Local curlers anxious to do some sweeping outside of their homes will be happy to hear that the McIntyre Curling Club will be ready to rock this week, as ice preparations are nearly complete.
“We’re in the latter stages of that now,” said club president Stephen Meunier.
“The ice has been put down. It’s been painted. We’ve added the rings and the lines, and the decals. Now we’re flooding over top of everything to level it so that it will be ready for play.”
Meunier said a few factors, such as weather, will determine when exactly the first stones will be thrown, but that it will definitely happen in the next few days.
Of course, given the current circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be some significant changes to the way the club will function.
“Curling is very different. Curling Canada came out with return-to-play guidelines in the summertime. We adhere to those, as we fall under their umbrella,” said Meunier.
One major difference will be that physical distancing will have to be practised as best as possible, which will take some getting used to by the traditional four player units.
“So only one sweeper is allowed to sweep a rock at any one time. We have to mark spots on the ice where people stand, so they stay physically distanced from one another.”
From a competitive and strategic standpoint, there is another big change.
“Whereas before, the opposing skip could sweep the opposing team’s rock behind the T-line, that has been removed. There will be no sweeping behind the T-line so that everybody stays well apart from one another.”
Meunier said one player sweeping isn’t completely uncommon.
“With the new directional sweeping, sometimes in games that are of a higher competitive level, you’ll only see one sweeper. But for club games, it would definitely be something that is a little bit different.”
While it may take some adjustments, he said the bottom line is there will be curling.
“If that’s what we have to do to make sure that we keep people physically apart from one another to adhere to the regulations, then we’re more than willing to do that. We’re quite pleased that we’re able to open our doors at the time we normally do every year.”
Additionally, the club’s locker rooms will not be used for the foreseeable future. Everyone will have to wear a mask or face covering when entering the building, and sign themselves in.
“So that in the event that a contact tracing is necessary, we know who was in the building and when.”
The McIntyre Curling Club’s plan for a safe return to play had to be approved by both the Porcupine Health Unit and the City of Timmins.
“We feel like we’re in pretty good shape to start.”
Regarding membership, Meunier said the interest is still plenty of local interest, particularly for the Friday night social league.
“We normally would have two draws, but due to the amount of people, we can only have a maximum of 50 in the building, we’ve moved the one draw to Saturday night. We’ll alternate that back and forth. All the other nights are only one draw.”
There has been a noticeable increase in interest in the New Horizon league, which is for those 50 plus, as well as solid number in other leagues.
“The sign-ups have been steady. They may be down a little bit from the year before. To help out our members, just to make sure that if something were to happen, and we had to scale back, we’ve offered a half-year membership.”
Curlers would then have the option of renewing their membership in early January, which would cover them through the end of the season in late March.
Meunier also sits on the board of the Northern Ontario Curling Association, and confirmed that essentially all competitions have been cancelled or postponed for this upcoming season.
“We have no competitions slated for the club.”
Timmins was to play host to the Canadian Under-18 Curling Championships this February, but unfortunately Curling Canada had to cancel it.
Approximately 250 athletes would have come to town for the competition, as it was to be combined with last year’s cancelled championships, but the word came from Curling Canada that it just wasn’t going to be feasible under the circumstances.
The good news is that Timmins will have the chance play host in 2022, which Meunier said actually gives them more time to plan and put on the best event possible, which will feature the future stars of Canadian curling as they work their way towards events such as The Brier and Tournament of Hearts.
He said Curling Canada suggested curlers focus on skills development this winter as opposed to competitive play.
One thing that is particularly exciting for the club is the fact they will be debuting brand new curling stones, also known as rocks.
“The rocks that we had before were about 60 years old,” said Meunier.
“We’re very pleased the city partnered with us for the purchase of these rocks. So we’ve got six full sheets of brand new curling rocks to start out with. We’re really excited about that.”
The new regulations will carry into the club lounge and bar area.
“We’ve set up our lounge so that everybody is well apart from one another.”
The bar server will be behind a Plexiglas wall, and seating will be limited and assigned based on the sheet a player is using, so that they can use that seat to keep their gear and personal effects.
Meunier is looking forward to getting things underway and gave lots of credit to the club’s board of directors, and his wife Kim, the club manager, for their progressive thinking and efforts in making sure a local curling season happens. He’s been receiving messages from members who more than ready to “hurry hard.”
“They’re pretty excited about it because some of the other sports have been cancelled through the summer, so it’s certainly something for them to look forward to, come out and curl for a night, and to have something to do.”