Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

NHL Playoff Predictions: Round 3

May 16, 2023

So in the second round I went 2 – 2, leaving myself at 7 – 5, while home ice advantage went 3 – 1, leaving it at 9 – 3.  Thus, it looks like I’m not going to beat or match home ice advantage this year, which is odd considering that early on a lot of games were won by the road teams.  Also, it’s interesting that the two I got right were the ones where I picked against the Canadian teams.  So much for patriotism!

Eastern Conference:

Florida vs Carolina:  Florida is on a great run, and it might be very tempting to keep picking them, especially given how Bobrovsky is playing.  But Carolina has a good team and has been quietly going about their business, and has home ice advantage here.  Florida does have an advantage in that they will be impossible to make despondent after coming back from 3 – 1 down, but Carolina might be able to hold on as long as their somewhat inconsistent goaltending can play as well as Florida’s somewhat inconsistent goaltending.  So I’ll go with Carolina here.

Western Conference:

Dallas vs Vegas:  I went back and forth on this one for a while, mostly because Dallas seems to have the stronger goaltending and I was under the impression that they played better defensively in the last round than Vegas, who mostly outscored Edmonton.  Then I looked back at the results and noted that those games weren’t tight-checking close games either, except for the last one.  I think Vegas has a better chance to outscore Dallas than Seattle did or vice versa, and so Vegas likely will pull it off if their goaltending doesn’t implode.


Eastern Conference:

Florida vs Carolina

Western Conference:

Dallas vs Vegas

Overall Record:  7 – 5
Home Ice Advantage Record:  9 – 3

Thoughts on “The Champion’s Cup”

May 8, 2023

Well, this is it.  The last curling of the year until the fall.  As it’s spring, I was pretty busy and didn’t get to watch much, but did manage to watch the women’s final which was a very entertaining game.

The final featured Rachel Homan against Kerri Einarson, who had a run of finals against each other to start the season.  The teams were slightly altered as Sarah Wilkes was off on maternity leave and was replaced by Rachelle Brown on Rachel Homan’s team, and Brianne Harris was also off on maternity leave and was placed by Dawn McEwen on Einarson’s team.  Homan started with the hammer after winning the draw to the button by pretty much covering the pin — she and some of the other Canadian women’s teams seem to be getting a bit better at that than they’ve been in the past — but Einarson managed to steal four points in the first three ends to go up 4 – 0 before Homan managed to get one in the fourth.  Then it was Einarson’s turn to give up points so Homan stole one each in the next two ends before forcing Einarson to take a point when her attempted blank didn’t work.  Homan managed to score two in the eighth sending it to an extra end, and after some back and forth positioning Homan left Einarson what was pretty much an impossible shot and while she made it the best she could while her shot rolled towards the centre the Homan stone that she had hit rolled there as well and ended up covering the pin, resulting in a Homan steal and a victory.

Obviously, to have that many steals there has to be a lot of mistakes made, but I would say that in the last end while mistakes were made the outcome had a lot more to do with strategy and positioning of the stones, which is generally what I like to see.  And I will say that with all the steals it certainly was an entertaining and dramatic game to watch.

But as I said, that’s it for curling for this season.  I’ll be picking this up again in the fall.

NHL Playoff Predictions: Round 2

May 2, 2023

So, in the first round I went 5 – 3, while home ice advantage went 6 – 2.  I knew that there’d be upsets, but I don’t think anyone predicted that those upsets would be what may have been the best regular season team ever and the defending Stanley Cup Champions, both coming with a loss at home in Game 7.  So what will happen in this round?

Eastern Conference:

New Jersey vs Carolina:  These teams were separated by one point in the standings, so they’re pretty close.  New Jersey had to go to seven games while Carolina finished off the Islanders in 6, but the Islanders weren’t as strong a team as the Rangers and playing extra games is usually only a factor in later rounds and for older teams, and I am assured that the Devils are a fairly young team, and Carolina in the past has not shown that they are a playoff team.  So I’ll go with New Jersey here.

