Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

NHL Playoff Predictions: Stanley Cup Finals

May 25, 2018

It looked bad and then mediocre for a while, but with Vegas and Washington winning their series I went a sterling 2 – 0 in the semis, leaving me at a very strong 13 – 1 for the playoffs so far. Home ice advantage, however, went 0 – 2 leaving it at 10 – 4. So one thing is for certain: home ice advantage will not go 9 – 6 like it did the previous two years.

So, let’s look at the finals:

Washington vs Vegas: Vegas has had extra rest, and has been a team that has overcome all the naysayers who kept saying that midnight was going to strike for them. So, it’s dangerous to pick against them in the final. However, Washington has one huge advantage here: they’ve had to face adversity and rise above it. They went down 2 – 0 to Columbus and won the series, had to beat Pittsburgh, the team that they just couldn’t beat for the past few seasons, and despite going up 2 – 0 against Tampa Bay ended up down 3 – 2 and shut them out in the final two games to take that series. They can’t be intimidated. There’s no series or possibly even game lead that they won’t believe they can overcome. The worst Vegas has had to suffer was losing Game 1 against Winnipeg, in Winnipeg, which isn’t something that teams worry about. So we don’t really know how they’ll react if the breaks start going against them, while we know that Washington will likely pick themselves off the floor and come out swinging. That being said, if Fleury steals the series and/or Holtby struggles, Vegas will indeed win the series.

Prediction: Washington.

Advertisements

NHL Playoff Predictions: Round 3

May 11, 2018

So, I had a pretty good second round, going 4 – 0. Home ice advantage didn’t do quite as well, going 3 – 1. Interestingly, it all came down to Game 7 between Winnipeg and Nashville, since Winnipeg was the away team that I had picked to win in the second round, and Nashville was the last team that home ice advantage needed to sweep the round. The Jets took it, and so I went 4 – 0 and home ice advantage didn’t.

So, let me actually talk a bit about the final teams. The teams that I’d really like to see win the Cup are Winnipeg and Washington. Winnipeg because of the Canadian connection and because the city and team really deserves it after all that happened with the team and their lack of success in their first incarnation, and Washington because it would be nice to see Ovechkin finally get a shot at a Cup final. Vegas comes in just behind them because it would at least be a good story. That being said, to paraphrase Nawara Ven, I hold preferences, but I don’t predict them. So who am I going to choose to win the Conference finals?

Eastern Conference:

Tampa Bay vs Washington: Tampa Bay has a very solid team and good goaltending, and are full marks for being the favourites this year. But Washington has faced more adversity and so are never going to quit, and have to feel like this is their year because they finally managed to get past Pittsburgh. It’s certainly reasonable to think that they could ride that past Tampa into the finals.

Prediction: Washington. Correct

Western Conference:

Winnipeg vs Vegas: Here’s the thing: even with Winnipeg having home ice advantage and both teams being generally better at home than on the road, and even with Nashville being a better team in terms of points than Vegas, in the second round Winnipeg relied an awful lot on Rinne being weak. When he was on, Winnipeg lost, and when he was struggling, they won. I don’t think the Fleury will have those weaknesses. Yes, Winnipeg is still a strong enough team to win, but it’s going to be close and Hellebuyck has given up bad goals at times, too. So I’m going to go with Vegas on this one.

Prediction: Vegas. Correct.

Overall Record: 13 – 1
Home Ice Advantage Team Record: 10 – 4

Champions Cup

April 30, 2018

So, the final event of the 2017-2018 curling season happened over the weekend, the Champion’s Cup. Since this was the end of the four year Olympic Cycle — as teams are assembled to take a run at the Olympics and break up afterwards for various reasons — there were a number of fairly emotional goodbyes, as Jill Officer on Jennifer Jones’ is stepping away, and Val Sweeting is leaving to join an all-skip superteam under Kerri Einarson, and there are a number of shake-ups across the board.

