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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

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Some National Analysis

The Women's Worlds are chugging along and I haven't yet taken a Curl With Math look back at the Scotties final, much less the closing weekend of the Brier.  Not much time for preamble as I need to get editing another Curling Legends Podcast (check out Cathy King on the latest episode and Paul Savage is coming up next week), so without further ado...

Scotties Finals

An entertaining game that was an impressive win for Rachel Homan but an equally disappointing loss for Michelle Englot.  Manitoba played fantastic all week and deployed a sound strategy against Homan in all of their games, resulting in a 2-1 record against the favorites from Ontario, but that single loss took place in the one game that mattered most.  A few thoughts on their final contest...

2nd End:  Manitoba leads 1-0, Ontario has hammer, final shot

Homan is Yellow

Homan could draw for a single to tie things up.  But Rachel doesn't seem to hesitate, as I suspect she'd already drawn up this shot before the last rock had come to rest.  If we assume no worse than a steal of 1, at worst Rachel will head to the third end down 2 points, holding hammer, and retain at least an average Win Expectancy of 30%. Despite the two earlier loses that week to Manitoba, you could make the argument her odds are higher than average in this situation with a full 8 ends remaining. 

Win Expectancy (WE) Homan Takes 1 = 44%
WE Homan Takes 3 = 70%
WE Englot Steals 1 = 30%

There is still some chance of scoring 2, if the back yellow rock is pushed 6 inches, though a single seems unlikely.   Even if they never score two, if Rachel can make the shot for 3 at least 35%, or just over one in three attempts, then it's a good call.  I believe Rachel expects to make good contact with the back red stone well over half the time, so the call appears to be worth the risk.

5th End:  Homan up 3-2 with hammer, final shot

Rachel calls for a draw to the back four with potential to sweep it to bump Englot's shot stone for two.  It looked like she could pick it out and ensure a single.  Strange that she came well short, a pick or strange ice path, but not something you expect in the 5th end.

During the end, Vic Rauter mentions that Randy Ferbey started using the points system to classify weight. Actually, Ferbey fourth David Nedohin picked this concept up from Arnold Asham while playing with him years earlier.  Arnold is famous for inventing the red brick slider and starting Asham Curling Supplies, and I'm looking forward to recording a podcast with him soon to get the history of his many contributions to the sport.

7th End: 3-3, Homan with Hammer, final shot

Rachel chooses to come through a port at an attempt for 4 or 5 points, rather than draw for a single to carry a 1 up lead into the 8th. 

Homan is Yellow

As the photo indicates, it wasn't a simple pick shot because there was a risk of jamming and possibly scoring only 1.  I'm not certain their confidence in the ice on the shot (the higher second guard appeared to add to the difficulty), but it is an attempt to win the game right there, at a risk of only being down 1.  In the moment, I wasn't sure I liked the call, but that could have been swayed by the emotion of how the game seemed to be shifting to their opponent.  In a vacuum, it's the correct decision if Rachel makes it greater than 33% of the time.  An alternative shot that they may have considered was the runback.  It introduces a risk of double jam (and a steal of two) but I suspect Rachel's percent success with that shot is higher than the soft weight hit she attempted.

10th end:  6-4 Homan, Englot has Hammer, final shot
The thin double by Rachel to hold Englot to a deuce and force an extra end was close to the difficulty of the Hackner double.  Having said that, she had no need to stick her shooter.  Small margin for error and a great shot that ultimately won the Scotties (zoom ahead to 15:56

Game saving 10th end double at 15m56
Brier Semifinal

A tough loss for Team McEwen from Manitoba.  It reminded me of a similar defeat that Kevin Koe had in the 2013 Olympic Trials against Kevin Martin.  Up two with hammer and three ends to go, Koe surrendered a steal of two in the 8th end, was forced to one in the 9th and Martin scored a deuce to win in the 10th.  Koe never recovered at the Trials (from the 0-3 start) but he did at the Brier a few months later.

8th End: 5-3 McEwen, with Hammer, final shot

Mike could attempt an in-turn draw for 1 (or even a tap on the red stone in the top eight foot) but instead chooses a run-back attempt to double the yellow stones on the out-turn side...

McEwen is Red

Most posters on CurlingZone claimed McEwen trying the run-back rather than drawing for a single was a mistake.  I think there's an argument to be made for both decisions.  With a draw for one, McEwen goes up 6-3 (a 93% Win Expectancy).  But the draw was no picnic, as he needed full four foot and perfect draws appeared to be dicey in the later ends (check out Gushue's draw to the eight foot in the finals).  

The way Team McEwen were playing the shot, it appeared to be only for two but at this point 2, 3 or 4 is essentially the same result, a win (99.1% WE or greater).