Florida vs Toronto:  This is an interesting one because this entire series is going to depend on which team shows up, and both teams have reasons that they might show up and go on a long run or falter and be out.  For Toronto, getting past the first round should give them a boost of confidence and get the monkey of not being able to win a playoff series off their backs.  However, aside from their additions they still aren’t all that experienced in the playoffs and so might need another year to go on a run.  In addition, the core has shown that they can be a bit arrogant and winning the series against Tampa Bay might play into that.  This is especially relevant because I only picked them in the first round because Tampa was struggling this year, and so it can easily be argued that Tampa more lost the series than Toronto won it.  On the other hand, Florida managed a huge upset that should give them confidence, but again the Bruins didn’t seem to play up to their potential and Florida bombed out of the playoffs last year and didn’t have a really good season, and so it’d be easy to say that Toronto, regardless, is the better team.  For me, though, I think that Florida beating Boston was the worst thing that could have happened to Toronto, as it will be way too easy for them to take Florida lightly as they start from the sign of relief of not having to play Boston again.  Samsonov has also had some bad games that he’s recovered nicely from, but if this series is close those bad games might sink their chances.  Ultimately, I just think that this is a bad series for Toronto to use to make a Cup run with since they are likely to be and feel that they are prohibitive favourites which is likely to foster the exact wrong attitude for them.

Western Conference:

Edmonton vs Vegas:  A lot of people are picking the Oilers to win this series and to make a run at the Cup, but Vegas still has a lot of playoff experience and finished just slightly ahead of the Oilers.  The goaltending of the Oilers has been better than expected but is still inexperienced and shaky.  McDavid and Draisaitl have played well and need to for them to win, but Vegas may be able to shut one of them down to carry the series.  It’ll probably be close, but I’ll take Vegas this time.

Seattle vs Dallas:  It might be a mistake to pick against Dallas again, but Seattle seems to be a much better team than they are given credit for and Dallas does not seem like an incredibly strong team here.  Expansion teams in the past have managed to have surprisingly good runs their first time in the playoffs so we’ll see if Seattle can keep that up.


Eastern Conference:

Florida vs Toronto Correct
New Jersey vs Carolina Incorrect

Western Conference:

Edmonton vs Vegas Correct
vs Dallas Incorrect

Overall Record: 5 – 3
Home Ice Advantage Record: 6 – 2

Thoughts on “The Players’ Championship”

April 17, 2023

I actually didn’t get to watch much of this one because my new schedule clashed with the times the games were running and I was busy with other things, but I did manage to watch the women’s final where Isabella Wrana beat Silvana Tirinzoni 6-5 for her first win on the Grand Slam tour, although there were a lot of missed shots by Tirinzoni’s team and so while Wrana played well Tirinzoni’s team struggled and so gave them the opportunity that they took.  Despite not making the finals and breaking an impressive streak, Kerri Einarson finished high enough to take the Pinty Cup title and an impressive payout.

One thing that was interesting was that in the final six at this tournament there were six different countries represented, which is interesting in and of itself but is even more interesting when you consider that it means there was only one Canadian team represented in the playoffs of a curling tour that’s based in Canada.  This is even more interesting when you consider that one of the things that Canada seems to have when it comes to curling is its depth, which is the reason why the Canadian curling governing bodies say that they don’t want to load up the funding on one or two teams and instead spread things out a bit more.  Yes, this is probably the best curling tour in the world and so it would draw in the best teams from around the world, but there were still enough world-class teams in the field that we would have expected more Canadian teams to make the playoffs, and on the men’s side there were more Canadian teams in the playoffs.  Instead, on the women’s side only Einarson made it.  Is this the result of many of the best women’s teams shuffling their lineups after the last Olympic cycle and with the women deciding that this is the time to have babies, which impacts the team makeups and might mean that the teams need more time to really gel?  Or is Canada losing their depth a bit so that fewer of them can indeed be considered world class?  While for the most part Canadian teams did well on the tour this season, it will be interesting to see if this is an aberration or the start of a trend.

Anyway, the last event of the season comes up in May, so we can see how things shake out there.

NHL Playoff Predictions: Round 1

April 15, 2023

Yep, it’s that time again.  The NHL playoffs are about to begin and it’s time for me to make blind guesses about which teams are going to win which series to see if I can do better than a coin flip and better than just picking the teams that have home ice advantage.  I’ve been doing this for a few years, and as the years have gone by I’ve hit the issue where I’m watching hockey less and less and even following hockey less and less and so the choices are indeed far more blind than they might be otherwise.  Still, this is fun enough for me to keep doing.