Interestingly, Rachel Homan’s team is sticking together, and this led to an interesting final, between Homan’s team that’s sticking together, and Einarson’s team that is either going to be completely blown up or change names to team Tracey Fleury, depending on how you count the teams. And despite Rachel Homan not winning a game in the Player’s Championship and struggling out of the gate here — going 0 – 2 to start — they came through a must-win final round robin game, a tie breaker, and the playoffs to win 7 – 6. This pretty much demonstrates how Homan’s team played this season. Whereas in previous seasons the team was incredibly consistent — they had made something like 18 straight playoff rounds on the Grand Slam before missing them once early this season — this season they were very streaky, going through phases where they were dominant only to have that be followed by stretches where they were struggling, and back to being dominant again. It might have been the focus on getting to the Olympics that caused that, but they do need to figure out what caused that, because they are still one of the most dominant and most successful teams on the tour, and are likely to continue to be so for as long as they stay together.

Homan also repeated as Champion’s Cup champion this year, but the final game was a good one, with great shotmaking from both teams.

So that ends the 2017-2018 season. With all the changes, it will be interesting to see how the new teams do next season, especially the all-skip team of Kerri Einarson. The season starts up again in September.

NHL Playoff Predictions: Round 2

April 26, 2018

So, in Round 1, despite having paid much less attention to the NHL this year, I managed to do quite well, finishing with a record of 7 – 1, with my only blemish being not trusting Vegas to win their series. Home ice advantage also had a record of 7 – 1, as San Jose was the only team without home ice advantage to win a series. So since the second round starts tonight, let me give my predictions for that round.

Eastern Conference

Tampa Bay vs Boston: Tampa Bay had an easier time of the first round, and Boston definitely looked vulnerable, especially when it comes to their goaltending. Tampa is at least as good a team as Boston on paper — if not better — and is playing better right now. So I’m taking Tampa Bay.

Prediction: Tampa Bay.

Washington vs Pittsburgh: This is a tough one. Pittsburgh has won the most recent series, and gone on to win the Stanley Cup after doing so. Washington is known to stumble in the playoffs. Pittsburgh is probably a deeper team than Washington. But on the other hand, Washington managed to dig themselves out of an early hole which will give them some confidence, Ovechkin is playing very well, and you have to figure that they’re due at some point. Given that Pittsburgh managed to beat Philadelphia by outscoring them but that Philly’s goaltending, as usual, wasn’t all that great, you have to think that this might be the year for it. And so, at the end of the day … I think I’m gonna go with that, since I have some room to make some mistakes since I did so well in the first round. Washington, you’d better not disappoint me again …

Prediction: Washington

Western Conference:

Nashville vs Winnipeg: Nashville is a very good team. But they had a harder time with a weaker opponent than Winnipeg did, and Winnipeg is also a very good team. This one should be close, but given the fact that Nashville looked more vulnerable in the first round than Winnipeg I’m going to side with Winnipeg here.

Prediction: Winnipeg

Vegas vs San Jose: So, my only error in the first round was arguably not taking Vegas seriously enough. Is now the time to believe that they are really, really for real? Or to just accept that they have home ice advantage and have beaten San Jose more times in the regular season and so have advantages that San Jose lacks? Or should I continue to believe that midnight will strike eventually for this team, and so it might as well be here, against at team that was more dominant in the first round than they were (even though both had sweeps)?

Heck with it, let me take the team with the official advantages this time and stop thinking of them as an expansion team.

Prediction: Vegas

Summary

Eastern Conference

Tampa Bay vs Boston Correct
Washington vs Pittsburgh Correct

Western Conference

Nashville vs Winnipeg Correct
Vegas vs San Jose Correct

Overall Record: 11 – 1
Home Ice Advantage Team Record: 10 – 2

Born in the USA …

April 16, 2018

So, the Player’s Championship was this weekend, and Jennifer Jones was defeated by Jamie Sinclair, who was born in Alaska and raised in Ottawa, and ended up being recruited by the U.S. curling federation and then disappointingly lost the trials to go to the Olympics. She ended up breaking Jennifer Jones’ 27 game winning streak, stopping her from making it 28. She also became the first American team to win a Grand Slam of Curling title. And I found it really neat that when she won, the arena PA system immediately spun up “Born in the U.S.A.” for her … even though the song gives a more depressing idea of America than you’d think appropriate for such a big win.

