How to Almost Win a Game Playing Lousy
It’s just before 9am on Sunday morning in my home in Vernon. Coffee steaming in my Tweetie Bird mug beside the laptop, I have a few extra minutes before the front end rouse themselves from their stupor and our day begins. Time enough for a quick recap on the events of the past two days in the Vernon Cash.
The boys arrived late Thursday night, driving up from Vancouver in Stephen’s Kia. Our front end, Brant Amos and Shawn Ecklund, are staying with me while Stephen basks in luxury at the Prestige Inn. I only have three bedrooms in the condo and he’s a notoriously light and poor sleeper. The snoring that Shawn and I allegedly make would keep him up, so he opts for a room of his own. No biggie, we want a rested, non-grumpy skip after all.
Besides, he’d probably use all the hot water and we’d end up taking cold showers.
Our first game wasn’t until 430pm Friday so the late night arrival didn’t matter-everyone could sleep in and ease into the day. Everyone but me, that is. It was month end at my work and even though I had booked a vacation day well in advance, a slip-up by our department manager meant we had too many people off in my department.
What this meant to me was about 4.5 hours of sleep (I’m usually up at 430am) and a workday. But, it also meant I didn’t have to use a vacation day or dip into holiday pay as well. So as long as I could get a power nap between games (we played at 930pm win or lose) I’d get through a fairly longish day.
Sigh. Once upon a time I didn’t need power naps. Another of the annoyances of getting older. That and occasionally being asked if my 7 year-old is my granddaughter.
I was home just before 1pm, in the shower and completed the usual pre-game chemical ritual. Shawn and Brant were lounging and relaxed, watching movies. Then it was off to the club, about 5 minutes’ drive from my condo, for a quick practice.
The Vernon CC is an 8 sheet, stand-alone facility built back in the early 70’s as part of a recreation complex with a hockey sheet, pool and three gymnasiums. It even has an outdoor skating pad for the wintertime. It’s one of my favorite curling buildings with a high, vaulted wood roof and one of the nicest upstairs lounges you’ll find. There are better facilities in BC. But they lack the charm of my home club.
They also don’t have Merk as their Manager/Ice Maker/Resident Trouble Maker
Dave Merklinger. Where does one begin when describing the character that is Merk? Words like irascible, mercurial, mischievous, and deadpan come to mind as well as kind-hearted, softie and generous. The man is an incredibly talented and dedicated ice maker who knows how to generate fun and interest in our club. He came to Vernon at a time when membership was down and, frankly, things were pretty stale. He injected a blast of energy and in the 15 years that I’ve lived here, the club has never been healthier. True, you either love him or hate him but no one wants to think where our club would be now without him.
Me? I love the guy. But don’t tell him I said that.
Stephen met up with us just after 3pm and we had a quick down and back practice-mainly just to clear the cobwebs. Merk and his crew went to work prepping the ice once the preceding ladies draw was done. 60 minutes later, having won the draw off for hammer, we started game one against Andrew Bilesky. That’s the same team who throttled us with a 6 ender only two weeks earlier in Cloverdale.
Curling being the fickle game it is, it was our turn to be on the winning end of the score. It went into the books as a 5-3 win, but they shook in the 7th end before we completed the end. In fairness to Bilesky he was down a man and was unable to find a spare when 2nd Chase Martyn was unable to get away from work on Friday.
The win was significant. It was the first time in our history that we won the first game of a cashspiel. In four previous events we’d come up dry in game one. It was very nice indeed to have a W, not an L. to start a spiel. It was also against a team that we will have to face again, come playdowns in December-unless we amass enough CTRS points to grab one of those two berths to Provincials.
Next up was Team Japan in the A semi-final. We played Yusuke Morozumi in Vernon last year, beating them in an extra-end. Like the Chinese nationals, they are essentially full-time curlers but not funded or supported to the same extent by their government. Still, Morozumi-and the women’s team that also came to Vernon-travel with a support entourage that the majority of Canadian teams don’t have. We are, for the most part, on our own.
Overall, they’re a more experienced team than the Chinese. But, like China, as sound as they are technically, they still make strategy errors. It’s how we won last year’s match. They tend to fall back on big weight takeouts in situations where a draw wins not just the end, but the game. Stephen and I, being the miserable, grumpy, old and experienced bastards that we are, will not hesitate to take advantage and exploit any trait we can find in order to win a game.
The game was a sloppy affair. We started poorly, surrendering deuces in the first and third ends while being held to a single in the 2nd. We were fortunate to only be down 4-1 as we started the 4th. Taking advantage of another strategy miscue we got a pair to narrow the score to 4-3 then tied it up with a well engineered steal in the 5th. In the 6th end, Morozumi was forced to draw for one facing 3-putting us in a nice position to blank the 7th and use hammer to take 2 in the 8th for the win.
We executed the plan perfectly until Stephen’s last stone, an outturn peel attempt in the back 8 foot. He slid narrow and couldn’t get back to the broom. I tried to see if we could cross over the stone and get the blank that way, but it was one of the few straighter spots on the sheet and the stone never moved. Nose hit, take one, game tied at 5-5 and Japan had the hammer in 8.
We managed to generate some stones in play but couldn’t get the perfect guard covering the button. Although we did lie two-with shot buried and nibbling the side of the four foot-Morozumi had an open draw for the win, which he executed perfectly.
Even though it was a loss in a game where we performed below par, there were still positives to take away. The score should have been lop-sided in their favour, yet we used other parts of the game to stay close and put ourselves in a position to steal a game away from a team out performing us. Trust me, there is nothing more frustrating in curling than having your opponents snatch a victory from under your nose when, by rights, you were kicking their ass.
So Day 1 ends with us at 1-1 and down in the B event. First up at 11am Saturday morning would be Sean Geall (yes, Stephen’s evil twin) followed by games at 430pm and then 7pm-if we kept on winning. Unlike Cloverdale, this event is a Triple Knockout format not a Round Robin. You keep playing in the preliminary round until you qualify for the money or lose 3 games and are eliminated. Teams prefer the format because it rewards winning records (unlike a RR where you could be above .500 and not advance based on a silly draw to the button competition used to resolve tie breakers).
So with our day finishing just before midnight-Morozumi is slow-and facing a long day ahead it was home, a quick snack and into bed. In my case I was running on fumes after getting up at 430am, working a partial, 6 hour shift then playing two games with a Club House sandwich and power nap between games. My head barely hit the pillow and I was out cold.