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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

And the Osca...,er, Scotties goes to...Rachel Homan

Poor scheduling by the CCA.  Without my Tivo, I may have never seen the inaugural Canadian Womens Curling Championship by Rachel Homan.  By pushing more games to Friday and play-offs later into the weekend, a night time final was scheduled against The 85th Academy Awards, the most watched televised event by baby boomer females who like movies and looking at fashion (or roughly 43% of the Scotties TV audience).

I learned long ago, back in the days of VHS, that the Oscars are an event best recorded and viewed on delay, so that lengthy montages and interpretive dance segments (remember 2010?), can be set to fast forward.  Of course, I record curling for much the same reasons.

Jennifer Lawrence is 22 years old and is being lawded as the next Meryl Streep.  Her performace in Silver Linings Playbook is great, in Winters Bone she's even better, but her finest might be in the press room after she accepted her award for Best Actress.  Either her publicist is on sick leave or she fired him and hired a relative instead.  Next thing we know she might be jumping on a couch.

Rachel Homan is 23 years old and like J-Law, it looks like everyone else better get used to second place.  I liked the Team Homan chances coming into this event (I even placed a small wager on them to win it all).  I also felt that they might stumble, because breaking through the first time is perhaps the hardest championship to get.  Or perhaps almost as hard as when you get really old, lose a step, and then have to pull out the grizzled-old-weary-veteran win that no one believes could happen.  Tends to take place more in the movies, except when deer spray is involved.

Team Ontario looked stoic and composed early, faltered in the middle, recovered near the end and then pulled out a win in the finals that, for a shot or two, may have had them waiting another year to rise to the top of Canadian Womens Curling.  The final game was not the type we've expected.  After a 3 point lead, you would figure this hit-like-mens-teams team would steadily break down the Jones resolve and quietly put them away.  Instead Manitoba battled back to a tie game, only to surrender a second three-pointer and, after a steal of two in the 8th end, the ballgame.  I'm not certain if the Jones rink kept playing to the bitter end because of TV requirements or to see if the pressure might get to the young Ontario squad.  Five down with 2 to play and 3 down without hammer and one end was perhaps a little too much to expect for a historical comeback (0.2% and 0.3% respectively).

Semi-Finals: Jennifer Jones - Manitoba vs Heather Nedohin - Team Canada

Heather Nedohin's Team Canada rink looked in good shape, up 4-2 without hammer starting the 7th end. Manitoba places two corners and Team Canada has two rocks in the top rings.  A peel attempt by Canada rolls in behind the other corner rather than out of play and a miss from Manitoba second Jill Officer becomes a make when a wide draw ticks off a front Canada stone and drops in buried behind the two corner guards.  Not sure I like Heather's next call.  She decides to peel the top red guard:

Nedohin is yellow

Yes, it's still early in the end and you have a two point lead, but you could stay aggressive here and place a centre guard.  That red rock in the twelve foot may come back to haunt you, but I'd rather play for a steal or force by controlling the middle of the sheet, than throw a rock that opens up a future possible runback on a rock that may not matter.  I thought at first they were throwing the double runback, a shot that has a positive result and may have some merit.

Jill then makes another bad shot that gets a good result, ticking off both yellow stones and staying in the rings, buried for third shot behind the corner and what is now Manitoba's fourth rock (Jill's previous shot). 

Team Canada third Beth Iskiw then makes a fantastic run back on the yellow corner, removing both Manitoba rocks, rolling to the middle, and making my previous analysis seem foolish.  Eventually, Heather is a little heavy on a guard attempt, Jones is able to make a double and roll to sit shot buried, eventually scoring two to tie things up.

In the 8th end, Canada chooses this shot on Beth's first rock:

Nedohin is yellow

Beth makes it perfect but the danger of this call (and the result makes hindsight rather easy) is clogging up the middle of the sheet and leaving the red stone squeezed between two rocks.  Another option would have been to have Beth hit the yellow in the top twelve, with enough weight to move the stones around (or possible enough to clear them away and possibly catch the raised stone onto the two reds in the back twelve behind the corner). 

Difficult to see the danger lurking and certainly the other shot has a high level of difficulty, but this is a critical end in which you do not want the opposition to steal.  The 9th end is the best time to be up one without the hammer, and as a result a steal puts you one down with (the worst time to be in that position).  A deuce is important but avoiding a steal is more crucial.  

Granted, it still doesn't appear at this stage Canada is in too much trouble.  After Lawes comes light on her draw, it looks even better.  Beth attempts a tap on her last shot, and pushes the rock to the open, leaving Manitoba an opening.  They also could have tried an out-turn draw, but either call seems fine.  The issue is still the red stone locked in as second shot at the back of the button.  It will be difficult for Canada to score two without getting it dislodged.  

