‘Cornwall Connections’ lead PEI’s impact on Grand Slam of Curling Tour this season
Cornwall Curling Club
PEI sports fans enjoying the last two Grand Slam of Curling events on Sportsnet were thrilled with the strong Island flavour on the Canada-wide broadcasts.
Front and centre on each televised draw were the high-octane appearances of well-known PEI sports and entertainment personality Robbie Doherty of Charlottetown as he introduced teams on-ice for that draw and conducted interviews with curlers before, during and after games, plus trophy presentations.
Doherty, who curls out of the Cornwall Curling Club, is a dynamic young man with a number of career irons in the fire, both on PEI and farther afield.
Lauren Lenentine of Cornwall, who plays lead stone with Jennifer Jones’s team out of Winnipeg, got lots of attention as well. In late October at the opening GSOC event in Niagara Falls, Lenentine helped Jones capture the Tour Challenge event, defeating former teammate Kaitlyn Lawes in the women’s final.
Last week at the GSOC Kioti National event in Pictou, NS, with scores of PEI fans in the crowd – who made the short ferry ride across the Northumberland Strait – Jones rolled through the preliminary portion undefeated before dropping a disappointing quarterfinal match to Silvana Tirinzoni of Switzerland.
Meanwhile, Brett Gallant of Charlottetown, who played a key role for years as second stone with with multi-Brier winner Brad Gushue of St. John’s, NL, sparked his new Edmonton, AB team, skipped by Brendan Bottcher, to a pair of strong GSOC performances. In Niagara Falls, Bottcher lost in an extra end in the men’s final to Italy’s Joel Retornaz. The same two teams met in semifinal play in Pictou with the red-hot Italian team winning over Bottcher last Saturday night before claiming its second straight GSOC men’s title the next day.
But there’s even PEI involvement on the GSOC tour. Jeremy MacAulay was more behind the scenes, supporting the Sportsnet broadcast team anchored by Rob Faulds in both events. MacAulay, who has strong Souris connections and now curls out of Cornwall, led his Sports4TV team as it provided live technical curling information into the broadcast booth.
MacAulay’s company has developed computer technology that’s placed inside the handles of curling stones and sends various data to the broadcast crew, allowing them to relay to the viewer the speed of rocks, various split times, plus other information to show the likely result of delivered rocks.
He’s busy this week installing microchips into some handles at his home Cornwall club to test more options for the computer technology.
For Doherty, the Sportsnet job is a dream come true, rubbing elbows on a regular basis with the top men’s and women’s curling teams in the world. He already was the in-venue operations manager for the GSOC events.
“I’ve been working for them for eight years now,” said Doherty, as he sees his career take off in event management — entertaining and hosting sports and music events. “It’s kind of my real line of work.”
Doherty is a popular fixture with the Charlottetown Islanders as the energetic game-day host, plus his Old Home Week entertainment duties, other music, entertainment roles and charity events have made him a household name and popular attraction across the province.
His management team convinced Sportsnet that Doherty’s lively and animated style was just what “we need in curling” so the network brought him in last year, working on the microphone but not introducing the teams. The network liked what they saw and after working together over the summer, promoted him into an expanded role this season for all GSOC events.
Doherty’s schedule is busy. “I got the children’s show, I’ve got several different musical groups, I do 25 play-by-play games for the Islanders here, I do a lot of work for Universum Media — play-by-play for a lot of Atlantic University Sports — plus in-house games for the Charlottetown Islanders.”
Doherty enjoys the strong PEI connections he encounters when he works at national curling events. “I remember I was there when Lauren was playing her first Slam, and it was great to see the difference in her then and now in terms of confidence and success. It was pretty special to see her in her first event, but then in Niagara this year to see her get her first win was very special.”
He said the Lenentine family are great supporters. “We always meet up out there on tour and catch up and kind of jump around together.”
On the last Wednesday during the GSOC event in Pictou, “The night ended with 10 Islanders sitting at a table together. That was a shocker,” joked Doherty.
He knows most of the curlers on tour now, after playing with or against them, and traveling to events in recent years, so he’s not nervous interviewing them. “They’re all pretty good.”
