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Quality Inn - Sudbury
Mike Hennessy, Lawyer
Sunday, May. 28, 2017
National championship curling thoughts, from on and off the ice
2017-03-20
by Randy Pascal

Far be it for a national curling championship to be contested in Canada without some sort of Sudbury flavour in the mix.

Folks in Sault Ste Marie are rightfully proud of skip Brad Jacobs and his rink of Ryan Fry, E.J. Harnden and Ryan Harnden, but the fact is they could not have performed nearly as well at their most recent Brier appearance in Newfoundland were it not for the icemaking contributions of Sudbury’s Tom Leonard.

A familiar face within the local curling scene, Leonard reached the pinnacle of a 20-plus year involvement with the preparation of the ice surface on which the curlers compete when he was assigned as deputy chair icemaker to the 2017 Canadian Men’s Curling Championship.

For the uninitiated, the art of icemaking boils down to a keen understanding of refrigeration, or more specifically as it relates to arenas that are far more used to welcoming hockey talent to their ice.

“It’s knowing the relationship between air, ice and the plant, and understanding how refrigeration impacts the actual surface you’re playing on,” explained Leonard upon his return to Sudbury. “Critical is the notion of removing heat, and when to remove heat and when not to remove heat from the playing surface.”

While every event can present its share of challenges, one had to wonder about the dilemma that a power outage just two ends into the gold medal game created for those in charge of ensuring the contest could resume as soon after power was restored as possible.

“It was something we were anticipating, because they were forecasting high winds a couple of days before that,” acknowledged Leonard. “We were anticipating the possibility of a power outage at some point, so we took some precautions, making the floor colder that we normally would have.”

Still, the real test came 35 to 40 minutes later, as the refrigeration unit kicked back into full gear. “Once it came back on, we let the players throw one rock up, each skip, and we got their input as to how to proceed,” said Leonard. “We made a decision to recut and re-pebble the sheet for them and we moved on from there. It may have been different if the power was out for eight to 12 hours, like it was in some places.”

******************************

One has to wonder if the Sudbury Curling Club team of Robbie Gordon, Ron Henderson, Dion Dumontelle and Doug Hong are now at the point of pencilling in the dates of the Canadian Senior Men’s Curling Championship directly into their annual vacation requests.

Make it four of the last six years for the entire quartet, and five of seven for Hong and Dumontelle, that the locals have represented Northern Ontario on a national stage. Come Monday afternoon in Fredericton, the local rink will be seeking, once again, to better a tournament-best bronze medal showing back in 2014.

“You never get tired of it,” Hong said shortly after league play wrapped up Wednesday night at the SCC. “When we won in Kenora (NOCA playdown last month), it was just exhilarating.”

For as much as Team Gordon has seemingly established a dominance in this bracket, Father Time is pulling in the opposite direction, pushing the entire foursome further away from the minimum standard of 50 years of age, all while welcoming new (and younger) members to the fold each year.

“Every time we’ve made it to the Northern Ontario final, we remind ourselves to go out and have a good game, because this could be our last,” said Hong. “You just don’t know. You take it, you run with it and you really enjoy it.”

Opening against Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, all in the first 48 hours, the Gordon crew are well aware, from past experience, of the pitfalls they must avoid in order to crack the top four of their seven-team pool to earn a berth in championship pool play beginning Thursday.

“The key for our team, usually, is early in the week, because we are learning the ice,” Hong said. “Rob is a very good reader of the ice, but we start with three of the historically stronger teams in the field. No matter who comes out of the west, they’re always strong.

“If we come out of the first three games at 2-1, we tend to do pretty well.”

The wisdom of nationals gone by is also apparent in terms of adjustments that the long-time curlers have made along the way, specific to the unique aspects of competing at an event of this caliber.

“Our weight has come down,” said Hong, a reference that has absolutely nothing to do with that cursed number that might appear on the scale every morning. “We play a much more controlled, quiet takeout weight than we used to. When we are a little more pumped and we throw too heavy, that’s usually when we make a mistake.”

Just three years removed from finishing in third place in Yellowknife, the team understands full well the challenges of reaching that same end goal. "I have a new respect for standing on the podium,” said Hong.

That said, it’s not as though Gordon, Henderson, Dumontelle and Hong are about to call it quits, any time soon. “We have just such a good group of four guys that it’s hard to lose that,” emphasized Hong. “Even in the summers, we’ll get together once a month for supper.”

Together for the next eight to 10 days, the Sudbury Curling Club reps will enter play “quietly confident,” in the words of the man who is now attending the seventh national championship of his career.

Joining the five previously mentioned teams in Pool B are the Northwest Territories and New Brunswick, with Gordon and company facing both of those opponents Wednesday.

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