Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dykes Bonspiel 2012: Recap

Time to recap "The Dykes"! Rather than write a lame introductory paragraph, how about we jump right in with game 1?

Career game #166: 2012 Dykes, A event - February 9, 2012

End................. 12345678 |TTL
Utica (Citriniti)... 3031001i | 08
Triangle (Allen).... 0100210i | 04

(The 'i' means that the 8th end was not played to completion, and was stopped once it became impossible for us to score four.)

Being an arena club team on dedicated curling ice, the first game of an away bonspiel is always pretty tough. It usually takes at least half of a game to adjust. I've been to 6 away bonspiels (including this one), and I'm 1-5 in opening games, losing by a combined total of 56-14. So, an 8-4 loss isn't all that bad for the first game, really...

Here is what we had trouble with in the first game: protecting rocks. Normally, we would think a rock like this red one here would be in pretty good position:

That's a good guard, right? Nope! Against a good curling team (at least half of the Dykes participants), if your rock is even only half exposed, like this one is, they'll still hit it out. Skilled teams can do this pretty regularly. Also, the Utica ice seemed to have much more curl than other dedicated ice rinks that I've played on, making come around draws and somewhat guarded take-outs much easier. Granted, the above situation is much better than if the rock were wide open, but still. We had a hard time keeping rocks in the house, not just in this game, but all weekend. We didn't score more than two points in an end in the entire tournament. ("Swingy" ice also means that raising guards into the house are very difficult; we had practically no luck with those all weekend.)

This team went 4-2 on the weekend and won the F event. (More on the "F event" later.) They're a solid team, but I wonder how we would have done against them later in the weekend, after we had adjusted to the ice. We might still have lost, but I bet it would have been a closer game.

Career game #167: 2012 Dykes, B event - February 9, 2012

End................. 12345678 |TTL
Triangle (Allen).... 12020200 | 07
Ardsley (Klein)..... 00503011 | 10

This is the game I'd like to have back. We played well enough to win, and against a good team (one that went 3-2 and lost in the B event final), but those two big ends in the middle did us in.

What happened in the 3rd and 5th? Well...we missed a few take-outs, and I missed my final draw of the end which might have limited their take (too light/narrow in the 3rd, too heavy in the 5th). When both of those things happen in the same end, you can give up a big number. Playing without hammer was a struggle for us all weekend. I haven't quite figured out the strategy there. I normally start with a center guard and then try to draw around the guard(s) for a steal. But as I explained in the first game recap, we could never really get our rocks protected well enough to mean anything, so they'd just hit them out anyway. And before you know it, they have a bunch of rocks in the house, and we don't. Uh oh!

In away bonspiels, I normally assume the other team is better at take-outs than we are, and that having lots of rocks in play is to our benefit. Only later in the weekend did I realize that a more take-out oriented game might have helped us, by playing to the strength of our team. We didn't make all of our take-outs, sure, but overall I think we did better with take-outs than with draws.

That said, this was a pretty tough game time. The game started at 11 PM, 16 hours after waking up in Binghamton and driving the rest of the way. So, I guess we can be excused for missing a shot or two. Then again, I think the other team was in a similar position, so...well, enough excuses! They earned the win, for sure. Let's move on.

Career game #168: 2012 Dykes, C event - February 10, 2012

End................. 12345678 |TTL
Schenectady (LeMon). 041033xx | 11
Triangle (Allen).... 100200xx | 03

(The 'x' means that we conceded the match after 6 ends.)

This was our worst game of the weekend. I don't really know what happened, other than that the other team made some great shots, and we didn't. For example... (our team = red)

Again, red is in pretty good position, right? Nope! I forget what end this was and what the ultimate outcome was, but it was a pretty big number for the other team. That red rock was reasonably well guarded, but their Skip still found a way to not only reach the red rock, but tap it back far enough to give yellow three or more. And this is pretty much why I question my ability as Skip sometimes. I think I have a pretty good handle on basic strategy, and that I make more shots than I miss. But it is the technical, game-changing shots, like that one, which I don't have the ability to call or execute yet. I'll get there with experience, but when you only play a few games a year on dedicated ice (the only type of ice upon which you can expect to make these shots), then we'll never be able to do this type of thing as well as other teams. This was only my 10th career game as Skip on dedicated curling ice, while I bet the Skips we played this weekend have that many games this year.

There was one other end in this game where we were (I believe) sitting three, with hammer, prior to the Skip's rocks. I don't think we even scored one in that end. What happened? The opposing Skip made a great double take-out (it had to be perfect), followed by a great draw (I think), and I had no answer for either shot. (As a Skip, there's nothing worse than letting a well executed end by the rest of your team go to waste.) Seriously, their Skip was on fire in this game. I'm not sure why they didn't win any other games that weekend. Maybe we just caught them at the wrong time?

