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Author: Perry Lefko

Funerals are supposed to be a time to mourn and reflect, particular if the person passed unexpectedly or because of causes that cut short their life. But during the course of Neil Harrison’s funeral and more so in the reception afterward, I found myself feeling uplifted – smiling, in fact – because of what I learned about the man affectionately known as Harry.

I had followed Neil’s curling career since I began writing about the sport for the Toronto Sun in 1986, beginning with the World Championships. I hadn’t been on the “beat” when Neil played lead for Ed Werenich’s team that won the Canadian and World’s in 1983 with Paul Savage and John Kawaja rounding out the Fab Four that was known as The Dream Team.

Ironically, the first time I saw Neil curl happened in the Battle of the Sexes match the night before the ’86 World’s, featuring The Wrench’s ’83 team against the newly-crowned women’s world champions, skipped by Marilyn Darte. If I needed a baptism into the zany and crazy world of curling – at least back then – this was it. Eddie’s team was preceded on to the ice by a well-endowed stripper, while Marilyn did a cartwheel. The men easily defeated the women, but the score was incidental. This was curling camp. There had been nothing like it since, and nothing has come close to matching it.

Neil always made me laugh – and many others – with his jokes. Neil’s high-pitched laugh, compared to Eddie’s cackle, was part of his charm and personality. Occasionally, he made me laugh at myself. It was all in good spirit, in particular when he videotaped with his “Harry Cam”. Neil also wrote curling columns, and I appreciated his prose.

But it was his funeral which allowed me to see Neil in a different way – a composite way – particularly as it applied to his career as a fireman, something he did for 30 years before retiring as a captain. Tried as I did during my years covering Eddie and Neil, who was the fifth for Eddie on many occasions, I didn’t picture them as being anything but curlers. I never envisioned them driving trucks at high speeds to tend to a fire or climbing a ladder to get to the second story of a house or a high-rise building. Neil looked far more athletic than Eddie. Then again, everybody did. I’ll never forget the fuss The Wrench and Paul had to go through one year to prove their fitness levels to the Canadian Curling Association for purposes of competing in the Trials for the Olympics before it was an actual full-medal sport. This was what I called the famous/infamous Fitness vs. Fatness debate. Long before curlers were made of muscle and sinew, they had big bellies and exercised by pounding a corn broom. The game was so different then – and in some ways better. It certainly was more fun and entertaining.

But listening to the chaplain at Neil’s funeral and watching how ceremonial it was, I gained a full appreciation for Neil Harrison the firefighter, not Neil Harrison the curler. He received full department honours for losing his life as a result of an illness incurred in the line of duty. Even though it had been a few years since his retirement, it was proven that the cancerous brain tumour that caused Neil’s death was directly related to his work. This allowed him to have his casket draped in a Canadian flag, which was rolled up and presented to his wife, Jane, and receive the highest medal of honour. His cap rested above the coffin. The service included bagpipers, which reminded me of the many curling events I have seen, and drums. During the rendition of Amazing Grace, I found myself close to tears. The service also included the ringing of the bell for the fallen firefighters and the firefighter’s prayer.

These are things you see dramatized in movies or in a real-life televised funeral of a firefighter or policeman. Now I had come to see Neil in his “real” job away from curling; of being a husband and father of two, one of whom, his daughter, Amber, I found out was married at Neil’s bedside knowing he did not have much time to live.

Neil loved the song American Pie by Don McLean and a portion of it was played during the service. I saw some people moving their heads to the sounds of the music and thought I heard some singing. And as I listened to the chorus, the words took on a different meaning. The song was written as a tribute to singer Buddy Holly, who died in a plane crash, but some of the words applied to Neil – indeed the Chevy had been driven to the levee and the levee was dry because this was the day the music of a world champion curler had died.

And much too soon at that.

Eddie and Paul were among the six honourary pallbearers, along with Neil’s brother, Ross, son Sean, son-in-law Andrew Chard and nephew Steven Yourt.

