The Teehead is a Lonely Place, Karmic Chicken Wings
I initially started this entry like the ones for the Cloverdale and Vernon Cashspiels. The idea of a daily recap with insights into different aspects of the sport at a competitive level, both on and off ice. As the weekend unfolded, and we exited far earlier than hoped for in a manner unexpected, all I came up with were lengthy, dreary recounts of how we lost games we should have won against opponents we are far better than (IMHO of course).
The resulting effort was so depressing I would have had you looking for sharp objects to end your suffering. A total rethink and rewrite was in order. I am, in a fashion, revisiting a small part of the theme of the last blog. But given the events of Kamloops I think it’s important to delve into it further-for those of you considering skipping as a curling career choice.
The reality is simple; no matter how I dress it up, I can’t hide the fact that we stank the joint out in Kamloops. And when I started this whole blog thing I made a promise to myself to be honest, brutally honest, and not sugarcoat things.
Instead, this entry will try to portray how it feels to have everything go horribly sideways at an event where, after two solid spiels, we felt we had a good chance to win it. I also have the unique ability to convey it from two perspectives, my own at third and what it feels like to be at the helm when the worst happens. Because I’ve been there, done it.
In four games we managed one win. in game one we blew a 4 point lead with two ends to go against Randie Shen and his Chinese Tapei team. Now Randie is a friend and a good player, but he’d be the first to admit we are the stronger team. We gave up 3 in the 7th, a tying steal in the 8th and then didn’t come within a bulls roar of winning in the extra end.
In our second game against Tyler Tardi, we blew another lead with two ends to go but eked out our sole win in overtime-mainly because we finally twigged to the fact that one of Stephen’s rocks was bad. Something we didn’t discover though, until after they stole the tying point in the 8th.
During the 3rd end of our following game, down one to Brady Clark of Seattle, Stephen was hit with a sudden, massive sinus headache. He lost his touch and his focus. They stole a point in the 3rd but we were still in it. He then came up massively short on two draws in the 4th to let them steal 3. In the 5th he told me what was happening but it was too late to do anything. They stole another point and we conceded to give him time to recover. After all, we were still alive in the C event, in a good spot with only two games to qualify and facing a rematch against Shen at 0830 the next morning (Shen had badly lost his next two games after ours).
I was confident that after a night of rest and some sinus medication, Stephen would bounce back and we’d win the first game.
It just wasn’t to be. We started the first end flat. Shawn uncharacteristically missed two hits to leave them lying three. I made a hit and roll then a partial double-putting us in a position to get out of the end only giving up two-shitty, but not insurmountable-then Stephen jammed a takeout, not removing any of their stones and laying three. Shen drew to lie four but left a very makeable freeze for us to kill his end. Stephen was narrow and light when wide and heavy was the right way to miss. We didn’t even make the rings, giving Shen a free draw for the five.
We tried to rally and had chances to score 3’s in the 2nd and 3rd ends. We missed each time, allowing a steal in the 2nd and then instead of scoring 3 in the third end we only got one. We stole a single in the 4th but in the 5th we couldn’t generate the steal, giving up two more points and the handshake.
Just like that we were gone from Kamloops.
Stephen took the blame for all three losses. He struggled the last part of our first game, suffered a debilitating headache in the 3rd game and I’m not certain he wasn’t still hurting in our last game. He had taken sinus medication but it has a history of making him dizzy-not the optimal state for a successful slide on slippery ice. He’s a good friend but he wouldn’t want me lying or making excuses for him. He tried but he simply wasn’t at his best. It had to be especially painful with the Semi-final loss in Vernon to Japan still fresh in his mind.
The good thing is we’re a supportive, understanding team who knows that no one feels worse than the Skipper. Sure, we’ll give him the needle from time to time. But never cruelly. Each of us would gladly take the hurt away or shoulder it ourselves-if we could. Meanwhile we wait for the next event. Knowing Stephen will be raring to go and prove that Kamloops was just a bump, a slight veer, in the road.
This is why Skip can be the loneliest position in sport. You call the shots, read the ice, call 75% of the sweeping and then throw the final two rocks of every end. Unlike the other 3 positions-who all have the benefit of someone following them to, hopefully, fix the fuckups-there’s no one throwing after the skip. You’re naked, exposed like a raw nerve, with nowhere to hide and left open to judgment based on the outcome of your efforts to win, save or lose a game.
I know precisely how this feels. I skipped for many years with relative success. I know the exhilaration from making that big shot to win or outwitting your opponent strategically. But it’s a high that only lasts until your next game.
I also know the opposite. The crushing and humiliating defeats (even ones that seemed sure victories), losing your touch for games at a time (wondering if it will ever come back), feeling like an idiot for blowing a line call. The list is of errors is endless and utterly unsympathetic.
This is the price you have accept if you choose to step on the Teehead. I won’t mislead you, I’ve watched countless people try out the position and make quick exits after a few losses. Seen teammates usurp their skips, feeling they could do better, only to watch them get humbled in short order. Sure, you can blame your players for a few games lost. But that gets thin really fast when you can’t make the shots because you can’t handle the heat that comes with the position.
You need a big-ass set of shoulders to sit in the big chair. If handling pressure isn’t your strong suit, then you’d best consider an alternate position on the team. Because you have no business helming the ship.
On the other hand, if you eat stress for all three meals of the day, relish fame and infamy and want desperately to be the one who tosses that final stone to win, or lose, it all then you just might have the ingredients to be a skip. Or you’re a masochist.
Even though we failed at Kamloops there is a silver lining. Based on our previous two finishes, making provincials the past two years in a row and a little bit of lobbying by Sir Stephen; we have-in spite of ourselves-wangled a regional invitation to participate in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling Tier Two spiel in Cranbrook this November.
It meant we all had to quickly change vacation schedules with our workplaces (if we make the Semi-final on Sunday I’ll be skipping-Stephen has to fly out that morning for business obligations in Germany on Monday morning) and pull out the Abbotsford cashspiel later in the month. Personally, I could’ve passed on the event. I’m not a big GSOC fan-another topic for another entry later on-but the guys really want to go, so we’re going.
Except now I’m in the ironic position of having to somewhat eat my words from the last sentence of my first entry.
The title sponsor? Pinty’s? They make frozen pub foods.
Their big seller? Frozen chicken wings. Which I will now be helping to hawk to the masses.
Karma’s a bitch, ain’t it?