By Nolan Thiessen
The 13th season of the Grand Slam of Curling starts up again on Oct. 29 in Abbotsford, B.C. The Grand Slams have gone through their trials and tribulations (which have been documented in detail), but I feel like this year the Slams are in the best place they have ever been.
Sportsnet took over the Grand Slams last year and has increased the coverage substantially, showing at least seven draws per weekend as opposed to historically only two or three. This has been an amazing opportunity for both established and up-and-coming teams, providing more national exposure. With so many sports vying for viewers and TV airtime, having our sport on the air more often during the winter months is great for the game and for all teams.
The other aspect of the Grand Slams that is often overlooked is the “trial by fire” experience that it provides to up-and-coming teams. When I joined Team Koe in 2006 the four of us had never played together and had never played in any high-leverage games. The Grand Slams provided us the opportunity to play on arena ice, against the best teams in the world, and learn how to win.
Before the Grand Slams were created in the summer of 2001, teams had to win their provincial playdowns and then play in the Brier to get that level of experience. Playing out of Alberta and bashing our heads against the likes of Kevin Martin and Randy Ferbey we may have never got that exposure without the Slams. Providing four events every year where the best of the best get to compete against each other under the best conditions possible is invaluable for teams. I know for a fact our team would not have won the 2010 Brier and World Championship without the exposure we received, and all of the big games we got to play in the Grand Slams (that being said we’d rather have not lost ALL six finals before we won one!)
The first event this year, The Masters of Curling, is an extra special one in that it will provide fans a preview of most of the field for the Olympic Games. The Olympics is on everybody’s mind these days and the Masters will provide the only preview before Sochi.
The field in Abbotsford, B.C., is going to include nine teams from outside of Canada. Included in that list will be the Olympic representatives from Sweden (World Champ Niklas Edin), Norway, Great Britain, Switzerland, Russia, Denmark and China as well as teams from the U.S. and New Zealand.-For those Canadian fans who want to get out their red and white, the field also includes the six Canadian teams that have direct berths to the Roar of the Rings Canadian Olympic Trials. I have always joked that the Martin, Glenn Howard and Jeff Stoughton trifecta of curling elite should be renamed the Three Curling Godfathers. All three guys would be in the conversation for the Mount Rushmore of our sport due to their longevity and career accomplishments, however, the Masters provides the fans the opportunity to not only to see the Godfathers but the up-and coming Mafioso’s like Kevin Koe, Mike McEwen and John Epping. The sport is strong and the fields are as strong as they have ever been at these events, so we hope the fans enjoy the high level of competition.
Most Grand Slams feature only two or three international teams in a field of 18 but with this one having over 60 percent of the field from outside of Canada, will this be the first Grand Slam won by a team who doesn’t call the Great White North home? All I know is if they are playing Team Koe in the final I hope the streak of Canadian winners will continue!