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March of time at curling worlds

By Luke Coley

EDMONTON – I always look forward to working at the world championships, but this year is extra special because the event is taking place in Edmonton, where I live.

 
It’s hard to walk into Northlands Coliseum without remembering the atmosphere during the 2005 Brier and 2007 men’s worlds. It still gives me chills as I remember the ovation for Team Randy Ferbey, winning their fourth Brier title at home, as the crowd was on their feet for that final shot by David Nedohin. The entire crowd singing the Canadian anthem while waving the Alberta flag.

Then to see Glenn Howard and Team Canada come out to a packed house wearing cowboy hats to a sea of Maple Leafs on clothes, hats
and flags.

How things have changed for curling and for me, since that world championship in ’07. Back then I was living the single life, working for CurlTV (remember that?) and covering my second world championship. Now I am doing commentary for the World Curling Federation and I have a lovely wife and two amazing children.

It’s been so much fun to bring them in and show them the experience of a world championship that I have now covered more than a dozen times.

Players that were participating at those ’05 and ’07 events are now on the coaching bench, like Peja Lindholm as national team coach for Sweden and Brier champ Marcel Rocque leading the Chinese team – in the same building in which he raised the Tankard for the fourth time. At this championship they are honouring all past champions to win major curling events in Edmonton, which includes Rocque’s part in the Ferbey Four win in 2005.

The World Curling Federation now also has a live YouTube channel – World Curling TV – that allows fans around the world to watch the live coverage throughout the event. There are two full broadcast trucks producing live coverage that is reaching 90 countries on TV and many more via the YouTube channel.

The building that is hosting this event will probably be the last curling event ever here as a new state-of-the-art arena, Rogers Place, has been built in Edmonton. While the Coliseum has seen its share of great curling moments, I am sure there will be new ones created as the championship continues through the week.

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2015 Worlds: Did Ping-Pong rocks squish Canada?

A three-timage sequence showing the attempted "Squish"
A three-image sequence on the attempted “Squish”

[Click on image sequence to increase viewing size]

Exciting stuff at the world men’s championship in Halifax.

USA, skipped by John Shuster, scored their first winning record (6-5) since Pete Fenson went 8-3 back at Cortina D’Ampezzo, Italy, in 2010, but lost in a playoff tiebreaker to colourful Finland. Then, Norway beat Canada for the second time this week, pushing The Pants into Sunday’s final for the second year in a row and dropping Canada down to tonight’s semifinal, where they will lock horns with the winner of Finland versus Sweden.

Earlier this week, guest blogstar Dean Gemmell was in Halifax… and he mentioned something called The Squish.

Here’s another reference to The Squish, and it comes from last night’s NOR vs CAN page playoff tilt. In the 10th end, CAN skip Pat Simmons tried a tricky hit for two that involved “squishing” the first of two red stones in the combo at left (see image sequence) into the back of the rings, for two points and the win. A single point would score only the tie.

As we all know, the shooter stuck for the tying point but that elusive second red point squished through the back of the house and out of play. It wasn’t even close, actually, and Norway went on to score their winning point in the extra end.

Would that elusive “squished” stone have stuck around in the back if Simmons had struck the first stone off centre, and rolled his shooter across (but not out) of the rings?

Here’s another question: Are the rocks these athletes are throwing and sweeping any different than stones from the past – even the near past – and would those old-school curling stones have reacted differently, as per the wishes of Team Canada?

Ask around, and you might find some past legends of the game who might say something between “maybe” and “definitely.”

We recall a lengthy, three-part interview series we published with the legendary Ed Werenich back in 2009 (Feb/Mar/April issues, Vol. 52, Issues 4/5/6). Eddie was lamenting recent differences in curling stone quality, pointing to what he believed are unnatural stone tendencies these days, which includes takeout results… and said The Wrench:

I would like to see them get rid of the magic mushroom rocks that go down the sheet and break four feet from the hogline in. It takes a person that can read ice and then call ice… it takes that stuff right out of the game. It’s just too easy, with the sweeping instruments of today, to flop one around.

