The Macdonald Lassie was held at Sault Ste. Marie in 1978, in the old Sault Ste. Marie Gardens, and while a number of locals will remember the event, probably few will recall the number of significant things that happened during that second-last Lassie 32 years ago.
The week probably started out normally but on the Tuesday morning of championship week the ice crew arrived on the scene early in the morning to find the playing surface in a state of disarray.
It seems the local junior hockey team, the Greyhounds, had been allowed entrance to the arena very early in the morning to gather equipment and other items from their dressing room. While in the building, a number of junior hockey starlets had decided to give another ice sport that didn’t require skates or sticks a whirl and, as a result, created substantial damage to the curling ice.
While the ice crew had originally thought the damage could result in the morning games being delayed, repairs were completed quickly and the draw was run off on time. Question is, do you remember who one of the Greyhound players was in 1978? If you guessed Wayne Gretzky you’d be 100 per-cent correct.
During the Macdonald Lassie era, it was traditional for a luncheon involving the curlers to be hosted during the week by then Macdonald president, David M. Stewart. A gentleman by the name of John Hudson was the head of CBC Television Sports at the time and he asked the Canadian Ladies Curling Association (CLCA) if he could attend the luncheon to make a special announcement involving women’s curling and the CBC.
The Brier final and the Air Canada Silver Broom were televised by the CBC at that time but coverage of the Lassie or any other women’s curling event was non-existent. During that luncheon, Hudson announced that, starting with the last Macdonald Lassie in Montreal in 1979, the CBC would be televising the final game.
However, one of the conditions would be a format change from a straight round-robin draw to a round-robin followed by a three-team playoff. This meant, before the week ended in 1978, the CLCA would need to make a decision to change from the traditional round-robin format to a new system that would allow a playoff to take place.
This, of course, was considered a slam-dunk and the 1978 Canadian ladies championship was the last during which a champion was declared by round-robin play only.
There was more to Hudson’s announcement on that February day in 1978, too. He also proclaimed a similar approach would be taken for the Brier in 1980, for the Canadian junior men’s championship and the Canadian mixed championship. All were to be altered to include a playoff format. It was an announcement that took championship curling coverage on TV to a new level and it was made at The Soo in 1978.
But, looking back to the 1978 Lassie: As mentioned, at that time Canadian women’s champion was determined by round-robin play only. The championship involved 11 teams, one entry for each province and one entry for the northern territories. That meant one team had a bye on every draw (five sheets of ice were in use).
The champion for that year, Cathy Pidzarko of Winnipeg, had the last round bye on the Friday evening which meant the soon-to-be-anointed-champion was seated in the stands for the final draw. And not only was she sitting in the stands, but she was sitting in the stands as the undisputed winner.
After her final round-robin game on Thursday afternoon, Pidzarko was at least two games in front of her closest competitor so the final round was for naught. Hence the case was more-than-made for the format change that was instituted to following year.
One wonders. Will the 2010 Scotties here in The Soo produce the same kind of excitement and alterations to curling’s history book. We shall watch and see with interest.