Posts Tagged ‘curling’

Thoughts on the Players’ Championship

April 26, 2021

So with the Players’ Championship, the Grand Slam of Curling has finally effectively closed out their 2020 season, only about a year late.

Last week, Rachel Homan went on a tear after the birth of her daughter to win the Champions Cup.  Before that, Kerri Einarson continued her excellent play by winning the Scotties over Homan in the final for the second straight year.  So it was probably only appropriate for them to meet in the final here, the last time they would possibly be able to meet this curling season.  Coming into this, they had played each other 4 times in this shortened curling season, and had beaten each other twice each.  This, then, was something of a rubber match between them.

And one that Einarson won 5-2 in seven ends.  While the score might seem fairly close, Einarson was up 3-0 after two ends with a deuce and a steal and that stayed as the margin of victory.  Both teams were making great shots, but Homan had a couple of big misses that seemed to follow from her tendency to try for trickier shots than she really needed and after that both teams kept each other close the rest of the way.  So for Einarson, that’s a Scotties win, which lets her play even more next week in the Women’s World Championships, along with a Mixed Doubles Championship that lets her play even more after that, as well as a Grand Slam of Curling championship in just this very short season.  I think her all-skip experiment was a success, although that required all of the players being willing to accept their roles and learning to play in that role, which suggests that simply sticking the four best players together regardless of position in, say, the year before the Olympics for an all-star team probably wouldn’t work.

Unlike at the Champions Cup, this bonspiel went back to the standard free guard zone instead of not being able to move rocks off the centre line, and obviously there were a number of tick shots used for defense in the game.  I’m still not certain about the no-tick zone, but I’d like them to try it where the only free guard zone is the no-tick zone and see how that impacts things and strategies.

As already mentioned, the next curling is next week, with the Women’s World Championships.

Thoughts on the Champion’s Cup

April 20, 2021

Normally, curling posts come out on Monday.  The reason for this is that pretty much all of the curling bonspiels have their finals on Sunday, and so it’s the most convenient day to post about them.  While one might expect that the reason this post is coming out on Tuesday is due to my deciding to delay it, instead it is coming out today because the actual bonspiel was delayed.  See, what they’re doing for curling this season is running a bubble in Calgary, containing a lot of events like the Scotties, the Briar, the Worlds, and some others.  Well, the men’s Worlds were right before this event, and right at the end of that event they had a Covid scare, as some players on teams that weren’t making the playoffs tested positive right before they were about to leave.  So the event was shut down for a couple of days while everyone was tested, and they ended up with a shortened playoff and extended things slightly.  Which meant that the icemakers said that they couldn’t get the ice ready for the next event in time, and so they wanted an extra day to prepare things.  Which pushed the start of the event back a day, and thus pushed the finals back a day.  So they happened yesterday.

However, the next Grand Slam of Curling event is happening this week.  They aren’t delaying the start of that one.  It’s the same teams in that one as was in this one, so if a team was in the finals they get an entire day off before having to jump right back into the action.

That one will also be the last Grand Slam curling action this year, as in reaction to Covid what they did was cancel the last two events of the season, cancel the events in the fall, and essentially made it so that they effectively finished the previous season now, with the last two events.  No matter what they call it, that’s really what happened.  They obviously are hoping that in the fall they can return to a normal schedule and a normal season.

This event featured the return of skips to their teams on the women’s side.  First up, Tracy Fleury had had to skip the Scotties because of some medical issues with her child, but with things getting slightly better she was able to play this event with her team, and they only went 4-0 before being beaten in the semi-finals by Sylvana Tirinzoni.  From what I heard, she might not be able to stay for this event, at which point Chelsea Carey, who subbed in for her at the Scotties, will take over.  But I can’t rule it out, because it’s far less likely that she could stay for both events than that the next skip could play in, well, the events she’s already played in.

Rachel Homan went into the Scotties eight months pregnant and played the entire event, and only made it to the finals before losing to Kerri Einarson.  Then, she had her baby.  They had arranged for Laura Walker to join her team for this event, and so Emma Miskew would skip and Walker would play third.  And then, only three weeks after she had her baby, Rachel Homan decided that she was okay to play and came in and played the entire event, and only managed to win the entire thing (6 – 3 over the aforementioned Tirinzoni).  The commentators couldn’t help but note how amazing that was and, yeah, that’s impressive.  Rachel Homan truly is an intense competitor just to even try that, and also is an amazing curler to actually be able to do it so successfully.

However, Emma Miskew in an interview did seem to be looking forward to getting some experience in at skip.  I’ve noted in the past that she’s fully capable of skipping and that given the shuffle on Homan’s team the door is open for her to create her own team, so she might have a reason for wanting to get some skipping in.  Then again, the two of them have been together forever so that might not be a consideration.