Eastern Conference:

Florida vs Boston:  This is a series that pits the President Trophy winners — the best team during the regular season — against each other, which is fairly historic.  However, Florida had to squeak their way into the playoffs while Boston had a historically good season, and didn’t look like they were slowing down that much when the games became less meaningful.  So I pretty much have to pick Boston here.

Islanders vs Carolina:  I’m a fan of the Islanders and would like to see them move on, but again they had to squeak their way into the playoffs and Carolina is a pretty good team.  The Islanders play a style of game that can cause upsets, but that’s probably not going to happen here.

Rangers vs New Jersey:  Since there are always upsets in the first round, I was tempted to take the Rangers here, given how they loaded up for the playoffs.  However, those additions didn’t result in them getting a better position in their relatively tight division or getting home ice advantage.  So maybe the Devils have something here.

Tampa Bay vs Toronto:  This one is tricky, because Toronto has been known for the past few seasons as the team that has a good or even great regular season only to bow out in the first round of the playoffs, and Tampa Bay beat them last year.  On the other hand, Toronto was playing pretty well to end the regular season and Tampa Bay was struggling.  On the other other hand, Toronto still might be facing challenges with its goaltending given that Matt Murray is injured and wasn’t playing well when he was playing, leaving Samsonov as their guy, and even though he played well this season he was rejected by Washington as being the guy to carry them.  It would be easy to pick against Toronto given history and the fact that with their cap woes it isn’t clear that they’ve fixed their weaknesses, but given Tampa Bay’s struggles it’s easy to think that Toronto is due.

Western Conference:

Winnipeg vs Vegas:  This is a recording, but Winnipeg had to struggle to get into the playoffs while Vegas managed to fight their way to top spot in the conference.  Winnipeg had a disastrous second half and so they might be a team to fear if they manage to put it all together, but unless they do that Vegas should win this series.

Seattle vs Colorado:  Colorado managed to get top spot in their division on the final day, and Seattle is making the playoffs for the first time ever.  Colorado are also the defending champions and so know how to win series.  They should be able to pull this one off, too.

Los Angeles vs Edmonton:  The Oilers have been playing well and have the highest point getters in the league.  You can’t even challenge them on the basis that they’ve never won before because they have.  Their goaltending might be suspect, but it held together well enough in the season, even if Jack Campbell didn’t really do what he was supposed to do, so the only question is if Los Angeles can hold the offense in check enough to score enough to win themselves.

Minnesota vs Dallas:  I know nothing about these teams, but there are always upsets in the first round so I just decided to make this one my upset choice for no real reason.  Probably a bad idea, but at least I have nothing other than pride at stake here.


Eastern Conference:

Florida vs Boston Incorrect
Islanders vs Carolina Correct
Rangers vs New Jersey Correct
Tampa Bay vs Toronto Correct

Western Conference:

Winnipeg vs Vegas Correct
Seattle vs Colorado Incorrect
Los Angeles vs Edmonton Correct
vs Dallas Incorrect

Thoughts on the Women’s World Championships

March 27, 2023

So, the Women’s World Championships were on this past week.  Canada with Kerri Einarson managed to take bronze beating Anna Hasselborg’s Swedish team that started a bit weak but came on later, and Switzerland won their fourth straight gold squeaking out a won over Norway.

What I noticed in this tournament especially but also noticed at the Scotties — the Canadian Women’s Championships — is that the ice at these events has … not been good, to say the least.  Here, it was particularly bad, especially early on, as by halfway through each game the center of the ice was getting slushy and soft which made draws particularly difficult.  A team would thrown one and it would die well short of the rings while the next one would sail right through, thrown the same way and with the same weight, but just in a slightly different path.  Brushing also wasn’t effective in those cases.  It got better towards the end, but the ice was still inconsistent from draw to draw and even inside the game.  While it wasn’t as bad at the Scotties, the same thing happened, less inside one game but more between games.

Now reading the ice and ice conditions and as ice conditions change is a big part of the game.  But in general or at least it seemed in the past that the ice conditions tended to change in ways that were consistent and that a team could figure out if they thought ahead and then paid attention to how their rocks were reacting in a game.  Here, it seemed that they had to guess a lot about what the ice conditions would be and the team that guessed right more often won the game.  While I didn’t pay that much attention, it didn’t seem like this was the case at the Brier, at least with the ice conditions.

