Red Deer rocks the Scotties

Alberta skip Heather Nedohin, left, and lead Laine Peters have fun posing for photographers during...

Alberta skip Heather Nedohin, left, and lead Laine Peters have fun posing for photographers during their draw against Yukon/Northwest Territories at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Red Deer Saturday. (REUTERS/Todd Korol)

CON GRIWKOWSKY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:09 PM ET

Rarely does anybody get a second chance to make a first impression.

This year, Red Deer definitely raised the bar.

Even before the first rock was thrown at the Scotties, this city put on the most phenomenal pre-game show in curling history.

Back in 1994, a certain scribe from a city to the north was less than impressed with the atmosphere surrounding that year’s Brier.

Tabbed it The Town That Fun Forgot. Good thing the posse didn’t catch up with the guilty party. That’d be me.

About the only memorable moment from that event was when Ontario’s Glenn Howard tired of the heckling and called the event the Red Neck Brier.

So, let’s reset.

Red Deer was already pumped for a party when hometown gal Jocelyn Peterman skipped her team to a Canadian junior title last Sunday.

It was bonus time when Peterman’s team got the call to throw out the ceremonial first rock alongside Heather Nedohin, who was scheduled to toss first rock before she won the Alberta title.

Most of the teams got here Thursday and after Friday’s Hot Shots preliminary round, they appeared at the opening banquet, which delivered on the promise of An Evening of Surprises.

Traditionally, that particular event is nary worthy of a mention.

This one proved to be the exception with plenty of nice touches.

Start with a Cirque de Soleil-like performance by a pair of gals who delighted the crowd with an acrobatic performance on a couple of 40-foot long curtain-like apparatus dangling from the ceiling.

After the teams were piped in and the piper paid with the customary shot of scotch, every table was invited to look into one of the packages on their table. There were pre-packaged shots of scotch for all.

For comic relief, four young curlers provided a trip down memory lane. These phantoms from the past with a crest from nearby CFB Penhold on the backs of their old-style curling sweaters and corn brooms stepped up at appropriate moments to bust up the monotony that can sometimes make the event an ordeal.

But that was just the start of the evening’s festivities.

The teams made their way to the HeartStop Lounge and that’s where the contrast from other events really showed.

One curler who was in Charlottetown last year figured the pre-event HeartStop was lucky to have 300 people, including all the teams.

Friday, the joint was jumping with 2,800 people with a couple more hundred lined up outside. The people of Red Deer who showed up for the biggest party of the night.

If Friday showed anything, it’s the fact that event organizers may not have anticipated such a huge crowd.

The lineup at the bar was 20 people deep.

While they waited, there was top-notch entertainment from local band St. James Gate.

At one point, three gals from the Quebec team got up on stage and danced for the crowd as the kilted Celtic rock-fusion band did their stuff.

Star of the night was Billy O’Neill, a former drummer with an Edmonton pipe band.

O’Neill moved to Red Deer more than a decade ago and showed how much he’d expanded his musical ability.

During various tunes, he played the tin whistle, bagpipes, two different types of squeezeboxes and at one point, an Aussie didgeridoo.

Keep this up Red Deer, and there’s no question you’re going to break the Scotties attendance record of 154,688 set by Regina in 1998.

There’s no question it’ll be better than the No. 2 of 112,886 when the event was last held here in 2004.

All it takes is having a little bit of fun.

con.griwkowsky@sunmedia.ca


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