Exclusive Interview with Matthew Blandford

We discuss winning at fatherhood, curling career changes & being a Jeopardy curling answer?

The #TwineTime family continues to grow my friends.  In my second season of covering the sport of #curling, I have been truly blessed to have support from some of the best athletes we see week in and week out on the ice.  In the past, Jamie Koe, Mark Kean and Kirk Muyres went #BetweenTheSheets to share with you, the fans, information on being a curler in today’s world.  I am excited to bring another member into the family: Matthew Blandford.  I was fortunate enough to meet Matt back at the 2014 Boston Pizza Cup (Alberta provincial championship) in Lacombe, Alberta.  He was a down to Earth great guy then and continues to be.  Matt has been a supporter of this blog since Day 1 so when the opportunity finally arose for us to sit down for a chat, we jumped on the occasion.  I will preface this interview by saying it took place back in October.  There have been changes to Matt’s season since this interview.  But fear not rock heads, Matt has an update on what is to come for 2016…and he shares it exclusively with #TwineTime below.

Get comfy friends, time to go #BetweenTheSheets with the Newfie himself, Matt Blandford!

#TwineTime (TT):  We are here with Matt Blandford for a little #BetweenTheSheets action.  Let’s first talk about a brand new season for you and a brand new team, joining forces with Brock Virtue.  How did that come about and how is it going so far?

Matt Blandford (MB):  It was a bit of a rollercoaster.  The summer started and my original plan was to kind of cut back a bit on curling with a new baby and to spend some more time with the family.  I was originally going to curl with Jamie King.  As the summer went along, we lost a player we weren’t expecting to lose on Jamie’s team.  At the same time, the opportunity to curl with Brock came about.  I had a few talks with Jamie and he was very encouraging and encouraged me to take the opportunity to play with Brock.  It took me a couple of days to make my decision and ultimately decided to give it a shot.  I felt if I didn’t do it I probably would have regretted it at a later date.

TT:  So is the deal with Team Virtue to give it a go for this season and then re-evaluate or?

MB:  We want to give it a 3-year commitment and be in it for the long haul.  If it goes really well in the next few years, maybe it will be an even longer haul.  We will see how it goes but I am really excited.  Our record doesn’t show it out there but we are getting better.  Our communication is getting better.  Our shot making is getting better.  It’s the little things.  The more we do the little things right, the easier the game will be.

TT:  Exactly.  Now what about moving from skip to vice.  How has that transition been for you?

MB:  It’s not bad.  I spent a lot of time this summer working on sweeping.  That is new for me.  I pretty much haven’t swept my whole life.  To get out there and start doing that and judging rocks, sweeping at the right times and trying not to miss shots by my sweeping but rather help make shots from my sweeping.  Sweeping has become so effective in this game.  People are realizing how you can miss and make shots just from sweeping.  I think this was a big learning experience for me and something I really took to heart and worked on.  So far I think it has been pretty good.

TT:  So you haven’t swept and fell on your face yet?

MB:  *laughing* Not yet, not yet but it is only a matter of time.  But also not calling shots or calling my own shots is different.  Letting Brock call the shots and giving him his space is a bit of a learning experience as well.  Right now we are working on it and finding a common ground where we are both getting what we need and be able to make shots.

TT:  What does the schedule look like for this year?  How busy is it going to be for you guys?

MB:  We have 8 events.  Hopefully maybe we can get hot and sneak our way into a slam.  We played here (Edmonton), Saskatoon and playing 5 weekends in a row right now: Edmonton, Portage, Red Deer, Medicine Hat and Calgary all back to back.  It’s going to be busy.

TT:  One thing you have talked about is the busy schedule right now and earlier you mentioned having a newborn child at home and taking on fatherhood, on top of your wife (Darrah Blandford) being a curler as well, how is the family dynamic going?

