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Thursday, December 21, 2017

Episode 29 - Alfie Phillips

Alfie Phillips Jr. had a tough act to follow.  His father, Alf Sr., was an Olympian diver, a carnival showman and, despite taking up the game in his 40s, a provincial curling champion.  In 1956, Ontario was poised to win the Brier for the first time since 1939, but Billy Walsh from Manitoba made what became one of the greatest shots in Brier history.  Alfie joined up with his dad shortly after that loss, then later formed his own rink with John Ross, Ron "Moon" Manning and Keith Riley.  In 1967 Alfie did one better than his father, winning the Brier in Hull, Quebec.  The Phillips rink played a draw strategy that hadn't been seen before in Ontario, and one that left an impression on a another young member of the Parkway Curling Club, Paul Savage.  We cover the big wins and losses and the battles over prize money and what it took to win over the Ontario Curling Association and their efforts to keep curling an "amateur" sport.  Alfie shares the history of the Toronto Curling Mafia, tales of Hec Gervais, and gives us the definitive version of the famous bus story from the 1967 Scotch Cup in Perth, Scotland.
For more on Alfie Phillips, check out "The Brier" by Bob Weeks.  You can also read about his history with Conklin Shows. You can see the famous Billy Walsh shot against Alf Sr. at the 1956 Brier near the end of this video.  YouTube also has video from Alfie's win at the 1967 Brier.

Check out the latest episode of Curling Legends Podcast

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Episode 28 - Jim Ursel

Jim Ursel had one of the smoothest deliveries of his era.  He came a long way from the early days of knee sliding on a two sheet rink of natural ice in Glenella, Manitoba.  After moving to Winnipeg, Jim improved enough to win the 1954 Provincial School Boys Championship.  We discuss Jim's early days and his development as a player, eventually landing at the famous Strathcona Club.  He recalls teaming up with Norm Houk and playing in his first Brier in 1962.  We reflect on his move to Montreal, the many Quebec provincial victories and his Brier win in 1977.  Later, Jim returns to Winnipeg where he re-teamed with Norm and nearly won another Purple Heart with their Senior team.  Jim adds his perspective on fitness, coaching, psychology and thoughts on the modern game.

Check out the latest episode of Curling Legends Podcast

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Quadrennial Canada Olympic Trials Preview - Part 2

Some interesting analysis in this month's digital edition of The Curling News.  Terry Jones gave his odds for the event and, unless it's a typo it would appear Terry failed high school math.  He has Jacobs (9 to 5) as the higher favorite over Gushue (5 to 2).  These odds imply that Jacobs has a 35.71% chance of winning, while Gushue is 28.57%.  I think those Brad's should be switched.  Epping at 115-1 seems a tad high to me. Perhaps it is supposed to be 15-1.  If not, I'll gladly drop $5 on the Toronto squad with Mr. Jones, if he'swilling to accept my wager.

Looking at Terry's write-up on the womens, possibly another typo, he has Homan at 5-2 and Sweeting at 9-5.  9-2 would make more sense here (and with Jacobs).  Flaxey at 5-1 could be too generous, and the numbers below will explain why.

Reminder on the numbers.  Before each Olympic Trials I breakdown the results of each team against each other team.  I look at head to head wins and losses, scoring and then examine winning percentage for both historical (lifetime of the teams) and the last Olympic cycle (start of the 2014/15 Season).  I then look at a Combined result, which more heavily weighs the last cycle while still accounting for historical results.  Using Bill James log5 method and his Pythagorean expectation, I estimate the expected wins of each team.  Unless otherwise stated, I use the Combined results in the calculation for Expected Wins (EW). Keep in mind these sample sizes for womens is much smaller than mens, as these teams don't compete as often over the course of a season.  More variability in our prediction is the likely result.  

Women's Teams

In the mens bracket, 5 skips also appeared in the 2013 Trials in Winnipeg (Koe, Mcewen, Epping, Jacobs and Morris) and a 6th was nearly there (Brad Gushue lost the final Pre-Trials spot that season).  The womens draw this time around has only 4 skips from 2013 (Homan, Jones, Sweeting and Carey).  It will be interesting to see how these Trials rookies will handle the pressure and nerves of the event.  Some could falter, while others might embrace the moment, playing loose and making a deep run. 

The Favorites 
  • Speaking of playing loose, how will local hero and reigning World Champion Rachel Homan handle this event?  All eyes (including those of Curling Canada) are expecting a victory, and sometimes expectations can be difficult to carry on your shoulders.  They handled the pressure well last year at the World Championships, I expect they can do the same next week.  It might surprise you to know this squad is only 65% against this field since the start of the 2014/15 season.  Englot (care of her Scotties performance) is 4-2 against Rachel, otherwise they hold a winning record against everyone.  Sweeting has 7 wins against them to 10 losses, and Scheidegger 4-5 may also be a tough out.  EW = 5.53.
  • Like Brad Jacobs, Jennifer Jones is defending Canada Olympic Trials champs (does it feel like a defense when it was four years ago?).  Jones is 13-14 against Homan all-time but only 5-10 since the last Olympics season. They're 13-6 vs Sweeting during that time and have a surprising 57% winning percentage against this field.  That's a drop from their all-time winning percentage of 64%. EW = 5.32