And it was actually a big win, as Sinclair won 7 – 2. She stole 4 in the first four ends — stealing 1, 2, and 1 in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th ends, with the 1st end being a blank — and then rode that to the victory. Jones took one in the fifth and stole one in the sixth, before Sinclair taking three in the seventh sealed the victory and ended the game.

One thing that I noticed watching the Grand Slam again after watching the Olympics, Scotties and World Championships is the difference between the 8 end games of the Grand Slam and the 10 end games of the international tournaments. Despite the general consensus that the five rock rule makes comebacks easier than the four rock rule, there were a lot of comebacks in the international tournaments I watched. The reason for that, it seems to me, is that with the ten end games there’s just more time to come back than there is with the eight end games. After five ends in the Jones/Sinclair game, Jones was down 4 – 1. That meant that in the sixth she had to press for a steal, as if she forced Sinclair she’d be down by four with two ends left, and couldn’t afford to blank or even take less than two or three, and still have to hope for a steal to take it to extra ends. In a ten end game, she could force Sinclair, take two herself in the seventh, and only be down by two with three to play. If she managed to get three, then she’d be right back in the game. The ten end games allow for more strategy and for teams to either extend their leads or make comebacks more gradually, with good strategy rather than aggressive shot-making.

However, curling is trying to fix the perception that it is boring by promoting that sort of aggressive play. At one point, they talked to Kaitlyn Lawes about mixed doubles, and both she and the commentators talked about how many people really like the speed of mixed doubles and that that sort of thing is the future of curling. The problem is that I found the mixed doubles faster, sure, but not more interesting, because it relied a lot on loading up the centre and missing less shots than your opponent did. It relied on this so much that invoking the “power play” — which was supposed to be used to generate more points — in general resulted in fewer big ends than without the power play. That’s fast and exciting, but it’s not very strategic or tactical. Reducing the number of ends results in shorter games — 2.5 hours vs 3, generally — but it doesn’t allow for the chess match and move/countermove style of curling that is what I enjoy. If this is the future of curling, I may not watch as much curling as I do now.

And on a final note, Rachel Homan returned to curling after her disappointing Olympics … and promptly went 0 – 5. They took some time off after the Olympics and don’t play well after a layoff, but that was still a disappointing result. I’m very curious to see what happens with their team after the season, because the period after an Olympic cycle always brings a lot of changes, two of their members are out in Alberta right now as far as I can recall, and they haven’t said anything yet about whether they are staying together or not.

The last tournament of this season is the Champion’s Cup starting on the 24th.

NHL Playoff Predictions: Round 1

April 10, 2018

So, it’s that time of year again, where I try to predict the outcomes of the various series in the NHL playoffs. This year I think I’ve actually watched less hockey this year than in previous years. When the games are on is still an issue, and the team that I follow — the Senators — ended up dropping off a cliff in the standings, and so by the end of the season there wasn’t any real reason to even follow the standings. I’m pretty sure that at one point the Senators were playing a rare afternoon game and I watched curling instead. So, suffice it to say, while I’ve kept up with what’s happening in the NHL, I’ve paid less attention to it than I have in previous years. We’ll see if that has any impact on my predictions.

As usual, I’ll also keep track of what the results will be if you only picked the teams that had home ice advantage.

Eastern Conference

Tampa Bay vs New Jersey: New Jersey had a better season than many expected, and Taylor Hall is being touted as an MVP candidate. Still, Tampa Bay has the overall better team, and Hall, if I recall correctly, dominates his team in scoring. It’s relatively easy to shut down one line or player in the playoffs, so Tampa probably won’t have any issues here.

Prediction: Tampa Bay.

Boston vs Toronto: Good young teams can be frightening, and Boston kinda backed into the playoffs — losing a couple of games that could have given them first in their division and in the conference — but they are and have proven themselves to be the better of the two teams. Add in inexperience and Boston will probably pull this one out.

Prediction: Boston

Washington vs Columbus: Washington is a weaker team this season after having lost some key players, and has never had great playoff success. However, they generally get beaten by Pittsburgh, and Columbus had an up-and-down season this year. I’ll give Washington the edge here.