We gotta get rid of the inserts and the sandpaper to get back to the way where the rocks curled on a consistent basis all the way down. Because of the rocks it’s too easy to make double, triple peels. The rocks are like ping-pong balls. I see five or six rocks in motion from throwing just one shot. We always used to talk about the quality of the granite.

So there you go. Did these “magic mushroom” or “ping-pong ball” curling stones befuddle Team Canada’s attempt to win the 1 vs 2 playoff game?

[Image sequence from WCTV coverage – click here to watch the video highlight at the 2:05 mark]

 

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2015 Worlds: Nordic efficiency

Niklas Edin: On a roll
Niklas Edin: On a roll

By Dean Gemmell

HALIFAX – So it was a Canada-free afternoon draw in Halifax. At least on the ice. Considering the fact that Canada had a bye, there was a reasonable crowd. Lots of students of the game in the seats watching the Finns, Czechs, Scots et al. Watching a bit silently, I’m afraid, but intently.

I think the number of teams that record games on video is fewer than those who don’t. I’m not saying this to be pro or con. But I wonder about all those hours of video. Do they end up like so many family camcorder videos, buried on hard drives and left unwatched? It seems to me that it might be helpful if you were simply clicking record at key moments to review later. But even the fastest fast-forward might not be enough to get teams through to the key points of a game they already played. I don’t see the Curling Canada stuff running a camera. Nor Canada’s Bob Ursel, the coach of the Russian men. The the Swiss and the Scots aren’t videographers either (that’s not a particularly scientific survey but it’s what I saw from the bench this game).
[Actually, Scotland always records their matches; one must sometimes look way high up in the rafters to find them! –Ed.]
Sweden and Niklas Edin seem to be getting into a groove and dispatched Japan with Nordic efficiency. I caught up with Edin, his Swedish teammates and coach Freddy Lindberg — alarming when coaches are decades younger than me — for a bit in the Patch last night. Shouting over the band, they told me they were pleased with how things are coming together in their first year together. Reasonable assessment, I would say.
I feel like the whole tournament was on the line for the young Swiss team in their match against Scotland. The Scots and Ewen MacDonald had a couple of chances to win the game in regulation, including a draw to the side of the lid on his last in 10, but couldn’t close the deal until Pfister missed his draw for the win in the extra. Winning would have kept them believing they can get into the playoffs and make some noise. Losing means they’ll probably still be thinking they can — but maybe not really believing it. That’s the head space in curling.
After a fast start, Joel Retornaz of Italy has pulled a Simmons/Morris and left the rings. Amos Mosaner called the game and threw last rocks, after the team started the event Ferbey Four-style. Mosaner skipped as a junior so it’s not a big adjustment. Retornaz threw second and held the stick on skip rocks in their win over the Czech Republic.
Speaking of the Czechs, I’m sensing they’ve hit a plateau. A game away from the Olympics in Füssen and I expected more improvement after playing them in Basel in 2012. They seem stuck at the moment.
I could tell you about Russia-Finland but I have to admit I largely ignored it. Nothing against them. Just the far sheet and I don’t have enough focus to watch every game. I’ll just mention, again, that there’s a lot of hair on that Finnish team.
[Curling Canada/WCF photo by Michael Burns – click on image to increase viewing size]
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2015 Worlds: Sort of quiet

Pants 1, Canada 0
Pants (and socks and caps) 1, Canada 0… so far

By Dean Gemmell

HALIFAX – Not exactly the best night for the home crowd with Canada ceding an early four-ender to a Norwegian team that was dressed like John Daly crossed with Pippi Longstocking by way of St. Andrews. Something like that anyway.

