#BetweenTheSheets with Nolan Thiessen

Thiessen discusses Brier, Blogging, B.I.G. and more

This is a special moment #TwineTime friends.  It is not everyday you get to sit down and talk to a peer who you have absolute respect and admiration for.  During a recent stop over in Calgary for pre-Brier training, I had the opportunity to chat with Team Canada lead Nolan Thiessen.

Now you might be asking, “How do you consider Nolan one of your peers?”  Well, we are the same age after all.  Both are Scorpio’s born in November.  Both Canadian.  Both bloggers.  See all those similarities?  Ok, ok he may have 5 Brier appearances, 3 World Championship appearances, 2 Grand Slam of Curling titles, 1 World Championship title and 1 Winter Universiade gold medal….stop trying to make me feel bad!  Let me have this alright?

In all seriousness, having the opportunity to talk with a Canadian and World Champion like Nolan is a huge thrill for a non-traditionalist, new media type of journalist such as myself.  As mentioned above, curling resume credentials aside, Nolan is an outstanding writer and a great blogger for the curling community.  I respect his honesty and openness to chat, something he was willing to do during our conversation as well.

Welcome Nolan Thiessen, the newest member of the #TwineTime family!!

TwineTime (TT):  Thank you Nolan for sitting down to talk with me.  Going into the upcoming Brier as Team Canada once again, back to back, is there added pressure now?  Or was there more pressure last year being the first Team Canada?  Do you guys feel the extra pressure now again or is that in the past?

Nolan Thiessen (NT):  No, I think that is in the past.  I think we actually put a lot of pressure on ourselves last year because we didn’t have a really great year.  I felt a little slighted, honestly, going into the Brier.  I said it a lot, especially after we ended up winning.  I was never mad at Kevin (Koe), I was mad with a lot of media people who were calling us as “Kevin ditched his team” and the verbiage that was used was like we were has-been’s and nobody’s.  It felt like we wanted to prove to all the naysayers out there that the team had ran it’s course and it was time for a team change.  It wasn’t because we were crappy curlers.  I think we showed everyone we still belong and so I think this year, sure people might not be picking us to win but people will probably not be surprised if we are in the playoffs and in the hunt.

TT:  You mention a good point too on the conversations that went on.  I was at the Brier last year and there were a lot of rumours floating around that last year was your team’s last year together.  Do you guys deal with that on a regular basis?  Are you guys on a four-year cycle?  A one-year conversation?  How do you approach it?

NT:  Yeah, last year was a one-year conversation.  Obviously we won and we wanted to come back.  It’s a situation where we haven’t put as much pressure on all of that four-year cycle stuff.  I think probably after this year it is time to have that conversation.  You know, when you get into the Brier it kind of insulates you.  You forget everything after Sunday night and the final. None of that matters.  Once you are in the Brier all you try to do is win games and try to be the last team to win on Sunday night.  All that future stuff just goes out the window and you worry about that come Monday.

TT:  Right, right, that’s fair.  In talking about last year, what was it like to step onto the ice and be announced as Team Canada, the first-ever team to do it at a Brier.  What are you feeling then?

NT:  It was crazy.  The weird part was when the provincial weekends came around and you are sitting at home.  For your season you really are trying to peak for that first week of February and all of a sudden I’m sitting at home with my kid watching all these finals on TV and you are thinking to yourself, “This is very strange!”  But once we got to the Brier, it was very cool to be the very first-ever Team Canada but it was also once we were there it was the Brier.  We wanted to win it.  It didn’t matter which province or which colours we were wearing.  I don’t think the fact we had a maple leaf on our back added any pressure.  We know how hard that event is, no matter what province you are coming out of.

TT:  For sure.  So then were there lessons learnt going into this year now from last year.  As you said, you guys didn’t get to go through playdowns so was there something you learned from last year to help you prep for this year?