Prediction: Washington

Pittsburgh vs Philadelphia: They’re the two-time Stanley Cup champions looking for a third and aren’t worse this year than last year. Murray has not played that well this season, but has already pretty much won two Cups, which can’t really be said for Philadelphia’s goaltenders. Pittsburgh potentially can roll three lines that can all score, so that depth will probably carry them through.

Prediction: Pittsburgh.

Western Conference:

Nashville vs Colorado: Colorado was lucky to make it into the playoffs, which was still an unexpectedly good season for them. So they’ll have to settle for making it to the show, as Nashville is too good a team to lose out to them in the first round.

Prediction: Nashville

Winnipeg vs Minnesota: Minnesota has more experience overall, but Winnipeg is, again, overall the better team. So I’m going with Winnipeg on this one.

Prediction: Winnipeg

Vegas vs Los Angeles: Vegas is an expansion team that everyone doubted for the entire season, and who nevertheless made it into the playoffs and had a great record. And I probably would give them the edge, except that they are playing L.A., who has a core that has won Stanley Cups and has played together through them. That will probably give them the edge, but this one will probably be close.

Prediction: Los Angeles

Anaheim vs San Jose: Anaheim and San Jose are both known for underachieving at times. I think Thornton’s leadership will probably carry more than … whoever the leader is on Anaheim.

Prediction: Anaheim

Summary

Eastern Conference

Tampa Bay vs New Jersey Correct
Boston vs Toronto Correct
Washington vs Columbus Correct
Pittsburgh vs Philadelphia Correct

Western Conference

Nashville vs Colorado Correct
Winnipeg vs Minnesota Correct
Vegas vs Los Angeles Incorrect
Anaheim vs San Jose Correct

Overall Record: 7 – 1
Home Ice Advantage Team Record: 7 – 1

Thoughts on the Women’s World Championships

March 26, 2018

I didn’t get to watch much of the Women’s Worlds because they were pretty much only showing Canada’s games and they didn’t play in the afternoon on the days when I was home early enough to watch them. I did catch part of the qualification rounds, one semi-final, and the bronze and gold medal games. The bronze medal came down the last rock, with Russia defeating the U.S.A., who had lost a lot of games on the last rock, and whose skip, Jamie Sinclair, reacted very angrily to what she thought was a missed line call on her second last rock. The gold medal game was a classic between Canada and Sweden, with Canada taking it in an extra end. So let me talk about that game in a little bit more detail.

Now, while I haven’t made a secret of the fact that I’m not that fond of Jennifer Jones’ team, I was of course cheering for her as she was representing Canada. And the game started off slow, as Jones had the hammer on the basis of a perfect 12 – 0 round robin and simply refused to be baited into taking a single point. The first scoring, then, happened in the fourth end, with Jones taking two. Then a mistake in the next end let Anna Hasselborg take three, and the race was on. Jones made a great shot in the ninth to go up by two and seemingly be in control, but Hasselborg made a couple of great shots in the tenth to tie it up and send it to the extra end. Finally, Jones made a great shot to leave a tough shot for Hasselborg, who missed hitting a rock in the four-foot completely, giving Jones the win, who ended up going 14 – 0 for the tournament, becoming the second straight Canadian women’s team to do that, after Rachel Homan did it last year.

After Canada’s disastrous — for Canada, at least — showing in women’s curling at the Olympics, many people were saying that the Roar of the Rings format was a bad way to choose a Canadian representative, and they should have just sent Jones, the defending gold medalist who had a lot of international experience and success. This showing probably added more fuel to that fire. However, Homan had won the Women’s Worlds the previous year, as I’ve already mentioned, and it’d be hard to argue that she wouldn’t deserve consideration after that performance. You could appeal to Jones’ previous Olympic experience, but you can’t leave out a team because it doesn’t currently have Olympic experience because at one point Jones herself was playing at the Olympics for the first time. You can’t get that experience unless they let you play. And trying to send an all-star team is difficult in curling, because different players throw differently and see the game differently, and so you’d need that team to have a lot of experience playing together if you wanted to give them the best chance of winning the Olympics, which makes it so much easier to simply get the best teams together and see which of them is hottest at the moment, and send that one.

