Curling tourist finds plenty of action

GEORGE KARRYS, Special to Sun Media

, Last Updated: 1:46 PM ET

Your faithful curling columnist turned back the clock and went road warrior over the weekend.

But instead of competing in a major cash tournament or provincial playdown, the itinerary read like that a curling tourist — appropriate for one retired from high-performance competition.

First up was the Canadian Mixed championship at Burlington Golf & Country Club. One of the national events hosted in a curling club rather than an arena, the Mixed used to be a part of the Canadian Curling Association's "Season of Champions" television package. Alas, times have changed; instead of mighty TSN the ice surface is dressed for Cogeco cable.

Times have also changed in that a world championship awaits the winners: Mark Dacey's foursome from Halifax, winners of their second title after beating Ontario's Mark Bice 7-5 in yesterday's final. Make that two of the winners.

There is no world mixed titleshoot, but there is the World Mixed Doubles, a new "pairs" discipline created by the World Curling Federation three years ago in an attempt to get another medal-status competition into the Olympics. Two members of Team Dacey will wear the Maple Leaf in Chelyabinsk, Russia in March — after flying from Halifax to Toronto, then to Europe, and finally to the city 1500 kilometres east of Moscow — and get this: the CCA allows the team members to decide the representatives themselves.

Dacey has confirmed that he and wife/teammate Heather Smith-Dacey will go; who better than to deal with this strangeness than one of curling's royal couples?

The athletes confirm that Mixed competition is still as much fun as ever, indeed it seems a relief from the usual chase for men's and women's Olympic qualifying points. No 2010 Olympic hopefuls in this crowd.

Down the road to Sarnia, and the home club of the silver-gilded Bice squad. There is disappointment as the locals watch the defeat unfold on Cogeco, but it can't wreck their great day on the ice. The ninth annual Huron Reprographics Skins 'Spiel is full, again, and no wonder: for $50 each player gets three games of curling, three square meals plus cash winnings and raffle prizes.

This is the lifeblood of Canadian curling: recreation club play, on weekdays, weeknights and weekends, a constant cycle from October through April at nearly 1,000 curling clubs (23 in the GTA).

Definitely no Olympic hopefuls here... although a couple of youngsters look like they might have a shot at Sochi, Russia in 2014.

On the drive home to Toronto, a quick stop in at Brantford, home of the biggest World Curling Tour stop of the weekend, the Sunlife Classic. Sixty-four men's and women's teams are battling at three area clubs, and Olympic hopefuls abound; this is the last major tuneup before the Olympic Trials get underway December 6 in Edmonton.

But what's this? Glenn Howard, Ontario's best hope for Vancouver 2010, has already fled the scene. The two-time defending tournament champ lost three in a row — to Toronto's Gerg Balsdon, to the U.S. Olympic team, and finally to veteran Kirk Ziola of London, Ont. — and was eliminated.

"That's only the second time we've been knocked out before any playoffs in three years," said Howard third Richard Hart, who was cleaning his Pickering garage on an unexpected Sunday at home.

"It happens. We didn't play well, maybe we were distracted with Edmonton coming up. We've been chasing (the Trials) for four years, and we've been pre-qualified for two years, and I just want to get it on. Let's go, already."

Indeed. Let's go, already.

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George Karrys, an Olympian, is publisher of The Curling News


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