Day One of the Fall Curling Classic is in the books and the World Tour event, making its first visit to Sault Ste. Marie, is off to a rousing start.
YNCU Curling Centre President Tom McLean is thrilled to bring the World Tour to the city and the club. He says the timing was just right, with some of the participating teams just coming off the curling season’s first grand slam event, held last week in Niagara Falls.
“It’s every exciting. The support from the teams has been fantastic,” says McLean. “The calibre of the field has really blown us away. It’s our first go at it and we’re hoping word-of-mouth will get out there and we can come back next year with an even stronger field.”
Organizers appear to have left, ahem, no stone unturned to try and give fans a maximum curling experience. McLean said that was the goal. “Absolutely. This is a very unique experience to this event, having fans out on the ice, up close and personal, watching the event. A little beverage area and bar-style seating…really unique to the curling world, especially in a club setting. The feedback has been excellent.”
McLean says the Fall Classic features 5-6 of the top 20 in the world. Teams from outside Canada include three teams from USA, including Team Shuster, US and Olympic Champions. Teams from Korea, Japan,
Sweden are here and Italy’s red-hot Team Retornaz, currently ranked No. 2 in the world, is also in for the Fall Classic. Team Retornaz won last week’s grand slam in Niagara Falls.
There’s also the venerable Team Howard, skipped by Glenn Howard. All they’ve managed to do is win four Briers and four world championships. Longtime local curler and YNCU club member Nancy Kinney spent opening day catching all of the action. She’s watched up close to the action in The Fan Zone, with its on-ice seating, or from the lounge, watching the live stream while enjoying dinner at the club.
“I think they’ve done a great job of organizing,” says Kinney. “The club looks a lot different than last week when we were curling. I love the live stream. Even to watch it (up) here on the TV. I came up and had supper and watched the end of the game I had been watching out there. It gives you different perspectives.”
Kinney is keeping a close eye on a couple of teams, Team Carruthers and Team Dunstone. Team Carruthers, out of Winnipeg, MB and 10th-ranked in the world, snapped up the free agent Olympic Gold medalist and Brier Champion Brad Jacobs this past spring while Jacobs’ friend and former
teammate Ryan Harnden signed on with Team Dunstone, another Manitoba club, ranked No. 8 in the world. “It’s nice to see them do well,” she says.
Curling fan Evan Grieger, in town for the Classic from Peterbrough, Ont., attended the World Curling Championships in Ottawa last spring, but seemed equally enthused about being in the Sault for the Fall Classic.
“I think it’s absolutely fantastic,” says Grieger. “The quality of curlers that they have here in the Sault, in a club like this where you’re eating dinner behind John Shuster…it’s just crazy, You don’t get that everywhere. I think the club is doing a great job. Looks like a really, really good tournament.”
The national and international success of Brad Jacobs’ teams, says McLean, definitely helped the city earn a spot as hosts on the world tour. “Team Jacobs’ success absolutely brought curling to the next level in our
city and you can see that from the attendance here this weekend. We sold out our second draw at Noon today. Ticket sales have been far above our expectations. The fan support from the community, both locally and from people in Northern Ontario and beyond has been outstanding.”
The triple knockout competition, will see eight teams qualify for the championship round. The championship match is slated for Sunday, Oct. 29, at Noon. They’ll be competing for one of the higher purses in curling, a nifty $90,000. The champion, on top of capturing cool cash, will also be the first to hoist the newly-minted Soo Curlers Association Fall Classic trophy