May 31st, 2020

Laying It Out: Throwin’ stones and coming up empty

By Medicine Hat News Opinion on May 23, 2020.

Curling legend Pat Ryan was a game changer in every sense.

I’d watched him as a kid and was still in journalism school in 2007 when I had the opportunity to sit down with him at The Continental Cup in Medicine Hat.

The interview was one of my first, so it stuck with me, and when I saw he was the subject of an episode on a Netflix series called The Losers, I skipped right to his and sat down to watch.

The title is misleading, as Ryan was anything but a loser. Except in 1985, when a string of errors – and his opponent making the greatest shot in the sport’s history – cost Ryan’s Alberta rink the Brier, our Canadian championship.

What’s more, Ryan’s team missed several easy hits to lose to Al Hackner, a shot-making master from the Thunder Bay region whose finesse for the game was unmatched at the time. Ryan was so distraught that he almost quit the sport.

Almost.

As many Albertans will remember fondly, Ryan stayed with the game and soon formed a team that would include Randy Ferbey, now one of the biggest names the sport has ever had. Ruling with an iron fist, Ryan shaped his new team into the nation’s best through a strategy no team before had ever used.

Hit everything.

They throw a guard? Hit it out of there. They throw one in the house? Smash it into oblivion. No matter what the other team threw, Ryan aggressively attacked it with 44-pound granite torpedoes as if he were captaining a submarine.

It worked to perfection and no one had an answer for it. Ryan’s Alberta rink won back-to-back Brier championships using this strategy, going on to World Championship silver in 1988 and gold in 1989.

There was only one problem… Outside his own rink and his Albertan supporters, everyone either hated playing him or despised watching him. Ryan’s strategy was annoying and it was boring – without rocks in play throughout an end, his team had become so awful to watch that in the 1989 Brier final, they had to win while the crowd chanted, “Booooring! Booooring!” over and over.

None of it sat well with the sport’s governing bodies, both in Canada and internationally, and not long after Ryan was booed at the Brier, they literally changed the rules of the sport to stop it. Hit everything? Nope, not anymore.

All’s well that ended well in the world of curling, of course, as not only did the game’s excitement level dramatically improve, but Ryan even went on to win again under the new rules, this time skipping a rink out of B.C.

So, the question is, why is a political columnist telling a 35-year-old curling story? If you haven’t already picked it up yourself, as I watched this 37-minute Netflix episode I couldn’t help but see glaring similarities to Premier Jason Kenney and his United Conservative “team.”

Kenney’s strategy is exactly like Ryan’s was – no matter what anyone does, hit it with an aggressive attack. There is no finesse to Kenney’s game.

In fact, he despises finesse. Finesse means playing nice. Finesse means working with other people’s rocks in play. Finesse means dirty words like “social licence.” To Kenney, finesse is a loser’s game. As far as Kenney is concerned, Albertans don’t play nice – Albertans hit everything.

Since long before the UCP even won the election, Kenney has promised to make the world bow to Alberta’s needs. According to Kenney, we must force our enemies to submit, and we will fly out of the hack to deliver stones at a blistering pace until they do.

Kenney has delivered hits in every direction – foreign radicals, environmentalists, the green left, B.C., Quebec, Texas, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Norway, Moody’s, David Suzuki, George Soros, whoever is controlling Greta Thunberg while she’s supposed to be in school, the Medicine Hat News, Justin Trudeau, Rachel Notley – and he never runs out of rocks.

Most recently he took aim at China over COVID-19, and decided Gerald Butts and Barack Obama are now behind our oil woes. And lo and behold, just like with Ryan’s curling strategy, people outside Alberta have grown bored of it, and his so-called opponents have only become irritated by it.

Outside his fans in Alberta, Kenney is just not very well liked, and we didn’t need the Chinese consulate to put him in his place last week to see it. But, no matter how many similarities I can draw between Jason Kenney and Pat Ryan, there is still one major difference.

Pat Ryan was winning.

Jason Kenney, and therefore Alberta as a whole, is getting his butt whipped. Even if every opponent he has targeted was actually working to defeat Alberta somehow (spoiler alert: they aren’t) his hit-everything strategy is an utter failure, and he’s far too slow to learn that he does not control the sport.

Ryan at least brought home some hardware before curling snuffed out his strategy. What’s Kenney brought home so far? Jobs? Investment? Nope, not even a shiny trophy we can admire. All we have is the reverberating chants of the world growing bored of him.

The fans hate us. Our opponents won’t play with us. And our premier is too stubborn to realize they’ve already changed the game.

Scott Schmidt is the layout editor for the Medicine Hat News. Contact him at sschmidt@medicinehatnews.com or follow him on Twitter at @shmitzysays. Scott’s opinion’s are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the News’ editorial board.

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3 Responses to “Laying It Out: Throwin’ stones and coming up empty”

  1. Impala says:

    Spewing hate, that is the game of little Scotty, the fringe left embarrassment of the community. Hates all things conservative, so he tries to find different angles to say the same negatives things over and over.

  2. Hartacres says:

    Nice op ed. from the perspective of a prairie curling fan, and political observer. Good comparisons and nice to acknowledge Pat Ryan’s ability to win against overwhelming odds. He is a gentleman and ambassador of the game – cannot say the same about Mr. Kenneykaze.


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