Ontario’s Time to Shine?

With the Roar of the Rings in full-swing, a culmination of 4 years of grinding it out on tour for Canada’s top teams, it’s hard to forget from whence they came. Great traditions like the Brier have so ingrained in us a loyalty to province or territory, it’s often hard to separate that from what is really a contest aimed at choosing representatives fit for Canada on the world’s biggest sports stage, the Olympics.

The Ferbey 4, 4 Time Brier Champs

The Ferbey 4, 4 Time Brier Champs

Since 1980, 21 of 34 Brier titles reside in the West. 23 Brier finals during that stretch featured either Alberta or Manitoba. Martin, Koe, Stoughton, Burtnyk, Ryan, Peters, Folk, Lukowich are all recurring names. Growing up curling in Ontario, I clearly remember the dominance of the Ferbey 4 for their five year stretch of Brier final appearances – likely the biggest contribution to my “Ontcurl Inferiority Complex”. There’s always been that nagging “East vs. West” mentality in competitive circles. Ben Hebert echoed that sentiment in a hasty tweet last season:

Seeing Glenn Howard walk through the province year after year with but a scratch certainly doesn’t help with the perception that Ontario has no depth. But does it?

The road to Sochi featured some new names that you may not have heard of thanks to the shadow cast by Howard’s dominance. Mark Kean’s young squad represents a generation of talented young curlers in Ontario, showing them that keeping a team together for a few years out of juniors and staying dedicated to a rigorous schedule pays off in both Slam appearances and a pre-trials birth. You’ll be seeing much more of them in one form or another, and more talent following their lead. Rob Rumfeldt’s squad showed the same kind of consistency that has seen Rob to numerous provincial finals. Notably for years with the Daniel brothers out of the Windsor area, who came so close so many times to a Brier appearance and fell just short. Joe Frans has held the skip reigns for years after former teammate John Morris left for Alberta, after a stint with Middaugh. Joining forces with three quarters of Dale Matchett’s perennial favourite OCT rink solidified them as regular favourites in any event. Balsdon, Higgs, Cochrane – the list goes on. 7 of 12 Road to the Roar teams had some Ontario born-and-bred talent. 8, if you stretch it to include the “King in the North”, Brad Jacobs, whose remarkable consistency this year after surprising everyone at last year’s Brier will surely make this year’s Battle of Ontario an exciting one to watch.

Image via Winnipeg Free Press

Jack Cox’s familiar roar of ONTARRRRRRRIOOOOOOO accompanied the rise of the likes of Howard, Homan and Epping – Image via Winnipeg Free Press

It’s been 16 years since Ontario was in the running for an Olympic rep, when Mike Harris, Richard Hart, Collin Mitchell and George Karrys bested Martin in Brandon for that trip to Nagano. I know many in Ontario hope Howard will make it through, thinking maybe then he’ll move aside for one of the many talented rinks to have a spot in the national spotlight (less likely at this point in the week now that he’s sitting at 3 losses). Part of me wants them to stick around and continue to raise the bar for years to come. Perhaps Epping & co. will pull a 2005 Gushue and string together enough wins to put them in that all important final game, where anything can happen. In any case I know I’m cheering for an Ontario rep fitting of the depth and potential for curling in our province.

It’s exciting to witness a change of the guard, as the end of this Olympic run will mean big changes for many teams. On the flip-side the 4 year run-up to this week also encouraged teams to stick together and build over three or four years, a trend that is not terribly common in Ontario that will hopefully continue.

December 4th, 2013 • Permalink • By wes