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Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Future of Alberta Mens Curling is Thomas....and Sluchinski?

Greetings from the Boston Pizza Cup in Leduc, Alberta.  Yesterday I witnessed what may have been a glimpse of the future for Purple Hearts in the Wild Rose province.  The "B-Side" finals, winner getting a Saturday night date with Kevin Martin in the 1-2 Page Play-off game, did not include defending champion Kevin Koe.  It did not have Jamie King (with World Champs Blake MacDonald and Scott Pfieffer playing back-end).  

The game did have Charley Thomas, which is not a huge surprise given his junior pedigree (2006 and 07 Canadian champion) and the fact his team lost the finals last year, while skipped by Brock Virtue.  What most everyone did not expect was the Sluchinski brothers to not only reach the B-Side finals, but to win and move on, dropping Charley to the "C-Side".  

Aaron (skip) and brother/third Justin Sluchinski had a great day Friday, but will also look back to Thursday and consider what might have been. In the afternoon draw they were tied without hammer in the final end against James Pahl, and were ready to shake until Pahl's final draw came up just short.  In the evening, the Sluchinski's fell early to Kurt Balderston, wiley veteran who may have more appearances at this event than Aaron or Justin have years on this planet.  Balderston took a 5-1 lead into the 5th end, but Sluchinski responded with a "take-two-steal-two-steal-one" run that put them ahead 6-5, and, after a blank in the 8th, followed with steals in 9 and 10 for an 8-5 win.  

Friday's first game had Sluchinski dropping a quick 4 points on the Kevin Koe rink in the first end.  I missed the early stages of the game but understand if not for Aaron coming a little deep on a draw in the fouth end, he could have stolen a few more points.  At that stage, he held a 6-3 lead, with the hammer. 

Naturally, this is the stage of the game where you attempt to keep things simple, remove rocks and limit your opponents chance to come back.  But these swashbuckling Sluchinski's had other ideas.  

Which one is a brooding actor who smokes cigarillos and lives in France?

Rocks continued to pile up in the house each end and Koe was able to steal 1 in the 5th and 2 in the 6th end and  the game was tied.  In the seventh, both teams were able to place 7 rocks in the four foot, which is no small feat:

Sluchinski is Yellow

Aaron was able to squeeze a single out of this mess and stop the bleeding.  Koe was then held to one in the 7th end, and then in the 8th, it started to look a little familar...

Kevin was unable to get his rocks positioned correctly and Sluchinksi headed to the 10th end with a 3 point lead.  Suprisingly, Koe headed to the final end with only 2:11 left on his "thinking" time-clock.  It never became and issue as Sluchinski pulled out a big victory.

While this game took place, Charley Thomas was battling Jamie King.  A couple of interesting calls which Charley made that we can take a look at.

Tied 3-3 in the 5th end, King had two rocks staggered in the four foot with Charley sitting 3rd and 4th shot at the side eight foot.  I don't have a TV camera or photo to recall the exact location, and I'm sure I'm missing a few rocks, but it looked a little like this:

Thomas is Yellow

Rather than try a thin double for three, he chose instead the angled double and roll out for two.  A deuce here puts Thomas at roughly 76% and a three would increase that to 89% likelyhood to win.  At first I was surprised they didn't attempt a shot at three, but given the set-up, difficulty of the shot, and slight chance you could still make the double but rattle your own rocks to the side and not get three, it likely was the correct call.  The advantage of the three is outweighed by the chance at only scoring 1 (60%) or even giving up a steal.  The final decision comes down to the skip's assessment of his chance of succeeding with the shot.  

Naturally, in the 6th end, King scored three to go up one.  Thomas bounced back with a deuce and a steal to go up two. In the 9th end, a decision on his last shot may have back fired for Charley.  Thomas had a rock in the top eight foot on the centre line.  Fourth for King, Blake MacDonald, had just thrown a draw around that rock and sat in the back of the rings, I believe it was second shot.  Thomas also had a biter sitting third and King one sitting fourth.  Thomas chose to draw down and follow Blake's draw.  He could have chosen a run back instead, and I would argue that was the preferred shot.  By drawing, if the rock is not perfectly frozen, Thomas leaves a possible double to give up a deuce and, as it turned out, Blake had a very possible chance at a triple to score three.  Fortunate for Thomas, he missed it and ended up with a single.  I suppose the fear on the run back was the biter that King had for fourth shot that could come into play.  The rocks were less than 6 feet apart and the runback did not look very difficult.  I suspect the Kevins (Koe and Martin) and others would have played the hit.

The Friday night match-up of ex-junior champions proved to be more cautious.  Charley (who I believe may moonlight as a commercial actor), kept the game close with usually less than 7 rocks in the four foot, but still an entertaining and well played contest.  Sluchinski made a big angle raise early in the game to avoid a steal and then took a deuce in the 9th to take a 1 up lead into the final end, which he eventually won in an extra end.

Today's afternoon match-up has Charley battling Bawal and King against Koe to determine who plays in the 3-4 game later tonight.

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