MB:  Well, it’s been busy.  We are very fortunate to have an awesome little girl who sleeps well and eats well.  We are very fortunate.  The wife is curling with Brock’s girlfriend actually (Kalynn Park).  They have not as quite a busy schedule, only a few events.  Very rarely are we conflicting, I think only twice.  Luckily we have Darrah’s parents who live in Fort Mac and they really chip in a lot to help us out when we are in trouble for finding someone to look after her.  With curling at this point, it’s go home and spend as much time with them as I can and then it’s work, then it’s curling…it’s a lot!  I’m hoping it will be ok and she is very supportive of what I am doing.  When you have someone who really cares about what you are doing, it makes it that much easier.

TT:  With her being a curler as well, she also understands the sport and the offering of support.

MB:  I think with any athlete, another athlete just understands what an athlete needs to do to be successful.  If she wasn’t an athlete maybe it would be difficult to understand.  When you are a curler it is a lot of commitment.  At some points your family becomes your curling team and not your own family.  You become brothers and you have to respect each other, be honest with each other and do all the same things you would do with your own family at home.

TT:  Exactly.  So how is fatherhood going?

MB:  Well it’s busy.  It’s pretty awesome.  It’s getting to the point where I am becoming a lot more relevant.  She comes to me when she wants to play and goes to her mom when she is not in a good mood.

TT:  *laughing* So basically you are winning?

MB:  *laughing* Yeah, I’m winning.  I’m winning at fatherhood.

TT:  *laughing* That’s pretty good then.  So now with mixed doubles going into the Winter Olympics, I talked with Mark Kean about him and his wife curling on a regular basis, what about a Blandford run here?

MB:  To be honest with you it was a serious conversation before this season.  But right now, with the baby being so young, we wouldn’t have the opportunity for another couple of years.  If things go really well for me, I would stay with men’s curling.  Since I was a kid my dream was to win a Brier, win a Canadian championship.  Now with the Olympics, to get to an Olympic trials and have a shot at the Olympics, those are some goals for me.  Walking away from those goals would be tough.  With her, right now, the timing was good for me to take this opportunity.  Maybe after this run and depending how it goes.  We were serious about it.  We have one mixed doubles national appearance already together a couple of years ago when it was in Leduc, AB.  We enjoyed it and had a lot of fun.  But it’s tough curling with your significant other.  You are walking on thin ice.  Luckily we are both really competitive and understand that what happens on the ice stays on the ice.  We are trying to make each other better so we both win.  I don’t think it is a matter of if it will happen but rather when will it happen.  It will depend on how her women’s is going and how my men’s is going.  Our goals are still the Scotties and the Brier.  Even though mixed is in the Olympics, it still is not traditional.  When you play from 10 years old into your thirties and you want to go to a Brier, you want to go to the Brier and you want to win.

TT:  That makes sense.  But with mixed doubles going to the Olympics it is good growth for the sport though.

MB:  Oh for sure.  And mixed doubles is fun.  I loved it when I played it.  I wouldn’t take back the experience and I am sure I will play it again at some point of my life.  But when it comes to the list of things I want to do, it comes maybe number three or four.

TT:  Exactly.  Now I was going back into a little history and I believe you are the last person to beat Brad Gushue at the Newfoundland provincials.

MB:  Yeah, I think that is a true story.

TT:  That is a true story.  What kind of a weird claim to fame Jeopardy stat is that for you?

MB:  *laughing*  Well it is pretty irrelevant.  It was a long time ago.  Me and Brad had a lot of good head to head matchups for a lot of years.  We were probably one of the only teams who really gave him a good run for his money, besides maybe Mark Noseworthy, for a lot of years.  We were quite a few years behind him and that was the big difference.  When it came down to it, they were just the better team.  We wanted to win just as bad.  But they had the money, they had the travelling, they had the experience and they had the games under their belt.  By the time we were at a provincial, we had maybe 20 games under our belt and he had played maybe 80.  It was a disadvantage.  He is a great curler, especially right now.  This year he is the top 3 in the world.

