Changing curling forever

Greg Vandermeulen

Left, Eascan Automation owner Phil Bernardin poses with his new rock thrower along with Cargill Curling Training Centre coaches Chris and Lorne Hamblin. (GREG VANDERMEULEN/Winkler Times)

Left, Eascan Automation owner Phil Bernardin poses with his new rock thrower along with Cargill Curling Training Centre coaches Chris and Lorne Hamblin. (GREG VANDERMEULEN/Winkler Times)


The first successful computerized curling rock thrower was unveiled in Morris, Oct. 20.
The Morris Curling Club and the Cargill Curling Training Centre unveiled the new innovation, created by Eascan Automation Inc, a Winnipeg company.
Curling Club Executive member and Level 4 NCCP Olympic Coach/instructor at the Cargill Curling Training Centre in Morris along with his wife Chris, Lorne Hamblin said this has been a project companies and individuals have been attempting for 50 years. “No one has succeeded,” he said.
The rock thrower is an addition to the first dedicated curling  training centre in Manitoba and only the second in Canada. It has the ability to throw accurately and consistently for both in-turns and out-turns and can vary rotation and velocity as well as aim at any broom location.
Eascan Automation owner Phil Bernardin said this project is the result of an idea he’s had for many years.
“It’s not new technology for me, but seeing it in this application is very unique,” he said. “I’ve thought about it for many years... actually seeing it come to reality is kind of cool.”
Bernardin said they worked with up to 10 different styles of machines as they were building this one, but chose simplicity.
“There’s only a few variables we had to contend with,” he said. “The weight, the rotation and the line. I had a solution for all three of those right away based on previous knowledge.”
Lorne Hamblin said he was very excited when they first tested the machine in Morris, and found out just how consistent it could be, nearly 100 per cent. In fact over 10 shots, the timing from hog line to hog line only varied by 3/100th of a second.
“It’s a day that we didn’t think would ever come,” Hamblin said. “When we started this dream we didn’t think it could ever happen, because it’s never been done.“
Hamblin said they are only just considering all the applications for the new rock thrower which can help curlers, coaches and ice makers hone their skills.
Hamblin said the process was interesting. “We had so much fun, we were in their shop all summer throwing rocks on the concrete floor with shuffleboard wax, testing, testing, testing...” he said.
Curl Manitoba High Performance Coach and former World Champion Connie Laliberte was on hand to see the machine unveiled.
“I think it’s fabulous,” she said. “The information we can get and test with that is going to be very important.”
Laliberte said the game of curling is changing, adding that new technology will continue to spur on growth.
“When I was playing this would have been a dream come true, to have all this equipment and technology as well as the knowledge of the instructors too,” she said of the Cargill Curling Training Centre. “To have it all in one facility, that’s awesome.”
Curling Canada Chair Resby Coutts was also impressed with the new rock thrower.
“It’s an innovation unlike anything I could have ever imagined would happen,” he said. “I’ve seen half a dozen different attempts to create a rock throwing device.”
Coutts said the potential for such a device has been recognized for a long time, leading to solid information that can replace some of the folklore in the sport.
“I learned to curl from my father who was a pretty fine curler. He learned from his father who was a pretty fine curler but everything that I know about the sport is hand-me-down information, a lot of it’s folklore,” he said.
Coutts said while the thrower is interesting to all curlers, it’s the elite curlers who will really benefit.
“Most of us are just recreational curlers and we’re fascinated with the technology, and what it can do, but we’re playing for fun,” he said.
The rock thrower is only the latest addition to the training centre. Phase 2 of the centre involved a geothermal ground loop to prevent permafrost so the training centre can operate for 12 months, and a dehumidification system.
The official grand opening for the Cargill Curling Training Centre will take place Nov. 17.