What this is doing is making the game, or at least the women’s game, into a much less interesting game for me to watch, because what it means is that more games are won due to mistakes by the other team than great shots.  If a team misses a shot because a brilliant setup leaves them a really tough shot to make, that’s one thing, but when the ice is that inconsistent they miss shots that they should make but we can’t blame them for it because the ice has been so inconsistent.  Add in that there were a lot of times that the commentators were questioning the strategy choices of the players and much of the time it really seems like the women’s game is error-filled paired with flashes of greatness.  If the comments of those retired players were reflecting a difference in strategy between the old and new guard but the strategies were working out, that would be one thing, but most often when they said that they thought it was a really bad idea it turned out that the strategy failed in the exact way they said it would, either because they couldn’t make the shot and the miss they had made things much, much worse for them — which could reflect a difference in strategy, but not one that I think is good and works out for the teams — or else because they actually make the shot but then that leaves a shot by the opposition that kills them.  So shot-making mistakes and strategy mistakes, it seems to me, are far more common than I’d like, as games being decided on mistakes instead of great shot-making and strategy doesn’t interest me.

Another thing that I had noticed is that a lot of the skips — again, mostly in the women’s game only because that’s what I pay attention to — can be rather … vocal when it comes to calling their own shots.  Now, the way it’s supposed to work is that there is a person in the rings holding a broom down as a target for the person throwing, with the other two members of the team over the rock sweeping it.  In general, both are supposed to call line in some way, but at some point it is generally understood that the person in the rings is supposed to be calling the shot, which means telling the sweepers what to do.  This is why you have the skip doing it for all the other shots, and the next best person at reading the line doing it for the skip’s stones.  A lot of the time, though, Kerri Einarson was very loudly calling the line, and doing so very aggressively and forcefully.  This leaves the sweepers in a bad position, as they have to decide who to listen to if they are not calling the same thing, and it seemed at times that Einarson was calling things very forcefully when Val Sweeting was deciding what to do, and if they followed Sweeting Einarson seemed to get quite upset if things didn’t work, which would mean that the sweepers would have to decide who they wanted to listen to.  At the Scotties, I noticed that Rachel Homan and Jennifer Jones did that as well, often doing that as if they expected the sweepers to listen to them instead of what the person in the rings was calling.

The thing about that for those teams is that while skips can indeed be aggressive on things like that, those are the three teams where they really shouldn’t be.  For Einarson, Sweeting used to be a skip and is a great line caller, and so Einarson should really be able to trust her to call the line most of the time and the sweepers really should be just ignoring Einarson at some point down the ice.  For Homan, while she has less reason to trust Fleury since they’ve only started playing together this season, Fleury is a former skip and can call the line, and so it’d only be a difference in style that would cause Homan to overrule her … but her team is also likely to trust Homan more than Fleury, which would result in Fleury being ignored, which isn’t good for team unity.  As for Jones, she definitely has more experience as she’s playing with a young team, but if she is there primarily to help them and not for her own self-aggrandizement all she is teaching them by screaming out the line call is to not trust their own judgement, which is not going to be good going forward.  I do wish that the skips would, well, shut up a bit more, but with those three, at least, given their personalities there is no way that they will.

And, finally, Canada came in third, but went 7 – 5 in the round robin and barely squeaked into a six team playoff.  Meanwhile, the Swiss went 12 – 0 in the round robin and undefeated in the playoffs.  And so Canadian curling fans can and have been asking:  why isn’t Canada doing better on the world stage?  The commentators noted that there’s a lot of parity in at least the women’s game, but Canada was losing to teams that they probably should have beaten and that the Swiss did.  Also, Einarson went perfect at the Scotties and has won four straight Scotties, to match the Swiss performance at the worlds.  So you could argue that this is the result of Canada’s strategy of not focusing on one team but instead of spreading the funding and support out more, and running things like the Scotties to pick the team instead of just choosing the best performing team.  But this is belied by the fact that the Swiss team actually plays in the Canadian Grand Slam of Curling, and has not had that dominant a performance in those events so far this year.  In fact, Einarson herself has either beaten a lot of the teams that played at the worlds, or beat teams at the Scotties that beat those other teams, and the teams that she lost to often went on to lose to teams that she or others had beaten on the Grand Slam.  It’s difficult to say that any of the teams that were in the final four at the Scotties couldn’t have beaten any of the teams in the worlds, given that many of them had beaten them on the Grand Slam.  So why is it that Canada struggles so much more at the Olympics and at the Worlds?  We’ll see how Brad Gushue does at the Worlds this year, but this is a bit of a puzzle.