The Contenders
  • I'd like to think another team or two would make this grouping, but the numbers indicate otherwise.  Team Sweeting is 56% against this field including 7-0 against Englot.  In this last cycle, they have 23 losses from the two favorites, versus 13 wins.  Omit Homan and Jones from the data, and Sweeting is 75% against the rest of the field. EW = 4.7

The Challengers
  • Teams Carey, McCarville and Englot all have a  44 to 45% winning percentage against this field the past 3.5 seasons.  Granted, Englot (15-19) and McCarville's (10-12) sample sizes are smaller, so it's unclear if these are a good indicator of likely results.  Other than Sweeting, Englot has shown she can take on the best teams (6-5 against Homan and Jones, 5-4 against Carey).  Chelsea Carey is only 3-10 against Homan and jumps to 50% against the field if we remove those games.  
  • Scheidegger has only a 35% winning percentage against this field, but they've beaten Homan 4 times in 9 tries.  Their all-time percentage is 40% and recently have taken lumps from Carey and Sweeting (3-11 combined).  
  • Expected Wins
    • Carey = 3.67
    • McCarville = 3.48
    • Englot = 3.98
    • Scheidegger = 3.29
I'd expect one and likely two of these teams to exceed these EWs and possibly land in the play-offs (or at least a tie-breaker).

The Underdogs
  • Terry Jones had Team Flaxey at 5-1 odds.  With only 20 wins all-time against 40 lossess, and 13-28 since the last Olympics, the numbers would suggest 2.83 wins and no playoff appearance.  If you take out her 5-3 record against Tippin, Flaxey's winning percentage drops to 29%!  Two wins against Homan and Jones each means they can hang with anyone here, but their point differential vs this field of -1.77 per game is the worst of any team.  Homan, for example, is +1.43/game and Jones is +1.11, while all other teams are in the red.
  • While we're talking point the mens (since I missed it in Part 1), Koe, McEwen, Jacobs and Carruthers are in the black, while Gushue is at -0.04 pts/game.   These are all-time numbers and I suspect a positive number for Gushue if we looked at the last 3+ years.  
  • Womens games are actually a full 1.07 pts scored (total) more per game than the mens. Scheidegger at 10.65 pts/game is the lowest womens while Morris at 10.61 pts/game is the highest mens team.  I didn't have the time (or interest) to adjust for 8 vs 10 end games, so some skewing in the numbers (higher percentage of womens games are Scotties vs Brier in mens). 
  • And finally....Team Tippin has very few games against this field.  They sit 9-16 all-time and 5-8 during this last Olympic cycle.  They have yet to face Sweeting and only a single loss against Scheidegger, but at least one win against every other team (including Homan and Jones) should give them some hope, right?

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Quadrennial Canada Olympic Trials Preview - Part 1

The 2017/18 Curling season, stretching for some teams into a 10 month marathon, may go down in the sport's history as a turning point.  Please indulge me as I open this 2017 Canada Olympic Trials Preview with a melancholy look back at what was the traditional Scotties and Brier format.  The determination of Canada's National Curling champions has long been associated with these  showcases, but for the past two decades a new event, held every four years, has challenged the legitimacy of these historic championships.  Even the past curator of these events and the man who brought the Brier into NHL arenas, Warren Hansen, thinks the idea of a provincial competition is past its expiration date.  Granted, with relegation the last three years, we've been warmed up for a possible shift in thinking what a Brier and Scotties is supposed to mean.   Just ask Nova Scotia fans who had short trips to the 2015 and 2016 Briers, failing to get through the Pre-Qualifying both years.

This season the Scotties and Brier will implement a dual-Pool format, ensuring that not every province will play against each other during the event (and some may play tie-breakers after 2:00 AM).  This could have little bearing on whether fans enjoy the unfolding of these competitions.  With an added CTRS team, it may even lead some to believe there is greater legitimacy in its determining the national champions.  But to me it will not be the same events I grew up with. To those who knew the Brier as a no-playoff, round-robin-winner takes the trophy event, they may have also felt that "progress" was moving past them when a 3 team playoff format was introduced, or the eventual page system.  The forming of 2 pools could just be more minor changes to events that remain atop the Curling world, or become the beginning of a decline to lower tier titles.  Only history will be able to tell us what the Trials vs Canada Cup vs Brier/Scotties all means.  Thus far, Kevin Koe has no asterisk next to his name on the MacDonald's trophy for his wins in 2010 and 2014, when another "National" champion was sent to the Olympics.  Perhaps one day there will be.

First, a crash course in the numbers.  Before each Olympic Trials I breakdown the results of each team against each other team.  I look at head to head wins and losses, scoring and then examine winning percentage for both historical (lifetime of the teams) and the last Olympic cycle (start of the 2014/15 Season).  I then look at a Combined result, which more heavily weighs the last cycle while still accounting for historical results.  Using Bill James log5 method and his Pythagorean expectation, I estimate the expected wins of each team.  Unless otherwise stated, I use the Combined results in the calculation for Expected Wins (EW).  For those gamblers out there, the points per game and Over/Under results may also be of interest.  I haven't seen any web sites with betting odds for the event so I'll hold off sharing for now, but will release a Gambler's version if this changes and odds are posted.

On to the Preview...

Men's Teams

In my recent interview on the From The Hack Podcast, host Frank Roch suggested there was a big four. The numbers might suggest there are at least 5 and possibly 7.  Despite this, as in years past I will attempt to break apart teams into four categories. Favourites, Contenders, Challengers and Underdogs. It should not be a surprise if any of the top 7 teams win.  It would surprise me if a team went undefeated.  Using Combined numbers, no mens team has an Expected Wins (EW) prediction greater than 5.  

