Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Roar of the Rings

December 11, 2017

So, this weekend was the “Roar of the Rings”, where Canada decides what teams it’s sending to the Olympics to represent it in curling. Considering that Canada has enough teams to pretty much fill out the Grand Slam of Curling — that draws teams from around the world — whose top teams are generally Canadian, as you might imagine there are a lot of really strong teams participating, on both the men’s and the women’s sides. But since I focus on women’s curling, I’ll talk about the women’s side only here.

Rachel Homan won the spot, beating Chelsea Carey 6-5. Carey had a double opportunity in the tenth to send it to an extra end, and didn’t make it. Homan, you could see in the replay focusing on her as the shot was taken, pretty much expected her to make that shot, and was surprised and, of course ecstatic when the shot was missed and she got the win.

To be honest, I was hoping that Carey wouldn’t win that game. Part of this was because Cathy Overton-Clapham joined her team at third to replace Amy Nixon, and I’ve never really liked her, partly because she played for a long time with Jennifer Jones and partly because she tended to be aggressive and often critical during games, which rubbed me the wrong way. She was much better with Carey in this tournament, but one worry I had was that both Carey and Overton-Clapham can be critical at times, although Carey is more self-critical and Overton-Clapham is more openly critical of the team at times. If things started to go wrong, if they started being critical the team could collapse. Yes, Amy Nixon was as passionate at times, but they’d known her longer and were less likely to just take it personally. And it was likely that something would go wrong because while they went undefeated in the round robin, they played poorly and got away with it. As I commented when I talked about the Boost National, that’s not good. Winning while playing poorly gives you less incentive to change your game, but the errors will catch up with you eventually. If Carey had squeaked out the win here, there was a good chance that she’d struggle at the Olympics. Given that after she won the Scotties she did poorly at the Worlds, history repeating itself was not unlikely.

The other playoff team, Jennifer Jones, was in the same situation coming in, and it hit her about half-way through. She started off with a win streak while not necessarily playing well, and then ended on a losing streak. I think she went 5 – 0 to start and then dropped her next 5, including the semi-final. However, if she had squeaked it out I would have had less concerns about her because she had the experience to correct it if things went south at the Olympics. However, given what happened here, that might still have been too late.

Homan was coming in relatively cold, and played poorly in her first two games, going 1 – 1. Then she went on a tear, winning her last eight games to win the spot. This ties into what I commented on at the Boost, where at least they knew that they had been playing poorly and needed to correct, and having the example of Val Sweeting who went 0 – 3 and was almost out of it before she had even won a game to look at, that Jones and Carey didn’t have because they were still winning. And since Homan has won a Worlds, she likely can handle the pressure of an Olympics.

One thing that I noticed about Homan’s team — which might indicate the future of women’s curling — is just how good at sweeping every member of that team is. Teams like Carey’s or Sweeting’s have a strong front end, but the thirds are older and not quite as good at sweeping. And, in general, this was fine, because the rocks that you really need to sweep well are the third and skip stones, and your front end does that. But Homan has two of the best front end sweepers in the women’s game — Lisa Weagle and Joanne Courtney — and on top of that Emma Miskew is pretty much as good a sweeper as any on the team, and Homan herself is pretty good at sweeping, too. They can sweep stones out of the rings if needed and Homan even jumps in to help herself at times. There were a number of shots made by sweeping, so maybe sweeping is more important for all members than it used to be. Jones has three solid sweepers on her team, but she herself can be a little weaker.

Anyway, congratulations to Rachel Homan and her team, and the next time I’ll talk about curling will be in the New Year.

Advertisements

Grand Slam of Curling: Boost National

November 20, 2017

So, this weekend was the Boost National. Jennifer Jones won 8-7 over Casey Scheidegger in a match that wasn’t quite as close as the final score indicated, as Scheidegger was pretty much 3 – 4 points behind most of the game (or, at least, pretty much every time Jones got a chance to make some shots). The interesting thing is that in pretty much every end the team with hammer scored multiple points, except for two steals (in the 6th, which pretty much put it away for Jones, and in the 8th when Jones only needed to get rid of one of the two rocks to win the game).

