Wednesday, June 18, 2014

It Was A Very Good Year

The title of this post is the title of a song made popular by Frank Sinatra. It's very moving with lyrics that tug at the heart strings. If you've never heard it, it's worth the on-line search! Go to YouTube and enjoy one of Frank's classic renditions.

For me, this past curling season was a very busy one! It didn't start out that way. In fact, now that I have my cabin on Lake Cowichan here on Vancouver Island, I was quite prepared to spend most of the winter here, with the cool, rainy days spent in my workshop, turning (pun intended) out pepper mills, pens, bowls, bottle stoppers, honey dippers etc. and writing more posts for this blog site. Well, that was the plan but that's not exactly the way the 2013-14 curling season unfolded, not by a long shot. In fact, after doing this sort of thing for 25+ years, I was quite prepared to "begin my descent" towards "Retirement International Airport" but the 2013-14 season completely changed my mind.

There are really only two items on my annual agenda for the Canadian Curling Association. As most of you who read my ramblings on a more or less regular basis know, I attend our junior national event as a "mentor coach" to all the teams. And, I take our two national senior teams to the Senior World Curling Championships. This year those two events took me to Nova Scotia's famous "south shore" (Liverpool, NS) and to the home of "Robbie Burns" (Dumfries-Galloway, Scotland) respectively.

As the season approached, my telephone started to ring and the emails began appearing in my inbox. For various reasons, based upon requests teams and individuals, I made my way to Victoria International Airport four times en route to Whitehorse, YK, twice to Yellowknife, NT, Halifax, NS (for a 2 week tour of 3 of the Atlantic provinces), Charlottetown, PEI, Toronto, ON and Rankin Inlet, NU. Those destinations allowed me to experience some unique events in my career.

The four trips to Whitehorse, YK were to conduct an "Adult Initiative Programme" the Yukon Curling Association requested, to my knowledge, the first of its kind. One of the journeys to the capital of the Northwest Territories was at the request of a coaching colleague & friend of many years who asked if I'd coach his junior team in the YK/NT women's play down for a berth in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts (which was successful and this team is now the youngest "team" to ever compete at the prestigious women's national championship). The second sojourn to Yellowknife was to pinch hit for the CCA's Danny Lamoureux in preparation for the 2014 Canadian Senior Curling Championship (I had no idea there were so many tasks that needed to be completed prior to the staging of a national championship). The tour of the Atlantic Provinces led me to small towns such as Cornwall & Montague on PEI, Truro & Sydney on NS, in addition to three major Atlantic Canada cities (Halifax, NS, St. John's, NL & Moncton, NB). During those two weeks I worked with curlers from high performance teams to novices plus a few coaching seminars. My luggage for the return trip from Scotland was weighed down with a gold & silver medal. All of the events listed above generated memories I will cherish forever! No question! But that said, the Rankin Inlet, NU stop provided one that stood out in my mind.

My five days on the frigid, windswept shore of Hudson Bay came about from my attendance at junior nationals. All of Canada's provinces & territories are represented at this event. The junior men's team is from Rankin Inlet. They have represented NU from its inaugural inclusion in the event. The coach is Kevin Bussey and it was he who asked if I'd come to Rankin Inlet. Since I was going to be there for a full workday week, Kevin and his trusty sidekick Angela Dale, set out a number of activities to keep me out of trouble. But first, some background information about which most readers might not be aware re. our newest territory.

Nunavut as vast! And, in the winter, it's not just cold, it's really cold! Most of the inhabitants are Inuit with a culture of their own with, and I say this with respect, a somewhat different set of values, not better than or worse than those with which I've lived my life, just different. Rankin Inlet, like most of the territory, has few trees (I saw none) so right away, for me, that's something with which I have to learn to deal if ever I should live there. Everything about the community is for practical purposes, the architecture of the buildings, the modes of transportation, the food, etc. It's just not smart to waste time and resources on style (I don't want to be the lawn mower sales representative in Rankin Inlet for example). Most of the life style reflects the environment in which the population lives. There's little choice but to do that! And from a recreational perspective, hockey is king (can you say "Jordan Tootoo"?)!!! The community centre with its hockey arena is the heartbeat of activities, especially in the winter months, which are most of the months as summer makes but a token appearance.

