Curling in September is one thing, curling in early September...unfathomable right? Well, with the way the plight of the Grand Slam of Curling series is headed, that inevitable day of having meaningful events in August may not be too far away. The first event on the now obligatory September curling schedule was the "Tour Challenge". This event was unique in the sense that, other than the fact that we had a early September grand slam event, this is the guinea pig era of the tour that is now including a tier two event. This idea of adding "tier two" curlers is an intriguing one to me because it naturally will grow the interest of the sport, something I've endorsed the desperate need of for quite some time. The game is need of a face lift, not for which the play the game is played, although the World Curling tour has introduced the five rock rule at select events, but a face lift for how the game is marketed to the public. I could spend the entire piece chiding how the game needs to be more visible to the youth locally but I will instead direct my thoughts on the outlook of the tour.
So the first event took place in the Maritime confines of Paradise, Newfoundland and Labrador. A round robin format was used with eight qualifiers advancing to the playoff round as is the customary norm for the tour. Going into play, normally you would classify the likes of Mike McEwen, Brad Jacobs and Kevin Koe as favourites on the mens side with reigning Olympic gold medalist Jennifer Jones, Eve Muirhead and Rachel Homan as the ladies to beat but my thought was because for a lot of these players, their arrival in Paradise was the first time they stepped onto the ice. In line with what I just mentioned, the fact that players may of been a tad "rusty", it may have provided an opportunity for teams with a lesser resume to shine but that was NOT the case. The usual suspects played their way into contention with Homan losing in the final and Kevin Koe upsetting the pro Newfie crowd by upending Brad Gushue. The men's final, and I can't comment too much on the women's final as I was sleeping/immersing in last minute fantasy football preparation(facepalm moment for benching Travis Kelce) was an entertaining one with Koe making a ridiculous runback double to essentially force an extra end. Homan, who even played an event before this one if you can believe it, won that one, and nearly won her second consecutive but a last end blunder caused a steal of two allowing the Swiss team Tirizoni the victory.
So what I wanted to discuss now, and I referenced this in my opening paragraph is the inclusion of their tier two event . The inaugural tier two events were won by Kerri Einarson and Jim Cotter, although I'm baffled on how Cotter didn't have the requisite number of points to qualify for a tier one as the the variance of this rink has been a force for years. Aside from that, the long term implications will beneficial as it provides more incentive for the lesser folk to keep trucking away. A "source" explained me to this afternoon after inquiring as to why there were so many Newfoundland teams filling out the men's half of the draw deciphered that the tour has a regional obligation to include X amount of local rinks. If this is incorrect, my "source" who happens to be a pretty good curler in his own right credibility goes out the window immediately. If anybody has further clarification on this, a response to my twitter handle @bretzky26 would be appreciated. If indeed my source had this correct, I have an issue because why are caving to the need of scouring in more local teams when the goal if I'm not mistaken is allowing more teams who have legitimate chances of being a respected competitor on the tour. The over the top local representation acts as a counterintuitive measure. Is it to increase attendance? I would hope and imagine that the presence of the Koe, Jones and Homan's of the world would be enough to create sustainable revenue. After spurting this all out I'm fully aware that my whole rant may all be for not if the local representation is a misnomer, but such is the life of a know-it-all sports blogger.
The last point I wanted to touch on was the quality of the television coverage. The Sportsnet team, who if you weren't already aware owns the rights to the Grand Slam series consists of host Rob Faulds with the analysts being Mike Harris, Kevin Martin and Regina's own Joan McCusker.
I don't usually find myself wanting to rag on local Reginans, but I'm not the first one who shares this opinion and won't be the last and that's Joan McCusker brings the broadcast down a notch. Her strategical input is always the top and never on point with how the game is strategized today. Her critiques may have held merit back in 1998 when she along with the great Sandra Schmirler became Canadian heroes winning the gold medal in the '98 Nagano Winter Olympics but the game has changed and her tactics are nowhere close to being valid. This is a game hovered around being aggressive early and bailing out quicker then you can the word, but the bailing out concept seems to be lost on her. As far as Rob Faulds is concerned, I quite enjoyed his work when he used to head the Toronto Blue Jay broadcasts but his lack of curling knowledge is quite comical at times. TSN uses a similar formula with Vic Rauter but as the staunch curling fan would know, Rauter's lack of knowledge is done on purpose to allow Russ Howard and Cheryl Bernard the opportunity to go in depth. Faulds on the other hand, may try to replicate Vic but it doesn't come across as genuine. Harris and Martin are extremely knowledgeable and unlike McCusker I do find them informative, but the lack of personality on air is off putting.