The event also tried out a new rule meant to add offense to the game.  A long time back, you could hit any rock at any time and so what ended up happening was that when a team was sufficiently up they’d simply run any guards that the other team put up leaving everything wide open, which made it very hard for their opposition to score multiple points, and also made for a bit of a boring game.  So curling adopted the free guard zone, where for the first four or five stones any guard — a stone that wasn’t touching the rings — could not be removed from play.  In response, teams adopted the “tick shot” — also sometimes called “The Weagle” because Lisa Weagle was so good at it — where they’d lightly tap the rock out of the way without removing it completely, rendering them ineffective.  So at this event they added the rule that any guard that was touching the centre line couldn’t be moved off the centre line.  It could be moved up and down the line, but not off of it.  The effect of this was obvious:  teams put guards on the centre line depending on what they wanted and all the play stayed in the centre, which led to more rocks in play and so far fewer ends with blanks.  However, the play did end up being a little obvious, as in the situations where the tick shot was more likely to be used the team that would have been using the tick shot would almost always devolve into peeling those guards and trying for runback doubles.  And the men, in particular, have enough upweight ability that they were clearing things out anyway almost whenever they needed to.

I didn’t mind it, but I worry that this rule will lead to some other set strategy like the tick shot that will make the rule somewhat pointless.  I also don’t really like combining it with the free guard zone since that really limits what teams can do — they couldn’t hit any guards at all and then on top of that can’t even move the centre line ones — and so would prefer them going with only the no tick zone rule, but then that would mean that any team that puts up corner guards would have them removed making them irrelevant and so making for a new standard play of simply clogging up the centre.  On the plus side — for some, at least — that would make it far more like mixed doubles, which can be exciting.  The rule isn’t going to be in place for the next event, so they’ll evaluate it and we’ll see what happens in the future.

The next event is the Player’s Championship starting … tomorrow!

Thoughts on the Canadian Mixed Doubles Championships

March 26, 2021

I didn’t really watch the Briar — the Canadian Men’s Curling Championships — and didn’t really intend to watch the mixed doubles curling championships either since mixed doubles is not really my preferred sport.  However, it was on at convenient times and there were some reasons for me to be interested in it, so I ended up following it whenever I could after about the first day.

So how does mixed doubles differ from regular curling?  Instead of the normal four person team that is all men or all women, here you have a team of two players, one man and one woman.  The game starts with two rocks in play, and then instead of each team throwing 7 more apiece they throw five more apiece.  So each end is shorter, and an eight end game takes two hours.  This also means that they are given less “thinking time”, which is time to consider their shots.  Also, whereas in the four player game there’s usually someone throwing the rocks, someone holding the broom (that’s literal) as a target (and also judging if the rock is doing what it’s supposed to), and two people sweeping the rock to try to help it do the right thing, obviously that can’t happen here.  So either one person holds the broom for a target and the thrower hops up and sweeps the rock (usually it’s the men doing that) or else the other person is sweeping and no one provides a target and/or judges it from the house.  So a lot of the things that curlers typically rely on to make their shots aren’t available to the curlers, making it a quite different experience for them.

Which is odd, then, in light of the main thing that let me get interested in it in the first place:  the fact that an awful lot of the female half of the teams were players from the Scotties and from the women’s teams that I’ve been following for years.  While there are a few teams and players that are more dedicated to mixed doubles, a lot of the teams had people who were already in the curling bubble for other tournaments, including a number of teams that had never played together and a number of players that had never played mixed doubles before.  This is of course partly because mixed doubles isn’t as big in curling yet and so most of the best players play full team, and also because some of the teams would have to stay in the bubble for the next tournaments and, as the commentators noted, the best place to get practice on what the ice might be like for them given everything else going on was in the bubble, so they might as well try mixed doubles and see what happens.

And then one of those teams actually managed to win it all.  And most interestingly, it was a team of two skips.

See, as you can tell in mixed doubles in general both players need to do the strategy and need to sweep.  In the four person game, in general skips and thirds do the strategy and the “front end” of leads and seconds do most of the sweeping.  However, when the leads and seconds are throwing the thirds are the ones who fill in on their sweeping spot.  So as the commentators noted thirds would be the ones that are best for mixed doubles because they spend a lot of their time sweeping and also planning out the strategy with the skips.  The worry about an all-skip team is that the strategy aspects would be there — if the two of them could agree — but that they wouldn’t be as good at sweeping and so would be at a disadvantage there.

