Soo curling gets a boost

PETER RUICCI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:45 AM ET

SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. -- Timing, in all sports, is obviously important.

But isn't the timing of the 2010 Scotties absolutely perfect for Sault Ste. Marie?

The Tournament of Hearts, the Canadian women's curling championship, which begins Saturday at the Essar Centre, couldn't have arrived here at a better time.

Disappointing as it is for the city's curling community to mull over, competitive curling in the Sault isn't what it used to be.

Those looking for competitive teams to join, or for like-minded curlers wishing to combine forces to form competitive rinks capable of big things, must now search high and low.

That's true for men in this city, but painfully true for women.

Admittedly, I'm not close enough to the curling fraternity to know whether that's a problem in a lot of like-sized communities.

And there are still some very talented, serious curlers in the Sault, a city with a rich curling history.

But there was a time, not so long ago, when this city boasted of a number of highly-competitive and successful rinks.

There were several teams capable of playing with the best in the province -- and the country.

Following 1990's Labatt Brier, held at the old Memorial Gardens, enjoyment of the sport and participation -- especially -- seemed to spike locally.

People were swept up by the curling fever that developed here 20 years ago.

Part of the excitement had to do with the fact a Sault rink, skipped by Al Harnden, had won that year's Northern Ontario championship.

A rink that also included third Eric Harnden, the skip's brother, second Richard Evoy and lead Frank Caputo captured the imagination of a good part of the city during the week-long Brier.

Even those who knew little about the sport -- and normally couldn't have cared less -- became captivated by the Harnden rink's quest for a national championship.

Thinking back, I can remember Team Harnden winning its first five games.

And the anxiety grew with each victory.

Al Harnden was hot that week and his team wound up winning six games on the dramatic final rock.

As the crowds following Team Harnden grew, the Northern Ontario reps finished the round-robin portion of the event with a record of 8-3.

In the semifinals, Harnden dropped a dramatic, last rock, 5-4, semifinal decision to New Brunswick's Jim Sullivan.

I'll never forget what happened just prior to Sullivan's final rock.

With the hammer in a 4-4 tie, the young New Brunswick skip was perched in the hack preparing to let fly.

Just then, a fan in the crowd yelled out.

Sullivan stopped, composed himself and then delivered the shot.

I can't remember what he threw, he may have been drawing. But whatever he played, New Brunswick had its one-point victory.

The next day, Ontario's Ed Werenich (Remember the toothpick that always hung from the side of the Wrench's mouth?) beat Sullivan in the Brier final.

The Sault may not have won it all on the ice that week. Bu the competition was great, and interest in the sport of curling here, absolutely took off.

And maybe, 20 years later, following this year's Scotties, the Sault will see a repeat performance.


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