TT:  *laughing* Well depending what rankings you look at, I have them at #1 on my #PowerRankings.

MB:  *laughing* Right now, for sure.  I have a lot of respect for Brad.  We have probably bumped heads a few times in our careers.  He was someone I looked up to as a junior.  Having done what he did as I was coming up through juniors, it was helpful.  It made me think I had a chance.  He brought that to Newfoundland.  You can never take that away from him.  When he won the Olympics that was a huge thing for Newfoundland.

TT:  And a bit of Newfoundland pride I would assume anytime you see an athlete succeed.

MB:  For sure.  Like I said, we have a great history.  We have beaten each other.  Overall I am sure he has beaten me more than I have beaten him.  When it comes down to it, we were one of the only teams to give him a run for his money and I am sure he would say the same thing if you asked him.  He has a lot of respect for me over the years and I have a lot of respect for him.  There probably are not too many better throwers than him in the world right now.  He makes a lot of shots.  I looked up to him for a number of years.  When I became his competitor, you don’t look up you look straight across and try to play the best game you can and beat him.  We were fortunate enough to do it a few times…and I guess the last one’s to do it.  It’s kind of a funny thing, not really a claim to fame for me.  I feel like what I have done here in Alberta in my four years has been progress.  When I came to Alberta, I didn’t have a team and didn’t know a lot of people.  But you slowly make a name for yourself and move up the rankings and hope to make a run at a Brier.  Overall, I am the last person to beat Brad Gushue at a Newfoundland provincial but it is kind of good and kind of bad.  It shows Newfoundland depth is not the greatest right now.  But being one of the best teams in the world, they are probably going to win Newfoundland even if they did get beat once or twice.  It would be nice to see some teams in Newfoundland step up and give him some competition.  Last year only having two teams in a provincial is kind of embarrassing.

TT:  Very true and this leads right into my next question perhaps for you.  If you could change one thing about the sport, what would it be?  Would it be something about growing the sport with younger athletes or looking at provincial qualification?  If you could change any one thing, right now, what would it be?

MB:  It’s tough to say.  There are so many things going on right now that are good for the sport but also things that are counter-productive.  The slams having more events will mean you take top teams away from some of the normal events and the opportunity for some tier II teams to play them.  Next year, when there are 8 slams, are you going to see the same top teams at these kind of events (in Edmonton)?  When you are a young team or a new team or a junior team, you come to spiels hoping to play these top teams like Kevin Koe or others.  Are we going to miss that as the slams continue to get bigger and bigger?  When you look at the slams, the point system change is a big help.  I think that was positive for the sport.  It is going to help more of the west coast teams build some points and get into these events.  There seems to be a bit of east coast dominance.  There are a lot of good teams and good curlers out here (in the west).  They deserve to be in a slam.  You play in an Alberta provincial.  You play in a slam.  To be honest with you, when I played in a slam, it didn’t feel that much different to me.  You are playing against good competition and you have to be sharp every single game.  Anybody can beat you at any time.

TT:  The joy of sport though right?

MB:  Exactly.  Right now there are lots of positives on how to grow the sport.  There is a lot more publicity.  People are watching.  People are going to those big events.  You also see a lot of changes.  My team now was three teams five years ago.  Brock skipped his own team, I skipped my own team and Darren (Moulding) skipped his own team.  We have to do this though to be competitive.  At the same time you are almost taking away from the growth because that is now 9 other players that are out or might not be playing at all.  We have all had great accomplishments but having to throw three of us together on one team to be competitive, it’s pretty crazy how much the sport has changed.

TT:  In talking about accomplishments, what is your greatest curling accomplishment?