U.S. skip John Shuster had a relatively straightforward quiet hit for two in the fourth and played a double for three. Made it. Ergo, great call. After this morning’s loss, there might have been a bit of anger in that shot. Or a belief that an opportunity needed to be taken. Or it was way simpler than that and he just figured it was an easy shot for three.
Niklas Edin’s Swedish side delivered a reality check to the young Swiss team — up front 8-1 at the break and handshakes after the mandatory six ends. The only concern for the Swedes once they got out in front was making sure one of them didn’t suffer a broken foot due to a Christian Lindstroem peel. A serious chucker, that kid.
I was thinking Joel Retornaz looks a lot older than when we saw in him play for Italy at the 2006 Olympics. Then I realized that was nine years ago — it would be weird if he didn’t.
Remember how shocked everyone was when Italy started out 2-0 this week? Here’s what The Editor blogged about Italy’s stunning win over Canada back at those Torino Olympics… and what was said when Retornaz fled Italy for Switzerland a few months later… and what Rodger Schmidt wrote about him more recently from the Cortina worlds of 2010.
I saw women walking with beers that had not only lids, but straws. Maritime practicality.
Spoke to ice technician Jamie Bourassa between yesterday’s draws. He was hopeful that the soft, fudgy ice that developed Monday last night wouldn’t occur; he turned the lights off between draws and has only people with low overall body temperature working on the ice surface. At least that’s what I heard after the part about the lights. Then I was distracted by beers with straws.
It was sort of quiet in here last night. That’s what happens when the home team gets down early.
[Curling Canada photo by Michael Burns – click on image to increase viewing size]
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2015 Worlds: Some ugliness

Team China
Team China in Halifax

By Dean Gemmell

HALIFAX – A reasonable crowd in here for a weekday afternoon and they saw the gamut, from great shotmaking to some Tuesday League ugliness. Some soft ice picks meant there weren’t many teams on the ice without a hair brush in the mix.

The Czech Republic was really never in it against China, even without Rui Liu standing on the tee line. Sources say Liu is now a father and, apparently, that precludes curling. I’ll let my editor try to explain. (Er, no chance – Ed.)
According to the stats of Gerry Geurts and CurlingZone, Scottish skip Ewen McDonald had a 60% chance of winning when he was up one without the hammer playing the 10th against the USA. I think, however, those stats look pretty shaky when you have a bunch of misses in said 10th end. Then, those stats get better again when you make a super wide in-off on your last throw to force John Shuster to try a Red-Yellow-Yellow run. Count it as a win for Scotland.
The Patch is open, it seems, and I’m headed over there. I fear that if I venture outside it will be snowing, this being Nova Scotia and all.
[Curling Canada photo by Michael Burns – click image to increase viewing size]
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2015 Worlds: Tuesday letdown

Look who is on site at the 2015 world men’s championship in Halifax… it’s our pal Den Gemmell, host of the incroyable podcast The Curling Show. And we’ve given him some blogspace!
What’s wrong with our pants, bub?
What’s wrong with our pants, bub?
By Dean Gemmell
HALIFAX – The Tuesday afternoon draw starts the Squish stretch for half the field, including my American colleagues and Canada, playing this afternoon, tonight and tomorrow morning. I can’t claim to understand it but I imagine there’s a reason for it. Draws are often like that. Except when they just don’t make any sense at all and it’s early Spring and you’re ticked because you were hosed when you had a legit chance to win a quality Toaster Oven.
But here at the worlds, Tuesday is tough, especially when you’re in the Squish. The early rush of adrenaline from the start of the event is fading, and if you’re sub-.500, it can look like you’re about to be forced down into the coal mine for a stretch. Teams who make the playoffs figure out how to fight through it.
U.S. skip John Shuster played a solid third end to get a deuce.
Norway’s pants are typically awful.
The Finns have more hair on one team than entire curling clubs do.
The Chinese were a lot more intimidating with Rui Liu.
More after the break. Must relocate here on the bench…
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Riga 2013: A beautifully normal curling life

