A Missed Opportunity, Feeling Bad for the Skipper, But That’s the Nature of This Stupid Game
Sunday began with another feline alarm clock going off before my own. At least this time she let me sleep 30 minutes longer than Saturday. After the ritual I got to work making a good, greasy breakfast for Shawn, Brant and myself. One 500G package of bacon, two large Russets chopped into hash browns and fried in most of the rendered bacon fat and, lastly, 8 eggs scrambled in the remainder of said fat with a bit of Grand Padano grated in at the last. Coffee (whatever’s on sale. I am not a coffee snob) for Eklund and I, Earl Grey tea for Brant.
If you noticed the common thread of bacon throughout the menu, get used to it when I refer to food. Far as I’m concerned if everyone would eat bacon there’d be world peace.
No last minute rush today. We’d already agreed I would be tapping on doors at 0930. The goal was to arrive bright eyed and bushy tailed by 1105 for the 1200 game. Which we accomplished, heading out at 11am and arriving 5 minutes later at the club, simultaneously with Stephen. There’d be lots of time to gear up, stretch and get ready for the practice and draw off.
Except for a couple of things.
First, we found out we already had hammer in the first end by virtue of qualifying out of the B. This meant no draw off, but we’d still practice to get warmed up. Second, the ladies quarter finals were running late, moving the starting time for our draw to 1230 in order to give Merk enough time to prep the ice for the semi-finals.
This is a common occurrence in most Curling events. Although games roughly take 15 minutes per end to complete (2 hours for 8 ends, 2.5 for 10) and some events are actually timed, there is always the possibility that games go long due to slow play or extra ends.
In one aspect we resemble Baseball, (with ends instead of innings) where there is no clock and no game is completed until the winning point is scored. Baseball has extra innings-which can go on indefinitely-we have extra ends. And because an end can be blanked, our sport also can go on and on until someone finally scores. Granted, the nature of play makes this rare. But I have played two extra ends three times and I have watched one game go 3 extra ends.
The point is extra ends tack on time that can delay the start of the next game on the sheet in question. Spectators love the drama of overtime while Ice makers, as you can imagine, hate them. Competitive curlers learn to deal with the delay. It’s just another part of playing a cashspiel or playdowns.
While we were busy eating fried pork products, Japan and Sean Geall were playing the C qualifier to see who would face us. Thanks to modern technology, we were checking the World Curling Tour web page every 15 minutes for an update on the score. We didn’t really care who we played. Some teams put too much worry and emphasis on who’s next. We don’t. Probably because we’re too damned old to worry if it’s the reigning World Champ or some guy from the Sunday Men’s D square in Sunday Men’s who came in just to fill out the draw. Truth is, we can lose to, or beat, either on any given day. We just follow the score out of pure curiosity.
And, going by the line score alone, their game was a good one. Tied at 3-3, Morozumi used hammer to score one in the 8th to eke out the win. Low score, probably a boring game, you say? Not true. The Free Guard Zone rule does not guarantee high scoring games. There is always the chance that the team with hammer can save a horrendous end with a single shot and score one. There can also be tons of rocks in play every end and no way to score more than one. So never presume a low score = boring curling. It might, in fact, be the most fun game to watch.
So, our third game of the spiel against Japan began. Morozumi forced us to one in the 1st, then was able to blank the 2nd to retain hammer. In the 3rd, while lying two, unguarded, in the four foot, we elected to chase their 3rd stone around a corner guard with a freeze attempt. Hindsight being 20/20 it was a mistake. I was a foot heavy and slightly wide-bouncing off their stone and sliding deep. What we should have done was either peel the corner guard-effectively conceding no worse than two for them, or go balls out and guard our stones in an attempt to steal.
The freeze attempt wasn’t all that bad of a call. But we weren’t playing the scoreboard as we should have. Morozumi took advantage, made two nice shots and scored 3. Play the peel and it’s no worse than 2 and a point down. Instead they jump to a 3-1 lead. At the time we all liked the call so we’re all equally to blame. It just shows that even guys as experienced as us can still fuck up.
We tied the game in the 4th with a pair, the 5th was blanked and we then forced them to a single in the 6th. Tactically we were in a great spot. Down one with hammer in the second to last end, we would play the 7th with the initial intent of blanking. But if opportunity presented itself to take 2 or more we’d switch gears and go after it.
Now there is a school of thought that you have to rigidly adhere to a game plan (or end plan if you wish) in curling. No matter what you decide to do, you stick to it, come hell or high water.
Well, that’s just about the stupidest approach you can have and it will have you get big ends, forces or a steal shoved up your ass in a big hurry. You have to maintain a degree of flexibility and be ready, should the need arise, to instantly shift gears and go from defense to offense or the reverse. Why? because as I’ve said before; you win or lose because someone misses.
