Curling's royal family feeling at home in Saskatchewan
Ashley, Steve, and Russ Howard are embracing life on the prairies
There's something special happening this week in Whitewood, Sask..
The small town about 175 kilometres east of Regina is home to about 1,000 people. Right now it's freezing cold, just like everywhere else in Saskatchewan, but there's a warm spirit in town.
As soon as you pull into Whitewood, you can see the pride hanging in the windows of local businesses and draped from power pole to power pole all down the street. You can feel it the moment you pull up to their curling rink.
Whitewood may be a small town, but it's hosting a big event: The SaskTel Tankard.
The men's provincial curling championship isn't the only special thing happening in Whitewood this week. It's also become a family reunion of sorts for one of curling's most famous families.
Meet the Howards
If you know Canadian curling, you know Russ Howard.
The legendary skip won several provincial titles for Ontario and New Brunswick. He's a two-time Brier champion, two-time world champion and was a member of Canada's Olympic gold medal winning team in 2006.
Despite never going easy on Saskatchewan teams as a curler, Russ said he still had a soft spot for the province.
"Just a lot of good players that loved the sport. They were just weekend warriors, farm communities, whatever it was, and they were really good, really nice people and they loved the sport like I did. So we love coming out here."
Russ has worked as a curling analyst for TSN since 2001, but he's not completely done putting in work on the curling sheet. These days, instead of playing against Saskatchewan curlers, he's coaching his son Steve Howard at the Tankard.
"The really good thing about bringing dad along now is we get the senior discount when we go out to a buffet or something like that," Steve said with a smile.
On a more serious note, Steve said he couldn't be happier to have Russ as a coach.
"Just the knowledge of dad and the presence when he walks in to a curling rink," Steve said. "It's like he smells the pebble [and] he knows how much it's going to curl already."
A travellin' band
Like his travelling dad, Steve Howard has also taken quite the route to Saskatchewan.
The 34-year-old was born in Ontario, grew up in New Brunswick and has travelled all across the country for work and curling. Steve is still travelling a lot, but he's fallen in love with the prairies. He's currently working in Fort McMurray, Alta. but when he's not there, he's living and curling in Saskatchewan.
"We all have something in common and that's curling," Steve said. "The curling fan, the curling person, everybody knows curling. They love curling and it's easy to come into a town and everybody has something in common which is great."
The Howard-Saskatchewan curling connection doesn't end there. In fact, Ashley Howard plays one of the most important roles in the province.
About four years ago, Ashley became the executive director of CurlSask. The 29-year-old said it's a "really exciting job" and that moving to Saskatchewan for work was made easier by her experience curling against the green and white.
"I had played against a lot of Saskatchewan teams in national championships and they were always the nicest teams," Ashley said, smiling. "Great people. And I had been living in Winnipeg and moved to Regina and just loved a little bit smaller town. People are always willing to help you out and be nice."
Ashley has been hard at work this week at the Tankard, but said she's also enjoying the family reunion in Whitewood.
"It's been great to have family members, aside from the mess they make in our house when they visit," she said, laughing. "It really is fantastic to have them around and be involved in the game. It helps with my work as well."
Father, son, and daughter all together in their adopted province. But where's mom?
"Well mom, she's finally gotten with it," Ashley said. "She's headed off to Florida for a vacation. She didn't realize the dates of the Tankard and booked a trip with one of her great friends and so she is enjoying time on the beach and in the sun and here we are in very cold Whitewood."
The true Saskatchewan test
Ashley is committed to her work at CurlSask and her own Regina-based curling team. Steve is passionate about continuing to grow with his Saskatchewan team and has also developed a fondness for Regina.
So where does Russ actually stand? Is he only in Saskatchewan to help coach his kids? Or does he actually love this place as well?
"I've been out here a lot and now I'm a Rider fan," Russ said. "We need [Roughriders quarterback Zach] Collaros throwing a little bit more. But I think a new coach, right? I think they'll be really good next year."