MB:  I don’t know.  There are some unforgettable moments.  Losing a junior national final, that was an unforgettable moment.  I can remember every shot of that game.  Playing in a grand slam, I can remember pretty much every shot of that whole week.  That was an awesome experience and I definitely want to get back there.  Good ice and good competitive curling.  You feel like you can just make everything because you are given a good surface and good rocks.  You aren’t thrown any curveballs.  You don’t want to miss out on an awesome experience of playing in a slam.  I think that was a big deal for me.  Also, the semi-final in Alberta (vs. Kevin Koe) a few years ago (2014 Boston Pizza Cup in Lacombe, AB) was a step in the right direction for me.  Only being in Alberta for four years, every year I have been here I have played in the provincials.  I think it shows that I don’t just make playoffs in Newfoundland, you know?  For me personally, that was an accomplishment I was really proud of because I felt like we were taking it to the next level.  We were right there.  In that semi-final, it was a close game.  I think we were a little timid.  If I could have that game back I probably would have done things a little differently.  We got schlacked by Kevin Martin in the 1vs2 and then played a little too safe in the SF.  We had some opportunities to maybe play more draws and put pressure on them but we didn’t.  Hindsight is 20/20 though.

TT:  Being in Lacombe, that was a great game to watch.  You guys played great all week.  Finishing third is a huge accomplishment.

MB:  We went that whole week and gave up only 1 steal.  That is always a key in curling, if you keep stolen points off the board you will get a lot of wins.  You don’t need to go out and score 3 or 4 every end.  If you can curl great, score when you have hammer, force when you don’t and pick up a 2 along the way, you have a good chance at winning games.

TT:  Very true.  Now you are also a bit of a golfer and hit the links a few times.  Now I am giving you a curling mulligan where you can redo any shot or any game in your career.  Which one would it be?  Apparently you have a very good memory of shots.

MB:  Well, hmmm, it’s tough.  It’s tough to weigh out which has been the most important.  Winning a junior national championship and representing Canada would have been pretty awesome.  But when I weigh it out on all of the things that could have happened, looking back, beating Koe in that SF game would have been a bigger thing for me.  We would have been one game away from the Brier.  We gave Martin a good game earlier too.  It would have been interesting to see what would have happened in a one game final against them.  Not saying we would have won the game but it would have been a good opportunity to see what would have happened.  They are like 50/50.  Can I have two?

TT:  *laughing* No, you only get one.

MB:  *laughing* Well, I can remember a pretty plain shot in that junior final playing Ryan Sherrard.  It was an in-turn come around freeze.  They got three that end and it was early.  We did comeback and tie it.  But, in that end, if I make that freeze I think it would have been a totally different game.  I was light and only made top 12’.  Luckily we only gave up three….actually I think they only got 2.  Yeah, they got 2 because I think he missed his draw for 3.  But if I make the shot, it would have been a steal and a three-point swing on the scoreboard.  We would have had a two-point lead.  History shows anytime Matt Blandford has a two-point lead, we don’t lose many games.  That would be the one.  There were too many shots against Koe that could have gone a different way.  I think that game was more about some chances we didn’t take rather that a shot I missed.

*Editor’s Note: I went back in the record books and Sherrard did make his draw for 3 in the 5th end to take the 5-2 lead.  Matt was correct, they came back to score 3 in the 7th to tie the final but would lose when Sherrard scored the championship clinching point in the 10th.

TT:  Ok fair enough.  So if we say shot it would be the junior final but if we say games it would be the SF vs. Koe.

MB:  Yup, exactly.

TT:  Ok, I’ll take that.  Now let’s do some really quick rapid fire with you.  Stanley Cup prediction?

MB:  Well I am a Habs fan so I got to go with them.

TT:  Yup, I knew that.  Who is your pick from the West?

MB:  I’m going to say Anaheim.

TT:  Also what everyone seems to be saying.  Not a back pick.  Super Bowl prediction?  I think I already know what you are going to say though.

MB:  Patriots!

TT:  Ugh, lame.  And who do they play?

MB:  Well we are going to beat the Steelers every time we play them.

TT:  Ok you barely beat us at the beginning of the season.  To be fair, we have played you better than anyone else this season.