Another thing that has struck me lately is while watching some of the men’s games — sometimes there really isn’t anything better on TV, especially since baseball hasn’t started yet — I’ve noticed that they don’t seem to blast as much as they used to. This doesn’t seem to be out of necessity, but seems to be strategy. The men seem just as capable of blasting when they need to, but they seem to be choosing to follow the skins or recent mixed doubles strategy of leaving a lot of rocks in play, likely because if you don’t leave rocks in play then you can’t score, and I’ve seen a lot of cases where an end that looked terrible for one team ends up being great for them if they make a great shot and their opponents miss. So it seems to me that they’re waiting longer to bail on an end, which leaves more rocks in play. A lot of the time they might be waiting too long, but it will be interesting to see if this is a strategy that sticks or how the risk/reward calculations get adjusted as time goes on.

Of course, leaving rocks lying around is what allowed Jamie Sinclair to score 7 in an end against Eunjung Kim of Korea. To put that in perspective, each team only throws 8 rocks total, so Sinclair made all but one of those count.

Next up is the Players Championship in early April.

Thoughts on Olympics Curling …

February 26, 2018

So, the Olympic curling tournament is over, with Team Sweden beating a somewhat surprising Team South Korea to win the gold, with Team Japan, also somewhat surprisingly, taking the bronze over Team Great Britain. What’s also notable is that on both the men’s and women’s sides Canada was a huge disappointment. Kevin Koe made the playoffs but lost the bronze medal game, and Rachel Homan didn’t even make the playoffs on the women’s side. This is the first time since curling has been an official Olympic sport that Canada has not won any kind of model in women’s and men’s curling, as both the men’s and women’s teams had always picked up a bronze medal before now. As the commentators noted, with the depth of the curling field it was only a matter of time before that streak was broken, but both teams had hoped that it wouldn’t be this time around, and certainly hoped that it wouldn’t happen on both the men’s and women’s sides.

It was also interesting to note that the men’s and women’s teams tended to mirror each other in their results. Koe started off 4 – 0, and Homan started off 0 – 3. Then when she went on her 3 – 0 run, Koe went 0 – 3. That continued pretty much throughout the entire tournament, and it can even be noted that Homan won her last game and then Koe lost both the semi-final and the bronze medal game. What, did they have some kind of magic feather that they kept passing back and forth for the entire tournament [grin]?

Homan’s results are the more disappointing, and also the most interesting, and since it’s women’s curling which I actually follow I’m going to talk about that in detail. And I think I blame the loss the most on coach Adam Kingsbury, because this wasn’t really a curling loss, but is far more of a mental loss, and that’s what he’s supposed to do for the team. Team Homan doesn’t go with a coach that analyzes curling strategy like all the other teams, and in the timeouts he never comes out to advise them on what shot to make. He’s only there to help with the psychological side, and that’s where Homan failed. He had one job, and didn’t achieve it. Homan’s team for most of the tournament was frustrated, upset, and lacking in confidence, and arguably that’s what cost them the most. After starting poorly but coming back with a 3 – 0 run, they shouldn’t have been as frustrated in later games as they were when things didn’t go right for them, and shouldn’t have been guessing so much on the ice at that point. That run should have settled their nerves, and it didn’t.

The issue here is that Homan started with the two teams that ended up playing for the gold medal and finished 1 – 2 in the round robin. They were pretty much the class of the field, and arguably the two toughest teams to play in the entire tournament. If Homan had been able to beat them, that would have given them a great start, but they had to look at that schedule and think that it was quite possible that they’d be 0 – 2 (especially since Korea had beaten her in their last two meetings). And the games were close. While the Korea game’s final score was a bit lopsided, that all came from what I consider to be a strategy mistake in the ninth end of that game, and they lost to Sweden in an extra end. What they should have taken from that was not “Things aren’t going well for us and we’re not reading the ice that well” but instead “We’re doing not much worse than the teams that are likely the best ones here, so we just need to keep doing what we’re doing”. But the game against Denmark was key, and in that game they were already frustrated and hoping for breaks. Losing that one, a game they expected to win and likely needed to win, pretty much set their mindset for the tournament and so when anything went wrong they started to fall back into that again, and couldn’t use their big wins to shake that mindset.

