One Year of Memories at Windy City Curling

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An overhead view of the first night at Windy City Curling.

Seems like just yesterday that everyone met at Windy City for the first week of curling. April 3, 2014.

And although everyone has their memorable points from the past year, I just wanted to highlight a few of mine.

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The Opening Night Cake

 

TEAM JEFF GALAS WINS THE FIRST LEAGUE

Despite personally throwing many stones through the house to actually getting stones in play, our team was able to take the first league championship.

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Windy City’s 1st League Champions: Jacob Widlowski, Dan Mulka, Simon Ganet, Elvis Presley (alternate) and Jeff Galas (skip)

 

HALLOWEEN

Although I personally spent most of the summer at work and had to miss a few months of curling, Halloween at Windy City was definitely one to remember. Well, when you see this Jack O Lantern … you know you are at home.

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Halloween Genius

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Halloween

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More Halloween

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Even more Halloween

 

NEO FROM THE MATRIX’S ‘SWEEPING’ SAVES US A POINT

I truly wish I had a photo of this, but I’m going to do my best to describe it.  And, maybe some Photoshop.

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Fun with Photoshop

I was the Vice for Team Wolanik – and Andy was shooting the “Skips stones.” I was in the house, calling the line.

Our second, Nick Solka, is amazing on the broom – really putting his heart and soul into sweeping.

On this night … he slipped. Ended up on his back, in front of the stone. Now, from my angle, this all happened in super-slow motion …

He slipped in front of the stone – with him brook going flying sideways down the ice.

In a “hurting my back just thinking about it” moment – he went into a back bridge to have the stone go under him.

The stone makes it under Nick, bounces off an opponents rock and barely squeaks closer to the button for the point.

Now, if I remember right, we probably only took 2 points that game … but sometimes a shot like that can turn a severe butt-kicking into a memorable-in-a-funny-way enjoyable game.

Nick Solka was uninjured on the play.

BONSPIELS

For those really new to the curling world, bonspiels are curling tournaments.  I participated in a few different bonspiels.   The Prairie State Challenge, the ICA 5 & Under, the Big Spiel in Minnesota and the Dar Curtis.

My teams had some good luck, and had some bad luck (including one of my mens teams getting destroyed by a group of high school girls).  As arena curlers not used to dedicated ice, it took a while at each tournament to get used to our shots.  It made all of us realize how much we want our own dedicated ice.

Speaking of fundraising – have you bought a raffle ticket to benefit Windy City Curling?  Each ticket is $20, but gives you a 1-in-250 chance to win $1000!  We actually have 9 other cash prizes you can win.  For more information, click here.

Like how I worked that in?

But some of the best parts about bonspiels are hanging out with all of the other curlers, including both other Windy City members and members from other clubs.  You get to meet a lot of new people and hear a lot of great stories.

THE BIG SPIEL IN MINNESOTA

As I mentioned earlier, a few of us made our trip up to Minnesota to take part in their “Big Spiel.”  You know you are up for an interesting trip when the ride includes listening to a mix of French-Canadian country music and 90’s hip hop.

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The Pilot on the Trip to Minnesota

 

Curling-wise: our team was one game away from the finals of the 8th event.  This would be the equivalent of finishing roughly in 84th place of 96 teams.

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At Frogtown Curling Club – Pictured: Dan Mulka, Phil Darin, Greg Torkelson (skip) and Nate Bock (sub from St. Paul Curling Club)

 

Non-curling wise:  lots of food, lots of beer, lots of fun.  We all got to take in a Minnesota Wild / Chicago Blackhawks hockey game with the unbelievably cool, two-time Olympian Jessica Schultz (who I had interviewed earlier in the year for the blog)

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Pictured left to right: Lysa (Jess’ friend), Jessica, Dan, Phil, Greg, Greg’s friend

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Greg, Charlie Brown, Phil

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Linus and Dan

 

Food-wise:  This is just an excuse to put in a picture of Poutine (from Four Seasons Curling Club).

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Yummy ….

 

CLUB CHAMPIONSHIP

It’s funny how a season can turn.  Especially in the first week.

Curling in the club championship with Team Richardson (Josh Richardson, Chuck Justis and Dan Burrows) – we were down early in week one.  This includes a 5 point deficit at one point, and a 3 point deficit with two ends to play.  Thought the championship was out of reach.

We forced the extra end, took the game and never looked back.  We ran the table to go undefeated.

