Club curling's fanfare for common man

GEORGE KARRYS, FOR SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:20 AM ET

On the surface, the two championships couldn't appear more different.

Polar opposites, in fact.

The Roar of the Rings, curling's Olympic curling trials, gets underway on Sunday in Edmonton and features 16 of the best teams Canada has ever produced.

Unlike typical national championships, there is no regional or provincial representation. The men's field of eight squads features three from Edmonton alone. Yesterday, the St. George's Golf and Country Club in Toronto wrapped up hosting duties for the Dominion curling club championships, the first-ever national titleshoot for recreational "club" curlers.

Speaking of polar opposites, this national event was the first to feature teams from Nunavut, as well as the Yukon and Northwest Territories.

The truth is that each Olympic hopeful now packing for Edmonton started out as a club player, slipping and sliding his or her way on to rear end the first few times on the curling ice.

As high-performance curling athletes today, they may spend most of their TV face time competing in fancy arenas, but most still have day jobs, and spend most of their training and competition time inside chilly clubs in smaller towns like Lloydminster, Sask. and Jonquiere, Que.

And when their competitive careers are finished, most of them go back to their roots: Club play. The irony is that the elite tier of curling competition, as viewed on TV and at the Olympic Games, has been used to attract novice curling recruits -- with mixed results. Now, a dedicated championship for the common man (and woman) just might help drive proper growth.

"I see no reason why this will do anything but have a positive impact on the numbers at the club and curling centre level," said Greg Stremlaw, CEO of the Canadian Curling Association.

"I think it's going to regenerate an enthusiasm we haven't seen in a while. I think the sky is the limit on this one."

The title sponsor, The Dominion Insurance Co., went all out, posting live scoring online, publishing a daily newsletter and even introducing a mascot. It also paid all team expenses and gave each competitor a new carbon-fibre brush.

Amid a packed house all week, Ontario fans had much to cheer. It was a clean sweep as Chatham's Bob Stafford won the men's title with a 7-4 win over British Columbia's Kevin Geistlinger, and Toronto's Kelly Cochrane stole the women's crown with a wild 6-5 victory over Manitoba's Jackie Komyshyn.

"We've been lucky having this event so close to home," said Cochrane, a 26-year-old Grade 3 teacher who grew up throwing stones at the High Park Curling Club.

"We've had all kinds of friends, family and High Park people coming out all week to cheer for us. My sister (Brenna) and I have been members forever, since age seven."

Stafford took a club team to the men's provincials three years ago and battled the likes of Glenn Howard and Wayne Middaugh for a shot at the Brier.

But, as Sun Media's Joe Pavia wrote last week, fewer and fewer men's and women's teams are signing up to battle the big guns.

"There's a lot of club teams that resist entering those playdowns because they feel they don't have a chance anymore," Stafford said. "I think almost any team does have a chance. You need a little luck and a lot of good play, but it can happen.

"This event here will really bring that possibility forward again."

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GEORGE KARRYS, AN OLYMPIAN, IS PUBLISHER OF THE CURLING NEWS


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