NT:  You know it was probably nice having that event that got added in Phoenix (Golden Wrench Classic).  It was nice to add that into our schedule to give us some more games on the ice a little later on in the year.  Now we have only had maybe 4 weeks off heading into the Brier where last year we played Continental Cup in early January and played the Skins Game, but that isn’t really the same.  Then we had maybe 6 or 7 weeks off before the Brier.  I think we have a little tighter timeline, more actual competitive game play leading up to it is probably the biggest change we made in how we approach this year.

TT:  Ok, excellent.  In speaking of this year’s Brier, the field is pretty intense.  Probably the most competitive ever people are saying.  Is that what you guys feel too?

NT:  Yeah, probably.  I mean if you look across the provinces there isn’t too many beefs you could have with who could be a higher ranked representative to come out of the province.  It’s probably the toughest one I have ever played in but I said that last year too in it being the toughest one I had ever played in.  It just seems that the good teams always get out now and when you get there, there are no free bingo spaces.  No matter what anyone says, we used to say 5, 6 or 8 years ago you would go to the Brier and think you had 4 in the bag before you got there.  That just isn’t the case anymore.

TT:  Yeah, exactly.  And you mention the free bingo space, it has always been talked about in the past.  Do you like this better?  Is this now a better way to play?

NT:  Oh yeah, of course.  I think it showed last year in terms of the TV numbers.  The feeling around the rink…there was just so many tight games and games that came down to the last rock….it’s intense, good curling.  It’s good for the fans.  It’s good for TV.  It’s good for us to play in.

TT:  Yeah, for sure.  Now in speaking on the other side of it, if we were to give you the power to do whatever you wanted with the sport right now and I know you are very opinionated which is why we all love you.  If you could do anything right now to help #growthesport, what would be the one thing you would do?

NT:  Oh….I don’t know what that would be.  You know I’ve always said that nobody wants to be the Team Canada that goes to the Olympics the year the Americans win.  *laughing*

TT:  *laughing* Oh yes.

NT:  But I think that would be one of the biggest things for our sport, if the Americans could ever win the Olympics.  I think that type of exposure, on that scale…you know how much Americans love it when they are top dogs…I think that would be huge.  I don’t know how I would go about doing that…or if I would truly want to. *laughing*  And I wouldn’t want to be the Canadian team there when it happened.  Some of the other stuff, I mean lots of people have a million different opinions and ideas on the brooms.  I think it is going to take a collaborative effort which I understand is probably going to happen this Spring or Summer.  I think everyone has to get together.  I think by the time next September rolls around we are going to have something in place where everybody knows the lay of the land and there is no more of the complaining or people saying someone has this or that and blah blah blah.  It has dampened our sport this year.  A lot of the camaraderie has gone away from some team’s complaining.  I think we are going to get to the point where everyone knows what everyone’s got and everyone know’s the rules and it is time to go curl.  Whoever does it best is going to win.

TT:  Exactly, right.  Do you think this whole #BroomGate situation could effectively help #growthesport going forward and into the future if handled in a proper way?

NT:  Yeah, to a certain extent.  As long as they save the fact that the better athletes win.  I think that has helped our sport grow a lot over the past few years, to remove the stigma and see that athletes are out there.  I think as long as we maintain that, it is the biggest thing for us on a go forward basis.

TT:  Ok, now there is a lot of comments on social media going around during the Scotties that shots are almost too easily being made and there are less misses.  There have been conversations on twitter going on saying misses can be good for the sport because it adds intrigue to the games.  What do you think about that?

NT:  Oh I think curling forever has been a game of misses.  I don’t think there has ever been a game where all 8 players play 100%.  I think if all 8 did it wouldn’t be good.  But I don’t think everyone wants us to play 75%.  They want us to play good.  I think if you got to the point where technology and everything included meant on all sheets, all 8 guys played 95% it would start to get not quite as entertaining.  I always explain it to people that curling is a lot like chess on ice.  It has that strategic play but it’s not as easy as chess where you just pick up the piece and move it.  You still have to physically do something to make the shot.  If it’s as easy as just picking up the piece and putting it there, then it is chess.  I haven’t seen many times where there has been a million people watching chess on TV so there’s my answer.  *smiling*

TT:  *laughing*  That’s very fair.  Now in speaking of another side of you, the blogging you do is great and seems to receive a lot of good feedback.  I always hear and see people talking about how great it is and how great of a writer you are.  What got you into that and is it something we will continue to see from you?