So Brad Gushue and Kerri Einarson — who won the Scotties for the second year in a row with a four person team formed from former skips and so non-traditional as well — actually won it this time around, the first time the two had played together which was rather obvious because it was the first time Einarson had ever played mixed doubles, at least in those championships.  They defeated a team that was more dedicated to playing mixed doubles in Colton Lott and Kadriana Sahaidak, running out to a 9-2 lead and holding on for a 9-6 win.  Einarson, then, seems to be bent on proving wrong the adage that you need people in dedicated roles for your teams and that instead if you stick the best players together on one team you’re going to be really, really good and win an awful lot.

Now, I watched mixed doubles curling in the Olympics last time around, and thought it was okay.  What did I think of it this time?  About the same.  Because of the reduced thinking time and the fewer rocks to throw, the main strategic elements of the four person game are pretty much lost.  You really aren’t building up a strategy rock by rock as much anymore.  This is heightened by the fact that without someone holding the broom and without full sweepers there are more misses in mixed curling than there are in the full team game, and so it’s more difficult to work out a full strategy when you aren’t sure what you’re going to be seeing after the shot.  Heck, there tend to be a lot of up weight hits through that are there just to clear rocks out of the centre, and often no one can predict what will happen with that shot (especially since it can’t be swept at all, usually, as it’s moving too quickly.  I remember with amusement some shots where the person who could sweep the rock was no where near it while the other person was calling for it to be swept).  However, the game does retain the suspense aspect of curling, where especially towards the end you are watching to see what this shot will do and what will be the result and what impact that will have on the teams.  In fact, because there are more misses that aspect is actually enhanced, because you don’t know what will happen and, moreover, more shots really are “Let’s toss it here and if it’s really good things will be great and if not it won’t hurt us too badly”.  So as I noted last time it’s more tactical than strategic, which isn’t bad.  To be honest, while I’ve compared the full team curling to chess before, it would be reasonable to think of mixed doubles as speed chess:  faster, more tactical, with more mistakes and less overall strategy.

It’s also interesting to talk about the power play, which is where instead of the first two rocks being placed in the centre, they are placed out in the wings and each team can only do this once a game.  Last time around, I commented that while it was portrayed as being for offence it was obviously more of a defensive tool: you were probably going to get two points out of it unless you screwed up but were quite likely to not give up a steal either, while piling things in the centre tended to be the ones that led to the huge scores.  The commentators noted that it was in general being used for offence in the past but now was being used more defensively to keep the centre open and to guarantee at least one point … and then even in that game it was used to generate a lot of points, which carried on at least in the early rounds (but as the commentators noted was not used as successfully in the later rounds).  I think some of the increase in points is due to the fact that the teams have introduced a “tick shot” to it, trying to move the guard into the rings to open things up.  If it works, it will pretty much guarantee no more than two for the team with hammer (throwing the last rock) but if it misses it’s a completely wasted shot and in mixed doubles you don’t really have any shots to waste.  But that’s just a theory, and I haven’t watched the game enough to say for certain.

Now, Canada, despite winning the gold at the Olympics last time around, has not yet qualified for the next Olympics in mixed doubles.  So we have to hope that this new team can keep up their hot play and do well enough that Canada qualifies for the Olympics … at which point there’ll be another trial and so the Einarson/Gushue team might not be the team that goes to the Olympics.  Curling is funny sometimes.

Next up is the men’s World Championships, which I won’t pay much attention to.  Then there are some Grand Slam of Curling events, the women’s World Championships, and the mixed doubles World Championships, all of which I’ll be watching.

The Scotties …

March 1, 2021

As noted last week, curling returned this past week with the Scotties, inside a curling bubble in Calgary.  The format was modified to include 18 teams and to drop the traditional page playoff format — 1 vs 2, 3 vs 4 for to start, with the winner of the 1vs 2 game going straight to the final and the loser playing the winner of the 3 vs 4 game for the final spot — and instead have the top team after the Championship Round (top four teams from each pool play the teams from the other pool to get the final standings) go straight through to the finals and have the other two teams play against each other for the final spot.  This year, Rachel Homan’s team got that bye by virtue of beating Kerri Einarson’s team in the round robin and both teams losing to Jennifer Jones’ team in the Championship Round.  However, Jones herself was beaten by Laura Walker in a tiebreaker and so she didn’t make the playoffs, and Einarson beat Walker to face Homan in the final for the second season in a row, and she ended up beating Homan for the second year in a row to remain Team Canada.

