The 2016 Travellers Curling Club has just commenced with the most recent event hosted by the Kelowna Curling Club. In the Men's division, Ontario's Wesley Forget out of the Cataraqui Golf & Country Club who of note is the host club of next year's Traveller's event and for the ladies, the foursome out of the Fort Rouge Club in Winnipeg skipped by Tracy Andries reigned victorious. The premise of this article is to vocalize my disdain for the current format, not necessarily the structure for which the bonspiel is set up but more precisely the flawed qualification process that has been implemented to secure a spot in this prestigious club event.
I'm a club curler, and it goes without saying that I give Curling Canada full support for brainstorming an event that has National implications for curlers that otherwise would never even dream of participating in such event. The paramount issue that I have however is the way the event is trending and the types of teams and players that have flocked the fields in recent years. As mentioned in the opening sentence of this paragraph, I am indeed a club curler that has never competed or succeeded in a regional or provincial competition and would rate my chances of ever partaking in the current structure as slim to none and here I thought the event was formulated for curlers just like myself. Case in point, before I go any further with my "grievances", let's analyze the 2016 field to better illustrate my concerns. On the men's side we might as well begin with our champions from Ontario, the Forget rink. The week was certainly unforgettable for the foursome but for a couple curlers the sheer presence is just a tip of the cap in a semi-storied curling career. Skip Wesley is heavily invested in the World Curling Tour throwing second stones for Cody Maus, a former Canadian junior finalist. Being regular contributors on the Ontario World Curling tour circuit the competition he would've faced in Kelowna would be comparable to the a Major Junior hockey franchise taking on their junior A neighbours. Could have I cited a better comparable? Sure, but the point stands. So Forget won the event, but who did he square off against in the final? The answer to that trivia question would Saskatoon's own Kory Kohuch. Kohuch, a 2014 National Travellers champion(we'll touch on that later) was back and had a respectable showing not losing a game until the final. Kohuch on a personal level has competed in a Canadian Mixed championship as an Albertan and has additionally battled in a couple Mixed Provincial finals. What looks more boisterous on a resume....a Canadian Mixed appearance of a club curler national event? Clearly without any hesitation the Mixed takes the cake. Or how about Newfoundland and Labrador where skip Trent Skanes was Matt Blandford's third on the Newfoundland rink that fought their way to the National Junior final in 2004. Needless to say when Trent recollects on his curling achievements twenty years down the road he won't even remember his week in Kelowna. Now with the ladies, the list of notable throwers isn't as long but one name sticks out like a sore thumb and that would be Quebec's Nathalie Gagnon. Nathalie represented her province at the 2003 Scotties Tournament of Hearts which featured World Champions Jan Betker and Colleen Jones. I guarantee I've missed some curlers in this event that have prominently figured in National curling circles(Ontario second Graham Rathwell a Canada Winter games participant) which begs the question, a question that I've posed to those I know in the curling community and that is, what is the intent of this event????
I just asked for an answer as to what is the intent of the event? Is it for curlers that have achieved milestones in this sport so substantiate their resume? Sadly the answer to that question is yes but I'm here to pitch to the masses reading this that a change is needed to bring this back to the roots? I'm here for the individual that aspires to reach the pinnacle but knows that it's a virtual impossibility with the current eligibility requirements. We as a curling community need to dumb it down to a point where somebody like PEI's Ryan Giddens who I for one supported Curling Canada's decision to uphold the policy of making him ineligible, but somebody of that elk needs to be afforded the chance to not just play in the Travellers but be given a realistic chance to get to Nationals. What I'm going to do below is quote the current eligibility requirements and notate what changes I would instill.
The declared teams, through either process, MUST have at least three players that have played together in a sanctioned club league during the current season. A replacement fourth player (i.e. a player who did not play regularly on that team throughout the season) MUST play lead. Players who play exclusively in a major/super league without playing in another sanctioned club league are ineligible to compete. ** Clubs that only have mixed or open leagues (i.e. no men’s and women’s leagues) must contact their Association for approval to participate. *
A good friend of mine, a former participant at the 2015 nationals when we were discussing my thoughts brought up a good point, one I hadn't yet thought about and that's why are you penalizing curlers who may play with a good buddy who just happens to fall under the tree I'm attempting to chop down. To mediate this concern what I'm proposing is open up eligibility to make it where as long as the four curlers are members of the same club they can enter a team in playdowns to offset the difficulty of these very same teams would have in finding a substitute if one or more of their players have played in a provincial or National event.
Each club team will be allowed only one (1) players who has played in a Junior’s, Men’s, Women’s or Senior’s provincial in the current or previous four (4) years, or participated in a Grand Slam event in the current or previous four (4) years. (2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16). No player on the team can have played in a Canadian Junior’s, Men’s, Women’s, or Senior’s Canadian Championship for those years (i.e. national competitors are excluded as regular or replacement players on the team)
This is where I have the biggest problem. I apologize to those curlers who have participated in provincial or National competition that don't consider themselves elite but from my vantage point if you fast track that far in the process you're an "elite"curler and for purposes of this competition should be deemed ineligible. What I'm advocating for is the following. You play in any provincial competition in Men's, Women's Seniors or Mixed and I maintain that should nix the Travellers eligibility. I'm a little torn on juniors but after careful consideration I'm willing to accept a ten year junior provincial grace period where ten years after your last junior provincial you've earned a spot back in the pool. I'm adamantly opposed to having any curler who has dipped in the national waters. You've made a national? Congratulations, I'm envious but you do NOT belong in a Club Curlers championship. I know in some provinces due to a lack of playdown entrants when determining whether or not you fit within waiting the four years as currently constituted they calculate a certain percentage of entrants within that particular province and if you fall below the X percentage you're still able to compete in that year's Travellers. For these provinces, I don't exactly know what number should be other than to say the percentage should increase.
Lastly, and this is very black and white, I'm also calling for recycling as many teams as possible to fulfill as many curling dreams as humanly possible and while I'm okay with teams able to go back every other year the only slight change I'd make would be if you win an event at any point that ceases any future invitation you may be in line for. Kory Kohuch out of Saskatoon is the aforementioned prime example having won in 2014. For those gentlemen the club curling pinnacle had been reached and I would encourage Curling Canada to stipulate that in that scenario the torch would have to be forever passed.