The last time the Canadian men’s curling championship was played in St. John’s, in 1972, Bob Cole was a fan, but he also was among his peers.
The legendary Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster was, don’t forget, a highly competitive curler himself — a year earlier, he’d skipped Newfoundland and Labrador to a 4-6 record at the 1971 Macdonald Brier in blizzard-bound Quebec City, and he’d earn another Brier Purple Heart four years later in Fredericton.
So, the Sept. 14 announcement that the 2017 Tim Hortons Brier will be played in Cole’s hometown of St. John’s, at Mile One Centre, was meaningful on many levels, and Cole was among the special invitees to the news conference announcing that the St. John’s bid had indeed borne fruit.
“I attended a few meetings prior to today about the bid, and to finally hear today that they’ve awarded the Brier to St. John’s was terrific,” said Cole. “It’s our second time, and it’ll be a great success, everybody will have a wonderful time.”
Cole’s voice is synonymous with hockey broadcasting, of course, but his passion for curling is well-known on the Rock. He was in attendance at Paradise, N.L., on the weekend prior to the St. John’s Brier announcement to watch Team Brad Gushue reach the final of the Pinty’s Grand Slam event.
“The curling has improved so much across the country, as evidenced by our team (in Newfoundland and Labrador),” said Cole, who also played in two Canadian mixed championships. “Of course, we’re very proud of Brad and his boys. They’re world-class curlers now, and that’s what St. John’s is going to see. Television has done so much to expose curling, and this Brier coming to St. John’s will be a terrific week of curling.”
Cole was in the midst of establishing his play-by-play career when the 1972 Macdonald Brier was played at the since-demolished Memorial Stadium, and he had eventual winner Orest Meleschuk of Manitoba pegged as an early favourite before a rock was thrown.
“We had played Orest’s team a few months before in a bonspiel out west, an invitational thing,” recalled Cole. “Rod Hunter gave us the invitation to go in his place because he was somewhere else. When we heard that Meleschuk came out of Manitoba, we were like, oh-oh…we had seen him play and we knew he had a great team.”
There’s no question in Cole’s mind that the 2017 renewal of the Tim Hortons Brier will be a staggering success in St. John’s, especially considering the likelihood that a title contender will be representing the host province.
“I think it’ll be the case of many people saying, well, we’ve never been to Newfoundland — let’s try to get tickets. And I’ll bet people were doing that right after the announcement was made,” said Cole. “Everybody here is excited, and I’ll guarantee you that it’ll be organized properly, and it’ll be great fun. And the good thing about it is that Brad Gushue and his rink are curling so well. It’s down the road, of course, but if they don’t win (the Newfoundland/Labrador provincial title), any team that’s good enough to beat them will be a good team. So we’ll have good representation.”
As for his own plans for the March 4-12, 2017 Tim Hortons Brier? Well, in today’s media landscape, nothing is for certain about what Cole will be doing in terms of his broadcasting career. But somehow, some way, Cole will find his way to Mile One Centre.
“I think the hockey schedule is out of my hands,” he said with a chuckle. “But don’t worry — if I have a chance to be here, you can bet I’ll be here.”