With national playdowns complete, expect some tinkering on domestic curling scene
Ryan Fry's decision to step back from the competitive game could be the first domino to fall in what's shaping up to be an intriguing spring on the domestic curling scene.
Changes are coming on the high-performance front as new Curling Canada director David Murdoch aims to strengthen the elite program for this quadrennial and provide a next-gen boost for the ones that follow.
With the recent provincial and national playdowns essentially ending the campaign for all but a handful of top rinks, some player and lineup announcements have already been made and there will be more to come.
Teams will also soon learn about qualification steps for the Olympic Trials. It's all part of a long process as curlers strive for the ultimate goal of representing Canada at the 2026 Milan Games.
"Right now I think Canada is in a great position because we have arguably the best players in the world still competing and still playing and still training," Fry said Wednesday. "But I do think to get to a certain level in three years from now, what we're doing now is not going to be good enough.
"What we're going to have to do to keep up with the rest is going to be more. And I'm just interested to see what that more is and hoping down the line that I can be some part of it."
Fry won Olympic gold at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia with skip Brad Jacobs while Jennifer Jones guided the women's team to the top of the podium.
International programs improved in the two quadrennials that followed. One of Murdoch's goals will be to establish the best pathway to success for a Canadian program that has posted middling international results in recent seasons.
"There's good things and there's maybe things that we want to tweak or maybe there's things that we want to change," Murdoch said at a recent media availability. "And speaking to the athletes too, I think they're quite receptive to that because they want success.
"They want to be the best and we want to help them be the best."
Almost every top Canadian team made changes last year in a seismic shift for this quadrennial. The women's side should be rather quiet over the spring and summer but there's some intrigue ahead in the men's team game.
Fry's departure comes after a fourth-place finish at the Brier with fellow veterans Mike McEwen, Brent Laing and young substitute Joe Hart at lead. The future of that eighth-ranked team is uncertain.
Brad Jacobs is a top free agent who has subbed for Reid Carruthers' fifth-ranked team this season. And Colin Hodgson's retirement has created a vacancy on Tanner Horgan's 10th-ranked team skipped by Darren Moulding.
An interesting twist could come if Curling Canada tweaks provincial/territorial residency rules, which would give teams more lineup flexibility. Since many teams are already set for this quad, it could have more of an impact in the four-year cycle ahead of the 2030 Winter Games.
"I think we're in a situation where teams are really circling the country to be able to find players just hoping that they're going to be the right fit," said Fry, who also coached Rachel Homan's team this season.
"I think that we need to get to the point where these players (know) they're the right fit so that our top talent aren't wasting years on developing the wrong team. If we get to a point where we are developing several really good B teams, those teams will eventually become A teams."
There are still a few major events on this season's calendar.
Kerri Einarson's Manitoba-based team will wear the Maple Leaf at the women's world championship starting Saturday in Sandviken, Sweden. Einarson won her fourth straight national title last month.
St. John's skip Brad Gushue guided his team to a Canadian men's title last week — the fifth Brier win of his career — and they'll go for world gold starting April 1 in Ottawa.
There are also two Grand Slams still on tap: the Players' Championship begins April 11 in Toronto and the Champions Cup starts May 2 in Regina.
Fry, who won a Brier title and world silver in 2013, announced Tuesday on social media that he'd be stepping back from competitive play.
He's planning to stay involved in curling so that he can help give back to the sport, he said, and hasn't ruled out an occasional appearance as a substitute.
Fry also works with some top curlers and teams on branding, marketing and sponsorship via the Gravity Management Agency he co-founded with his wife, Jess Szabo.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 15, 2023.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press