Anyway, the next curling that I will be talking about happens to be the last two Grand Slam events, in mid-April and mid-May.

Thoughts on “The Scotties”

February 27, 2023

So, it’s that time of year again, where I take off a couple of weeks and take the first week, at least, to watch some curling on TV.  Every four years I end up taking the entire two weeks and watch some other sports as well since that’s when the Winter Olympics are on, but outside of that I just take the first week and watch the Scotties, the Canadian Women’s Championships.  This time it was out in British Columbia which means that I couldn’t watch the late draws as they started after I typically went to sleep, which also meant that I couldn’t watch the final either.

There was actually some controversy to start the event, which swirled around issues with pregnancy.  As this is the start of the four year cycle building up to the Olympics a lot of the women decided that if you’re going to start to add to your family this was really the best time to do so, and so a number of teams had members who were pregnant or had just given birth and so might have had some physical issues in playing, and so their teams might need a replacement player.  The governing body had a rule that I think only the top 5 teams by rankings could break the residency rule and have more than one player from outside of the province, and so bring in an import to replace a pregnant player.  This meant that Kaitlyn Lawes’ team could replace Selena Njegovan with Laura Walker, but in theory if they needed to a team like Casey Scheidegger’s couldn’t have, despite both the skip and her sister being pregnant.  This caused an uproar, and ultimately the governing body changed the rule.

Now, for me the interesting thing about this was, well, the uproar, because it was all based on what we normally see these days, with discussions over equity and the like.  But the governing body didn’t do this just because, so they had reasons to do this, reasons that were mentioned but glossed over to tie into the equity angle.  The reason, as I understand it, was that they felt that for the top teams that would normally finish high enough to get the funding it would be too onerous for them to be restricted to their own province to find their temporary replacement, and so they’d have to take someone that doesn’t play to their level, which would unfairly impact their chances at winning.  For teams below the funding level, there was an implication that there was a risk that they’d use the situation to bring in a better player and so artificially boost their chances, while it would be relatively easy for them to find a player that would be able to play at their level.  So, for fairness, the top five teams that would get funding would get the optimal chance to fill in with a player of equal quality, while at the same time no team outside of that would be able to take advantage of the rules to pick up a player of higher quality.

So in my opinion, the whole concerns about equity were a complete red herring.  What should have been focused on was the reasons for the rules and whether fairness dictated that they make the rule.  In my opinion, I can see that the rules are not simply arbitrary as implied, and so it wasn’t obvious that the rule should have been expanded.  That being said, I don’t see the need for the rule to enforce fairness, and can see a reason why teams lower in the rankings might want to pick up a player from another province.  What you want in a replacement player is less one that’s really, really good, but more one that you know well and can fit well into your team.  While you’ll take a really good player for your team, ideally you want someone that you’ve played with before so that you know what sort of shots they’re good at and want to make, and where to put the broom for them, and how their release works, and so on and so forth.  So a purportedly weaker team might want to bring in a player from out of province — even one of a higher perceived quality — not because they want to take advantage of bringing in a better player, but because they’ve played with them before or train with them or know them really well and know that they’re a good fit, and it’s unlikely that they’d simply want to bring in a supposed “ringer” because that person might not fit well with the rest of the team.  So, in my opinion, the rule wasn’t needed and it was fine to drop it, but the arguments over equity and encouraging women curlers completely missed the point.

Okay, on to the curling.  One thing that was very interesting this year was that there was a bit less of a gap among the provinces than we normally see, and one reason for this was that while perennial in-the-mix teams like Kerry Galusha and Suzanne Birt were still in the mix the younger teams really stepped it up this year.  Yes, it was still the case that Einarson’s Team Canada, Jones’ Team Manitoba, and Homan’s Team Ontario were in the playoffs, and McCarville’s Team Northern Ontario maintained their recent status as being among the teams that could win, in one pool there were tiebreakers among new and younger teams, with Christina Black’s Team Nova Scotia and Clancy Grandy’s Team B.C. coming out on top over Lawes’ Team Wild Card 1 and Laurie St-Georges’ Team Quebec, all of which are younger and newer teams.  Christina Black even topped Homan to make it into the actual playoffs, before being beaten.  So what we’re seeing now, it seems to me, is the younger teams making things interesting, but it will be interesting to see if they can do so consistently or if they’ll be inconsistent as they try to take that next step.