Many in attendance for the jam-packed service were firefighters, and towards the end of it they were instructed to leave and take their coats. I didn’t see what happened afterward because I was among the last to leave the church, but six carried the coffin and placed it on an antique pumper, while the rest followed behind in a procession towards the nearby reception hall where family, friends and colleagues joined together to remember Neil.

I saw Eddie, wearing his signature pin, holding a beer in one hand and wearing the spats that he and his teammates that won the 1990 Canadian and World Championships dressed in to celebrate their win. They looked like mob gangsters from the ‘20s, but they styled and profiled. And seeing Eddie and Paul and many others brought back a flood of great memories.

Paul told a story at the reception of his memories of Neil, who called him Saul. Some of the stories loosely touched the surface of some of the wild antics that made Eddie, Paul, John and Neil renowned in the curling world for their tremendous skill and penchant for partying. They were world-class players in both categories.

Following his speech, Paul encouraged others to walk up to the microphone and share their stories of Neil, but no one did. How could you possibly follow that?

A video of the 1983 World’s played and I finally had a chance to see Harry in action. It’s been 31 years, can you believe it?

I hadn’t seen Neil in years and had no idea of his illness until I read of his recent passing at the age of 65 – which is far too young.

I knew I had to be at the funeral. I knew I wanted to say good-bye.

I saw many from the curling community, some who had battled against Neil, others who were friends.

The chaplain spoke of the legacy we leave behind when we die. He spoke of how it didn’t matter if you were a world champion curler, but rather what you did to enrich the lives of others. While he said this was a time to mourn and to feel the hurt and loss, it was also a time to think about how Neil had touched us, and that even though he is physically gone he is still alive in our hearts and minds.

Neil Harrison made an impact on my writing career and my life – and more than anything he made me laugh.

 
 

Flims, Switzerland – The international curling focus will move on from the Olympic Winter Games and turn to Switzerland when the 2014 World Junior Curling Championships get underway in Flims on Wednesday 26 February.

Altogether ten women’s and ten men’s teams will compete in the Waldhaus Arena this year, which was also the venue the last time the World Junior Curling Championships took place in Switzerland, in 2010.

To be eligible to play in the World Junior Curling Championships, a player must be less than 21 years of age by the end of the 30th day of June of the year immediately preceding the year in which the championship is to take place.

The ten women’s teams taking part are representing Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Italy, Korea, defending champions Russia, Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland and the USA.

Of these, teams with at least some members returning from last year’s Championship in Sochi, Russia, include the USA, whose skip Cory Christensen is making her third appearance in the World Junior Curling Championships, while second player Anna Bauman is making her second appearance.

This will also be a third World Junior Championship campaign for almost the entire Czech Republic team. Under skip Zuzana Hájková they finished fourth last year, and won silver medals in 2012.

For Denmark, the Clemmensen sisters – Isabella and Charlotte, as well as Julie Dall Hoegh, make a return appearance, hoping to improve on their sixth place in 2013.

Italy return to the women’s line-up this year, having qualified by winning the European Junior Curling Challenge in Lohja, Finland in January.

Their team is skipped by Veronica Zappone, and they have already had a busy international season, having taken part in Le Gruyere European Championships 2013 in Stavanger, Norway, in November where they finished 10th, and then in the WCF Olympic Qualification Event in Fuessen, Germany in December where they finished seventh.

The Italian team also includes one of ten 2012 Youth Olympians participating in these Championships. Arianna Losano was part of the mixed Italian team that took the silver medals at the event which was held in Innsbruck, Austria.

Korea is making its first-ever appearance at this level. The Korean team, skipped by Kyeong-Ae Kim, won the women’s competition of January’s Pacific-Asia Junior Curling Championships in Harbin, China to gain the right to play at this event. She also won the bronze medal in the 2012 Pacific-Asia Curling Championships in Naseby, New Zealand.

Russia won the women’s title for the first time last year in Sochi, with skip Alina Kovaleva leading her team to the gold medal. She returns this year again both as skip and playing in third position.

The team from Canada, skipped by Kelsey Rocque; Scotland, skipped by Gina Aitken; Sweden, skipped by Isabella Wranå; and hosts Switzerland, skipped by Corina Mani, are all newcomers at this level.

