Coming out of retirement (albeit briefly) reminded me again as to how tough it can be for teams who are on the road almost every second weekend over a nine-month period.
That was one of the biggest reasons I decided to retire from the game… travel. It just got old after doing it for so many years. However, my brief stint out of retirement in September was different. First, I knew there was an end date. Second, I really do miss competing and being out there on the ice with my team.
Weekend #1: Team Jones
I got the call early in the summer from Team Jennifer Jones, asking if I could spare for Jen at the Colonial in Saskatoon as she wouldn’t be back on the ice after the new addition to her family, baby Skyla.
I was all over this, and for many reasons. You don’t get many opportunities in curling to play with other teams, and especially one that you competed against for many years. And I was also curious as to how this team retains the desire and grit that they always seem to have.
We started with a 6-2 win over Regina’s Chantelle Eberle, after going 4-1 up after four ends. Then we lost 7-3 to Team Japan, the Saiji Fujisawa team that finished second at the worlds back in April. Our time in the second event didn’t last long as we lost again, 7-3 as well, to Brett Barber’s team from Biggar, the hometown of Sandra Schmirler.
With our backs to the wall, we got it going in the C-side. We took two big ends to beat Kronau’s Kim Schneider 7-2 and then we qualified for the playoffs with a 5-3 win over a great team: Val Sweeting of Edmonton. They stole the first three ends and then we took a deuce and stole the next two ends to take the lead.
We got our revenge on Team Japan in the quarterfinals, winning 6-5, before finally losing out in the semis against Eve Muirhead. The Scots went on to lose the final to China’s Bingyu “Betty” Wang, who won the $11,000 top prize.
We would have had a chance to get to the final had that Team Jones skipper not been so rusty. I will say this: Eight days of regular throwing after being off for two years is not enough to fine-tune a player who normally threw every day during every past season. Now and then a slide would come out of nowhere that, well, I will say wasn’t exactly “textbook.” Obviously some layers of dust had not been completely removed when I blew off my shoes!
What did I learn?
Almost from game one, I watched Dawn McEwen and Jill Officer passionately discuss how they could have swept something better, or differently. Who should have given the weight call and how could they do it differently next time. How could they be better overall. It became very clear to me why this team stays at the top of their game. They simply do not do complacency.
It’s always a battle for top teams to avoid complacency in sport and it could be especially hard for Team Jones. They are sitting there, in the number two position on the Order of Merit, they have secured their spot in Canada’s 2017 Trials and they already own an Olympic medal from 2014.
Prior to winning the big ones, you come to practice each day excited, committed and motivated. However, once you achieve a major goal, a subtle process often begins to take place. You start to enjoy the perks that go along with that success. You don’t quite work with that same edge. You are now the hunted, rather than the hunter. Nothing seems wrong. And there are no warning signs and soon you find yourself no longer at the top of the heap. Complacency has set in. What do you set your sights on? Who is pushing you to make you better?
It seems to me that Team Jones has it figured out. They push each other to be better and they recognize that they are at the top and they are being hunted. Other teams are right on their heels, working harder, better and smarter and if the Jones team let down for one instant, those teams will surpass them.
Those are characteristics I would look for in teammates, someone who tells you like it is out there, someone that is pushing you to make you better, someone who is never satisfied and who is eager to learn and adapt.
The other thing this tour experience reminded me of was how much I loved playing this game at a high level. The shotmaking, the drive, the teamwork and the desire to always improve is what drew me to this game in the first place, and that is what makes me – even sitting on the warm side of the glass in the TSN booth – appreciate the players, the hard work, and the commitment. That is something I will always miss.
Weekend #2: Team Bernard tune-up
Our 2010 Olympic team decided to enter a small event in Calgary, just for a little tune-up for the following weekend in Vernon. Sadly our lead, Cori Morris, had torn her ACL a couple of weeks prior, so hubby Sean Morris came in to substitute for her.
I could tell the weekend playing at the Colonial had helped, and I was able to limit the “where did that come from” throws to one per game… and things were starting to feel good!
