Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Thoughts on the Scotties Round Robin

February 21, 2019

So, the round robin at the Scotties has just ended, with one final tiebreaker determining the eight teams that will go on into the Championship Round. To remind everyone, the format of the Scotties is a one game play-in to determine the sixteenth and final team, then those teams are divided up into two pools of eight for the round robin, and the top four teams from each pool advance to the Championship Round, taking their records with them, and after each have played all four teams from the other pool then the top four teams from that advance to the playoffs.

For the most part, the teams that we would have expected to make it through did, including pretty much all of the teams that play regularly on the Tour … with one glaring exception. That tiebreaker that I mentioned above was between Tracy Fleury’s team out of Manitoba and Sarah Wark’s team from BC, with Tracey Fleury obviously being the team that was well-known on the Tour with Sarah Wark being a rookie to the Scotties. Wark stole a glaring six points to pull off an 8 – 5 win, a loss that has to be especially bitter for Fleury because if you take the steals out Fleury outscored Wark 5 – 2. Since all of those six points came from two ends where Wark stole three apiece, if Fleury had even limited her to steals of 1 she likely wins the game or at least has a good shot at it.

Fleury struggled early in the draw, losing her first two, winning four straight, and then losing her last two including the tiebreaker. But she wasn’t the only top team to struggle a bit. Jennifer Jones went 4 – 3 herself and only avoided a tiebreaker because Kerry Galusha lost her last game to drop to 3 – 4 (she was blown out by a team that hadn’t won a game before then, to show how close that was for Jones). Rachel Homan dropped two games, which still left her comfortably in the Championship Round but leaves her a bit behind and having to win quite a bit to ensure her spot in the top four, and makes getting into the top two — a big advantage in the Page Playoff system that the Scotties uses where the top two teams can lose a game and get another shot at making the finals — quite a bit harder. Chelsea Carey, on the other hand, had a surprisingly good round robin going undefeated at 7 – 0, and after winning the play-in game Casey Scheidegger did well at 6 – 1. The other teams to make it in are the Tour teams of Krista McCarville and Robyn Silvernagle (both at 5 – 2) and the last non-tour team to make it in is Suzanne Birt who doesn’t play on Tour but has quite a bit of experience playing in the Scotties, and she’s also at 5 – 2.

The ice seemed to be a real problem the entire week so far. I haven’t seen as many clear misses as I saw in the round robin, and they were coming from the good teams and not just the weaker teams. Note that when I say “Clear misses” I don’t mean that the shot itself was missed, but that literally they were trying to hit a rock and missed it completely. Normally they don’t hit it hard enough or hit it too hard, but in the round robin there were a lot of times where they went right past it (called a “flash” in curling parlance). And a lot more draws than I expected were missed, and missed badly, stopping way short or sliding right through the house. This probably had an impact on the records, but honestly other than Wark the teams that you’d expect to be there are there, and there are always surprises in a Scotties because you have teams that are actually really good who can’t or don’t play much on Tour and so can surprise some people.

One incident that I want to mention happened in an early game for Nunavut. Jennifer Blaney throws the fourth stones for that team — but isn’t the skip — and was trying to make a shot against a couple. She slipped coming out of the hack and gave up on the shot herself … but her sweepers didn’t. The swept it all the way and managed to get it far enough into the rings to take one and avoid a steal, despite the stones rather inauspicious beginnings. I probably shouldn’t like it when shots that look like complete misses have really good results, but it’s kinda fun regardless.

The Championship Round starts this afternoon.


Thoughts on the Scotties Wild Card Game

February 16, 2019

The Scotties started last night, with the Wild Card game, which is a win-and-you’re-win game to set the last team in the Scotties field. The Scotties is a national tournament and so in general has representation of each province and territory in Canada. The old format had a number of provinces with automatic representation — as well as the returning champion representing “Team Canada” — but some of the provinces that had weaker teams had to play themselves into the field ahead of the actual start. This had a couple of issues. First, this meant that not all provinces were represented in the tournament, which looked a bit odd and lost an opportunity to draw attention to the sport in those provinces, which would stunt the growth of the game there and leave them as perennial also-rans. The second issue was the other end of the scale, as stronger provinces would be incredibly difficult to get out of leaving some of the best teams in the country out of tournament. In order to preserve the province and territory requirement but add some better teams and have a focus on the stronger teams, they decided to include all the provinces and territories and add one Wild Card team to bring the total number of teams to 16 in the initial round, and then have a second round with a reduced field of eight about half-way through the week, leading to the playoff rounds later. The “Championship Round” obviously should contain the better teams, but every province and territory gets a shot at the main draw.

