So, the Continental Cup was on this weekend. This bonspiel is essentially curling’s equivalent of the Ryder Cup in golf, where they take teams from North America and pit them against teams from the rest of the World in a number of different types of games, specifically team, skins and mixed doubles. North America won the event for the second year in a row, although they won it much more convincingly this year than last year.
Now, you’d think that this would be an event that interested me, but it didn’t. While in the past I found it easy to cheer for North America and against the World, this year I found that I didn’t care that much. Part of this was because the teams that represented North America — especially on the women’s side — were at least teams that I has no real opinion on (Chelsea Carey), didn’t know at all (Jamie Sinclair) or didn’t really like (Jennifer Jones). About the only team on the North America side that I might consider cheering for on occasion was Kevin Koe’s team … and at least part of that was his reaction to the mixed doubles which was a “Tell me what to do, and I’ll go out there and do it”. Thus, I didn’t really have any strong reason to cheer for North America, or pretty much any of the teams on either side.
So I didn’t really watch that much of it. But let me comment on a few things I noticed when I was watching.
The biggest thing is, of course, the mixed doubles, which I had never really watched before. I don’t think I like it. While a lot of that might come from the bad ice conditions and players who are not used to mixed doubles being forced to play it, I found that it relied far to much on mistakes to generate its offence. Yes, there were a lot of rocks in play and that led to big ends, but a lot of the time that only happened due to bad strategy or, more often, shots that missed. With more experienced players, either that will happen less or the lack of sweeping and a broom to aim at will keep the players struggling. Neither is good for the sport, as the former will return to a low scoring game with less strategy than a full team game, while the latter will essentially reduce the sport to a comedy of errors, and thus a sideshow when compared to curling. It may be fun, but so far it is not curling.
Also, it generates a lot of its offence by restricting what can be hit when. This is not a good long term strategy, because players who want to play defensively will keep finding ways to do so despite the existing rules. For example, curling introduced the four rock rule where you can’t remove a guard with the first four stones. Almost immediately thereafter, teams developed the “tick shot”, which moves the guard out of the way without actually removing it, making the rule much less effective. In mixed doubles, since the men generally throw rocks 2, 3, and 4 (out of 5) I can see them letting the first four build up and then throwing really, really hard with runbacks and the like if they want to play defense … as happened in a few matches. In general, you want players to use their creativity to try to overcome the strategies the other players have adopted, not to overcome your rules.
– Jennifer Jones is surprisingly awkward on the ice for someone who has curled for so long. This was made apparent on the few occasions when she had to sweep during the mixed doubles.
– I’m reminded about why the women’s game relies more on the soft weight shots than the men’s game does. It’s not that the men can’t make those shots, it’s that freezes and taps are less useful when the opponent will toss it as hard as they can and knock things out. In fact, at one point in the mixed doubles Kevin Koe saw a potential triple for the opposition, but even the commentators conceded that the woman player probably wouldn’t have the weight to make it.