St. John’s – The headline is accurate. Gotta be, right? The Brier is filled with the loudest of the loud on a yearly basis and the 2017 field is stacked with some pretty damn good bellowers.
Yet there is one man who is standing head and shoulders above them all, making the rest of the big boomers sound like mice in a church basement.
Martin Crête is that man and his reputation is so well earned. The third for Jean-Michel Ménard’s Quebec crew can be on the other side of the rink but that doesn’t matter when the intensity comes up as a stone in motion needs some sweeping. You will hear him.
“Yeeeaaah,” he starts with a thunderous, albeit clipped growl.
“Yeeeeeeaaaaahhhhhhhh,” comes the second part as the line is becoming tight.
Then, his masterpiece. He goes up and octave and really gives ‘er.
YEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH,” he exclaims and a murmur goes through the crowd at Mile One Place. He does it again, dragging the word out even longer and there are gasps and giggles sprinkled throughout. The whole arena has taken notice.
Martin Crête is a leather-lunged superstar, whose rafter-rattling sweepers’ commands are really something to behold and celebrated.
“Yeah, they love it,” says the 31-year-old Crête, a few moments after his team’s win over Nova Scotia during Sunday night action. “In the first row tonight, I was speaking to some people. They said ‘I like you! I like your intensity and what you’re doing.’”
Crête is a big man, with an innocent face and a jovial nature, laughing constantly as he’s pressed about his notoriety as a human shockwave. The sharp-shooting vice on Quebec’s impressive team is used to being queried about his decibel level and he remains good-natured about it. He seems a little sheepish about his powers, denying that they are a point of pride for him and that it’s just something that he has always naturally been able to do. He shrugs.
At that point, his skip, Jean-Michel Ménard, walks by. Ménard is, himself, quite adept at waking the dead with one of his own exhortations but when he is asked who is louder, Ménard waves his hand and shakes his head dismissively. “I’m not even close,” he calls over his shoulder, as he continues down the hall.
“I thought a goat was getting killed,” says teammate Philippe Ménard, remembering the first time he ever heard Crête shiver the timbers of a curling rink. “A sacrifice to the gods, you know what I mean?”
I do. Because I have been in the same building as Crête when he lets it fly. It’s beautiful.
Hard to describe, really, but Ménard’s goat sacrifice comparison seems apt. I’ve never been in the luggage compartment of a passenger jet on take-off but I assume Crête could still be heard if he were back at the terminal urging that jet to take flight. I’ve heard him at what I believe to be his apex. The example below is not quite that, but it gives you a sense of what that neighbourhood is like, even from the other side of the building.
— Don Landry (@donlandrymedia) March 8, 2017
I turn to one of the all-time greats in the art of curling sheet volume for a little context; TSN analyst Russ Howard, the Wayne Gretzky of directional bellowing and the standard by which all others must be measured. Howard, I’m sure, could knock over scoreboards at the far end of the ice with his yelling. His eyes widen when I bring up Martin Crête.
“Pretty good chance the brushers know it’s time to sweep,” Howard laughs, before going on to explain why Crête can have a seat at his hollerin’ hall of fame table: “The longevity of the yell, obviously the octave range is very impressive and he’s done it for a long time.”
“That’s all the criteria to be a great screamer.”
Could Howard stand up to Martin Crête in a one-on-one battle? “I think in my prime I could give him a go,” the master says. “I had a voice therapist teach me how to do it from the socks.”
Crête is doing it from his socks, too. Or perhaps from a level below his feet, summoning the powers of all of the demons playing bongos in Satan’s conga band, amplified through a pulsating earth’s crust.
— Don Landry (@donlandrymedia) March 8, 2017
For Crête, it’s all business and natural, effusive energy being channelled into the moment. Asked if he ever hears an approving crowd’s collective “ooooh” when he is reaching the heights, he replies: “No, I’m focused on the shot and trying to make it.”
Then, Martin Crête says something amazing. Inconceivable.
“I’ve got a fifth gear. There’s another gear.”
There’s a what now? You can be louder?
He laughs and nods. “When I played juniors I was louder than I am today.”
“Oh, okay,” I reply. “So it’s not that you can be louder, it’s that you’re not quite what you were in junior, is all.”
He shakes his head. “No, I have not lost some steam. I just try to be a little bit less loud than I was when I was playing juniors.”
Incredible. The man is holding back. Probably for our safety.
I’m having a hard time imagining what another level up from Crête’s already staggering vocal Mount Everest could possibly be. I turn to Philippe Ménard.
“Oh yeah, I’ve heard it a few times,” he says, his tone sounding an awful lot like an old warrior recounting a terrible battle on some smoky plain, many years ago.
I ask what the fifth gear sounds like.
“The apocalypse,” Ménard replies. “The ground starts vibrating.”
“I’m hoping that we’re going to get to the point where that extra gear kicks in and you can hear it.”
Yikes, I think. I might not want to be a part of that.
“When Martin plays, everybody should spot the nearest emergency exit,” cracks a smirking Ménard. “Just to make sure, if something happens, you know where to go.”
I point out to Ménard that at Mile One Centre, an emergency exit might not be the best place to be, necessarily. Because there is a sign at one exit, right next to a steep rock face with a sign that reads: “Exit At Own Risk Due To Falling Debris.” Do we really want to tempt the fates?
I needn’t worry. Crête says he’s keeping it under wraps.
“I’m not gonna go to the fifth gear,” he laughs.
I feel safer. Yet, something inside me wants to know what Martin Crête’s fifth gear can do.
If Quebec makes The Brier final and it comes down to a last stone shot by Jean-Michel Ménard, we may just find out what the loudest man in Newfoundland can really do.