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March | 2014 | CurlingZone
 Monthly Archives: March 2014

After 4 years with Jon Mead and Reid Carruthers and 2 years with Mark Nichols, the Manitoba foursome is splitting up. Stoughton had mentioned earlier last weekend during the RockTalk segment on the Sportsnet Grand Slam of Curling broadcast that he hopes to curl next season, but under the right situations.

Team Stoughton will finish the season playing at the Pomeroy Inns Showdown in Grande Prairie, Alberta and the Players’ Championship in Summerside, PEI. With talk of Mark Nichols moving back to Newfoundland, there is an obvious reunion as Brad Gushue has mentioned he’s listening to offers, also mentioned during a Grand Slam of Curling RockTalk segment and is looking at all options to improve his team.

Brett Gallant, Adam Casey and Geoff Walker all moved to St. John’s, Newfoundland to join Team Gushue, so the question on whether they’re looking to move back to their home provinces also comes up in the discussion.

More on the Story from Paul Wiecek:


By DJ Brooks – Columnist

While there was some weather issues, by all accounts, the Syncrude National held in Fort McMurray, Alberta from March 12-16th was a huge spectator success.

The “Slams” and the World Curling Tour have struggled over the years to find the exact niche in which to appease fans, curlers, sponsors, and tv producers all at the same time.

While tv ratings of the Slam event were lower than the opening weekend of the World Curling Championships (According to Bob Week’s blog), there is still plenty to be excited about with this year’s event in Fort McMurray.

This was one of the first World Curling Tour events – that I am aware of – that produced the physical atmosphere similar to the high end curling events that the WCT competes with.  The Brier, Scotties, and World Championships are all entrenched events, with the advantage of provincial and national attachments.  The WCT is simply the best curling in the world.  Therefore fans don’t have jerseys, colours, or flags in to cheer with and show everyone else how much they care about one particular team.

Fort McMurray is a unique case as it is a small isolated town.  That means the WCT event was “the” event in town.  As well, Fort McMurray is a well known resource town that is booming –giving those that live in town the financial ability to attend sporting events.

For those watching on TV the full house and large crowds had a significant effect.  Typically watching WCT events I always wonder, why is no one there?  These are the best curlers on the planet, yet the stadiums look empty.  With Fort McMurray we all could visually see that the stadium was smaller, but we could hear the enthusiasm in the stands, we felt the emotion, and we couldn’t see an empty seat.

This doesn’t change the product on the ice one bit – it has always been top notch.  What it does do is it gives the sport credibility.  The sponsors like it.  The players like it.  And now when a casual curling fan turns the channel and sees a WCT event they won’t think it is a second string event.  Seeing a full house gives the event the instant credibility it needs to draw the non-hardcore fan in and have them watch 8 great ends of curling.

With the Players Championships coming up in PEI next month we will truly see if the WCT has been able to turn the attendance corner or if simply Fort McMurray was a great curling location.  There is also the possibility that PEI being a small town province, and the summer tourism not in full swing for the 2014 summer season, that the Players Championships also provides good crowds (not to mention it being the last chance to see teams like Howard, Stoughton, etc. together).

Personally, I really hope the crowds continue.  As we grow our great game we allow our stars to get paid more.  We keep sponsors happy, which means more curling on tv.  And most importantly, we continue the culture of camaraderie – even in the fans – of the curling community.

Good curling everyone.


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.

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