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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Episode 17 - Ron Northcott

Ron Northcott was Alberta curling in the 1960s.  From 1963 to 1969, Ron (AKA "The Owl") won the Alberta Tankard six times, five as a skip.  He went on to win the Macdonald Brier in three of those appearances, ('66,'68 and '69) following each with a victory at the World Championship, including the first ever Air Canada Silver Broom in 1968.  Those Brier championship rinks each had a different third (George Fink, Jimmy Shields and Dave Gerlach), but the dominant front end of lead Fred Storey and second Bernie Sparkes were there to set up every end and sweep every last rock.  Ron will share his thoughts on some of those great final shots, along with his approach to strategy and early use of the corner guard.  We'll discuss Pee Wee Pickering, Hec Gervais, Ray Kingsmith, Warren Hansen, and Sam Richardson, in likely the greatest Curling Legends example of gamesmanship... in an elevator.
For more on Ron Northcott, check out  "The Brier" by Bob Weeks, "Curling: The History, The Players, The Game" by Warren Hansen, and "The Stone Age" by Vera Pezer.  Curling Canada has historical videos from the 1964, 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969 Macdonald Briers available on YouTube.  Ron is joined on stage by the Richardsons during the World Mens Curling Championship in 2009 (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4).  There's also a short interview with Ron as part of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame

Check out the latest episode of Curling Legends Podcast

Monday, February 13, 2017

Episode 16 - Dan Carey

Dan Carey didn't think he was too competitive.  Growing up in Winnipeg, he could gauge his drive against older brother Bill, and everything seemed fine. After his hockey aspirations were thwarted by a broken arm, and having seen Bill win a Brier as third for Barry Fry, Dan decided that curling might be the path to feed his hunger for competition.  Following a decade of near misses, Dan re-teamed with Vic Peters in 1991.  Joined by long time playing partner Don Rudd at lead and Vic's teammate Chris Neufeld at second, the Peters Rink stumbled early in the season, but eventually won Manitoba and found themselves in the Labatt Brier final against Russ Howard of Ontario.  Dan shares his thoughts on that game and the strange and unscrupulous happenings from one year later at the 1993 Brier.  He'll explain why the Peters rink often felt labeled as a "black hat" team, and who appeared to wear the white hats. We'll do a deep dive on the 1997 Brier final against Kevin Martin.  Played in the Calgary Saddledome, in front of perhaps the largest crowd in history, the bizarre see-saw game was unlike any before or since.
For more on the 1992 and '93 Briers, check out "The Brier" by Bob Weeks.  You can also find more stories of Winnipeg curling in Sean Grassie's "King of the Rings" and "Curling Capital: Winnipeg and the Roarin' Game, 1876 to 1988" by Morris Mott and John Allardyce. 
Next Episode: Ron Northcott

Check out the latest episode of Curling Legends Podcast

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A Super Collapse and a Questionable Call

Yes, it's been a while since I've put finger to keyboard.  My new project, the Curling Legends Podcast, has been taking up most of my non-family, non-work time this curling season.  I've been hoping to get out a few articles but frankly haven't even watched much of the Grand Slam this season (though it's all sitting on my PVR).  That Edin squad looked tough to beat early in the season and the Casey Scheidegger rink provided a rare "underdog" story by winning their first Slam in their first appearance, after qualifying in a previous event.  A reminder that maybe we need more access to the Slams.  I've always felt some type of  play-in process (like "Monday qualifiers" in the PGA Tour) would be great for the sport.  Not certain a single Tier 2 event during an early Slam is the best solution, but more avenues for young developing teams to gain entries to these big showcase events would be fantastic.

Speaking of Tier 2 teams.  The Glenn Howard rink found themselves in the minor league portion of this seasons Tour Challenge, but despite their form this season and the age of their veteran skip, after the dust cleared at last week's Ontario Tankard, they were on top yet again.  I've had a few Legends mention to me that the old time players like Ken Watson used to come out for games with their crests on their sweaters.  Helped to remind their competitors who they were playing.  Got me thinking that if Glenn Howard comes out with all of his Purple Hearts (17) on his jacket, the weight would make it difficult for him to stand erect.

Unfortunately, Howard's path to the Brier was paved by the apparent collapse of Team Epping.  I say apparent, because without watching, I can't say for sure.  I was unable to watch these games, due to some strange licensing contract that forced those of us from out of town to pay for streaming services.  I'm not against paying but I was unsure whether you were required to watch live only or if a recorded copy of the game would be available to me afterwards.  Actually, being from Winnipeg I'm also notoriously frugal and $15 per game seemed excessive (though maybe it was $15 for the event, it didn't really explain).  Here's hoping Sportsnet provides coverage again soon.