Hence, the Wild Card game, between the two teams that have collected the most ranking points on the curling circuit that aren’t already in the tournament. These were Kerri Einarson and Casey Scheidegger. Einarson’s team was the inaugural Wild Card team and were the runners-up, while Casey Scheidegger had been the Alberta Scotties representative last year. However, both teams came in struggling a bit, with Einarson having a good provincials but losing in a heartbreaking way to Tracy Fleury in the finals and then losing to her again in the Skins Game, while Scheidegger had a very disappointing Alberta provincials.

It turns out that it was more a game of struggles and capitalizing on them than a classic game.

Part of this can be blamed on the fact that they were the first ones to play on this ice, and no matter how good the icemakers are every sheet of ice has its own peculiarities that they have to learn, and also interacts differently with the stones as the stones are prepared for every tournament. So there’s always a feeling-out period at the start of every tournament, but when you only have one game and don’t have a chance to watch anyone else play on the ice you have to figure that out in a hurry. Also, from what the commentators said the ice was particularly erratic, probably due to them having less time than they’d like to get it set-up. However, that isn’t the only explanation for the relatively weak play in the game, as both teams clearly had weaknesses that could be exploited. What this resulted in was a game of struggles but one that was tense and competitive.

Casey Scheidegger went down 3 – 1, but then took 2 and stole 3 more points in the next two ends to go up 6 – 3 with only three ends left. This was mostly driven by the fact that Einarson, as is typical for her, struggled mightily with draws and hits weren’t curling at all leading to confusion for both teams and a lot of missed hits. Einarson, however, managed to take 2 in the eighth and then finally made some great draws to encourage Scheidegger to make a tricky in-off that she missed, giving up a steal of 1 and tying the game. I say “Encourage” there because Scheidegger could have easily drawn for one, but the strategic consideration was that if she made it she could get two and pretty much wrap up the game, and the worst that could happen was a steal of 1 and a tie game coming home where Scheidegger had last rock advantage. However, her weakness was her strategy. On a number of occasions, the commentators noted a shot that might be better than the shot Scheidegger ultimately went with, and often even making the shot left Einarson with a shot to make things much, much more difficult for Scheidegger. In fact, at one point in the seventh end Einarson actually had a chance to score five instead of two, and it took a great shot by Scheidegger to limit the damage and Einarson still had a shot for three that she missed. If Einarson’s team had been able to make more shots and take advantage of the Scheidegger’s strategy decisions the outcome might have been different. As it was, Scheidegger ended up taking one in the tenth on a shot that could have been a lot harder if Einarson had made her last hit to win the game, and become the Wild Card team.

The interesting thing is that Einarson’s team is that all-skip team that I’ve been watching all season. They started out really hot, but now seemed to have cooled down quite a bit, losing their last three really big games. I’m not really sure why, but one factor might be that in order to get used to playing together they played a lot of tournaments early in the season, and so there might be some fatigue setting in. That being said, Tracy Fleury has played a lot of games as well and seem to be just hitting their stride now. So it will be interesting to see how this team progresses as this season goes on and carries over to the next season.

But not at the Scotties, because they’re going home and Scheidegger is in. It’s a long way to go for one game if you lose the Wild Card, but as Einarson showed last year you can go pretty far if you manage to win it because you’re clearly one of the better teams in the entire tournament (the Wild Card team is ranked third in the seeding for the tournament). We’ll see if Scheidegger can have anywhere near as good a run as Einarson did last year.