The Favorites
  • Brad Gushue is defending Brier Champion and his squad has started the season with a 32-5 record (.865 winning percentage).  They have a 65.5% winning percentage against this field during this Olympic cycle and that number feels higher the last 12 months.  EW is 4.78 using the Combined results, but they are 5.45 based on the last 3+ years, highest of any team.  They hold a winning record against every other team over that span as well, including 13-6 against Jacobs.  
  • Speaking of Brad Jacobs, his team seems to perform better on the bigger stage. They're the rock band that plays great in a large arena but their act doesn't always translate to the smaller venues.  EW is 4.94, but they also have the poor record against Gushue recently (6-13), losing record against Mcewen (9-13) and are 11-10 against Koe (including Brier losses in the finals and 3 vs 4 game). They are also the only mens team at this event that can "repeat" as Olympic representatives.

The Contenders
  • Kevin Koe had a slow start to the season at the Tour Challenge (1-3) but they have 2 finals (1 win), 2 SF and a QF since. Plenty of veteran strength on this team, but only a 51% record against this field since 2014.  Every one of their opponents at the Trials has a close record with several wins, except Bottcher who is 4-10 against them (but still, 4 wins).  EW=4.57
  • Reid Carruthers is also 51% against this field.  They hold 14-8 record against Mcewen and 10-6 against Koe, and respectable 12-19 combined against the Favourites.  EW = 4.27
  • Team McEwen has been together a long time with a winning record against each of these teams (except the aforementioned Carruthers).  Percentage of 55% since 2014/15 and EW=4.77.  
  • The numbers indicate that Mcewen could be in the higher group but they still haven't shown their dominant cash circuit play translates into the large arenas (the opposite of Jacobs).  It's unfair perhaps because of their small sample size of only 2 Briers and 1 Olympic Trials.  If this team were based in Newfoundland or Northern Ontario these past few years it could be a different conversation, but they still have yet to appear in a final at one of these events.  You could also claim Koe belongs alongside the two Brads, and I tend to think they should be, but the numbers indicate otherwise.  As the elder statemen (with Howard losing in the Pre-Trials to Bottcher), it will be interesting to see if this team can find its prime level again or if father time is starting to take its toll.

The Challengers
  • Team Morris hopes to once again have the hot play from their Pre-Trials qualification continue into the Main Event.  Outside of that event however, they've played poorly on arena ice with a 1-11 record in the first 3 Slams of the season.  EW = 3.86 and their record is a smaller sample of 26-31 (46%) since their last Olympic Trials appearance. 
  • John Epping has shown periods of invincibility over several weeks of any given season.  It's fair to say that despite their 40% results against this field, when they are hot, watch out.  Other than a combined 7-23 against the two Brad's, the are respectable against the remaining teams and could be in the hunt by week's end.

The Underdogs
  • Team Laycock has been dominated by Gushue, Jacobs and Mcewen, and only has 1 QF Slam appearance so far this season.  EW = 2.79 and they have won only 33% of their games against this field, but we've seen them excel at a few Slams and they have a fighting chance in Ottawa.
  • Bottcher was the last team to qualify and will have to bring some of the experience gained at those Pre-Trials and last year's Brier if they have hope for a play-off spot.  I suspect this event is a little more than their ready for, but you could have said the same thing about Brad Gushue in 2006. EW = 2.68 and like Laycock, 33% against these opponents.

Part 2 and a look at the womens teams coming soon.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Episode 27 - Lorraine Lang

Lorraine Lang could be considered part of the first family of Thunder Bay curling.  Despite starting later than most, Lorraine has put together a resume to rival her spouse.  While husband Rick had success playing third for Al Hackner, Lorraine appeared in 8 Scotties, including 2 victories as vice for Heather Houston in 1988 and '89. Along with Diane Adams and Tracy Kennedy, they took home silver from their first trip to the World Championship in Glasgow and a gold the following year in Milwaukee.  Lorraine talks about her early years in the sport, the challenges of competing out of Northern Ontario, repeating as Team Canada, and shares tales from the Ontario women's curling scene during that era.  We reflect on her resurgence in the mid-00's when Lorraine joined the young Krista McCarville rink, leading to three more Scotties appearances, and the transition to becoming their team coach following the Olympic Trials in 2009.

For more on the Heather Houston Rink, you can also check out this 10 year Scotties promotional video or the intro video to their induction to the North West Ontario Hall of Fame

Check out the latest episode of Curling Legends Podcast

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Trials of the Pre Trials

That was weird.  Curling Canada decided to change the format for the Olympic Pre-Trials (AKA, Road to the Roar).  In 2009 and 2013, a triple knockout format determined the qualifying teams.  2009 included eight qualifiers (and plenty of TV coverage), and in its last iteration, the triple knockout led to a page style playoff with 8 teams vying for 4 spots.  Everything seemed to work nicely.  

This past week, fourteen teams of each gender (28 total) were placed into four pools of seven teams for round robin play.  Each team played 6 games within its pool and the top 3 in each pool (12 total) qualified for a playoff.  Including tie-breakers, the actual "playoff" became 10 of 14 womens teams and 9 of 14 mens teams.  That means after 72 round robin games had been played, only 9 of 28 (32%) of teams had been eliminated!  This makes the generous playoff formats of the NBA and NHL look quite stingy in comparison.  I could understand the interest to have all of these round robin games for a television audience, but no games were broadcast until the weekend.