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2014/2015 Inaugural Club Champions – Pictured left-to-right: Chuck Justis (vice), Josh Richardson (skip), Dan Mulka (second) and Dan Burrows (lead)

 

IN CONCLUSION
A lot of hours, a lot of miles, and a lot of fun  From that first week a year ago until now, I’ve been hooked on the sport of curling.  For those who I’ve met on this journey so far – THANK YOU!  To Windy City Curling – THANK YOU!

For those looking for new stories and new friends – it’s time to join Windy City Curling.  Whether its a Learn to Curl or our Rookie Leagues … you will be the envy of your friends.  Stay tuned to WindyCityCurling.com for more events where you can get involved.

Trust me, it’s well worth it.

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Bonspiels are More Than Just Curling

Although I’ve always wanted to, I have never had the opportunity to do much traveling.

That is one intriguing thing about curling.  When “The Big Spiel” was announced, I thought this would make a good road trip.  Rounding up a team, Windy City Curling made its way to Minnesota.

THE DRIVE
We lucked out in terms of weather.  Although, Phil was ready for anything.

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We left on early on a Thursday and missed a lot of the snow storms that hit the area.  Only a couple bad spots.

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The drive went pretty quick.  Lots of talk about curling, the hope of expanding our club, and some international curling (which Phil is an expert about).  The first hour of tunes went to Phil, the driver – meaning French country music.  None of us in the car, including Phil, speak French.  Most of the drive, luckly, was dedicated to 80’s and 90’s rap and hip-hop.

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HOCKEY NIGHT IN MINNESOTA
One of the highlights of the trip was heading to the Xcel Energy Center to see the Chicago Blackhawks square off against the Minnesota Wild.  Greg and Phil were in full-blown Chicago regalia … meanwhile yours truly is actually a Detroit fan.  So, I was rooting for Minnesota.

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For those who didn’t know, Charles Schultz (creator of Peanuts) was born in Minneapolis and grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Meanwhile, outside the weather was a bit nasty.  The Minnesota faithful were a bit late getting there.  I’m guessing at puck drop, the stadium wasn’t half full.

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It was really cool having Jessica Schultz from the US Olympic Team join us for the game!  Flashing back, I was able to interview Jess about a year ago for the blog.  We kept in touch throughout the year, and she was able to join us for the game.  The weather caused her and her friend Lysa to miss the first period, but they made it just as the Wild scored their first goal of the night.

IMG_0327 (2)Pictured (left to right):  Lysa, Jessica, Dan, Phil, Greg, Greg’s friend

It was cool to get to know Jessica more.  You could tell in her eyes and smile that she just has this natural spark for life, which was really cool.  She was heading to Honduras the week after on a mission trip – she works as a Physical Therapy Assistant.  Heard more about her future, getting ready for a half marathon on more.  Truly, an awesome person.  Everyone, stop now and go buy a Rock Life hoodie.

CLUBS AND FOOD (probably a little too much about food)
The Big Spiel took place in three different clubs in the Twin Cities area.

Four Seasons Curling Club
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Four Seasons Curling Club is the home of the US National Team Performance Center and Curling Night in America.  This was also the first rink we visited in our trip to Minnesota.  (Notice in the picture how the left-most sheet is empty — let’s just say the game went quickly).  The club definitely felt new, almost having the “new car smell.”  It was a great sheet of ice, and interestingly had sponsor logos in the houses.  I’d say that this was a distraction, but out team definitely had a bit of nerves (a bit of a theme for the trip).

But, lets talk about food.  The ongoing joke leading up to the bonspiel was the search for a Jucy Lucy (a cheese-stuffed burger).  We had one at Gabe’s, the restaurant at the Club.  The Jucy Lucy is a brilliant invention, as I’ve always disliked restaurants that throw a cold piece of cheese on a burger.  Gabe’s had some truly tasty food, including the gouda fries which one of our competitors had.  The walleye fries sounded good as well.

St. Paul Curling Club

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Eight sheets of ice for 1,200 members – St. Paul Curling Club is the largest curling club in America.  Although I have very little experience in curling, this felt like the home of curling.  This two-story club features a great restaurant and bar one the second floor.  Uniquely, this club’s second-floor men room actually had a window view to the curling ice below.  I was a bit worried that I’d accidentally step too far back from the ‘privacy wall’ at the urinal …

Now, my favorite meal of the trip — even surpassing the Jucy Lucy (yes, that’s spelled correctly) and the Walleye I had at the Wild game — was poutine.

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Bacon, gravy, cheese and french fries.  This was the first time I have ever had this tasty dish, and I put the half marathon training on the shelf.  Words can’t describe the deliciousness.