Scotties Residency Rules …

February 8, 2019

So it seems that there was an incident at the Ontario Scotties qualifiers, won by Rachel Homan’s team. I’m not going to get much into the details of the incident itself because no one is saying much about it but I’m going to talk a bit about what set it off: the residency requirements for the national tournaments and events and how Homan might be taking advantage of them.

In order to play for a provincial team, three members of the team — generally, of the main four and not the “fifth” — have to reside in that province, and you can have one import. For years, Rachel Homan’s import was Joanne Courtney, who lived in Alberta. Rachel Homan is married to someone who lives in Alberta — they are expecting their first child together — and spends most of her time in Alberta, it seems, although she maintains a residence in Ottawa. In general, it would seem that this would make her team invalid as it would have more than one import, but there’s an exception granted for a player who is attending classes full-time at a university, and Homan recently started another degree at the University of Alberta in education (she previous worked as a personal trainer for Goodlife, if I recall correctly). Thus, she fits in the exception, and has filled out all the paperwork to get the exception.

But some still think she’s bending or taking advantage of the rules, really living in Alberta but using the degree as an excuse to avoid being treated that way, and so allowing her to keep her team together.

The big thing that’s setting people off, I think, is the fact that her spouse lives and works in Alberta. The impression, rightly or wrongly, is that that is where they are ultimately going to settle down and so Homan is simply using the degree to put that off until after the next Olympic cycle, at least, to keep the team together. Although perhaps not. Still, the move really does at least seem like a way for Homan to get the advantages of living in Alberta — close to Courtney and her coach, and her husband — while still being able to remain an “Ontario” team, which is going to rub some people the wrong way.

The rule itself is one that I think necessary, though. University years run at least from 18 – 22 in Ontario, and that’s just for a standard undergraduate degree. Homan is going for an education degree, which is typically a second degree after the first one, and those aren’t all that uncommon. To not make the exception would force a curler to choose between getting the best education for themselves and their curling team for a large number of important years, which is not what we should want. It’s easy to imagine players coming out of junior wanting to start as leads and seconds and not being able to play in their actual home province because they wanted to go to university somewhere else. And note that Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur on Kerri Einarson’s team have both been skips before returning to second and lead positions and are 24 and 26 respectively, and so were skipping teams while they were in that age range, as was Homan herself, who is also 26. Homan didn’t need to take advantage of this during her first degree — she did it at the University of Ottawa — but it’s certainly reasonable to see how a number of players might want to take advantage of this, especially as post-secondary education becomes more important and not all players can make the big time, and so would definitely want to plan for jobs — and even have them — while trying to work their way up through the ranks.

And the thing is that there are vanishingly few curlers who do that full-time. Most have jobs in addition to their curling because it doesn’t pay enough to work as a full-time job. About the only exceptions are curlers who make “homemaker” their primary career, and even that’s pretty rare comparatively speaking. There’s more money to be made on the Tour than there used to be, but in general they still need day jobs. But if one spouse is working enough to support the family, then going back to school to prepare for the time when they want to hang up the brooms is going to be an opportunity that they’ll want to take, because university is obviously more flexible than working most full-time jobs. Or, heck, even to just take things for interest.

Homan is probably taking advantage of the rules a bit here to, at least, delay her having to make a decision over the fate of her team. But I don’t think it an illegitimate one. She’s taking a relatively natural follow-on degree that could lead to a career afterwards (Casey Scheidegger is a teacher, for example, so it can be done while curling) and could well be something she wants to do. So it strikes me more as a way for her to get the best of all possible worlds by keeping her team together, being close to her husband, and getting another degree all at the same time. And I believe that the rules need to allow for that case.

All-Star Skins Game …

February 4, 2019

So, I ended up watching some curling on the weekend, as they had the All-Star Skins game on, and so I watched two of the three women’s games. This event takes four women’s teams and has them do things that curlers never do: curl for money. Or, rather, curl directly for money, with each “skin” they win earning them varying amounts of money. The curling is played more like a match format — although some would call it the “skins” format for this event — where you don’t gain a skin if you only score one with the hammer, but instead have to score two. If you steal even one point, you win the skin. If you only score one with the hammer, you lose the hammer for the next end, and unlike in match play the skin carries over and so the next end is worth the amount of that end plus the amount that the carried over end was worth. If there are a lot of carry-overs one end can be worth a lot of money.