By all means aim for that blank and having hammer in the last end. But if your opponent misses several shots (or God forbid it’s your team doing the deed) you better reconsider and switch your strategy. You might end up with a big score and the win or, you might save your teams butt.
So we started the 7th with the initial goal of the blank. To counter, Japan called a tight center guard (ideally leaving it for a short run through or tap if required) but didn’t execute, leaving it long. We drew around it nicely to the top four. They tried the freeze but came up short of the rings. We came around again and suddenly, a score of two or more was in play.
Morozumi was now on his heels, having to make a multiple raise run back to save the end (this is a lot tougher than it sounds and being the 7th end there was extra pucker factor as well). After 3rds stones we lay two buried in the four foot behind 3 nice guards. We knew we had at least a deuce secured. While Japan could still make a multiple runback (which he did) our stones were positioned such that we’d only lose one and still have the opportunity to take two or even blank the end. When Morozumi’s first stone came to rest it was exactly as mentioned. We had shot stone, open, while they had 2nd-also open-off in the edge of the 12 foot. There was also still a guard on the center line midway between the Hogline and the house.
We had a decision to make: hit the open Japan stone and lie two or bury around the center guard. Either choice forced Morozumi to make a big decision. If we hit and stayed he could do the same (conceding the two while hoping we might miss the last shot and only get one) or he could throw caution to the wind, draw around the center in a bold attempt to steal and hopefully give up no worse than a point.
If we drew around the guard ourselves but left a teaser, Morozumi would have to decide to either hit the open stone (again conceding the deuce) or chasing us around the guard-which would bring a potential 3 ender into play. We elected to play the draw and tease the 3 ender. Why? Stephen had draw weight all game and we felt the Japanese wouldn’t play the scoreboard and hit the open stone as long as we left half the shooter available for him to chase.
And then the nightmare that all skips dread happened. Stephen went from out shooting Morozumi all game to missing two straight shots.
He came up short of the rings on his draw attempt. Disappointing, but not the end of the world. We knew Japan would now hit our shot stone. We’d trade nose hits for a single and still have a chance to set up a steal to win the game in the 8th. Or, they could roll out and then we’d have the blank opportunity. Morozumi hit and stayed so we now had a routine, control-weight inturn takeout to score one and tie.
Sometimes in curling nothing is routine.
Stephen slid out on line but popped his release-hard. By ‘popped’ I refer to a slight inside-out exaggeration of the release to ensure a positive rotation on the rock. In this case it wasn’t slight and the rock was six inches outside the intended target line. I called Brant and Shawn off the stone immediately. I knew we wouldn’t get the nose hit but still felt we’d peel the stone out. Japan would steal one but we’d still have a good chance to tie in the 8th. Except the stone hung out and didn’t move. We flashed the open hit and they stole 2 for a 6-3 lead heading home.
We tried for the 3 of course, anything can happen after all. But Japan played flawless and held us to one.
Now herein is a lesson for all would be competitive curlers to learn from. There are those out there who would be furious with their skip for what happened and blame them solely for the loss. Never, ever, try to get stuck on a team with players like that. No one, I repeat, no one ever sits in the hack with the intention of missing one, let alone two shots in a row.
Misses happen. That’s how the other team or player wins. Sometimes you execute better than them, sometimes it’s the other way around. I don’t like to hear the ‘choke’ word used because of that simple fact.
When you skip a team it’s your name out front. Win and you get glory. Lose and you can get goat horns. I’ve been there, I’ve done the same thing. I know exactly how Stephen felt after those two shots. You accomplish nothing if you hang the reason for the loss on one moment, because the truth is there were plenty of other misses or half shots earlier in the game that led you to that situation and had those been made shots instead, your team might have been 3 up in the 7th.
If you want any success in competitive curling you better accept one thing pretty quickly: this shit will happen. Not might, not maybe-it will. You have to accept that its part of the sport and it’s going to happen to the poor bastard throwing the last two stones. And you need to remember that more often than not they’ve bailed your ass out of the fire by saving a poorly played end.
So what do you do when this happens? You treat your skip how you’d want to be treated. You back them up and share the responsibility for the outcome. Take that approach and you stand a chance at success on the ice but guarantee your success as a team player.
And if you can’t do that, then you have no business on a team in this sport.
Lecture completed, we were done for the spiel. The boys headed back to the Lower Mainland after a late lunch while I returned to the club to watch the finals. Tyler Tardi had shocked everyone with 6-4 semi-final win over Jim Cotter and then won the spiel in 5-4 thriller against Morozumi. While watching I ruminated on our performance. Yes, reaching the final and the extra money would have been great. But it was still a very solid event for us (I give it an A-) and, most importantly, a continued improvement on our play in Cloverdale. With a CTRS spiel in Kamloops only two weeks from now, that’s what we wanted to see more than anything-growth in our play with room to keep getting better.