But, in part of that building, there's a curling facility, with two sheets of ice and despite what some of the curlers said, it's not natural ice but as with many shared facilities in Canada, the curling ice comes compliments of the hockey refrigeration system. When I was there it might as well have been "natural ice". The temperate in Celsius degrees "on the ice" was -33! Needless to say that if you're a curler in Rankin Inlet, you will be a dedicated curler with lots of warm clothing.

There's no ice technician at Rankin Inlet. Coach Bussey and his boys are the resident ice techs. My first activity after my arrival was to help with a flood to "try" to level the ice somewhat and at least get it quick enough so that takeout weight at most curling facilities would at least get a stone near the house. At that temperature, we didn't have to wait long before the surface just laid down was frozen. Unfortunately, during the five days I was there, the second hand ice scraper was not operational, despite the arrival of a new "part" and some dedicated repair time by a knowledgeable club member.

As previously stated, the junior men's team under Kevin's tutelage competed at the last two junior nationals in Fort McMurray and Liverpool. Yes, they got their head handed to them most of the time but I'm going to go on record right now to tell the rest of the junior aged athletes that it won't be long before these four young men start putting up their share of "w's" at the national event! Of the hours I spent in -33 C, most of it was with these wonderful young men and their unbelievably dedicated coach. That alone made the trip and the cold all worthwhile!

Sprinkled into the sessions with the junior men's team were clinics for club members and it was at the end of an evening clinic that the memorable event to which I referred earlier happened.

As the session drew to a close, I noticed that four or five Inuit males who I surmised had wandered in front the adjoining hockey area of the building, had their noses pressed against the glass, clearly mesmerized by the goings on. As the club members left the ice I motioned to them to come onto the ice surface. They didn't have to be asked twice! After a quick cleaning of the footwear I showed them how to put their feet (not "foot") into the hack and using all the strength at their disposal, literally fire the stone to the opposite end of the sheet. Some of Kevin's players helped to make sure that the hacks at the playing end were protected as stones flew from the home end. But wait, what about those brushes?  They wanted to brush so when one "delivered" a stone the others would furiously clear its path until the next stone was ready to leave the "launch pad".

By this time, a few more young "hockey fans" filtered into the curling lounge and it was obvious they too wanted to join the fun so another wave of my arm brought five or six more youngsters onto the other sheet. That quick "two-feet-in-the-hack" lesson was all they needed and in short order stones were flying down both sheets.

Word seemed to spread quickly as more young people filed in wanting to emulate their friends. Of course, all were welcome and soon, stones were moving up and down the ice with frantic brushing and loud bursts of laughter. At one point I realized that stones were moving, at considerable velocity, in both directions on both sheets. That's when I filled the cold air with my trademark whistle bringing the proceedings to a sudden halt. A wave of my arm invited the now 40-50 8-12 year olds to gather around. With the translation help of Kevin's athletes I explained that ALL the stones need to be delivered in ONE direction, before they are delivered in the OPPOSITE. Full stop! "Now have fun!"

What I haven't told you was that Kevin had to take his leave following the clinic to attend to some club matters off site and the look on his face when he returned was priceless! His grin said it all. For the first time, the "hockey kids" were, ahem, "curling"!

I'm guessing that we were out there for about an hour or so before we had to shut it down. In the quiet of the curling lounge with only Kevin and I present, he asked me what I had "taught" them. I replied that they very likely didn't learn anything except that "curling is fun"!!!

After those 25+ years, it's perhaps the best lesson I ever taught!

It was a very good year!

1 comment:

  1. Re the seniors in Dumfries. First, it's Rabbie Burns, or Robert Burns, never Robbie (a mistake Canadians habitually make). Second, that silver only became possible when Scotland switched from playing the theoretically proper strategy, which played into Canada's hands, to the draw game, which is their strength.