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Last rocks and the fire in Ferbey

Posted: Tuesday, April 28, 2009 | 12:44 PM

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The last rocks of the curling campaign are being released in a far-flung place. The world senior championships are the final event of what has become a long season of throwing stones. It's being played out in Dunedin, New Zealand.

The great Canadian sport of curling has gone Kiwi … if you can believe it!

Then again, it’s a sign of the times. Not even curling, that most homespun of national pastimes, is the private preserve of this northern nation any longer.

Perhaps, that’s a good omen because the sport, once considered a quirky, “Canadian” kind of thing, has taken a foothold on the international stage.

Canada's game going global

And with the Olympics looming in Vancouver in less than a year, the push is on to make sure this country defends inside track status as the superpower of the “Roaring Game.”

It won’t be easy.

The facts suggest that rest of the world is catching up when it comes to travelling the pebbled road to Olympic glory. In this season, Canada failed to claim either the men’s or the women’s world championship titles. But Kevin Martin and Jennifer Jones were not alone. At the junior level - the curlers of the future no less - Canada again could not win gold at the worlds, which were held in Vancouver. Kaitlyn Lawes fell to Scotland while Brett Gallant claimed silver after losing to Denmark in the final.

The sum total of this year’s world curling championships at the major levels has seen, Scotland, Denmark, China, and in the case of the mixed doubles, Switzerland, wear the crowns. Now in New Zealand, Eugene Hritzuk and Pat Sanders represent the last chances for Canadian global curling titles in this pre-Olympic year.

Still, one can’t deny that our country remains the hotbed of this icy sport. Arguably the most difficult thing to do in curling is to be the best in Canada.

It’s something that every rink has to keep in mind. Just getting to the Olympics to have the chance to wear the Maple Leaf is a gargantuan task.

In this context, it was heartening to see one of the most dominant curlers of the past decade secure passage to the Canadian Olympic Trials to be held in Edmonton at the beginning of December. By defeating Glenn Howard and claiming the Player’s Championship in Grande Prairie, Alta., Randy Ferbey went a long way to painting himself back into the Olympic landscape, something that had been fading from view over the past number of years.

Return of a champion

Ferbey is a winner of six Canadian and four world titles and he remains resolute. At the final event of the Grand Slam season he knocked off all three of the men who have dominated curling since Brad Gushue won gold at Torino. Looking ever like the bulldog you wouldn’t want to get into a street brawl with, Ferbey and his foursome, which includes the hard brushing front end of Marcel Rocque and Scott Pfeifer as well as surgical shot maker Dave Nedohin throwing fourth stones, disposed of Howard, Kevin Koe and arch-rival Kevin Martin on the way to the title.

"Sometimes you think to yourself 'are our best days behind us … are we done?'” Ferbey acknowledged his time in a sort of curling wilderness immediately after his last-shot victory in the final.

“Now something like this happens and there’s a spark that begins the fire again. Now we feel like we can win anything”

Indeed, after a joyous celebration where the often gruff Ferbey and his emotionally reserved teammates hugged and danced a little jig, you could sense the return of the swagger that characterized the “Ferbey Four” back in the heydays after they had won their third world championship in four years in 2005.

“You can’t ask for anything more,” Dave Nedohin winked as he made his way from the ice in Grand Prairie.

It’s true. You can’t ask for anything more, especially on the cusp of the Olympics in your own backyard. Curling is a source of pride in Canada - something that we can still claim as our forte.

And so, as the last rocks are thrown halfway around the world, there appears to be a hunger sweeping the sport in this nation. The big dogs of curling are eager to fire the first volleys of the new campaign and climb back on top.

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