Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Curling Recap: 4/29-5/2/10

(If you're interested in my thoughts on Cinco de Mayo, here's something I wrote three years ago.)

Last week was the final "two game" week of the curling season. Amber and I have been curling as much as anyone else in the club over the last month, so...did we pass the "final exam"?

Before we get to that, let's run through the Thursday pick-up game real quick...

Thursday, April 29th

End............ 12345678 |TTL
-----------------------------
Allen.......... 23300420 | 14
P. Hamilton.... 00011001 | 03

In the previous week's Thursday pick-up game, my team had a rather unfair advantage, as my team had two experienced curlers (Amber and me) while the other team only had one (the skip). Same deal here, for the most part. And, I once again had the privilege of playing with a good front end. Which is funny, because the folks in charge of picking teams gave Amber and me the least experienced front end of all - this was their first full game ever - to help compensate for the "Amber advantage". I forget their names (Michael, I think, and his girlfriend...darn it, I'm normally really good with this sort of thing), but they played great.

This game was six days ago, so I don't remember much about the game itself. I do know that once the game got to 8-0, I stopped employing "serious" strategy and started throwing "fun" shots (i.e. complicated take-outs). I even hit some of them, including another double take-out. Not sure if I would have tried that shot if the game was close, but...hey, this is just a pick-up game, so why not try the fun shots? These pick-up games don't really count, anyway. (Well, for my all-time stats, they do. My all-time record in pick-up games is 10-3, so evidently, I take these games more seriously than most.)

Now...Sunday's "league championship" game. Recall that last season, my team won its first three games to qualify for the league championship, and then lost big in the final. This season, our team won our first four games. Will history repeat itself? Yes.

Sunday, May 2nd

End............... 12345678 |TTL
--------------------------------
Allen............. 00000200 | 02
D. Hamilton (UNC)* 10214011 | 10

(* - There are two people named "Dave Hamilton" in the Sunday League, so to help distinguish between the two of them, I made up identifiers. This Dave happens to be a grad student at UNC, for example.)

So...you are free to start the comparisons between myself and the likes of Peyton Manning, the early 90s Buffalo Bills, and Alex Ovechkin - sports figures who can't get it done at "crunch time". This year, I have skipped 11 games, and have a 9-2 record; the only losses coming in league championship games. That sounds very Peyton Manning-like, does it not?

Let's make excuses! First off, it would make sense that the two games we are most likely to lose are the league championship games, because they come against the toughest competition. Both opponents were worthy league champions. So, this wasn't like losing to the #8 seed in the first round of the playoffs (ahem, Ovechkin). On the other hand, the combined score of these games was 18-4...but that may have more to do with my comeback strategy than perceived "chokery". More on that later.

And, besides, even though I have been playing skip a lot as of late (Sunday was my 16th game as skip), I still haven't been doing this all that long. Let's not get ahead of ourselves here. I probably have no business skipping a team all the way to the league championship anyway. But I've been fortunate to play on some very good teams, and I'm proud of what my teams have been able to accomplish the last two seasons. And, we had fun, too! (Aww.) So much so, that we're planning on teaming up with Justin and Tabby again at a one-day tournament in June. (Hopefully they don't regret that decision at this point.)

Regardless, Sunday was not our team's best game. It happens. The ice was very slow (probably due to the high humidity), and it took a while for us to be able to throw it hard enough to get it all the way down the ice. Case in point: a rare blank end (no points for either team) in the 2nd! As I've discussed before, the Olympic curling strategy of "don't score one with last rock, blank the end instead and keep last rock" doesn't really apply in our games. We want the points. And I assure you, I was trying to score one with my last rock, but I left it short. It took us a very long time to adjust to the ice, and by the time we did (the 5th end, probably), we were already losing 4-0.

Now, about that 5th end. Recall that my general curling strategy is to "avoid the big end", which means avoiding take-outs if possible, in favor of getting rocks in the house. Even if the other team gets one in great position, my strategy usually isn't "take it out right now!", it's "throw one in the house to help defend against the big end, and maybe give us something we can use later". Problem was, we were already losing 4-0, so I had it in the back of my head that we had to score at least one in the 5th end, even though we didn't, really. 5-0 after 5, while not ideal, is not game over. After Erica, the other team's lead, threw one right on the button with one of her rocks, I started going for take-outs. A few missed shots later, and all of a sudden, there were four opponent rocks in the house and at least three guards (some of which were rocks that we left short) in front. We were screwed. The call on my last shot was to get it in the house and cut the other team's score down from four to two, but I left it short, and they scored their four. That was pretty much game over. (I didn't give up, though - if not for a last rock take-out by Dave in the 7th, we would have pulled to 8-4 with one end remaining, which on our ice is not an impossible situation.)

So, here's what I've learned. Once we got behind, I abandoned my usual conservative strategy - go for one or two in every end, guard it, don't throw too many take-outs, and defend against the big end. Instead, I called lots of take-outs, and tried to score big ends (lots of draws into the house) rather than protecting what we had (a couple of draws, then guards). The other team is going to hit something eventually, so you need to throw guards at some point. Most of my teams' high scoring ends have actually come that way - throw guards, and if we get lucky, those guards get bumped into the house later on. No need to panic when down 4-0; just stick with the gameplan.

I also think that the success I had throwing take-outs the last two weeks got in my head, and I forgot how difficult they can be on our ice sometimes. In that respect, playing on Thursday - and winning big - probably did not help my cause on Sunday. I would have much rather had the two Thursday pick-up games (combined score 25-4) be close, competitive games rather than easy victories. It's a lot more exciting that way, and you learn a lot more about strategy, too.

Side note: Scorekeeper Cliff was activated off injured reserve last week, so that'll be it for the player shot percentages for a while, at least for games that I'm playing in. Just as well...

This was pretty much the end of the season, so...what's next? This Friday, I'm going to come out and watch the Friday League championship game, and keep player shot percentages and everything. After that, my next scheduled game is a pick-up game on May 20th.

Thinking ahead...when it comes time for the Fall League, Amber and I will once again ask to play vice-skip and skip, respectively. I have enough experience at this point to at least hang with the "big boys", particularly when I'm teamed with Amber. (We seem to communicate well and play well together. Fancy that! Having never skipped a game without Amber, I actually don't know how well I would do with someone else. We make a good team.) However, I should note that most of the club's best skips played in the Friday League, not my Sunday League, so I haven't had to skip against many of the Triangle Curling Club's best. With that in mind, despite my 11-5 all-time record as skip, I know I stand no higher than 11th or 12th on the Triangle Curling Club skip totem pole. I still have a long way to go, but that's okay, because I have a lifetime to master the sport.

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