Notably, Switzerland women include Elena Stern, as alternate, a gold medal winner in the mixed team event in the 2012 Youth Olympic Winter Games.

The ten men’s teams involved this year are: Austria, Canada, China, Italy, Norway, Russia, Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland and the USA.

Scotland won gold last year, and the entire team, skipped by Kyle Smith, return to defend their title.

For Austria, skipped by Sebastian Wunderer, this is a first-ever appearance at this level thanks to their win in the men’s division of the European Junior Curling Challenge in January.

The Canadian team are newcomers at this level but are assisted by alternate Matt Dunstone, who skipped last year’s Canadian team to a bronze medal finish.

China are led by Zhilin Shao, who skipped a different team to a seventh-place finish in the 2013 Championship.

Amos Mosaner skips an Italian team that includes two other members of the team that finished sixth last year. Mosaner was another member of the mixed Italian team that won the silver medals in the 2012 Youth Olympic Games.

The Norwegian team, skipped by Eirik Mjøen, return intact from last year, and will be looking to improve on their fifth-place finish. Third Martin Sesaker already has silverware to his name having won silver at the Youth Olympic Games in 2012 in the Mixed Doubles event with partner Eunbi Kim from Korea.

Russia won silver medals in 2013’s Championship and the team that achieved that result return, but without skip Evgeny Arkhipov who graduated to the Russian Olympic team that competed in the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Instead, Sergey Glukhov moves from third to skip this year.

Sweden have a new line up with Fredrik Nyman as skip. He was alternate in last year’s event where Sweden finished in fourth place.

There is a new team from Switzerland also, skipped by Yannick Schwaller, who is the son of Christof Schwaller, European and World silver medallist in 2001. Alternate, Romano Meier, is another member if the mixed Swiss team who won the gold medals in the 2012 Youth Olympic Games.

The USA team are newcomers at this level, skipped by Jake Vukich from Seattle.

Round-robin play commences on Wednesday 26 February and continues until Sunday March 2. Thereafter tie-breakers will be held if needed to establish the top four teams.

This will be followed by curling’s Page Play-off games in which the top two ranked teams face each other, with the winner of that game going direct to the final, and the loser being given a second chance by playing a semi-final against the winner of the Play-off between the team ranked third and fourth.

The winner of that sole semi-final goes onto the final to play for gold and silver, and the loser faces the Page 3/4 loser for bronze.

These gold and bronze medal finals, for both men and women, take place on Wednesday 5 March.

 
 

HALIFAX, Canada – The World Curling Federation (WCF) and Canadian Curling Association (CCA) announced today that Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada will host the Ford World Men’s Curling Championship in 2015.

The Championship will take place between 28 March and 5 April 2015 at the 10,500-seat Halifax Metro Centre – the first time the world men’s championship will have ever been played in the province.

“We are delighted to be returning to the province of Nova Scotia for a World Curling Championship, the first since the World Junior Men’s Curling Championship was held in Dartmouth in 1986,” said World Curling Federation President Kate Caithness. “The World Curling Federation, Canadian Curling Association and our partner Ford of Canada are looking forward to welcoming the world’s best men’s curling teams back to Canada after witnessing an extremely exciting men’s World Championship in Victoria, British Columbia, in 2013. We invite curling fans from around the world join us in Halifax and experience one of the highlights of the 2015 curling season.”

CCA Chief Executive Officer Greg Stremlaw added: “Halifax has delivered the goods in the past when it comes to hosting CCA Season of Champions curling events, and I see no reason why the 2015 Ford Worlds would be any different. The Halifax Metro Centre is an outstanding facility, and the volunteer groups always rise to the occasion to make these events memorable.”

“Ford of Canada is honoured to be title sponsor of the 2015 Ford World Men’s Curling Championship,” said Sarah Rae, Partnerships and Events Manager for Ford Motor Co. of Canada. “At Ford we are proud of our 20-year partnership with the Canadian Curling Association, and events like this are a perfect opportunity to bring our joint commitment to community and sport to the world stage. On behalf of Ford, I want to thank the City of Halifax, the host committee and all the volunteers who we know will make this event a great success.”