Now, normally at a bonspiel, 0-3 means you're done. Not at this year's Dykes! Good thing, too, because the fourth game did wonders for my confidence going forward.

Career game #169: 2012 Dykes, F event - February 11, 2012

End.................. 12345678 |TTL
Triangle (Allen)..... 21001011 | 06
Bucks Co. (Sundheim). 00110100 | 03

Naturally, I'm going to talk more about the game that we won than any of the others.

Bucks County (near Philadelphia) was the only other arena club represented at "The Dykes" this year, so I was looking forward to this game. A theoretically equal opponent! And one in which we don't have to explain the concept of "arena curling" afterwards! Yes!

This game gave me a perfect opportunity to try a change in tactics. No more of this guard, guard, draw, draw, draw crap. That hadn't been working out too well for us. It worked alright at "The Kayser" last year, especially in the game that we won, but that was with a different team. Amber is better at draws than take-outs, for example, so I should call more draws for her to excel. My Dykes team, however, might be more of a take-out team than a draw team, which I didn't think was the case prior to the weekend. (I had curled with each of my teammates before, but never all at once, and never on dedicated ice.)

So, let's throw some take-outs! Keep the house clean and as devoid of opposing rocks as possible. If they leave a rock only half-covered, go for it! The nice thing about that call is that if you're narrow, then you end up with a perfectly fine Plan B: peeling the guard. And, I only called for one guard at the start of the end, not two, whether we had hammer or not. This kept the ice more open, and gave us (particularly me) easier, less technical shots later on in the end. That helped my confidence, and also helped prevent the types of technical "game-changing" shots that the Schenectady Skip made in the third game.

But here are the keys to employing a more take-out oriented strategy. One: don't miss! Miss a couple of take-outs, and all of a sudden, they have a relatively easy route to multiple points. There were at least a couple of ends where Bucks County came very close to putting up a big number.

The 7th end comes to mind. We were leading by one with last rock, and I was trying to keep it as open as possible (no guards!) so that if we couldn't get two, that we could blank the end and still come home with last rock and the lead. But after missing a take-out or two, here's what we were looking at prior to my last rock (our team = yellow):

Even though one or two of their rocks was open, we couldn't hit them, because a hit-and-stick on either of the front rocks would still give them two points. In order to score one, or even cut them down to one, the only play was to draw to the button. Fortunately, I picked that very moment to make my best shot of the weekend. One point yellow! (Thank you, sweepers!) Drawing against a full house with my last rock isn't ideal, but it's a lot easier when there isn't a whole crapload of guards in the way, like there were in our other games.

Key number two to winning with a take-out strategy: the hit and roll. It's as a good as a come-around draw, plus you get rid of one of their rocks in the process!

This was my last shot of the 6th end (after completely whiffing on my first attempt at it), which pretty much took away their opportunity to score two or more. They ended up drawing for one with their last rock, but that was fine with us. Executing the hit and roll behind cover is absolutely crucial to winning with take-outs. But it also takes experience to get the angles and weight just right, because the difference between hitting head-on, or rolling the shooter out of the house completely, is razor thin.

Now, the 8th end. We lead by two without last rock. The strategy? Leave it open! Take out everything! This was our best played end of the entire weekend. We executed the plan nearly to perfection. There was practically nothing in the house at all, and it was beautiful.

But once we left the shooter in the house after a take-out rather than rolling it out, that gave them a small window. They then drew to the top of the house on a freeze attempt that came up a little light, but still worked out okay for them:

I thought the take-out on the red was too risky a call for us. If we hit it head-on and it jams on our yellow, then we just gave them their play for two. Instead, I guarded the center line. I forget what the opposing Skip did on his first rock, but with my final rock I guarded the center line again, and at that point, they had no play for two at all. Game! Hooray!

I wish we could start the weekend over employing a more open strategy. I'm not saying we would have won more than one game that way, but I'd like to think the first game and the third game would have been more closely contested. A take-out strategy is also, I think, more fun. Of course, it's easy for me to say that because we won that one game. Fact is, both teams missed plenty of shots in this one. The 4th end, in particular, might have been the worst-played end in curling history. Neither team got anything into the house at all until Bucks County's last rock of the end. We were very fortunate to get out of that end only giving up one point.

Of course, you need to be able to make both draws and take-outs to win consistently. (Well, duh.) I think my ideal strategy is a more open strategy, but not too open. I still want at least one guard out there.

