A Brier experience to remember for Tom Leonard
by Randy Pascal
Tom Leonard has lived, at least to some extent, his curling dreams.
back in 2002, he would attend the Brier as the fifth for the Tim Phillips' rink that represented Northern Ontario. That experience, however,
pales in comparison to his recent trek to Newfoundland, site of the 2017 Tim Horton's Brier.
Reaching the pinnacle, so far, of a couple of decades devoted to the art of curling ice making, Leonard served as the deputy chief icemaker in St John's,
working on behalf of Curling Canada.
It's likely somewhat of a different end goal than the lifelong Sudbury native first envisioned as he took part in his high school curling team, at
Lasalle Secondary, in his latter years as a Lancer.
"As I kid, I enjoyed watching curling, but never really had the opportunities," said Leonard. "I was big into track and field and soccer. Curling was
just another sport to try."
A job as a rink rat at the ,b>Sudbury Curling Club, circa 1995, would push the local in another direction entirely, one that would see Leonard spend
more and more time in his current environment, introduced to some of the very basic concepts by then club icemaker Marcel Vanier.
"It was so different back then," said Leonard. "When I first started working here, ice maintenance was almost nul and void. We did ice maintenance once
or twice a week, now we do it twice a day."
His big break came courtesy of the 2001 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, hosted in Sudbury, when icemakers B.J. Gagnon and Lloyd Stanzel
took an immediate shining to a new local protégée.
"It was actually those two guys who kind of picked me out of the whole group," said Leonard. "I got to do a lot more than anybody else got to do. It's
hard to say why they did that, but it basically told me that I could do this job at a high level."
It wasn't long before Leonard recognized where his greatest chance to shine within the curling scene might lie. "I never wanted to be that guy who just
did the work and went home," he said. "I always wanted to push myself to the limit."
"When you're doing national events in an arena setting, that is basically as far as you can go." If the Scotties exposed local curling fans to a level
of the women's game seldom seen previously in these parts, the top-end competition also provided Leonard with a wonderful niche in which he could take his
"game" to the next level.
"It was the refrigeration side of things, knowing the relationship between air, ice and the plant, and understanding how refrigeration impacts the actual
surface you're playing on," he explained.
"It's understanding the notion of removing heat, and when to remove heat and when not to remove heat from the playing surface. That's when the light bulb
went on. It's not about being able to pebble and scrape and keep the ice flat, it's everything."
The path that Leonard covered, from the 2002 Scotties to the 2017 Brier, is a template for anyone seeking to constantly refine the knowledge they possess
in a particular area of expertise. "It was just going to events and paying your dues, going to the right events and talking to the right people with
Curling Canada," said Leonard.
From his first assignment in 2005 with the Ontario Men's Championship in Whitby, to the Canadian Juniors last year in Stratford, and now on
to the Brier, Leonard has garnered a throughout understanding of exactly what he needs to do to succeed.
"The biggest thing you learn is personal temperament and consistency," he said. "You can't go from event to event to event and produce a wide range of
product, from bad to really good."