You have to feel for John and his team.  Up 5-3 without (against Howard in the 1vs2 game), and playing the 8th end, they should win about 81% of the time.  In the semifinal, a 6-1 lead with 6 ends remaining should result in victory about 97%.  It's not the 99.8% win expectancy that the Atlanta Falcons had in the 3rd quarter of the Super Bowl, but it's pretty close.  I'm certain that Kyle Shanahan and Dan Quinn will have many sleepless nights wondering why they didn't just run 3 times into the line and kick a 40 yard field goal (Matt Bryant is 78.2% from 40-49 yards in his career).  Side note, LI may have been the greatest gambling Super Bowl in history.  A dramatic swing from an Atlanta win (at +3) and Under to New England -3 and Over 59 points.  In fact, if NE had won with a field goal in overtime, both the moneyline and over/under would have tied.  I can only imagine that would have been the largest push in the history of gambling. 

I heard that Epping made an attempt at a double in the 8th end to go up 3 when he had a draw to go up two (against Tuck).  As mentioned, I didn't see the shot call, so hard for me to judge, but the relative risk factor is as follows:

Win Expectancy (3 up, 2 end remain) = 96%
Win Expectancy (2 up, 2 end remain) = 86%
Win Expectancy (Tied with hammer, 2 end remain) = 66%

So the Skip Risk Factor (SRF) with a made double is +.10 but a steal results in -.20.  Not certain the risk made sense but without seeing the shot, hard to judge the decision.

Clearly, with McEwen reaching the Brier last year, Epping will continue holding the BPTHNWAPH belt.  Just as Mike did, I'm certain John will pass it to someone else eventually.  Unless of course Glenn goes to Germany to visit Kobe Bryant's knee doctor and keeps winning these for another decade.  If a 39 year old quarterback can throw 62 passes and win a Super Bowl, I suppose anything is possible.

The previous weekend, I dropped by my local St. Albert Curling Club to take in the Alberta Scotties.  Not certain why it wasn't held in an arena (we have a perfectly good one that was used for the Continental Cup a few years back) but sadly I am rarely asked to provide my opinion on such matters.

Congratulations to Team Kleibrink, aided early in the week by super-sub Heather Nedohin.  I was there for the hard fought and entertaining 1 vs 2 game, and then enjoyed the finals from the comfort of my couch.  I did see an interesting call in an earlier game.  During the B Qualifier semi-final, Casey Scheidegger was tied with hammer in the 9th against Geri-Lynn Ramsay.  On thirds last rock, Ramsay (Yellow stones) calls a time-out to discuss their options:

They decide to play an angle raise on their stone in the four foot onto the Scheidegger stone at the back of the button.  Not sure I agree with this call.  Remember, they are tied without hammer and want to force a single by Casey or a steal.  A blank is not a favourable result and they should be willing to take risks, even if it means a deuce or worse.  The challenge is trying to keep their shooter for third shot and it just doesn't appear to be likely.  Even with a made shot, Casey will have a double to sit 2.  I suspect they were concerned that the current set-up would be easily doubled, if left as it was.  It's also possible that the amount of curl (remember, club, not arena ice) did not allow them to bury enough to the face of the shot stone with an out-turn draw.  I prefer attempting the draw, throwing a guard or playing a soft tap on the target stone (rather than a hit) in order to bump it into a freeze position on the pin.  I could go into more detail of the benefits or risks of each option, but I need to get back to editing next week's podcast (Dan Carey).

The actual result was worse than expected, as they hit the top yellow stone and rolled out...

Scheidegger eventually scored two (and went on to win). Ultimately, she had a chance at three with little risk of a steal or force.

Thanks again to everyone who is listening to the new podcast. If you like it (or even if you don't), please tell your friends to listen.  Please also tell your enemies, your families and tell complete strangers you meet in your everyday life.

Perhaps I'll upchuck another quick article during the Scotties and Brier in the coming weeks.

Until next time...