In the end, Team Howard went 8-2 and fell short while Team Bottcher at 5-4 is heading to Ottawa in December.  This isn't anything new.  A round robin format with play-offs can always lead to a team with several losses taking victory from an undefeated team.  For example, in the famous 1985 Brier, Pat Ryan was undefeated, but lost the final to Al Hackner (7-4) and could have instead lost to one of several playoff teams with a 6-5 record.  

For those opposed to this strange method of competition, you might want to learn to embrace the insanity.  With the Scotties and Brier moving to smaller pools, the chances of multiple tie-breakers, extended play-offs, and upset victories will only increase.  

I'm not opposed to varying the process that events use to determine victory, but I did like the triple knockout formula for this event and I'm not sure what benefit this new format was supposed to create.  With a longer round robin, there's a better chance to weed out teams and reduce tie-breakers, but then again, that 1985 Brier had half the competing teams extending their play into tie-breakers, so nothing is certain.  I was looking forward to seeing how (if Fleury had beaten Tippin in the final round robin draw) they would arrange a 7-way tie breaker for the Womens Pool A.  Always interesting when those late night games have more people on the ice than in the stands...

Couple of other observations...
If you are only going to televise a handful of games, perhaps the first men's qualifier could take place when I'm awake?  Team Morris is (mostly) from BC and their fans had to be up at 5:00 AM to watch their Mens #1 Qualifier game on Sunday morning.  After his loss, Bottcher didn't suit up again until 3:30 Pacific Time.
Team Morris' second Catlin Schneider had a great Movember "Schneider" mustache.

I wonder if he's even familiar with the famous TV character from One Day at a Time.
Jim Cotter's rock clearing runback in the 9th end of that early morning may have been the shot of the game.  Bottcher looked in good shape to force but the triple by Jim sent them into the 10th end tied with hammer.

Morris is Red

Not sure I agree with Howard's call in the 9th end.  Ahead 5-4 without hammer,. and it's third Adam Spencer's last shot of the end. 
Howard is Red

The set-up provides an opportunity to draw around 2 rocks on the centre line and attempt to force Bottcher to a single.  I understand a nose-to-nose runback would be great, and perhaps create a safer result, but they are not likely to make it perfect.  In this case, the runback was missed completely and Bottcher was able to score two points and take the one point lead into the final end, without much difficulty.  I might have prefered to keep the centre guard in play in this situation and create a greater chance for a force (or even steal) even if you increase the chance of a deuce.  Even if you're adding a small chance at a three ender, it may still have been worth the risk. 
Look for more Curling Legends Podcasts this season and my upcoming preview to the Olympic Trials, with betting tips and odds for each team.

Until next time...

Episode 26 - Peja Lindholm

Peja Lindholm began curling outdoors at age 11.  Learning the game with his friends, Peja eventually led teams to three World Junior Championships, capturing gold, silver and bronze.  With his longtime teammates Thomas Nordin, Magnus Swartling and Peter Narup, he captured three World Mens titles for Sweden in 1997, 2001 and 2004. Peja discusses his early days and the development of both his game and that of European curling during the 80's and 90's.  We discuss the transition to the free guard zone and why he had success against Martin and Ferbey, while struggling against other Canadian foes.  Peja shares his thoughts on the Continental Cup and Olympics, before revealing the origins of the plate dance.

Check out the latest episode of Curling Legends Podcast

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Episode 25 - Arnold Asham

Arnold Asham is a curler, dancer, inventor, showman and in his words, an opportunist.  From his early days in Reedy Creek, Manitoba, Arnold dreamed he would be a millionaire in the sports industry.  Curling became his passion and eventually the red brick slider, along with hard work and dedication to what to others deemed a foolish pursuit, led to his financial success.  But there was also a passion to compete against the great teams that wore his corporate logo.  When he teamed up with a young David Nedohin to compete on a fledgling World Tour that he helped keep afloat, Arnold proved he could do battle with the best in the country.   Arnold shares his vision for how the Olympic champions of the future will be developed, and his philosophy of living your passions, which for him include the Asham Stompers dance troupe and helping empower others in the aboriginal community.    
You can find Asham Curling at and information on the Stompers at

Check out the latest episode of Curling Legends Podcast

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Episode 24 - Wally Ursuliak

Wally Ursuliak has had quite a life.  From Brier Champion with Hector Gervais, to corn broom salesman, camp instructor, then curling missionary in Japan to selling granite from Ailsa Craig, all while running an amusement ride business across Alberta.  We'll cover Wally's introduction to curling, and his relationship with Hector, Ray, Don and Herb Olson.  He shares stories of the big games and many characters of that era, before explaining why he left the competitive game to become a builder.  Wally explains why he, Ray and Don taught the flat foot (and not the tuck slide), and who created the no lift delivery that is prevalent today.  We'll find out how Japan started curling outdoors and you'll learn more about curling rocks than you possibly wanted to know.

Check out the latest episode of Curling Legends Podcast

Monday, September 11, 2017

Tour Challenge Decisions

Hello again.  Trust you had a math free summer.  Plenty coming up this curling season, including another edition of Canada's Olympic Trials.  I will be there the whole week and can only hope that  CCA Curling Canada has lost the licensing rights to Katy Perry's "Roar".  (If you've been to one of these events you might still have nightmares as they play it constantly between draws).

