Curling is back!

So when Covid-19 started to surge, curling essentially decided to punt on the year.  The World Championships were canceled, and the Grand Slam of Curling, which had two events left in the season running through April, decided that its next events were going to be the two that they had to cancel that they would play in 2021.  Of course, for various reasons sports in general and curling in particular are still challenging, so curling decided to create a bubble in Calgary and play all of the national events there, and the Grand Slam decided to get in on that action and have scheduled their two events inside the bubble as well.  That bubble is getting its first test this week with one of my favourite events, the event that I usually take vacation to watch, the Scotties.

Now, again, things aren’t all that normal at the event.  Things wouldn’t have been all that normal considering all the changes that happened after the season was canceled, but the situation and the bubble and all sorts of other things are making things a lot different.  To start with, normally to qualify for the Scotties each province holds playdown tournaments from which the winner emerges.  Due to Covid restrictions, that wasn’t possible in many provinces.  So the question became:  how in the world do we determine who actually gets to go to the Scotties?  This was left up to the provincial governing bodies, who in general decided to do things the easy way and simply send the team that they sent last year.  There was also an issue with the Wild Card teams, since in general the two teams with the most points where brought in to play a one game play-in to fill the final spot.  Bringing a team into the bubble  for one game really wasn’t going to work, so they decided to add another team and have three Wild Card teams for the entire tournament, selected by their points in the curling ranking system (yes, there is one, mostly used for Olympic qualification).  Except that there was a wrinkle there as well, as the rules say that in order for a team to be considered the same team for qualifications and for points, the team must retain three members out of four (which excludes their alternate).  So some teams that were at the Scotties last year and some of the higher ranking teams that could have been one of the Wild Card teams couldn’t go because, essentially, they weren’t the same team anymore.

And then there were a number of personal issues, as some teams had members who for various reasons couldn’t make it into the bubble for the tournament.  Krista McCarville’s team had two players were the long quarantines clashed with their jobs, and so Krysta Burns, the runner-up from last year, got Northern Ontario’s spot.  And the most notable in-game change is that Tracey Fleury’s team isn’t really her team anymore, as Fleury wanted to stay home with her child, and so Chelsea Carey, who had all of her team bail on her at the end of the season, is taking over as skip, necessitating the commentators having to constantly say “Team Wild Card Fleury, skipped by Chelsea Carey”.

And on top of all of that, provincial restrictions actually made practicing difficult.  After all, most sports and sporting venues were closed during lockdowns and under restrictions, and so the players couldn’t get into curling clubs to practice.  Many of the players, as well, are spread out across provinces — you can have one import on your team — and so couldn’t travel to practice together like they might have been able to do otherwise.  Of course, most of the time the teams then play a lot of tournaments in the fall to shake all of those issues out and to be able to practice together … except, of course, this real all of those tournaments were canceled.  So we have a lot of teams that normally would play a lot of games and practice a lot that haven’t actually managed to do any of that for this Scotties, which could lead to some somewhat random results, at least at the beginning.  On top of that, a lot of the teams that managed to get more tournaments in are younger teams coming out of juniors, which also adds a random element as they tend to be skilled but not necessarily strong at strategy.

The first weekend is over.  I haven’t managed to watch as many games as I would have liked due to the fact that since it’s in Calgary the late game starts right at the time I go to sleep, and Sunday is my insanely busy day so I was only half paying attention to the morning draw yesterday.  But here are my first impressions of the tournament:

1) We knew that the teams would have some foibles in learning how to make their shots again, that wasn’t helped by the fact that the ice has been changing a lot early on, due to things like humidity — the commentators were pointing out that the “pebble” drops of water that they usually use to add some grip to the ice were evaporating before hitting the ice because it was so dry — and differences from temperature and not having fans in the seats.

2) One of the games I watched more carefully was yesterday’s afternoon draw between Quebec’s Laurie St-Georges and PEI’s Suzanne Birt, which drove home the welcome attitude of at least some of the younger teams.  They’re just happy to be here.  Despite giving up some big ends to the extremely experienced Birt, they were laughing at their missed shots and really just seemed to be having fun.  And despite being down 6 – 2 with only two ends to go, the team came back to win that game 8 – 6.  They don’t really have any pressure since they aren’t expected to be as strong as the more experienced team and so can go out and just play.

3) Rachel Homan is playing while 8 months pregnant.  She’s done something like that before, but I was surprised that she did it at this time in this situation … but since they replaced Lisa Weagle with Sara Wilkes if she had they wouldn’t have had three returning players and so wouldn’t have been allowed to play.  There likely will not be a World Championships for the women again this year, so that won’t impact that should she happen to win.

4) So far, the matches I’ve been watching have shown some of the lesser known teams, which means that they’re teams that I don’t have any opinion on one way or the other.  I expect that to change when they get to the championship round later in the week and when the better known teams start to distance themselves from the field.

5) There was actually a Covid scare with one game canceled because one of the players wasn’t feeling well.  They believe that she actually had food poisoning and all tests came back negative.  But if you feel sick at all, they’re planning on punting games until they can be sure.  For me, personally, it means that there’s a game this morning when there wouldn’t have been (the rescheduled game).

So, curling is back.  And since I’m working from home and can see the TV from my desk, I’ll be able to watch it and still get my stuff done.

One Response to “Curling is back!”

  1. The Scotties … | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] noted last week, curling returned this past week with the Scotties, inside a curling bubble in Calgary.  The […]

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