Curling season 3 starts with ups and downs

We started the fall season with a win, finishing with a score of 5-3.

We started the fall season with a win, finishing with a score of 5-3.

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…

Back in the hack for year 3 of curling

That was the conclusion of the final end of my second year of curling (it's not my shot). We were playing yellow, but an attempt to use the dial tool dislodged a stone so we called it a tie. Our skip, Joe, won the sudden-death draw to the button.

That was the conclusion of the final end of my second year of curling (it’s not my shot). We were playing yellow, but an attempt to use the dial tool dislodged a stone so we called it a tie. Our skip, Joe, won the sudden-death draw to the button.

I started my third full year in curling two weeks ago at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns. It was great to get back to a sport that I’ve come to enjoy over the past two years.

Considering that my involvement in the sport has ramped up in the past few years (including attending the World Men’s Curling Championship in Las Vegas and volunteering for a national event in Salt Lake City), I thought it would be fun to share some of my experiences on the ice. I’m not a competitive curler by any stretch of the imagination, but I definitely hope to continue getting better and make a positive contribution to whatever team I’m playing on.

My team in Monday curling league (Team 20/20) ended the winter season on a high note. We fought from behind to tie the opposing team in the B bracket playoffs on March 26.

In the final end, I inadvertently set in motion what would eventually result in a tie (that’s the photo at the top of this post). The tie led to a sudden-death draw to the button that our skip, Joe, won.

In that final end, I was playing second on a three-person team (that means I threw the 4, 5 and 6 red stones out of eight). Thanks to the shooting of our lead, Andrew, we were sitting shot but there was a gap that someone could shoot to get closer to the button (as the team with the stone closest to the button scores).

My task was to put up a guard in that gap to prevent the opposing team (The Icemen) from taking advantage of the opening. My first couple attempts didn’t pan out.

My third and final shot also missed as a guard — it drew into the gap (or port, in curling lingo) and rested near the button. It was a nice shot that didn’t immediately hurt us, but it created an opening for the opposing yellow team (which had the advantage of throwing the final stone of the end).

The opposing vice skip (who shoots third out of four) threw a shot similar to mine and pushed my last rock out of the way.

From there, it was a back-and-forth effort between the two teams. Our skip, Joe, followed the same line and knocked the yellow stone out of the way. The yellow team skip delivered the same shot and pushed our red stone back slightly.

That led to a crucial moment in the end and the game — who has the shot? If it’s us on the red team, it would be prudent to put up a guard and end this bit of shooting practice. From my perspective as the vice skip, I thought it was close but the advantage was ours.

(As an aside, it didn’t make sense to try the draw shot again because our red stone was behind the tee line — it could’ve been used by the yellow team as a backstop, allowing them to sit fully on the center of the button and claim the win.)

Joe successfully put up a guard, clogging the port that we had all found success through. It forced the yellow team to make a difficult shot that they couldn’t convert. They would’ve basically had to run into two of their stones for a chance to push their stone closest to the button just a centimeter forward.

Here’s what team yellow faced:

In the last shot of the final end of the winter 2018 Monday league, the yellow team faced a difficult shot to try to get their stone closest to the button on March 26, 2018, at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns.

In the last shot of the final end of the winter 2018 Monday league, the yellow team faced a difficult shot to try to get their stone closest to the button on March 26, 2018, at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns.

The photo doesn’t show the red stone sitting in the outer green circle (called the 12-foot) at roughly the 10 o’clock position.

After each team has thrown their eight stones, it’s up to the vice skips to agree on who actually scored. If it’s not possible from visual observation, there’s a measuring device that can be used. It was the star of the Winter Olympics whenever it was used on TV and it came into play that night in March.

Unfortunately, there was a bit of mixup in the measurement. Because the stones were so close to each other, the measurer tried to measure the outside of the stones. That doesn’t work for many reasons, particularly because the sensor doesn’t bend in that direction.

Trying to sweep the measuring dial past our red stone simply pushed the rock out of the way slightly. We were given the opportunity to reset our stone, but I noted that there was really no way to do it in a way that was fair especially because we were trying to measure its original position and that was no longer possible.

With measuring out of the question, both teams concluded that it was easiest to declare that it was a tie and that no team scored that end (called a blank).

(Another aside: We were uncertain about the rules when it came to measurements and it led to a Reddit discussion on the matter. The curling rules do address the situation, which will be helpful moving forward. We didn’t know it at the time and I was happy both teams agreed to call it a tie.)

The tie set up the draw to the button, where each team’s skip throws one stone to try to get closest to the center of the house.

Joe made the shot and we won our playoff. It was an exhilarating end to a great night of curling. Even before the yellow team took their last shot in the final full end, it was exciting that we had to come back from being down 3-0 after the first end and stole a point in the fifth end to tie everything up heading into that crucial sixth end.

