In the five curling seasons between 2004 and ’08, four Grand Slam championships — three Players Championships and one Masters — were staged at Mile One Centre in St. John’s.
The last couple drew flies.
In fairness, what could go wrong went wrong at The Masters in 2006. That was the year Brad Gushue was representing Canada at the Olympics, and most curling fans stayed home to watch the games on TV.
On top of that, on championship weekend, the city was hit with a massive snowstorm. Only the curlers and the icemakers were in Mile One for the final, won by Randy Ferbey over Kevin Martin.
The year before that, the Players Championship at Mile One — which saw Martin beat Gushue in the final — drew a total of 56,189 fans, which at the time was a record attendance for a Slam event.
But what happened in 2008, at the Players?
Attendance was half what it was in 2005, prompting organizing committee chairman Gene Trickett to admit, “No question we would have liked to have had more fans in the stands.”
Glenn Howard won the title that year, beating Martin in the final. Gushue limped to a 2-3 record.
The common denominator in 2006 and ’08?
No Gushue in the playoffs.
Don’t kid yourself. St. John’s isn’t a curling town. It’s a Gushue town, Newfoundland and Labrador a Gushue province.
There are but two curling clubs in St. John’s, and only eight or 10 in the province (and it would be a stretch to call most of them curling ‘clubs’).
Winnipeg, on the other hand, has over a dozen in the city alone.
For years, only four or five teams were entering the provincial Scotties and Tankard playdowns.
No, this definitely isn’t a curling province.
But the locals love all-world Team Gushue, and why wouldn’t they? And because we don’t have a lot of pro athletes (we’ll call curling professional because it is, in essence, semi-pro), when they do get a chance to watch Gushue play at home, folks flock to the rink.
Last week’s Boost National in C.B.S. was the second Slam event held in the province since 2015, when Paradise played host to the Tour Challenge. And that was the first Grand Slam of Curling event since that ’08 Players Championship.
The recent National was a great success. The stands were full (when Gushue was playing), local organizers did a bang-up job, and the curlers loved the facility and ice (though many privately grumbled it was off the beaten path, from their downtown St. John’s hotel and the surrounding bars and restaurants).
There are now rumblings the World Curling Tour would like to return to the region, possibly even next year.
Go for it, I say. May as well make hay when Gushue’s on top. Because as long as he’s winning, the fans will come.
But if there’s no Gushue, there are no bums in the seats.
Nobody asked me, but …
Speaking of drawing flies, I’ll betcha the only souls in Mile One next month for the pair of FIBA Basketball World Cup Americas Qualifying basketball games will be the players and a handful of hoops diehards. Canada will be playing Chile and Venezuela in two games in February in St. John’s as part of the qualifying process for the World Cup this summer. But here’s the catch: the games don’t mean anything as Canada’s already qualified. Hence, tickets are moving at a snail’s pace. But here’s an idea: why not dress Carl English for the two games? English was a mainstay of the national men’s team program for years until age crept up on him. Bring English in for the two games, make a big deal of his Team Canada swan song, present him with a rocking chair at centre court and, most importantly, drag a few people through the turnstiles. It’s the only way to salvage the event. That, or move the games to Bro. Rice gym …
National and international events (the Brier and Scotties come to mind, along with the 4 Nations Cup and Skate Canada) staged in St. John’s have been a success in terms of fan attendance, but National Sport Organizations, at the end of the day, still aren’t in a big rush to bring their events to Newfoundland and Labrador. Trucking in whatever equipment they need have is a pain. The province lost out on the 2019 Ford world men’s curling championship, despite the success of the 2017 Brier, and the 2020 World Women’s Hockey Championship, despite the fact the 4 Nations drew what was then a record week-long attendance for the event held back in 2010 at Mile One … Ashamed to say it, but it was my first time in the new C.B.S. rink last week. And what a nice rink it is … Imagine, the City of St. John’s doesn’t really have any hockey rinks. Twin Rinks and Goulds Arena are run by boards, Capital Hyundai, Feildian Gardens and Rogers Bussey are privately owned, and the Church owns St. Bon’s Forum …
Given the success of the St. John’s Edge at the turnstiles, wonder if there’s ever been a move to kick the tires on going after the Toronto Raptors’ G-League team, in the same arrangement as the old St. John’s-Toronto, IceCaps-Winnipeg, IceCaps-Montreal hockey arrangements. Then again, considering the Raptors 905 — the current G-League team — plays in Mississauga, the Raps are probably contented to have the team next door, regardless if no one is watching … Bob Cole’s last game is April 6, fittingly featuring the Canadiens and Leafs. It says here Cole is the most recognizable, notable Newfoundlander in the province’s history, moreso than Joey Smallwood. And it’s not even close …
Has there ever been a better, more decorated athlete than Glen Davis to wear a St. John’s sports uniform? He won an NBA ring, and three times averaged doubles figures in scoring in the NBA. Yes, Kevin McClelland won four rings with the Edmonton Oilers, and Felix Potvin and Yanic Perreault started their pro careers here (before they did anything in the NHL), but in terms of athletes with notable big league careers winding things down in St. John’s, there’s been nobody better than Davis … Where are all the senior hockey players? Teams have played this season with a dozen and 13 skaters. In provincial senior hockey, there are two divisions: one with five teams, and the other with two. The whole optics surrounding senior hockey are awful. And, as I’ve said before, too bad, because the level of play today is as good as it’s ever been … Young Mount Pearl hockey player Zach Dean, in his first of midget hockey with the Toronto Young Nats, is drawing attention from QMJHL teams (this is Dean’s draft year, and he could go in the first round). The Halifax Mooseheads recently had Dean in for a visit …
We’re not at the half-way point, and already five NHL teams have canned their coach. It’s the nature of the best, of course. Something has to be done to right a sinking ship and, as they say, you can’t fire the roster. But here’s the thing: there’s really not a big difference from one coach to the other. They all preach the same message, and if you’ve seen one power play, you’ve seen ’em all. Difference is whether or not you’ve got the room and players have bought in. Mike Babcock and Ken Hitchcock are not especially well liked by players, but they’re respected, and the players listen. I have no idea, but apparently players were tuning out Dave Hakstol in Philly, which meant he was done. So while it’s important to instill a system and coach it, it’s more critical a coach gains the trust of the star player(s) and have the rest buying what he’s selling if he hopes to survive …
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort