Spoilers, a Nice Rebound and the Evil Twins…
One blog back I mentioned how we had to be on our toes going up against Andrew Bilesky. If you recall, he was 0-3 with no chance of advancing to the money. That made them a very dangerous team when you’re in a round-robin qualifying format. Nothing to gain, yet also nothing to lose. With zero pressure on them they could play spoiler, come out loose and not miss a thing.
While that didn’t exactly happen, we did lose to a team we should have beaten. Sadly, the score was once again 8-1. The game started well for us. We had last rock advantage in the first end (I’m 3-0 in coin tosses so far) and had a great chance for two in the first end. Unfortunately, we didn’t take enough ice on Stephens last shot-a quiet take out that maddeningly over curled a millimeter, rubbed our own stone and then was redirected just enough to miss Bilesky’s shot stone and give them a steal of one. No biggie, we thought, a good end that just went sideways and it’s only a single point steal.
In the second we had another end built to score two and again just missed-but scored a single to tie the game at one. So we were, at least, outplaying our opponents. Then the wheels fell off in the 3rd and we gave up a horrible 6. True, it’s not as bad as giving up 7 or the ultimate 8. But it effectively ends the game. Coming back is possible when you still have another 5 ends to play (this event was the usual 8 end games most cashspiels have become), but it’s rare. You need to bounce back the next end with a big score (think 3 or more) to give your team a lift and make the comeback appear attainable.
We didn’t accomplish that, gave Bilesky another steal of 1, his only win of the event and an early handshake.
You might ask; How does an end like that happen? There’s just one single answer; we missed a shitload of shots in succession, that’s how.
To try and blame one player or missed shot-as some curlers I know will do-as the root cause of a disastrous end is ultimately damaging to the team and its overall long-term goals. The truth was simple; we sucked for 7 straight shots. Even though our misses were frustratingly close to made shots, they were still failures and not successes.
Like I said back on the Day One blog, you win because the other guy misses. Sometimes you get 1 to win, sometimes you get 6, or more. Or, the other guys get those points and you lose.
Thankfully, our team is made up of older guys. (Stephen, our resident team comedian, couldn’t resist doing the math and announced our teams average age is 47.75). Yet being older also means more experienced. We know from many previous drubbings in our pasts that we can bounce back. We also know blowouts this early in the season are not indicative of the remainder of the season. We’re also blessed with four personalities who don’t finger point. We take the loss as a team and move on.
Thankfully, The Chinese Nationals were busy beating Sean Geall while we were losing to Bilesky. This meant he would be 2-1 going into our game tonight. A win against Geall would give both our teams a 2-2 record, but we would claim the 2nd money round berth by virtue of beating Geall-as ties are broken first by head-to-head records. We wouldn’t have to resort to the dreaded ‘draw-off’ records to decide who advanced and who went home.
This is the unfortunate reality of the round robin qualifying method versus the triple knock-out format. The benefit of the round robin format is the guaranteeing of at least 4 games-even if your record makes the last few meaningless. So if it’s your first event of the year, you want those games because although winning is nice its secondary to getting your team and yourself up to speed. All in all, though, I prefer the TKO.
We went out for supper, which was bought by Shawn-thanks buddy, had I known in advance I’d have ordered something more expensive! -then returned to the club with time to kick back. I got a nice call from my 7-year-old daughter Zoe to inform Daddy that she had lost her second baby tooth, far more important than how Daddy was curling, and that she was going to hug her Stitch stuffy that night and pretend it was me. It was a nice reminder of more important things in life than a silly game of granite on ice.
We hit the ice at 830 against Geall in the must win game. With hammer in the first (another coin toss win, I was flying at 4-0) we nailed them with a 5 ender. That 5 count effectively took the wind right out of their sails. When you can put a team deep in the hole in the first end it can be a devastating psychological blow-if you’re smart and know how to proceed from that point on.
When you’re behind in any game, rocks in play are your friend and ally. Sure, down 5 your odds of a comeback aren’t favorable. But they’re way better when your opponent willingly gives you stuff to use instead of keeping those usable stones to a minimum-if not nothing at all. Yet there are teams/skips who ignore this simple fact and go for the throat by continuing a very aggressive approach. The theory being you have points to waste so why not try to end the game early. It does sometimes work, but it also, sometimes, backfires.
Us? Did I not mention we’re old fucks with a bit of experience? we’d already learned that painful lesson years, okay decades, ago. We knew this was now a war of attrition. Our goal was simple: when Geall had hammer try to hold them to one but never give up more than two. When we got the hammer back, try to recover that lost single or deuce and maintain the 5-point gap but not at the expense of giving up a steal. We would gamble with last rock if the situation was favorable,but not until my last stone of the end-unless misses forced our hand early.
And that, is exactly what we did for the next 6 ends until Geall conceded defeat when we scored two in the 7th end to make the final score 10-5.
There exists a small percentage of folks in the game who would call our approach in this situation boring for the fans. Well, sobeit, I’m not paid to entertain you. We’re not hockey players who get paycheques no matter what the final score is. Competitive curlers are like golf pros-we only get cash if we make the cut. Sign me to a guaranteed contract and I’ll put all eight of my stones in play every end no matter the outcome. Until then I’m playing to win, my way. Smart teams? they follow the same program as we do and only on the rarest of occasions does it fail.
The win, as mentioned, put us into the money round on Sunday. Unlike qualifying, this section is an 8 team Single Knockout format. One loss and you’re done, but the farther you advance, the more money you make. However, before Sunday there was first a little matter of the ‘draw-off’ to attend to.
The draw-off is a competition where each member of your team attempts a draw, with sweeping, to the button. The distance from the center of the rings is measured for each stone, totaled and then compared against the results of other teams to determine your ranking and who you play first in the first round of the finals. The block winners are seeded first and then the rest of the teams in order. We ended up 6th seed overall thanks to a pretty abysmal draw-off. Shawn and I didn’t even hit the rings (well, I hadn’t thrown a draw since the first end for crying out loud. What did you expect?) but at least Brant and Stephen were in the four foot. We would face the #5 seed, Wes Johnson from Seattle, in our quarter final game at 9am the next morning.
It was just 10pm when we finished everything so Stephen and I headed up to the lounge to watch the final ends of the games still underway. Drinks in hand (Smirnoff Ice for the skipper, a club soda for me), we decided to join Geall’s table. Curlers are pretty amiable folks. It’s rare there’s any real, lingering animosity between teams after games or with former teammates. It’s also a generally respected tradition to sit with your opponents after a game and socialize. It’s one of the things I love about the game that should be adopted in every sport.
Plus, if you ever get the chance to witness the Stephen and Sean show firsthand you should take full advantage. These two are evil twins who should probably never be left alone in a room with sharp objects. The quickest way to explain the relationship is this: Stephen is openly gay while Sean is straight. They both possess the same quick but filthy wit and neither hesitates to take the on, and off, ice conversations into the toilet-at the earliest of opportunities. The back and forth combination of flirting, teasing and insulting that ensues when these two get in close proximity to each other is hilarious.
For example, since last season there has been an ongoing bet between the two. The subject of which is long forgotten and was also decided back then. Now what remains is the dispute of who won (I’m pretty sure it was Geall) and who has to pay up. Because the terms of the bet are the loser has to play for the winner’s side-if you get my meaning. The fun now is watching these two, in ever increasing dirty terms, debate who won and what they are supposed to do. Sample from Stephen: “I wouldn’t know what to do. It would be like building IKEA furniture for me. I’d need instructions and an Allen key!” In return Sean’s reply went “I’m not dealing with some guys pipe unless I get dinner and a movie first”. And that’s the clean version people.
This goes on for a while and the table never stops laughing or smiling the entire time. I love moments like this and when we finished our drinks and headed out some 20 minutes later I realized, sadly, how much I’ll miss them when this season is over, because I decided back in July that this would be my last truly competitive kick at the can.
But before that time comes, there’s the matter of the rest of this season and, more urgently, tomorrow to deal with.