Farewell Pro Curling
The Ice Maker’s job at the St. Catharines Golf and Country club was a big income upgrade for my father. At that point in his career, he could have moved from the Smiths Falls club to any club in the Ottawa area.
As a father myself and the current Head Ice Technician at the club, I know that a country club gig is a highly coveted position in the Ice Technician’s world.
My dad had looked around the Ottawa area for a position but he felt he would have been intruding on Dave Merklinger’s territory. Coincidentally Dave Merklinger is still making ice and will be the next Head Ice Maker for the 2017 Scott Tournament of Hearts when it comes to St. Catharines next year.
Hello St. Catharines!
It was a big move for me – I was going out a with a girl named Pam Badour at the time and it would be next to impossible to continue this relationship when we lived 5 hours away and still in high school. Just recently my father told me that the move angered Joe.
Joe didn’t understand why Dad needed to go to another city.
He had to explain that it would put the family in a much better position financially. Although it interfered with curling plans for next season, it was necessary. All these years later this tidbit of information was news to me. Maybe this foreshadowed the beginning of the end of the Frans duo. However, think I need to explain the previous year, to set the stage for what was to come.
1992 Curling Season
Technically it should have been a great season for us.
We had a stellar year in 1991.
This year we were focused on doing well in the Junior men’s and had a better coach than we had ever had in the past. Honestly I can’t remember our full team, but I do remember Earle Morris. In my own defense it was 23 years ago! Every Sunday we would make the trip to Ottawa to play in the Junior Super League. After the games Earle would spend some time with us discussing strategy and how we could improve our game.
Earle had quite the reputation as a player representing three different provinces at the Brier: Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan.
Now he was busy helping junior teams like our own get to the next level. His son Johnny Mo was a young upstart Bantam, but wasn’t quite a contender yet at the Junior level. Last year I crossed paths with Rachel Homan when she used my office as a powder room during the Pinty’s Commercial shoot. I explained that we had a common coaching history, but she didn’t seem impressed.
Locker Room Talk
Unfortunately one of the down sides in the early junior days was that they didn’t have a tour, and very limited junior bonspiels that were aimed at competitive players. If you didn’t qualify in the play-down structure your year was over at the first of the season!
How do you get motivated to play and improve when your season is over?
(It’s exciting to have hosted the OJCT championships a few years ago, and see how high the bar has been raised.)
When we did lose in the regional play-downs that year, it was a interminable wait for the next season to roll around. I distinctly remember Earle taking us into the change room and screaming at us for losing. I had never grown up playing hockey and having an adult yelling at me was a painful experience. Whether or not that was the best method of improvement, it was a hard lesson.
Losing should not be an option if you want to elevate your game.
What I took from this was that you gotta be tough and turn it around in a game before you decide to hang your head and quit early. Usually you don’t get a second shot to make it happen so focusing in the moment is SO important. Do not to waste your precious time!
The Best of The Best
In 1993 my brother Joe and I won two of the biggest junior curling events in the province of Ontario.
The first was the Toronto Curling Association Bonspiel or TCA for short, and the second was the more prestigious Ontario Junior Men’s Curling Championships. Both made a lasting impression in my mind, but the latter was unique. The prize for winning the TCA was a 10 day all-expenses-paid trip to Switzerland chaperoned by the pipe smoking Roy Weigand and his Dack’s Curling Shoe connection (these were THE shoes to own).
The season had started rather abruptly.
We had just moved into town, and we were still scrambling to find prospective players to start the curling season in the Niagara Area. In those days grass roots curling actually meant that the four players could be found living in the same town.
The landscape has changed.
The Money Book
The St. Catharines Golf And Country Club supported our trip to Switzerland and a thoughtful person crowd funded some spending money for Joe and me to use while we were there. They creatively placed the money in a photo album.
It wasn’t clear who went around and gathered up the money, but I think it was Dr. Gillen a prominent and influential club member at the time.
