The Iceman coacheth

Al Hackner wears a mask while firing a shot during Tbaytel Major League of Curling action earlier this month at the Port Arthur Curling Club. Masks are mandatory for major league play.

As 2020 draws to a close, it is a year all of us will want to put behind with the hope of better things to come in 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll and the sport of curling is no exception. Here at home and across the country, curling clubs, events and curlers have all been impacted.

There was great excitement in Thunder Bay last January when Curling Canada announced our city was selected to host the 2021 Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Ticket sales soared with the potential of Krista McCarville playing before a hometown crowd at Fort William Gardens.

The pandemic changed all that. Curling Canada announced in early December that the 2021 Scotties would be played in Calgary as part of a bubble scenario with other championship events — the Brier, Canadian mixed doubles, world men’s and two Grand Slam of Curling Canada events. The good news Thunder Bay would be given to host the opportunity to host the top women curlers at the Scotties in January 2022.

McCarville and her teammates Kendra Lilly, Ashley Sippala and Sarah then received an invite to represent Northern Ontario at the Scotties in Calgary. The Northern Ontario Curling Association, unable to stage provincial playdowns, voted to give the defending provincial champions the opportunity to represent at the national events.

Team McCarville declined the invitation just before Christmas, pointing to the impacts of travel and the quarantine requirements and the effect it would have on their family and work commitments. The Krysta Burns rink from Sudbury, as the runner-up to McCarville at last year’s provincials, accepted the invite and will represent Northern Ontario when the Canadian women’s championship gets underway Feb. 20.

Meanwhile, Trevor Bonot and Oye Sem Won said yes to their invite for the national mixed doubles.

The Port Arthur Curling Club duo are now preparing to travel to Calgary for the championships which are set to begin in mid-March following the Brier.

There is a possibility that Trevor and Oye Sem could be joined in Calgary by another Thunder Bay curler. Al Hackner is listed as the coach for John Morris and Rachel Homan. Each mixed doubles team is allowed one support person at the bubble which could be a coach or alternate player.

Morris, of course, is the reigning mixed doubles Olympic champion who recruited Homan as a replacement for Kaitlyn Lawes.

Hackner, the two-time world champion who had two stints coaching Team USA at Olympics, has a close connection with Morris. He coached Morris and his partners the past two years and was scheduled to travel to the mixed double nationals in Portage La Prairie, Man., last March prior to the event being cancelled.

“I haven’t heard that they are in fact playing,” said Hackner noting that Homan is slated to play the Scotties which would mean a month of isolation at the bubble.

“There are a lot of variables. I could be vaccinated by then. The time frame for the bubbles could be shortened and the COVID numbers could be way down by then,” added the 66-year-old famed local curler stating he has the same concerns of traveling in a pandemic and requirements for quarantine.

Morris and Homan are among the mixed double tandems expected to challenge for a 2022 Olympic berth. If they are successful, there is a strong possibility that Hackner could get to coach at the Olympics for a third time. The Winter Olympics are to be held in Beijing, China in February 2022.


STILL A HOT TICKET: The postponement of the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Thunder Bay to January 2022 has resulted in a number of refunds for tickets sold prior to the pandemic.

However, local organizing committee vice-chair Rick Lang says Curling Canada is very pleased by the number of people who have decided to keep their tickets for the event now scheduled for Jan. 28-Feb. 6, 2022.

Curling Canada reported a few days before Christmas that 66 per cent of people who bought tickets opted to keep them.

“Two thirds of people keeping their tickets is a really good rate in this crazy COVID environment we live in. Let’s hope the vaccines work miracles and we can get on with our planning,” Lang said, adding Curling Canada will determine when tickets will go on sale again.

“We’re obviously watching COVID lockdown and trends closely and as things start to improve, we can formalize the next steps towards a re-launch,” said Andy Henry, manager of marketing and tickets for Curling Canada.

A project dated for ticket sales to resume could be Feb. 20, the start of TSN broadcasts for the 2021 Scotties from Calgary.


LOCKDOWN CONTINUES: Jan. 9 is the earliest date that the Port Arthur Curling Club, Fort William Curling Club and the Kakabeka Falls Curling Club can re-open.

That is assuming that virus case counts in the Thunder Bay district decrease and the Ontario government allows Northern Ontario to ease current lockdown restrictions.

The Tbaytel Major League of Curling was scheduled to resume play Jan. 6 with Draw 14 at the Port Arthur Curling Club.

However, the lockdown has postponed that draw. The plan now is to resume play with Draw 15 at the Kakabeka Falls Curling Club on Jan. 13, and then make up Draw 14 on a Saturday or Sunday next month at the PACC.

If you have information that you want to share in this weekly curling column, please email John Cameron at or call 631-3032.