From “Photos of the Year” bonus pages in the all-digital version of April’s The Curling News, available tomorrow at: www.thecurlingnews.com
by Stephanie LeDrew
Did all that really happen, or did I just dream it?
It’s hard to believe that in the last two weeks I’ve flown over 14,000 kilometers, slept in six different beds (including multiple airplane seats and one airport bench) in three different countries, laughed and cried in all three nations, and made it all the way back home – with a world bronze medal to show for it.
Going into these events, you never consider what your “next best thing” will be. You focus only on your goal, and no one’s goal is to win a bronze medal. So what do you do when you’re so unprepared for that feeling, and it happens?
It’s strange to feel as though you’ve come up short of your goal and yet finished the week off on a high note, mustering up as much pride as you can for your achievement. Suffering the greatest loss of your athletic career is an indescribably awful feeling. You’ve prepared your whole life for this. You’ve trained and sacrificed endless hours in anticipation of this very moment. You left everything you had on the ice, and it wasn’t enough – but you’d better get over it quickly, because you’ve got a bronze medal game to play in less than 12 hours.
This will now be your chance at redemption. Your last hurrah, your final hope of mustering something to be proud of and ending the week on a high note.
You cannot imagine the mental toughness it takes to pull yourself together in this situation – but pull together we did.
Canada – with coach Earle Morris
We walked into the arena that bronze morning with pure determination, in spite of our own feelings of loss and shortcoming. There was absolutely no way we were going home without a medal. I almost felt sorry for Team USA; they had no idea about the ANGRY FREIGHT TRAIN they were about to face.
We gave up an early deuce in the second end, but that’s where the mercy ended. We took a three-ender right back and set the cruise control until the finish, with our fearless skipper Rachel Homan shooting a ridiculous 94 per cent game.
That’s how you bounce back.
Later that day, when the roller coaster of emotions was slowing down, we stepped onto the podium and received our medals and bouquets. And something magical happened, again, to cap off a magical week.
Having nowhere to store the flowers, and knowing we’d be flying home in a few hours, coach Elaine Dagg-Jackson decided to pass her bouquet on to a young Latvian curler who had been faithfully cheering all week long – for every single team, and every good shot. She was a 13-year-old event volunteer, and a member of the Latvia’s junior women’s team (there are only two junior women’s teams in the entire country). Earlier that week, she had quietly asked for our team’s autographs, which we gladly provided on our way into the locker rooms before a game. Another volunteer witnessed this and later informed us that this young curler was shaking and almost in tears afterwards; she was so grateful that we’d stopped to give her some signatures.
There’s your context. After the medal ceremony, when Elaine gave her our bouquets, she cried and gave thanks as though the flowers were worth a million lats (the local currency). It’s so easy to forget this stuff, especially when you’re trying to focus on a world championship… but THIS is really what it’s all about! That young curler will remember those moments for the rest of her life. She’s been inspired by athletes at the top of their game, not just by talent and dedication – but by kindness, too.
Steph Fans: “Pure pride and excitement”
It is so easy to lose perspective in the heat of competition. It’s hard to remember that it’s a just a game, because it’s not just a game. There is a difference between game and sport – in sport, we live as much for the agony of defeat as we do for the thrill of victory and yet, as amateur athletes, it always ends the same for curlers: back to regular lives, regular jobs, regular responsibilities. It is but one element of a full, rich, beautifully normal life.
I wear the number 34 on my curling jacket; it represents the month and day of my father’s passing, to remind me to keep perspective when facing difficult times on the ice. When you feel the pain of such a great loss, you have to look at all the good you’ve done, and all the things you have to cherish and be proud of. Sometimes all it takes is seeing the pure pride and excitement in the eyes of a little girl holding a “Congratulations Steph” sign at the airport, or the sound of your grandfather’s voice as he chokes back tears on the telephone, telling you how proud you’ve made him.
These are the things that help you pick yourself back up and get back in the game – because, despite victory or defeat, there is so much more in this life to go home to.
[Canada podium photo by Alina Pavliuchik/World Curling Federation – click on images to increase viewing size]
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Riga 2013: The. Bacon. Is. Raw.

[This blogpost was written by Team Canada alternate Stephanie LeDrew prior to Saturday’s 7-6 playoff victory over the United States. The semifinal, against Scotland, was next up at 1:00pm ET]

Steph’s view of the field of play

by Stephanie LeDrew

RIGA, Latvia – Remember a few days ago when we already had three losses? Well, we’ve finished the round robin at 8-3. This team is relentless! A four-game winning streak at the end of the round robin bodes well for our momentum entering the playoffs. We finished alone in third place, and while three other teams with five losses battled it out for fourth, we enjoyed a day off. We practiced last night but otherwise, we checked out the sights and sounds of Riga, Latvia.