One thing that I noticed this year was the role that luck plays and can play in a game, with a number of missed shots that ended up doing really good things.  No one would have ever planned that, and they wouldn’t have made those shots if they tried, but I noticed a number of lucky breaks that turned ends and even games around.  There is a notion of missing the right way, which means that you bias your shots so that if you do miss you’ll end up doing less disastrous things, but that wasn’t really the case here.  It was probably a side effect of there being more misses in general, as the teams came in a bit rusty from not being able to play any pre-Scotties tournaments, even the normal playdowns.  Which made for some interesting if not necessarily technically proficient games.

Youth was served in this year’s Scotties, with a lot of young teams making it in, especially on the basis of the Wild Cards where how many games were played mattered and a lot of young teams played a lot of games.  Also, there were some young teams that made it in last year that might not have managed to pull it off again this year that got back because there couldn’t be playdowns.  It was interesting to watch those teams and a number of them through their experiences might be able to get back to the Scotties on a more regular basis.  It also made me more annoyed with the older and regular teams like Kerry Galusha and Suzanne Birt, as they are teams that tend to be middle-of-the-pack and so can upset teams so they get a lot of attention, but I personally wanted to see more of the younger teams.  Yes, the commentators did comment on them, but I felt that those teams got more attention than they should have this time around, especially since neither of those teams made the Championship Round.

At any rate, the curling that I could watch was interesting, although the schedule and my work schedule limited the time I could spend watching.  I don’t know how much of the Briar — the men’s championships — I’ll watch, and the World Championships for the women are already cancelled, so the next curling I seriously watch might be the Grand Slam games in April.

Curling Free Agency Period …

April 3, 2020

Yes, it’s actually called that.

I haven’t been paying much attention to curling because I knew that the women’s World Championships were canceled and figured that at least some of the remaining events on the Grand Slam would be canceled, and so there was no curling on TV for me to watch. I did watch a couple of re-runs, but now I’ve decided to use Dark Shadows as my noise while working and so am not even looking to see what’s running. As such, I didn’t bother checking in on the curling news, figuring that there wouldn’t be much happening, especially since the Olympics trials were coming up and so teams probably wouldn’t be making any major moves at the end of this season.

Oops.

Since I only really follow women’s curling, I’m only going to talk about the moves among the women and ignore the ones among the men. And there might be more changes than listed in that article, but I’m not going to try to dig them all up.

Let me start with the move that probably should be the biggest one but actually isn’t: the implosion of Chelsea Carey’s team. The front end moved on to join Kelsey Roque’s team, and the third went … somewhere I’ll talk about later, actually (savour the suspense!). This is a bit of a surprise because the team was generally fairly successful, particularly at national tournaments. However, she’s had teams dump her on multiple occasions in the past. I’ve found her to be a bit fragile emotionally and mentally, although she did seem to be much better this time around. Still, that her team would completely up and leave her is a bit worrying. People do think that she will find another team, but you have to wonder if she’s problematic in some way which causes teams to want to leave her at some point.

Also, surprisingly, Jamie Sinclair — who had won the Player’s Championship two years ago — was ditched by her team who decided to carry on without her. She was struggling for the past few seasons, but she had always been seen as a skilled curler, so it’s weird that they would just ditch her like that.

And most surprisingly at all, the generally rock solid, long-standing team of Rachel Homan has changed. Their long-time lead Lisa Weagle is out, and Sarah Wilkes — Chelsea Carey’s former third — is in at second, with long-time — but less than any of the others — second Joanne Courtney taking over at lead. This was a decision made by the team and from all of the reports Weagle didn’t hear anything about it until the decision was made. Homan had done well in national events this year but poorly on the Grand Slam, but for me it’s hard to see this as a curling decision, as Courtney seemed to be the weak link on the team whenever I watched them, not Weagle. There are comments that Wilkes is a much better sweeper than Weagle is, but even with that the combination were possibly the two best sweepers in the women’s game, so that doesn’t seem like a pressing need.

Now, what is interesting about this is that Wilkes lives in Alberta, which is where Courtney lives and where Homan’s husband lives and Homan herself now is going to school. There were some issues last year over a feeling that Homan was exploiting the rule about being able to play for your “home” residence while going to school to keep the team together. Wilkes was born in Toronto and from what has been said is using that to allow the team to remain an Ontario team — which makes me wonder why Homan didn’t just use that rule herself — but the fact that three of the four are from Alberta and you can have one dedicated import, along with the fact that Homan has been known to exploit rule loopholes in the past — I think that what she did was completely legitimate and within the rules, but being able to live with her husband while still having an “Ontario” team surely played a part in her thinking — makes me think that location is a bigger factor here than actual skill level. At a minimum, right now three of the four live in the same province, which makes getting together for practices a lot easier, especially since two of them — Homan and Courtney — are new parents with something else to place a demand on their time than curling. Eventually, Homan was going to lose the student exemption, and if Wilkes works out — and she has subbed on the team before — then they could convert from an Ontario team to an Alberta team simply based on residency. Also, Wilkes played third on Carey’s team, and I have commented before that Emma Miskew is running the team a lot more than Homan is at times. If Miskew decides to leave after this Olympic cycle to form her own team, Wilkes can easily slide back to third, Courtney can go back to second, and then they’d only need a new lead to fill out the team (and they have some options in the Kreviazuk family to possibly fill that hole).

