Canada skip Brad Gushue yells to sweepers after delivering a stone against Sweden during the World Men’s Curling Championship, Friday, April 6, 2018, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Helmets, head protection gaining some ground in grassroots curling

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Change and innovation in sport often trickles down from the professional to the recreational level. When it comes to curling and head protection, it may be the reverse.

Anecdotal evidence indicates a slow, but growing, trend of recreational curlers donning helmets or some type of head protection on the ice.

Witnessing another curler take a bad spill can spawn a burst of orders for helmets and headgear, according to Goldline Curling Supplies president Erin Flowers.

“We found for a while we were selling most on a Monday due to a fall on a weekend,” she told The Canadian Press.

In a Facebook post earlier this month, Goldline urged curlers to adopt head protection following the hospitalization of an Ontario curler due to a nasty fall and a head injury.

There was a noticeable reaction at the Kitchener-Waterloo Granite Club when word spread about the incident, according to the manager Jim Uhrig.

“There were about a dozen people who came in the next day and bought headgear,” he said.

About 25 per cent of men and even more women in the club’s senior leagues wear helmets, he added, and head protection is mandatory for juniors at the Granite.

The game’s stars have a lot of experience navigating curling ice, so injurious tumbles don’t tend to happen in televised curling.

Jennifer Jones or Brad Jacobs putting on a helmet might make it a more accepted practice in the sport, but would likely be unpopular with fans accustomed to seeing every inch of an athlete’s head.

Brad Gushue falling on his face and requiring stitches in a 2015 Grand Slam tour event, however, sold more head protection, Flowers said.

“It’s going up in sales every year since Gushue,” she said. “It kind of did bring attention in that if it could happen to him, it could happen to you.”

But Shamrock Curling Club manager Chris McTavish says a head protection movement isn’t sweeping through his Edmonton club.

“Out of our one thousand or so curlers, only a small percentage wear head protection, maybe five per cent,” McTavish told The Canadian Press in an email.

“We require helmets for our Little Rockers (age six to eight), but it is not mandatory for our other curlers.”

The Shamrock recently bought over 200 grippers to loan to curlers, which increases safety with better foot traction “but it can’t do much for you if you trip over a rock and land on your head,” McTavish said.

“Ultimately an enormous culture change in curling would have to transpire to convince the very large majority of curlers to start wearing head protection while curling,” he said.

“Unless it is mandated from the very top, I do not see this happening any time soon.”

Curling Canada strongly encourages head protection but can’t make it mandatory, said championship services and curling club development director Danny Lamoureux.

“Curling clubs aren’t franchises like Tim Hortons, where all the shops have to do what head office says,” he explained.

“Affiliation gives them access to our programs and services, but we can’t mandate anything to them.”

Some clubs make head protection mandatory for beginners, juniors, seniors or adult learn-to-curl clinics, but strapping on a helmet remains largely a personal decision for the adult rec curler.

“It’s the total opposite from pro sport,” Lamoureux said. “Pro sport have concussion issues at the high level. We have the concussion issues at the grassroots levels. (With) Brad, that was a freak accident.”

There isn’t a curling helmet tested and certified by the Canadian Standards Association yet, but some curling equipment manufacturers sell a hockey or snow-sport helmet that has been CSA-approved for that sport.

Goldline also offers a line of hats, tuques and headbands with Kevlar-coated foam at the back to help absorb a blow from falling backwards.

“This is our first year bringing in an actual helmet,” Flowers said. “The helmet was accepted substantially better than anticipated. We had to put in two orders this season.”

ICE CHIPS

The 2019 Scotties Tournament of Hearts field will be capped Sunday with the crowning of the B.C., Ontario, and Northern Ontario women’s champions.

If Rachel Homan doesn’t take Ontario, her 2018 Olympic team has a berth in the win-and-get-in wild-card game versus Winnipeg’s Kerri Einarson, who fell in the Manitoba final to Tracy Fleury.

The national women’s championship Feb. 15-24 in Sydney, N.S., already features defending champion Jennifer Jones and 2016 winner Chelsea Carey of Alberta.

Robyn Silvernagle (Saskatchewan), Andrea Crawford (New Brunswick), Kerry Galusha (Northwest Territories), Jenine Bodner (Nunavut), Gabrielle Lavoie (Quebec), Nicole Baldwin (Yukon), Suzanne Birt (Prince Edward Island), Kelli Sharpe (Newfoundland and Labrador) and Jill Brothers (Nova Scotia) have also qualified.

The Canadian men’s championship March 1-10 in Brandon, Man., still has a few vacancies. Newfoundland, B.C., Ontario and Northern Ontario will fill their Tim Hortons Brier spots by Sunday.

Defending champion Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., Terry Odishaw (New Brunswick), Stuart Thompson (Nova Scotia), Dave St. Louis (Nunavut), John Likely (P.E.I.) and Martin Crete (Quebec) have already locked down berths.

———

Canadian teams in the World Cup’s third leg Thursday to Sunday in Jonkoping, Sweden, will be Darcy Robertson in the women’s field, Matt Dunstone in the men’s and the duo of Kadriana Sahaidak and Colton Lott in mixed doubles.

The four-stop World Cup is a World Curling Federation creation offering a total of US$775,000, or just over CDN$1 million, in prize money.

Winning one event is worth up to US$33,000 to a team and that number doubles at the May 8-12 grand final in Beijing.

National champions Jennifer Jones and Brad Gushue were originally slated for Jonkoping, but pulled out to compete in the TSN Skins Game in Banff, Alta., from Friday to Saturday.

Regina’s Dunstone and Winnipeg’s Robertson were the highest-ranked teams in the Canadian Team Ranking System that didn’t have events conflicting with the World Cup, according to Curling Canada.

Robertson is coming off a third-place finish in the Manitoba women’s playdowns. The Saskatchewan men’s championship starts Feb. 6.

Winnipeg’s Sahaidak and Lott were second in the 2018 national mixed doubles championship.

Canada swept the World Cup’s opening leg in Suzhou, China, with Kevin Koe, Rachel Homan and the doubles team of Laura Walker and Kirk Muyres all victorious to earn berths in the Beijing grand final.

The Tracy Fleury and Jason Gunnlaugson teams, and the doubles pair of John Morris and Kalynn Park competed in the second leg in Omaha, Neb., in December, but didn’t make a final.

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