The argument is Mike's confidence in making that angle run-back versus the draw.  It was full four foot on a specific path, and only he knows how comfortable he felt at that moment on that call.  Let's say it was 90%.  Straight runbacks are usually around 80-85%, in Mike's case possibly higher.  As you move towards an angle versus straight back, your odds are reduced (see my previous CWM article "Aggression is the Better Part of Valor").

If the draw is 90%

WE = .9 x .93 = .837
WE up 1 with hammer and three ends remain = .835

He's ok to try the runback 100% of the time, it's roughly a wash if he misses every time.

If the draw is 95%
WE = .95 x .94 = .894

Assuming no chance at steal of 2, Mike needs to make the raise for 2 pts only 35% of the time to be equal to the draw.  

If the draw is 100%, he needs to make the raise 65% of the time.  Having re-watched the shot, I think Mike usually makes that raise at least 60%, if not higher, and the draw is no gimme.   

Extra End:  Tied 6-6, McEwen with Hammer, Mike's first shot

Mike is facing this with his first rock...

McEwen is Red

Wozniak's hit earlier in the end landed in the worst possible spot, right behind the button.  With a peel, Koe could attempt a freeze and force Mike to blast and head to another extra end (or much less likely, Koe steals the win).  Mike seems convinced he wants to attempt a draw, getting in first and leaving Kevin no shot.  Mike comes up perhaps a foot light and curls perhaps 3 more inches than necessary, and Kevin has a sliver of hope.  Koe plants his rock around the McEwen stone and corner freezes, leaving Mike with a miracle double raise for the win, which he misses, and Koe goes on to the final.  
The decision comes down to what you believe are Koe's odds of making a freeze that will require a blank.  If you think Kevin makes it 80% of the time, and your Win Expectancy (WE) in an EE is 80%, Mike needs to have a better than 84% probability of winning right there with the draw.

If you think Kevin's freeze leads to a blank only 50% of the time, then Mike needs to be over 90% sure his draw will be successful.

If Kevin's freeze is successful 90%, Mike needs to be 82% sure of the draw.

This all assumes an 80% success rate when tied with hammer and one end remains.  Historically this was 75%, and remains close for all major events, but Slams trend up towards 79% or higher and the better teams are better at winning in this situation (see past CWM "Giving Away Points at the Canadian Open")

It's my assessment that the entire scenario of Mike's last shot was a brain fart. From the poor call decision, to the judging error on weight by the sweepers to the confusion with the line call (the rock was better to be open than buried short), it was a complete team mistake.  These things can happen in rushed moments after a long week and a grueling game (remember Kevin Martin's loss at the 2009 Worlds?).  They were close, and I suspect will be close again.  In any case, Destiny appeared to be working against everyone but Gushue the entire week, and you could speculate that a trip to the finals would have simply swapped their Bronze medal for Silver. Still sucks.

Brier Final

6th End: 5-1 Gushue, Koe with Hammer, Gushue's last shot

Gushue is Red...Before his last shot
After his last shot
Before playing his last shot, I was surprised Gushue didn't see the potential for Kevin's shot for 3. Or perhaps he did and was attempting to roll slightly across, instead of high side which he did, leaving the possible shot for three.  After Brad's shot Russ Howard even says "great shot" but in retrospect, it wasn't.  If Brad draws top four instead, Koe has no real choice but to draw for two.  Then again, it was a great shot by Koe that had very little margin for error. Unfortunate for Brad the rocks ended up where they did, but he should shoulder some responsibility.

7th End:  5-4 Gushue, with Hammer, Kennedy's last shot

On Marc Kennedy's last shot, Koe decides to put up a second centre guard. 

Koe is Yellow

It pulls Gushue into hitting to sit three, and provides cover of the four foot which eventually leads to a force.  If Koe instead hits to sit two, even with a roll he provides many options for Gushue to blank or even score two, and the single guard is too long to be much protection for later in the end.  Granted, Brad missed a runback on his first shot that could have changed the outcome as well.

9th End: 6-5 Gushue, Koe with Hammer, final shot

Good decision to not attempt the triple for three.  The shot really did not look be there and to take that chance here it needs to be automatic.  They had stolen a win the night before, no reason to assume there wasn't at least a 20% chance of it happening again.

Koe is Yellow

10th End: 6-6, Gushue with Hammer, final shot to win the Brier

In the last 15 years I don't recall having seen a draw to the eight foot that looked to be so difficult.  