Also, Jones’ team pretty much struggled the entire time. Other than Katelyn Lawes, I’d seen every member of their team with low numbers and missing shots they should have made at some point during the week. Jennifer Jones over the tournament had low numbers for her. Despite that, they’ve now won 14 in a row on the Grand Slam, but don’t seem to be on top form. Unless you’re in a league where every win gets you points, playing poorly but winning anyway is not how you want to go into a big tournament, like the Roar of the Rings which will determine which team will represent Canada at the upcoming Olympics. The reason is that if you aren’t playing that well and are still winning there is a tendency to fall into a mindset that everything is okay and that maybe you need a few small tweaks. After all, you’re still winning, right? But a lot of that might come down to luck or happening to make the right shot at the right time or hitting teams that make mistakes at key moments, either in shot-making or in strategy. If you stop getting the breaks, those wins can turn into losses in a hurry. At least if you are losing, you know that you need to make some adjustments.

Speaking of which, Rachel Homan managed to get back to the playoffs, but then had a disappointing exit in the quarter-finals, losing to Scheidegger (who, admittedly, has been playing very well). Her play was at times a bit odd, as if she didn’t really know what she wanted to do and had no real plan. The commentators noted that she might be overanalyzing things, and I think that she might be trying to predict what her opponent is going to based on what she would do, and then gets surprised when they do something different. In the game against Scheidegger, Homan at one point ignored a stone to place a guard, which Scheidegger then removed, which surprised the commentators as it was a very conservative move, but after that Homan didn’t seem to have any overarching strategy, and seemed to be just reacting. While trying to see where your opponent is going to go is important, maybe Homan just needs to have confidence that she can make pretty much every shot they leave her and plan more on ensuring that she will always be left a shot instead of trying to outstrategize her opponents.

And speaking of strategizing, I can’t recall seeing a draw that Val Sweeting won that didn’t heavily rely on her stealing points, and thus in general on her opponents making mistakes and missing shots. Overhearing her discussions at one point, it seemed like she was planning for that, as she talked about them making a double and rolling out. Sure, you can have forced doubles where the shooter will definitely be lost, but it didn’t seem like one of those and so that her opponent might have been able to stick her shooter, and thus she was planning for them making a mistake. This might explain her results, then, where she relies on her opponents making mistakes and when they don’t she struggles. She went 4 – 0 in the round robin but, like Homan, lost disappointingly in the quarters.

Next up is the big one, the Roar of the Rings which will determine which teams represent Canada at the Olympics.

Grand Slam of Curling: Masters

October 30, 2017

So, curling is back, and this past weekend the Masters was on. As per usual, I only watched the women’s draws, which Jennifer Jones won in a relatively close game over Kerri Einarson, who had to win the Tier 2 event at the Tour Challenge to even get an invite to the tournament and to get onto the main tour, so she’s doing pretty well. Einarson managed to defeat Val Sweeting and Rachel Homan on her way to going undefeated until the final. From what I can tell, right now she isn’t in the Olympic trials, and so has to go through the pre-trials to even make it to the trials, but her team is certainly playing well at the right time if they want to get that shot.

Val Sweeting seems to be repeating her arc from last year, as she won the Tour Challenge and then at the Masters absolutely struggled, not even winning a single game. It makes me wonder what it is about her game where she seems to be so hit and miss, either doing really well or really poorly. She does seem to manage to get a lot of points and wins because of steals, so maybe the problem is with her strategy, where she relies too much on her opponents missing and not enough on setting herself up for shots that she can make to score points. If her opponents don’t miss, then she has a hard time either setting herself up or getting herself out of trouble. As an example, in the Tour Challenge final she did just miss a few shots that got her in trouble early, but her comeback was driven at least as much by Hasselborg missing shots she should have made as by Sweeting starting to make shots. So maybe it is strategy that she’s lacking.

Rachel Homan is struggling as well. She’s the defending World Champion and certainly would want to be playing well heading into the Olympic trials, but the only team she beat this week was Val Sweeting’s, and she didn’t have a good showing at the Tour Challenge either. She will certainly want to turn this around heading to the trials.

The next event is the Nationals, in November.

A Disappointment …

September 29, 2017

So, the MLB regular season is just about to end — this is the last weekend — and the team I cheer for — and pretty much the only MLB team that I care about one way or another — the Toronto Blue Jays are not going to be playing games in October after having made the playoffs the past two seasons. More disappointingly, they weren’t ever really close to making the playoffs, even the Wild Card game. And even more disappointingly, they weren’t really close despite the fact that for the longest time being under .500 pretty much put you in the thick of the hunt, and it’s only now, at the end, that both AL Wild Card teams are significantly over .500. The Blue Jays were never over .500 for the entire season.

