Canada brushes aside Brazil to secure men's curling worlds berth

Canada brushes aside Brazil to secure men's curling worlds berth

Let's face it: Brazil was never going to beat Canada in a best-of-five curling series. It was never really about that, anyway.

In the first end of the competition, Canada scored seven points against Brazil and never looked back. The Canadian rink, led by Glenn Howard, swept the Brazilians off the ice 15-1, 8-3 and 6-3 in three straight games.

The series win clinched Canada's spot at the men's world championship at the beginning of April in Las Vegas. 

"I'll be honest with you, it's a huge relief," Howard said after the victory. "I knew how massive this challenge was because the entire country was riding on this series. We had to win this thing and we did."

Howard's team was asked by Curling Canada to take on this endeavour. While it seemed like an easy answer, Howard, winner of four Brier titles and four world championships, says he hesitated to say yes.

"I was nervous when I was first asked...Canada has never missed a world championship. It would have been a shame after my career for that to happen."

Why did series happen?

The big question: How did Canada and Brazil end up in this curling series anyway — especially considering Canada is the reigning world champion?

With the world championship being held in Las Vegas, the host country, USA, gets the automatic entry.

The Americas zone is guaranteed two spots. Canada would get that second spot because of its world ranking — but that's where Brazil comes in. The Brazilians challenged Canada for their spot in this year's world championship. Game on? Not really.

This challenge was always going to be about growing the sport in Brazil and putting curling in the spotlight of the soccer-crazed country.

"If I don't keep going until next generations can play, curling will die in Brazil," skip Marcelo Mello said. "We have been putting a lot of efforts in the last ten years so it's known in our country."

Mello knows they were never going to beat Canada, he'd be one of the first to admit it. In fact, this was his fifth time trying to win a spot into the world championships with a Brazilian team. The prior four times all came against the United States. They lost every time. 

But the reason he keeps doing this is because Mello's dream is to see Brazil at a men's world championship one day, even if it isn't him.

"Maybe in ten years time we'll become a curling nation but if we quit now we'll waste all our efforts," he said. "This is not a part of our culture, so it's hard to attract people."

Mello says there is not one curling arena in Brazil. That's his goal right now, trying to get one built. He says he's been lobbying a number of different groups for years trying to make it happen. 

Brazilian curling dreams sparked in Canada

Mello lives in Sherbrooke, Que. He's been there since 2008 while attending classes as a Masters student. Mello had a friend visit him back then who inquired about this funny sport on ice with brooms.

"So we went to the Anglophone curling club there," he said. "We practised English and curling. People were very warm and welcoming but they thought it was weird that Brazilians wanted to curl."

Mello was hooked from day one. At 35 years old he was curling for the first time and loving it. As for his family and friends, they had a different take.

"At the beginning they all thought it was weird. They made a lot of jokes about the brooms and sweeping. But after they started to understand what the brooms did, they started to like it," Mello said.

Mello's curling love allowed him to travel to Sochi in 2014 to broadcast all the curling games on Brazilian TV. He'll be back at the Olympics next month broadcasting curling games again — all part of his push to grow the sport back home. 

"Winter sports in Brazil are not important and not really funded. It's a cycle that's difficult to get out of," Mello said.

It was Howard who Mello closely watched curl over the years, admiring his ability to make shots in pressure moments.

Then, years later at this event, he found himself on the ice playing against him. 

Howard has great respect for what the Brazilians are trying to do. 

"They got to play on arena ice in front of 2,000 people. All that stuff is important for experience. This will go miles for them in their journey."