The days are growing shorter, the trees have gone bare, my golf course has closed, my hammock has gone back in the garage, and the first of the season's Grand Slams has ushered us into another Canadian winter. Sure, the snow has held off for now, much to my snowboarding son's disappointment, but without baseball playoffs or quality Sunday night TV to distract me, there are no excuses for not producing another CWM article.
It will take me some time to get interested in curling again. Olympic years seem to barrage us with copious amounts of on and off-ice activity. It's the part of the roller coaster when you've left the highest point and are heading at top speed towards the first double loop. The year-after-the-Olympic year becomes that point where you've reached the end of the ride and are deciding what to do next. Should you get back in line? Move to a ride that moves at a more reasonable speed for your age? Or maybe take a break and gorge yourself on the enourmous leg of a holiday bird?
This year seems even more strange. Kevin Martin has left the ice and slid into a rather crowded broadcasting booth. Glenn Howard was not in the playoffs at this week's Masters, but instead had his new "old" team likely at the chiropractor following their exit from the event. Jeff Stoughton has a new team, including a front end that is too young to even remember when their skipper had hair like the Andy Travis character on WKRP. They likely don't even know what a WKRP is for that matter.
All other photos of this quaff appear to have been deleted from the internet
We could even say that Brad Gushue, winner of his second Grand Slam, has ascended to become one of the old guard on tour. He still looks young enough to be the guy that comes once a week to mow your lawn. Ok, maybe the guy that collects the money for the guy that mows your lawn. Gushue's opponent in the finals of the Masters, Manitoba's yes-they-stayed-together McEwen squad, failed to win their 5th straight event to start the season, losing only their third game in the process. They look like the guys that are too cool to mow lawns.
On the women's side, the finals between semi-finalists Homan and Jones that sponsors and SportsNet likely wished for, did not take place. Instead we settled for a Val Sweeting victory over that Swedish team with the long name that can be trouble pronouncing (Margaretha Sigfridsson). Sweeting was assisted by late pick-up Cathy Overton-Clapham, who happened to be in the neighbourhood.
As mentioned earlier, Rogers coverage now includes Kevin Martin in the broadcast booth. KMart seemed to do fine but I'm not a fan of all four personalities involved with the same game at once. Often the commentary became crowded and on various occaisions, each of Mike, Joan and Kevin took turns being the Ed McMahon character, re-stating what had just been said.
I had mixed impressions of the attempt to cover four games at once. Jumping to the last few shots of an end was like televised poker and only watching races between a middle pair and Ace-King. In order to create drama, it's necessary to watch how an end develops, and not simply skip to the action at the end. Where's the tension? Where's the build up? Perhaps they'll get better over time but I'd prefer to see SportsNet use some of those extra channels to show more than one game per draw. And while I'm complaining, why is it, despite a dozen sport channels, Canada did not broadcast Ole Miss vs Auburn last Saturday? And another thing SportsNet, why were several baseball playoff games only broadcast on the MLB channel and not available in Western Canada!?! "Every inning" my a....
Whew. Deep breath. Ok, that's enough of that.
Before we get any further, if you haven't already done so, please check out the link above to my book "End Game: An Olympic Viewer's Guide to Curling". Available at many fine online retailers.
On to the games.
Men's Semi-Final: Mike McEwen vs Brad Jacobs
The critical second end was interesting as it demonstrated how misdirection can create opportunity. McEwen is down 1-0 with hammer. With third B.J. Neufeld's last rock of the end, rather than make a play onto shot stone (red line) they chose to play to the opposite side of the sheet and sit second or possibly third (green line):
McEwen is Red
There was some discussion, so it didn't appear that Mike had a clear motive with this call, but the result tempted Jacobs to play down with his first skip rock and try to freeze onto third shot. Brad may have been better off trying a hit and roll on the red stone covering his shot rock. It was difficult and he may have moved his shot stone, but the result of a freeze keeps two McEwen stones in play. Brad makes a decent shot, perhaps bumping the McEwen stone too far but no one seemed concerned at the time. Mike then plays the tap back onto shot stone and now sits first, third and fourth:
Jacobs is left with a draw around centre or a hit on third shot, in an attempt to remove shot stone. They choose the draw and fail to bury, leaving a thin double for four points. Surprisingly, McEwen intially considers a nose hit for two, but elects to try for the big end and makes it. I'll spare you the math but needless to say the hit for four is almost automatic in my assesment. McEwen sat second so even a poor shot could result in one point. The advantage of four is significant and the hit for two was not so certain. Any roll either way would result in only one point.