The fact that, as I said earlier, Homan plays a very aggressive and risk/reward style didn’t help. In order to win doing that, you need to make shots. In order to make shots, you need to pretty much believe that you can make it mostly routinely, because if you don’t you will try to make the shot too “perfectly” and likely be off … and for tough shots you have to extremely precise. Curling is a game where an inch can be the difference between lying three and your opponent lying three, between scoring a bunch, not scoring at all, or giving up a big end … all at the same time. Trying to be too perfect just makes it more likely that you’ll miss by an inch, and if you’re doubting your ability to make shots it will affect your shot selection, as it can make you too conservative or too aggressive, as you either make the “safe” shot to try harder to not leave your opponent anything.

The tournament also had the most boring game I’ve ever seen, in the Italy/Canada men’s game, where Italy wanted to play incredibly conservative and Koe decided to play along for almost the entire game. It also had one of the most interesting games, in the Korea/Japan semi-final, where both teams just kept making shot after shot forcing more great shots and great strategy to keep the other team on their toes and from scoring in bunches. So we had the best and the worst of curling here.

What was also interesting was that considering that they went 8 – 1 and I think curled really well in the semi-final, Korea’s tournament averages were all shockingly low, with them being in the 70s generally, including the skip being in the 70s. High 70s, sure, but you’d think that that dominant a team — except in the final, of course — would have higher numbers.

Now that the Olympics are done, a lot of teams, especially in Canada, are a-changin’, as players who stuck around only to get a chance at going to the Olympics are retiring and teams that stuck together only because it would be too disruptive to their chances are splitting up. Michelle Englot has already retired, and Chelsea Carey’s team is disbanding, Val Sweeting has left her team and is going to play third for Kerri Einarson, with Einarson’s old team taking on Tracey Fleury as skip, with the breakup of that team decided before they even went to the Scotties, as Kelsey Rocque has reformed a new team with former junior teammates. And the season isn’t over yet. I would not be surprised if this even impacts Team Homan, as Joanne Courtney was always out in Alberta and I think Homan has now moved out there, making for potential geographic issues. I know that it was difficult for Courtney at times, but don’t know if things have improved enough for this to work. They are, of course, not going to say anything about that right now, so it’ll be interesting to see if they stick together or not.

Anyway, the next women’s curling is the Worlds in March.

Early Thoughts on Olympic Women’s Curling

February 16, 2018

I didn’t actually plan on talking about “traditional” curling at the Olympics until it was over, but the first three draws have been noteworthy for Canadian fans and so I thought it would be a good thing to talk about it.

The big news is that Rachel Homan has struggled out of the gate, and is now 0 – 3 after her first three games. I think that if she runs the table she can still make the playoffs, but it’s going to be tough. This is a huge surprise considering that Homan is one of the best teams in the world. Falling to Sweden is not that surprising, as Anna Hasselborg is also one of the best women’s teams in the world, falling to South Korea is a bit surprising but she has beaten Homan twice in the recent past, but falling to Denmark is a huge surprise and one of those games that you really, really need to beat as they are the lesser known team (and, right now, their only win has come against Canada).

The good news if you’re a Homan fan is that the games have all been close. Two games went to extra ends, and even the rather lopsided game against South Korea — Homan had to take 2 in the 10th end just to make it 8 – 6 — was a game where it was 5 – 4 heading into the 9th end and all Homan needed to do was blank that end and take the hammer into the 10th down by 1. Instead, she seemingly decided to go for a multiple score and her team missed some shots, while South Korea made some shots, giving up a steal of 3. This is despite the fact that a multiple score in that end wouldn’t have helped her that much. Sure, being up by 2 — if she scored 3 — would have been good, but she was only likely to score 2, which would have given South Korea the hammer one down, and despite the statistics from the current Grand Slam tour suggesting that that isn’t likely to give you a win, I’m going to stick with the conventional wisdom and say that it’s better to be one down with the hammer than one up without, as that has been tried and tested for years by some of the best curlers the sport has ever known, and statistics can fluctuate a lot (especially since this strategy will end up in an extra end a lot, which is going to be a coin toss a lot of the time). There was no reason for her to be that aggressive there, and it cost her badly, as she had absolutely no chance of winning after that end (and I was surprised that she even played it out).