Monday, February 6, 2017

Episode 15 - Vera Pezer

Vera Pezer has always had a mind for curling.  From her early days in Meskanaw, SK, tossing stones on a two sheeter at the age of 6, Vera developed a lifelong passion for the roaring game.  In our conversation, we cover her development at the University of Saskatchewan where she honed her curling skills and her studies, eventually blending the two as part of her PhD in Sports Psychology.  Vera won 4 Canadian Championships as Team Saskatchewan.  First as third for Joyce McKee in 1969, then skipping Sheila Rowan, Joyce, and Lenore Morrison to three consecutive national victories from 1971 to 1973. Vera then stepped back from curling, but eventually found herself working with the CCA, providing a focus on the mental aspects of the game. After the 1992 Winter Olympics, career again pulled her away from the game, but her passions remained and she directed this energy into writing a book "The Stone Age: A Social History of Curling on the Prairies", published in 2003.  She followed up with "Smart Curling: Perfect Your Game Through Mental Training" in 2007.  
Vera tells stories from across her curling career including the Canadian Championships (CLCA and Macdonald Lassies), the 1988 Olympic Trials, and shares her thoughts on the modern game.  You'll also hear about her clash with Orest in curling's original "Battle of the Sexes" in 1972.
In addition to her own books, you can find out more about Vera Pezer in "Tales of a Curling Hack" by Doug Maxwell, "Curling: The History, The Players, The Game" by Warren Hansen, and "Some outstanding women: they made Saskatoon a better community".
Next Episode: Dan Carey

Check out the latest episode of Curling Legends Podcast

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Episode 14 - Matt Baldwin, Part 2

In Part 2 of my conversation with Matt Baldwin, we'll cover the 1958 Brier in Victoria, where Alberta landed in a playoff against a young Braunstein rink from Manitoba.  Matt will share the disappointment of perhaps his best rink, when in 1960 he teamed with Hector Gervais, and didn't reach the Brier.  You'll hear about Hector, Garnett Campbell, Ernie Richardson, and Matt's confrontation with Paul Gowsell in the finals of the Vernon Carspiel.  Matt tells stories from the 1971 "Blizzard" Brier in Quebec City and explains how to throw a party at the Chateau Frontenac.  And you'll find out why Matt is the original "Hot Shot" of one-on-one curling.
Next Episode: Vera Pezer

Check out the latest episode of Curling Legends Podcast

Monday, January 30, 2017

Episode 13 - Matt Baldwin, Part 1

Matt Baldwin begins with a story about Gordie Howe's sister in small town Saskatchewan.  From there we head to Saskatoon and then Edmonton, where he (eventually) graduates with a degree in a new program for petroleum engineering. Matt's curling begins during wartime, develops through university, and in the winter of 1954 he's able to convince a local rival to join forces in playdowns with hopes of reaching the first ever Edmonton Brier in 1954.  At 27, Matt became the youngest Brier winning skip (a title now held by Kerry Burtnyk).  He returned to the Brier in 1956, but the long train ride to Moncton, and frequent visits to the Beaver Club, may have hindered his chances.  
In Part 1, Matt shares thoughts on the early days, explains his famous long slide in the 1954 Brier and reveals tales from the 1956 and '57 Macdonald Briers.
For more on Matt Baldwin check out:  "The Brier" by Bob Weeks, "Curling: The History, The Players, The Game" by Warren Hansen, and "The Stone Age" by Vera Pezer.   Curling Canada has historical videos from the 1954, 1956, 1957 and 1958 Macdonald Briers available on YouTube.

Check out the latest episode of Curling Legends Podcast

Monday, January 23, 2017

Episode 12 - Paul Gowsell

Paul Gowsell had irrational confidence from an early age.  While other junior curlers were learning the game by challenging their peers, Gowsell was taking cash and cars from the best teams in the world.  When Neil Houston and Glen Jackson graduated from Team Gowsell's junior ranks after their Uniroyal World Championship in 1976, they continued as part of Paul's bonspiel team, even while he and lead Kelly Stearne picked up John Ferguson and Doug McFarlane to win the '77 Canadian Juniors and '78 Worlds.  These Gowsell rinks became infamous for their long hair, beards and crazy pants, but also for ushering in the hair broom era and initiating the rapid end to the corn broom.  Paul shares stories from those junior championships and traveling in his van to cashspiels across Western Canada. You'll hear about the party at the Van Winkle hotel, the brushing controversy in Scotland, Revenue Canada's attempts to tax curling, dealing with the RCMP and tips on how to beat corn broom teams.  
You can find more on Paul Gowsell in "The Curling Book" by Ed Lukowich, with Rick Folk and Paul Gowsell, Jean Sonmor's "Burned by the Rock" and "The Brier" by Bob Weeks.  Video from the 1976 World Junior Championships can be found at The Curling History Blog.  
Next Episode: Matt Baldwin

Check out the latest episode of Curling Legends Podcast