Curling Legends Podcast is back with weekly episodes starting around the end of October.  I was hoping to finish an update to my e-book "End Game" ahead of the Olympics, including a print version, but that may have to wait another 4 years.  

I am hoping to increase the output of CWM analysis for this Olympic year, starting with the first Grand Slam of the season, the Tour Challenge.  Without further ado...

Womens Final: Val Sweeting vs Anna Hasselborg
7th End, Tied 5-5, Hasselborg with hammer.

Val makes a strange decision on her last shot of the end.  After Anna hits and rolls out, Kevin Martin immediately comments that this will leave a freeze for Sweeting, allowing her to force Hasselborg to a single point. 

Sweeting is Yellow

Val is heard saying she doesn't know the path for the draw, so they instead choose to remove the Hasselborg stone and leave Anna with a blank.  Very surprising decision that I can only assume meant she had very little confidence to make the freeze.  I'll refrain from asking the perhaps obvious questions, like "why didn't they know the draw path in the 7th end?" and "if these conditions are too difficult to ice the broom in the 7th end, how would these players read ice in the 1970's?".

If you're a regular reader of CWM, you might suspect that this is a questionable call (if conditions are ideal).  A blank leaves Val a 30% chance (on average) and 41% chance if she can hold Anna to a single.  If you're wondering where to find these numbers, Curlingzone  has a new web page on their new and improved website where you can look this up.

It's fair to say Hasselborg is a better than average team at closing out tied games with hammer.  (She's actually 23-7 or 76.7% since 2014).  So let's say Val's chances drop to 25% to steal a win in the last end.

I'll save the calculations, but if we assume a missed freeze attempt will always result in a deuce, she needs to make the freeze greater than 43% of the time for it to be the correct call. Though the call is questionable, it's not as clear a decision as we may have first thought,

8th End: Tied (again)

On her first skip stone in the final end, Hasselborg chooses to draw around two Sweeting stones, rather than peel (or double peel).

Val does a decent job of hiding her poker face, but it's certain she's thrilled by Anna's decision.  This situation occurs often in final ends of tied games and though we don't have imperial data to justify a decision to peel or draw, a skip may want to consider what their opponent wants them to do...and then do the opposite.  

Anna came deep, then Val actually slipped a little too far as well, but the final stone by Hasselborg was even heavier and left Sweeting with a steal and the win.

Until next time...

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Episode 23 - Paul Savage, Part 2

In Part 2 of my conversation with Paul Savage, we'll cover the 1987 Olympic Curling Trials and the controversy surrounding the qualification process.   We talk about the early days of the Skins format, the Battle of the Sexes and Paul's experience as fifth man with the Mike Harris Rink during their run to a Silver Medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.  There are a few extras after our talk as well.  Paul shares stories from the Kurl for Kids Celebrity Bonspiel, Men With Brooms, the World Lefthanders Curling Championship and explains how to perform the plate dance.  At the very end is an excerpt from Episode 8 where Warren Hansen discusses his version of the 1987 Trials, which I reference with Paul at the beginning of the show.

Check out the latest episode of Curling Legends Podcast

Monday, March 27, 2017

Episode 22 - Paul Savage, Part 1

Paul Savage always believed curling should be a fun game.  From his early days at the Parkway Club, he learned from Alfie Phillips Jr. how to generate points from drawing around guards.  The result was his nickname "The Round Mound of Come Around", and four Brier appearances as skip for Ontario during the 1970s.  For three of those events, the squad included a young firefighter from Benito, Manitoba.  Ed Werenich would leave Paul's rink near the end of the 70s, but they would rejoin in 1982 to create the "Dream Team" with John Kawaja and Neil Harrison.  They would win the Brier and World Championship in 1983, taking home loads of cash and leaving legendary tales in their wake.
In Part 1 of our conversation, Paul shares stories of his youth, early Briers, traveling west for cashpiels and battles with the OCA.
In our conversation, we discuss the origins of Paul's book, "Curling Hack to House". Must reads include Jean Sonmor's "Burned by the Rock" and both "The Brier" and "Curling Etcetera" by Bob Weeks. There is also some video from the 1974 Brier on You Tube.

Check out the latest episode of Curling Legends Podcast

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Some National Analysis

The Women's Worlds are chugging along and I haven't yet taken a Curl With Math look back at the Scotties final, much less the closing weekend of the Brier.  Not much time for preamble as I need to get editing another Curling Legends Podcast (check out Cathy King on the latest episode and Paul Savage is coming up next week), so without further ado...

Scotties Finals

An entertaining game that was an impressive win for Rachel Homan but an equally disappointing loss for Michelle Englot.  Manitoba played fantastic all week and deployed a sound strategy against Homan in all of their games, resulting in a 2-1 record against the favorites from Ontario, but that single loss took place in the one game that mattered most.  A few thoughts on their final contest...

2nd End:  Manitoba leads 1-0, Ontario has hammer, final shot

Homan is Yellow

Homan could draw for a single to tie things up.  But Rachel doesn't seem to hesitate, as I suspect she'd already drawn up this shot before the last rock had come to rest.  If we assume no worse than a steal of 1, at worst Rachel will head to the third end down 2 points, holding hammer, and retain at least an average Win Expectancy of 30%. Despite the two earlier loses that week to Manitoba, you could make the argument her odds are higher than average in this situation with a full 8 ends remaining. 