The thing that struck me the entire season, however, was that despite the lamentations of many Blue Jay fans, the Blue Jays really shouldn’t have been that bad this season. Their most significant loss in the off-season was Edwin Encarnacion, but numbers-wise that wasn’t that significant; Morales and Pierce alongside the great season Justin Smoak had probably made up for that loss. They kept a pretty good rotation and had a decent if somewhat cobbled together bullpen, and had most of the offensive pieces they had last season. While they still had some weaknesses, given the players they had if the ones who had struggled a bit last year recovered and the players that performed well last year just kept it up, they should have been in the hunt for at least a Wild Card berth, even assuming the normal 90’ish wins usually needed to get there.

But Jose Bautista didn’t bounce back, becoming a liability both at the plate and in the field. Tulowitzki and Martin struggled, both with injuries and when they were playing. Steve Pierce struggled with injuries and at the plate/in the field. Donaldson missed significant time with injuries. Aaron Sanchez missed most of the season with blister problems. Devon Travis missed most of the season. Marco Estrada struggled, and there were other injuries in the rotation, requiring a number of fill ins who were, in fact, relatively weak. And the weaknesses were never fixed, and so when the purportedly strong areas faltered, nothing was there to pick up the slack.

The result was a much worse season than the team, on paper, should have had. The Blue Jays were not, on paper, as bad a team as they were for most of the season.

Going into next season, though, it’s hard to conclude that they are a really good team. Sanchez will hopefully be back, but even if he comes back and Estrada regains his form, they don’t even have a fifth starter as reliable as Liriano was (or at least seemed), and that wasn’t saying all that much. Tulowitzki, after a few seasons of sub-standard play, seems like he might be declining sharply and has a contract that you can’t trade. Martin seems to bring the best out of the pitchers he catches for but might not be as strong offensively or with throwing out runners as you might like. Donaldson seems to be recovering from a poor start to the season, and so isn’t a point of concern, but Bautista almost certainly won’t be back next year which means they need a new right fielder … when this season they had issues with and never did find a good left fielder. Their only really reliable outfielder, then, is Kevin Pillar … who is certainly serviceable but is not likely to be an offensive force. It’s probably time to cut bait on Devon Travis, who might be able to provide offensive spark but can’t stay healthy enough to actually contribute. Goins and Barney are serviceable at best but right now one of them would likely have to be a starting infielder … and Barney’s contract is up after this year, I believe. Carrera seems to be able to provide some offensive spark at times, but is a liability in the field. The bullpen is probably okay, but could definitely use improvement.

Maybe they can bring up some younger players and give them a chance, but that’s a risk and many of them — like Hernandez, who did pretty well offensively in his limited playing time as a September call-up — have potential offensive upside but are weaker defensively.

The front office has said that they don’t want to blow it up and start over, but it’s hard to see where they are actually secure and don’t have huge question marks for next season. Of course, they don’t even really have any players that they could generate decent value from if they wanted to blow up the team without getting rid of the young core that they’d want to build around. Unless some of the underperforming players recover or some of the prospects seize the reins, next summer could be another long one for Blue Jays fans.

Tour Challenge …

September 11, 2017

So, the first stop on the Grand Slam of Curling schedule happened over this weekend, the Tour Challenge. I actually didn’t get to watch much of it as I was pretty busy this weekend with things that kept me away from the TV while it was on, but I did manage to catch the women’s Tier 1 final, with updates from the Tier 2 final.

The Tier 1 final was between two teams that gave me the impression last season of being teams that tended to do really well in the round robins and even in the playoffs but tended to fall flat in the big games, like finals. Both Val Sweeting and Anna Hasselborg tended to be factors in every tournament but never seemed to be able to put in a really strong, consistent performance in big games. Things started out that way for Sweeting, as she gave up a steal of three in the first end and was constantly just missing shots for the first half of the game, leading to her saying “We got one!” when she finally made one of those close shots. But Hasselborg struggled in the sixth, allowing Sweeting to take three, and her last shot in the eighth was heavy, giving Sweeting a steal of one to win the game. So, in the struggle of two teams that didn’t seem to be able to win the big game, Sweeting won … but has to be a bit concerned over coming out flat, again, in a big game, and only winning because Hasselborg kinda threw it away.

