The return to play has been a challenge for all sports, and curling is no exception across Canada and here in Thunder Bay.
Curling Canada has already canceled six national championships, and will be making a decision soon on the remaining four major events, including the 2021 Scotties Tournament of Hearts slated for the Fort William Gardens Feb.19-28, 2021.
The other events are the 2021 Tim Hortons Brier in Kelowna, B.C., March 5–14, the world men’s championship scheduled for Ottawa April 3-14 and the Canada Cup postponed from its November date in Fredericton, N.B.
All four events have implications for teams qualifying for the Winter Olympics in Beijing, China in 2022. Curling Canada has contingency plans that could have the events played at venues without fans or with partial fans. The television revenue from TSN still makes it viable to host these major championships.
The national curling body has been closely watching what the NHL and NBA have done playing in their bubbles. A curling bubble to host all four events back-to-back in a modern new arena in a city with easy air access for players is an option at least for the three Canadian team events.
So where does that leave Thunder Bay hosting the Scotties? The local host committee has made a request to Curling Canada for the national women’s curling championships in 2022 if 2021 is a no go without fans. The Scotties would be held in late January 2022 as it is an Olympic year.
The local committee has reached out to Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission for a deferral of the $400,000 hosting fee, which was approved at the August board meeting. This gives Curling Canada the option to look at the Scotties here in 2022.
The executive of the local host committee is meeting tonight to discuss the impacts of no event, an event with partial fans or going to 2022.
If Curling Canada decides to defer to 2022, there are number of things to consider including the advance ticket sales that were at close to 70 per cent sold out and then getting the city to approve deferring the rental agreement for the Gardens to 2022. Both are doable. There will be no problem in recruiting volunteers or selling tickets, as people are eager for the event in Thunder Bay.
“We had great ticket sales until COVID-19 hit,” said Rick Lang, chair of the local host committee noting Curling Canada was impressed by the response from Thunder Bay as a host city.
Curling Canada is expected to make an official announcement on the remaining events for 2021 in the coming weeks.
KRISTA’S PLANS: Lang is also the coach of Krista McCarville’s team who could be the local fan favourite representing Northern Ontario at a Scotties event here be it 2021 0r 2022.
Team McCarville, the reigning provincial champions who made the playoffs at Scotties in Moose Jaw last year, are looking at a light schedule this year due to potential impacts of Covid on their family and work lives.
“Rachael Homan and Jennifer Jones are looking to participate at smaller events like a 12 team spiel in Oakville this weekend,” explains Lang.
“Our team has decided to limit travel to provincial playdowns (which are scheduled Kenora) and local (TBayTel) major league” said Lang, whose daughter Sarah Potts is making a return to the team.
Potts, who took last year off to give birth to twins, is coming back to the team that will have returning players Kendra Lilly from Sudbury at third and Ashley Miharija at second.
Sudbury’s Jennifer Gates has been part of Team McCarville the past two years. The all star second from the 2019 Scotties in Sydney, N.S., going to play with her sister Amanda Gates this year out of Sudbury.
MAJOR LEAGUE RETURNS: TBayTel is back as the title sponsor for the Major League of Curling, which will split games between the Port Arthur Curling Club and the Kakabeka Falls Curling Club this season.
The local competitive league is in its 44th season. It will begin play at the Kakabeka club on Sept. 30 with 14 teams split into two pools of seven. The pool split allows the curling clubs to meet the Covid bubble requirement of 50 people or less in a grouping.
LOCAL LEAGUES: All three local clubs are planning to open this season adapting to Covid protocols and safety measures put in place from Curling Canada in return to play guidelines.
The 50-person rule in an indoor space, social distancing and wearing of masks are all part of the return to play requirements. The ice at the Kakabeka Falls Club is expected to be ready for the first games of the major on September 30. The Fort William Curling Club and Port Arthur Curling Club are looking to open the Tuesday after the Thanksgiving weekend.
This is a later start than usual for the two city clubs adapting to changes due to the pandemic. Tuesday after Thanksgiving has been the traditional start for the Kakabeka club. Curlers looking to play this season should reach out to their respective clubs for more information or watch for communication in emails from league executives.
If you have information that you want to share in this weekly curling column, please email John Cameron at email@example.com or call John at 631-3032.