Win Expectancy (WE) Homan Takes 1 = 44%
WE Homan Takes 3 = 70%
WE Englot Steals 1 = 30%

There is still some chance of scoring 2, if the back yellow rock is pushed 6 inches, though a single seems unlikely.   Even if they never score two, if Rachel can make the shot for 3 at least 35%, or just over one in three attempts, then it's a good call.  I believe Rachel expects to make good contact with the back red stone well over half the time, so the call appears to be worth the risk.

5th End:  Homan up 3-2 with hammer, final shot

Rachel calls for a draw to the back four with potential to sweep it to bump Englot's shot stone for two.  It looked like she could pick it out and ensure a single.  Strange that she came well short, a pick or strange ice path, but not something you expect in the 5th end.

During the end, Vic Rauter mentions that Randy Ferbey started using the points system to classify weight. Actually, Ferbey fourth David Nedohin picked this concept up from Arnold Asham while playing with him years earlier.  Arnold is famous for inventing the red brick slider and starting Asham Curling Supplies, and I'm looking forward to recording a podcast with him soon to get the history of his many contributions to the sport.

7th End: 3-3, Homan with Hammer, final shot

Rachel chooses to come through a port at an attempt for 4 or 5 points, rather than draw for a single to carry a 1 up lead into the 8th. 

Homan is Yellow

As the photo indicates, it wasn't a simple pick shot because there was a risk of jamming and possibly scoring only 1.  I'm not certain their confidence in the ice on the shot (the higher second guard appeared to add to the difficulty), but it is an attempt to win the game right there, at a risk of only being down 1.  In the moment, I wasn't sure I liked the call, but that could have been swayed by the emotion of how the game seemed to be shifting to their opponent.  In a vacuum, it's the correct decision if Rachel makes it greater than 33% of the time.  An alternative shot that they may have considered was the runback.  It introduces a risk of double jam (and a steal of two) but I suspect Rachel's percent success with that shot is higher than the soft weight hit she attempted.

10th end:  6-4 Homan, Englot has Hammer, final shot
The thin double by Rachel to hold Englot to a deuce and force an extra end was close to the difficulty of the Hackner double.  Having said that, she had no need to stick her shooter.  Small margin for error and a great shot that ultimately won the Scotties (zoom ahead to 15:56

Game saving 10th end double at 15m56
Brier Semifinal

A tough loss for Team McEwen from Manitoba.  It reminded me of a similar defeat that Kevin Koe had in the 2013 Olympic Trials against Kevin Martin.  Up two with hammer and three ends to go, Koe surrendered a steal of two in the 8th end, was forced to one in the 9th and Martin scored a deuce to win in the 10th.  Koe never recovered at the Trials (from the 0-3 start) but he did at the Brier a few months later.

8th End: 5-3 McEwen, with Hammer, final shot

Mike could attempt an in-turn draw for 1 (or even a tap on the red stone in the top eight foot) but instead chooses a run-back attempt to double the yellow stones on the out-turn side...

McEwen is Red

Most posters on CurlingZone claimed McEwen trying the run-back rather than drawing for a single was a mistake.  I think there's an argument to be made for both decisions.  With a draw for one, McEwen goes up 6-3 (a 93% Win Expectancy).  But the draw was no picnic, as he needed full four foot and perfect draws appeared to be dicey in the later ends (check out Gushue's draw to the eight foot in the finals).  

The way Team McEwen were playing the shot, it appeared to be only for two but at this point 2, 3 or 4 is essentially the same result, a win (99.1% WE or greater).

The argument is Mike's confidence in making that angle run-back versus the draw.  It was full four foot on a specific path, and only he knows how comfortable he felt at that moment on that call.  Let's say it was 90%.  Straight runbacks are usually around 80-85%, in Mike's case possibly higher.  As you move towards an angle versus straight back, your odds are reduced (see my previous CWM article "Aggression is the Better Part of Valor").

If the draw is 90%

WE = .9 x .93 = .837
WE up 1 with hammer and three ends remain = .835

He's ok to try the runback 100% of the time, it's roughly a wash if he misses every time.

If the draw is 95%
WE = .95 x .94 = .894

Assuming no chance at steal of 2, Mike needs to make the raise for 2 pts only 35% of the time to be equal to the draw.  

If the draw is 100%, he needs to make the raise 65% of the time.  Having re-watched the shot, I think Mike usually makes that raise at least 60%, if not higher, and the draw is no gimme.   

Extra End:  Tied 6-6, McEwen with Hammer, Mike's first shot

Mike is facing this with his first rock...

McEwen is Red

Wozniak's hit earlier in the end landed in the worst possible spot, right behind the button.  With a peel, Koe could attempt a freeze and force Mike to blast and head to another extra end (or much less likely, Koe steals the win).  Mike seems convinced he wants to attempt a draw, getting in first and leaving Kevin no shot.  Mike comes up perhaps a foot light and curls perhaps 3 more inches than necessary, and Kevin has a sliver of hope.  Koe plants his rock around the McEwen stone and corner freezes, leaving Mike with a miracle double raise for the win, which he misses, and Koe goes on to the final.  
The decision comes down to what you believe are Koe's odds of making a freeze that will require a blank.  If you think Kevin makes it 80% of the time, and your Win Expectancy (WE) in an EE is 80%, Mike needs to have a better than 84% probability of winning right there with the draw.