NT:  Probably, I like doing it.  It kind of started out as a necessity.  We started a new website with Koe’s team and we wanted to keep content so people would keep coming back to the site.  In putting up some pictures and putting up your schedule, people will go once but never come back.  We wanted to put something else in there and it started to take off.  It started where other curling websites asked me to start writing for them because I was one of the few who did write.  I like talking about high level subjects.  When things have come up over the years, spiels going away or the topic of elite players were supposedly killing the game or stuff like that, I like putting out my opinion.  I like looking at both sides of an argument and then giving my opinion.  I try not to tell anybody they are wrong, I just try to say my opinion and talk about both sides.  It is easy to write when it’s about something that you like.

TT:  Oh yes for sure.

NT:  I have enjoyed it and as long as I still enjoy it, I plan to keep doing it.

TT:  Excellent.  Now any trouble from the team on disagreeing opinions?

NT:  No not too much.  *laughing*  I don’t know if Carter (Rycroft) has even read one to be honest with you.  But no, they know it’s a thing that draws people back to our website and it has some benefits.  I am the one out there that has my opinion out there.  I am the one who gets attacked on twitter if anyone doesn’t agree so they let me take the crap sometimes.

TT:  *laughing*  And you seem to be able to handle yourself quite well on social media if that happens.

NT:  Yeah, there are a few times where I read something and get upset and you want to write something back.  But I’ve always been good about looking at it, writing a response and most of the time leaving it.  In the end, most of the time, it’s not good to get into a back and forth.  If you want to have a good, honest conversation with somebody, that’s fine.  If you get into a heated back and forth, nobody wins.

TT:  Yeah, exactly.  Now do you think that is something maybe we can see more teams doing in blogging and getting more engagement with fans?  Does it help?

NT:  Yeah, I think it really depends on the person.  Some people could think of it as really distracting.  You know when I am writing something more high level, something more at the 30,000ft. above the game, it takes a little more.  But sometimes the fans just like to read about what happens behind the scenes and how you are feeling during an event.  You know sometimes, honestly, I just find it kind of cathartic to go write after a loss and put some stuff down.  The fans seems to enjoy a player’s perspective, very similar to The Player’s Tribune website they have started now.  Fans want to hear from the players and I don’t mind talking about it.  Like I said, I like a good, honest conversation and I don’t get into the mudslinging.

TT:  Excellent, so hopefully we can expect to see something from the Brier?

NT:  Yeah I will probably have something before the Brier and something during the Brier.  When you have a night off or you can’t sleep I will probably sit there and write something.

TT:  Perfect, I look forward to it.  The other thing we want to talk about is #curling memories.  What is your favourite curling memory?  You have a pretty long and good resume.

NT:  I always say there is two: the two draws we swept to the button to win the Brier.  As a front-ender, you can’t beat that.  I mean the World Championships is amazing.  And the Olympics is the only one I still haven’t won.  But sitting there, in an extra end with a draw in your hands that you have to hit the button to win the Brier…what more could you ask for as a front-ender?  And luckily we haven’t screwed it up either time.  We will take it.  Me and Carter were talking about it last year after we won, laughing and saying we have screwed a few of them up but when it is the two biggest one’s we have ever had to sweep, we made them both.

TT:  Oh yeah and that one last year was electric.  That building just erupted!

NT:  Yeah, it was strange with how loud it got as Pat (Simmons) was coming down the ice and then how quiet it was as he threw.  I remember at the far hogline thinking this is really close and it’s really loud in here.  And then when it stopped on the button…it was almost so loud it was quiet.  It was deafening.  Last year’s was pretty wild.  Just the way everything happened that week, with how everything ended, I think that just added to the noise and celebration.