Meanwhile, Weagle has joined Jennifer Jones’ team as an alternate. I can’t imagine that lasting for long, so either one of Jones’ team will be out, or Weagle will move on in fairly short order.

Anyway, lots of shuffling, and it may not be done yet.

The Scotties …

February 24, 2020

So, what is quickly becoming my new tradition is taking a couple of weeks of vacation in February to watch some sports. Every four years, that’s the Winter Olympics, but in the other years it’s to watch the Scotties, which is the Canadian Women’s Curling Championships. So, I suppose you could say that I always take a couple of weeks off to watch curling, except that every four years I add some hockey and other sports to it as well.

Anyway, I watched the Scotties for the past week. While the evening matches were too late for me to stay up and watch, I did make the effort to watch the 1 vs 2 page playoff game and, obviously, to watch the final, helped by the fact that they started a half-hour earlier (and I still dozed off during the games at times). In the final, Kerri Einarson’s team from Manitoba played Rachel Homan’s team from Ontario and beat them 8 – 7 in an extra end. What was notable about the game is that Einarson led for most of it, and led by four points at one point, but Homan took 2 with the hammer in nine and stole 2 in ten when Einarson’s draw went too deep, forcing an extra end where Einarson did make a draw for the single to take the game. This is similar to last year where Homan went up 5 – 1 and Chelsea Carey ended up coming back to win that game, except that Homan didn’t quite manage to make the comeback.

And the sad thing is that I’m going to talk far more about Homan than Einarson, because other than her winning the Scotties with her all-skip team and getting the first win there isn’t much to say. She’d been to the finals before with her previous team — now skipped by Tracey Fleury, who lost in the Wild Card game to Jennifer Jones — and won with her new team. But she probably could have won with her old team as well, and it took over a year for the team to get to the point where they can be this strong, and it required the skips other than Einarson to commit themselves to learning how to play that position, and for them to learn, for example, how to sweep and judge rocks for sweeping. What this means is that the idea of assembling an all-star team of the best curlers for the Olympics probably isn’t going to work, as it took a lot of work for them to get to the point where they could play this well … and they aren’t a significantly better team than the more traditional teams. Sure, they won, but the other teams definitely were in the mix here and the team was beaten once by Wild Card (Jennifer Jones).

But Homan’s team has a lot more interesting things to talk about, starting from the fact that on the Grand Slam tour they haven’t been able to make the playoffs and yet at the national events they’re right up there with the leaders and could be said to be dominant. They dominated the Canada Cup, went undefeated at their provincial qualifier, and here lost three games total including the final, two of those to Einarson’s team. Her team and Einarson’s team dominated the first and second all-star teams for the players that played the best. It would be reasonable to say that if it wasn’t for Einarson’s team Homan would have won the tournament, and they still almost managed to pull it off. This sharp contrast in performance over the course of a couple of weeks pretty much has to reflect a change in focus. It really does seem like they’re putting a priority on the national events rather than the Grand Slam events. As Rachel Homan and Joanne Courtney are new parents, this can indeed change their focus and priorities. For the two of them, it’s clearly no longer the case that curling is the thing most important to them, so they have to choose what to focus on, and it does seem like that focus is going to be on national events and getting redemption for their disappointing performance at the last Olympics. Homan might also seem to have mellowed a bit, as there was one case where she was playing Nova Scotia and one player on it — Emma Logan — is legally deaf and uses an implant to hear, and it developed some problems. Homan seemed less concerned about the delay or whether it would count as a timeout against the team and more concerned about making sure that it worked properly. Since at the Olympics she was called out for a move that was less sportsmanlike and more concerned with ensuring her own advantage, and since she is very competitive, this would be a good sign.

