Countdown’s on to Grand Slam of Curling

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Organizers of Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling say they feel the event will help raise the sport’s profile in Pictou County.

Jim Nix and Donalda Buckingham co-chair the host committee for the Slam event that will takes place from Nov. 5 to 10 on both ice surfaces at the Pictou County Wellness Centre.

The Slam is an elite series of men’s and women’s curling events that form part of the World Curling Tour. It has been owned by and operated by Sportsnet since 2012.

The Slam will feature 15 men’s teams and 15 women’s teams in Tier I, plus 16 men’s teams and 16 women’s teams in Tier 2. The teams represent nine countries that include Canada, the U.S., Scotland, Japan, Korea, Switzerland, Sweden, The Netherlands and Germany.

Defending champion Team Homan from Ottawa will lead the opening draw in the women’s Tier I division, while 11-time Grand Slam winner Team Gushue, skipped by Brad Gushue from St. John’s, N.L., will lead among the opening draw in men’s Tier 1 teams competing.

Preliminary Tier I games will be played on the Sobey ice surface and Tier II games will be played on the Bell Aliant surface.

Opening ceremonies will precede the one draw at 7 p.m. on both ice surfaces on Nov. 5. It will be followed by four daily draws at 8 a.m., noon, 4 and 8 p.m. on Nov. 6, 7 and 8.

Playoffs will follow on Nov. 9, while women’s Tier I and Tier II championships will be at 12:30 p.m. and men’s Tier I and Tier II championship games will be at 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 10.

“We have 15 of the top 16 men’s curling teams and 15 of the top 16 women’s teams in the world coming here,” Nix said. “That’s really good.”

Nix said he liked the opportunity the Tier II teams have been given to use this event to eventually become Tier I teams.

“There’s a chance for a lot of friends and family to come and watch curling for the first time in a lot of cases,” he said.

Work will begin on Friday to dismantle the glass and boards that rim the ice surfaces and prepare the ice for curling.

“It’s coming together,” Nix said. “It’s a big event with lots of moving parts. It will certainly be a different look.”

Nix said the Wellness Centre, particularly special events manager Jennie Greencorn, ignited the process that led to Sportsnet bringing the Slam to the county. The event was confirmed in the fall of 2018, he said.

“When we got the call we were pleased,” Nix said

Securing the nearly 300 volunteers needed for the Slam turned out to be a pleasant surprise for the committee, Nix said.

He recalled the reception he had after he approached the presidents of all four local curling clubs to partner with the group preparing to host the Slam.

Ultimately there was an overflow response that left a standby volunteer group to call upon if needed.

“I wasn’t sure we’d get enough and all of a sudden we had 200 or so,” he said. “I thought if we got 150 before summer we’d be okay but we had to stop it at around 321.”

Buckingham said she marvelled at the local sponsorship support for the Slam that includes one gold and silver each and two bronze sponsorships.

David Holle chairs the sponsorship committee.

“He really has done a great job,” she said.

Hotels and restaurants have also responded well.

Attracting young people is a vital component in curling events like the Slam and Nix said it’s something local organizers are working hard to achieve. They will have a chance to view the preliminary curling matches through Nov. 8.

“We’re bringing in more than 550 kids from middle schools who are coming here to watch the sport,” he said. “There are a lot of kids who will be seeing the sport for the first time.”

Tickets are available on line and are also on sale on the Wellness Centre Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Entertainment and food will be featured upstairs at what is billed as the Molson Canadian Social House that be open daily from 11 a.m. to the final draw, serving up hot food until 7 p.m. each day.

Rawlins Cross is performing on Nov. 8 at 9:30 p.m.

Tickets for their show can also be purchased online or at the Pictou County Wellness Centre.

Jim Nix and Donalda Buckingham stand beside one of the ice surfaces that will be converted into a curling venue for Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling. (Goodwin photo)