Thursday, March 20, 2008

2008 Tim Hortons Brier: Recap

Last weekend, Amber and I sat in front of the computer and watched the Canadian national championship of curling, otherwise known as the Tim Hortons Brier. Here's a Canadian take on the event; what about my take?

Actually, I wasn't overly impressed. These guys are supposed to be the best curlers in the world, right? Well, listening to the CBC commentary, you'd think so. (Canadians are fairly arrogant about their status in the world with regards to curling.) But there were several missed shots. Now...they didn't miss any shots that I probably would have been able to make (at least consistently), but still. Worse yet, they all blamed it on the ice conditions. The losing skip, Glenn Howard, had this to say: "You just weren't sure what was going to happen. I didn't enjoy it that much. ... You just weren't sure about the ice conditions." Geez - talk about a sore loser! I thought Canadians were supposed to be friendly and gracious - especially Canadian curlers. I don't care how bad the ice conditions were, Glenn - you got beat. Nobody wants to hear you whine about it. How about just tipping your proverbial cap and moving on? I've never heard anyone complain about the ice conditions in our curling club, and we play on some rather questionable ice (which, honestly, makes the matches more fun).

Maybe I just don't appreciate how big of a deal this is in Canada. By winning the event, the Kevin Martin-led team gets to represent Canada in next month's world curling championships. Martin has skipped for Canada before, in the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics. I've watched enough curling to this point, I'm starting to recognize all of these guys.

The format of the Tim Hortons Brier is this, in a nutshell: 12 teams, each representing one Canadian province. (Northern Ontario has their own team, and Yukon and Northwest Territories have a single team.) Each province has their own tournament to determine which team moves on to the Brier. It got me thinking - what if the United States had a similar tournament, where each state was represented with one team? Only the top 12 states would make the finals, because it's not really practical to have a full round-robin tournament involving more than 12 teams. Of course, you could have qualifiers to whittle the lineup down to 12 from however many states enter a team.

I think the 12 finalists would look something like this:

1) Minnesota
2) Wisconsin
3) North Dakota
4) New York
5) Massachusetts
6) Michigan
7) Illinois
8) Ohio
9) Alaska
10) California
11) Colorado
12) Washington

That's based partly on reputation, and partly a list of curling clubs across the United States. Ohio has five curling clubs, but honestly, I don't know what kind of a reputation Ohio curling has. Are they any good? Would they be better than, say, New Hampshire? If we had this tournament, we could find out! And as North Carolina's only curling club, the Triangle Curling Club could send their own team! We'd be completely out-classed, especially against teams from Minnesota and Wisconsin, but at least we'd have a chance.


Walter said...

I actually watched the last four ends, and I was surprised by how clean the houses stayed during the ends. I seem to remember many more guards and complicated situations in the '06 Olympics. Is this common of top-flight curling? Also, I am curious about intentionally blanking an end to keep the hammer. Is this something done only at higher levels were the competition is good, or is it common down to the club level?

As for the ice conditions, it was hardly just one skip complaining. I think this syndrome is hardly unique to curling. I've seem some form of it in just about every pro sport, though the best analogue is probably a problem golf course. And I think there is a reason for it, beyond the obvious of becoming spoiled by good conditions. When you reach a certain level, all of the things that make things more "more fun" (usually meaning random) for amateurs become less fun, because those small, random things suddenly make a *significant* difference. That pebble your rock hits of divot your ball falls in gets mixed in a dozen or so other mistakes you and your opponent make during the match. To a pro, that could cause one of only a few poor results, providing a much bigger impact. When you get skillful at something, it becomes increasing frustrating to have something beyond your control detract from your game, and when the stakes are high it is even more so.

Chris Allen said...

I seem to remember many more guards and complicated situations in the '06 Olympics. Is this common of top-flight curling?

I think so, but I'd agree with you - there seemed to be an awful lot of take-outs in this match, much more so than normal. From that respect, actually, the match wasn't all that entertaining. Take-out the guard, replace the guard, take-out the guard, replace the guard again...

Also, I am curious about intentionally blanking an end to keep the hammer. Is this something done only at higher levels were the competition is good, or is it common down to the club level?

I've only seen this at higher levels, where it's much harder to "steal" (score without the hammer). Steals are much more common at the club level, because the shot making is much less precise, and thus, blank ends (intentional or not) are quite rare.

kevin said...

I found your blog through a link on the Curling News blog and thought I would throw in my own thoughts.

The lack of rocks in the house are simply strategy. Both Howard and Martin are known for keeping it clean and going more for the hits then playing a guards and draw game. It's not always the case in higher-level curling, but by having fewer rocks in play, that reduces the difficulty of shots and thus reduces the chances for mistakes to be made. Certainly having more rocks in play makes for a more interesting game (and a lot more fun to play!) but doesn't necessarily give you the best chance to win the game. If the opposing team only has one or two rocks in play, it makes it hard for the game to get out of hand quickly.

As for intentional blanks, I know it's relatively common in my club (I play at Halifax Curling Club), maybe coming up once every two or three games. The general thinking is that if you have the hammer, you should go for at least two points and if you don't you should try to steal at least one. Failing that, you should try to keep the hammer until you have a better shot at scoring multiple points. Like keeping the house clean, it's a strategy. Depending on the score, how the team is curling and other things, it might be preferable to take the single point.

Ice is frustrating at competitive levels simply because it doesn't allow players to be their best. No one wants to see something like a national championship decided by dirty ice. While complaints on conditions often come from the losing squad, poor ice is often the case in larger arenas (the Brier was played in an arena that is normally used for hockey). Facilities dedicated for curling, like clubs or the curling sheets at the Olympics don't have these problems as much.
I agree with Walter, where things like unpredictable ice may make the game more interesting and challenging in recreational curling, at a competitive level it's frustrating as it doesn't allow for an accurate representation of the skill on the ice. You mentioned yourself that there was a lot of misses, and watching the game myself, a lot of it was due to the teams trying to figure out the ice and being unable to. Would the game have been more exciting if both teams were playing top notch curling, making almost all their shots and being a real reflection of who was the best curlers?

From the Sackside said...

To blame the ice in defeat isn't cool. I agree. It didn't look good on Howard and I was suprised at some of the comments Hart made to the media after the game.

Blank with the hammer if you're not going to score multiple points.

World Men's in Grand Forks is going to be very good. I've heard nothing but the best reviews of the facility. I'm heading down for the opening week-end.

Canada will win Gold. Just like we did in World Women's. After all, we are the best...just kidding..