It will be Canada’s 22nd opportunity to host the World Men’s Championship, and the fourth time it will be played in Atlantic Canada.

Moncton, N.B., hosted in 2009 (won by Scotland’s David Murdoch) and 1980 (won by Canada’s Rick Folk), while Saint John, N.B. hosted in 1999 (won by Scotland’s Hammy McMillan).

“We’re extremely proud that the WCF and CCA have decided that Halifax should play host to the 2015 Ford World Men’s Championship,” said Mat Harris, who along with brother Graham Harris will serve as co-chairs of the Host Committee. “Our city’s curling volunteers and fans can’t wait for the opportunity to show our hospitality to the world’s best curling teams.”

Halifax Mayor, Mike Savage, welcomed the news. He said: “Halifax is a curling town with a proud tradition of welcoming competitive curlers and filling stands with enthusiastic fans. The Ford World Men’s Championship is a wonderful opportunity for our city and its people to play host to athletes and visitors from around the globe.”

“Nova Scotians have a proven track record of hosting successful events, and in 2015, we will welcome participants and curling fans with our renowned hospitality and good cheer,” said Michel Samson, Nova Scotia’s Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism. “Events like this are one way we can boost tourism and our provincial economy, and we’re pleased to be a supporter.”

“With our long history of successful events, the Halifax Metro Centre offers a perfect backdrop for the Ford World Curling Championship,” said Scott Ferguson, President and CEO of Trade Centre Limited, the Crown corporation that manages the Metro Centre. “We look forward to working with the World Curling Federation, the Canadian Curling Association and the local host committee to make 2015 a memorable experience for the athletes, organisers and fans.”

Tickets for the 2015 Ford World Men’s Championship will go on sale later this year. Check www.curling.ca/tickets for updated information.

The 2014 World Men’s Championship, presented by Ford of Canada, will be staged in Beijing, China, March 29-April 6. You can find out more information about this event here: http://www.wmcc2014.curlingevents.com

Meanwhile the 2014 Ford World Women’s Championship, presented by Booster Juice, is scheduled for March 15-23 at Harbour Station in Saint John, N.B. Find out more information about this event here: http://www.curling.ca/2014worldwomen-en

The World Women’s Curling Championship 2015 will take place in Sapporo, Japan between 14-22 March 2015.

 
 

Baden field included Olympic teams heading to Sochi from Sweden, Norway, Great Britain, Switzerland, Denmark, Russia.

The 2013 Baden Masters had a familiar champion once again as Brad Gushue won his 3rd career event title in Switzerland, going undefeated in the opening event of the Men’s Tour season. The Canadians would go on to edge out Norway’s Thomas Ulsrud 4-3 in extra ends, after controlling much of the final game. Gushue opened scoring by stealing a single in the first end, then held Ulsrud off the board until the 4th end when they tied the game at 1. Gushue scored a single in the 6th end and then stole another point in the 7th end for a 2 point lead.

Ulsrud was able to score 2 points in the 8th end to tie the game at 3 after regulation, but Gushue held the all-important last shot hammer in the extra end, which he used for make an open hit for the win.

The Champions Tour Event, which is affiliated with the World Curling Tour, boasted a lot of international flavour including Olympic teams from Sweden, Denmark, Russia, Great Britain, Switzerland, as well as lineups from Czech Republic, France, Germany and Latvia, along with the lone-Canadian team, the Gushue foursome which included Brett Gallant, Adam Casey and Geoff Walker of St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.

Undefeated after the round robin, Gushue posted a 7-2 win over Switzerland’s Alex Attinger in the Quarterfinals, and then upended reigning back-to-back Baden Masters champion and Swiss Olympic representative Sven Michel 8-1 in the semifinals to advance to the championship game against Ulsrud.

“(The Semifinal) was a good game, a bit closer than the score indicated. Got a good break to score our first three when he was light on a tap. From there we were able to keep the peddle down and get a couple steals,” said Brett Gallant after the game.