Brier winning draw at 2h36m11s 
Certainly the enormity of the moment, and being under the watch of a large waiting-to-burst-into-cheers Newfoundland crowd, had some impact.  Brad even discussed afterwards that he was told it was 5 feet heavier than usual, and admitted to only throwing it two feet more.  But it also seemed more difficult than similar shots in other situations.  I'm interested to hear from players about the frosty and/or flat conditions that seemed to creep into some games during the event.  Hair brooms are no longer permitted and I wonder if limiting players to only the use of the new broom head may be detrimental in certain conditions, particularly late in the season when outside temperatures reach above zero with high humidity.  I'm not a meteorologist or even an ice technician, and I could be way off track here, but someone should investigate.  Just because we appear to have "solved" the broom problem from last season doesn't mean we haven't created a different one going forward.  I might vote for a return to a (albeit restricted model) of horse hair broom, but I'm not certain that's being considered.

Until next time...

Monday, March 20, 2017

Episode 21 - Cathy King

Cathy King keeps on curling.  Growing up in Edmonton, she played many sports. Winter evenings included time spent around the dinner table discussing curling strategy with the whole family.  Older brothers Robb and Chris won the 1974 Canadian School Boys and when Cathy skipped her team to a successful National Junior Womens Championship in 1977, curling appeared to be near the top of her list.  After a repeat win in 1978, the only thing missing was a World Championship, but that wouldn't be available to Junior Women for another decade.  A few years out of juniors, Cathy got married, had kids, and life seemed to hold her back from reaching those previous levels of success.  She continued to practice and focus on the game however, and after knocking on the door a few times, Cathy finally won Alberta and reached the Scott Tournament of Hearts in 1995.  Expectations were low, but a hot streak that included 5 games in 27 hours led her squad from 2 tie-breakers to the brink of a Canadian Championship, losing in the last end of a 6-5 defeat at the hands of Manitoba's Connie Laliberte.  Cathy would return to the Scotties 6 more times, including a dramatic extra end victory over Ann Merklinger in the 1998 finals.  The World Championship would elude her that season, but she would return to the International stage as a Canadian Senior Champion and take the gold medal at the Worlds in 2013. Cathy shares stories from her early years as a junior, through the struggles and heartbreaks, including battles with vertigo, to her eventual success, and becoming the first skip to capture the Canadian Curling Triple Crown of a Junior, a Scotties (or Brier) and Senior Championship.  There are a few extra stories included after our talk as well.
You can read about Cathy in "Curling: The History, The Players, The Game" by Warren Hansen, and "The Stone Age" by Vera Pezer.  In our conversation, Cathy talks about her father Gord, and here's a link to an Edmonton Journal article by Jeff Holubitsky for more information about his incredible story.

Check out the latest episode of Curling Legends Podcast

Monday, March 13, 2017

Episode 20 - Don Duguid

Don Duguid was curling before the Allies took Berlin.  In 1943, at 8 years old, Don and brothers Gerry and Lorne would throw rocks at the CPR Curling Club where their father was the ice-maker.  Initially Don fell out of the hack with two feet, but eventually his father helped him develop the original Manitoba tuck delivery that is still seen today.  His parents moved him to the Granite curling club and at twenty he was recruited by Howard Wood Sr, then 70 years young.  There was a Brier appearance with Howie Wood Jr. in 1957 and a win with Terry Braunstein in 1965, but by the late 60s Don was ready to spend more time at the office.  Then Rod Hunter called and asked Duguie to skip him, Jim Pettapiece and Bryan Wood and within 18 months the squad would capture two Canadian and World Championships.  Don will share experiences from his playing days and curling schools through to his time as an announcer with the CBC (and later NBC Sports).  We'll also get Don's take on the modern era and speculate where curling might be headed in the future.
You can find more on Don Duguid in "The Brier" by Bob Weeks and Sean Grassie's "King of the Rings".  Watch him on YouTube at the 1971 Brier , and you can also hear his coverage in many curling broadcasts from 1972 until the Olympics in 2010.  You can also see Don in a ceremony from years ago in this Duguid Team Speech.

Check out the latest episode of Curling Legends Podcast

Monday, March 6, 2017

Episode 19 - Jack MacDuff

Jack MacDuff is a true Maritimer.  He now lives in New Brunswick, was born in Nova Scotia but is perhaps best known for his short stay in Newfoundland during the 1970's when he skipped the first and (so far) only Brier winning team from that province.  Growing up in Lunenburg, NS, Jack would finish playing hockey, then swap his skates for Ken Watson curling boots and cross over to the rink to throw rocks until days end.  In those practice sessions, he would play 12 end games against the Richardsons.  Years later, as the driver for Team MacDuff at the 1976 Brier in Regina, Sam Richardson helped provide confidence for Jack and his squad as they accomplished the impossible for Newfoundland & Labrador, winning the Canadian Men's Curling Championship.  Jack will share stories from his early experiences, his first Brier appearance in 1972, and a game by game account of that legendary victory in 1976, along with the week long party that followed.
For more on Jack MacDuff, check out  "The Brier" by Bob Weeks and "The First Fifty" by Doug Maxwell & Friends.  Video is available from Jack's recent appearance at the opening weekend of the 2017 Brier in Newfoundland and from the archives, coverage from the 1972 Macdonald Brier and a brief clip from the historic victory in 1976.

