Now Available! EBook from CWM

Now Available! EBook from CWM
Order Now from Amazon

You can also get an epub copy

At Smashwords.com, Barnes&Noble and NOW AVAILABLE at KOBOBOOKS.COM!


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Episode 28 - Jim Ursel


Jim Ursel had one of the smoothest deliveries of his era.  He came a long way from the early days of knee sliding on a two sheet rink of natural ice in Glenella, Manitoba.  After moving to Winnipeg, Jim improved enough to win the 1954 Provincial School Boys Championship.  We discuss Jim's early days and his development as a player, eventually landing at the famous Strathcona Club.  He recalls teaming up with Norm Houk and playing in his first Brier in 1962.  We reflect on his move to Montreal, the many Quebec provincial victories and his Brier win in 1977.  Later, Jim returns to Winnipeg where he re-teamed with Norm and nearly won another Purple Heart with their Senior team.  Jim adds his perspective on fitness, coaching, psychology and thoughts on the modern game.


Check out the latest episode of Curling Legends Podcast

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Quadrennial Canada Olympic Trials Preview - Part 2


Some interesting analysis in this month's digital edition of The Curling News.  Terry Jones gave his odds for the event and, unless it's a typo it would appear Terry failed high school math.  He has Jacobs (9 to 5) as the higher favorite over Gushue (5 to 2).  These odds imply that Jacobs has a 35.71% chance of winning, while Gushue is 28.57%.  I think those Brad's should be switched.  Epping at 115-1 seems a tad high to me. Perhaps it is supposed to be 15-1.  If not, I'll gladly drop $5 on the Toronto squad with Mr. Jones, if he'swilling to accept my wager.

Looking at Terry's write-up on the womens, possibly another typo, he has Homan at 5-2 and Sweeting at 9-5.  9-2 would make more sense here (and with Jacobs).  Flaxey at 5-1 could be too generous, and the numbers below will explain why.

Reminder on the numbers.  Before each Olympic Trials I breakdown the results of each team against each other team.  I look at head to head wins and losses, scoring and then examine winning percentage for both historical (lifetime of the teams) and the last Olympic cycle (start of the 2014/15 Season).  I then look at a Combined result, which more heavily weighs the last cycle while still accounting for historical results.  Using Bill James log5 method and his Pythagorean expectation, I estimate the expected wins of each team.  Unless otherwise stated, I use the Combined results in the calculation for Expected Wins (EW). Keep in mind these sample sizes for womens is much smaller than mens, as these teams don't compete as often over the course of a season.  More variability in our prediction is the likely result.  


Women's Teams

In the mens bracket, 5 skips also appeared in the 2013 Trials in Winnipeg (Koe, Mcewen, Epping, Jacobs and Morris) and a 6th was nearly there (Brad Gushue lost the final Pre-Trials spot that season).  The womens draw this time around has only 4 skips from 2013 (Homan, Jones, Sweeting and Carey).  It will be interesting to see how these Trials rookies will handle the pressure and nerves of the event.  Some could falter, while others might embrace the moment, playing loose and making a deep run. 

The Favorites 
  • Speaking of playing loose, how will local hero and reigning World Champion Rachel Homan handle this event?  All eyes (including those of Curling Canada) are expecting a victory, and sometimes expectations can be difficult to carry on your shoulders.  They handled the pressure well last year at the World Championships, I expect they can do the same next week.  It might surprise you to know this squad is only 65% against this field since the start of the 2014/15 season.  Englot (care of her Scotties performance) is 4-2 against Rachel, otherwise they hold a winning record against everyone.  Sweeting has 7 wins against them to 10 losses, and Scheidegger 4-5 may also be a tough out.  EW = 5.53.
  • Like Brad Jacobs, Jennifer Jones is defending Canada Olympic Trials champs (does it feel like a defense when it was four years ago?).  Jones is 13-14 against Homan all-time but only 5-10 since the last Olympics season. They're 13-6 vs Sweeting during that time and have a surprising 57% winning percentage against this field.  That's a drop from their all-time winning percentage of 64%. EW = 5.32

The Contenders
  • I'd like to think another team or two would make this grouping, but the numbers indicate otherwise.  Team Sweeting is 56% against this field including 7-0 against Englot.  In this last cycle, they have 23 losses from the two favorites, versus 13 wins.  Omit Homan and Jones from the data, and Sweeting is 75% against the rest of the field. EW = 4.7

The Challengers
  • Teams Carey, McCarville and Englot all have a  44 to 45% winning percentage against this field the past 3.5 seasons.  Granted, Englot (15-19) and McCarville's (10-12) sample sizes are smaller, so it's unclear if these are a good indicator of likely results.  Other than Sweeting, Englot has shown she can take on the best teams (6-5 against Homan and Jones, 5-4 against Carey).  Chelsea Carey is only 3-10 against Homan and jumps to 50% against the field if we remove those games.  
  • Scheidegger has only a 35% winning percentage against this field, but they've beaten Homan 4 times in 9 tries.  Their all-time percentage is 40% and recently have taken lumps from Carey and Sweeting (3-11 combined).  
  • Expected Wins
    • Carey = 3.67
    • McCarville = 3.48
    • Englot = 3.98
    • Scheidegger = 3.29
I'd expect one and likely two of these teams to exceed these EWs and possibly land in the play-offs (or at least a tie-breaker).

