After two decades of curling success, 2012 produced Rob Fowler’s crowning achievement so far.
Fowler, 37, skipped Brandon’s first team to win the provincial men’s curling title since his father did it 1987, and went on to guide Manitoba to third place at the Tim Hortons Brier national championship. That dream season, combined with Fowler’s past success, led the Brandon Sun’s board of selectors to name him the 55th winner of the H.L. (Krug) Crawford Award, emblematic of sporting excellence in southwestern Manitoba.
The 1998 provincial mixed champion and a three-time Manitoba men’s winner as Jeff Stoughton’s second (2007, 2009, 2010), Fowler’s victory as a skip at the provincial Safeway Championship was something he had dreamed of virtually since the first time he slid out of the hack.
"That was a huge highlight, not only our season but really kind of for my curling career," said Fowler, who was supported by third Allan Lyburn of Brandon as well as second Richard Daneault and lead Derek Samagalski of Winnipeg. "I think as a little kid that’s something that you dream about doing, and all the work that’s been put in over the years I think was vindicated when we had a chance to win the Safeway Championship."
Fowler’s dream was fuelled in part by the success of his parents. In addition to the men’s title won by his father, Brian, Rob’s mother, Lois, has won six provincial championships — four in women’s, one in senior women’s and a mixed crown on her son’s 1998 team.
"I think that they were both very proud parents at the Brier last year and they’re definitely a big part of it," said Rob Fowler, whose sister Rhonda Ritchie is also a former provincial women’s champion. "The whole family has kind of grown up around the curling rink and obviously take a lot of pride in what we’ve been able to accomplish."
Not to be overlooked are the contributions of Fowler’s teammates, particularly Lyburn, who was a worthy contender for the award himself as an all-star at both the Safeway Championship and the Brier in Saskatoon. The longtime friends have proven to complement one another perfectly.
"We played together back kind of in the late ’90s, early 2000s and of course he was the skip and I played third," Fowler said. "And this time around I was wanting to skip and he agreed that it was a good time for him to play third, so I think the fact that we’ve walked a mile in each other’s shoes helps. There’s times out there when something needs to be said, but there’s times where maybe it’s good to just not say anything and let the skip go ahead and play a shot. And I think Allan, because he skipped, understands that."
In their second season together, the Fowler foursome had a remarkable run, placing ninth on the World Curling Tour’s order of merit and entering the Safeway Championship in Dauphin as the third seed. They lost their first playoff game before reeling off five straight victories — including one in the Page playoffs against his former teammate Stoughton.
"I think we really felt that it was possible for us to do what we did after we beat Stoughton on Saturday night in the 3-4 game," Fowler recalls. "Obviously at that time he was the current world champion and to beat him on Saturday night and to get within two games of the provincial championship in Dauphin, I think that’s when kind of you could start to taste it."
Fowler followed that by beating his former junior teammate William Lyburn — Allan’s brother — 6-5 in the semifinal before upsetting ex-Brandonite and WCT money-leader Mike McEwen 10-6 for the historic title.
At the Brier, the Manitobans came on strong down the stretch, finishing with an 8-3 round-robin record and advancing to the semifinal where they lost an 8-6 heartbreaker to Alberta’s Kevin Koe. Not content to go home empty-handed, Manitoba rebounded to edge Jamie Koe of the Northwest Territories/Yukon 8-7 in an extra end to win the bronze medal.
"Bouncing back with the win in the bronze-medal game gave us something to come home with and I think that showed a lot about our team," Fowler said.
As proud of a moment as that was, Fowler hopes that it’s not the peak of his career as a skip. In fact, it only reinforced the desire his team has to get back to the Brier and take another run at a national title.
"That is the best feeling you can have in curling, representing your province in a big environment like what’s at the Brier," he said. "The cashspiels are great and that allows us to prepare for provincials, but there’s no feeling like winning a province and having the chance to represent your province in the Brier."
The difficulty in narrowing down the field for athlete of the year is reflected in our stellar group of runners-up this season.
The list of candidates for the annual H.L. (Krug) Crawford Memorial Award was so strong that 2011 winner Mark Stone — the WHL’s 2012 most sportsmanlike player and Canada’s goal leader in the 2012 world junior championship — and 2009 winner Lisa Barclay — the MVP at the 2012 CIS women’s volleyball nationals — narrowly missed the final cut.