The other question around her team that I keep asking every time I watch them is: how much longer will Emma Miskew stay a third on this team instead of skipping her own team? The reason I keep asking this is not just that Miskew is clearly capable of skipping a team, but that in the games she often seems to be skipping the team, making recommendations and tell everyone what they’re trying for and so on and so forth. Homan used to be the dominant voice on the team, but lately I’ve noticed that she seems relatively passive while shots are being selected and that Miskew talks a lot more. The two have been together for ages and both are pretty young so it’s not like Homan might retire to give the spot to Miskew. It certainly won’t happen this Olympic cycle, and the two of them are so close that they might well simply want to keep playing together until they retire, but it’s an interesting dynamic to watch that, obviously, raises the question of whether Miskew would want to run her own team since she’s kinda doing it already.

The final four was interesting for me, since it featured three teams that I liked … and Jennifer Jones. Who ended up in first place, but ended up losing the 1 vs 2 playoff game to Einarson and the semi-final to Homan. This also meant that the final featured two teams that I liked and so I didn’t care much who wins, although I was leaning Homan because of the history of her having significant wins. The interesting thing about Jones, though, is that her team had a great record, but almost every time I watched the team play they seemed to be winning in spite of themselves, missing a lot of shots and pulling it out somehow. Their percentages were low the entire tournament, and none of them made the all-star teams. The commentators noted that their experience made a difference, and that might be the case, as they missed but seemed to know how to miss to avoid disaster most of the time. But watching them here and on the Grand Slam tour, it does seem to be the case that they aren’t playing as well as they used to. It will be interesting to see if this continues or if they can recover their previous form. To be honest, they don’t seem to be quite on form since Jill Officer left, but since they keep winning it’s hard to say how much they need to care about that.

I was starting to wonder if the women’s game was turning into what I hated about the men’s game, as there were a number of cases where there were frozen rocks and a team made triples and the like to clean everything up. The difference, though, is that most of the time the rocks were unlocked, but weren’t completely removed from the rings, which at least leaves something interesting for people to play with. It seems to me that in the women’s game it’s still the case that to make that sort of shot work they have to not only throw it hard enough, but also hit it just right to make everything go, at least out of the rings or, even, to unlock them, which also means that if you get the angles right the shot isn’t there. In the men’s game, that’s a lot harder due to how hard they throw it, and so any solid contact makes things fly.

The other thing I noticed was that there were a lot of mistakes. Some of them were issues reading the ice, but some of them seemed to be strategy errors, as evidenced by the commentators wondering why they tried that shot instead of some of the other available ones. I don’t watch the men’s game enough to know if that’s common there as well, but it didn’t seem to be in the few games I’ve watched. Other than, perhaps, level of competition, there’s no reason for the women to be less skilled tactically than the men, so I hope that it isn’t the case. But it’s something that I noted.

This is the third year for the new format, where they have two pools and a round robin between those teams, and then a championship round with the top four teams from each pool who play the teams from the other pool, with the top four making it to the playoffs. There were comments on this from the commentators, and so I want to comment on it as well. One of the issues is that the teams in each pool don’t play each other, which the commentators hand-waved at as an issue, but does seem to be a concern. I believe that most people considered Pool A to be the “Pool of Death”, with tougher teams in that one than in Pool B. The pools are seeded by the rankings on the various tournaments and the Grand Slam tour, but this can be problematic. Some teams, especially the ones from the smaller provinces, don’t play on that tour much and so might have lower rankings, or be difficult to rank. And you can get a case like with Homan this year where the team is ranked lower than they might have been otherwise due to not doing as well on the Tour. If Homan had not won the Canada Cup she would have been a lower rank but a far better teams, which could skew the results. The problem with the format is that a team in one pool could legitimately say that if they had been in the other pool they would have made the Championship Round, and that they were a better team and would have beaten a team that actually did make it into that round. This doesn’t happen if everyone has to play everyone else, but you can’t really do that and keep all the provinces and territories in the mix (before they had a small mini-tournament beforehand to determine which of the weaker provinces gets to play during the week).

Another thing commented on is that the teams keep their losses going forward into the Championship Round. As noted, this is good because it means that you can’t take it easy if you know that you’re going to make that round, as any loss can hurt you. But this can be problematic as you can have a situation like we had this year where if a few teams are dominant the Championship Round can be rather anti-climactic. We knew what four teams were going to be in after the third draw of that round, and three of the four were determined after the second, because the teams below them simply had too many losses to overtake them. Yes, they needed to keep winning, but the teams at five losses kept putting each other out. It makes the Championship Round somewhat meaningless if this happens … and even more so if the teams all end up tied — as Ontario, Wild Card and Manitoba did — and it’s the draw to the button percentage that determines what position everyone finishes in.

I can see the problems with it, but I think there are problems no matter what format you choose, so this is workable. And I do like the Wild Card concept.

Overall, I enjoyed watching it, and it made for an entertaining week off.