MB:  Ok that is true.  But it doesn’t matter, you didn’t win!  *laughing*

TT:  *laughing*  Yeah, yeah..get out of here already.

MB:  *laughing*  Ok, I am going to say the Patriots and the Packers.  Green Bay is looking good.

TT:  Any tattoo’s or piercings?

MB:  No.

TT:  Against or for?

MB:  Oh for.  We are going to get a tattoo, me and the wife.  Probably next summer.

TT:  Excellent, very cool.  What would be your walk-up song if curling allowed such a thing to happen?

MB:  Oh my god, there is so many.  My walk-up song?  For the team or for me?

TT:  Nope, this is all about you.

MB:  Oh, all about me.  If I had a walk-out song, what would it be?  That is a good one.  Probably the song by Jason Derulo “Want to Want Me”.  I can sing with a high pitch voice really well too.

TT:  And apparently you like songs where people say their names repeatedly because Jason Derulo tends to do that.

MB:  Yeah, at the beginning.  I love that.

TT:  But maybe we can change it so that he says your name at the beginning every time.

MB:  Exactly, that would be perfect. *laughing*

TT:  *laughing*  Fair enough.  Who is your biggest rival in curling?

MB:  Lifetime?

TT:  Yup, lifetime.

MB:  Currently and lifetime would be two different answers.  Lifetime would be Gushue.

TT:  And current?

MB:  Bottcher.

TT:  Would that have anything to do with the fact you just stepped off the ice to do this interview after a loss to Bottcher?

MB:  Nope.  We play each other a lot it seems and we come out on the wrong side quite a bit unfortunately.  Rivalries cannot be built off one or two games.  It seems like we play Bottcher all the time, every season.  We play many events together.

TT:  So the curling draw gods basically want you and Bottcher to be rivals?

MB:  Bottcher and Wade White.  We play Wade at least 4 times every year.  It’s just how it is.  Probably add Sluchinski too.  There are a few Alberta teams we run into lots.  But my main one would be Bottcher.  We come up short against him often.  I mean, when I was skipping, I don’t think Wade beat us for a few years.

TT:   *laughing* So maybe you are Wade White’s main rival then?

MB:  *laughing* Yeah, that could be.

TT:  Smelliest guy on tour?

MB:  Oh *expletive*.  Darren is pretty bad some days.

TT:  Most people usually pick someone on their own team.

MB:  Yeah Darren is pretty bad.

TT:  Loudest guy?

MB:  Probably me.  If you ask a lot of people, it’s probably me.  There is a tweet going around twitter about how I am a foghorn.  They always call me the foghorn.

TT:  *laughing* Nice.  Now we have our #AskTheCurler question for you from Kirk Muyres.  Kirk wanted to know why you would move to Alberta from The Rock, considering how beautiful it is out there.

MB:  Well it certainly wasn’t for the curling.  Although I feel since I moved here I have developed a lot as a player.  “The patch” dragged me out here like many Newfie’s in Alberta.  Newfoundland is a beautiful place there is no doubt but I think those days are all behind me now.  Moving here brought me an even more beautiful wife and daughter which may not have happened if I stayed on The Rock.

TT:  Family first right?  And everything happens for a reason.  Do you miss Newfie life at times?  Have you been back home recently or plan to return home?

MB:  I miss it sometimes, especially my tight group of friends.  None of them curl *laughing*  Luckily we still keep in touch on a daily basis.  I miss the lifestyle there as well.  Alberta is pretty work based where Newfoundland seems to have a good balance.  I haven’t been home in 5 years.  No immediate plans to go back.  Maybe the 2017 Brier?  Who knows?

TT:  Ah that was going to be my next question.  Perhaps the stars are aligned for your return trip home to be a trip to the Holy Grail…The Brier?  Plus the wife and daughter need to experience dad’s home province eventually right?

