Before a standing-room-only crowd of 2,643 partisan fans, hopes for a Canadian world champion in women’s curling quickly evaporated last Friday night. In the fourth end, with the score between Canada and Norway tied 1-1, Canadian skip Penny LaRocque’s last rock slowed to a halt short of its target. Norway thus scored two and went on to upset Canada 6-3 in Moose Jaw, Sask., in what Norway’s skip Eva Vanvik called “the greatest thing that has ever happened to me in my life.” For LaRocque it was painful. “We curled our worst game,” she said. “I learned another lesson the hard way.”
The LaRocque rink’s quest for the world championship began last summer. After losing in the Nova Scotia playdowns last year to the eventual Canadian champion rink, skipped by Colleen Jones of Halifax, LaRocque was on the verge of quitting the game. Then she reconsidered. Along with teammates Sharon Horne, 39,
Cathy Caudle, 21, and Pamela Sanford, 24, she began a summer of training sessions with a sports psychologist and yoga classes to learn breathing techniques for relaxation. “You have to let your body do it in times of stress,” says LaRocque. “And if you’re going to win today, you have to be doing something different from the rest of the field.” The payoff came at the Canadian championships last month.
With the title on the line in the final end on the last rock, LaRocque drew to the button to defeat Cathy Shaw’s Alberta rink 5-4. “All winter long the girls would tell me on the way back to the hack for an important shot that it was for the championship of the world,” the new Canadian champion skip said. “One of the girls mentioned it again for that final rock, and that probably allowed me to make the shot because I’d done it a 100 times before.”
The Canadians’ play in the world
championship was less like a storybook. After taking their first six matches, the rink lost the next two to Denmark and Switzerland. In the wake of the setbacks, LaRocque admitted, “I missed a free draw for two [points] in the ninth end and lost control of the game for us.” But she recovered in time to defeat Scotland 5-4 to earn a playoff berth against Norway last Friday night. After the loss to Norway, LaRocque said, “We never did curl as well as we did when we
won the Canadian championship.” LaRocque and her rink now face another long summer.
The Canadian men’s champions, who defend the Silver Broom world title for Canada this week in Regina, take a more traditional approach to the 400year-old game. After earning a berth in the national final with a spectacular double takeout, skip Ed Werenich, a 35year-old fireman from Scarborough, Ont., said, “The next time I make a double it will be in a glass with whisky all around it.” Werenich skips a rink dubbed The Dream Team—including Paul Savage, 35, a four-time Ontario champion skip, John Kawaja, 21, a former Ontario junior champion, and Neil Harrison, 34, a member of Werenich’s
1981 Ontario champion rink. The team played more than 120 games this season, winning almost 90 per cent of them and collecting $45,000 in prize money.
The Dream Team will have to maintain the shot-making that carried them to the championship. Werenich (pronounced Renich, thus his nickname, “the Wrench”), with his ever-present toothpick, is ably supported, particularly by vice-skip Savage, who led his own rink for 21 years. “A lot of people
thought I was crazy to go back to playing vice,” he said. “But I’m not interested in dealing with the pressures of skipping any more. Eddie’s ability to read ice is unbelievable. I have learned things about strategy from him this year.” The daring, gambling style of Werenich, if not taking his rink to the final, will certainly entertain the expected sellout crowds in Regina this week. And the skips from the other nine nations may learn what so many Canadian skips have this year. The lesson is emblazoned on Werenich’s sweatshirt, DON'T MONKEY WITH THE WRENCH. LaRocque, meanwhile, will return to her home in Halifax thinking about the shot she left short Friday night, a shot she had made “100 times before.”
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