Here are some things we noticed.
1) Tim Horton’s magnificent curler-friendly brew excluded, Europe has the best coffee on earth.
2) Bacon is served raw in Latvia.
3) There are no stop signs. Anywhere. Yet both cars and pedestrians move confidently forward without any regard for those around them and somehow, nobody gets hurt.
4) Fully enclosed showers don’t exist. You’re somehow expected to get cleaned up under a high pressure hose without spraying water all over the bathroom (a skill we’ve managed to perfect only after a considerable amount of practice. Many apologies to the Hotel Maritim housekeeping staff.)
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise is the fact that Latvia seems to be embracing curling with open arms. The Latvian team won but a single game – an extra-end victory over Switzerland – and they hugged and cried like they had just won the world championship. It was a heartwarming moment. Besides that, they had a huge fan contingent (in relative terms – there were only 75 people in the place at any given time, but at least a third of those fans were for Latvia) who would routinely get up and  walk from one end of the arena to the other, to get better seats for viewing each end. They loudly chanted “Lat-Vi-Ja, Lat-Vi-Ja!” any time a good shot was made, and they cheered for other teams’ good shots too.
There’s also an adjacent area that has offered curling to the public every day – and it’s been a busy place.
For a country that only has about 250 curlers, they’re quickly moving in the right direction. This is what we often forget as curlers who have been immersed in the game since we were kids. It’s still growing, and this is exciting news for our sport.
We are heading into the playoffs with high hopes and unbreakable spirits. Our team’s determination and cooperative dynamic is inspiring – as Coach Earle says, “None of us are as good as all of us,” and we’re working hard together to bring the gold back to Canada. I hope to write again, possibly Saturday night, with tales of incredible shotmaking, loud cheering, a full arena, and one more game to play. Tune in, Canada: we’re gonna make it a good one!
[Photo by Stephanie LeDrew – click on image to increase viewing size]
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Riga 2013: Stuck in the middle with you

Insert funny caption here (“Comment” below, folks!)
by Stephanie LeDrew
RIGA, Latvia – It’s Wednesday afternoon at the World Women’s Curling Championship. We’ve got eight games on the board and three to go.
At 5-3, we are stuck in the upper-middle of the pack with a couple of other teams. This seems to be a theme for the week, ie. getting stuck – as so far we’ve spent a day and a half stuck in an airport, had a team member stuck in both a locker room and a stairwell (yours truly, in both cases) and several of our supporters stuck in an elevator (more than once.)
My butt has also been stuck to the bench – frozen to it, actually – with eyes, as always, glued to the ice surface.
It’s time to break free, and it’s gonna take some work. As I was climbing my way up each flight of stairs, trying every locked door over and over again, I got to thinking about this team’s ability to persevere. I’ve yet to see them in this sort of situation first hand – In fact, since I’ve been with the team, I’ve only seen them lose four games, including three here at the worlds.
In dealing with media questions lately, it seems everyone is waiting with baited breath to see if Team Canada will crumble at the first (or second, or third) hints of a challenge.
It’s an interesting experience to be regarded in that manner, as if we’re a bunch of aggressive dogs who’ve been backed into a corner. Although that might not be as inaccurate an analogy as I thought… Canadian curling teams have always been The Big Dogs and on the world stage, the Maple Leaf might as well be a target.
The success of a team in this situation is largely determined by how they deal with it. Some athletes crack under the combined pressure  – from their country – to be great and the determination – of other countries – to take them down. Others feed on it and use it to rise to the occasion, and that’s is another “X-Factor” that separates good teams from great teams.
So what to do now? The great Earle Morris once said, “Just keep doing what you’re doing.” To be in a position where that’s the only coaching advice you need to give is, well, most likely every coach’s dream. At 3-2, it might have seemed that we needed to make some changes, but the momentum was going the right direction. Same thing today.
We are learning… mapping the ice, learning the speed, matching the rocks and getting to know our competition. One might entertain the thought that Canadian teams have bigger changes to get used to at a world championship than most other teams. Why? Because we are blessed – or rather, spoiled – with incredibly consistent ice, loads of experience playing against most of our competitors, and an electric atmosphere that feeds energy into the team. Suddenly, at the biggest bonspiel of our lives, we have very different ice conditions, 50 people in the stands, and little to no experience playing against 90 per cent of our opponents. These are not disadvantages, but they are challenges.
Luckily, we have the most competent support staff we could ever ask for. Coach Earle, Team Leader Elaine Dagg-Jackson, National Coach Helen Radford and Sports Psychologist Natalie are a wealth of information. We have all the tools we need to rise above and beyond and achieve what we all know we’re capable of. We’re encountering obstacles, but we are coming together.
It’s only a matter of time before we find the one unlocked door in the stairwell and break free of the pack. We just need to keep climbing.
[Click on image to increase viewing size – and suggest a caption in “Leave a Comment” below!]
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Riga 2013: Steph for The Curling News