Manitoba Scotties …

February 3, 2020

Yesterday, I watched what was the oddest curling match that I’ve seen in a long, long time, and perhaps ever. It was between Kerri Einarson and Jennifer Jones and was for the right to represent Manitoba at the Scotties. Honestly, the entire tournament was a bit weird, because the final three teams all knew that they were going to get to go to the Scotties once the semi-finals came around, because the three of them — with Tracey Fleury’s team — were the top three teams on the CTRS rankings which is used to determine who gets to the wildcard. So all three were going to fly out there and two of them were going to be there for entire week. Still, being guaranteed to stay there all week was important to them, which made for a slightly tense semi-final which Jones won 7 – 6 in an extra end, a match saw some struggles with the ice.

But that was nothing like what happened in the final.

Coming out of the gate, both teams struggled with the ice, but Einarson struggled more and at the wrong times and ended up giving up a steal of two in the first end. Einarson’s team, I would find out later, had only allowed multi-point steals six times in her previous 50-some odd games, so that was pretty shocking. They ended up exchanging singles to give Jones a 3 – 2 lead until the fifth, when Jones came up shockingly light on a draw and gave up a steal of three, which gave Einarson a 5 – 3 lead. And she had that lead, if I recall correctly, despite having a percentage on her draws of 0%.

So you might think that this would give Einarson a huge advantage, but after forcing Jones to a single Einarson then missed an open hit — albeit one where she was trying to only barely clip the rock — by missing the rock completely and then went too deep on her final draw to hand Jones a steal of two and thus a 6 – 5 lead. Einarson then managed to squeeze out a deuce in the ninth against a fair amount of Jones rocks for a 7 – 6 lead, and then was facing a lot of Jones rocks with her last in the tenth and needing to get shot or at least second shot with a tough draw through the port to the button, which she made. Jones then merely had to follow her down for the win — or at least an extra end — and again came up way light, giving Einarson the win and the guaranteed berth in the finals. For added oddness, Einarson the past two years had had to come through the Wildcard, and so managed to avoid that this year and broke that streak.

What caused all of this? The ice. Joan McCusker commented that the ice seemed to be constantly changing. The first time down a path it reacted much differently than it did the very next time down a path, even if there wasn’t a lot of sweeping done on the first shot. Val Sweeting commented once that a path seemed to have been used enough that it was acting like normal ice, and her add on of “again” points out that this was how the ice generally ran. So it was very difficult to predict how the ice was going to work, which led to a lot of mistakes and missed opportunities to put a team away. That’s what caused the steals and points and steals when the one team thought they had the other team right where they wanted them.

Reading the ice is definitely part of the game, but I’m also not generally in favour of mistake filled games, preferring to see wins from great strategy and shot-making rather than simply capitalizing on the mistakes of your opponents. This case was a little better since it wasn’t merely mistakes, but both teams trying to deal with strange conditions to get their points. Still, I think I prefer more consistent ice, even if the conditions made the game far more unpredictable and tense, for fans as well as players.

What the … ?

February 2, 2020

So, Rachel Homan is having an … interesting season. On the Grand Slam, she keeps missing the playoffs. And yet she won the Canada Cup to earn a spot in the Roar of the Rings, which is what is used to select the team that goes to the Olympics. She missed the playoffs in the next Grand Slam event, so it wasn’t a turn around to her season.

And yet, this weekend she went 9 – 0 to win the right to go to the Scotties. So from struggling to dominant. Yes, there are better teams on the Grand Slam tour but Homan’s team is better than most of them and she beat better teams at the Canada Cup. Huh.

About the only reasonable explanation is a focus on the national events instead of the Grand Slam. We’ll have to see if things work out the same at the Scotties.

National

December 16, 2019

So, the Grand Slam of Curling continued this week with the Boost National.

Sometimes, you end up with a final that can be difficult to watch because two teams you like end up in it and it’s hard to decide which team to cheer for. This final … was the exact opposite of that, with Anna Hasselborg going up against Jennifer Jones. I’ve never been a fan of Jennifer Jones, ever since she beat Jen Hanna to win her first Scotties title. On top of that, CBC did the Women’s Quarterfinals with her and Eve Muirhead as the featured game and Scott Russell was gushing over her the entire time, which always annoys me (to be fair, she did have to make some great shots to win that game and even keep her team in it at times, so some gushing was probably to be expected), and so I was even less inclined to favour her. On the other hand, I’ve never really cared that much for Anna Hasselborg either, but as she has less history beating teams that I really like it more falls into a general “I like almost any other team better than hers”. This led to a connundrum for me, because I didn’t have any real interest in the final itself, but, really what else was I going to do that late in the afternoon? Well, watch Babylon 5. But I decided that I really should watch the final, but fortunately Hasselborg made it easy for me by taking four in the fourth end to go up 6 – 1 and pretty much end the game, finally managing to win 7 – 3, so I could stop watching at that point and watch Babylon 5 instead.