Our second, Phil, had a fun experience at St. Paul.  He had wanted the chance to meet US Olympic Skip John Shuster, who happened to be curling on the sheet next to us.  I’ll link to Phil’s story, in his own words, further below.

Frogtown Curling Club

IMG_0448Pictured (left to right):  Dan, Phil, Greg, and Nate 

We were only at Frogtown for one draw, but is the home of “The Shot.”  Take a look at the link below for an article written by Greg.

Frogtown is a converted-hockey rink that now is a dedicated curling ice.  We had heard throughout the weekend that it was going to be really cold at Frogtown – the curling ice is not insulated.  But, to be honest, Frogtown felt like home to us.

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With tables, lounge chairs and couches – it just felt like home.   Pinball machines in the corners, and I swear I saw someone had a 12-pack of Blatz.  There was a few people, underneath a few blankets, enjoying the competition up close.  The previous draw, including our friends from the Houston Curling Club, were watching from the warming room.

A GREAT TRIP
From a venture to Surly Brewing Company, a late-night ‘magic’ find of a Mexican restaurant at 3am (assisted by Siri or all things), and a hilarious stop for beer at a place called Dancing with the Sands (where I even was answering their phones on their behalf), the trip to Minnesota was a great trip.  We never even stopped on the Minneapolis side of the Twin Cities.  And personally, I still want to visit some touristy places like the Mall of America or even St. Paul’s Cathedral (which Red Bull was setting up a giant ramp for an event later in the month).

It’s funny, Phil kept saying how cool it would be to live in the area.  He’s not the only one who thought that.  Great job TCCA, St. Paul CC, Frogtown CC and Four Seasons CC.  Great job St. Paul.

Dan Mulka may not be the best curler, but he makes a heck of a chicken parmesean.  He is the owner of Biggest Bark Marketing and works full time doing the marketing for a local waterpark.  

MORE STORIES ABOUT THE BIG SPIEL
“The Shot” by Greg Torkelson
“Curling Next To Royalty” by Phil Darin

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Curling Next to Royalty … Stories from the Big Spiel

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Borrowed from Wikipedia.

After getting to Minnesota, I learned that three-time Olympian John Shuster was playing in the Big Spiel. With so many draws spread out over four days at three different clubs, it wasn’t even likely our paths would cross. Nevertheless, throughout the course of the weekend our respective teams were in the same draw at the St. Paul Curling Club. As a fan, I was hoping for the opportunity to meet and maybe get a photo with him. At the same time, I didn’t want to be “that guy” and bother him before one of his games, so I figured I’d keep my eyes open in the club area after one of those draws.

Sunday morning I was tired and nervous. We won our first game the night before, staying alive in the 8th event…aptly named the “clown car.” Win and we’re in the final, lose and we go home. I was sitting in the viewing area watching the end of the draw before ours, trying to calm my nerves and get my head set right. My teammate Greg commented on an attempted triple takeout in the match, saying that it was a nice shot but it was a shame that he only got two, to which I replied: “Well, you know what Meatloaf said: ‘Don’t be sad, ’cause two out of three ain’t bad.’ ”

This elicited some chuckles from some unseen people behind us, and one of the group said: “That’s a pretty solid reference for this early on a Sunday morning. Plus you actually made people laugh.” Without even looking back I just said “Yeah, I have my moments.” That was that, and pretty soon after we were on the ice and playing. It was a good game, but we lost and soon after were on our way home. I never ran into John Shuster, other than seeing him play a few sheets over from ours…or so I thought.

Driving through Wisconsin that night we were recapping our trip with one another. I lamented the fact that I never got the chance to meet John Shuster. At this point my comrades informed me that the unseen person who laughed at my joke was none other than the man himself. Somewhat incredulous, I asked them why they didn’t tell me, as that would have been a perfect time to meet him and get a picture. “We thought you knew and were just trying to play it cool.” they told me. “No guys, I had no idea…thanks.” I thought about it for a second, then just shook my head and laughed, realizing it would make a good story.

philCPhil Darin has a goal of opening his own clothing line of curling apparel, entitled “Loudermouth Pants.”  Want to hear more of his insights about curling, drinking, and drinking while curling? Are you Eve Muirhead?  

MORE FROM THE BIG SPIEL
Greg Torkelson’s “The Shot”
Dan Mulka’s “Bonspiels are More than Just Curling”

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“The Shot” from The Big Spiel

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Bottom of the 9th, 2 outs, bases loaded, full count, down by 1 run…and, here’s the pitch…  Oh wait, wrong sport.  But, same feeling.  Intense, nervous, excited.

