Doug Dalziel needed a spare for his commercial league curling team Thursday night at CN Centre and Eryn Czirfusz was only too happy to oblige her coach and make the long drive from Houston with her mom to fill that spot.
The lure of playing on the arena ice built for the World Women's Curling Championship that was cancelled hours before, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, was enough to convince the 14-year Czirfusz to come to Prince George a couple days early, knowing she would not get to use her ticket to see the nine-day tournament unfold.
It was unexpected bonus to take part in the impromptu invitation-only event and the thrill factor went through the roof for Czirfusz when Canadian skip Kerri Einarson and Czech Republic skip Anna Kubeskova showed up with their respective teams to throw some stones in the mini-bonspiel.
"That was pretty cool, Team Canada seems like they're really good people and it was a lot of fun being able to throw rocks on that ice," said Czirfusz. "I was beside them and they were having fun making some shots. Everything was a good shot last night. That's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a junior curler to do this."
Dalziel coached Czirfusz and Matthias Cheung of Prince George a few weeks ago in Hope at the junior mixed doubles provincial championship. Dalziel has been working since last weekend on the ice crew, part of the 380 volunteers rounded up for the tournament. Like everyone connected to the event, his heart sank when the World Curling Federation made the call late Thursday morning to cancel the world championship.
"It's so disheartening for everybody concerned and I just feel for the athletes," said Dalziel. "I'm a coach and former athlete myself a long time ago and I just can't imagine the pain they're going through. This is 20 years of work for them and this might be there one chance and that's the disheartening thing."
CN Centre staff brought out a giant slingshot and the curlers sat on inner tubes as the pros joined up with the part-timers getting launched down the rink for a different kind of slide on curling ice.
"It was great to see a bit of joy last night," said Dalziel. "They spent a couple hours with the ice crew and local curlers and had some laughs and got to throw some rocks on the ice. It was a small bit of consolation and I know the community really enjoyed it and got a lot out of it and I think they did too."
Prince George Golf and Curling Club ice technician Murray Kutyn, who headed the 20-member volunteer ice crew, took holiday time off work to devote his energy to the championship and he got to see the product of his labour when the four rinks, detailed with painted-on logos and bordered by blue carpeting, were made camera-ready for curling for all the world to see. As satisfying as that was, Kutyn knows there 360 other volunteers whose duties went largely unfulfilled.
"You feel bad for the guys who did just as much pre-prep as I did organizing whatever crews they were looking after and didn't get a chance to use them at all," said Kutyn. "It's just disappointing. Hopefully we'll get something just as big of better next time. "I'm sure they'll be accommodating about trying to get us something back because there's a lot of people who did a lot of work.
"Yesterday was a tough day for everyone because we were so close. All the teams were in town and the arena was ready to go and then they said it wasn't going to go."
The decision to cancel was made to ensure the curlers could get back to their home countries safely and limit the potential for a localized outbreak of the virus, which has yet to show up in Prince George. The provincial health authority on Thursday put out a ban on crowds of greater than 250 at any public event and Kutyn spoke for all the organizers and participants when he said he had hoped as a worst-case scenario it would still go ahead as a TV-only event without the crowds.
Vonda Hofferd joined the tear-down work bee bright and early Friday morning as part of the ice crew at CN Centre. She has a long history of involvement as a volunteer at such events as the 2015 Canada Winter Games in Prince George, the 2009 Road to the Road Olympic trials qualifier and the 2000 Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
"Disappointment doesn't even begin to describe it," said Hofferd. "An event like this is what brings a community together. It's a reunion of volunteers that volunteer at so many of the events that come to Prince George. It's curling we lose. It's the camaraderie we lose.
"If it was maybe a Scotties or maybe a Canadian, it wouldn't be quite as devastating because so many of our fans travel throughout Canada. But this was their opportunity to see China, Japan, Korea, Italy and Scotland, to get up close and personal with them. The majority of our fans are 60-plus and and unless we bring something in the coming years this may be their only opportunity to see world curlers."
All of the volunteers paid $100 for that privilege, which included a jacket, vest, shirt, food during shifts and tickets to all the games. That money won't be refunded.
Hofferd co-chairs the committee hosting the Canadian Master Badminton Championships at the Northern Sport Centre, April 27-May 2, which would involve more than 250 people. But with all the uncertainty over the coronavirus, that event, as well as the Western Canadian Ringette Championships coming to Prince George, March 26-28, might not happen.
"Everybody else is canceling," said Hofferd. "We are going to be over 250 (people) and I think it's the risks and the insurance ramifications (to consider) if it does go ahead."
Lisa Davison, the other masters badminton co-chair, is in Vancouver this week meeting with the president of Badminton Canada and Hofferd expects she will soon know more about the status of the event.
"Anything can happen between now and then, but how much effort do we put into organizing?" asked Hofferd. "This was devastating to our volunteers, and it's the same volunteers that volunteer for so many events, so do we want to do that to them again? It's their call, along with the health authority."
© Copyright Prince George Citizen