The four participants were Jennifer Jones(who won it last year), Kerri Einarson, Tracey Fleury and Casey Scheidegger. Fleury managed to beat Einarson again to move on to the final, and Jones beat Scheidegger. Jones ended up winning the final, although it came down to the last end.

Team Fleury has been impressing me in the last couple of events that I’ve watched of them. They seem to be pretty comfortable and have a good strategy that plays up to Fleury’s strengths. The team has always been a bit of an “also-ran” no matter who the skip was, a team that could go on a run but was always slotted in behind the really solid and consistent teams and performed accordingly — and that was true of Fleury with her old team as well — and to be fair that’s still the case, but right now they seem to be a team that in any game is always going to be in the hunt. Since they won Manitoba’s Scotties qualifier, it will be interesting to see how they do at the Scotties, facing a wide variety of teams but also teams that might not be as strong as the ones they face on the Grand Slam.

I also found the curling here more entertaining than normal, mostly because of the skins/match play format. Forcing teams to score at least two to gain on their opponent forces them to play more aggressively and leave more rocks in play, and only try to bail on things when it becomes clear that things aren’t going their way. That makes strategy and shot-making more important, especially since the women aren’t as good at bailing out of an end as the men are. This might explain why the men’s game moved towards a match/mixed doubles style of play faster than the women’s game did (and it still isn’t really doing that), as they are more confident in their ability to bail on an end because they can throw the bigger weight than the women. It also eliminates the big ends that can sink a team before they’ve even gotten started. After all of the rule changes to try and add scoring, maybe the best change would be to just go to a match play format.

In other news, Rachel Homan won the Ontario Scotties qualifier, and so has earned a direct spot in the Scotties. This means that Casey Scheidegger has won the other wild card spot, and will play Kerri Einarson in a one-game play-in on the Friday night.

The Scotties are next on the schedule.

Manitoba Scotties Qualifiers …

January 28, 2019

So, it turns out that there was some curling on this weekend after all, with a number of qualifiers for the Scotties going on. The most interesting provincial final this weekend, at least to me, was the Manitoba one, mostly because of the story behind it.

Tracy Fleury used to skip a team out of Ontario — she’s from Northern Ontario — but she picked up a team from Manitoba that had been abandoned by their skip and so now curls out of Manitoba (Scotties rules say that you can have one player from out of province on your team). She did well, ending up with the bye to the final in the Manitoba playdowns. Kerri Einarson is the well-known all-skip team, who ended up having to play in the semi-finals but won that handily to get to the final.

Did I mention that the team that Fleury skips is, in fact, Einarson’s former team?

So both teams had to want to win this one, considering that while they had played a few times on the Grand Slam this is one of the first really, really big games, since there’s only one provincial spot and the Scotties is the big event in women’s curling. Sure, Einarson was almost certain to get a wild card spot — a one-game play-in to fill out the last spot — but she had to want to be guaranteed to be there for the entire week and had to want to prove that her move left her with the better team. On the other hand, even if they remained friendly with Einarson — and I have heard nothing to indicate that they haven’t — Fleury’s team was going to want to show that it was a mistake for Einarson to leave them for the all-skip team. So there was a lot of history here to play into the story of the game.

And the way it started only added to it. Fleury had the hammer in the first end because she had made it straight to the final, and was forced to take 1. And then Einarson took five in the second, and it looked like the rout was on.

And then in the next three ends Fleury outscored Einarson 5 – 1 to have it tied at the midpoint of the game, scoring two in the third end, forcing Einarson to 1 in the fourth, and scoring a big three in the fifth.. Suddenly, it was a game again.