How could Jacobs have avoided this end? The freeze initally appeared to be a good shot but in fact landed in a poor spot. Looking at a double on his last, Jacobs could not play the easier double on the high side as it would likely jam and leave McEwen a draw for three. If Jacobs had played a hit on second shot initially, it could remove a red stone but still leave them in some difficulty. It would have been easier for Brad to bail out and surrender a deuce however, rather than face a possible four spot against. His final draw, even if made, could easily leave a shot for two or possible double for three. I may have preferred trying to double the two red on the inside but they seemed reluctant, perhaps because of concern with the ice. Not a clear decision and pressure on Brad to be perfect, otherwise risk a big score for Mike, all started by McEwen playing away from the shot stone.
I don't want to pile on SportsNet, they have made considerable investment in curling (despite not including it on their mobile app) and I want them to succeed. But one of their video staff needs some additional training. In the second end, the score is displayed as 0-0 when it is in fact 1-0. Later on, McEwen is shown in a smiling photo as playing against Gushue, rather than Jacobs. Perhaps less announcers and more graphics people? Ok, I'll stop now...
Men's Semi-Final: Brad Gushue vs John Epping
In the first end Epping has hammer and after a roll-out on Gushue's first stone, is able to draw and sit two. Both Kevin Martin and Mike Harris comment that it is perhaps a risky call to go around centre (green line) rather than draw to the open one final time (red line).
Gushue is Yellow
Which is the correct call? A deuce will give Epping a 74% WE with 7 ends remaining. If they are able to score three it increases to 85%. If we assume a draw to the wings will nearly always result in a deuce, and the draw around centre will result in a force 1 in 5 attempts, a three needs to be succesul 30% of the time for it to be the correct call. Even with a perfect come around, Gushue has a good chance to runback his own centre guard and take away the three ender. Granted, a draw to wings will not always score two, but the draw around centre can also introduce the chance of a steal. These Win Expectancy numbers are based on over a decade of 4-rock rules and this event is being played under the 5-rock rule, as will future Grand Slams. We'll have to wait on the data but I'd suspect a score of three this early has slightly less significance under the new rules, as a team will have a better chance to come from behind. If Epping feels that Gushue is the stronger team, this risk may still be correct, but I'd suspect they would be considered close to equal and the alternative decision, to draw to the open side, was likely the better play.
Women's Semi-Final: Val Sweeting vs Rachel Homan
Sweeting is tied 1-1 without hammer in the 5th end, facing the house below on thirds final shot. Joan comments that it was a strange decision for Val to hit (red line) rather than draw to sit 2 (blue or green line).
Sweeting is Red
The mistake with hitting is perhaps more a fault of playing to the side with the corner guard. Even if succesful, Rachel will be playing around the corner guard and now have a potential catcher at the back of the rings. I prefer Val to play away to the open side (green line). With only 5 more rocks to come they are more likely to keep a deuce out of play. Granted, Homan may choose a draw any way, but the back yellow will not come into play in that case.
Cathy rolls out with the hit attempt and Homan calls for a draw around the corner (blue line). Third Emma Miskew comes light with the attempt and eventually Rachel is forced to a single. Kevin Martin suggests Rachel should have instead tried the runback, to increase the chance of a blank, giving them hammer with 3 ends to play.
I've written before on the dangers of over emphasizing the benefit of two-hammers-to-one. Looking at Win Expectancy for Womens teams, it is only a 3% advantage for Rachel to be tied rather than up one without hammer in the 6th end. At this late stage of the end, Rachel should consider if she has a reasonable chance to score two. If a two is unlikely, it is clearly better to blank than to be forced to one and the likelyhood of a steal also is minimized if not eliminated. Let's expect the runback to be succesful 2/3rds of the time, and assume this always results in a blank. If we assume a come around never results in a steal (ie. Rachel will always make her draw to the open four foot for 1 point) then she only needs to get a deuce 1% of the time for the draw to be correct. Even if we add in a 5% chance of a steal and increase the runback odds to 80%, she only needs to score two 7% of the time for the call to be correct.
Based on the numbers, I believe Rachel made the correct call.
Men's Finals: Brad Gushue vs Mike McEwen
Gushue manages to score 4 points to go up 6-2 in the 5th end. The 5 rock rule comes into play in the 6th end and Brad has to decide what to do with his teams fourth stone.
Gushue is Yellow
There is some discussion and Gushue finally decides to put up another guard. Recall, they have a 4 point lead and less than 3 ends remain. With the 5-rock rule, teams should be aware of this situation and better prepared on how they want to proceed. In Brad's case, an ugly mess is the result and eventually McEwen is able to score a miracle 4 to tie the game. Team Gushue does a great job of regaining their composure, rebounding with a deuce the next end and holding on for the victory. Next time, I suspect Brad may choose to peel the guards instead of adding to the pile up front.
Next stop: The National, in Sault Ste. Marie