‘A ton of energy’: Curling fans party hard in Newfoundland and Labrador

Hurry hard? It's party hard on the Rock

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Ultra curling fan Nathan Woynarski is going on five hours sleep, as he has for much of the last week.

He is wearing a red heavy-metal band wig, blue tights and sunglasses — indoors — and there’s a studded bracelet on his wrist.

Welcome to the Tim Hortons Brier in St. John’s, where fans take their love of curling and a good time to a whole other level.

“No matter where you go everyone wants to see the spectacle of the Brier and wants to go out and party,” Woynarski said Saturday over the blare of music coming from the Brier Patch entertainment area.

“It gets to be midnight and it’s home time. Well, not here. It seems to keep going until the wee hours which suits us fine.”

It’s his eighth time at a Brier, the Canadian men’s championship, and his seventh time as a member of the Sociables. The group of friends from Calgary has travelled to each annual tournament since 2009 with a different costume for each day. On Saturday, it was hair-metal rock stars a la Twisted Sister.

What’s different about St. John’s is the intense support for hometown favourite and 2006 Olympic gold medallist Brad Gushue, said Woynarski.

“Everyone here seems to be cheering for Brad Gushue. It’s a ton of energy when he’s on the ice, that’s for sure.”

In a fan-thriller that could not have been scripted better, Gushue will play on home ice in the final Sunday against Team Canada led by Kevin Koe.

Gushue is in the hunt for his elusive first Brier win with teammates Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker. The 6,000-seat arena at Mile One Centre is sold out.

“We’re looking forward to a big finish,” said Ken Lauzon, food and beverage manager for the Season of Champions events for Curling Canada.

It’s his fifth Brier “and one of the most exciting so far.” Although it’s a relatively small Brier Patch with room for 2,000 revellers, he confirmed that beer and liquor sales are higher “on a per capita basis.”

Staff and volunteers have had to repeatedly turn people away as the patch reached maximum capacity.

“Even going back to the Friday night mixer with the volunteers there was a sense of excitement in the room that we haven’t felt for a long, long time around the Brier,” Lauzon said in an interview.

“I’ve heard from a lot of people … that it’s one of the most fun patches they’ve been to in a long time because the whole community has embraced this thing.”

St. John’s hasn’t hosted the Brier since 1972.

Storefronts around the historic downtown core are festooned with Brier flags, Gushue’s photo and some creative tributes.

At the Newfoundland Chocolate Company on Duckworth Street is a decadent display of regulation-size curling stones hand-carved using 35 pounds or 16 kilograms of milk chocolate.

“It’s just so awesome to see the Brier come to St. John’s,” said owner Brent Smith, who describes himself as CCO or chief chocolate officer.

“There’s a very strong curling fraternity here and a lot of great curlers,” he said in an interview. “Plus we have people who enjoy watching it and they’re very much supportive of Brad in his chase for winning his first Brier.”

St. John’s City Coun. Danny Breen leads the Sport Tourism Event Partnership, the regional group that pitched hosting the Brier.

He said he knew local supporters were serious when it came time to pre-sell passes with a $50 deposit and 2,100 were snapped up.

“It has been just fantastic,” he said of the last week. With about 2,000 visitors in town, Breen said it’s estimated the Brier will inject about $15 million into the local economy.

Bars and restaurants have also offered viewing parties on big screens.

Ontario skip Glenn Howard said it was a fun, boisterous week playing to revved up crowds.

“You can ask all the players, there is nothing better than playing in front of a bunch of people who are really excited and cheering loud.”

For Woynarski, it won’t be long before he’s planning for his next Brier marathon. This week’s costumes for the 10 Sociable members included Santa Clauses, vikings, Roman senators in togas, Star Trek crew members and cowboys with small stuffed horses.

Their luggage?

“Fifteen bags and boxes, including some that were over-sized.”

Follow @suebailey on Twitter.

Sue Bailey, The Canadian Press

Canadian Press

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