Ten teams of wheelchair curlers present significant logistical challenges to any venue hosting a Canadian National Wheelchair Curling Championship. Every organising committee works long and hard, fielding friendly and enthusiastic volunteers. This year's co-chairs Gerry Austgarden and Deanna Tuokko had the advantages of proximity of the host hotel to the curling club, the space for 50 plus wheelchairs to manoeuvre inside the club, a schedule that avoided a three draw day, and almost perfect weather.
Experience showed in the results. The top three teams all had ex-Team Canada members throwing fourth stones, and it was probably no co-incidence that the BC teams, Manitoba and Alberta, the teams that reached the play-offs, have the longest record of participation in the Championship, with mostly players experienced in week long competition.
Gary Cormack, skip of the BC Host team had seemed very relaxed during the week, saying he was "quietly confident" he could beat Team BC. "We beat them in the Provincial round robin," he reminded me. It was good to see Vince Miele win his jacket on his on-ice performance, rather than physical proximity to the winning team. He's been around since the earliest days and his perseverance won a just reward.
Gerry Austgarden will feel disappointed to have fallen just short, especially with the upstairs gallery full of family and friends. He had his chances to win but too often had trouble finding draw weight. BC lead Alison Duddy played well at lead after just a year curling. She was coached by Frank Labounty who drove from Prince George to Quesnel throughout the season to assist their wheelchair curlers.
Manitoba's Chris Sobkowicz probably felt, as I did, that this would be his breakthrough year. Last year's Manitoba team appeared to be having no fun, and there was clear tension between team and coach by the end of the week. This year they changed coaches, but were just as dour and unsmiling, a fact that was remarked upon by several teams. Chris even refused to shake the hands with a member of one team that beat them.
It's possible to want to win too much. You lose perspective. Every mistake hurts and there's a slight around every corner. An experienced coach can perhaps help, but only if the team sees it as a problem. Most teams would be delighted with another bronze, but not, I suspect Manitoba. They barely raised a smile all week before claiming three of the four places on the All-Star team. Why then didn't they win the important matches? If it wasn't poor execution, then perhaps they need to look at their game calling.
Alberta lost their page play-off on a last rock hit that rolled an inch too far, just as skip Jack Smart's last rock in the 2009 final. This year Alberta were without third Bruno Yizek. Though Anne Hibberd stepped up, and Martin Purvis won All-Star at second (he was probably the most improved player over last year) it was clear that Jack missed Bruno's presence on the ice.
There was a noticeable gap in ability between the top three teams and the six teams with losing records. For Ontario it was their first nine-draw tournament, and if they can get past what will be tough opposition next year, they will benefit from this year's experience. Moving skip Bruce Cameron to third for the harder throwing Doug Morris seemed a sensible idea though the whole team's statistics suffered as the week wore on.
Nova Scotia proved they can play by being the only team to beat BC Host. They also beat Alberta and lost narrowly to BC and Manitoba. But they also lost to bottom of the table Newfoundland and Quebec.
No one could accuse Saskatchewan of not enjoying themselves, but like Northern Ontario they brought the same players but failed to improve on last year. Quebec had a horrible start that dented skip Ben Lessard's confidence, but they finished by winning their last two games, which made it all the more disappointing that the three male team members chose to leave a day early and did not attend the banquet.
Newfoundland and Labrador brought the same team, only without Chris Daw at skip, with probably predictable results. With three women on the team it should be possible to grow their provincial program, given that the stumbling block for most teams is difficulty attracting female curlers.
Looking forward to next year I hope the CCA reconsider their decision not to support broadcasting the games. Though they had an "official" website, it contained no information outside of scores and statistics and photographs. (Their coverage of the Paralympics was limited to a photograph and a press release announcing coverage that never materialised.)
I know that the CCA's Danny Lamoureux understands the value of publicity, but if wheelchair curlers, their families and supporters want to know what is going on at their national championship, they need to ask the CCA to fund coverage, whoever does it, as they did last year in Halifax. You can reach Danny Lamoureux at firstname.lastname@example.org.