The F event shootout

Here's how the F event at "The Dykes" worked. After one normal game (the game chronicled above), all four of us threw a rock towards the house, and earned points depending on how close to the button we came: one point if it touches the 12 foot circle, two points if it touches the 8 foot circle, and so on. Our team score is the sum of our four attempts. Then, out of the 6 teams participating in said shootout, the teams with the top two shootout scores played in the F event final on Sunday. We didn't do that well in the shootout, but at least we didn't put up the worst shootout score (5th out of 6). I didn't do my part here. My rock only made it to the 12 foot, barely. Everything else equal, my rock would have had to land right on the button for us to advance to the F event final.

That put is in the rare bonspiel position of being eliminated after having won our last game. I guess it's good to have won your last game, right?

I'm lame, so I don't have a team photo to post, but I'm proud of my team (Adam P. lead, Chris J. second, Chris H. vice, me skip). We had some ups and downs on the ice, but for an arena club on dedicated ice against formidable competition, 1-3 isn't too bad. In fact, it's probably close to our expected value. And, we had fun! At least, we seemed to. I probably need to tone down the intensity on my sweeping calls, though.

The "other" Triangle team

For the first time ever, Triangle Curling Club brought two teams to "The Dykes". My Skip from last year, Mario, took three Dykes rookies with him (Peter Z., Patrick R., Sean C.), and although they also went 1-3 like we did, their games were generally more competitive than ours. Every game they played went down to the final shot, and two went to extra ends.

Now...this video, you HAVE to see, if nothing else just to get a feel for the atmosphere. This was a shot from Mario's win, late Friday night. In case you're wondering what the crowd is like late on a Friday night at a bonspiel, this should give you an idea. AND THE CROWD GOES WILD! Watching that game amongst a boisterous audience was one of the highlights of the weekend. (Video credits to Chris J. I shot some videos as well, but his are better.)


I'm kind of self-conscious regarding my career record as a Skip at away bonspiels: 2 wins, 9 losses. Not so good! But until we have our own dedicated ice facility in the Triangle upon which I can perfect my dedicated ice strategy and shot-making (which is totally different than arena ice strategy and shot-making due to the types of shots you can make), that record will never be above .500. I could maybe get my overall away bonspiel record (currently 7-17) above .500 if I find some good teams (read: ones in which I am not the Skip) to travel with, but the thing is, between my family, money, and vacation time, I can't (and don't really want to) attend more than two away bonspiels per year. My next away bonspiel will be in June, a one-day event at the new Coastal Carolina Curling Club in Wilmington, NC.

I was kind of hoping to get my 100th career win at "The Dykes", but instead, I only got my 99th career win. Will I get that milestone this Friday back at our home rink?

Other Utica Curling Club notes

Of all the curling clubs I've been to, Utica is my favorite. First, they have six sheets, which is a lot for a U.S. club not located in Wisconsin or Minnesota.

Second, the warm room area is HUGE. This is only half of it; it makes an L-shape around the rink. The viewing area is above the ice rather than at ice level, making it much easier to watch the games.

Third, the food was superb. Chicken parmesan on Friday, steak on Saturday. And I didn't overeat, either! (That's usually a problem for me at bonspiels.) Job well done, considering they had 200 curlers to feed.

The club was in a great location, too, with plenty of parking, and it was not located adjacent to a skating rink (which is the only option for some clubs when they build). The only thing missing was online streaming of the games, like at Rochester last year, but that's still the exception rather than the rule. By the way, the Rochester broadcasters have since expanded their live curling streaming enterprise and established the 12th End Sports Network, which broadcasts live games from several U.S. clubs, and this week is streaming the U.S. Championships live from Philadelphia.

And that concludes my career as a "5 and under" curler. I will be ineligible to participate in next year's Dykes, so that's why I made it a point to go this year, and I'm glad I did. Sure, it would have been nice to play better, but the deck is stacked against us, so I think we held our own. And, most importantly, we had fun. The GNCC's "5 and under" bonspiels are fantastic events, and I'm going to miss them.

1 comment:

James said...

Comments on your strategy without hammer:

If you are are in a close game or losing, the center line guard is generally the proper call. If the other team is good with takeouts, it can be a good idea to put up two center line guards if the other team hasn't gone to the draw around. If they have, it is time to work on freezes, all in the hopes of stealing, or a force of 1 at worst.

If you are leading, I would lean towards throwing at least your first stone into the top 8 or top 4. Then the other team has to decide if they are going to try to set up their 2 by putting up corner guards, or start hitting your counter. That will lead towards a blank end or a jam for 1.

And of course, a big thing to remember is that you don't always have to go for a steal. In many cases, forcing them to 1 is just as good. And knowing what your opposition likes to throw is good, because then you can leave them shots they aren't as comfortable with.