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Monday, November 13, 2017

The Trials of the Pre Trials

That was weird.  Curling Canada decided to change the format for the Olympic Pre-Trials (AKA, Road to the Roar).  In 2009 and 2013, a triple knockout format determined the qualifying teams.  2009 included eight qualifiers (and plenty of TV coverage), and in its last iteration, the triple knockout led to a page style playoff with 8 teams vying for 4 spots.  Everything seemed to work nicely.  

This past week, fourteen teams of each gender (28 total) were placed into four pools of seven teams for round robin play.  Each team played 6 games within its pool and the top 3 in each pool (12 total) qualified for a playoff.  Including tie-breakers, the actual "playoff" became 10 of 14 womens teams and 9 of 14 mens teams.  That means after 72 round robin games had been played, only 9 of 28 (32%) of teams had been eliminated!  This makes the generous playoff formats of the NBA and NHL look quite stingy in comparison.  I could understand the interest to have all of these round robin games for a television audience, but no games were broadcast until the weekend.

In the end, Team Howard went 8-2 and fell short while Team Bottcher at 5-4 is heading to Ottawa in December.  This isn't anything new.  A round robin format with play-offs can always lead to a team with several losses taking victory from an undefeated team.  For example, in the famous 1985 Brier, Pat Ryan was undefeated, but lost the final to Al Hackner (7-4) and could have instead lost to one of several playoff teams with a 6-5 record.  

For those opposed to this strange method of competition, you might want to learn to embrace the insanity.  With the Scotties and Brier moving to smaller pools, the chances of multiple tie-breakers, extended play-offs, and upset victories will only increase.  

I'm not opposed to varying the process that events use to determine victory, but I did like the triple knockout formula for this event and I'm not sure what benefit this new format was supposed to create.  With a longer round robin, there's a better chance to weed out teams and reduce tie-breakers, but then again, that 1985 Brier had half the competing teams extending their play into tie-breakers, so nothing is certain.  I was looking forward to seeing how (if Fleury had beaten Tippin in the final round robin draw) they would arrange a 7-way tie breaker for the Womens Pool A.  Always interesting when those late night games have more people on the ice than in the stands...

Couple of other observations...
If you are only going to televise a handful of games, perhaps the first men's qualifier could take place when I'm awake?  Team Morris is (mostly) from BC and their fans had to be up at 5:00 AM to watch their Mens #1 Qualifier game on Sunday morning.  After his loss, Bottcher didn't suit up again until 3:30 Pacific Time.
Team Morris' second Catlin Schneider had a great Movember "Schneider" mustache.

I wonder if he's even familiar with the famous TV character from One Day at a Time.
Jim Cotter's rock clearing runback in the 9th end of that early morning may have been the shot of the game.  Bottcher looked in good shape to force but the triple by Jim sent them into the 10th end tied with hammer.

Morris is Red

Not sure I agree with Howard's call in the 9th end.  Ahead 5-4 without hammer,. and it's third Adam Spencer's last shot of the end. 
Howard is Red

The set-up provides an opportunity to draw around 2 rocks on the centre line and attempt to force Bottcher to a single.  I understand a nose-to-nose runback would be great, and perhaps create a safer result, but they are not likely to make it perfect.  In this case, the runback was missed completely and Bottcher was able to score two points and take the one point lead into the final end, without much difficulty.  I might have prefered to keep the centre guard in play in this situation and create a greater chance for a force (or even steal) even if you increase the chance of a deuce.  Even if you're adding a small chance at a three ender, it may still have been worth the risk. 
Look for more Curling Legends Podcasts this season and my upcoming preview to the Olympic Trials, with betting tips and odds for each team.

Until next time...

Episode 26 - Peja Lindholm

Peja Lindholm began curling outdoors at age 11.  Learning the game with his friends, Peja eventually led teams to three World Junior Championships, capturing gold, silver and bronze.  With his longtime teammates Thomas Nordin, Magnus Swartling and Peter Narup, he captured three World Mens titles for Sweden in 1997, 2001 and 2004. Peja discusses his early days and the development of both his game and that of European curling during the 80's and 90's.  We discuss the transition to the free guard zone and why he had success against Martin and Ferbey, while struggling against other Canadian foes.  Peja shares his thoughts on the Continental Cup and Olympics, before revealing the origins of the plate dance.

Check out the latest episode of Curling Legends Podcast

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Episode 25 - Arnold Asham

Arnold Asham is a curler, dancer, inventor, showman and in his words, an opportunist.  From his early days in Reedy Creek, Manitoba, Arnold dreamed he would be a millionaire in the sports industry.  Curling became his passion and eventually the red brick slider, along with hard work and dedication to what to others deemed a foolish pursuit, led to his financial success.  But there was also a passion to compete against the great teams that wore his corporate logo.  When he teamed up with a young David Nedohin to compete on a fledgling World Tour that he helped keep afloat, Arnold proved he could do battle with the best in the country.   Arnold shares his vision for how the Olympic champions of the future will be developed, and his philosophy of living your passions, which for him include the Asham Stompers dance troupe and helping empower others in the aboriginal community.    
You can find Asham Curling at and information on the Stompers at

Check out the latest episode of Curling Legends Podcast

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Episode 24 - Wally Ursuliak

Wally Ursuliak has had quite a life.  From Brier Champion with Hector Gervais, to corn broom salesman, camp instructor, then curling missionary in Japan to selling granite from Ailsa Craig, all while running an amusement ride business across Alberta.  We'll cover Wally's introduction to curling, and his relationship with Hector, Ray, Don and Herb Olson.  He shares stories of the big games and many characters of that era, before explaining why he left the competitive game to become a builder.  Wally explains why he, Ray and Don taught the flat foot (and not the tuck slide), and who created the no lift delivery that is prevalent today.  We'll find out how Japan started curling outdoors and you'll learn more about curling rocks than you possibly wanted to know.