However, after the mid-game break things continued to go Fleury’s way. She outscored Einarson 7 – 1 in the next four ends to win the game 13 – 7 in nine ends, including five stolen points (the only stolen points in the entire game). Fleury’s team grabbed the momentum and Einarson’s team couldn’t get it back. As the commentators said, the 5 in 2 was a team effort on Team Fleury’s part with all of them missing shots and making strategy mistakes, and the rest of the game was a similar team effort for Team Einarson, producing an amazing comeback for Team Fleury.

Picking a team to cheer for in this one wasn’t easy for me, because I like both teams. But the better story was the team Einarson left to improve her chances coming up big and getting the spot Einarson craved over her, so I was cheering for Fleury to win. Einarson, however, will get to the wild card game and so might earn her berth that way … and she only managed to get to the finals from there last year. Then again, that was with the team that beat her last night.

Continental Cup

January 21, 2019

So, this weekend was the Continental Cup, which is essentially the Ryder Cup for curling. It pits North America against the rest of the world, and features three of the best women’s and men’s teams on each side. Team North America, obviously, has to include one American team on the roster while as far as I can tell the World team has no restrictions whatsoever. They compete in a variety of events from Mixed Doubles to Team to Mixed Team to Skins events, and this year they had a Scramble event where it isn’t mixed male and female but they shuffle the players from the women’s and men’s teams to form different teams to compete against each other.

Team World won the event for the first time since 2012, building off of an incredibly strong start on the first couple of days on competition to kinda hold on at the end, although after the first Skins draw on Sunday they only needed 1.5 points to win it all and so it was mostly a foregone conclusion, although it took them a surprisingly long time to do it (Eve Muirhead took 2.5 points in the eight end from Rachel Homan to do it). The interesting thing about it was that there’s no reason to think that Team North America had any weaknesses in Mixed Doubles or Team play, especially considering that they had one of the gold medalists in Mixed Doubles and a number of strong candidates, and some pretty good teams to boot. That being said, at least on the women’s side, some of the teams coming in were struggling a bit. Jamie Sinclair, the American representative, has a good team but hasn’t been really doing all that much this year on the Grand Slam, and Jennifer Jones has been a bit inconsistent. Rachel Homan’s team has been hot lately, but is of course beatable given the right circumstances.

I got to watch Mixed Doubles again, and again am disappointed with it. It still seems to rely a lot on mistakes and less on any kind of strategy or set-up, as there are less rocks thrown and it’s harder to make precise shots without someone holding the broom and two people dedicated to sweeping. I also noted, again, that the big ends are rarely scored when teams take their “power play” and move things to the corners with the corner guard in play. It really seems to work better as a defensive move rather than an offensive one as it makes stealing a lot harder. Supposedly big ends can and do happen with it in actual competition, but between this and the Olympics I haven’t really seen it.

Team World winning isn’t much of an upset, and in fact it’s surprising that they had that long a losing streak because there have always been really good teams outside of North America. But from this and from the results at the Olympics and on the Grand Slam Tour, it might be the case that Canada isn’t as dominant as it used to be: there are far more countries around the world that can produce curling teams as good as the best Canadian teams.

Next up is an all-star Skins game, coming February 1.

Meridian Canadian Open …

January 14, 2019

So, back to curling after a short break for the holidays. This weekend was the Meridian Canadian Open, which features a format that’s rare for the Tour but is supposedly pretty common elsewhere: triple knockout. Essentially, instead of a round robin play it’s in brackets, and to make the playoffs teams have to win 3 before they lose 3. Teams that go 3 – 0 come from the A-side of the draw, teams that go 3 – 1 come from the B-side, and teams that go 3 -2 come from the C-side. Which always reminds me of a song that I can’t remember or find at the moment.

Anyway, Rachel Homan won the event, to win her third straight Grand Slam title — the second time in her short career so far that she’s done that — and her tenth Grand Slam title overall in her career, which is the best by any women’s team — Jennifer Jones was the previous leader at nine — but is short of the men’s record held by the retired Kevin Martin, at 18. She won 4 – 3, and from my perspective the odd thing about the tournament was that every time I watched or at least watched her the games were defensive fests. She was facing Silvana Tirizoni’s team — Alina Paetz throws fourth stones — and had the hammer, and gave up a steal in 1, took 1 in 2, and there were blanks in 3 and 4, stole 1 in 5, stole 1 in 6, gave up 2 in 7, and scored 1 in 8. She beat Casey Scheidegger in the semis by the same 4 – 3 score.

