The Season of Champions is headed to Calgary.
Curling Canada has announced that Markin MacPhail Centre at WinSport’s Canada Olympic Park in Calgary will act as a hub for major curling events this season due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.
The 2021 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, Tim Hortons Brier, World Men’s Curling Championship and the Canadian Mixed Doubles Curling Championship are all scheduled to be played in the Calgary bubble in 2021.
Curling Canada will announce specific dates for the events at a later time.
"No one can deny that these are challenging times, and not just for curling, obviously, but we also know how important these events are to the athletes, to our partners and, of course, to our fans," said Katherine Henderson, CEO of Curling Canada, in a press release.
"It is thanks largely to the commitment of our business partners that we are able to have ambitions of holding some of our events, giving the best curling fans in the world something to look forward to in the new year."
Curling Canada, who has received approval from Alberta Health, is continuing to work with the Public Health Agency of Canada as well as using lessons from the NHL and NBA to make sure the competitions are as safe as possible for all involved.
There won’t be any fans allowed in the stands for games taking place in the Calgary bubble. The safety protocols for the various events will be finalized closer to the start date.
"It’s exciting news, and as a team we’re very pleased to see that such a high priority is being placed on the safety of the athletes and those involved in putting on the championships," said Brad Gushue, who won his third career Brier Tankard last season in Kingston, Ont. "We’re looking forward to playing events — if there’s a safe way to play them, let’s get them played. Other sports are playing, and the NHL and NBA have shown that it can be done safely, so I believe we can do the same in curling."
Unlike the past three Briers and Tournament of Hearts, the wild card play-in game won’t be played this year due to health and safety concerns. Formats for the tournaments will be announced at a later date.
The pandemic has already forced the first four Grand Slams and many events on the World Curling Tour to be cancelled this season. The Canada Cup, originally scheduled for late November in Fredericton, N.B., was postponed months ago while the Continental Cup in Oakville, Ont., and Canadian Junior Curling Championship in Fort McMurray, Alta., have also been called off.
There was hope the Canada Cup could be made up at some point this season, but now that will not happen.
Last year’s men’s and women’s world championships were cancelled in March shortly after the start of the pandemic.
This season is also important when it comes to qualifying for the Roar of the Rings Olympics Trials (Nov. 27-Dec. 5, 2021 in Saskatoon, Sask.) and the 2022 Canadian Mixed Doubles Olympic Trials (Jan. 3-9, 2022).
Manitoba’s Kerri Einarson, who won her first Canadian championship last season in Moose Jaw, Sask., says she’s excited elite-level curlers and fans alike have something to look forward to this year.
"It’s been a difficult few months, obviously, so I’m very happy to see these events taking place in a safe environment, and very happy for the fans as they will have something to look forward to," she explained. "We understand these are strange times with some accompanying challenges that go beyond sport, but as athletes, we embrace challenges and will do our best to thrive under whatever circumstances we find ourselves in."
The cities that were slated to host this year’s major events, including Fredericton, N.B., for the Canada Cup, Oakville, Ont., for the Continental Cup, Thunder Bay, Ont., for the Scotties, Kelowna, B.C., for the Brier and Ottawa for the World Men’s Curling Championship, have all "graciously agreed to host Curling Canada championships in the future," according to Curling Canada.
The Brier and Scotties have never been held in the same city in the same year. Calgary has hosted the Brier seven times, including most recently in 2015. The Alberta city hosted the Tournament of Hearts just once previously, in 1995.