When Mike McEwen’s team landed at Winnipeg airport early Monday, it was dead quiet.
It was almost 1 a.m. and after their huge victory at the Grey Power World Cup of Curling in Windsor there was no one there to greet them.
“I wouldn’t have wanted (anyone) to greet us, not at that hour,” said the 30-year-old skip.
So goes the anonymity of the high-performance curler: Briefly famous after Brier and world championship finals, and briefly super-famous every four years if they made the Olympic team, but usually unrecognized at their many airport stops on the World Curling Tour.
Just 24 hours later, however, McEwen’s work phone was buzzing. Numerous Winnipeg media — two television stations, a radio show and a newspaper — all wanted a piece of curling’s new young star.
The fact that McEwen beat a Manitoba legend — former world champion Jeff Stoughton — in a well-played final on national television may have helped his new marketability. Ditto the winning interview video posted to grandslamofcurling.com that shows a horde of screaming girls rushing the skip for hugs and kisses.
Ironically, Team McEwen hopped on the self-promotional bandwagon just a couple of weeks before the World Cup, by debuting a new website and Twitter account.
They even designed a team logo. “It took many, many retakes to get that right,” said McEwen. “We wanted it to look like a coat of arms, and we wanted corn brooms in it too, to kind of Manitobaize it.”
The digital properties are run by the team alternate, who is now under pressure to add content following the big victory.
“We thought we’d experiment a little bit,” McEwen said. “The goal with the new website is to interact with curling fans more than a traditional team would do. We want to be eventually at the forefront of that.”
McEwen said the next step is to film a new team video.
“We’ve talked about doing a blooper reel, a highlight reel. We’ve also got new uniforms and gear coming out in a couple of weeks.”
Contrast this with the story of another young Manitoba curler, Jason Gunnlaugson. The scruffy, genial bullet-throwing skip from last year’s Olympic Trials fled to Russia, along with two of his Canadian teammates, after an approach from that country to represent the host team at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.
On the same day McEwen found glory, Gunnlaugson, representing Moscow, won the Russian Cup over a team from Chelyabinsk.
All that remains between him and the Russian berth in December’s European Championships is the question about obtaining citizenship in time.
McEwen has nothing bad to say about Gunnlaugson’s decision to play for the other red-and-white.
“I think it’s pretty special circumstances, I don’t think this is going to be a trend. But if enough money was waved in front of some guys … I do think almost anybody could be bought for the right price.
“In their situation where maybe sponsorship was limited, they aren’t ranked highly enough to have any funding help from Sport Canada, this was an opportunity that … they probably couldn’t turn down.
“For a while there we were competing with them to see who would be the best young guns out of Manitoba, but it sounds like we don’t have to worry about them for a while.”
Gunnlaugson and mates were due to touch down in Winnipeg on Tuesday night, and head straight to Hooters for some celebratory wings and beer. Wonder if anyone greeted them at the airport?
George Karrys is curlinguru.com