TT:  We just need Hollywood to come calling now to get your movie deal done.

NT:  *laughing* Yeah if anyone wants to have a feel good story about curling, that may be the one to tell.

TT:  *laughing*  That’s right.  So what about the flip-side?  What is the curling mulligan for your career that if you could take it back you would?  Whether a specific shot or a game.

NT:  Hmmm it would probably be the junior final (2001 l. to NFLD skipped by Brad Gushue).

TT:  Everyone says junior’s.

NT:  Well you know I’ve lost a Brier final but I’ve also won the Brier 3 times so I can’t be too upset; whereas, I only got one chance at juniors and we got drilled in the final.  We were just totally ill-prepared for it in terms of what to expect on national TV and what to expect about being the only game on the ice.  We were a juggernaut of a team all year and then we were a totally different team for 10 ends.  If what I know now I could distill in myself back then, we would have had a better chance.  Those are always the one’s you look back on and wish more of because you just didn’t know…and now you do know.  You just think if I could have just said or did different things maybe we win that game.  That’s probably why I would say the junior final I lost I would want to have back.

TT:  That’s very fair.  Were you able to share any of that memory with Matt Dunstone when you were able to play with him this season?  He seems to have it all under control this year.

NT:  Yeah, no he is the real deal.  He is a player.  I even said to him when he was playing with us at the slam (Canadian Open)

, you are going to be skipping in these slams very soon because he is that good.  He knows how to handle himself and he seems to be a great leader with those guys and get them in the right spot.  That team is playing pretty well and hopefully they go over to Denmark and go win it.  I think the only people we could really probably give any insight to is university teams because we are still the only university team to ever win gold.

TT:  Ah, excellent.  Well I thought it would be great to also do a bit of rapid fire with you so people could get to know a bit more of who Nolan is.  What is your curling walk-up song?  Just for you, not the team.

NT:  Hmm, just for me?

TT:  Yup, just for you.  All of the attention on Nolan.

NT:  I’ve always wanted to walk in to ‘Juicy’ by Notorious B.I.G.

TT:  *laughing*  Nice!  That’s a really good choice.  Any curling nicknames you have or other people have for you?

NT:  Ahhh….John (Morris) calls me “Nooner” for some reason.  Glenn Howard calls me “Nolly’.  But other than that most people just call me “Nolan”.  I have a distinctive first name.  We aren’t like hockey where we change everything to add a “y” or an “s” to the end of everything.*laughing*  Most people just call me Nolan.

TT:  *laughing*  Ok that’s fair.  Who is your biggest rival on tour?

NT:  Biggest rival?  Well me and Ben (Hebert) chirp each other all the time.

TT:  Yeah, that’s who I thought you would say.  *laughing*

NT:  *laughing*  Ben was in my wedding party so there is no ill-will.  But we definitely go on each other and playing lead against each other, I always think back to the 2014 provincial final.  We are both walking into the arena at the same time, it’s Marc (Kennedy) and Ben and me and Pat.  We are walking into the rink and me and Ben just look at each other and say “Talk to you in two weeks.”  We normally text each other lots.  But we are going to go out there and try to beat the tar out of each other but we will be friends eventually again.  Ben is normally the guy I would get into a little bit of it with but, like I said, we know where to draw the line.  It’s still friendship at the end of the day.

TT:  So is there something about lead’s then?  Are you the chirpiest of the team? *laughing*

NT:   *laughing*  You know maybe we are.  Maybe it’s because our shots don’t matter as much so we are.  The leads seem to chirp each other but we also seem to come and defend each other too.  It’s almost like the brother thing where I can beat up my brother but you can’t.  Leads are good that way.  We get on each other but the #leadunion is strong.

TT:  It is, it seems very strong.  Who is the loudest guy on tour?

NT:  Loudest guy?  Probably Ben as well.  He likes telling stories and he is good at telling stories.