In the Tier 2 final, Kerry Einarson beat Chelsea Carey, which only cements my view of Carey’s team that it isn’t that great a team, but was getting a lot of attention because she won the Scotties once. But every time I see her play, I find that both her shot making and shot selection is a bit weak. She’s on the low-end of the Tier 1 teams, and won’t be playing there, for the most part, this season.

The other thing that really struck me is that given the nature of curling it can and has gotten a bit more personal than some other sports. At the finals, you tend to have two teams of four people, with focus on the skips. And you usually can hear what they’re saying. Exhibition tournaments have even mic’ed up the players so that the audience can hear them, and they’ve often responded by making more jokes and comments that the audience have laughed at and reacted to. I noticed that this time because Sweeting is pretty expressive, but is in a nice way most of the time, and the cameras focused on her after she missed and made shots to get that reaction, which definitely added a personal touch to it, which I think adds to the watchability of the game. You can now cheer for a team based on how well you like the players, not just on skill level, geographical level, or general impressions of them from interviews, but instead on how they really act and talk in a game.

Next up is the Masters, just before Hallowe’en.

Everest Challenge …

August 28, 2017

So, this weekend the curling season sort of started with a new event, the Everest Challenge. This is essentially a mixed event, where they take four men’s teams and four women’s teams, set aside the skips, and have them draft a completely new team mixed between men and women. And from that comes a sharp divide in teams, as they alternate, from the skip, men and women. So if a team has a female skip, then the skip and second are women and the lead and third are men, and if the team has a male skip, then the skip and second are men and the third and lead are women.

This interested me, as I wondered if the women-led teams would have their third throw skip stones instead of them. And while I couldn’t watch a lot of the event for many reasons, it seems that that wasn’t allowed, and so there was a sharp contrast between the teams. And the event schedule was set up to allow us a direct comparison, by having the male-skipped teams and the female-skipped teams play against each other to get to the semi-finals, so we’d potentially get an answer to the question of whether the skip being a man or a woman would matter to the outcome.

Now, my initial thought was that having the skip be a man would be a huge advantage, just because of how much harder they throw. But then I wondered if having a harder thrower at third might not be a bigger advantage, letting them get out of trouble. Or maybe it wouldn’t make any difference at all. And when the first round was done …

… all of the male-skipped teams beat the female-skipped teams. And except for the Val Sweeting/John Epping game, the scores weren’t even particularly close at the end.

So, heavy-thrower at skip is best, right? Well, except that I watched quite a bit of the Kevin Koe/Chelsea Carey match, and Emma Miskew, the third, threw a lot of high weight shots. So much so, that she had to extend her arm to add extra force to the throw instead of the usual just aligning your arm with the broom and letting go and letting the drive from your legs generate the speed. And Koe seemed to be playing a lot of finesse shots, which shouldn’t really be an advantage for men over women. So, then, why did the men have such an advantage? It could be that they know better how to shoot to take advantage of the really, really good sweeping that men’s teams can get that women’s teams can’t, but could it be that the men’s teams are just that much more skilled overall than women’s teams?

There’s some reason to think that the men’s game was overall more competitive over the past few years than the women’s game was, and so the men had to up their game more than the women did. Now, there are a number of really good women’s teams, but was the women’s game as overall competitive — meaning a number of teams that were very high quality requiring the teams to grasp for every advantage — as the men’s team over that period? I actually can’t say myself, because I didn’t have cable at the time and so wasn’t watching any curling. But having to be more competitive could explain it, as well as having more cash bonspiels that let them play more and gain skill that way (women are just now getting into all of the events on the Grand Slam of Curling).

This could have just been an anomaly, or it could reflect a major difference in skill, particularly in shot selection and game management. This event might become an annual, and so it will be interesting to see if the event continues and, if it does, how this divide shakes out over time.

Ultimately, this could just have been

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Summary

June 12, 2017

So, with Pittsburgh winning the Stanley Cup last night, I went a respectable 10 – 5 this year. Home ice advantage also went a respectable 9 – 6. What’s most interesting about that, though, is that that’s exactly the same as what happened last year.

Anyway, that’s it for hockey until October, other than, well, the expansion draft, the entry draft, free agency, etc, etc.

NHL Playoff Predictions: Stanley Cup Finals

May 29, 2017

So, in this round, I went 2 – 0, leaving me at 10 – 4. And the “home ice advantage” track went 1 – 1, leaving that at 8 – 6.

