores marketing manager Brent Palmer said. "We got the final we wanted -- Howard-Middaugh. On that, I was completely biased. That's the game I wanted to see."

The 2008 Tankard will be held at the Waterloo Rec Complex and the site of the '09 event is still to be determined.


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