Fit to Curl: Thoughts on the Continental Cup, Mixed Doubles and athleticism in curling

I began putting this entry together as I unpacked after the World Financial Group Continental Group and started to pull things together for the trip east for the TSN Casino-Rama Skins Game and the next Capital One Grand Slam, the BDO Canadian Open in Oshawa. A busy few weeks, to say the least.

Team North America at the 2011 WFG Continental Cup (Photo: Michael Burns Photography)

First, the Continental Cup. It was a fine showing by Team North America and a terrific five days that reminded me why I love to curl — the sport is filled with great people who know how to have a great time on and off the ice. Our captain and our coach, Neil Harrison and Rick Lang, were unbelievable — positive, fun to be around and masters at keeping everyone both prepared and relaxed. Growing up in Ontario, Neil Harrison was one of my idols, a player who was unmatched at his position and has always been such a credit to the sport. Neil set up his famous Harry’s Beach Bar in the Hospitality Room — many thanks to Jim Waite and Elaine Dagg-Jackson for making sure that it was well-stocked and our “spirits” were up — and it was the perfect place for all the members of Team North America to kick back and get to know each other a little better. And yes, we even let Team World make their way in. In fact, that’s another reason I love to curl — the camaraderie I have with my opponents. I’m friends with many of the players on Team World — Niklas Edin’s team spent a week at my house in Alberta last year when they were getting ready for the Grey Power Players Championship — and this event gave us a chance to compete hard on the ice and catch up off it. The MVP of the Continental Cup had to be the American rinks, Team Pete Fenson and Team Erika Brown. Let’s be honest, at most Continental Cups, the Canadian teams are expected to win all of their games and the American lineups are supposed to battle for some extra points. In St. Albert, the U.S. teams dominated, earning a ton of points for our side. I know that, after the Vancouver Games, there has been a lot of concern about the state of high-performance curling in the United States — Pete and Erika’s teams helped show people that there is a vital group of elite players in that country. For me, the most enjoyable thing about the Continental Cup is playing with different lineups and trying different formats. The Mixed Skins was both competitive and a lot of fun. I happen to think that part of the skill of curling is picking up the tendencies of new players and skipping in the Mixed Skins forced me to do that. Good stuff. While I know that not everyone is sold on it, I happen to love Mixed Doubles. It starts with the fact that it’s such an athletic format — the game moves quickly and the players are always active. How active? Well, I thought we might see a couple of picks when Ben Hebert was playing, considering how much sweat was pouring off the guy. My teammates and I have always considered ourselves athletes who happen to curl. And if you’re not an athlete and you’re not fit, you’ve got no shot in Mixed Doubles. I’d love to see Canada move away from picking two players from the winning team at the National Mixed and start running a true Mixed Doubles championship. Alternate it between the East and the West each year and make it a giant double knockout bonspiel. The games are short so a lot could be packed into every day. Curlers would have to pay their own way for the chance to compete but I’m convinced that if we did this, we’d see a lot of our elite players in the field. The top men and the top women players love to compete on a sheet of curling ice — if a Mixed Doubles championship was a compact event over a long weekend, a lot of us would make time for it. I realize this entry is a little light on fitness advice so I’ll finish by suggesting that if you want a great workout on the curling ice, play a high-stakes game of Mixed Doubles. Trust me, you’ll quickly realize how much work it is.