Quick, curling fans, what do Brad Gushue, Brad Jacobs and John Shuster have in common? If you said they’ve won three of the past four Olympic gold medals you would be … wrong.
OK, so technically you’d be correct, but for the purpose of this story what’s the “right” answer? That Murderers Row happens to be awaiting Penticton skip Brad Wood this weekend at the $84,000 Ashley HomeStore Curling Classic at Penticton Curling Club.
Wood, third Matt Tolley, second Nathan Small and lead John Slattery are playing in a pool with three of the best curling teams competing in the world today.
And they couldn’t be happier about it.
“It’s pretty rare,” Tolley said. “In most sports, you don’t get to play the pinnacle of the sport. If you’re a good hockey player, even if you’re a good amateur player, you’re never getting to lace up against (Sidney) Crosby or whomever.
“We’re going to play three different gold-medal teams this weekend.”
If that sounds daunting, it is. But Tolley said the Penticton team is genuinely excited to test itself starting Friday.
“We’re not expected to win, so that takes a little bit of the pressure off,” Tolley said. “We can go out and just have fun and enjoy the experience. And you never know, maybe we can surprise a couple of people.”
Well, they’d surprise a whole lot more than that, but don’t assume Team Wood is out of its element as host club. They’ve notched top-five finishes at Kelowna and Kamloops events this season, and are ranked 131st by the WCT among more than 400 teams.
Granted, they’ll have to raise their game to new levels in the 24-team Classic, but that’s precisely what organizers are hoping for.
They’re striving to make the Penticton event the most prestigious bonspiel outside the Grand Slam of Curling.
No other event in Canada offers as much prize money as Penticton, but there’s more to it than that for those behind the scenes.
Tolley — also a member of the host committee — said Penticton Curling Club prides itself on blending small-town atmosphere and world-class organization.
They raised the purse to $84,000 from $66,000 last season thanks to “boots on the ground, knocking on doors…
“If we didn’t increase our purse, I don’t think (top teams) would’ve come. … But the teams that have come before, they always come again,” he said. “We do a lot of the small things that make our event really special.”
That includes the expected luxuries such as a player lounge and shuttles for each team from their hotels to the club. But the fan reception for each of the clubs — big or small, winners or losers — makes Penticton unique.
Tolley said at the conclusion of each game, fans cheer as players leave the ice. It’s enough to give you goose bumps, Tolley said. “That’s something I’ve never experienced, ever.”
Another point of pride for Classic organizers is the eight places reserved for B.C. teams.
It gives skips from smaller centres the chance to rub elbows with the world’s best, and grow the game as a result.
“We worked hard to bring it to what it is,” he said. “We want to make sure we keep it player friendly, fan friendly, and a great experience for everybody.”
AROUND THE RINGS — WCT No. 2 Jacobs defeated No. 4 Gushue two weeks ago in Nova Scotia at the Grand Slam of Curling’s Tour Challenge. … Scotland’s Glen Muirhead is defending champion, but he’s not here this year. Kevin Koe won Penticton in 2017, and he’s entered again. … Curling begins Friday and the final is Monday at 11:30 a.m. … There are 24 teams competing. Weekend passes are $70 (non-members) or $50 (members). … Muir won $18,000 for first place last year.