“They (Michel) typically are tough to beat at this event so winning that game was huge.”

“(Michel) have the advantage of getting ice in mid-June which is definitely helping them improve to one of the top teams right now.”

Ulsrud’s ever-so-bright Norwegian team, also known as “The Pants,” boasted an undefeated record going into the final, beating reigning World Mens Champion and Swedish Olympic representatives Niklas Edin 8-3 in the quarterfinals, and moving past Pascal Hess of Switzerland with a 6-4 win the semifinals.

 
 

Champions Tour Curling got off to a great start this weekend in Baden, Switzerland. The Baden Masters embarked upon its 10th championship with as strong of a field as ever. International Curling talent litters this years Champions Tour Event to get an early foothold on the season.

Just a few of the many notable teams taking part in the 16 team round robin event are Sweden’s 2014 Sochi Olympic representative & reigning men’s world champion Niklas Edin, Norwegian 2010 Olympic Silver Medalists “the pants” Thomas Ulsrud, Great Britain 2014 Sochi Olympic representative David Murdoch, Canada’s 2006 Olympic Gold Medalist & 2-time Baden Masters champion Brad Gushue.

Home country favorite Sven Michel from Adelboden, Switzerland is looking to make it three Baden Masters titles in a row after a sharp 4-0 start in round robin play. Michel defeated Rasmus Stjerne of Denmark in the quarter finals, advancing with a 4-2 win and will face Gushue in the semi finals. The other semi final match Sunday morning, 9am CET (3am ET) features Ulsrud and Pascal Hess of Switzelrand. Viewers can catch live coverage from the Baden Masters online at:

http://www.laola1.tv/en/int/curling/video/229–.html

 
 

One of Canada’s best-known curlers has accepted a position to oversee the Chinese Curling Association’s men’s and women’s teams for the 2013-14 curling season, including the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Marcel Rocque of Edmonton, a four-time champion at the Tim Hortons Brier and three-time champion at the Ford World Men’s Curling Championship, all playing lead for the legendary Randy Ferbey team, made the announcement today.

“I will have an opportunity to experience an Olympic Winter Games, which is the only thing that isn’t on my list of accomplishments in the sport,” said Rocque. “Although I dreamed of this experience as a player with the Ferbey Four, trying to provide assistance as a coach would be the next best thing.”

Canadians have played prominent roles over the years in developing the sport of curling in various countries in a myriad of ways, including starting the game at the grassroots as well as the high-performance coaching level, administration and event management.

“Marcel has been a wonderful ambassador for curling in our country,” said CCA Chief Executive Officer Greg Stremlaw. “This is another example of how Canadian curlers are looking to build the sport, not only at home but around the world.”

Since retiring as an active player, Rocque has been an active coach, including with the Canadian Curling Association (CCA), focusing particularly on sweeping techniques at various camps around the country.

“Marcel has been a huge supporter of the Canadian Curling Association, both during his playing career and now as a mentor with our younger players,” said Gerry Peckham, the CCA’s Director, High Performance. “This short-term position should be extremely beneficial for Marcel as he takes steps to progress in his coaching career, with an eye on returning to the CCA’s fold down the road.”

Rocque said he was thankful for the support his family along with his employer, the Edmonton Public School Board, as well as principal Bryan Radmanovich at J. Percy Page High School (where Rocque is a culinary teacher) as he considered the opportunity with the Chinese Curling Association.

“I love my current job, and in the past, I was always involved with coaching and all the other aspects of physical education for the students I work with,” he said. “My innate desire to continue to be a student of the game, has led me to this opportunity. I’m going to go to China to see if I can have a positive influence on the game that I love so much in a land far away. I feel that I will be given the opportunity to gain some great experience and to learn from their way of approaching sport to hopefully one day have a similar opportunity in my own country.”

-30-

Media inquiries:

Al Cameron
Director, Communication & Media Relations
Canadian Curling Association
Tel: 403-463-5500
acameron@curling.ca
www.curling.ca

Marcel Rocque
Tel: 780-462-3322
mrocque@telus.net

 
 
 
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