MB:  *laughing*  That’s the plan.  We had thoughts of going back this summer depending on how things go.  If we make a trip to the Brier this year then Newfoundland will probably be out for 2016.  If not, it might be a good time to head back next summer.  Hard to say what curling will bring next year.

TT:  Sounds like a good plan.  As they say, you can take the man out of Newfoundland but you can never take the Newfie out of the man right?  Take it one season at a time and see what happens?  As long as the drive and passion still exist, the rest will fall into place.

MB:  Exactly.  Growing up in Newfoundland you learn a lot…like how to make short sentences even shorter.  How to confuse mainlanders.  How to live with your front door unlocked.  My grandfather always said if someone is going to walk in my front door and take something then he probably needs it a lot more than me.

TT:  Wise words…and insight into the sense of true community behind living on The Rock.  Something I think readers of this blog will be interested in reading.  Thank you for sharing.  I suppose thanks to Kirk for asking the question.

MB:  Ya for sure.  It was a good one.

TT:  Now it’s your turn to ask a question and my next interview will be with Julie Hastings.  You are the first person to ask a female curler a question on the blog.  Any question you want, what can I ask?

MB:  Any question?  Oh I have a good one.  Do any women on tour leave fart bombs in the hack?

TT:  *laughing* Nice question.

MB:  *laughing*  Yeah.  I want to know if any women do it.  I want to know if any women just leave a stinker sitting right there.  That is like a strategy for us men.

TT:  Is this something you do on a regular basis?  Or has it been done to you more often?

MB:  Probably done to me more often.  And I have done it myself too.  But it happens at least once a game.  But I want to know if any women do it as well.

TT:  Excellent, well I will ask her and see what she says.

MB:  Perfect.

TT:  Well thank you Matt for taking time out, mid-event, to do this interview and for the continued support.

MB:  You’re welcome.  Thanks!

UPDATE:  Now since this interview, a few changes have been made in the curling life of Matt Blandford.  Many thanks to Matt himself for providing #TwineTime with the exclusive first update.

MB:  After Red Deer, things were not working out with Team Virtue.  I am looking forward to spending more time with family and possibly mixed doubles with the wife.

TT:  Wow, sorry to hear.  Won’t be the same not seeing you in action on tour.  But blessing in disguise perhaps.  Plus more time spent with the little one is never a bad thing at all.

MB:  It was tough but we are all still good friends.  I left with no hard feelings.

TT:  That’s good to hear at least.  Sports should not ruin friendships.

MB:  Nope for sure.  The 5 spiels in a row made it tough.  5 in a row for a new team is probably not the smartest thing.

TT:  But you aren’t giving up the sport right?  What’s next for Matt Blandford?

MB:  I will probably never hang it up fully *laughing*  Right now it looks like I will be playing out of Yukon, with territorial championship in January.

TT:  Wow, really?  With who?

MB:  Wade Scoffin.  Wade called me up out of the blue and asked me.  Tough to turn down a 50/50 chance to get to the Brier.

TT:  True enough, you just need to beat defending champion Smallwood.  So who is on this new team?

MB:  Myself at skip, Wade Scoffin, Vern Jan and Clint Ireland.  Our fifth will be Steve Fecteau.

TT:  Nice.  Have you guys had a chance to curl together?

MB:  No, not yet.  We will start things up in January a few days before the territorial championship.

TT:  Wow, what an exclusive update.  Very cool though.  Who knows, you could be at the Brier in a few months.

MB:  I’m hoping!

TT:  Well thank you for sharing this new update with us.  It is greatly appreciated.  All the best and good luck in January.

MB:  No problem buddy.  Thanks!

What an exclusive update!  Follow along with @CurlingZone in January to see how all provincial and territorial playdowns shake out, including Matt competing with his new team in Yukon.  Special thank you once again to Matt for sitting down and talking with me and for his continued support of this blog.  I wish him and his family all the best in 2016.


James Runge

Spark Sports Analyst