TT:  Yup, that is what I have heard.

NT:  He can keep a room in stitches.  He is probably the loudest guy.

TT:  And who is the smelliest guy on tour?

NT:  Smelliest?  Hmmm….we played New Zealand one time and they did not smell very good.  But they might have been over here for three weeks and not washed their curling clothes yet.  There have been a few teams over the year’s and there have been a few comments, normally it is an international competition.  The Canadians don’t seem to smell as bad. *laughing*

TT:  *laughing* Can’t get you to name any names on that one?

NT:  *laughing*  Nope, nope.

TT:  *laughing*  Ah, smart man.  What if you could form an All-Star team, doesn’t have to be curlers or athletes, but anyone you would to curl with?  Who would be three people you would want to curl with?  I assume you would want to put yourself on the team of course.

NT:  Ok, well sure I’ll play lead.  Of all the guys I grew up watching and never got to curl with, I got to meet him in Phoenix but never got to curl against him, was The Wrench (Ed Werenich).  So I would say The Wrench back in his hayday.  Third would probably be Wayne Middaugh because he is just hilarious and is just Wayne.

TT:  And as long as he is not skiing before you are set to play with him.

NT:  Yup, fair enough.  And second man…let’s go (Don) Walchuk.  Old Walchuk from the Pat Ryan days.

TT:  Oh nice…wow that would be a good team.  Now I have the #AskACurler question for you.  My last interview was with Julie Hastings and she wants to know, out of the 7 dwarfs who on your team would be which dwarf, including yourself?

NT:  Oh no I don’t even know the 7 dwarfs.  They asked us this at the skins game, they asked us to name the 7 dwarfs and I think I said “Ryan Fry” and a couple of Euro’s that were pretty short and a kid from Switzerland.  Hmmm the 7 dwarfs…name the 7 dwarfs.

TT:  Sleepy, Sneezy, Dopey, Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Bashful.

NT:  Ok Grumpy would be me!

TT:  *laughing*  Ok, that’s fair.

NT:  Bashful…Bashful may be Pat.  Happy would be John.  John is a pretty happy guy most of the time.  If we are losing he may not be happy but off the ice he is the happiest guy on the team.  Maybe Doc for Carter because he just seems to have an opinion and an analysis for a lot of different things in life.  Carter would be Doc.

TT:  Excellent, perfect!  And now to turn it over to you for #AskACurler, my next interview is going to be with Kerry Galusha.  We are going to do a little Women’s World preview and player profile.  If you could ask her any question, and now this could end up being a loaded question depending if you want to go down one route or the other, what would be the one question you would ask Kerry?

NT:  *big grin smiling*  If she had to play mixed nationals or a mixed world final, does she got Kevin her big brother or her twin brother Jamie with her as her skip?

TT:  *laughing*  Ah yes, that is a good one.  Right on!  When I interviewed Jamie, he seemed to feel it would be him.

NT:  *laughing*  Oh the twin connection.

TT:  And because they have made a Canadian mixed final so he seemed to think they have the better twin vibe going.

NT:  They are twins and there is something about twins.  But the Koo-Dawg can play.

TT:  Yes he can, very true.  Excellent, I will ask her and see what she says.  Well that is everything I have got for you Nolan.  Thank you for taking the time to sit down with me, I really appreciate it.

NT:  No problem, thank you.

TT:  And best of luck at the Brier man.

NT:  Thanks!

There you have it rock heads and stoners.  Some excellent insight into the sport of curling as well as some personal touch to being a Canadian and World Champion.  Once again, I want to thank Nolan for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk with me, especially less than a week before he begins his Brier defence and goes for the #3peat.  Best of luck to him and Team Canada in Ottawa!

Now speaking about #Brier2016, stay tuned folks for a special Brier preview blog coming up the end of this week.  There may just be a surprise in store for this special blog post….in the form of a recent Brier participant joining me to break down the field and offer some predictions.  #StayTuned

 

James Runge

Spark Sports Analyst

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