Stick nationals 10 years strong
Canadian Open Stick Curling Champioinship celebrates its 10th anniversary at the St. Albert Curling Club
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Wednesday, Apr 02, 2014 06:00 am
The Canadian Stick Curling Association celebrates its 10th national open championship on St. Albert ice.
Forty-eight two-person teams from across Canada are competing for the coveted Sure-Shot Stick Trophy and today’s final is expected to start at 5:30 p.m.
“It’s so super to come into a community like St. Albert where all volunteers and the curling club and the town have all supported and sponsored this event. It brings out the true friendship of a community and that's what we need in this day and age in sports,” said Ernie Oliver, president of the Canadian Stick Curling Association.
Oliver, 78, said stick curling – one hour, six-end games with six rocks per team each end and no sweeping between the hog lines – has grown “in leaps and bounds” since the first nationals.
Oliver stressed that stick curling is designed for all people of all ages and allows individuals with physical disabilities to participate competitively from a standing position or from a wheelchair.
“It gets them out for one hour of fresh air and exercise and that is the best medicine you can give anybody,” said the 2006 Manitoba champion who has a stick curling bonspiel named after him in Winnipeg. “It’s all about sportsmanship as well as socializing and this is by far the most socializing sport that people can be in.”
Oliver noted at the last Manitoba championship the age range for stick curlers was 11 to 90.
“We had a boy there who started stick at eight and you tell me what sport can you play that a grandfather or a grandmother can play with their grandson or granddaughter?”
But the majority of stick curlers are seniors with health issues (knees, hips, back, heart, shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, ankle or foot problems) or just advanced age that prevents them from enjoying The Roaring Game.
Stick curling has also filled a void after the 60-plus masters level in the Canadian Curling Association.
“There was nothing for them before but now we’ve got them all back,” said Oliver, who is competing at nationals in St. Albert with wheelchair curler Chris Sobkowicz.
Next year’s nationals will be staged at the Assiniboine Memorial Curling Club in Winnipeg and the 2011 championship duo of Tim Smith and John Campbell of the Armstrong Curling Club are striving to attend as this year’s St. Albert winners.
“We enjoy the nationals so much wherever we’ve gone so this is just a natural thing to come to this one here and hopefully next year too,” said Smith, 74, who is competing in his sixth nationals but fifth with Campbell. “The big thing is you don’t get to see these people but only once a year at these things so it’s nice to see the ones that you associate with and visit with them because we’re in our waning years for sure.”
The Smith/Campbell duo are big wheels at their home club after winning nationals three years ago in Maple Ridge, B.C.
“I remember what I said to Tim, which was ‘We finally did it and boy is our club going to like it.’ They did and trust me it’s been quite a deal at home,” said Campbell, 66.
In the final they beat the hometown favourites from Maple Ridge.
“That was pretty shocking. When you see the pictures we look like deers caught in the headlights. It took a while for it to sink in. It was pretty exciting,” Campbell said.
The next year the pair of grandfathers lost the final in Regina to Warren Johnson and Earl Stephenson of Winnipeg.
“We had a missed shot that cost us four rocks so it was fairly close until the last end and I missed a draw shot,” Smith said.
Campbell added: “It was one missed call and one missed shot. We even called a time out to talk about it,” he said. “We still haven’t got over it yet.”
The Armstong tandem are used to high pressure situations after their breakthrough performance at the Maple Ridge nationals.
“Once you go through it and win games you don’t think about it, you just do it,” Campbell said. “But at that time in Regina nobody had been to the finals twice in a row at stick curling and we were the first ones. After we lost my first reaction was ‘OK, we didn’t win it twice but we were there twice.’ But after a couple of years go by I feel different. It’s like ‘Darn, we didn’t win it!’”
Stick teams are lining up for the opportunity to beat the winners of the B.C. provincials in 2009, 2010, 2013 and this year.
“Anything we go into we know that we better curl well because they’re out to get us, not only at this level but at home too,” said Smith, who attended the 2013 nationals in Cornwall, P.E.I. with a different partner and Campbell on holidays. “As a team we both draw and hit well so it doesn’t matter which one of us puts the points on the board and that’s what we kind of work at.”
Smith started stick curling 10 years ago after knee issues almost ended his love affair with the sport.
“If I didn’t stick curl I wouldn’t be curling at all,” said the retired rancher and entrepreneur. “It took a while to get draw weight but it came fairly quickly because you know curling to start with so it just kind of follows as long as you pay attention to what you’re supposed to be doing.”
Campbell picked up the stick the year he retired from Dairyland in 2008. He also did regular curling despite a cranky knee before switching to the stick full-time.
“Timmy got me into it. He’s been the major promoter in our area for stick curling right from the beginning and for me to hook up with him right away was pretty good,” Campbell said. “We had a bit of success doing it so I stuck with it.”