He was more nervous going on live TV with the countdown “from 5 and we’re live. So that was tough.” But he’s carried it off with a high-powered delivery and no major, or even minor, flubs.
After the Kioti, Doherty is home for a few weeks until the WFG Masters event Dec. 12-17 in Saskatoon.
Doherty likes where his career is now. “It’s a great spot for me to work. The Grand Slam is a really great brand for the sport. It’s very forward thinking. We’re not trying to hold on to the old days, bagpipes and beef on a bun. You know, it’s new. We’re trying to bring new life to the sport, spotlight the top teams in the world and promote international teams who all really enjoy coming over to Canada.”
Doherty said the host cities and volunteers are always great to work with. “It’s really amazing.” He noted that the final weekend in Pictou was a sellout, helped by Island fans pouring across on the ferry.
“That adds a lot of fun, especially in the smaller towns . . . the whole town gets behind it and is really proud to host.”
Doherty says he’s often asked if the travel makes it tough on family life, “or when do you ever see your son at home.” But he had breakfast and lunch with his son every day while the tour was in Pictou. “So yeah, I’m away for a couple weeks here and there, but it also trades off and being able to spend a lot more time at home with my family.”
Sports4TV Happy With First Two Events
MacAulay said the first two events were a great learning experience. “They were two really great events. It was interesting being able to meet all the organizers and be able to understand a bit more about how the technology works and learn more on the business side.
The rocks used by the GSOC tour are owned by Sportsnet so at the end of each event, the handles containing the computer technology are removed, and safely packed for shipping to the next event.
He said there were no glitches for the first two events, and “we’re very happy with how technology has been able to go forward. Each building comes with its own challenges. We usually get there on Sunday evening prior to the event starting on Tuesday, and then we’re live on TV on Thursdays.”
The Sports4TV crew has several days to understand the building and other factors involved “to make sure we’re ready to go live on Thursday.”
MacAulay and his team are in the arena watching both the action and the data as the games proceed. “Our data goes to our system and then we feed them that data. They’ll be able to see the data coming on their end and then they choose when or what they want to show. We’re monitoring the broadcast all the time.
“So, we have our monitor because it’s real time. There’s about a 30 to 45 second delay for TV that we’re watching too. So far, there’s been no issues.
His company has gotten a lot of on-air plugs from the Sportsnet crew “so that’s something we’re thankful for, obviously from a marketing perspective. They usually talk about us during the second end of the game . . .Talking about this and talking about what the viewer at home is supposed to be looking for.
“They’re doing a good job with it. We’ve had a couple of viewers through come up to us and talk about it and say, ‘hey, I really like that the technology and I’m able to watch and understand the game more.’”
The Sportsnet crew make a point not to overwhelm the viewer with too much technical data, while still enjoying all aspects of the game.
“The app itself is available for anybody at home so they can follow along with their phone. We had a lot of people in the stadium who were following along on the sheet that they were watching. So it didn’t have to be the sheet that was on TV.”
MacAulay said Sports4TV is constantly working on improving the product and data points.
“We did some testing this past week and we’d like to be able to introduce those new elements to the apps as well.”
MacAulay said there’s another Islander who makes a regular appearance on tour — Pierce Clarke from Kensington who leads the musical entertainment element at Apres Curl, the GSOC’s rebranded party zone between draws, featuring live music and trivia.
He said the technology has met everyone’s expectations thus far. “I know we’ve been very happy with it.”
MacAulay said his company is willing to work with any interested parties and would be open to talk if TSN is interested in the technology for its major Season of Champions broadcasts coming up in early February with the Scotties, Brier, junior and world events.
“The players themselves don’t have access to it during the game and that is pretty important to maintain the integrity of the game, and to make sure the technology doesn’t intrude into the on-ice product.
The coaches are certainly watching it and expanded data points would certainly make it a valuable practice and learning tool, said MacAulay.
MacAulay is now good friends with Doherty. “I see Robbie probably four or five times a day on tour. We’re always saying hi and always having a few laughs together. When we were in Niagara, a highlight of the week was Doherty’s uncanny, soaring rendition of ‘My Heart Will Go On,’ by Céline Dion. It was perfect. It was love. So, I took a video for very close friends. It was great.”
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