The girls (and guy) played well, and we lost the final, and we felt prepared for Vernon.
Weekend #3 Team Bernard in Vernon
This is our annual Olympic reunion ’spiel, and it’s a time for us to have some fun, share some laughs and curl!
Last season when we walked out onto the Vernon ice, we said “let’s enjoy this, no pressure.” But with the first rock sliding down the sheet, you could see that any thoughts of “just enjoy” had turned to all-business. You just can’t take the competitive drive out of players who have known nothing different all their lives.
This year we had to dust off an old foe of ours to replace Cori, Lawnie McDonald. She admitted that two days before the event she hadn’t even found her shoes, so I tried to temper my expectations of this event for our team. I soon realized that was unnecessary; Lawnie was her usual brilliant and talented self.
And right on cue, first rock of the game, we were all business (with some good laughs at ourselves and each other) and we were definitely there to win. Last year we had gone 6-0 until we ran into a hot Kerri Einarson team in the quarterfinals.
This year, we started rough with a 11-3 loss to the talented Kelsey Rocque team from Edmonton. But things quickly improved as we won four in a row to finish second in our pool. In the quarterfinals we beat Winnipeg’s Cathy Overton-Clapham, and in the semis we won the rematch over Rocque to qualify for the final – a total score of 13-4 in those playoff games!
(I could hear myself in the booth preaching that the keys to winning are limiting Points Allowed.)
Unfortunately, we ran out of gas in the final, losing to BC’s Marla Mallet. But that was quite a mini-run: I played in three events, made two finals, and the lowest finish was in the semis.
There will be a time where we will lose more games than we win, but until that happens and we remain reasonably competitive, I do hope we continue to get together as a team for the laughs, the friendships and the wins!
What has changed?
Sweeping, which was a huge relief for me after last year’s painful brush with Broomgate. And we are now back to sweeping for tight or light, with mostly two sweepers. It was awesome and it was back to real curling again! I shall say no more on the subject!
The other thing I noticed was the choice of hit weights used. Even when I left the game a couple of years ago, players were bringing their hit weights down from 9.5 seconds from hog-to-hog (hogline to hogline) to between 10 and 10.5 seconds from hog-to-hog. And I noticed many players throwing close to 11-second hit weight, albeit the ice must be fast and consistent to do this.
It’s impressive: More rolls are made, teams bring in their sweepers more often and I think draw weight has improved because players aren’t throwing a 9.5-second hit, then following it up with a 15.5-second draw.
We have some fabulous junior leagues and junior competitive camps in this country. But the one thing I believe we are lacking is the opportunity for kids to just come out for a couple of hours to try the game of curling, and at the same time throw in some Olympians and players that are passionate about the game to provide added inspiration.
So, in partnership with KidSport, I helped created a one-day “For The Love of Curling” event in Calgary to introduce kids age 6-15 to the sport of curling. And it was exciting!
We maxed out on our registration: 150 kids showed up to try this game along with some fabulous Olympians, John Morris, Susan O’Connor, Carolyn Darbyshire and Cori Morris, plus some incredible instructors and volunteers – without them, this event could not have happened.
The kids were treated to a fun curling movie, Rocks & Rings floor curling, on-ice instruction and finally pictures and autographs with the Olympians.
Our hope was that 20% of these kids would run back to their parents after the camp and beg them, “Please sign me up in a league!”
From all accounts, it was a success, and I have received numerous email messages from many different leagues letting me know that two or three kids have joined their league… and these kids had attended our camp.
Thank you all who helped make this happen!
Our final #getemhookedyoung event will be November 19 in Medicine Hat, Alberta, and this event is presented by New Holland. The crew at the Medicine Hat Curling Club have already secured the 20-plus volunteers needed to run the event, and we have enlisted some great media partners to get the word out.
I expect this to be another sold-out event with some more little ones getting “hooked” on the game. And as you can see, although I am officially retired, I’m still hooked myself!
Follow on Twitter @TeamBernard