Northern Ontario deserves some respect

Well, that age-old curling argument is back in the news again. Talk about kicking a dead horse.
Just last week, Kevin Martin’s third, John Morris, told the Calgary Herald that he believes the defending team (which would be his) should have an automatic bye to the Tim Hortons Brier in favour of qualifying a team from Northern Ontario.
“I know the Northern Ontario fans out there will not be a big fan of this, but the Scotties Tournament of Hearts [women’s championship] has it right,” Morris told the Herald.
“You bring the winning team back, it’s like Marketing 101. You can market the heck out of the team, and to be the best, you have to beat the best, and that’s very true when it comes to a major event like the Brier.
“And this year, you add a [Randy] Ferbey or [Kevin] Koe to the mix [along with Martin], it adds a whole new great element to the Brier,” Morris argued.
Despite Morris’ comments, Martin’s foursome won the Boston Pizza Cup provincial playdowns in Wainwright over the weekend, beating a field that included former world champion Ferbey.
Certainly Morris is right in saying two Alberta rinks would help market the Calgary-based event, and certainly Ferbey’s team would be a favourite had they qualified, but that’s what makes the road to the Brier so uniquely difficult a task.
The same predicament is faced by teams in Manitoba and elsewhere, where inevitably a Jeff Stoughton or Kerry Burtnyk (to name a few) will lose out simply because only one team can punch their ticket from each province.
It forces rinks to be at their best before they get to the Brier, and it adds excitement to the provincial playdowns taking place across the country at this time of year. But, I wonder, why is Northern Ontario routinely the first targeted for this “restructuring”?
Since the first Brier in 1929, Northern Ontario has the sixth-most top three finishes with 19 podium placings in the storied history of the event—well ahead of Quebec (10), the four Maritime provinces, and Yukon/Northwest Territories.
Sure, this region hasn’t won the title since Al Hackner claimed his second in 1985, but our teams often finish in the middle of the pack year in and year out.
Further to that, logistically speaking, holding an Ontario-wide event surely would mean some serious travel headaches. The unpredictable weather nearly derailed last week’s NOCA men’s playdowns here, when icy conditions forced several teams to find alternate travel arrangements at the
11th hour.
Imagine if a team from here had to fly into Toronto to play, only to lose three-straight and be sent packing two days later? A tough pill to swallow, I would say.
Why isn’t Morris asking the Maritimes to amalgamate by, say, merging P.E.I. and Newfoundland, and joining Nova Scotia and New Brunswick? As it stands now, all four send their own representative team.
I’m not one for geography lessons, but looking at a map I’d say the distance to travel from Charlottetown to St. John’s would be a less arduous and costly task than going from Thunder Bay to Ottawa.
And based on the way the Maritimes teams have fared over the years at the Brier, I think cutting back on rinks from those regions isn’t going to mean a Brier-winning candidate be left at home like in Alberta or Manitoba. It just means Brad Gushue might have to beat a few more teams along the way. Big deal.
That’s not to say they have to have P.E.I./Newfoundland inscribed on their team uniforms, either. Whichever team advances will carry the colours of their home province, and the new system will add some more intensity to the playdowns out east.
Seems simple enough to me, don’t you think?
Northern Ontario has proven to have a strong curling history, and it could be said that our teams could compete and potentially advance out of a strictly Ontario format like on the women’s side. Krista McCarville out of Thunder Bay has proven that—winning three of the last four Ontario Scotties qualifying events.
And you may recall how Northern Ontario represented the region at the junior men’s nationals just over a week ago, when Dylan Johnston’s rink out of Thunder Bay (with Devlin native Mike Badiuk as lead) claimed the silver medal.
But despite that, it’d be a shame if Northern Ontario communities were excluded from hosting a provincial event on a regular basis.
Fort Frances embraced that opportunity this past week, and if there wasn’t a Northern Ontario regional event, it’s unlikely we would get a sniff at hosting very often. I can see the quotes coming from southern Ontario qualifying teams now: “Fort Frances? Isn’t that in Alberta?”
The host committee did a wonderful job putting on a first-class event this week, and no doubt the curlers delivered some quality play. We too often are ignored in these parts as it is, but time and again towns like Fort Frances seem to do a lot with a little, and that was once again the case here.
The curlers to a man, including Mike Jakubo’s rink from Sudbury, took notice of that effort.
Here’s hoping Jakubo and his team can knock off Martin’s rink next month. That might silence some critics, and I’d especially enjoy seeing Morris’ post-game interview, wouldn’t you?

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