The Continental Cup is over, the first Winter Youth Olympic Games are wrapping up in Austria, women’s provincials are on deck and the curling season is approaching the full-roar status it enjoys from now through the middle of April.
And it’s quite a roar at the grass roots level, too. The multitude of TV curling broadcasts also attracts increased rental interest from corporate types, who must now battle the regular club leagues for every last scrap of available ice time before golf season begins.
Also over and done is the first of two really big city bonspiels located in Toronto and Winnipeg.
The 117th edition of the TCA Goldline Bonspiel attracted a total of 281 teams to a week of curling action at the Greater Toronto Area’s 22 curling facilities. One hundred fifty teams signed up for the Open event, while 78 and 53 entries were logged in the Senior and Senator divisions, respectively.
Greg Balsdon of Richmond Hill, who is a very busy Hogtown curler, was the Open winner for the second straight year. What is quite amazing is that Balsdon has competed in the past three Open finals, having lost the championship game in January 2010.
That’s an awful lot of rock-chucking and, even scarier, an awful lot of driving across the metropolis in rush-hour traffic to various curling facilities.
Supported by Jordan Keon, Kevin Roberts, Trevor Talbett and alternate Curtis Samoy, Team Balsdon embarked on another successful adventure of asphalt and curling ice, and here was their road well travelled:
Jan. 7 at Dixie Curling Club in Mississauga: Two wins, over Mark Kreger of East York and Doug Bayley of Donalda.
Jan. 9 at Leaside CC: A win over Richard Van Dine of the host club.
Jan. 10: The squad enjoyed a bye (this would never have happened 10 years ago, much less 30 years past, when over a thousand entries made this bonspiel even more of a logistical nightmare)
Wed. Jan 11 at the Granite Club: A victory over Peter Kostin of Tam Heather.
Jan. 12 at Leaside: A win over John Bell of Unionville
• Jan. 14 at St. George’s Golf and Country Club: The final two victories, over Richmond Hill’s Mike Maddin in the semifinal and then the finale over High Park’s Tom Dearie.
Dearie had Balsdon dead to rights, too; the Balsdon crew managed to steal the final end to win by a single point.
Balsdon actually missed the first two games on Jan. 7 as he was busy leading his competitive (high-performance) men’s team to victory in the Ontario regional playdowns. That squad (Team Balsdon 2.0?) will begin play Feb. 6 at The Dominion Ontario Tankard in Stratford, and try to end Glenn Howard’s remarkable streak of six consecutive championships.
All of this follows Balsdon’s appearance at The Dominion Curling Club Championships back in Richmond, B.C. in November, where his league team made it all the way to the men’s final before losing to Alberta.
With Balsdon attracting all of the attention, let’s hear from one of his teammates.
“It’s been a great run,” said Jordon Keon, who has played third for Balsdon’s club teams for a few years now.
“I remember when Greg and his girlfriend joined the club, and we started in the Monday night league. We were pretty good to begin with. But we seem to win more games outside of the club (league) than we do in the club; I think we’ve won seven games this year and we’re only sixth in our men’s league. So we’ve got some work to do to defend our club championship.
“I remember the first night back from The Dominion (Club Championship), we got crushed in about five ends.”
Keon obviously appreciates Balsdon’s commitment to recreational curling, which is something that very few high-performance players bother with anymore. Others, particularly Balsdon’s big-name peers, should consider his efforts.
“For a competitive curler, The Dominion (Club Championship) is a big commitment, it takes up three weekends during the cashspiel season,” Keon said. “I think Greg missed qualifying for a Slam with his competitive team.
“But it’s a lot of fun and we’re good friends now. And Greg’s actually running our men’s league this year.”
According to TCA Bonspiel convenor Bill Baker of the Toronto Curling Association, two other teams have won back-to-back championships: East York’s Vic Suzuki in 1988 and 1989, and Brian Roblin of Scarboro Golf, who took the titles in 2003 and 2004. “We’d love to get our hands on old records to create a complete list of past champions,” said Baker ... the event has been known through most of its history as the “Canada Life”, after the sponsor that supported the tournament for 80 years beginning in 1906… the first single-rink event was held in 1896, and the bad news was that teams played 22-end games on natural ice with straw brooms. The good news? The sponsor was booze company Hiram Walker … Rogers TV stepped up to broadcast the finals, and managed to snag CBC curling analyst Mike Harris… Harris, the 1998 Olympic silver medallist skip, missed out on his bid to drag teammate Jim “Rock Bottom” Wilson into his first provincial Tankard when they were eliminated in the West Challenge Round over the weekend. Wayne Tuck and Chris Gardner were the challenge champs, and are off to Stratford. Missing out along with Harris is Sarnia’s Mark Bice and Toronto’s John Epping, who enjoyed an amazingly fast start to the season back in the fall … on the women’s side, two of Ontario’s strongest teams — skipped by Coldwater’s Sherry Middaugh and Ottawa’s Jenn Hanna — made it to the provincial, which starts next week in Kenora… The other mammoth city spiel in Winnipeg, the 124th MCA Bonspiel, gets underway Thursday at 22 clubs and features 176 teams in action, with the final scheduled for Jan. 23.