Thoughts on the Pan Continental Cup

So, this weekend’s event was not, in fact, the Continental Cup, but was instead the Pan Continental Cup.  What’s the difference, you ask?  Well, the Continental Cup is kinda a Ryder Cup equivalent for curling where North America takes on the rest of the world in a number of different curling events to see which side can score the most points overall and take the Cup, making it a fun little event featuring many of the world’s best curlers.  The Pan Continental Cup is a qualifier for the curling World Championships from the Pacific, Australian and North American region, making it a lot more serious.  And in watching it, I couldn’t help but conclude that there has to be a better way to do that than what they did here.

The basic idea is that they take the top nine teams in those regions and put them in an A division, where the top five teams make the World Championships, and then have five teams in a B division hoping to get promoted to the A division to replace the two teams that get relegated the next year.  On the men’s side, only the top four were going to earn a spot because Canada is the host nation for the next Worlds and so even if they ended up out of the top five they were going to get a spot.  However, as it turned out there was really only one spot available — taken by New Zealand in both the men’s and women’s sides — because the teams from Canada, the U.S., Japan and Korea were just so far ahead of everyone else that they easily took the first four spots.  On the men’s side, Japan even struggled out of the gate and still handily made the top four (and the playoffs).  Given the disparity in quality between the teams, it also meant that if one of those top four played against the teams in the bottom five it was generally a blowout and ended soon after the six ends that they were forced to play before calling it a game.  The only games that were at all competitive were when the top four teams played each other (although even that didn’t hold a lot of the time) or when the bottom five teams played each other.  And since they were fighting for a spot in the Worlds, there was that to play for while the top four teams, especially as the week went on, were pretty much only competing for the title.

Which most of them weren’t all that concerned about, showing an issue for Canada.  While most of the other countries pretty much have one or two teams that they could send to such events, Canada has a host of them.  As such, Canada tends to have to try to pick one team to send to do the qualification.  They tend to send the team that went to the last Worlds, but that team might not want to go and might want to prefer getting some rest or playing and preparing for Grand Slam events.  The same thing would apply to the rest of the top four teams, as pretty much all of them play in the Grand Slam of Curling.  So what happens is a team is picked to try to get this spot from a country that’s pretty much guaranteed to make it, and so they show up, blow out the weaker teams to win their spot, and then play for a mostly meaningless victory — although, as they say, it’s always nice to win something for your country, even though for countries like Canada the teams here aren’t the teams that they most want to beat on the world stage — and then go back to their normal lives.  And getting slaughtered can’t be good for those weaker teams.  Sure, one way to get better is to play against better teams and learn to do what they do, but at this stage it doesn’t seem like a lot of them are at the point where they could learn much just from getting slaughtered by these teams.  So, essentially, countries that are pretty much guaranteed a spot — and that we really want to see — in the Worlds have to show up and pound some weaker teams just to prove that.  God forbid one of those teams have a terrible week and miss out on the playoffs, as a team that would definitely be weaker and that curling fans wouldn’t want to see as much as that team would make it through.

Since they do this in Europe as well, what I’d suggest is use a similar approach to what the World Hockey Championships do and give the teams that finish in the top X spots an automatic spot in the next one.  The teams that finish lower than those are relegated to the qualifying round, which has those teams plus the bottom five from the A pool.  Do this worldwide and not just in these regions, so that you don’t need to have as many teams qualifying.  Then relegate the bottom X teams from that to the B pool and promote the top X teams from that to the qualifying round.  Doing this would keep the best teams in the Worlds year after year without them having to qualify every year, provide some better teams for the hopefully up-and-coming teams to play against, give more countries a chance to qualify since turnover in the qualifying round would be higher, and would make things more competitive and hopefully avoid as many blowouts as we saw in this tournament.  And it also would stop penalizing deeper countries by forcing them to pick a team to send to a mostly meaningless tournament just to qualify for the Worlds.

Another interesting point was that the commentators were talking about rocks speeding up and slowing down and commented that the teams needed to be able to read the “slide paths”, which are paths that more rocks or less rocks had been thrown down and that had been swept more or less which changes the speed of the paths and how much the rocks will curl.  Now, from what I recall I think that this was always a concept, but don’t think it was as prominent as it was now.  Yes, if you had a lot of rocks down one path and the sweepers were hammering it, things would change, but it seems far more drastic now.  I wonder if this is an artifact of the new brushes and brushing techniques.  When they were first introduced, someone proved them by taking a new synthetic brush and directional sweeping and making the rock move left and then right and then back again in a zigzag pattern, something that no one could have believed possible before this.  While the curling governing bodies have added restrictions so that this isn’t possible, the new brooms and directional sweeping can still have a huge impact.   So I suspect that this is causing there to be more slide paths and more polishing of the ice, causing more discrepancies between different lines on the ice, causing more misreadings of the ice, causing more missed shots and mistakes, which explains why I’m seeing more games settled by mistakes than I recall seeing in the past.  Since I don’t care for games settled by mistakes, this isn’t a benefit for me.

Finally, Canada won gold on the men’s side — Brad Gushue blowing out the team from Korea — and bronze on the women’s side with Kerri Einarson winning a relatively close one over the United States after losing a very close one to Japan in the semi-finals.

The next curling for me is I think the next Grand Slam Event in December.


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