Here’s the box score:

Our match was for the B bracket championship which was set up for the teams in the middle of the pack in our league. We entered the playoffs seeded eighth and I was more than happy to emerge as the “best of the rest” of our league night.

The members of Team 20/20 — from the left, Joe, Andrew and Ryan — pose after receiving medals for winning the "B" bracket during the winter 2018 Monday curling league at the Utah Olympic Oval.

The members of Team 20/20 — from the left, Joe, Andrew and Ryan — pose after receiving medals for winning the “B” bracket during the winter 2018 Monday curling league at the Utah Olympic Oval.

This season, I’m on a changed up team. We started off with a win, but have since run into some trouble. Next time, I’ll recap how the year has started.

10+1 images from my first year back in Utah

At the end of May, I marked the first anniversary of my returning to Utah. To celebrate the occasion, I reviewed the photos I took from the past 365 days and picked ten that highlighted some of the fun activities from 2016-17. There’s also a bonus picture — the first photo I took upon my return.

Click any photo to embiggen…

The airing of Vancouver Olympic grievances – a list

I’m generally enjoying the Vancouver Games as it enters the seventh day of competition, but some things are sticking in my mind. Please share your “grievances” in the comments.

The fence around the Olympic Flame: I think the organizers were caught flatfooted by the fact that people may want to be close to the beautiful outdoor Olympic Cauldron. At the very least, the image of a chainlink fence in front of a symbol of peaceful competition is disconcerting.

Kudos for the organizers for making changes and creating more viewing opportunities (according to this CBC News article). However, I didn’t necessarily care for one of the organizers’ excuses:

Organizers said the cauldron is far closer to the public than Olympic flames of past Games, where they’ve usually been located in or atop stadiums.

The cauldron at the 1996 Atlanta Games was outside Centennial Olympic Stadium and it was generally accessible to the public (at the very least it wasn’t blocked by a massive fence). I remember having lunch and taking photos mere yards from that Olympic Flame along with many spectators and families.

The Lack of Curling on NBC: This is a minor gripe at most, but it is sad when FOX has more curling on a 30-minute episode of “The Simpsons” than NBC will have in two weeks on its main network. Yes, curling is available on cable channels (that I don’t have) and is streaming live online (which I don’t have access to because I don’t have the right cable package). In recent years, curling almost always gets praised as a pleasant surprise of the Games. Maybe it’s not a primetime event, but it’s lame that NBC couldn’t find time to at least air the gold metal match on broadcast (like in the afternoon).

Shoddy online coverage: There’s a huge difference between the online coverage of the 2008 Beijing Games and in Vancouver. Just two years ago, many non-marquee events were streamed live and in their entirety. Now, it’s mostly hockey and curling aired live (with other events posted after NBC has aired them in primetime). Hockey and curling are both fine sports, but the offerings are like night and day.

Tape Delay: It’s a gripe as old as NBC’s coverage of the Games. It is certainly frustrating that NBC insists on starting its primetime program right at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. Central) even though there are live events taking place at 5 p.m. Vancouver time. And, of course, Vancouver time is the same time as Chico and the entire West Coast which just compounds the silliness.

NBC didn’t have to do this. It could have emulated a model from Canada that I thought could work fairly well here. In previous games, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation would air its primetime program live nationwide. After the end of that broadcast, the CBC would offer a special West Coast-only highlight package to help round out the night. I don’t know what the current Canadian broadcaster, CTV, is doing.

Media coverage of “the glitches”: I’m sure some of the criticism of the Vancouver organizing committee’s operation of the Games is justified, but the howling has seemed ferocious at times. The situation has drawn many comparisons to the Atlanta Games in 1996 when the media lambasted ACOG’s miscues, particularly regarding transportation (as this 1996 New York Times article details).

The disconcerting thing about the Atlanta criticism and the Vancouver gripes is that these woes somehow become part of the “legacy” of the Games. I was in Atlanta for the Games, and the woes weren’t my “highlight” of those Olympics. Yes, it wasn’t pleasant at times — I had to brave the crushing crowds on MARTA and I once had to give directions and a map to a bus driver so we could get to our destination. However, it pales in comparison to witnessing the opening ceremonies, watching track stars break world records and enjoying some of the finest art and music in my life.

Bruce Arthur of the National Post offers a nice perspective on the criticism. While acknowledging that Vancouver has been far from perfect, Arthur points out how there are at least three different views of the Games:

There is the Olympics that we in the media experience, the one the athletes experiences, and the one the public experiences. But only one of us write the verdict on the Olympics in question.

For another take on the Olympics’ legacy on host cities, The Independent looked at how cities capitalized on the infrastructure changes made for the Games. Atlanta seemed to fare much better on that score and I hope Vancouver does too.