Here are our four runners-up, listed in alphabetical order:
Accidentally ommitted in our initial list of 16 finalists for athlete of the year, the 24-year-old Brandonite capped a remarkable season by being named Canadian university hockey’s male player of the year in 2012. An all-Canadian centre, Clark led the Acadia Axemen and the Atlantic conference in scoring with 15 goals and 39 points in 28 games. A former 40-goal scorer with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings in 2008-09 — his fourth and final season in the WHL — Clark is currently second in conference scoring with nine goals and 21 points in 16 games.
The 17-year-old Neepawa native is currently serving as an alternate captain for Canada at the world women’s under-18 hockey championship after winning a gold medal at the 2012 worlds. Krzyzaniak also helped lead Manitoba to a silver medal — its best-ever finish — at the Canadian under-18 women’s hockey championship in November in Dawson Creek, B.C., where Krzyzaniak was named the most valuable player. She has five goals and 14 points in 20 games for the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy in Kelowna, B.C.
The 22-year-old Brandonite made Canada’s senior women’s sevens rugby team, competing in the North American-Caribbean championship in the summer and the prestigious Dubai Sevens Tournament in the United Arab Emirates in December where she helped lead Canada’s development team to a 7-0 record. The 5-foot-6 winger, a graduate of the Vincent Massey and Brandon Barbarians rugby programs, was also named a CIS all-Canadian, helping lead St. FX University to the national title.
The 20-year-old Glenboro native wrapped up his most successful golf season by being named Golf Manitoba’s amateur player of the year in October. A member of the University of Manitoba Bisons golf team, Wytinck became the first golfer from Westman to win the Manitoba Men’s Amateur title in July. Wytinck served as captain of the Bisons golf team and led them to five top-five finishes in university events this season.
» Brandon Sun
KRUG CRAWFORD AWARD WINNERS:
2012 — Rob Fowler, curling
2011 — Mark Stone, hockey
2010 — Paul Sanderson, volleyball
2009 — Lisa Barclay, volleyball
2008 — Brayden Schenn, hockey
2007 — Mark Derlago, hockey
2006 — Jenna Kerbis, gymnastics
2005 — Eric Fehr, hockey
2004 — Neil Andrews, curling, baseball
2003 — Jordin Tootoo, hockey
2002 — Israel Idonije, football
2001 — Jerry Hemmings, basketball
2000 — Shane Moffatt, baseball
1999 — Reed Eastley, baseball, volleyball
1998 — Cory Cyrenne, hockey
1997 — Grady Manson, hockey
1996 — Carmen Hurd, track and field
1995 — Kelly McCrimmon, hockey
1994 — Pam Flick, basketball
1993 — Marty Murray, hockey
1992 — Sandra Hamilton, basketball
1991 — Joey Vickery, basketball
1990 — Trevor Kidd, hockey
1989 — Shirley Bray, curling
1988 — Patrick Jebbison, basketball
1987 — Mabel Mitchell, curling
1986 — John Carson, basketball
1985 — Al Robertson, baseball
1984 — Ray Ferraro, hockey
1983 — Cathy Woodmass, water skiing
1982 — Jerry Hemmings, basketball
1981 — Diane Ogibowski, figure skating
1980 — Dan Halldorson, golf
1979 — Dunc McCallum, hockey
1978 — Glen Hanlon, hockey
1977 — Dan Halldorson, golf
1976 — Bob Thompson, baseball, hockey
1975 — Karen Anderson, curling, fastball
1974 — Jack Brockest, hockey
1973 — Ron Chipperfield, hockey
1972 — Lawrie Lewis, track and field
1971 — Gary Howard, basketball
1970 — Don Sumner, baseball, curling
1969 — Vailla Hoggan, water skiing
1968 — Buck Matiowski, recreation
1967 — Gerry MacKay, baseball, curling
1966 — Juha Widing, hockey
1965 — Bill Robinson, gymnastics
1964 — Lynda Kidd, basketball, softball
1963 — Earl Dawson, hockey
1962 — Fred Pilcher, curling
1961 — Ron Maxwell, hockey
1960 — Jake Milford, hockey
1959 — Mike Doig, shooting
1958 — Jack Matheson, hockey, golf