A little birthday curling chat

Since today is my 25th birthday, I’ve decided to celebrate this special occasion by writing about one of my favourite sports: curling.
Granted, I could have gone with a long-winded piece about auto racing or soccer, as well, but I already wrote a column on motorsports last week.
This is one of my favourite times of the year as a sports fan, mainly because you have the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the Tim Hortons Brier, and both the men’s and women’s world championships in rapid succession.
And as a diehard curling supporter, I’m pretty much diving in like those who head to Tim Hortons at this time of year for its “Roll Up the Rim to Win” contest.
The biggest event of the last week obviously was Rachel Homan’s win in the Scotties final over long-time front-runner Jennifer Jones of Manitoba on Sunday night in Kingston.
While they had been to the nationals two years ago, and both Homan and her third, Emma Miskew, had captured the Canadian junior women’s title in 2010, the performance by the Ottawa rink this year was on a whole other level.
In something that’s completely unheard of at this level, the Homan quartet has complied a record of 36-1 since Nov. 13 of last year, with their only blemish being a round-robin setback to Jones during the Scotties last week.
The most impressive thing about the rink, though, besides the fact that they are one of the youngest teams to ever win the national title, is the style of game they play. Unlike many of her peers, the 23-year-old Homan throws a blistering take-out weight that leads to a ton of game-saving shots, and is something that has to be accounted for when going up against her.
With that aggressive style, the Homan team often has high-scoring ends. But they also can be bitten when a risky shot goes wrong, such as their late loss to Tracy Horgan in the Ontario Scotties final last year.
Seemingly as soon as the final rock was thrown Sunday, the Homan rink has become the new favourite to win the Olympic trials later this year in Winnipeg, which will allow them to go on and represent Canada at the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia in 2014.
While the title of favourites might be a little presumptuous, especially since Jones’ rink was built three years ago with the Olympic trials in mind, there’s no doubt in my mind that Homan eventually will be wearing the Maple Leaf at the Olympics with her teammates.
But prior to any of that, the Ottawa rink will be competing at the women’s world curling championship in Riga, Latvia in a couple of weeks, where they’ll be going up against the one team that can match them when it comes their aggressive style of play: Scotland’s Eve Muirhead.
And that’s where I will stop talking about the women’s side of curling, as I’ll start equating this opening-day contest between my personal two favourite rinks into the modern day version of the “Thrilla in Manila.”
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On the men’s side of things, all eyes will be on Edmonton starting Saturday afternoon, where this year’s Tim Hortons Brier will see one of the strongest fields in recent years.
Not only are three of the most successful skips of all time returning to the event in Alberta’s Kevin Martin, Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton, and Ontario’s Glenn Howard, but former winner Jean-Michel Menard (Quebec), Olympic gold-medal winner Brad Gushue (Newfoundland & Labrador), and the always-strong Brad Jacobs (Northern Ontario) also will be right in the mix to win.
However, one team I’ll be keeping a close eye on will be Saskatchewan’s Brock Virtue, who has one of the most interesting stories of any team to have made it to the Brier in quite a while.
Having taken his team to a surprise runner-up finish at the Alberta provincial playdowns last year, Virtue announced soon afterwards that he was moving to Regina to form a new team, where he would be joined former Canadian junior champions Braeden Moskowy and DJ Kidby and one-time Brad Gushue teammate Chris Schille.
While the team has a ton of talent, they also are known for their fiery attitude, as they’ve kicked many a rock and broke many a broom on the tournament trail this season.
In fact, during their run to the Saskatchewan title, Schille was ejected from a game due to foul language—leaving his team with just three players for the rest of the way.
Obviously, being a bit of a potty-mouth and appearing to be a poor sport isn’t going to sit well with the older guard, but that type of colour might excite some of the younger fans.
I mean, Heather Nedohin said (and this is obviously edited) “Sugarballs” during last year’s Scotties and became quite a hit on the social media scene as a result.
Now, do I think the atmosphere of a curling event should turn into a college frosh party? Obviously not.
But there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of a different taste of things from a few characters every now and then, and hopefully the Virtue rink does just that this weekend.