If you think Kevin's freeze leads to a blank only 50% of the time, then Mike needs to be over 90% sure his draw will be successful.

If Kevin's freeze is successful 90%, Mike needs to be 82% sure of the draw.

This all assumes an 80% success rate when tied with hammer and one end remains.  Historically this was 75%, and remains close for all major events, but Slams trend up towards 79% or higher and the better teams are better at winning in this situation (see past CWM "Giving Away Points at the Canadian Open")

It's my assessment that the entire scenario of Mike's last shot was a brain fart. From the poor call decision, to the judging error on weight by the sweepers to the confusion with the line call (the rock was better to be open than buried short), it was a complete team mistake.  These things can happen in rushed moments after a long week and a grueling game (remember Kevin Martin's loss at the 2009 Worlds?).  They were close, and I suspect will be close again.  In any case, Destiny appeared to be working against everyone but Gushue the entire week, and you could speculate that a trip to the finals would have simply swapped their Bronze medal for Silver. Still sucks.

Brier Final

6th End: 5-1 Gushue, Koe with Hammer, Gushue's last shot

Gushue is Red...Before his last shot
After his last shot
Before playing his last shot, I was surprised Gushue didn't see the potential for Kevin's shot for 3. Or perhaps he did and was attempting to roll slightly across, instead of high side which he did, leaving the possible shot for three.  After Brad's shot Russ Howard even says "great shot" but in retrospect, it wasn't.  If Brad draws top four instead, Koe has no real choice but to draw for two.  Then again, it was a great shot by Koe that had very little margin for error. Unfortunate for Brad the rocks ended up where they did, but he should shoulder some responsibility.

7th End:  5-4 Gushue, with Hammer, Kennedy's last shot

On Marc Kennedy's last shot, Koe decides to put up a second centre guard. 

Koe is Yellow

It pulls Gushue into hitting to sit three, and provides cover of the four foot which eventually leads to a force.  If Koe instead hits to sit two, even with a roll he provides many options for Gushue to blank or even score two, and the single guard is too long to be much protection for later in the end.  Granted, Brad missed a runback on his first shot that could have changed the outcome as well.

9th End: 6-5 Gushue, Koe with Hammer, final shot

Good decision to not attempt the triple for three.  The shot really did not look be there and to take that chance here it needs to be automatic.  They had stolen a win the night before, no reason to assume there wasn't at least a 20% chance of it happening again.

Koe is Yellow

10th End: 6-6, Gushue with Hammer, final shot to win the Brier

In the last 15 years I don't recall having seen a draw to the eight foot that looked to be so difficult.  

Brier winning draw at 2h36m11s 
Certainly the enormity of the moment, and being under the watch of a large waiting-to-burst-into-cheers Newfoundland crowd, had some impact.  Brad even discussed afterwards that he was told it was 5 feet heavier than usual, and admitted to only throwing it two feet more.  But it also seemed more difficult than similar shots in other situations.  I'm interested to hear from players about the frosty and/or flat conditions that seemed to creep into some games during the event.  Hair brooms are no longer permitted and I wonder if limiting players to only the use of the new broom head may be detrimental in certain conditions, particularly late in the season when outside temperatures reach above zero with high humidity.  I'm not a meteorologist or even an ice technician, and I could be way off track here, but someone should investigate.  Just because we appear to have "solved" the broom problem from last season doesn't mean we haven't created a different one going forward.  I might vote for a return to a (albeit restricted model) of horse hair broom, but I'm not certain that's being considered.

Until next time...

Monday, March 20, 2017

Episode 21 - Cathy King

Cathy King keeps on curling.  Growing up in Edmonton, she played many sports. Winter evenings included time spent around the dinner table discussing curling strategy with the whole family.  Older brothers Robb and Chris won the 1974 Canadian School Boys and when Cathy skipped her team to a successful National Junior Womens Championship in 1977, curling appeared to be near the top of her list.  After a repeat win in 1978, the only thing missing was a World Championship, but that wouldn't be available to Junior Women for another decade.  A few years out of juniors, Cathy got married, had kids, and life seemed to hold her back from reaching those previous levels of success.  She continued to practice and focus on the game however, and after knocking on the door a few times, Cathy finally won Alberta and reached the Scott Tournament of Hearts in 1995.  Expectations were low, but a hot streak that included 5 games in 27 hours led her squad from 2 tie-breakers to the brink of a Canadian Championship, losing in the last end of a 6-5 defeat at the hands of Manitoba's Connie Laliberte.  Cathy would return to the Scotties 6 more times, including a dramatic extra end victory over Ann Merklinger in the 1998 finals.  The World Championship would elude her that season, but she would return to the International stage as a Canadian Senior Champion and take the gold medal at the Worlds in 2013. Cathy shares stories from her early years as a junior, through the struggles and heartbreaks, including battles with vertigo, to her eventual success, and becoming the first skip to capture the Canadian Curling Triple Crown of a Junior, a Scotties (or Brier) and Senior Championship.  There are a few extra stories included after our talk as well.
You can read about Cathy in "Curling: The History, The Players, The Game" by Warren Hansen, and "The Stone Age" by Vera Pezer.  In our conversation, Cathy talks about her father Gord, and here's a link to an Edmonton Journal article by Jeff Holubitsky for more information about his incredible story.

