As always, Tom Leonard is as candid as ever in discussing the upcoming curling season.
"Our plan is to open," stated the Curl Sudbury facility manager, not to mention one of the top icemakers in the country. "We are currently accepting registrations, which are coming in on a daily basis, so I think we can make a go of it, with the help of our clientele and our members, and with everyone's patience and understanding."
"I think it is doable, even with all of the guidelines that the local health unit have come out with, along with Curling Canada information and our own protocols that we have come up with here - but ultimately, it's going to be about numbers," Leonard added.
"If we get 80% participation from last year, we are going to be fine; even if it was 75% participation. Any lower than that and we would have to look really hard as to where we can start cutting, is it worthwhile opening."
The truth is that with aging venues strewn right across the region, this market was already being severely tested, long before a global pandemic reared its ugly face. Challenges at one or another of the six local rinks that are still in operation have remained a storyline pretty much every single winter in the past few years.
"Every curling facility in the city, I think, is going to be under the gun," said Leonard. "We know that there are some curlers that are not going to come back and play, just because. I think all of the facilities understand that - but I feel that all facilities can make a go of it."
While that might well be the politically correct answer, for the moment, Leonard is not afraid to tackle the more unpopular road of long-term viability for all existing clubs in Greater Sudbury.
"I don't think that we have too many clubs, per se," he suggested, interestingly enough. "I think our biggest issue within the city is the number of actual curling facilities. The truth is that multiple clubs could run under one facility."
"Just look at the Northern Water Sports Centre," said Leonard, alluding to the venue that came about due to the collaboration of the Sudbury Canoe Club, the Sudbury Rowing Club, the Sudbury Dragon Boat Festival, and countless others.
"Currently, I think we have 30 sheets of ice in the city - and we need 30 sheets of ice in the city. But I don't think we need the number of buildings that we have currently to house 30 sheets of ice."
"I would love to see us strive towards building a facility that could handle a majority of the clubs, under one roof that is more cost efficient than the five or six now that struggle with aging infrastructure."
And lest anyone think that this argument is all about maintaining a presence at the location off Howey Drive that has been home to curling for several decades, Leonard is quick to remind us that the former Sudbury Curling Club (now Curl Sudbury) has actually existed on a variety of sites over the years.
"I basically grew up at the Sudbury Curling Club, in this facility, and it would break my heart if, for whatever reason, that building had to disband - but it doesn't mean that I am going to stop curling or not join another venue."
"My passion for curling is greater than my passion for the facility."
As for the upcoming 2020-2021 season, some unanswered questions still linger about, including the exact date at which the installation of the ice will begin. "We're discussing if we want to push the season back a couple of weeks or so," said Leonard.
"I think it might be beneficial to have a little later start and then extend the season, more than using our normal starting dates, especially in these times. We'll make that decision shortly and let everyone know."
In the meantime, there is still the matter of curlers adjusting to the Covid-amended procedures, both on and off the ice. "I don't think that one sweeper should be an issue," said Leonard. "And once people get a handle on the traffic flow, on the ice, how to move up and down the sheets, that will be fine."
"The biggest bone of contention, it seems, is the actual wearing of masks," he continued. "I understand that some people are going to be uncomfortable, but from a management side of things, the last thing I would want is for this club or any club in the city to be the source of an outbreak."
"We have to keep our facilities and our clients safe, and there is no way around that without wearing a mask, at least right now. That might change. We are still two months away, maybe six weeks."
Regular league scheduling has also been affected. Where a busy Monday night would typically have been host to both a 7:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. draw, Curl Sudbury will limit the number of folks circulating within the facility, on any given day, by moving to a single draw on Monday and splitting the league to include another draw on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
And so they forge forward, at least for the time being.
"I am of the belief that it is better for us to open and try and make a go of it, and then be forced to close, than it is to not open at all," said Leonard.
"I feel it's going to be a safe environment for curlers to return to play, and I don't see any reason why we can't have a full curling season."
To the best of our knowledge, all five of the remaining local curling clubs - Idylwylde Golf & Country Club, Copper Cliff Curling Club, Coniston Curling Club, Capreol Curling Club and the Onaping Falls Curling Club - are planning on operating this winter and will be accepting registrations shortly.