Frosty brews are as common a sight in a curling club as rocks in the rings.
Knocking back a few pints after a game is enmeshed in the social fabric of the sport, especially at the club level. Sometimes you’ll even see elite curlers head to the bar once play is complete, with winners typically buying the first round.
What was different about last weekend’s team ejection at the Red Deer Curling Classic was the drinking was done before the game and unsportsmanlike behaviour followed. It was such an uncommon occurrence – curling prides itself on gentlemanly play – that the World Curling Tour doesn’t have anything on the books to deal with what went down.
“We don’t currently have a code of conduct specific to this kind of issue,” said WCT operations chief Gerry Geurts. “But we’re reviewing that policy in the wake of this incident and working with other Tour stakeholders to consider the next course of action.”
On Saturday, the team of Jamie Koe, Ryan Fry, Chris Schille and DJ Kidby were kicked out of the $35,000 competition. Fry, who was playing as a substitute, won a Tim Hortons Brier title in 2013 and won Olympic gold with skip Brad Jacobs at the 2014 Sochi Games.
Organizers said that after drinking in the venue’s bar area, three of the four curlers – Koe sat out – played an afternoon game that led to their disqualification. Red Deer Curling Centre manager Wade Thurber said that Fry broke three brooms, the team used foul language and there was some minor damage in the locker room.
The team members left the premises afterwards without issue, forfeited a Sunday game, and issued statements Monday apologizing for their actions. Fry, who normally plays with Jacobs, E.J. Harnden and Ryan Harnden, offered to pay for any damages, Thurber said.
Fry, who has yet to comment publicly, added a separate apology on Twitter, saying he’ll “be taking every step needed to guarantee this never happens again.” His post included the quote: “The best version of yourself comes after the worst journey you could take yourself on.”
The Red Deer competition is a level below the Slams. The field boasted a few big names but is generally filled with up-and-coming players and regional competitors.
Thurber said it was the first disqualification in the event’s 20-year history, while Geurts called it a “very rare” situation for a Tour event.
“Most of the time curlers generally deal with issues amongst themselves,” Geurts said from London, Ont. “It’s even the case at a lot of these Tour events in Canada, we don’t even have officials on the ice. It’s the way the game has always been managed. It’s sort of that gentleman’s game in that situation.
“You usually have someone around the facility who can be a voice of reason in case there’s any kind of rule issue or anything like that. But for the most part, the players have always solved these issues themselves. That’s one of the great things about the sport.”
Thurber said that spectators and some other teams who were playing at the 12-sheet facility complained about the Koe team’s behaviour.
“Usually what happens, the players that are in a bonspiel, they’re not drinking until they’re done for the day,” Thurber said from Red Deer. “That’s normal. But these guys were drinking before their game.”
Team Jacobs, which recently won the Grand Slam of Curling’s Tour Challenge, is next scheduled to compete at the Dec. 11-16 National in Conception Bay South, N.L. Fry is expected to play at that event.
The curling scene has changed significantly over the years, with many competitors more likely to reach for a protein shake at the end of play rather than a beer stein.
Some veteran players will regale others with stories from the old days, when curlers played a couple games, hit the bar, stayed up until the wee hours and were back out on the ice in the morning – hangover and all.
Some international media outlets that picked up the story played on that old-school stereotype that curlers like a drink.
However, the reality in Olympic-era curling is that many elite players are more concerned about ranking points and getting a good night’s sleep than they are about heading to the bar for a cold one.
“For the work that they put in, the time at the gym, drinking just doesn’t really fit in to that whole gameplan of becoming a high-performance athlete,” Geurts said. “So you do tend to see teams not partake much at all.”