Christina Black was, in fact, the story of the event, as the team itself was a bit inconsistent but she often made incredible shots to get them out of trouble and to a 5 – 3 record and into the playoffs, and she had to steal three straight wins to do so, and almost stole a fourth except for a great shot from McCarville.  I found myself cheering for her for the same reason that I cheered for Laurie St-Georges when she made her debut — although Black was skipping last year, from what I heard — which is that both of them are very open and very enthusiastic. For example, Black had to play three games on Saturday, and after winning the second in an extra end she said “We could make 33!” which I didn’t understand until I realized that what had been cut off was that they could have ended up playing 33 ends in that one day.  Laurie St-Georges seemed to tone things down slightly this time around — although I didn’t get to watch a game of hers and so only had the reactions from the updates — but Black was still enthusiastic for most of the time, and fairly open, commenting after the last game that she was so tired that she couldn’t see straight after that disappointing loss.

Which ties into why I dislike Jennifer Jones so much.  A big part of it is for the same reason that I was disliking Kayla Skrlik’s team:  they’re teams that I don’t have any particular reason to like, and they get a lot of attention and beat teams that I like better.  For Jones, that’s a long standing dislike from her first Scotties win, and while I acknowledge that she’s a great curler I do tend to cheer against her unless she’s trying to win for Canada.  But other reasons I dislike her is that she’s pretty aggressive in her calls, especially when she’s throwing her own stones, when the person in the rings is supposed to be making most of the calls and Jones is screaming instructions from the hack (which, to be fair, is something they are supposed to do but my understanding is that definitely by halfway down the sheet the person in the rings is supposed to be listened to).  This is indeed what all the best skips do — and, yes, it annoys me about all of them, too — but this year Jones for some reason has taken over at skip for a young team and I end up wincing when she does that, since she’s probably on her last four year cycle and they are up-and-coming and I worry that they aren’t really learning what to do on their own when Jones takes over.  But there’s another reason, which is a comparison with Black.  What I noticed was that when Jones was making big shots she was celebrating quite a bit, but Black was making better shots and celebrating less than Jones, and when Black celebrated it was less her celebrating making a shot or taking advantage over her opponents, but instead more a celebration where she showed shock that she actually made that shot.  I found myself using the standard comment that Jones really should act like she’s been there before, and I compared her to Rachel Homan who tends to celebrate far less.  Then again, I’m not a Jones fan as I’ve already stated and so some of my impressions here might be biased.

Which leads me to the final, which pitted Einarson’s team against Jones’ team.  Now, I was cheering against Einarson’s team this year even though I still do like the team and even though they were looking to get a historic fourth straight win which is something that I normally like to see.  However, that’s precisely why I didn’t want them to win, and wanted someone else to finally beat them.  In truth, I was hoping that McCarville’s team would win, as I felt that they were due.  But when she didn’t make it to the final and it was Einarson vs Jones, well, I was all-in on Team Einarson.  Either team winning would be historic, as as noted Einarson was going for four straight and Jones was going for seven total wins … and again all I wanted was for someone else to win.  However, Einarson’s team won 10 – 4, taking 5 in the ninth to wrap it all up, which was indeed the better outcome for me.

So that’s it for the Scotties.  The Briar is up next, which is the men’s championships and so I won’t watch it that closely and won’t comment on it, which is followed by the Worlds, and then it’s back to the Grand Slam.

Thoughts on the Canadian Open

January 16, 2023

I didn’t get to watch much of this because the earliest draw started at about 2pm my time which meant that any other draw started way too late for me, so I really only caught the women’s quarters and the final.  I could have watched the men’s final but it featured two teams that I didn’t care much for so I skipped it and watched the Bills-Dolphins game instead.

Anyway, on the women’s side, Japan’s Satsuki Fujisawa beat Kerri Einarson to become the first Asian team to win a Grand Slam, while Einarson’s team has made the finals in six straight Grand Slam events.  She had faced Rachel Homan’s team in the final in the last two events, but they met in the quarters this time — after Einarson struggled and had to come through the C-side in this event — which left the path to the finals and possibly to the championship clear until Fujisawa, who had played an aggressive game that kept all of her other draws close, played things a bit more conservatively and held on for the win.