Check out the latest episode of Curling Legends Podcast

Monday, February 27, 2017

Episode 18 - Don Barcome

Don Barcome always loved to curl.  He was introduced to the game after his family moved to Grand Forks, North Dakota in the mid-60's.  By the age of 11 he was playing with mens teams in the local club league, and by 13 he was skipping against Orest Meleschuk in the fourth event final of the Hibbing Last Chance Bonspiel.  His first taste of International competition came in 1976 when his team of brother Earl and Gary Mueller at front end, along with Gary's brother Dale, traveled to Scotland for the Uniroyal World Junior Championship. They fell just short of a playoff sport, in an event eventually won by the Paul Gowsell rink from Canada. In 1977 Team Barcome returned as USA Champions, this time losing out in the semifinals.  Don shared a finger gesture with the rowdy Quebec City fans during their game against Team Canada, but he still walked away with the award for sportsmanship. With the Mueller brothers graduated out of juniors, Don and Earl teamed with Bobby Stalker at second and Randy Darling at third to finally win gold at the World Championships in 1979.  Don covers those experiences and also shares thoughts on being fifth man for Tim Somerville at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.  We discuss the decline of USA curling in the past and its resurgence in recent years, and Don gives his thoughts on the modern game.
You can read about Don's thoughts on the Olympics and his battle with cancer from the Grand Forks Herald and catch his appearance as a "curling expert" in this 2002 Office Depot commercial.  For more on USA Curling, check out Curling Superiority by John M. Gidley.

Check out the latest episode of Curling Legends Podcast

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

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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

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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

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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

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Monday, January 16, 2017

Episode 11 - Rod Hunter

Rod Hunter now resides in Viking, Alberta, made famous for a local family with six brothers who all played in the NHL.  Rod, AKA "The Arrow", found his curling fame in Manitoba, where he qualified for the Brier 4 times from 1970 to 1975, winning twice as vice for Don Duguid.  That same Duguid rink also captured back-to-back Air Canada Silver Broom World Championships in 1970 and '71, going undefeated in 17 straight games.  Rod will share his experiences from those events, the near misses in other seasons, explain why he originally changed from a tuck slide to flat foot and reveal the origins of the Bauer curling shoe.  You'll hear how that Duguid championship run nearly never happened, the reason they stopped at their peak, and how they reunited for the 100th MCA (World's Largest) Bonspiel in 1988.  After our talk, the microphone kept running and we captured a few extra stories at the end of the show, including Rod's memories of Warren Hansen, Ken Watson, the Richardsons, the other trophy awarded at the Silver Broom, "Soupy" Campbell and a great version of the "Orest meets Ernie" story from 1963.
You can find more on Rod Hunter in "The Brier" by Bob Weeks and Sean Grassie's "King of the Rings".  Watch him on YouTube at the 1971 Brier , the 1973 Brier, and from a ceremony from years ago in Duguid Team Speech.
Next Episode: Paul Gowsell

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Monday, January 9, 2017

Episode 10 - Mike Riley

Mike Riley had a passion for curling, but it never fully consumed him.  Mike reached his greatest success when he found balance in pursuing business and travel along with his curling aspirations.  As a high school curler, Mike remembers anticipating Christmas more for the Winnipeg Junior Bonspiel than the presents under the tree.  As a young skip, he recalls testing his mettle against the legendary Don Duguid rink in the early 70s, and gaining confidence from the experience.  Don's teammates Rod Hunter and Bryan Wood later recruited Mike to play third and were rewarded with a Purple Heart in 1975.  After being dropped from the squad, Mike was back to skipping, trying to build his own winning team.  In 1983, he found the magic ingredients with lead Russ Wookey, second John Helston and Brian Toews at third.  The veteran rink quickly jelled into a Manitoba and Canadian Champion, using a rarely seen strategy of drawing around corner guards without last rock. The Riley Rink stunned fans and media alike by defeating Ed Werenich and his Dream Team in the Labatt Brier finals.  A return trip to the Brier in 1986 fell short, and following the 1988 Grand Aggregate Trophy in the 100th MCA (the World's Largest Bonspiel), Mike spent more winters sailing the Caribbean than driving to curling clubs.  But in 1995 he was recruited by Jon Mead, Hugh McFadyen and Don Harvey and nearly skipped them to a Provincial victory. 

Jean Sonmor's "Burned by the Rock" has a great chapter on Mike Riley and more about Mike and the history of the World's Biggest Bonspiel can be found in Sean Grassie's "King of the Rings". 
Next Episode: Rod Hunter


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