While Homan is on a tear right now, and has returned to a similar style to what she had before, unfortunately that seems to have left her with a bad tendency that I, personally, think cost her at the Olympics. Her team is really, really good. They make a lot of really tough shots. And so I think Homan’s team quite often goes for the tougher shot that has a much higher risk/reward than easier shots. When they’re making them, it’s all good. When they miss, then they can get themselves in real trouble, especially against really good teams. Scheidegger should not have had a chance in the last end of the semi-final, and only had one because of that tendency.

That makes it ironic that the turning point of the final was when Paetz wanted to make a tougher shot than necessary. With Homan lying one, she could have drawn to the button to outdraw it (which would have been a tough shot), tried to pick out the Homan’s shot stone to score 2, or tried to run a guard back to try to score 2. The commentators were in favour of just trying to draw and get 1, but that the pick might be there if they wanted to try for 2, but were aghast at trying to run the guard back. The reason for this was that doing so carried the most risk of moving things around enough, if hit wrong, to give up a steal of 2 for Homan, which wasn’t worth the risk. Unless it was made perfectly, the best possible case was missing completely and giving up a steal of 1, which is what happened: she hit the guard, but knocked it off on an angle that missed everything in the house. This was probably a case where simply taking 1 would have been preferred.

If these defense-fests keep happening when I watch, I may end up having to switch up which curling I watch [grin].

Anyway, the next Grand Slam event is in April. The Continental Cup is this week, and then we’re heading towards the Scotties in February.

Boost National …

December 17, 2018

So, this weekend was the Boost National. This returned to the more normal timing after the “end-by-end” timing of the Canada Cup. And for some reason, I found that at one point I kinda missed the end-by-end timing. The reason is because of what it means to say “We have lots of time”. In the end-by-end timing, it really means just that. In the game timing — where you get one block of time for the entire event — we’re not really sure what it means. So at least there’d be that sort of certainty for the players in end-by-end timing, and you’d know that if you accidentally used too much time in one end it wouldn’t impede the next ends. However, I’m not sure that’s worth the risk of a team running out of time in an end and not being able to take their final shot, or having to rush it.

Anna Hasselborg was back trying to win her third straight Grand Slam event, and things looked good for her as she took the top seed going into the playoffs with a perfect 4 – 0 record. However, I personally thought that she had to be worried about having to face the winner of the tie breaker to get into the playoffs, because while Jamie Sinclair wasn’t a huge worry — although she can certainly beat the best teams at times — Kerry Einarson’s all-skip team was there and this was a team that was generally playing so well that any team had to watch out for them. And she won that game 12 – 0 in four ends, all on steals. Then she beat Hasselborg, proving my thoughts right, and then rolled into the finals, to face Rachel Homan, looking for her second straight Grand Slam win and second win this year on the Tour. Homan had to get through Jennifer Jones to make it to the final.

This should have set up for an interesting final, but it wasn’t that great of a final, because both skips, at least, didn’t play very well. Einarson, however, played worse, and so Homan won 4 – 1 taking a single and 3 steals. Einarson didn’t even get a single point until the seventh end, despite having many opportunities to do so. The most “controversial” was in the third end, where after a brilliant freeze by Homan Einarson had the choice to either simply draw in for a single or try a runback of a guard outside the house to score two. The commentators didn’t care much for the call as they said that she should just take her single and move on to the next end (the game would have been tied if she had done that). However, I don’t mind that call, at least not on principle. It was early in the game and there was no way to give Homan more than a steal of one, and all that would have done would have effectively given her the deuce she missed in the second end. My objection was that the runback was too long to really believe that she could make it. A runback is when you run your rock into another rock, bouncing it back into rocks behind it and knocking them out of the rings. Obviously, this requires hitting the rock in precisely the right place, and the longer the hit rock has to travel the more precisely you have to hit it, because if you’re off to one side at all simple geometry says that it’ll have more and more time to move off to one side and so miss the rock you’re trying to hit. This is precisely what happened. So my objection was less to taking the chance, and more that there wasn’t really much of a chance of making it. And as it turned out, scoring there might have changed the game, putting pressure on Homan to make better shots than she did for most of the game.

