Playoff curling in Cortina

Japan and Italy: young hopes for the future

by Rodger Schmidt

CORTINA D’AMPEZZO, Italy – From today onward, most spectators will not recall that 12 teams started in this competition, for all eyes and commentary will be on the top four.

With no tiebreakers, there was only one game today, the Norway-Canada Page playoff battle,  to determine who advances straight to  Sunday’s championship final.

Scotland and the United States will wait until Saturday morning to see who will drop directly to the bronze medal game, and who will move on to the semi-final later the same day.

The big question of yesterday’s final round-robin draw was twofold: if the U.S. could hold on to fourth spot, and this they did by defeating Sweden in six ends, and to see if Norway or Scotland would challenge Canada in today’s 1 vs 2 match.

Norway cleared that up by beating Canada to finish number one, and securing last stone advantage in their next two games, and Scotland made it less dramatic by losing their last game to Switzerland, thus handing last stone advantage in the 3 vs 4 playoff to the Americans. Given the way Scotland manages a game, this could be an important factor.

With 12 teams in this competition a lot of games were been played to get to this point. In this system of play, everyone meets everyone else one time to distribute an equal number of victories and defeats. The trick for all is to not collect four or more defeats within the 11 games.

Fans, fans, in the stands...

The team “on the bubble” was Denmark. The Danes had a solid week, defeating pretty much everyone that they should have, but in their head-to-head matchups against the eventual top four, they could only defeat the USA – holding on to an early lead thanks to a score of five on the second end. However, they lost to Canada, Norway, Germany and Scotland, and all were top four contenders at the time that these battles were contested.

One more win against these big boys was required to be ensured, at minimum, a shot at a tiebreaker. Close, but no cigar for Ulrik Schmidt and company, but a much better showing here than at the Vancouver Olympics.

No team in the rest of the field was able to post a winning record, and the biggest surprise within this not-so-magnificent-seven was Germany. Andy Kapp called and executed a terrific game against Canada on Tuesday night, handing Canada their first defeat, and then the next morning the German jet fighters ruled the skies again against Denmark.

But sadly, it was all Hindenburg after that. Germany crashed three straight times to finish with six losses.

Italy has not competed well in world men’s competitions since a solid showing at the Torino Olympics in 2006, and with Joel Retornaz back at the helm – but with very young teammates – they managed only three victories. However, the hosts were very competitive in most of their games and obviously more experience is required in order to manage pressure in key moments. This group has some real talent.

Switzerland had an older and more experienced team in this competition, led by Stefan Karnusian, and at times their style of play looked old. From game to game and from end to end, rarely was an outcome clear. They made brilliant shots to score or to subvert an enemy position… and moments later they would miss when you would least expect it.

On the final day they lost 9-7 in the morning to Japan – the sole victory for the Japanese – and then won 9-7 over playoff-bound Scotland. That, folks, sums it all up.

France: time for a rest, boys

The records of Sweden and France – four wins and three wins for Per Carlsen and Thomas Dufour, respectively – were much more predictable. The French are probably ready to take a break after a long, long Olympic preparation run, and this Swedish team – which  upset the impressive Niklas Edin in the Swedish final – was simply too inconsistent to put a string of victories together.

Both Asian teams – China’s Fengchun Wang/Rui Liu combo and Japan’s Makoto Tsuruga – closed out the bottom of the leader board this week. This may be a surprise to many, following strong showings by Japanese and particularly Chinese teams in the past half-decade… but I am not so surprised. It is easier to climb near the top than it is to stay there.

For all teams: the work you do and the skills you learn, both strategically and technically, need to be adjusted and upgraded all the time. How you won games yesterday will not be the same as how you are going to have to win today, and certainly not tomorrow. Asia will be back on top again, but not until they reinvent themselves and redevelop their systems.

Quick trivia question: without Googling, name the historic international curling event at which Japan’s Tsuruga competed, over a decade ago… and how did he do (generally)?

As I write this, we’re less than an hour away from the start of the second NOR-CAN tilt. Stay tuned to the blog for more later.

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3 Comments »

  1. Scott Pfeifer Said,

    April 9, 2010 @ 12:50 pm

    Makoto Tsuruga played in both the 1997 World Jrs. (in Japan) losing to Canada in the bronze medal game (I remember it well :). Went on to compete at the 1998 Winter Olympics, losing the bronze medal game as well I think?

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  2. ObsessiveCurler Said,

    April 9, 2010 @ 1:30 pm

    Tsuruga skipped the 98 Olympic Curling team in Nagano. Lost a tiebreaker? to the USA’s Sommerville. Makoto looked devasted afterwards.

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  3. admin Said,

    April 21, 2010 @ 8:40 am

    Congrats to both Obsessive and Pfeif: but an additional kudo to Obsessive, for remembering that Olympic tiebreaker. Sommerville’s winning shot was one of the greatest ever seen (or not seen, as it were) in curling history.

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