The Underdogs
  • Terry Jones had Team Flaxey at 5-1 odds.  With only 20 wins all-time against 40 lossess, and 13-28 since the last Olympics, the numbers would suggest 2.83 wins and no playoff appearance.  If you take out her 5-3 record against Tippin, Flaxey's winning percentage drops to 29%!  Two wins against Homan and Jones each means they can hang with anyone here, but their point differential vs this field of -1.77 per game is the worst of any team.  Homan, for example, is +1.43/game and Jones is +1.11, while all other teams are in the red.
  • While we're talking point differential...in the mens (since I missed it in Part 1), Koe, McEwen, Jacobs and Carruthers are in the black, while Gushue is at -0.04 pts/game.   These are all-time numbers and I suspect a positive number for Gushue if we looked at the last 3+ years.  
  • Womens games are actually a full 1.07 pts scored (total) more per game than the mens. Scheidegger at 10.65 pts/game is the lowest womens while Morris at 10.61 pts/game is the highest mens team.  I didn't have the time (or interest) to adjust for 8 vs 10 end games, so some skewing in the numbers (higher percentage of womens games are Scotties vs Brier in mens). 
  • And finally....Team Tippin has very few games against this field.  They sit 9-16 all-time and 5-8 during this last Olympic cycle.  They have yet to face Sweeting and only a single loss against Scheidegger, but at least one win against every other team (including Homan and Jones) should give them some hope, right?

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Quadrennial Canada Olympic Trials Preview - Part 1


The 2017/18 Curling season, stretching for some teams into a 10 month marathon, may go down in the sport's history as a turning point.  Please indulge me as I open this 2017 Canada Olympic Trials Preview with a melancholy look back at what was the traditional Scotties and Brier format.  The determination of Canada's National Curling champions has long been associated with these  showcases, but for the past two decades a new event, held every four years, has challenged the legitimacy of these historic championships.  Even the past curator of these events and the man who brought the Brier into NHL arenas, Warren Hansen, thinks the idea of a provincial competition is past its expiration date.  Granted, with relegation the last three years, we've been warmed up for a possible shift in thinking what a Brier and Scotties is supposed to mean.   Just ask Nova Scotia fans who had short trips to the 2015 and 2016 Briers, failing to get through the Pre-Qualifying both years.

This season the Scotties and Brier will implement a dual-Pool format, ensuring that not every province will play against each other during the event (and some may play tie-breakers after 2:00 AM).  This could have little bearing on whether fans enjoy the unfolding of these competitions.  With an added CTRS team, it may even lead some to believe there is greater legitimacy in its determining the national champions.  But to me it will not be the same events I grew up with. To those who knew the Brier as a no-playoff, round-robin-winner takes the trophy event, they may have also felt that "progress" was moving past them when a 3 team playoff format was introduced, or the eventual page system.  The forming of 2 pools could just be more minor changes to events that remain atop the Curling world, or become the beginning of a decline to lower tier titles.  Only history will be able to tell us what the Trials vs Canada Cup vs Brier/Scotties all means.  Thus far, Kevin Koe has no asterisk next to his name on the MacDonald's trophy for his wins in 2010 and 2014, when another "National" champion was sent to the Olympics.  Perhaps one day there will be.

First, a crash course in the numbers.  Before each Olympic Trials I breakdown the results of each team against each other team.  I look at head to head wins and losses, scoring and then examine winning percentage for both historical (lifetime of the teams) and the last Olympic cycle (start of the 2014/15 Season).  I then look at a Combined result, which more heavily weighs the last cycle while still accounting for historical results.  Using Bill James log5 method and his Pythagorean expectation, I estimate the expected wins of each team.  Unless otherwise stated, I use the Combined results in the calculation for Expected Wins (EW).  For those gamblers out there, the points per game and Over/Under results may also be of interest.  I haven't seen any web sites with betting odds for the event so I'll hold off sharing for now, but will release a Gambler's version if this changes and odds are posted.

On to the Preview...

Men's Teams

In my recent interview on the From The Hack Podcast, host Frank Roch suggested there was a big four. The numbers might suggest there are at least 5 and possibly 7.  Despite this, as in years past I will attempt to break apart teams into four categories. Favourites, Contenders, Challengers and Underdogs. It should not be a surprise if any of the top 7 teams win.  It would surprise me if a team went undefeated.  Using Combined numbers, no mens team has an Expected Wins (EW) prediction greater than 5.  