Jennifer draws in front  of the tapped stone, now biting a piece of button, sitting second and third.  Heather attempts a freeze on her own stone with her first shot but comes a little heavy, rolling open in the process and leaving Jones with a double which she makes, and now sits one, possibly two.  Heather is left with a difficult  shot through a hole to take one and rubs the questionable stone, moving it to second, and Manitoba steals two. Difficult to rebound from being up two to down two in two ends but Canada appears to have a chance in nine to tie it.  On her last however, Jennifer is able to blast three rocks and sit first and second when the dust settles, forcing Heather to a single.  One up with hammer, Jennifer wins it in the tenth and its a rematch of the 1-2 game.

The Finals: Rachel Homan - Ontario vs. Jennifer Jones - Manitoba

First shot by Ontario, tick the Manitoba centre guard over to a corner and roll in the rings.  Why don't more teams play this shot?

The three by Ontario started innocent enough.  On Ontario third Emma Miskew's last they are facing a Manitoba corner guard with a Manitoba stone buried back eight foot.  Jennifer simply misses both her shots, most importantly being heavy on her first, and Ontario takes a quick 3-0 lead.

Fourth end, now 3-1 Ontario with hammer and a missed attempt at the tick results in two Manitoba guards, long and short.   

Fifth end, now 3-2 and two more tick shots attempted, both made.  Again, why don't more teams play this?  After Jennifer plays a long centre guard, Homan calls for a draw around one of the wide corner guards left from the tick shots, and it's buried.  Now Manitoba has to decide whether to chase to the middle (possibly throwing a second guard or a draw to the four foot) or draw around attempting a corner freeze.  They draw around the corner, successfully, then Ontario is unable to follow (a little light) and Manitoba draws around the centre guard to lie two.  After each team hits and rsticks, Manitoba third Kaitlyn Lawes rolls behind the other corner and Ontario attempts this shot:

 Homan is yellow

I applaud their effort, many womens teams would not attempt this type of shot at this stage.  However, I'm not sure what they are trying to accomplish.  I suppose they may hope to save the promoted rock and the one in the top tweleve foot, and keep them both buried, but it is unlikely either will be shot stone (assuming that result is even possible).  I may have chosen to come around the centre guard at this late stage.  There is also a possible draw tap on their own stone, trying to move rocks around and possibly sit shot in front of a red catcher, but it is difficult.

The result can't be analyzed however as the Ontario rink burns the running stone just before it hits the guard (in fact it was lead Lisa Weagle's broom jamming against the guard and ricocheting back onto the shooter that caused the burn,).  After some discussion the rocks are returned and Jennifer attempts a draw around the centre to sit three.  In shooting percentage, Emma gets dinged for the shot as a miss and ends up with 81% instead 86%.  I've always felt a burnt rock should be treated as a non-shot, like getting hit by a pitch in baseball not counting as an at-bat.

Rachel makes perhaps the unsung shot of the game by drawing to the back button against four and counting a key single, by an inch.

the 7th end, tied with hammer, Ontario makes yet another tick shot it would appear.  If this type of play continues, perhaps TSN could come back earlier from commercial and show us these shots, so we know what happened!  Ontario is able to play a come around on a corner guard and Manitoba chooses to follow them, resulting in this:

Jones is red
Perhaps Jennifer wanted to freeze closer or maybe bump the rock back.  An alternate choice at this stage may have beeen to attempt a runback on the guard.  I wonder what Rachel would have called in that situation (or Kevin Martin or Kevin Koe)?  I don't mind the call but you can see Manitoba is in trouble and will need help from their opposition and/or a big shot later to avoid giving up more than one.  They get a break a few shots later when an Ontario come around attempt rubs on a rock and sits open.  Unfortunately, Lawes is unable to get her hit to roll enough and Ontario is able to hit and sit first and third. Aftersome discussion, Jennifer decides to attempt this hit on her first shot:

It's possibly the shot of the game.  Manitoba has to sit on top of the red perfectly, leaving their other stone at the side and the yellow shot stone as catchers.  Unfortunately for Jones, the rock overcurls slightly and rolls too far, almost directly behind the yellow in the top eight. I can't see many other options for Jones here.  It is a difficult shot but, if made, could force Homan to one or possible set up a steal.  It seemed unlikely Jennifer could draw around the guard and get shot rock, but they may have had another option.  They could try and hit the top yellow, catch the shot yellow stone on the way through and move those stones around, possibly setting up something for her last shot.  If that happens and if Rachel hits the resulting Manitoba stone top eight, in front of the four foot, she could sit first and third, leaving Jennifer a chance out of the end.

After Manitoba rolls under the yellow, it appeared the immediate call was a run back or tap.  Rachel instead chooses to play a very thin double, having to get by her rock in the top eight.  She makes it perfectly (ok, maybe this is the new "shot of the game"), and Jones is left with a double and maybe roll behind cover.  Her hit (in the exact same line) instead overcurls and leaves Ontario a draw for three.

Playing aggressive in the 8th end, Jones is unable to place the rocks in good spots, misses her last and the steal of two makes this one all but over.  I could comment on the final two ends but in truth, I was watching Edgar Winter's speach after tieing for the Oscar for Sound Editing.

Next up...Live, from Edmonton, The Brier.

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