Thoughts on “The Masters”

When the pandemic hit, it interrupted the Grand Slam of Curling, and what they decided was to essentially skip a year in-between and play the two events that weren’t played in 2020 in the spring of 2021 while skipping the events that should have been in fall 2020.  The spring events were played inside the bubble in Calgary that also hosted the Scotties, Briar and Men’s Worlds, but now they are able to travel and are returning to open arenas without a bubble to host their events.  “The Masters” is the first event of the fall and of the 2021/2022 season.

The final ended up being between Jennifer Jones and the defending champion Tracy Fleury.  Now, I’m not a fan of Jennifer Jones’ team — although I concede that she’s a great player — because she has a tendency to beat teams that I like better than her, and also she gets a lot of attention which always grates on me.  I also do quite like Tracy Fleury’s team, so this was a final where it was easy for me to decide who to cheer for.  Tracy Fleury took two 3s and had a 7 – 4 lead going into the seventh, but Jones took 2 in seven and stole 1 in eight to force an extra end, where Fleury took 2 to win 9 – 7.  So I was happy with that.

As noted, I like Fleury’s team.  I also like Kerri Einarson’s team, but when the two teams meet I always cheer for Fleury’s team to win.  This isn’t really an indication that I like Fleury’s team better, but mostly reflects the fact that Kerri Einarson used to skip Fleury’s team and left them to form a team of four skips.  So it’s always nice to see that team beat Einarson to basically show her that they can play as well as if not better than the team she left them for.  Einarson has done better than Fleury over the past while — winning the Scotties twice — but it’s always nice when Fleury can beat Einarson.  Fleury beat Einarson twice in this event, and is perfect against her this season (playing in other events that don’t get televised).

The format for this event was a triple knockout, where essentially a team has to win 3 games before they lose 3 games to make the quarter finals.  I think they’re going to use this for most of the season.  I don’t think I really like it, though, because there’s no set schedule of who plays who (who plays you?) and some teams can play two less games than other teams, and the better teams get more time off which isn’t always a good thing.  In these quarterfinals, both of the teams that made it through the A-side and so hadn’t lost before then lost to the teams that had had two losses and so qualified through the C-side.  Getting time off isn’t always a benefit in curling, not so much because the players lose their touch but instead because the ice conditions tend to change day over day and the teams that had to play in the morning would have a leg up on understanding those changing conditions.  So perhaps the time off hurt the game or changes of those who won through the A-side.  That being said, on the men’s side that didn’t happen — both of the A-side teams made the semis — so it could just be a coincidence.  Well, I’ll put up with it and watch to see if it’s a pattern on the women’s side.

Also, the World Curling Federation is looking to change some rules, pondering adding a “No-tick zone”.  What this means is that there was already a rule that said that you cannot remove guards — stones placed out front of the house and so not in the scoring zone, intended to be used to protect stones in the scoring zone — for the first five stones, but you can move them around.  So what teams developed was a “tick shot”, where they bumped the guards — especially ones in the centre — out of the way to the edges without removing them, which made them pretty much irrelevant.  So the rule they were trying out in this event was in the eighth end and in the extra end was that you couldn’t even tick them out of the way (I’m not sure what would happen if someone was trying to go around them and wrecked on them).  I don’t like tweaking rules for these reasons, especially since tick shots are not automatic — Lisa Weagle was known for being able to make them consistently, but they aren’t easy — and it isn’t great to take away a skilled shot that can go wrong by a rule change instead of allowing teams to find ways to deal with that potential strategy.  From what I heard the commentators say, the players themselves are somewhat split on it.  I know that some teams incorporated it into their strategies — Kevin Koe explicitly made a call planning to take advantage of easier stealing in the eighth and in the extra end — and some weren’t all that happy with it.  So we’ll see how that all shakes out.

The next event is the Boost National at the beginning of November.


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