Next up is the Canadian Open, early in January.

Canada Cup …

December 10, 2018

So it turns out that there was another curling tournament coming up before the Boost National, which was the Canada Cup that ran last week. Jennifer Jones got the win, beating Kerri Einarson’s new, all-skip team 8 – 5 with a rather fortunate 3 in the ninth end sealing the deal. This was an odd game for me to watch, because while I still don’t really care for Jones’ team and like Einarson’s team a lot better, I’m also a bit hesitant to support that all-skip team and see them have success because it might hurt the idea that curling is a team game, with the different positions requiring different skill sets. That being said, what has been made clear about Einarson’s team is that they didn’t just throw the team together and started to have success, but that each of them worked really hard to develop the skills necessary to play well at their position. It’s easier for a skip to move to third — and vice versa — but Val Sweeting put a lot of effort into learning how to sweep, while the front-end worked out a lot to build up the muscle required to be really good at sweeping. And then they played lots of tournaments early in the year to get used to working together. And they still haven’t been really dominant, although they’ve won a number of events. So this is really coming together as a skilled — and relatively young — team coming together and working really, really hard to learn new roles than as a all-star team tossed together and cleaning up.

I also watched a couple of men’s games, and I’ve noticed that the men’s game isn’t quite as hit-happy as it used to be. The commentators even lampshaded that Kevin Koe’s main strategy was to get rocks in play and start blasting if things weren’t going well, but he hung on a lot longer in the game I watched than you’d expect, and I never really saw him blast. In fact, cleaning up the house happened more in the women’s games that I watched than in the men’s games. I think what’s happening is the same thing that I saw when watching mixed doubles at the Olympics, where getting a lot of rocks in play can result in big scores if your opponents miss, and it isn’t easy to tell when you’re really in trouble or when you can hang on. So the men’s teams have learned to be more aggressive, and it seems now that the women’s teams are learning to bail — and are starting to have the ability to bail — when things are getting too cluttered. Still, the women aren’t as good at it and so leave things around often enough that it’s still entertaining, whereas when I first started watching curling again blasting was too easy and too common for my liking.

Unfortunately, like at the Elite 10, the per-end shot clock was used instead of the full game shot clock, as Curling Canada is trying it out. I still don’t like it. As the TSN commentators noted, one issue with this is that it requires the teams to constantly pay attention to the clock or else risk running out of time. Brendan Bottcher did it twice in the tournament, and at least Kevin Koe — notorious for being slow — had to rush shots to get them in which might have contributed to misses. But that’s not entertaining. I don’t want to see a big end scored because one team couldn’t get their last shot in because they ran out of time, or because they had to rush their discussion or their shot just to get in under the wire. Unlike in other sports, there is no way to waste time in a way that hurts your opponents. In basketball or football, it’s at least reasonable to argue that the shot and play clocks exist to avoid having one team get up and then run the other team out of time to come back, as well as because that sort of time-wasting play is boring for the fans. But in curling, the only reasons to have the clock are to avoid boring the audience by having the players discuss every shot in detail, or else to ensure that the match ends inside a broadcast-friendly time limit. So it’s all about the experience, and rushing curling shots does not in any way add to the experience, either in-arena or on-TV. The argument that both sets of commentators raised was that it avoids teams playing a quick end to bank time, but I don’t see that as a very compelling argument. First, they’d only do that if they aren’t really given enough time and feel that banking time would be useful, and so the obvious solution to that is to give them more time. Second, for a team that needs to bank time more than other teams — like Kevin Koe — the other team doesn’t have to go along with it, and so can take that opportunity to press them to make things harder for them. Yes, a team running out of time isn’t fun to watch, but watching a team deliberately try to play on that weakness can be. And third, while those ends aren’t exciting they are at least quick, leaving 7 – 9 ends of more entertaining curling to watch. So I don’t really see the benefit of this change, and don’t see how it improves curling to always have each team constantly watching the clock every end, as that adds nothing to their shot-making or shot-strategy, which are the things we would presumably be watching curling for. And listening in on their strategizing is pretty entertaining for me.

