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Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Brier Final Weekend without the "Old Bear"

There was only one Bear near the ice during the final weekend of the 2013 Tim Horton's Brier, and it wasn't Kevin Martin (it was this forest creature).  

The wild roars of Friday night gave way to the subtle ahems, occasional sighs and pleasant claps of the play-offs.  No tie-breakers on Saturday morning, and play began with what many expected to be a preliminary bout for the eventual finalists.  Ontario's Glenn Howard rink had 1st place and hammer by way of their 10-1 record. Jeff Stoughton of Manitoba, by virtue (not Virtue) of leading in draws to the button throughout the week, received the 2nd spot.  With Newfoundland, Northern Ontario and Manitoba all at 8-3 and having each been 1-1 against each other, a tiebreaker needs to be made.  I'm not exactly sure how this had been done in the past (though I recall a Scotties tiebreaker where teams removed a number from the buttocks of a stuffed toy, but that was many years ago...).  Ranking based on the cumulative results from draws to the button over 11 games seems a very fair approach.  

Glenn suggested he could have had a bye for his team into the final (such as was the old Labatt Brier format, pre-Page), but this type of comment falls on deaf ears these days.  If the event was purely measuring the finest team of the week, then the format would go back to pre-1980 and the best record would be awarded the trophy.  We all know that doesn't work in today's sporting world (how many baseball teams make the play-offs now?).  I agree that a bye would be well deserved, but hammer and choice of rocks is a considerable advantage in the 1-2 game.  

Based on the modern format, the best team of the weekend wins the Brier and this year it was Team Jacobs of Northern Ontario.

Rather than give a full recap, I'm going to dive in chronologically on key situations that involved interesting decisions.  

Page 1-2: Jeff Stoughton - MB vs Glenn Howard - ON

Tied 4-4 starting the 8th end.  TSN was late getting back but it appeared that Stoughton, without hammer, called for a centre guard and Howard then called for a corner guard.  I wrote about this specific end situation back in 2009 in this article.  Possibly Jeff was not aware of this analysis (or disagrees with it).  I'd like to think he was actually thinking at the second level, placing a centre, tempting Glenn to come around and divert Howard from putting up an early corner, getting the play into the middle of the sheet.  Glenn, perhaps thinking on the third (or even fourth level), doesn't bite and throws up a corner guard.  

A "weagle" would have been a another option for Glenn to play.  I've decided that the tick shot, when played as an offensive weapon rather than played defensively during the final end, should be named after Rachel Homan's lead (and Scotties MVP, yet not All-star), Lisa Weagle.  

In the 10th end, Howard leads 6-4 without hammer.Wayne Middaugh has an uncharacteristic flash on his final shot (in the same exact path Jeff had missed against BC the night before), leaving Stoughton an opportunity to hit and lie three.  Glenn nearly makes the triple with his first shot, but does manage a double and Manitoba is looking at this;

Howard is Yellow

Howard is sitting one.  Stoughton could choose to hit and roll to the other side of the house, but it would be very difficult to not leave a double.  They discuss placing a rock tucked in behind the yellow, and contemplate where best to put it (higher, depper, etc).  Jeff actually calls the hit, starts towards the other end, and then returns to change the call to the come around.  The danger here is they could also set-up a double either by showing too much of their rock or by coming deep and leaving a runback double.  They actually are disappointed when Jeff's rock comes up lighter than they had planned:

Glenn's first comment is "I don't like this" as he motions with his broom at the slash double.  They could choose to hit the open rock or attempt the angle run back of their own onto the Manitoba shot stone. They discuss the double again and the possibility of playing it as a hit to sit two, still in good position to win, even if they jam and leave Manitoba sitting third shot (my picture is slightly off and there was some chance of the stone out of the rings catching one of the Stoughton rocks).  They attempt the double and Glenn ticks the front yellow, giving Jeff a draw for three and the win.

I don't mind the call, though it appeared from his comments Glenn wasn't comfortable with it initially.  Stats indicate that top teams win at nearly 80% when tied in the final or extra end.  Glenn is in fact 83-11 since 2003, or roughly 88%.  Many of those wins came against weaker competition, so we have to expect that his chances against Stoughton are below 88% and closer to the average.  

Let's use 80% as the chance of winning in the extra end, and guess that the double is made only 20% of the time. Glenn needs to be certain he won't tick the guard 87.5% of the time in order for it to be the correct call.  If he expects the double to be made 40% of the time, this lowers to 75%.  Glenn likely expects to miss that guard more than 9 of 10 times, making it mathematically a good call as long as the double occurs 1 in 5 attempts.  Hmmm, still not sure myself either.

Page 3-4: Brad Jacobs - NO vs Brad Gushue NL

Battle of the Brads.  Gushue early strategy appears to include hitting rocks in the rings with down weight on front end shots, rather than attempting freezes.  In a few cases, this backfires as they leave Jacobs rocks in play and lose their shooter.  

3rd end, up 1-0, Gushue makes what appears to be a perfect freeze on his last shot. His shooter comes to the face of the rock when a little high side would have been better.  He's heard on air say "it's still not going anywhere" but he must have been talking about the Northern Ontario stone that he frooze against, which was nestled against another rock. As predicted, after Jacobs hit a sliver of the Gushue rock, slashing it out of the four foot, his other stone did not go anywhere. NO scores a deuce and we get a brand new Vic Rauter phrase "Calling Doctor Jacobs for surgery".  

In the 4th end, Gushue has hammer down 2-1 and faces this with third Brett gallant's last shot:

Gushue is Red

They discuss whether to hit with hack weight but Brad decides to play the freeze.  The problem with this call is he will likely need to make a more difficult shot later to remove the back yellow in order to score multiple points.  The call leaves open the opportunity for 3, but reduces the chances for a deuce.  I prefer the hit but either call can be argued competently. 

5th end, tied 2-2 without hammer, NL second Adam Casey's last rock.  Brad G. elects to hit this top yellow rather than the back one:

Gushue is Red

Gushue could have chosen to hit the back yellow and roll behind centre.  This alternate call brings play back behind the centre.  I understand what Gushue is hoping for.  If he rolls open and NO misses the hit and roll, he may be left with a double.  A case could be made for either call.  If it is later in the end I expect Gushue would have called to hit the back stone. 

8th end, Gushue is now down 4-3 without hammer and calls a time out on third's first stone.  The decsion is whether to come around to the back four with several rocks in the house, or to throw up another centre guard.  

Gushue is Red

I preferred the center guard.  Coming in this early reduces the chance for a steal. There was a comment that Jacobs might not peel the centre.  This isn't likely but they would prefer NO to be aggressive and draw.  At this stage, a blank or force has little difference, NL chances will be roughly 15% to win.  The center guard increases the chance of a steal and I prefer attempting a steal at all costs with a force as the other result, even if you increase the risk of a deuce.  

Gushue is held to one in the 9th and trails by 1 without hammer in the final end. Following an unfortunate tick on a Ryan Fry peel, Gushue is left on the pin and ends up with a steal, sending the game into an extra end.  

Despite being outplayed for most of the game, there still is a glimmer of hope for Newfoundland.  Anotherexample  of why starting with hammer is such an advantage.  If similar scores were put up but in an alternate universe Brier with NO starting with hammer, the game would have gone as follows:
NO 2 up, then 1 up with hammer, then 3 up, then 2 up with hammer, then up 3, then up 2 with hammer.
Starting with hammer for NL allowed them to stay within two points and ultimately scrap back in the last end to force an extra.  Unfortunately, a pick on Adam Casey's first rock and then a hog on his second and the game went to Jacobs.

Sunday games coming up in Part II...

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