What I realized watching the games — I couldn’t watch the Denmark game — is that this aggressive style is pretty much Homan’s hallmark: she comes out aggressively, makes everything complicated, and then trusts that her team will make more shots than the other team will. It is a credit to her team that this works out so often, as it indicates that they are strong enough top-to-bottom that she can rely on them making more shots — or missing less — than her opponents. But this is a risky strategy, because if your team misses shots or the other team makes them, things can be awfully close. And in the South Korea game, Homan’s team missed shots and the South Korea team made them, which usually results in a bad day at the office for the Homan team (and lead to that steal of 3 that cost her the game). However, this strategy also means that if her team can figure out the shots she can go on a run … and she’s going to need that now just to have a shot at the Olympics.

There was also some controversy in the Denmark game, where Homan asked that a stone that was “burned” — the sweeper had touched it on the way down — be removed instead of just leaving it in place. While that is in the rules, in general in curling if it isn’t felt that the burn greatly impacted where the stone ended up it’s left in place, or perhaps a minor adjustment is made, and in fact in one of the Canadian men’s games Kevin Koe burned a stone and that’s what they did. I haven’t seen the game, but I did watch the shot, and it seems that it happened right at the end with no real impact on the stone itself. Yes, what Homan did was within the rules, but curling has always been a more “friendly” sport, where the players settle things themselves with remarkable sportsmanship, and so I think that Homan broke that a bit in sticking to the rules so strictly. That she ended up scoring four in that end makes it seem so much worse, as it looks like it was a convenient way to eliminate a shot that would have caused her problems in the end. I agree with McCusker that it was a reaction out of frustration, and Homan says that it has happened to her at Worlds before but, really, she should have just let it stand … especially since leaving it is, indeed, within the rules.

Meanwhile, the men’s team is cruising at 3 – 0, as expected.

We’ll see how things work out as the draws continue.

Thoughts on Mixed Doubles Curling

February 14, 2018

So, Mixed Doubles curling has made its debut as a full Olympic sport this year, and the first medals have been awarded. Team Canada — Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris — won the gold with a dominating 10 – 3 win over Switzerland. I watched most of the draws, which obviously for me focused on Team Canada. One thing that’s interesting (at least to me) is that the team they beat to make it to the Olympics was Val Sweeting and Brad Gushue … both of whom I’d rather watch than those two (although it’s not like I actually dislike them either). Ah, what could have been. Then again, Val Sweeting has a tendency to falter under pressure, so maybe they wouldn’t have won if they had made it.

It’s certain that the two of them wouldn’t be as good at sweeping as Morris and Lawes, who are incredibly strong brushers, and one thing that was obvious is that sweeping is incredibly important in mixed doubles. You generally only have one sweeper, and the general practice was to have the thrower hop up and sweep their own rocks while the other player called the line from the rings, except on some shots. With only one sweeper, that sweeper is going to have to be really, really good at it to hold the line or make it curl, and it’s likely that you aren’t going to be able to get away with having a weaker female sweeper, so both players are going to have to be good at sweeping. This also might meant that skips aren’t going to be as good at mixed doubles as, say, thirds are — both Morris and Lawes are or have been thirds for a significant part of their curling careers — since thirds both have to sweep and make the big and finesse shots. Skips don’t tend to be as good at sweeping as thirds are, just because they don’t have to do it as often and in as important circumstances as thirds do. Sure, you can get skips who can really sweep, like Rachel Homan, but still you aren’t going to say that she’s better at it than her third Emma Miskew is, and she isn’t that much better at the big shots to make going with the skip the better option. And most skips don’t sweep as well as Homan does (for example, Jennifer Jones often looks downright awkward when she has to sweep, as she had to once playing mixed doubles at the Continental Cup).