Next up is the Boost National, starting this week.

Tour Challenge …

November 11, 2018

So, I just finished watching the women’s final of the Tour Challenge in curling about a half-hour ago, and so figured with my week still being pretty busy it would be a good idea to write down my thoughts on it today. And there are a number of things to talk about.

First, let me talk about Kerri Einarson’s team, a team made up entirely of former skips. This team is a bit of a danger to curling as we know it, because if it came together and dominated then it would shatter a lot of notions about curling. First, it would challenge the idea that the different positions required different skills, and so the idea that having talented leads and seconds, at least, who were experienced at that position mattered. If these skips could come in and make the traditional lead and second shots and, more importantly, handle the sweeping demanded by that position, then it wouldn’t seem to be that important to have skilled leads and seconds as opposed to having really skilled players in those roles. Second, Canada, at least, has put a big priority on sending the best teams rather than putting together a team of the best players to go to events like the Olympics. If throwing these great players together paid off really quickly, then that would challenge that idea, and suggest that maybe we should just assemble a team of the best players to get our best chance of winning.

Now, these are all very skilled players, so they were going to have at least some success early. The fear would be if they were dominant and just winning everything in sight. But they aren’t. They’re doing well — I think they’ve made the semi-finals in their first two Grand Slam tournaments — but haven’t made let alone won a final. So the experiment is still on-going. One thing that has made this work better than it might otherwise is that all four players talked about it beforehand and decided to do it, and have accepted what their roles on the team are and dedicated themselves to that role. Throwing together teams at the last minute might not accomplish that. Still, it’ll be interesting to see what happens as the season goes on and especially what happens at the Scotties.

Another things that’s interesting is that a lot of the time big ends are still being scored because of big and uncharacteristic misses by one team, especially on draws. In the games I watched, hits tended to be missed because the margin of error was incredibly low and they were trying to make a very fine shot at it. But draws were often missed badly, with the rocks going through the rings or stopping short (in one game, the skip missed one deep and then missed the next very short, which is at least understandable). What seems to be happening is that the ice is changing over the course of a game. If a lot of draws are being made on one side of the sheet and the sweepers are sweeping them like crazy, it polishes the ice a bit and makes the next rocks slide more, creating slide paths. On the other side, then, it at best stays like it was in the beginning of the game but also can build up some frost and get even slower. This means that draws are more guesswork than normal, which makes relying on draws dangerous even for teams that can really draw. But while hits are more flashy, draws and freezes set up more interesting ends. I hope this trend doesn’t continue.

As for the event itself, Anna Hasselborg decided to not attend this event — she’s preparing for the European Championships — and so gave someone else a chance to win. Rachel Homan — who made the finals in the last event — made it to the finals again to face Tracy Fleury, who was skipping Kerri Einarson’s old team (and beat Einarson’s team in the semis). Homan was pretty dominant, taking two threes to end up winning 8 – 4. But this highlighted that while adding in the five-rock rule was supposed to allow for more comebacks, the big impediment to comebacks is the fact that at the Grand Slams they only play 8 ends. Fleury was down 7 – 2 after 5, took 2 in the sixth to trail 7 – 4 … and then immediately had to go all out to steal because even giving Homan a single point — which is what happened — would leave an insurmountable lead. Homan in fact was even willing to give up a steal of one in the end because being up by 2 with only one end to play was a pretty good situation. If there were three more ends to play, she couldn’t have done that, and Fleury could have been content to force Homan and try to get two in the eighth to be down by two with two to play. She probably still couldn’t have made the comeback, but it would have been a lot easier than it was. Fewer ends means that big scores on any one end are more momentous because there’s less time to overcome them.

Well, that was the Tour Challenge. The next event is the Boost National in mid-December.