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Monday, March 13, 2017

Episode 20 - Don Duguid

Don Duguid was curling before the Allies took Berlin.  In 1943, at 8 years old, Don and brothers Gerry and Lorne would throw rocks at the CPR Curling Club where their father was the ice-maker.  Initially Don fell out of the hack with two feet, but eventually his father helped him develop the original Manitoba tuck delivery that is still seen today.  His parents moved him to the Granite curling club and at twenty he was recruited by Howard Wood Sr, then 70 years young.  There was a Brier appearance with Howie Wood Jr. in 1957 and a win with Terry Braunstein in 1965, but by the late 60s Don was ready to spend more time at the office.  Then Rod Hunter called and asked Duguie to skip him, Jim Pettapiece and Bryan Wood and within 18 months the squad would capture two Canadian and World Championships.  Don will share experiences from his playing days and curling schools through to his time as an announcer with the CBC (and later NBC Sports).  We'll also get Don's take on the modern era and speculate where curling might be headed in the future.
You can find more on Don Duguid in "The Brier" by Bob Weeks and Sean Grassie's "King of the Rings".  Watch him on YouTube at the 1971 Brier , and you can also hear his coverage in many curling broadcasts from 1972 until the Olympics in 2010.  You can also see Don in a ceremony from years ago in this Duguid Team Speech.

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Monday, March 6, 2017

Episode 19 - Jack MacDuff

Jack MacDuff is a true Maritimer.  He now lives in New Brunswick, was born in Nova Scotia but is perhaps best known for his short stay in Newfoundland during the 1970's when he skipped the first and (so far) only Brier winning team from that province.  Growing up in Lunenburg, NS, Jack would finish playing hockey, then swap his skates for Ken Watson curling boots and cross over to the rink to throw rocks until days end.  In those practice sessions, he would play 12 end games against the Richardsons.  Years later, as the driver for Team MacDuff at the 1976 Brier in Regina, Sam Richardson helped provide confidence for Jack and his squad as they accomplished the impossible for Newfoundland & Labrador, winning the Canadian Men's Curling Championship.  Jack will share stories from his early experiences, his first Brier appearance in 1972, and a game by game account of that legendary victory in 1976, along with the week long party that followed.
For more on Jack MacDuff, check out  "The Brier" by Bob Weeks and "The First Fifty" by Doug Maxwell & Friends.  Video is available from Jack's recent appearance at the opening weekend of the 2017 Brier in Newfoundland and from the archives, coverage from the 1972 Macdonald Brier and a brief clip from the historic victory in 1976.

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Monday, February 27, 2017

Episode 18 - Don Barcome

Don Barcome always loved to curl.  He was introduced to the game after his family moved to Grand Forks, North Dakota in the mid-60's.  By the age of 11 he was playing with mens teams in the local club league, and by 13 he was skipping against Orest Meleschuk in the fourth event final of the Hibbing Last Chance Bonspiel.  His first taste of International competition came in 1976 when his team of brother Earl and Gary Mueller at front end, along with Gary's brother Dale, traveled to Scotland for the Uniroyal World Junior Championship. They fell just short of a playoff sport, in an event eventually won by the Paul Gowsell rink from Canada. In 1977 Team Barcome returned as USA Champions, this time losing out in the semifinals.  Don shared a finger gesture with the rowdy Quebec City fans during their game against Team Canada, but he still walked away with the award for sportsmanship. With the Mueller brothers graduated out of juniors, Don and Earl teamed with Bobby Stalker at second and Randy Darling at third to finally win gold at the World Championships in 1979.  Don covers those experiences and also shares thoughts on being fifth man for Tim Somerville at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.  We discuss the decline of USA curling in the past and its resurgence in recent years, and Don gives his thoughts on the modern game.
You can read about Don's thoughts on the Olympics and his battle with cancer from the Grand Forks Herald and catch his appearance as a "curling expert" in this 2002 Office Depot commercial.  For more on USA Curling, check out Curling Superiority by John M. Gidley.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Episode 17 - Ron Northcott

Ron Northcott was Alberta curling in the 1960s.  From 1963 to 1969, Ron (AKA "The Owl") won the Alberta Tankard six times, five as a skip.  He went on to win the Macdonald Brier in three of those appearances, ('66,'68 and '69) following each with a victory at the World Championship, including the first ever Air Canada Silver Broom in 1968.  Those Brier championship rinks each had a different third (George Fink, Jimmy Shields and Dave Gerlach), but the dominant front end of lead Fred Storey and second Bernie Sparkes were there to set up every end and sweep every last rock.  Ron will share his thoughts on some of those great final shots, along with his approach to strategy and early use of the corner guard.  We'll discuss Pee Wee Pickering, Hec Gervais, Ray Kingsmith, Warren Hansen, and Sam Richardson, in likely the greatest Curling Legends example of gamesmanship... in an elevator.
For more on Ron Northcott, check out  "The Brier" by Bob Weeks, "Curling: The History, The Players, The Game" by Warren Hansen, and "The Stone Age" by Vera Pezer.  Curling Canada has historical videos from the 1964, 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969 Macdonald Briers available on YouTube.  Ron is joined on stage by the Richardsons during the World Mens Curling Championship in 2009 (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4).  There's also a short interview with Ron as part of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame

Check out the latest episode of Curling Legends Podcast