Yeah, that’s why I love sports.

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Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 4.59.10 PMSo, our merry band of misfits were in a close draw at Frogtown Curling Club against a similar type Cedar Rapids team.  Good group of guys.  We had a big end early and took an early 5 point lead.  However, our “experience” started to show and they came within 1 point after the 7th.  Keep in mind, that the 3 of us from Windy City Curling have a COMBINED experience of less than a year and a half.  We go into the 8th and final end with the hammer.  After the first 12 stones, there is a pile of guards just above the house, there are several stones in the house and they are sitting two with stones in the four foot.  Their skip throws his first stone trying to put a third point in play.  He misses and runs it through the house.  It is now up to me.

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 5.08.45 PMSome quick back story.  Earlier that day, we played another similar type team from Texas.  Yes, apparently, there’s curling in Texas.  Also, a good group of guys.  We had an early lead and then blew it near the end.  They had the draw at Frogtown right before ours and lost to exit the tourney.  But, they hung around having a beer and watching their new friends from Windy City.  They are in the lounge area behind glass.  Important to note that Frogtown used to be a hockey rink.  Still looks like one, but is a converted to full time curling.  There are still boards up, without the surround glass.  This hockey reference will tie in soon.

 

There is a draw to the button from right to left.  The hole is big enough to get it in.  Nate, our borrowed local vice, sets the broom head down for me to aim at.  I know what I need to do.  I slide out of the hack aiming at the broom.  Honestly, I’m not sure if I hit the broom and we just weren’t out far enough or if I missed the broom and through in too far.  Either way, the result was the same.  Phil and Dan tried the best they could to keep it on line and get it past the guard wall, but, to no avail.  I put it right into the mess at the top of the circle.  As there may be sensitive ears that read this, I shall not elaborate on how I felt about my shot.  Their skip hops into the hack, now knowing exactly what I am trying to do.  He’s planning on plugging the hole I want to go through.  Luckily, he’s not perfect either.  As he slides out and releases, I watch the path.  I can tell he wanted to go wider that I just went to avoid the wall.  However, he went out too far and dropped left to right off of a ledge that had formed on the outside edges.  He missed plugging the hole!  At this point, there’s no need for a lengthy strategy discussion.  Outdraw them for the win or miss…again…and get knocked out of the bonspiel.  No pressure, right?  As I start sliding down to the end to throw, Nate profoundly states “Hey, it’s for the win!”  Really???  I didn’t notice.

 

Last rock of the 8th, up by 1, other team is sitting 2 for the win…and, here’s the slide…

 

Deep breath.  I push out from the hack.  I know I need to go out farther than my first stone but not as far as their last.  Nate had moved the broom accordingly.  As I release, the line looks good.  But, what about the weight?  I get up and start sliding behind the stone.  Phil and Dan with their brooms at the ready.  Then, BOOM!  Dan goes down!  I say something to him.  I’d like to think I said “Are you OK?” but, there’s a chance I yelled “Don’t burn the stone!”  (Dan was OK, by the way.)  Anyway,  I hop over the fallen teammate to take up the left broom spot.  The stone is started to curl right to left.  That’s good.  It didn’t hit the ledge.  Watching the line, we are also going to miss the wall at the top of the house.  Weight looks good.  Or, is it light?  Maybe, too heavy?  I don’t know.  I’ve only been doing this for 5 months.  Their vice takes his spot at the T line ready to sweep my stone out and past theirs.  As it enters the house, it starts to slow.  It just might stop!  As it passes the button, their vice sweeps feverishly trying to get it far enough out.  But, it stops.  In the four foot.  A couple inches at best closer than their closest.  I’m still not convinced.  I keep taking the bird’s eye view over mine and theirs.  And, mine and theirs.  We are closer!  We win!  The Texas boys start pounding on the glass to cheer like a bunch of crazy hockey fans! (See, hockey reference.)

 

It was an awesome feeling.  A true team effort.  And, a really fun couple of draws that day.  Can’t wait for the next chance to win it on the last throw!

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Pictured (from left to right):  Dan Mulka, Phil Darin, Greg Torkelson, Nate Bock

Greg Torkelson skips curling, stops pucks, and makes homemade crokinole boards.  Surprisingly, he isn’t Canadian.  

MORE FROM THE BIG SPIEL
Phil Darin’s “Curling Next to Royalty”
Dan Mulka’s “Bonspiels are More Than Just Curling”