Sunday, February 13, 2011

You get to quit in curling

Ontario skip Glenn Howard during the Tim Horto...Image via Wikipedia
One thing you never hear the commentators say in curling is this:

"Well Jim, you have to give them credit. They hung in there to end and played hard."

Can you think of another game where it's okay to quit? There isn't one. In curling, it's not only okay, it's sort of required.

Until that is, the final is on TV. The Dominion Ontario Curling Championships where basically over after the first end. Howard's team got three, but more than that, they got into the heads of the Balston team. You could see it in their body language that they knew they'd lost. Down 8-2 after 5 ends, the only requirement from then on in was to finish eight ends.

Since everyone knows it's over, then it's easy to phone it in. Fast shots, zero conversations, get in the hack fast and throw the rock to make it to the 8th end. Howard is already at the other end to shoot, Balston stands at the other end ready to throw. It's not an exhibition of curling, it's an exhibition of speed.

Glenn Howard is one of the best players to ever play the game. He holds the record for the most Ontario Championships, and his team of Richard Hart, Brent Laing and Craig Saville are arguably the best team in the world. They are definitely the most fun to watch.

That they are going back to the Brier is excellent news for the London organizing committee. And it's excellent news for fans of curling.

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The Ontario Men's final

Body language is a good indicator in Curling how things are going. At the end of the second end, the body language on team Balston is noticeably not good. In the first end, Balston hit thrid shot rock to give Howard a draw for three.

And it was really all he had. In the second end, one miss meant the end was a long way from a deuce, and I think Balston pushed it too far, resulting in a force of one.

At this point in the game, one would hope that Balston's team just makes a few more draw shots. They still look in bad shape. At the fifth end break, they've yet to manufacture anything approximating a deuce, and every end they are running.

This game isn't over. Unless you happen to look at body language.

Glenn Howard versus Greg Balston

You would have to be an idiot to bet on Greg Balston's team in this final. That said, there's a reason they play the games. Just because it seems pretty obvious that Howard's team will win, curling can be a funny game. 

It's not that funny. If he wins today, this will be Glenn Howard's 13th Ontario Championship. To win, the Balston rink needs to put away who they are playing, what game this is, and jsut go out and do what they can do. 

Easier said than done. Finals have their own level of adrenaline. Hack weight easily becomes board, board weight easily becomes normal.

For Balston's team, and for anyone in a final, it is best to think about the game one end at a time. Think one shot at a time if possible. Don't focus on who you're playing, focus on the shot you're playing. Because if you're thinking of the face that it is a final, you're thinking about outcomes.

Think about a curling shot. A 20-foot straight back run back on a guard is exactly the same thing as a nose hit. A hit and roll to the center is no different from a 20-foot angle run back triple. In both instances, it's important to hit the rock in the right spot. The difference is the story we give the shot. One is 'hard' and the other one relatively 'easy.' That's because outcomes add degrees of difficulty to shots. 

There's no difference in a final. A final adds degrees of difficulty because of the story we attach to it. For Glenn Howard, who has been in more finals than every player on Balston's team combined, thinking about this as just another game comes naturally.

Greg Balston's team needs to think about this game like it's any other game. They need to think about it like it's a nose hit. Nothing more, nothing less.

Again, easier said then done. But staying loose and staying focused will help.
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Grimbsy Tankard, Semi Final

It's official, Balston beats Corner in the semi final to face Glenn Howard in the final.

Youth versus experience. Even better, Balston lifts on hits. He doesn't just lift the rock, he lifts everything as he's taking back the stone.

If you want my opinion, Corner's team looked rusty.

I understand rustiness. Even though you might have watched thousands more rocks come down the sheet than the team you're playing, if you haven't watched a lot of rocks this year, rustiness can set it.

That isn't to say that Corner's team was rusty. Or that they lost for any reason other than the other team made more shots. But they were just missing hit and rolls, and some of it was sweeping. A couple of moments here and there, and they could have really put some pressure on Balston.

They didn't, and he's on his way to the finals against a team that is as experienced as Corner, but not even remotely rusty.

The final score is 9-4. The game was close to the blowout that it ended up being. Outside of the 4th end when Corner stole one, Balston's team wasn't too bothered. His two deuces were open draws to the rings.

That will change in the final. He's going to have a lot more pressure thrown at him, both from the weight of the game and the team he's playing. Howard comes after teams. And they don't make mistakes.

It should be fun.
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Grimsby Tankard, half way

They said it would be cold here in Grimsby for the 2011 Ontario Championships, otherwise known as the “Can anyone beat the Howard rink” Championships.
The semi final is Greg Balston’s team playing Peter Corner.
An interesting stat: Team Corner is the oldest team at the competition. They have the two oldest players on the team, and their team average age is older than all but 4 players. 
I talked to Phile "the Head" Loovenmark before the game, and he agreed that his team was old. Phil still looks exactly like he's always looked, maybe it's that large head. 
It is tempting to call this game the experienced old veterans versus the youngsters, but I don’t think that’s fair. So far, Balston hasn't make any 'rookie' like mistakes. Even more, they are executing really well. Or they were, until the 4th end. If this was a boxing match, I would give the first three rounds to Balston rather convincingly. 
But in the 4th, the corner team counter-punched, and they were always stealing one. Balston made a draw down to shot rock to concede the steal. But Balston came back strong in the fifth. And even though a curling game ebbs and flows, I'm putting my money on the kids.

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Sunday, February 06, 2011

scarlet and lucy

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