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What’s in a Name?

The men’s world curling championship debuted in Scotland in 1959.  Only Canada and Scotland competed the first two years, but the event soon grew in size and popularity.

The Europeans played with a slightly different set of rules but, but for the most part, Canadian teams were able to adapt to the subtle differences with few problems.

In Canada, the player who threw last rocks had always been called the skip.  The fact that it was common practice for European teams to have a player other than the skip deliver last rocks mattered little to the Canucks.

At least it didn’t until 1978, when an Alberta team skipped by Mike Chernoff but with Ed Lukowich throwing last stones won the Brier.  Since Lukowich threw last rocks, the team was under his name.

In Canada, little attention was paid to a world rule that clearly stated – and still does – that the skip is the curler who holds the broom and calls the game, not the one who delivers the last stone.

Before the Lukowich-Chernoff team headed off to the 1978 world championship in Winnipeg, the International Curling Federation – now the World Curling Federation – demanded that the team be registered under Mike Chernoff’s name because he was the skip.  In Canada, some members of the media and curling fans protested, but to no avail.  The ruling stood.

After the 1978 world championship, the Canadian Curling Association changed its rule to match the world body’s, but not without much debate.

The fact is, recognizing a team by the name of the player calling the shots makes sense if you consider a curling team to have four players and six positions – first, second, third, vice-skip and skip – with each player assuming one of the positions of first through fourth, but with two of them doubling as skip and vice-skip.

It’s never been done, but the best way to recognize a team might be to identify the main person as the skip, who delivers fourth stones, and another as vice-skip, who throws third stones.  The Lukowich team of 1978, however, would have been identified as Mike Chernoff skipping and throwing third stones with Ed Lukowich as vice-skip throwing fourth stones.

While the CCA had changed the rule back in the late 1970’s, it never became an issue again until 2001, when the team of Randy Ferbey and David Nedohin won the Brier.  From Day One, the team followed the CCA’s rule that teams were to be known by the name of the person acting as skip – in this case, Randy Ferbey.

A few Canadian curling reporters and some fans challenged the team’s name because Nedohin threw last rocks, but it continues today to be known as the Randy Ferbey team.

Enter Team Gushue.  Going into the 2005 Tim Hortons Canadian Curling Trials, Brad Gushue was listed as the team’s skip and the person throwing last stone.  But the night before the event began, Gushue announced that alternate Russ Howard would be skipping the team and throwing second stones.  Gushue would act as vice-skip and throw last stones.  Because it was the 11th hour, the team entered the competition as Team Gushue and when it won, continued to be referred to as Team Gushue.  But according to the rules, it was really Team Howard.

The team retained Gushue’s name at the Olympic Winter Games – all the way to the gold-medal podium.  At the Olympics, however, the team’s name was not a major issue because it was mostly referred to as Team Canada.

Where do we go from here?  Well, the rule still stands, so any team with a player calling the shots other than the one throwing last stone is obliged to bear that person’s name.

But maybe there’s another way to look at it.  Maybe it’s time for curling teams to come up with names like those in other sports.  The St. John’s Puffins, for instance, could have Brad Gushue throwing last stones.  Or the Edmonton Bobcats could have Dave Nedohin delivering fourth rocks.

More food for thought and boardroom discussion?