It's been a while since I've taken finger to keyboard. I had hoped to get out a Grand Slam recap but the holidays, family, work, and then an awkward fall while skating with my 7 year old daughter resulted in my first ever broken bone. The cast comes off in 3 more weeks and though it pains me to type for very long, I recognize my fans need more Curling Math to help while away the January freeze. If I seem unclear or start to ramble, it's because the scotch I am drinking to manage the pain has dulled my writing senses and made me unitelligible (or at least more than usual).
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Where to begin? Let's start with version 2.0 (or is it 3.5?) of The Continental Cup. I've written about this non-event before, and recent comments from Canada's golf/curling scribe Bob Weeks generally fit with my assessment.
I want to be clear on one thing. Having an event like this is VERY GOOD FOR CURLING. I would like nothing more than it to become a showcase which receives coverage across the globe and reaches fans who might otherwise not see the Brier or Grand Slam finals. Mr. Weeks suggests this is no Ryder Cup but he should also advise readers of the fact Ryder Cup didn't matter for nearly 60 years, despite golf growing in interest exponentially. The Presidents Cup (perhaps a more fair comparison with the Continental Cup) , despite some close matches and even polite controversy in 2003, has never come close to the excitement that is the Ryder Cup.
I was VERY much in favour of the rule change to a 60 point format instead of the race to 256 or whatever it used to be. Keep it simple so that that the average fan can follow, so we know where everything stands and can make our own assessment of each teams chances at each stage. This was done while still keeping half the points until the final day, so that drama storylines can unfold and the team from behind still has at least a small chance. Someone has to tell me why TSN kept putting up the graphic "RACE to 31" when in fact 30 1/2 is the actual point total required to win, and the Euros World needed only 30 and a tie to retain the Cup. I know this appears minor, but as the Curling with Math guy, it is rather irritating that someone couldn't complete a basic equation for the viewer. Is "RACE to 30.5" really that much worse? And why is the Skills competition called "Singles" when it really isn't?
Having said all this, I still am not a fan of watching this event. Even if there was more animosity between the teams rather than the cheerful mixed spiel camaraderie Bob Weeks talks about, I still likely wouldn't care all that much. I never watched Kevin Martin and Randy Ferbey soley for the hope that a fist fight would break out. I would suggest (as Bob does) that holding the event every other year (or even every three) may increase my interest. Maybe having it in exotic venues (like Las Vegas in 2014) will help as well, but likely not from my couch. One poster on CurlingZone had a good point. If you don't like it, it doesn't mean it doesn't have to exist, simply don't watch. But you know what, I probably will, and I'll continue to wonder why.
Now, back to the last Grand Slam, The Canadian Open. I'll pass on the full recap (too many TV games to cover), but instead analyze two situations that occured. One, John Epping took 4 in the first end of an 8 end game, and LOST. Second (in Part II), the finals had Brad Jacobs of Northern Ontario invoking a conservative strategy against Howard. Recall Stoughton in the Canada Cup played a (somehwat) similar gameplan. Is this the way to play Howard?
How to lose when you score 4 in the first end:
7.3%. That was the odds that Team Kevin Koe would recover from the 4 ender they coughed up to Team Epping in the first end of their round robin game. That might actually sound high and, given the event and ice conditions, it probably is. So did Koe come back or did Epping just collapse?
Second end, Koe's squad makes some great freeze shots and bounces back with a deuce. They've now increased their odds to 11.7%.
Third end, John misses his first shot, a chance at a double to sit two. Likely Kevin would have a chance to double those out, so a blank (the end result) was still very likely. Koe drops to 10.4%
Up 4-2 with hammer in the 4th end, Epping is facing this on third Scott Bailey's last rock:
Epping is Red
Epping decides to attempt to tap the high yellow and push his second shot rock to the back four. Both Mike and Richard agree they don't like the call. Before the shot, Koe would need two shots to get shot-rock and with this call by John, Koe will now only need one shot. Scott ends up pushing the back red out of the rings, Kevin makes a soft hit tap on his own, and the result is this:
Epping is Red
As bad as it all looks, John still has a raise hit to take one on his last shot. It's a terrible throw (attempting soft weight), comes across the face and he's very fortunate to only give up a steal of one. Koe is now at 21.5%.
In the 5th end, rather than attempting a run back on his first shot, Epping tries to come around with a soft tap on Koe's shot stone sitting top button. He's light and doesn't move the rock enough. He's perfect on his final shot and manages to draw the pin for a single point. Koe now down 5-3 with hammer, 3 ends remain, 19.3%.
6th end, Rogers joins late from commercial break, but we see an Epping come around on their own center line guard. Two points up and three ends to play, that guard should not be there. I can only assume that was a mistake. Or, perhaps John was trying to entice Kevin to play around a longer guard, rather than toss up a corner (which he did). Koe second Carter Rycroft actually ticks the front guard on both his shots and by thirds rocks they have all but one stone in play. Scott Bailey is heavy on his guard attempt, Pat Simmons makes two great shots, a run back and then a raise tap. Epping is in a heap of trouble with his first rock. He attempts a runback double on the centre guard, opens up the rings, and leaves Koe sitting first and third. John makes a double on his last, but rolls out and leaves Koe with a split to take three. Koe goes from 19.3% to 63.4%. Even a deuce by Koe would have only put him at 36.9%. That third point was critical.
In the 7th end, Koe makes a spectacular raise double on his first shot. Epping then makes a very difficult double for a blank on his last shot, rather than taking one and being tied without hammer in the last end. An interesting call that he needs to make roughly 1/3 of the time to be correct.
In the 8th end, John calls for a hit on Scott's final shot.
Epping is Red
I believe the tap would have been better, but the result appears to be a great shot....until Koe peels out the two reds in the button, and sits one buried. John draws for one and they head to an extra end.
Some tension in the extra end, but Kevin makes a great corner freeze on his first shot and eventually comes through with the win.
Other side notes:
Tied without hammer in the 7th end (9th in a 10 end game) I much prefer to put up two guards rather than one. John Morris did this in his game against Fowler but in other games (Jacobs in the finals as an example), I've seen skips choose to come into the rings on leads second rock. Putting up two guards greatly decreases the chance of a blank. In this position, you need one team to score a single, either you steal or hold your opponent to one. Every other likely outcome and you are 80% or greater to lose the game (unless of course you steal more than one).
Richard Hart has joined Mike Harris and Rob Faulds in the broadcast booth for Rogers SportsNet. It's still early, but I suspect Harris and Hart may eventually rival Neale and Cole as the greatest broadcast duo in Canadian television. Did you know Bob Cole was a curler? He has two Purple Hearts from the 1971 and '75 Briers, skipping Newfoundland. He also played in the 1965 and '73 Canadian Mixed. A wonder why he never tried to commentate for curling, it could have been entertaining. Perhaps he was in booth at some point, our over 60 readers may be able to comment on this obscure piece of Canadaian Curling history.
Part II from the Canadian Open: How to Play Howard (coming soon)...