Check out the latest episode of Curling Legends Podcast

Monday, September 11, 2017

Tour Challenge Decisions

Hello again.  Trust you had a math free summer.  Plenty coming up this curling season, including another edition of Canada's Olympic Trials.  I will be there the whole week and can only hope that  CCA Curling Canada has lost the licensing rights to Katy Perry's "Roar".  (If you've been to one of these events you might still have nightmares as they play it constantly between draws).

Curling Legends Podcast is back with weekly episodes starting around the end of October.  I was hoping to finish an update to my e-book "End Game" ahead of the Olympics, including a print version, but that may have to wait another 4 years.  

I am hoping to increase the output of CWM analysis for this Olympic year, starting with the first Grand Slam of the season, the Tour Challenge.  Without further ado...

Womens Final: Val Sweeting vs Anna Hasselborg
7th End, Tied 5-5, Hasselborg with hammer.

Val makes a strange decision on her last shot of the end.  After Anna hits and rolls out, Kevin Martin immediately comments that this will leave a freeze for Sweeting, allowing her to force Hasselborg to a single point. 

Sweeting is Yellow

Val is heard saying she doesn't know the path for the draw, so they instead choose to remove the Hasselborg stone and leave Anna with a blank.  Very surprising decision that I can only assume meant she had very little confidence to make the freeze.  I'll refrain from asking the perhaps obvious questions, like "why didn't they know the draw path in the 7th end?" and "if these conditions are too difficult to ice the broom in the 7th end, how would these players read ice in the 1970's?".

If you're a regular reader of CWM, you might suspect that this is a questionable call (if conditions are ideal).  A blank leaves Val a 30% chance (on average) and 41% chance if she can hold Anna to a single.  If you're wondering where to find these numbers, Curlingzone  has a new web page on their new and improved website where you can look this up.

It's fair to say Hasselborg is a better than average team at closing out tied games with hammer.  (She's actually 23-7 or 76.7% since 2014).  So let's say Val's chances drop to 25% to steal a win in the last end.

I'll save the calculations, but if we assume a missed freeze attempt will always result in a deuce, she needs to make the freeze greater than 43% of the time for it to be the correct call. Though the call is questionable, it's not as clear a decision as we may have first thought,

8th End: Tied (again)

On her first skip stone in the final end, Hasselborg chooses to draw around two Sweeting stones, rather than peel (or double peel).

Val does a decent job of hiding her poker face, but it's certain she's thrilled by Anna's decision.  This situation occurs often in final ends of tied games and though we don't have imperial data to justify a decision to peel or draw, a skip may want to consider what their opponent wants them to do...and then do the opposite.  

Anna came deep, then Val actually slipped a little too far as well, but the final stone by Hasselborg was even heavier and left Sweeting with a steal and the win.

Until next time...

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Episode 23 - Paul Savage, Part 2

In Part 2 of my conversation with Paul Savage, we'll cover the 1987 Olympic Curling Trials and the controversy surrounding the qualification process.   We talk about the early days of the Skins format, the Battle of the Sexes and Paul's experience as fifth man with the Mike Harris Rink during their run to a Silver Medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.  There are a few extras after our talk as well.  Paul shares stories from the Kurl for Kids Celebrity Bonspiel, Men With Brooms, the World Lefthanders Curling Championship and explains how to perform the plate dance.  At the very end is an excerpt from Episode 8 where Warren Hansen discusses his version of the 1987 Trials, which I reference with Paul at the beginning of the show.

Check out the latest episode of Curling Legends Podcast

Monday, March 27, 2017

Episode 22 - Paul Savage, Part 1

Paul Savage always believed curling should be a fun game.  From his early days at the Parkway Club, he learned from Alfie Phillips Jr. how to generate points from drawing around guards.  The result was his nickname "The Round Mound of Come Around", and four Brier appearances as skip for Ontario during the 1970s.  For three of those events, the squad included a young firefighter from Benito, Manitoba.  Ed Werenich would leave Paul's rink near the end of the 70s, but they would rejoin in 1982 to create the "Dream Team" with John Kawaja and Neil Harrison.  They would win the Brier and World Championship in 1983, taking home loads of cash and leaving legendary tales in their wake.
In Part 1 of our conversation, Paul shares stories of his youth, early Briers, traveling west for cashpiels and battles with the OCA.
In our conversation, we discuss the origins of Paul's book, "Curling Hack to House". Must reads include Jean Sonmor's "Burned by the Rock" and both "The Brier" and "Curling Etcetera" by Bob Weeks. There is also some video from the 1974 Brier on You Tube.

Check out the latest episode of Curling Legends Podcast