So, all that’s left are the Stanley Cup Finals:

Nashville vs Pittsburgh: Nashville has been playing incredibly well, behind great goaltending by Pekka Rinne and great play by their defense corps. On the flip side, Pittsburgh is banged up and hasn’t been able to deal with the teams they’ve faced as handily. However, they do have a lot of experience with the finals and a number of really, really good players, and they are the defending champs. So this is a close one, but I’m going to go with … Nashville. Yes, their forwards are banged up, but they’ve been relatively handily beating far better teams than them the entire playoffs, and there’s no reason to think they can’t do that again.

Prediction: Nashville

Summary

Nashville vs Pittsburgh Incorrect

Overall Record: 10 – 5
Home Ice Advantage Team Record: 9 – 6

NHL Playoff Predictions: Conference Finals

May 11, 2017

So, in this round, I went 3 – 1, leaving me at 8- 4 over the first two rounds. This means that I’m guaranteed to finish no worse than 8 – 7 this year, which means that I’ll at least do as good as a coin flip. And the “home ice advantage” track went 2 – 2, leaving that at 7 – 5.

So, then, the conference finals:

Eastern Conference:

Ottawa vs Pittsburgh: Ottawa was the only team that I got wrong last round, which was okay since I wanted them to win that series anyway. They’ve also been surprising the entire time, and are incredibly resilient. You just can’t kill this team, no matter how hard you try. On the other hand, Pittsburgh is a little banged up and almost blew a 3 – 1 series lead. However, Ottawa really hasn’t faced a team like this so far, and Pittsburgh has at least arguably beaten two far better teams that the teams that Ottawa faced this year. I wouldn’t be shocked if Ottawa managed to pull it off, but this one is probably too much for them.

Prediction: Pittsburgh

Western Conference:

Nashville vs Anaheim: Anaheim finally managed to win a Game 7, which has to give them a huge boost. But John Gibson has struggled at times, while Rinne has been on fire. I don’t think that Anaheim is, overall, that much better a team than Nashville that they can pull it off if that continues. So I’ll have to go with Nashville here.

Prediction: Nashville

Summary

Eastern Conference

Pittsburgh  vs Ottawa Correct

Western Conference

Anaheim vs Nashville Correct

Overall Record:  10 – 4
Home Ice Advantage Team Record:  8 – 6

NHL Playoff Predictions: Round 2

April 26, 2017

So, in the first round I went 5 – 3. And while I now always compare my results to what you’d get if you only picked the teams that had home ice advantage, that was kinda pointless this time around because I happened to choose all the teams that had home ice advantage myself, and so the teams with home ice advantage also went 5 – 3. Let’s see if we can get some separation in this round.

Eastern Conference

Washington vs Pittsburgh: While young teams have been far tougher than anyone expected the entire year, Washington did not look all that great in the first round against the Leafs, while Pittsburgh did pretty well against Columbus. While Washington is a strong enough team to at some point make it past their playoff struggles and make a run all the way, I’m not sure that having to go through the defending champions in this round is going to do that for them.

Prediction: Pittsburgh.

Ottawa vs Rangers: Ottawa has a good team and there are a lot of reasons to want them to win. I do think that in terms of skaters they can keep up with the Rangers. That means that the deciding factor will probably be goaltending. And while Anderson is a good goaltender and can certainly steal a series, it’s hard to bet against Lundqvist, especially when he just got done outduelling Carey Price.

That being said, I did that once before when Ottawa played New Jersey and I couldn’t bet against Brodeur, and the Senators won that one. Still, for predictions I’m going to have to go with the better bet in goal.

Prediction: Rangers

Western Conference:

St. Louis vs Nashville: Jake Allen played brilliantly in the first round, but again he was left at home at one point in the regular season because he was struggling and inconsistent. It’s not a sure thing that he’ll be able to keep that up. On the other hand, Nashville swept the best team in the conference. Nashville seems to have the edge here.

Prediction: Nashville

Anaheim vs Edmonton: You never want to bet against the young, up-and-coming team that has been surprising everyone all year. But Anaheim is not San Jose, and they are a much healthier and better team. The Oilers are likely to be in tougher in this series than in the last one.

Prediction: Anaheim

Summary

Eastern Conference

Washington vs Pittsburgh  Correct
Ottawa vs Rangers Incorrect

Western Conference

St. Louis vs Nashville  Correct
Anaheim vs Edmonton Correct

Overall Record:  8 – 4
Home Ice Advantage Team Record:  7 – 5