[Team Canada’s Rachel Homan and Co. are in Riga, Latvia, for today’s start of the world women’s curling championship. The Co. includes Stephanie LeDrew, team alternate, who is also serving as a contributor here at The Curling News Blog. Check our blog page throughout the nine-day competition as Steph tells the tale of a young team on a grand adventure!]

by Stephanie LeDrew

Welcome to Frankfurt. Ugh.
RIGA, Latvia – If you could pick anyone on earth to be stranded with in a crowded airport in a foreign country for 32 hours, who would it be?
Okay, it can’t be Brad Pitt or Beyonce. Or your husband, or wife, or some great thinker from history. I could actually list a huge number of people it couldn’t be, and still I don’t think anyone out there would pick their curling team first. Well guess what? They’re probably not a bad choice. Any championship team will tell you that one of the big secrets to success is great team dynamics – we hear that term thrown around all the time, but what does it mean? It’s not just four people getting along and sharing similar opinions. It’s the ability to come together in adversity to create results – on and off the ice.
As it turns out, Team Homan can do that. Very, very well. In fact, I’ve never seen anything like these six people handling a horrific situation so well and with such incredible attitudes.
Picture this: You’re flying overnight to a timezone six hours ahead, you don’t sleep on the plane due to the efforts of a serial seat-kicker behind you, then you find out your last flight will be delayed one hour… then another… then another… until it’s finally cancelled. Then they close the airport.And this is just the beginning.
Next, you’re assigned to a stand-by flight departing five hours later. Then they cancel THAT flight. Then you’re put on another stand-by flight 12 hours later (the next morning) and when you call around to find a hotel room for the night, you find there’s none available in the city due to the number of stranded travelers. So you sleep across four gate seats in the airport all night, hoping no one steals your passport while you sleep, so really you don’t sleep at all.
The next morning, you find out you’re 55th on the stand-by list and there’s no chance you’re getting a seat – so you stand in a miles-long lineup, prepared to buy ANY seat on ANY flight that will get you to your final destination, at ANY COST.
At what point during this ordeal would you have pulled out all your hair, developed a stomach ulcer and began to harbor an intense hatred for anyone around you who looks rested or comfortable or holds a confirmed seat on a flight? To be honest, it started for me at the second seat-kick… but as we progressed through this seemingly endless adventure together, I was in awe of the ability of my fellow teammates to handle adversity with humour, logic, and optimism. Don’t get me wrong, we had our moments, but we came out of it a stronger team than ever before. Everyone seemed to settle into certain roles that they filled well (much like we do on the ice). Some would stand in ticketing lineups to work on the next flight possibility. Others would go on food runs. Others would crack jokes and keep the mood light – but the complaints were at a minimum. We kept each other sane. We supported one another with the mantra that This Too Shall Pass… and the next thing we knew, we were in Riga.
Now that we’re at our final destination, we’ve gotten some practice under our belts, adapted to the time change, done some sightseeing and had some laughs, we’ve all but forgotten the Frankfurt Airport Disaster of 2013 – now, we are simply Team Canada. We’re at the start of the most exciting week of our lives. We carry the Maple Leaf on our backs, and I carry forward a newfound and unbreakable confidence in the ability of this team to rally together.
Bring on the fight – we’ve got this.
[Photo by Team Homan]