SPORTS

Curling tradition rules the day at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts

02/17/2015 07:00 EST | Updated 04/19/2015 05:59 EDT
MOOSE JAW, Sask. - There is something wonderfully simplistic about the live curling experience.

It's a throwback to the days when spectators didn't have to deal with thumping dance music and the inundation of constant in-game entertainment during every break in the action.

The scoreboard offers a muted television feed and the hollering and heckling that can be prominent in some sporting arenas is essentially non-existent. Curling fans are quite knowledgeable and passionate, they just enjoy the action in a quieter kind of way.

Tradition rules the day at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. A piper will walk the competitors into Mosaic Place as fans politely clap in unison before the player introductions.

The national anthem follows along with a word from the event MC. Remarkably, he sticks with the same joke when informing the crowd before each draw that flash photography is not allowed ('no flashing,' in case you're wondering).

The 'Good Luck and Good Curling' message is conveyed and it's game on over four sheets of ice.

The crowd is well behaved with polite applause for quality shots, oohs and ahhs for hits or misses and the occasional provincial shoutout (Ont-airrrrr-eeee-oh!!) or cowbell clang. The soft whir of the stones moving down the ice provides a soothing soundbed as curlers bellow their commands to teammates.

There are three big sports in this town of some 36,000 about an hour's drive from Regina — curling, football and hockey.

The Western Hockey League's Warriors call the 5,000-seat venue home, but they're on the road for a couple weeks with the women's national curling championship in town.

The beloved Saskatchewan Roughriders are always front and centre. Green and white jerseys, sweatshirts and hats can be spotted at every turn. It doesn't matter if you're on hand at the curling tournament, in line at the post office or eating at a restaurant.

Need proof of the province's love affair with the CFL team?

Try walking from one end of the rink to the other with a Riders' beat reporter. He can't go more than a few steps at a time without being stopped by fans who want to say hello or talk a little pigskin.

The Scotties is the main talking point this week though.

Sit down at a local coffee shop and you may hear conversation about host skip Stefanie Lawton's chances, the so-called Big Three of Rachel Homan, Jennifer Jones and Val Sweeting, or maybe the new qualification round that saw two skips go home early.

Local residents are remarkably friendly and seem thrilled to have the event in their town. They showed their mettle by fighting through a wicked blizzard to post impressive attendance numbers on opening day.

That morning, a hotel bellhop informed a visitor from out of town he was glad the storm would be 'missing' Moose Jaw and that the weather was worse outside of town. This despite whiteout conditions and a minus-35 wind chill.

If he was joking, kudos were deserved for the straight face.

The curlers are also a delight. No entourages, multi-million dollar contracts or attitude here. Chances are good you'll even find a few teams mingling with fans in the nearby lounge after the game.

It's a taste of the old-school sporting experience. And a welcome one at that.

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Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

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