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Friday, December 9, 2011

The Battle for Canada’s Cups – Part 1

Thank goodness for PVRs (Tivo specifically in my case).  If not for pre-scheduling recordings of all things Curling I would have completely missed this past weekends’ games.   This humble little event, historically known as the CCA Canada Cup, is played each year with a small select group of teams whom you’ve heard and seen many times before.  This year teams squared off not only for a few sheckles but for the right to play against other teams in 728 days, for the right to represent Canada at the Olympics in 796 days.  Kevin Martin’s win in this Canada Cup felt a little like Tiger’s big comeback win this past weekend at the Chevron World Challenge, a silly season exhibition where only 18 players contended.  Was it surprising to fans that some of our best curling teams this season were not competing?  Notably absent were Sherry Middaugh, leading the Women’s CTRS (aka, Canadian Team Ranking System) and John Epping, ranking third in the Men’s.  Wasn’t the CCA going to give teams a break in Olympic qualifying, making it a 2 year effort instead of 3?  Yes, you could argue, this Canada Cup is in the 2011/12 season, but in order to qualify to play in it, you needed to succeed LAST year.  Hence, this first Olympic spot was only open to teams who started their Olympic Quest the season following the last Olympics.  I’m getting a headache.

With all this at stake, it would have been nice to see more coverage, televised or even via internet.  I expect we’ll see extended coverage of the Pre-Trials (like we did in 2009), despite the fact the top teams will have already qualified and be watching in the stands. 

So how do you feel about 10 ends?  I remember when 8 ends felt short, now it simply feels normal.  Based on previous analysis: Is curling a battle for hammer?, I supported a theory that an 8 end game is competitively equal to a 10 end game, given the percentage chance to win based on the scoreboard stays fairly constant until 6 ends remain.  Essentially, an 8 end game is a 10 end game where the teams are tied after two ends. Because we’ve been watching for shorter time, the 8 end game may appear to be different, but in effect the teams are likely playing as they would later in a ten end game, because strategy should be based on ends remaining, not ends played.  For example, if a team seems overly aggressive in the 4th end of an 8 end game when down two, it’s the same approach they would take in the 6th end of a ten end contest.  The debate will continue and I will stay on the fence for now….and on to the games.

Haven’t we read this book before? Jeff Stoughton versus Glenn Howard with the winner to play Kevin Martin.  This scenario occurred at the 2009 Brier and Olympic Trials, and feels like it happens nearly every major event.   So how will the story end this time? 

The Glenn Howard rink have hammer in the semifinals by virtue of their win versus Stoughton during the round robin.   Why is the Howard rink dressed in basic navy blue instead of lime green or shocking pink?  Oh, I forgot, it’s a CCA event.  The teams are all wearing single colour form fitting shirts, complete with racing stripes along the shoulders, no doubt to show off the athleticism of men in their mid to late 40s.

A wonder the stands aren’t more full to see this show.  If only we could bring back The Wrench, sporting a tight fitting gem with his  Olympic Shape.   

In the first end Stoughton lead Steve Gould draws completely around a centre guard, peeking over half out the other side, showing the ice has the same swinging intensity of Plato's Retreat.  Glenn later uses that swing to make a fantastic hit a roll on a stone buried in the four foot to lay two.  Jeff  faced several key decisions early.  On his first shot, Howard sits one behind a corner guard.  

Howard is Red

Stoughton could attempt a peel on the outside of the rock or a difficult corner freeze, but instead chooses to draw around the centre.  Jeff makes a perfect shot.  The large curl however makes Glenn’s shot, though difficult, not impossible and Howard manages to sit two after his first shot.   Rather than risk another draw that can be removed for three, Jeff chooses to remove the open Howard rock and surrender an early deuce.  The decision is sound in that a deuce leaves him with a 27% chance while a three drops their chances to 14%.  In retrospect, Jeff may have been better to peel out Howard’s stone, let Glenn attempt a come around, then use the massive curl to take out Glenn’s shot and likely induce a blank or possibly a force.  It appeared no rock was safe from being removed, but perhaps ice conditions were not identical across the sheet.  I still like Jeff’s aggressive call on his first and Glenn simply made a great shot.

In the second end, Glenn and Wayne are discussing Wayne’s second shot but we can’t hear them because the TSN commentators are fixated on discussing Jon Mead cleaning the sliding path.  I understand commentating on curling is not easy (I learned it first hand during the 2010 Brier working for CurlTV).   I also realize Jon looks handsome in his tight fitting CCA jersey.  But there is enough silence during a game for plenty of playful media banter that when the players are actually discussing a shot, keep quiet!

The 6th end shows both the incredible action from the rocks and ice conditions.  Jeff Stoughton is down 4-2 with hammer and attempts a double on two close Howard stones. After removing both, his shooter backs up and nearly fires across the house to be removed from play.  The shooter bites the edge for one.

Howard is Red 
Don’t try this shot at your club at home.  Jeff’s chances go from 21% if a blank is successful to 20% when he stays for a single so in effect, his mistake has no real impact on his chances.  In fact, he didn’t need to try the difficult double and roll out at all and was fortunate not to hit the first rock too thick, roll across the top and surrender a steal, which would have dropped their chances to 9%.  You could argue his accuracy is such that Jeff would not make this mistake often, but why take on the additional risk with no benefit?  During the 2011 Brier Stoughton played flawlessly with the exception of a brain fart against Brad Gushue during the round robin.  Leading 5-3 he tried a more difficult shot which the odds did not require to be attempted and surrendered a three in the 8th end. Check out Jeff's comments on his Friggin' Bonehead Shot

The loss gave Newfoundland hammer in the 1-2 Page Play-off game which Team Stoughton won with a key steal in 9, on their way to winning their third Brier.

In the 7th end, leading 4-3 with hammer, Glenn chooses to split the Stoughton centre guard with his leads first rock.  Craig Savill executes perfectly, but Howard then chooses the come around on Craig’s next shot.  I'm not certain what Glenn’s thinking is there. Either he wants to eliminate Stoughton having two guards (but is happy with one) or just realized it was a 10 end game and he had 4 more ends to go.  Jeff ends up facing several red rocks and discusses a hit and roll versus a draw, contemplating whether they could give up a deuce, three or even four.  

Stoughton is Yellow

Realizing a deuce puts them 3 down with 3 ends to play (7% chance to win), they correctly choose to draw.  To no one’s surprise however, like several shots before, Glenn is able to remove the fully buried rock and take three, nearly assuring victory.  Jeff made a good shot with his final stone but may have been trying to come deeper, curl across the guard and place it where a possible jam would occur.  Is it possible there can be too much curl in curling?

Another rematch.

Glenn Howard again battles Kevin Martin in a final game on the path to Olympic qualification.  Granted, this game is only to qualify for the Trials but it still has the intensity and drama you would expect from these two teams.  This game was so interesting; I’ve decided to break this article into two parts.  Join me tomorrow for Part Deux.

1 comment:

  1. Great article! Really enjoyable read. Wasn't able to watch the games (no cable), so reading this kind of analysis of the game is really neat.