Thursday, December 21, 2017
Wednesday, December 13, 2017
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.
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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 differential...in 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Thursday, November 23, 2017
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
Monday, November 13, 2017
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.
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...
I wonder if he's even familiar with the famous TV character from One Day at a Time.
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.
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.
Thursday, November 2, 2017
Thursday, October 26, 2017
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.
Monday, September 11, 2017
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.
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
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.
Monday, March 27, 2017
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
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.