The Favorites
  • Brad Gushue is defending Brier Champion and his squad has started the season with a 32-5 record (.865 winning percentage).  They have a 65.5% winning percentage against this field during this Olympic cycle and that number feels higher the last 12 months.  EW is 4.78 using the Combined results, but they are 5.45 based on the last 3+ years, highest of any team.  They hold a winning record against every other team over that span as well, including 13-6 against Jacobs.  
  • Speaking of Brad Jacobs, his team seems to perform better on the bigger stage. They're the rock band that plays great in a large arena but their act doesn't always translate to the smaller venues.  EW is 4.94, but they also have the poor record against Gushue recently (6-13), losing record against Mcewen (9-13) and are 11-10 against Koe (including Brier losses in the finals and 3 vs 4 game). They are also the only mens team at this event that can "repeat" as Olympic representatives.


The Contenders
  • Kevin Koe had a slow start to the season at the Tour Challenge (1-3) but they have 2 finals (1 win), 2 SF and a QF since. Plenty of veteran strength on this team, but only a 51% record against this field since 2014.  Every one of their opponents at the Trials has a close record with several wins, except Bottcher who is 4-10 against them (but still, 4 wins).  EW=4.57
  • Reid Carruthers is also 51% against this field.  They hold 14-8 record against Mcewen and 10-6 against Koe, and respectable 12-19 combined against the Favourites.  EW = 4.27
  • Team McEwen has been together a long time with a winning record against each of these teams (except the aforementioned Carruthers).  Percentage of 55% since 2014/15 and EW=4.77.  
  • The numbers indicate that Mcewen could be in the higher group but they still haven't shown their dominant cash circuit play translates into the large arenas (the opposite of Jacobs).  It's unfair perhaps because of their small sample size of only 2 Briers and 1 Olympic Trials.  If this team were based in Newfoundland or Northern Ontario these past few years it could be a different conversation, but they still have yet to appear in a final at one of these events.  You could also claim Koe belongs alongside the two Brads, and I tend to think they should be, but the numbers indicate otherwise.  As the elder statemen (with Howard losing in the Pre-Trials to Bottcher), it will be interesting to see if this team can find its prime level again or if father time is starting to take its toll.

The Challengers
  • Team Morris hopes to once again have the hot play from their Pre-Trials qualification continue into the Main Event.  Outside of that event however, they've played poorly on arena ice with a 1-11 record in the first 3 Slams of the season.  EW = 3.86 and their record is a smaller sample of 26-31 (46%) since their last Olympic Trials appearance. 
  • John Epping has shown periods of invincibility over several weeks of any given season.  It's fair to say that despite their 40% results against this field, when they are hot, watch out.  Other than a combined 7-23 against the two Brad's, the are respectable against the remaining teams and could be in the hunt by week's end.

The Underdogs
  • Team Laycock has been dominated by Gushue, Jacobs and Mcewen, and only has 1 QF Slam appearance so far this season.  EW = 2.79 and they have won only 33% of their games against this field, but we've seen them excel at a few Slams and they have a fighting chance in Ottawa.
  • Bottcher was the last team to qualify and will have to bring some of the experience gained at those Pre-Trials and last year's Brier if they have hope for a play-off spot.  I suspect this event is a little more than their ready for, but you could have said the same thing about Brad Gushue in 2006. EW = 2.68 and like Laycock, 33% against these opponents.

Part 2 and a look at the womens teams coming soon.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Episode 27 - Lorraine Lang


Lorraine Lang could be considered part of the first family of Thunder Bay curling.  Despite starting later than most, Lorraine has put together a resume to rival her spouse.  While husband Rick had success playing third for Al Hackner, Lorraine appeared in 8 Scotties, including 2 victories as vice for Heather Houston in 1988 and '89. Along with Diane Adams and Tracy Kennedy, they took home silver from their first trip to the World Championship in Glasgow and a gold the following year in Milwaukee.  Lorraine talks about her early years in the sport, the challenges of competing out of Northern Ontario, repeating as Team Canada, and shares tales from the Ontario women's curling scene during that era.  We reflect on her resurgence in the mid-00's when Lorraine joined the young Krista McCarville rink, leading to three more Scotties appearances, and the transition to becoming their team coach following the Olympic Trials in 2009.

For more on the Heather Houston Rink, you can also check out this 10 year Scotties promotional video or the intro video to their induction to the North West Ontario Hall of Fame


Check out the latest episode of Curling Legends Podcast

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 https://www.asham.com/ and information on the Stompers at http://www.ashamstompers.com/

Check out the latest episode of Curling Legends Podcast