The Fortune Cookie

When Teams Canada arrived in Fredericton, NB for the World Senior Curling Championships, Chris Jurgenson (5th for Team King) et moi were the last to arrive. A text message received as we waited for our bags to appear on the luggage carousel at the Fredericton Airport told us that the remainder of the Canadians were at the Diplomat Restaurant beside the Delta Hotel, our “home” for the next 12 days.

After dropping our luggage into our rooms, Chris and I headed straight to the restaurant. It was hugs all around to finally, after 12+ months of preparation, be at the site of the WSCC and only days away from “getting it on”!

Although most of the team had already eaten, Chris and I decided to order some food. For my part, to make the process easier and quicker, I opted for the restaurant’s signature Chinese buffet complete with the ever present fortune cookie. As a group of ten, we then made our way to the Delta to finalize our pre-event training plans.

An integral part of those plans was a few days of training at the nearby Capital Winter Club where we had made arrangements to use their ice surfaces for “two-a-days”, one at 10:00 and again at 17:00. Some of the other participating countries also availed themselves of this opportunity to train prior to the start of the WSCC or its companion event, the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship. It was great to meet athletes from other countries!

Friday, April 12 was the Pre-event Training Day for all teams. This is standard operating procedure at major curling events whereby teams have a set amount of time to train on each of the sheets to be used in the event. Teams Canada had rehearsed the pre-event training format to maximize the time available.

It was on that day that I saw one particular team on the men’s side of the event that made me recall a similar time at last years WSCC in Copenhagen, Denmark. One team exhibited body language which screamed that they were the most talented curlers at the event therefore the final outcome was a foregone conclusion. In Copenhagen I recall whispering to one of the Team Canada athletes that to me that team’s body language foreshadowed a very different story. I leaned in and stated, “Look at them. Not only will they not win, they won’t even make the playoffs”! I did the same thing this year. I’m not an I-told-you-so person, but the truth is that neither team made the playoffs. They both arrived with the wrong “attitude” and if you have followed these posts you know how I feel about attitude! It won’t come as a surprise when I tell you that the Canadians “just couldn’t wait to play”! And did they play!

The venue for the WSCC and WMDCC was the sparkling new “Grant Harvey Centre” on the outskirts of Fredericton, NB. The building, housing two ice surfaces, was named in honour of two of Fredericton’s favourite sons, both former NHL players, Danny Grant and the late Buster Harvey. The two ice surfaces were separated on two levels by change rooms on the lower and meeting rooms on the upper. One of those large rooms served as the “patch” and allowed spectators to freely move between the two competitions.

The local organizing committee, under the leadership of Wayne Tallon, did an outstanding job hosting these world curling events! Nearly 400 volunteers met our every need and did so with a friendly smile. To Wayne, his committees and volunteers, THANK YOU! You are the gold standard for future WSCC and WMDCC events. I hope the two representatives from Dumfries, Scotland, site of the 2014 WSCC and WMDCC were paying attention. Interestingly enough, Wayne Tallon will be skipping Team Canada in Dumfries next April.

The WSCC and the WMDCC are different from the WCF events for men and women (held this year in Riga, Latvia and Victoria, BC) in that any member of the WCF may be represented. That means that if every member did send a team, there would be 50. Well, there weren’t 50 but on the WSCC side of the ledger, there were 14 women’s teams in two pools of seven and twenty men’s teams in two pools of 10. It meant that Team Cathy King (with third Carolyn Morris, second Lesley McEwan, lead Doreen Gares and alternate Chris Jurgenson) played six round robin games while Team Rob Armitage (with third Keith Glover, second Randy Ponich, lead Wilf Edgar and alternate Lyle Treiber) faced 9 round robin opponents.

Playoffs are simple, with two semi-finals and a final with the semi-final opponent coming from the other pool in a 1st v 2nd format. In other words, 1st from one pool played the 2nd place team in the other pool. For us it meant Team King would tangle with the ladies from Sweden and the men would battle the Swiss.

There were two aspects of these semi-final encounters worthy of note. The Swedish women’s team was not a senior team, they were a “masters” team. I believe the youngest member was 62 but don’t let chronology get in the way of excellence. These ladies were on their 10th trip to the WSCC! Tenth! They’ve been there before, know what’s around every corner and have at least one world title to their name. On the men’s side, the Swiss men chose to forego an opportunity to train on the ice surface that had been used all week for the WMDCC. That decision meant they would play with stones on an ice surface they were seeing for the first time. I don’t make a habit out of second guessing my coaching colleagues but wow, for the sake of another hour in bed to not train, well, as I said at the time, “Let’s not judge until our game with them is over. It might be a brilliant decision!” Ummm, no! The game was not close, and over in the required 6 ends. So, Team Armitage knew it was off to the final later that day.

The women from Edmonton, got their money’s worth from the Swedish women and had to win it in the extra end on an open draw to the 8′. But the last end of regulation could have gone very differently. Down one with last stone advantage, Sweden had the only two stones in the house on opposite sides and Cathy had already played her first stone in the end. Two hit-and-stay shots by Sweden and the Canadian women’s 50 game win streak at the WSCC would end and we’d have been playing for bronze. But skip Meldahl hit and rolled out. King made her hit and stay leaving an open draw to the full 12′ for the tie to extend the game to an extra end. You already know that it did indeed go to the extra end but it was not due to a pretty easy draw. The Swedish skip chose to hit a Canadian stone biting the top 12′ at about 1 o’clock and she chose the outside-in rotation. Yikes! She hit the stone, rolled to the edge of the 12′ and only a “spin back” to win the measure forced the extra end which the Canadian quartet executed extremely well and, well, you know the result.

The gold medal games were solid efforts by the players wearing the maple leaf. The opposition for Team King was provided by Austria, the surprise semi-final winner over Scotland. With a score of 6 in the first end for Canada, the Austrians knew it was going to be uphill all the way. They finally shook hands with the Canadians at the end of six. One gold won with one to go!

The Red Deer Alberta foursome had a legitimate contender in the Kiwis. I happened to have coached three of them in an earlier life and knew them well. They could play and were the only other undefeated men’s team. Skip Armitage formulated a game plan based upon the fact that the New Zealand skip had burned the candle at both ends, playing in the WSCC and the WMDCC. Rob felt that New Zealand skip Hans Frauenlob had played so many draws to the 4′, he might use that against him. Well, whatever the plan was, a score of 3 in the 6th end sealed the deal for the Albertans.

It was gold in stereo for Canada. “O Canada” never sounded so good to ten very well prepared, talented and dedicated senior curlers. I detected a tear or two on the cheeks of the men from Red Deer. Men who very likely can’t recall the last time that happened and good for them!

Those tears and the hugs from the athletes were my reward!

When asked by people how it is to coach gold medalists at the world level, I explain that it’s really complicated. You get two very talented, hard working and dedicated teams, then you stay out of the way!

And oh yes, that fortune cookie, it read, “You will soon be awarded in public.” I’d also provide the ever-present lottery numbers but I’m going to play them myself, something I don’t do. If the next post comes from the Bahamas, you’ll know that fortune cookie really was golden.