Curling notes: Battle lines drawn

Glenn Howard and his Ontario rink accept the $24,000 prize at the GP Car and Home World Cup of...

Glenn Howard and his Ontario rink accept the $24,000 prize at the GP Car and Home World Cup of Curling final on Sunday in Sault Ste. Marie. Howard beat out John Epping, also from Ontario, by a score of 6-4. (MICHAEL PURVIS/QMI AGENCY)

GEORGE KARRYS, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:47 PM ET

TORONTO - Could curling’s male athletes and the Canadian Curling Association be headed for another off-ice boardroom battle?

A new curling rule controversy is brewing. During the weekend’s first Capital One Grand Slam event of the season in Sault Ste. Marie, the World Curling Players’ Association announced their intention to debut the five-rock rule of play at the next Slam event, Dec. 14-18, in Kingston.

Never heard of it, you say? No wonder — it’s never existed before.

According to the players, curling needs to generate more offence to keep the game interesting for spectators and sponsors. They said the same thing 17 years ago which led to the creation of the Free Guard Zone, into which stones that come to rest cannot be removed until a certain number of stones have been thrown in that end (out of 16 in total).

Back then, the thinking was that throwing simple takeouts is far easier than throwing draw shots, which require a defter touch of skill. Now, the argument is that the curlers have become far too good at all the shots — including difficult double and triple-takeouts — and another rule change is needed.

Here’s the rub: the Grand Slams provide points to teams that are trying to qualify for the Olympic Trials in the fall of 2013, but the Canadian Curling Association doesn’t like the idea of teams earning points in this “test” event. The CCA is reportedly balking at sanctioning the Kingston Slam and removing all points if the test goes through; the athletes would still cash in over $100,000 in winnings but would earn nothing towards their Olympic run.

Logic says that this won’t get nearly as ugly as the Great Curling Boycott of 2001. Remember that? The creation of the Slam circuit turned into a very public spat where most big-name men’s teams skipped out on Brier playdowns (led by Kevin Martin and Glenn Howard) while a handful of others stayed loyal to the CCA cause (led by Martin’s current third John Morris, Glenn’s brother Russ Howard and the Randy Ferbey foursome). Cue the screaming and pointed fingers, which last for three years.

Let the test proceed, says I. Apparently CCA sources had previously heard about this five-rock discipline and already agreed that it should be tested. Scientists would no doubt argue that such a test should be held in optimum conditions (ie. top-quality arena curling ice) with optimum athletes (the best rock stars in the world), so why not make this test the best barometer it can be?

And what does Joe Public think? Not much, since it’s never been tested. One online poll currently puts those in favour of the rule at 55.6% and those opposed at 44.5%, with nothing concrete to guide those votes.

While the players’ union waits for word from Ottawa the media waits on its hands, practically begging for another knock-down, bare-knuckle slugfest between these two wary groups. Meanwhile, the coffee in those boardrooms is fast growing cold…

YEAH BUDDY

The Grand Slam final saw Team Glenn Howard of Coldwater, Ont., defeat Team John Epping of Toronto by a 6-4 count, and the championship ice surface was littered with friends, family and ex-teammates galore.

Howard and third Wayne Middaugh, of course, teamed to win the Brier and world championship back in 1993. This past summer they reunited after bashing heads as opponents for the past 16 years.

Last season, Middaugh played with Epping second Scott Howard. Two seasons ago, Middaugh had Epping as his third.

Scott Howard is the son of Glenn Howard.

You want more? Epping third Scott Bailey played lead for Middaugh from the moment Middaugh first left the Howard gang in 1995 until the fall of 2010, and helped the Wayner win another Brier and worlds along the way (1998).

Only Howard front-enders Brent Laing and Craig Savill and Epping lead David Mathers were on the friend/family sidelines during Sunday’s championship battle, in which Howard won $24,000 to Epping’s $14,000. Semifinalists Kevin Martin of Edmonton and Niklas Edin of Sweden earned $10,000 each, while quarterfinalists Jeff Stoughton and Mike McEwen (Winnipeg), Kevin Koe (Edmonton) and Brad Gushue (St. John’s) split 25K in playoff qualifying cash.

CARPET CLEANING

Rumours were flying throughout the fall about trouble in the Grand Slam camp, which is headed by event rights holder iSport Media and Management of Toronto. A new event management team was installed just weeks before the first stones were thrown in the Soo, and many athletes were nervous heading in. However, the show went off without a hitch, both on site and through the CBC Sports TV cameras, although the crowds certainly could have been stronger.

To ensure stability, iSport CEO Kevin Albrecht, who has been instrumental in the Grand Slam property dating back to 2001, was onsite throughout the event and apparently getting down and dirty himself. Reports say Albrecht was seen changing rock handles with the ice crew and even running the vacuum along the carpet between draws.

Was this filmed for the TV show Undercover Boss?

BROOM BITS

Rights holder iSport produced some great online promo material during the Soo Slam, but waited far too long to unleash the material. The first big blast came with poster images, videos, live chat promos and other web and Facebook content but that launched Oct. 27: just seven days away from the opening matches. How is that going to convince any out-of-town curling fans to plan and book their trip to the Soo? ... Another European team made loud noise this past weekend on the World Curling Tour in Canada as Silvana Tirinzoni, a former Swiss champion, skipped her team to victory in Red Deer, Alta. The Swiss enjoyed a friendly draw and managed to dodge some of the biggest names in women’s curling, and defeated 2002 Olympic bronze medallist Kelley Law of Vancouver 6-3 in the final … Speaking of Red Deer, a men’s team turned back the clock and almost won the event doing it “Old School.” Territories skip Jamie Koe, the younger brother of 2010 world champion Kevin, assembled a motley crew from Saskatoon and Calgary and they proceeded to party their brains out. Against all odds, the squad kept winning and staggered into the final before losing 6-4 to Edmonton’s Jamie King, which was still good enough for a $6,000 payday. It’s a story of pure horror for official sport mandarins and a tale of great joy for curling traditionalists, who fret that Olympic status has killed off all the fun behind this iconic game.


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