Tonight is the fourth week of the new curling season at the Utah Olympic Oval. Things for my team on Monday have been going OK, although we’re struggling a bit during games. The first game went rather well (as evidenced by the scoreboard at the top of this post), but we didn’t fare well during weeks 2 and 3.
It was great to be back on the ice. I usually take the summer off because my schedule doesn’t fit with the league night during the spring and summer sessions. However, there was no curling at all because the ice had to be taken out of the Oval last spring for scheduled repairs to the ice equipment. The last event on the ice before the maintenance was USA Curling’s 2018 Arena National Championships.
There was an open curling practice the Thursday before the start of league. I usually wouldn’t be able to go, but I had the night off because of the Labor Day holiday. There were seven other people and it was wonderful just to get used to all things curling.
On the first Monday, I got to meet my new team. For whatever reason, I don’t particularly mind not sticking with a team from season to season. As a result, my team’s lineup changes often, although myself and Joe have been the most consistent elements over the past two years.
This season, we added Karl and Robert to the lineup, both players I hadn’t really interacted with before. Our game started with myself, Joe and Karl. Robert was a little late because he was coming from the dentist. I admired his dedication — I don’t know if I would try to get on the ice right after something like that (which was more than a routine visit). We started out with the three-person rotation with me throwing the first three rocks, Karl taking the second set of three stones and Joe taking the last two. When Robert arrived, he played the second pair while Karl, acting as vice skip, delivered rocks 5 and 6.
We, playing the yellow stones, got off to a slow start, as evidenced by the scoreboard above. I believe we started with the hammer, but wasn’t able to get on the board until the third end. It was nice that things were still close until the fifth end, when we were able to leap ahead with three points.
The fifth end was a lot of fun, especially because I threw a double takeout (removing two of the opposition’s stones from play). After the match, my old teammate Travis said the double takeout was a little cheap — the opposing stones were right next to each other in the back of the house, making it an easy target. I responded that I got the double while playing lead — it takes an extraordinary set of circumstances for me to be able to take out two rocks.
Adapting to the ice
As usual, we struggled with the ice. We play on a rink that primarily dedicated to figure skating and speedskating (there’s another sheet dedicated to hockey and both rinks are surrounded by a long oval used for public skating and speedskating).
In curling, it’s ideal that the ice is level. Unfortunately, in general arenas, that is difficult to accomplish unless there is a lot of dedicated work to make the ice level. There are some weeks where the ice plays pretty level, but we often have to deal with the ice “falling” a certain way. In these situations, the stones will drift toward a certain area regardless of the direction that we want the stones to go in.
Uneven ice makes the game challenging and the team that best adapts to it has a significant advantage. Also, it’s not an unfair situation — both teams have to play on the same ice and face the same conditions.
Because both teams play under the same conditions, observant players can watch how each team delivers their shots. Although every player is different, it provides important information on how the ice is reacting and offers insight on which shot to select.
In that fifth end, being observant helped us get that three points. We had been sitting three with two stones toward the outside of the rings under cover and one near the button. The red team took out the shot rock near the button and stayed to count shot.
Having the hammer, we had one last shot. As Joe got into the hack to take his shot, I noticed that our vice skip had positioned the broom differently than the red vice had (the broom is used to provide a target for the player delivering the stone). I called out an audible — if we positioned our broom identically to the red team, we had the best shot of duplicating their result and scoring three. The vice moved the broom and we easily landed the hit and stay for three.
Preparing the ice
During the first week, I was partly responsible for the ice conditions. For the first time, I helped “pebble” the surface by spraying water over the ice to create the running surface for the stones to slide over. I had learned how to pebble during the arena nationals, but it was my first time covering a full field of play.
If you ever see video of someone pebbling, it looks fairly effortless. I can tell you that that there are some challenges — you’re walking backward the entire time with a large water tank strapped on your back while waving a wand back and forth repeatedly. When you’re pebbling, you want to apply the water as consistently as possible so you’re trying to keep a steady walking pace while moving your arm at a steady, but brisk tempo.
I think I did an OK job, although there are several things I’d like to work to improve on. It was definitely a lot of work to do just before a match and I was pretty winded. My right arm was sore for days afterward.
Missing the right way
Our first week ended on a high note. Moving into the final end of the night, we were up by one, but the red team had the hammer and shot last. If they scored one and tied, we would go to a draw-to-the-button tiebreaker. Ecstatic after we scored three, I told my teammates that we should “steal away home” and win the match.
As the end developed, it appeared it was going to be challenge to get a steal. The red team had a rock sitting on the button, but there were two stones in the back of the 4-foot ring that could act as a backstop.
We tried various shots and couldn’t get near the button. In our last shot, Joe threw an inturn stone toward the left side of the sheet hoping it would drift around a yellow guard and hit the button.
Unfortunately, the line wasn’t wide enough and it started moving toward the guard. Robert and I were sweeping, but it was clear that the stone could crash on the guard. Seeing an opportunity, I shouted to Robert that we should play off the guard stone and I swept to hopefully get the best angle between the two stones.
The shot struck the guard and Robert swept the second yellow stone right toward the button, where it pushed the red stone into the backstop and we were sitting shot rock. The red team still had one stone, but they faced an incredibly difficult shot to try to push ours out of the way.
It was close, but we prevailed and escaped with the win.
We all congratulated Joe on his shot, and he replied that that wasn’t his shot. I didn’t mind — one thing that many expert curlers emphasize, including Russ Howard in his book “Curl to Win,” is missing the right way. That basically means to consider contingencies that will either help you or at least not hurt you.
Weeks 2 and 3
Our next two games didn’t go so well (which may be why I don’t have any photos of them). I missed our second match because of a work emergency (but got to sub on Thursday and had a lot of fun). Joe also curls on Thursday and told me that we got on the board early, but couldn’t slow down the team Game of Stones (which won Monday league last winter).
Last Monday, I was back but Karl wasn’t there. Joe, Robert and I faced off against Team Mischo. Mischo is skipped by Keith Mischo, who won bronze at the World Deaf Curling Championships in 2017. We had our work cut out for ourselves and it was a struggle all night.
We got on the board near the end, but Team Mischo pretty much romped over us.
I again threw lead and I realized that I needed to be doing a better job — most of my stones were short of the house, even when I was asked to throw draws closer to the button. When I tried to increase my delivery weight, I pushed a couple of stones through the house entirely and out of play. Thankfully, I haven’t yet thrown a stone this season that was so short it was out of play (called hogging). It’s been a silver lining so far and I hope that keeps up.
Our match ended a little early, so I had some extra time to practice my delivery. That is something that is very much a work in progress and another thing I would like to improve this season.
On to the next episode…