Scotties’ elite curlers surprised, but intrigued after Murdoch hiring by Curling Canada
KAMLOOPS, B.C. – It’s safe to say many of the top curlers at the 2023 Scotties Tournament of Hearts weren’t expecting Scottish great David Murdoch to be named Curling Canada’s new high-performance director last month.
“Shocked,” said Canada skip Kerri Einarson.
“I didn’t really have him on my Bingo card,” said Einarson’s teammate Shannon Birchard.
“I was surprised – that was my initial reaction,” remarked Wild Card 1 skip Kaitlyn Lawes.
It’s not as if Canada’s curling elite are questioning the hiring of Murdoch to run the country’s high-performance program, they just didn’t think his name was ever in the cards.
“We had no idea who was in the running or anything,” Emma Miskew told TSN.ca. “We were surprised because we didn’t know that he would be looking to come to Canada and be the high-performance director.”
The move is somewhat surprising as the 44-year-old Murdoch, who has a prolific playing career of his own including winning Olympic silver in 2014, has headed British Curling’s high-performance program since 2018. He played a major role in Great Britain’s strong showing at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing with Eve Muirhead winning the gold medal and Bruce Mouat capturing silver.
“It’s incredible to be in this position and I’m super honoured to have this opportunity,” Murdoch told TSN’s Bob Weeks last month. “There’s so much potential and Canada has had so much success over the years. I’m excited to speak with the athletes and engage with them and engage with the high-performance staff and start talking about what the future vision is.”
Murdoch will finish off the season with British Curling before moving his family to Canada and taking over this country’s program with the goal of getting back to the top of the podium on the international stage.
“I’m curious to pick David’s brain on what he is looking to do with the program and hopefully we can have all the high-performance teams talk with him and kind of figure out what that looks like,” Lawes said after a win over Saskatchewan on Tuesday at the Canadian women’s curling championship.
The two-time world champion replaces Gerry Peckham, who had plenty of success during his 33 years on the job, highlighted by winning a combined 54 medals at the world championships and 12 Olympic medals.
However, as curling teams have gotten better around the world, the gold rush has dried up considerably for Canada in recent years.
Since Jennifer Jones and Brad Jacobs reached the top of podium at the Sochi Games in 2014, Brad Gushue’s third-place finish from last year is the only medal Canada has earned in the traditional four-person event.
John Morris and Kaitlyn Lawes won gold in mixed doubles in 2018.
Gushue was the last men’s team to win a world championship in 2017 while Jones won a world title on the women’s side a year later.
“I think growing up it’s been the same person, so I haven’t known any different,” Miskew remarked on the hiring of Murdoch. “It’s a fresh person to come in and we’ll see. I like him off the ice. I don’t know him very well from a high-performance perspective.”
Change seems inevitable with the addition of Murdoch. What that change looks like and how it will be implemented has many of Canada’s high-performance athletes curious.
“It’s exciting and maybe a little nerve-wracking, too,” said 2022 Olympian Jocelyn Peterman. “I know he is going to make some changes that might be uncomfortable for some of us. It’s a little bit of both.
“It won’t be status quo going forward.”
Before the Murdoch hiring, Curling Canada held a high-performance review throughout the fall months to find a path towards success on the world stage once again.
“I’m not quite sure what kind of changes he’s [Murdoch] going to be having, but whatever he brings to us we’re going to be excited about it,” said Einarson, who is looking to win her fourth straight Canadian championship this week in Kamloops. “Change is hard, but change is also good.”
A highly debated topic over the years has been the timing of the Canadian Olympic Trials. With the Olympics taking place in February every four years, Canada has typically held their trials in late November or early December, resulting in a very tight turnaround for the biggest curling event of their lives.
Some believe moving the trials to an earlier date – even a full year earlier – will help the winning rinks prepare for the stresses and responsibilities of representing Team Canada.
“It will definitely make it easier for us to prepare for going into the Olympics,” said Einarson.
Like many contentious issues, there’s always another side to the coin.
Birchard, Einarson’s teammate on Team Canada, has another view on the matter.
“I don’t think it’s that bad the way it is [timing of Olympic Trials] just because I don’t know when a better time would be in terms of teams peaking,” she said. “I’ve only played in one trials, so I don’t have that much experience and know-how as to what would make it better in that sense.
“Maybe a tad earlier, but we also want to make sure the teams have a few events under their belt before they go into it.”
Miskew, an Olympian with Team Homan in 2018, says they may have benefited from some extra time to prepare after they won the trials.
“I know when we won the trials it felt very fast and there was a lot to do,” she said. “It felt very overwhelming, but it’s also worked for other teams.”
Running a high-performance program in Canada is obviously a different animal compared to running one in a European or Asian nation. With so much depth and so many high-level teams vying to wear the Maple Leaf, selecting a single foursome to put the governing body’s full resources behind may not be an option for Murdoch in his new role.
Miskew says it won’t be an easy task balancing all of the elements of Canadian curling.
“There’s a lot of factors in Canada, including bringing up the youth and allowing them the opportunity, but also allowing the top teams the opportunity to compete and not to have to have full-time jobs on the side,” said Miskew. “I think that’s really important, but that’s a really hard battle.”
At the end of the day, the curlers just want their voices to be heard.
“I think Curling Canada is making steps towards that. They’ve created an athletes council which I’m happy to be a part of,” explained Birchard. “With the developing Players’ Association as well, I think the governing body is much more open to hearing the athletes’ opinions and working together to creating a successful program.”
The countdown to the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy has begun.