Rachel Homan, after dominating at the Canada Cup, went 1 – 3 here and missed the playoffs. Again. She has not done well at all on the Grand Slam Tour this season. I also managed to watch her game with Hasselborg and she was pretty much slaughtered in that game. What explains that? Well, the commentators were talking about how unpredictable the ice was the entire week, and especially how unpredictable it was on that sheet. Homan, I still maintain, has a tendency to play high risk/high reward shots and dare her opponents to keep up. When she isn’t reading the ice properly, she will miss those shots and leave herself vulnerable, especially if her opponents are reading the ice better than she is. Also, teams that choose to go for the more conservative shots where there is more margin for error will have an advantage because their misses won’t leave Homan as much of an opportunity as Homan’s misses leave them. This is what happened against Hasselborg, and is what happened at the Olympics as well.

Interestingly, in the Women’s Quarterfinal, this is pretty much Eve Muirhead’s style as well and cost her greatly, as she often went for very tough shots that, if they were made, would give her a huge advantage over shots that would give her at least some points, and managed to turn those positions into steals or to getting no points which eventually cost her the game.

And from that and from watching some of the men’s games, the difference is still stark. While I dislike the fact that doubles and triples are far more common in the women’s game now than they used to be, at least the women still can’t throw the rocks hard enough to make things pointless. In general, the men’s teams can throw the rocks hard enough that almost nothing is safe, which means that if a team is playing defensively there’s really nowhere to hide anymore. I don’t watch the men’s game enough to see if in general there are strategies to deal with this, but what I saw at the very end of the final did not incline me towards watching the men’s game.

I think curling takes a break until after the holidays.

Canada Cup

December 2, 2019

This week was the Canada Cup, which has an important reward for the team that wins it: the team gets an automatic berth in the “Roar of the Rings”, which is the event that determines which teams will represent Canada at the next winter Olympics. Since Canada is a perennial medal contender in curling on both the women’s and men’s sides — the last Olympics, I believe, was the first time that neither team managed to win a medal, while the gold in the new event of mixed doubles was won by the Canadian team — it means that the teams that win this get themselves one step closer to winning an Olympic medal.

After not making the playoffs in her previous two Grand Slam of Curling events, Rachel Homan went 5 – 1 here and ended up in first place by virtue of beating the other 5 – 1 team, Tracy Fleury, a team that has been having an incredible season so far and had been running up the score against their opponents in the round robin. However, Homan managed to turn the tables on her in the game she won, beating her 10 – 7. Fleury then managed to keep up her stellar play in the semi-final, beating Chelsea Carey — who beat Homan in the round robin — 9 – 4 to set up what might have been another battle of the tremendous offenses in the final.

However, Homan was dominant, winning going away 9 – 4 in nine ends. Homan took 4 in the third end and 2 in the fifth end to run up the score, while Fleury didn’t manage to score 2 in any end in the game.

Homan’s team can be streaky. They tend to be streaky towards the “winning a lot” end of the scale, but they’ll perform relatively poorly in a number of events and then go through a stretch where they’re completely unbeatable, like last year where they struggled a bit at the start of the year and then won three straight Grand Slam events for the second time. I think the reason for this is similar to what cost them at the past Olympics: they play a very high risk game and demand that their opponents go along with them on that. When they’re on their game, few if any teams can keep pace, but when they’re off for any reason an opponent that is on their game can beat them and they can also beat themselves. They’re also skilled enough to be a bit lucky, as in this game alone there were a few triples and the like that were the ideal but not the expected result. In another game, they might miss one of them and then still leave some openings for their opponent, but when they make them as the commentators noted it becomes deflating as a situation that looks like it has promise suddenly goes to one where there’s nothing, and even to one where the opponent is now suddenly in trouble.

Still, Fleury did fail to take advantage of the times where Homan made a mistake, which was certainly enough to justify the score. Homan’s entire team played well, but Fleury’s didn’t.

I also watched some of the men’s games, and one thing that stood out to me about them is that so much of the time the men kept calling the sweepers on and off, which I didn’t notice much in the women’s games. With the new ability of the sweepers to impact the path of the rocks and how men are far better at sweeping than women, it likely is the fact that sweeping all the way down would have a huge impact that is causing the on and off of sweeping: they need to see what it’s done to the rock before they can decide if they need more sweeping.

The next event is actually next week, returning to the Grand Slam of Curling with the Boost National.