One interesting thing is that Anna Hasselborg’s team had to play with three players, and I had noted in the past that teams that have to play with three players often tend to do much better than expected, and hypothesized that going with three players meant that at least the first two players — who throw three rocks apiece instead of two — get a better feel for the ice that way.  However, Hasselborg’s team didn’t do all that well.  They squeaked into the playoffs and then were eliminated in the quarters.  So going with three players isn’t a recipe for an automatic great run, as the talent on that team is good enough that they would have been expected to get that far even if having only three players was a disadvantage.

Another interesting thing is that Fujisawa’s team is constantly referred to as “the happiest team in the world”, because they are very expressive and really seem to be having fun out there.  Now, there are controversies in other sports over being too expressive during games and to be honest I am kinda on the side of the traditionalists in that regard, and yet here I agree with almost everyone else that from them it seems to be refreshing.  Why is that?  Well, I think it can be summed up by what happened at the end of the match.  This was their first win on the Grand Slam tour, and they were clearly very, very happy to have won.  And yet, when it came time for the end of game handshakes they were remarkably restrained and respectful and serious.  They didn’t celebrate in any huge way until after that was done, at which point they went, well, absolutely bonkers.  So their attitude is different from the ones that come across as problematic.  They really seem to be acting that way because they are having fun and enjoying the event and are happy for themselves, and are not doing it in any way to try to show up the other team or to draw attention to themselves.  This is in sharp contrast to the other sports — especially baseball — where it seems to be more to show up the other team or draw attention to themselves.  This is the same reason why I liked Alexander Ovechkin at least in his early seasons because while he celebrated his own goals he celebrated the goals of his teammates at least as much (and sometimes more), so it really looked like he was just enjoying himself and not trying to show anyone up.  So when we hear complaints about celebrations it might we worth taking a look to see in what the spirit of the celebration is.

The next curling should be the Scotties in February.

Thoughts on “The Masters”

December 12, 2022

So the second event in the Grand Slam of Curling happened this past weekend, with the WFG Masters.  On the men’s side, Joel Retornaz won the final over Bruce Mouat, becoming the first Italian team to win a Grand Slam.  Italy has made huge strides in curling, at least in part because of how popular curling was in the 2006 Torino Olympics.  They now might be a consistent threat and a new player in Europe and internationally.

On the women’s side, Rachel Homan and Kerri Einarson faced off in the final, which Einarson won 6 –  5 in an extra end.  It was a very interesting game, especially towards the end, with Homan taking 3 to take the lead after Einarson opened with 2, and Homan having a shot for 2 to win the game in the eighth but missing it to only get one … but that only happened because she was trying an in-off on an Einarson stone, hit it quite hard, missed the Einarson stone she was trying to hit but the stone that she hit first bounced around and knocked that other stone over just enough to get a point and the tie.  There seemed to be more great shots in this game than I normally see, and more of the errors were tactical rather than just missed shots.  One thing I did notice, though, is that both Homan and Einarson are very aggressive at calling the line when they are throwing their stones, and often are doing so against what the person who is supposed to be calling the line is saying.  Presumably Einarson trusts Val Sweeting calling the line and is just being overly enthusiastic, and obviously the sweepers are more likely to listen to Sweeting than Einarson there (as they should), but Tracy Fleury is new to the team and at times it seemed like they were cutting her out of discussions (at one point, during a timeout, she asked them to come down the ice to the rings when they were standing at the other end and chatting about the shot).  The sweepers are more likely to listen to Homan than Fleury right now, but Fleury is supposed to be calling things.  The team is doing remarkably well — they had something like a 16 game win streak snapped — but I am still very interested in seeing how the personalities work out with that team, given how competitive most of the team is, especially Homan.

Speaking of Tracy Fleury, Selena Njegovin took on the skip’s role for Kaitlyn Lawes’ team, who is out having a baby.  Njegovin did the same at the Scotties last year when Tracy Fleury was out with Covid and had a great performance, but they lost their last round robin game and their playoff game when Fleury came back.  Here, the results were the same:  starting with three straight wins before losing the last round robin game and their playoff game.  Njegovin does seem capable of skipping, but it’s unclear if she can skip well enough in the big pressure games to lead a team to a championship.  This isn’t unheard of, as one can argue that Val Sweeting is the same type of player and so while she had some success as a skip was only able to have great success as a third.

The next curling comes up early in January with the Canadian Open.

Thoughts on the Pan Continental Cup

November 7, 2022

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.