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ROBIN SHORT: So just how popular is curling, really?

World Curling Federation/Richard Gray
The Canada-United States game at the world men’s curling championship drew a large crowd at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. Same with the Canada-Sweden game Friday, but attendance was certainly scanty earlier in the week. Outside the Brier, big curling crowds have never been a slam dunk, writes Robin Short. The Olympic Trials didn’t draw big crowds and attendance early on at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts was disappointing.
World Curling Federation/Richard Gray The Canada-United States game at the world men’s curling championship drew a large crowd at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. Same with the Canada-Sweden game Friday, but attendance was certainly scanty earlier in the week. Outside the Brier, big curling crowds have never been a slam dunk, writes Robin Short. The Olympic Trials didn’t draw big crowds and attendance early on at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts was disappointing. - Submitted

This week’s world championship has drawn small crowds … Look for Newhook to join Mooseheads … we’ve reached a point where journalists have been replaced by fans

Jack Kent Cooke, the first owner of the Los Angeles Kings, once famously mused the reason why his NHL expansion team suffered at the gate during its early days was the fact all those Canadians living in Southern California, the same crowd on which he had banked to buy tickets, left Canada because they hated hockey.

We might have been asking ourselves the same question, only in this instance it was curling, and the world men’s championship in Las Vegas.

Maybe the Canadians in Sin City just aren’t into curling, or maybe they’re more into blackjack.

There weren’t enough in the Orleans Arena for, ahem, a game of cards early in the week, although attendance had been picking up as playoffs draw closer.

And most of those, writes the venerable Edmonton sports scribe, Terry Jones, are Canadians arriving in Vegas.

 

The building was two-thirds full Thursday night for the Canada-U.S. game, and the Canada-Sweden Friday game drew a big, boisterous crowd.

It wasn’t that way earlier in the week, and it’s not the first time attendance at a major curling event has been mentioned this season. The Olympic Trials in Ottawa did not draw well. Crowds early on at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Penticton, B.C. were quite low.

The Brier, however, had healthy fan support, no surprise in Regina, Sask.

TV numbers may refute this claim — the Brier and Scotties routinely draw huge television audiences — but I’m not so certain curling has the huge mass appeal of the general sports public as many might be led to believe.

The World Curling Tour does OK at the turnstiles, with decent crowds filling many of the smaller rinks that house Tour events, but it’s not as if we’re seeing Brier-like numbers each week.

Not even close.

The Brier, of course, is in a league all of its own. It’s sporting Canadiana, like the Grey Cup, an event for which folks make plans to attend a year or two in advance.

And at the end of the day, I think those who do follow the sport still like the idea of watching Ontario play Manitoba, or Alberta matching up with Saskatchewan, vs Epping playing Carruthers or Bottcher against Jacobs.

But to suggest curling has captured the attention of the masses in the same context as hockey or baseball, well, keep dreaming.

I have never overheard any curling discussion — outside of Brad Gushue and his team, and that’s a local thing — at a bar/restaurant, in a rec hockey dressing room or at a dinner party gathering, unlike the usual banter centering on the Leafs’ rise, or the Canadiens’ fall.

That’s because in the main sports stream, curling’s not there.

Nobody asked me but

I’m convinced the reason why — and we’ve said this before — curling does so well on television is because it’s a made for TV sport. Watching it live, most fans can’t figure out half the time who’s scoring, or what shots the curlers are trying to make. Unlike sitting at home and letting the TSN crew, led by Vic Rauter, who is to curling what Bob Cole is to hockey, explain everything that’s unfolding on the screen. I certainly enjoy doing so … With Halifax awarded the 2019 Memorial Cup, look for the Mooseheads to make a big push to get Alex Newhook into the fold. The Mooseheads drafted Newhook in the third round of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft last June, but that’s only because he had informed the junior teams he was going the U.S. college route. Otherwise, he likely would have been a top 10 pick. Newhook has verbally committed to Boston College, but given his standout rookie season in the British Columbia Hockey League, a junior A circuit, there’s no doubt the Mooseheads will be pushing hard for Newhook. The NCAA is a solid route for a lot of young hockey players — the Americans have proven that — but you’d have to think the QMJHL might be Newhook’s best option. For starters, he’s expected to be a top 10 NHL draft pick in 2019, so the likelihood of him completing four years at BC — he won’t go there until the 2019-20 season — is doubtful. The fact that’s its Halifax, and the Mooseheads are staging the Memorial Cup are also considerable points to keep in mind. The Herd have been a veritable factory for producing top-end NHL talent lately, from Nico Hischier down the the line to Timo Meier, Jonathan Drouin, Nathan MacKinnon and Jakub Voracek. And Filip Zadina, from this year’s squad, will be a high pick in the June NHL draft …

With Brad Gushue repeating as Brier champ, that means Newfoundland and Labrador will have another team at next year’s Canadian men’s championship in Brandon, Man. Greg Smith’s team from St. John’s wore the province’s colours in Regina this year. As for next season, movement has already started, with Andrew Symonds making changes to his St. John’s team. Symonds has added a couple of Canadian university curling champs in Chris Ford and Adam Boland to play vice and second, replacing Mark Healy and Dave Noftall. Keith Jewer will remain with the team at lead. The foursome is planning on playing in some World Curling Tour events next season … ESPN’s Jeff Goodman Tweeted Tuesday what was speculated in this corner last month that St. John’s Edge coach Jeff Dunlap will join his buddy, Mark Gottfried, at Cal State Northridge next season. Gottfried was recently hired by the L.A. university. The two worked together at NC State and Alabama. Goodman also wondered how long it will take NCAA enforcement to make a visit to Northridge. That’s because Gottfried and NC State were in the middle of an NCAA basketball corruption scandal. According to Yahoo! Sports, a few days before Gottfried’s hiring at Northridge, the Washington Post reported that NC State had received a federal grand jury subpoena seeking NC State records in the investigation. Northridge released a statement citing Gottfried’s “excellent compliance record” and claimed “no red flags whatsoever” in relation to the federal probe of his former program, Yahoo! reported …

Perhaps it’s because I came into this business in a different time, and as a relative youngster, learned from solid journalists at what was then known as The Evening Telegram. And perhaps it’s because I’ve had the good fortune to work alongside and watch pros like Terry Jones, Steve Brunt, Roy MacGregor and Dave Perkins do their thing in various press boxes. So it’s on that note that I, again, look on with bewilderment at the lack of journalistic ethics on display in some media corners these days. Those same corners where fanboys masquerade as reporters. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so sickening. I don’t understand why waving the pompoms would not be accepted at Confederation Building or Parliament Hill, yet seems to be in the sports arena … Jesse Sutton of Mount Pearl, Jordan Maher of Gander and Adam Holwell of St. John’s are three players we might see in a St. John’s ECHL jersey next season. All are undrafted free agents from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Maher, 20, just finished his fourth season with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, and was one of his team’s top scorers. Sutton, also 20, just completed four years with the Quebec Remparts. He’s battled injuries from Day 1, but enjoyed a fine year this season. Holwell, a 21-year-old defenceman, completed his five-year QMJHL career as an overager with Bathurst …

Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email robin.short@thetelegram.com Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort

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