This was grassroots support at its best. In exchange for the album full of money we were supposed to add photos as we took bills out of the “wallet”. Well the money did get spent, but unfortunately, I dropped the ball on the follow through part of finishing the photo album.
Unique Swiss Beer
Hard Bread And Stinky Cheese
When we arrived in Switzerland we were escorted out to a small town in a van. I can remember our guide driving extremely fast and when it was over we stopped at our billet’s house. As soon as we jumped out of the vehicle we were greeted by the classical Swiss Man furiously playing his accordion.
It was like a scene straight out of a Ricola Commercial or the Amazing Race.
The Swiss were awesome, and we were greeted and welcomed at every opportunity with a bit of culture and authenticity.
When we visited the club for the first time I had no idea what to drink, because the beer was different. It was like that most of the trip.
New areas, new beers to try. Every pub and night club we tried had a far greater selection than I had ever seen in my life. However, I didn’t find it very comforting that I couldn’t find any Canadian beer like Molson Canadian. It would have been great if I could tell you I was attempting to increase my taste awareness and get a grasp of the Swiss German beer culture, but in reality my palette was inexperienced.
Trying to find a beer I enjoyed became a major priority – Canadian beers were simply not available. In the night club there was a particular beer 8 or 9 % ABV beer called “Fisher.” It came in a cool white ceramic bottle with a flip top, and although I really didn’t enjoy the boozy flavor, I’d never seen a beer with that high an alcohol percentage. Although I searched for it I haven’t been able to find the actual brewery that made this beer.
A Taste For The Alps
There was a day trip where we took a ski lift up into the mountains and rode a toboggan for an hour. Unfortunately between the altitude and the incline – the end result was the worst migraine headache ever. At the end of this downhill trip we stopped at a lodge in the mountains and had the most scenic beer tasting in my life. Rugen Brau was one of the local beers found everywhere in the area where we curled.
The total immersion in another food and beverage culture was both unique and unsettling.
It was one of the best trips of my life, however at the end of 10 days I was both tired of beer and dying for a Canadian meal. I don’t remember this being a “defining” moment where I changed my habits – but rather I think it was a subtle shift in thinking and a starting reference.
From Switzerland To Trois Rivieres
Later in that season when the Swiss trip had come and gone, I was excited about the upcoming trip to the Nationals.
My dad had recruited Ted Brown to be our coach. I didn’t know that he also manufactured the now famous Brownie brush.
In practice at the Nationals I was on top of my game, and I thought this was going to be a breeze. However right before the first game started, they played the Oh Canada! anthem and suddenly, my stomach sunk and me and my skills left me. Fear and panic set the standard for the week and I played terribly.
I tried to explain this to Ted Brown.
Ted was a great coach in certain ways, but he couldn’t help me shake the wobbly leg feelings. I’m sure coaches today know how to handle this wave of emotions and train for it, but during the week I was on my own.
Whenever I approach a new project and experience resistance rearing its fearful head, I trust I am going in the right direction.
It has taken me many inner battles to figure this out, leading to a lot of frustration with people, and where I want to go. Hesitation and indecision has always plagued me. It was at the end of this curling season that a TSN turning point occurred. It’s the place in the game where everything turns around, for better or worse.
When I aged out of juniors later that year it set the stage for disaster. 1993 would be the last productive curling season I had with my brother. We tried a few more times to curl together after I moved to Oakville but the magic had passed, and we failed to advance out of the club.
1994 The Year of Difficulty
1994 was the year where they finally changed the age for Juniors.
My brother Joe gained another whole season of junior play with this, but based on my birthday I lost a season. Joe seemed to be that catalyst I depended upon to make my curling career advance, and without him I struggled. It could be characterized as a classic case of co-dependant behaviour, but this system worked for Russ Howard and Glen Howard in a big way.
A fantasy I’d always entertained was to be the next famous brother duo on the professional curling stage.
I was out of place.
Making the Brock Varsity team had been a small consolation, and I had some fun playing in a few tournaments, but I always thought I would eventually start curling again with my brother. Our club now hosts an annual Brock Exhibition invitational for all the Ontario Universities. The play has been impressive! It has been encouraging to work with Murray Etherington and see the growth of the Brock Varsity teams.
The Hawksbury Provincial
When my brother qualified to play in the Junior Men’s Provincials in Hawksbury, I tagged along with Doug Geddie because his daughter had played with Danielle St. Amand from the St. Catharines Golf and Country Club at the time.
It did bother me that my brother in essence, bailed on representing our club – even though both Shane McCready and Joe were from the St. Catharines Golf and Country Club. Joe had picked up Dale Matchett and Brad Anderson from the Bradford Club. It was bittersweet watching them win another provincial without me.
I still remember talking with Shane after the game.
Despite the win – Shane felt he had let Joe down after he played a terrible game. Joe had come through and bailed them out to win.
Simplicity often helps in the decision making ability. In other words I did not have a clear vision as to where I wanted to go.
I thought I wanted to be a professional curler.
In those days Russ Howard was dominating Ontario along with his teammates Glen Howard, Wayne Middaugh, and Peter Corner. And that’s what I wanted to do. I was going out with Danielle St. Amand, struggling with a full time relationship as a young man, with no clear prospects of what to do with his life. At Brock I was not enjoying the English Literature Program so I quit. If I could have given myself advice in those days it would have been to sit down and explain what it means to chase after a dream.
How was I going to balance the goal to play in the Brier like Russ Howard with work, school, and relationships?
Why I Left University For Ice Making
The struggle at school and indecision led me to take my first ice maker position in Oakville in 1996. That same season Joe had suffered a frustrating loss during the provincial finals at the St. Catharines Golf and Country Club against Pat Ferris. Joe needed to hit the eight foot circle, which is standard shot for a skip in curling – however this time he missed.
After the game I talked with Joe and he wasn’t necessarily overwrought. Maybe it was that he’d been there a couple of times, but it wasn’t the reaction I was expecting.
I remember scooping a cold beer from Danielle’s father’s beer fridge and bringing it to him – a little comfort gift. Oddly it never occurred to me to track down my younger brother. This loss would have been much greater to him. Of the three of us he never made it to the Nationals.
His closest was when he curled with Greg Balsdon and lost to John Morris in the provincial finals. Many years later I curled with Pat Ferris and during an afternoon hanging out at his house, Pat decides to whip out the TV coverage of that dreaded finals – Pat’s win and my brother’s loss.
Didn’t really enjoy watching it for the second time either.
Ice Making Woes
Being an ice technician and following in the footsteps of my father, provided lots of practice time to gain a great skill set, unfortunately it didn’t allow me to get further in the sport. Curling season is the busiest time for an Ice Technician and thus any attempt to grow a curling career outside the club is next to impossible.
A club frowns on taking off for long periods of time.
In my father’s case, he had a couple of sons and a supportive wife which allowed him to experience ice making at 3 different Olympic Games. Being young, I didn’t have that same structure. My father has taught me to work hard and efficiently, but the missing element is that I needed to apply the right skills in the right direction. The question I would ask now would be how can I use all my skills: art, writing, and ice making to work in concert?
It’s hard to predict where you go later in life.
My brother has had the opportunity to play in three Briers and an Olympic Trial. He curled with the top players on the planet including: Glen Howard, Wayne Middaugh, Peter Corner, John Morris, and Brent Laing, to name a few.
From my perspective now curling is limited.
Being on the road, curling at clubs on weekends, is distracting and a terrible lifestyle for a family.
2015 The Year of Retirement
Due to scoliosis flaring up, and getting older, taking too much time off the game for my twins – I have reset my goals.
Curling is a part of my life, but the desire to be a professional player has finally left me and I am ok with that. This doesn’t mean that I will quit curling, or that the competitive fire has been snuffed out. It means that this energy is going to be applied to another aspect of my life.
My little darling has finally died, never to be resurrected and I’m moving on.
So after reading this, it should forever answer the question I get asked occasionally, “Why don’t you curl with your brother?”
This chapter is finished.