By Andrew Fleming, The Record

While it may be true that most Canadians prefer their ice sports to involve wearing skates – be it for hockey or figure skating – kids this year in New Westminster are also hurrying hard to the local curling rink in greater numbers than ever.

They may not enjoy cleaning their rooms but it turns out quite a few of them like to sweep.

Local blogger Shelia Keenan, whose son and husband are both involved with the widely misunderstood sport, was at this season’s first Little Rocks session at the Royal City Curling Club – where kids aged five to 10 have a chance to throw some stones and bust out their brooms – and said “it seemed much busier than last year, maybe 20 or so new curlers” over the 30 that showed up regularly last season.

Rink manager Lesley Hruby said she thinks a certain recent major sporting event held in Vancouver probably has a fair bit to do with this year’s larger turnout, as curling is one of those sports that tends to disappear from a lot people’s radars in the years between the winter Olympics.

“I think it really is due the Olympics and kids saw Canada do great in a sport that doesn’t always get a lot of exposure,” said Hruby. “Now we’re getting a really great turnout for both the Little Rock and the Junior levels. It might also help that we have some fairly prominent curlers living here in New West and we host some big events like the Westcoast Curling Classic.”

Last month’s fifth annual Westcoast Curling Classic, where over 30 men’s teams competed for a total purse of $80,000 saw Olympic gold medallist Kevin Martin narrowly defeat current world champion Kevin Koe – both of whom are Canadian – in a heavyweight match held in a city that doesn’t tend to see a lot of head-to-head action between world class athletes.

Just as more than a few local kids probably picked up a baseball mitt for the first time thanks to the success of hometown hero Justin Morneau in Major League Baseball, the fact that the Royal City is also home to curling champions such as Sean Geall, Brent Pierce and Bryan Miki probably could also help explain the sudden new interest in playing “chess on ice.”

Three years ago, the six-sheet rink also produced the junior men’s provincial champions – Team Wakefield (Jay Wakefield, Chase Martyn, Paul Cseke and Jamie Danbrook) – and the rink is looking poised to create a new crop of up-and-coming curlers.

“It’s great to see and hopefully, once they get a taste of it, they’ll want to keep playing as they get older as well,” said Hrudey.

It probably doesn’t hurt that, in these tough economic times, curling is a lot easier on parents’ wallets than Canada’s better known sport that’s played on ice (funny shoes and a broom costing quite a bit less than keeping a growing child in hockey equipment) and it goes without saying that it also comes with a considerably lower risk of injury.

The Little Rockers take to the ice every Saturday from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. while Juniors (ages 11 to 20) have ice time from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. at 75 East 6th Ave. Check out www.royalcitycc.com for more.

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