One of the finest front-end players in curling history has passed away.
Neil Harrison, a two-time world champion with skip Ed Werenich (1983 as the lead, 1990 as the alternate), died early Monday at the age of 64.
In his prime, he was one of the game’s best leads, and was a trailblazer for front-enders who specialized in the positions. He earned six Brier Purple Hearts, representing Ontario, and was elected to the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame in 1991.
“He’ll be greatly missed, obviously,” said fellow Hall-of-Famer Russ Howard, who played against Harrison for many years in Ontario, and played two seasons with him in the late 1990s. “I truly believe he was the first of the guys in the modern era of curling to say that he was going to perfect his position. It used to be that your lead was your worst curler, where you put your weak link. But he was so good — he made a positive difference on every team he played for.”
Howard said Harrison, who also won 10 Canadian firefighters curling championships and was the captain of the victorious Team North America team at the 2011 WFG Continental Cup in Camrose, Alta., caught on to some of the nuances of curling, most of which are now commonplace, long before his peers
“We got to a final for $40,000, and I was throwing my draws heavy all week. I had a draw to the four-foot for the win against Kerry Burtnyk,” recalled Howard. “I let the rock go, and I’m screaming, whoa, whoa, right off. But Neil has his head down and he’s pounding it as hard as he can. Well, the thing ends up right on the button. We come off the ice to have a beer, and I say to Neil, ‘Why were you sweeping that? I slid out heavy, and I was heavy all week, but he told me that I slid heavy, but there was no rotation on the rock, so he knew it was going to die. That was Neil; he was ahead of his time in recognizing that sort of thing.”
Harrison was equally in demand off the ice, said Howard with a laugh.
“Nobody could hold court like Neil Harrison,” he said. “He was one of those guys who everybody wanted to sit down and have a beer with.”