Another thing that is interesting is that Canada sent a team that was formed out of existing curling teams that didn’t make it to the Olympics. Lawes and Morris had only played 22 games together … counting their games at the Olympics, and obviously the games they played together in qualifying. Joan McCusker commented on the coverage that they were the most accomplished curlers in the field, but that the other teams had a lot more experience playing mixed doubles and, in general, playing together in mixed doubles. And other than the first game, Lawes and Morris ran the table, and ended up beating every single team in the field at least once. This might suggest that it’s more important to have strong curlers than it is to have an experienced mixed doubles team … which is not something that people who would want mixed doubles to become a respected sport out of the shadow of curling would want. If you can take the best curlers from the four-person team game and have them beat the best mixed doubles team most of the time, then mixed doubles isn’t that different from four-person curling in terms of skill set and there’s no reason for curlers to dedicate themselves to the sport.

Another thing that was interesting is the “power play”, and how the typical strategy is to use it to try to generate more offense and big ends. For those unfamiliar with the game, in mixed doubles the ends start with rocks in play: one belonging to the team with hammer at the back of the four foot, and a center line guard belonging to the team without hammer. If the team with hammer invokes their once-per-game “power play”, the guard moves over to cover the corner, and so does the rock in the rings. Since this is what regular curling teams use to set up multi-end games, it would seem that this would be used to generate big ends. Except … I never saw it happen. The most I saw was 2, I think, and there were a number of 1s scored which is absolutely not what you wanted out of that. To make things worse, there were a number of large ends scored without the “power play”. And it seems to me that this is going to be the case, because without the “power play” what you usually ended up with was a very crowded button area, and if you manage to get a few convenient misses — and in mixed doubles there are a lot of misses — you can end up with a lot of your rocks crowded and frozen together with no way to move them and no way to bury or freeze a rock to stop them from counting. With the “power play”, however, you can’t pack a lot of rocks under the corner guard without leaving a draw or freeze that can cut down how many rocks of yours will count at the end of it. So it seems to me that its best use is defensive: you put on the “power play” when you really don’t want the other team to steal on you and you want to make sure that you score at least 1. The “power play” draws the play over to the edges, which usually leaves you some kind of shot to get 1 if you need it, and starting with one buried gives you a decent chance to get 2. So it’s a good thing to use like Lawes and Morris tried to use it: in the last end if you are tied or even down by 1 with hammer, since you’ll probably get at least 1 and have a good chance of getting 2, which is all you need. On the other hand, without that “power play” if you are the team that makes the convenient misses you could end up giving up a steal, and potentially a steal of a bunch. So I’m not sure that the “power play” is really doing what they want it to (although it is claimed that it can be used defensively, but most teams use it offensively when they are far behind and need to generate some offense, and it seems like it hampers offense more than helps it).

So, at the end of the day, as this was my first real, concentrated exposure to mixed doubles, what did I think of it? I think it’s … okay. It does have faster moving ends than four-person team curling … but that’s because the teams throw three less rocks. And there’s a lot more scoring in mixed doubles, but that’s only because there are a lot more mistakes in mixed doubles than there is in four-person team curling. The games are shorter which means that if a game starts at 7 pm I can easily watch the whole game before having to go to sleep, but that’s not that much of a benefit for me — although I fear that it’s a big benefit for broadcasters and a lot of other people. In general, I find the games to be far more reactive tactical games than the rock-by-rock tactical games of four-person curling. Play is almost always right around the button and not in the wings at all unless the “power play” is on … and that also happens to be, in my opinion, when the play is most boring. Shots are missed a lot and so there’s a constant readjustment based on the miss they made or the miss you made that they capitalized on. This makes it hard to plan out sequences and play them out, adjusting accordingly but keeping an overall strategy in mind. So to me it loses the thoughtfulness of four-person team curling and replaces it with an “anything can happen!” excitement.

Ultimately, I think I could enjoy watching mixed doubles … but I don’t want to see it replace four-person team curling, which has the elements that I really like and are the elements that get me watching curling in the first place.

Next up are the men’s and women’s four-person team events.