York Urbanist

The Fifth Player

IMG_3315If there was any question about fan effect, it was dismissed October 21, 2018.

Mike Anderson and his Canadian mixed curling team of Danielle Inglis, Sean Harrison and Lauren Harrison won their first Canadian title November 2017, in Swan River, Manitoba, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swan_River,_Manitoba.  The destination may not have been the fans’ choice, but our twenty followers were treated graciously and the fifth player humbly endured a week of Manitoba winter.  That led the team to the 2018 Winn Rentals World Mixed Curling Championship held October 12-21, 2018. Hopeful team family members were looking forward to a trip abroad.

Alas, this was the first time the championship would be held in Canada, and Kelowna, BC was our destination. It also turned out to be our destiny.

Jim Waite was the coach in Kelowna.  His experience shone as he was able to separate fawning family members from the active team players who had little time to spare between practices and games and proper eating.  And his presence also had other special significance.

Coach Waite is the force that has driven Trillium Curling Camp in Ontario for 25 years. And Danielle Inglis was five times one of his “campers” and a returnee coach.  Jim directed campers to write their goals. Jim reflected that Danielle wrote in her first year of camp that she wanted to be a world champion.  The journey to Kelowna culminated with that long-desired vision to wear the gold.

After a round robin of seven games, Canada qualified for the playoffs with a 6 and 1 record. Their only blemish was a 4-5 loss to Norway. I contend that that loss was a case of the still-too-few Canadian fans being out-gunned by the enthusiastic families from Norway…the twelve sturdy Norse fans on one side of the post and the cold-braving, on-ice nine Canadians on the other.  Typically, curling team members are instructed to concentrate on out-playing the opposition at their position.  We, the fifth player, were not achieving that objective.  Cow bells and shouts urged the Norway team to victory from the opposite side of the post.  The subdued Canadian fans, without the auditory tools to support Team Canada, had yet to hit their stride in this early contest. Perhaps we could blame jet lag. Were we tired, having walked to the rink? As we shook hands with Team Norway fans at the end, we felt the fifth player had let Canada down.

The Canadian foursome met stiff opposition in the young, but experienced Scottish team in the quarter finals having to go to extra ends and a dramatic, finishing, angle raise takeout by Anderson to win 8-5. The Scots were without a fan base of support, and Canada had reinforcements as the numbers grew to over twenty on-ice supporters, led by Lauren’s two cheerleading brothers. The front end, back end and fifth player each embraced in celebratory fashion.

For the semi-finals against Norway, the Canadian fan base had swelled by twenty more loud noisemakers on ice and a lounge full of supporters behind the glass.  The Norwegian fans’ noise was finally outclattered and, as the game momentum leaned to Team Canada, the Norwegian chants faltered. It was a semi-final win without throwing last rock.  The finals against Spain, were controlled by the Canadian squad (and, in the stands, their fifth player), with the opposition conceding prior to the end of regulation 8 ends. The gold was theirs. It was not like the overtime win against Scotland.  It was more subdued with laudatory handshakes from the opposing Spaniards….a polite pause… then revelry from the stands and on the ice at the realization of the result.

The team has been together for over 8 years, an anomaly in the sport of curling dominated by the quadrennial Olympic cycle. This marks the first world title in mixed by a Canadian team and sends Canada to the top in world standings in mixed.

This team was relatively unknown, but surprisingly experienced. Anderson and Inglis competed for Canada in the 2009 World Universiade, while this was the first world event for the Harrisons. As Sean’s mother, Jane Harrison, pointed out in FaceBook, that brings to three the number of Harrisons with world titles. Sean’s father, Neil, won Men’s World’s previously in 1983 and 1990. Neil’s presence was palpable.   He was a part of the fifth player.

There were five gold medals, one each for the athletes and coach.  And, what of the fifth player?IMG_4087

We were the Fifth. We left the Kelowna Curling Club wiping tears, receiving congratulatory handshakes and smiling broadly with intense pride in the accomplishments of our family members. The Fifth Player had nurtured their team mates’ progress over many years and, on that day, had given them a lift onto the podium from the edges of the ice sheet. IMG_4066 IMG_4068IMG_1156