The Fort Frances Curling Club will host its second provincial bonspiel in three years in late February.
The Northern Ontario Curling Association awarded the senior provincial curling championships to the local club from Feb. 24-27—just two years after it hosted the men’s provincial showdown.
There also should be a few familiar faces at the event since the club hosted the senior regional playdowns this past January.
Curling committee chair Ron Silver explained that with so many marquee events at the club in recent years, the facility is well-equipped to answer the bell when Region 1 has an opportunity to welcome curlers from around Northern Ontario.
“We’ve hosted other events in the past—the [Ontario] Scott Tournament of Hearts in 2006 and we had the men’s provincials two years ago here,” Silver noted.
“We’re set up for doing these things already,” he added. “We’re slowly renovating the building, so it’s cleaned up.
“We’re an established club.”
Silver recalled that landing the seniors’ event here was a fairly simple process given the region’s number came up to host it—and the FFCC put together a bid that turned out to be a winner.
“The event was coming to Northwestern Ontario,” he pointed out. “It was up for our zone, so we applied and it was awarded to us.”
The bonspiel will welcome one male rink and one female rink from each of Northern Ontario’s six regions.
Each division will feature a round-robin format before the playoff round.
“There’s going to be two tournaments in one, so to speak,” Silver enthused.
Silver said the other good-sized bonspiels here were successes, and anticipates more of the same again when the senior provincials roll around.
“We’ve had tremendous community support—lots of volunteers,” he lauded. “The volunteers have been great.
“We get lots of sponsors from the town, so the support’s been good.”
The next step, of course, is to get spectators in the seats, which may not be too difficult given the potential for some big-time curlers to attend, including Al Hackner, who won world championships in 1982 and 1985.
“We’re hoping to get a lot of spectators out because we’ve got lots of [room for] viewing,” said Silver.
“There should be some big-name curlers here on the senior circuit,” he added.
Hackner’s presence is no guarantee (he still has to qualify out of his region like anybody else) but if he does decide to compete, he would be an odds-on favourite given he took both the regional and provincial men’s titles this past season without losing a game.
As well, some local content could make it to the provincials again.
Judy LaBelle and her rink played in the provincial tournament this past winter before losing in the final to Sudbury’s Vicki Barrett.
LaBelle is excited at the prospect of playing in front of a hometown crowd for the second time in as many years.
“I think it’s great,” she enthused. “I’m really glad they’re having it here.
“It’s about time we had a provincial here.
“We’re really hoping to make it this year and curl for the home crowd,” she added.
But even though she advanced from the regionals that were held here, LaBelle was reluctant to conclude there was any sort of home ice favour working for her rink.
“It’s not an advantage because there’s more pressure to do well,” she recalled.
“We had great support when we did play here in the regional,” she stressed. “It’s your own personal ‘you want to do well in front of your hometown.’”
Meanwhile, local curler Ken McKinnon and his rink participated in the regionals here on the men’s side, finishing with a 1-4 record.
McKinnon noted that while he enjoyed playing in front of the home crowd, any other advantages of being familiar with the ice quickly were muted as the experienced rinks settled onto the surface.
“At that level, these curlers are generally experienced enough,” he explained. “They pick up on that fairly quickly.
“They’re very knowledgeable and it doesn’t take many ends ’til they have it all figured out.”
Indeed, the high calibre of competition levelled the playing field significantly, but also helped McKinnon and his crew aim to take their game to a new height.
“It’s nice to play at home, but when you play in something like that, it’s at a different level, and it’s at a level we’re not used to competing at, so you have to turn everything up a notch,” he recalled.
“It was a great thrill,” he added. “I think it generally brings the best out of everybody when you do play better competition.”
But while McKinnon doesn’t think it’s likely he’ll get to take to home ice for the provincials this coming February, he wasn’t ruling anything out.
“If we get the chance, we will try,” he pledged.