His heart is at home.
Here playing at the John Shea Insurance Canada Cup Qualifier, Olympic gold medallist Russ Howard misses Ontario curling for two reasons.
"The calibre of curling is better," he said. "Don't get me wrong. I'm getting ancient. The people can beat me down there. Up here the competition is fiercer, the ice is better. Down east, we are blessed with poor ice and its tough to play well. I'm used to playing at a certain level. As you get older, if the ice is tough you can't play at that level."
The New Brunswick skip is here for two reasons.
"I'm sponsored by the Olympic movement for two years so we have to go to these events," he said. "It's also an Olympic spot. Who knows we might scare a few teams and get a spot."
The four semi-finalists at this tournament get spots in the 2008 Strauss Canada Cup, thereby inching closer to an Olympic qualifying berth.
In the first draw of the 'spiel, Howard narrowly defeated Guy Hemmings. The game swayed back and forth until the last end with Howard down by one with the hammer. A Hemmings errant throw around a guard gave Howard the 7-6 win. "We got a couple of breaks." said Howard "It felt like we were out-curling them a little bit except in the early ends. It was one of those games where we were curling 90%, but when we did miss we gave up big ends. Hemmings is the kind of player that he's going to put points on the board."
Buckingham's Ted Butler took a fifth-end six to quickly dispatch Trois-Rivieres' Martin Ferland 11-2.
The Icemen cometh
The permanent Rideau ice technician, Gerry Keeler, suffered a health setback just before this event. His fellow area ice technicians, who all have their hands full with their own facilities, have descended on the Rideau to lend a hand and maintain ice conditions at a level appropriate to the event. That should allow Keeler to recover more easily with an exit from hospital expected Monday.
This event is like old-home week for former Ottawa residents. This is Mark Homan's (Rachel's older brother) first year with Team Hemmings after Homan moved to Montreal. "I didn't move over there for curling, but it was nice to get on with a team like Team Hemmings." He has alternated between lead and second, whereas in Ottawa he skipped his own local squad." "It's a little more serious out there on the ice. Just the experience these guys have at back end is amazing." Ironically, his former local junior contemporary, Sebastien Robillard, snatched Homan for Team Hemmings. Robillard began the season throwing third but recently got dropped. "We made a little tweak in our team. Things didn't gel properly. It wasn't the right personality I guess." Team Hemmings is all about personality.
Alberta's Darren Moulding and Saskatchewan's Steve Laycock are no strangers to the ice at this event. In 2003, Laycock faced Moulding in the Junior National Championships at the Rideau. Moulding's vice, Brock Virtue, played the same position at that national. Laycock won the title and is here throwing lead for Pat Simmons. Moulding is skipping his own Alberta team.
Newfoundland skip Brad Gushue has quite the following. Many members of the Rainbow Rockers, Ottawa Gay League, bought full event passes to follow the expoits of the Olympic skip.
Really slow cooker
Ottawa's much travelled curler Anna Piekarski played in a mixed bonspiel with Mark Homan four years ago. Homan couldn't be there on prize night, but asked his team to pick the slow cooker. Subsequently, the Northern Ontario university student took summer jobs in various places from Toronto to North Bay and other locations. She liberated the slow cooker from storage at her parent's northern home and finally presented it to Homan just after his loss to Team Howard. Now maybe Team Hemmings will stir the pot on the ice.