We are very early into the curling season – and we already have our first controversy to talk about!
And I did not see this one coming – it is magic brooms!
There was a player meeting this weekend at a big tournament in Toronto – with some players suggesting that the new brooms should be banned (!), as they are removing all the skill out of the game.
(My apologies to the non-curlers who read my blog - this one is for the hard-core curling fans)
A number of curlers are now suggesting that Hardline and the new Balance Plus brooms used on tour are “too effective” and are allowing sweepers to effectively manipulate the path of the rock significantly – taking the skill out of the game. Big guys like Hebert, Kennedy and the Harndens are saying that the new brooms are eliminating the advantage they have by being big and strong.
The controversy emerged after the first Grand Slam- where Brad Gushue really pushed the envelope on this – by using some unconventional sweeping techniques on his way to successful results.
So what do these magic brooms allegedly do? The big impact seems to be on soft weight takeouts. If you throw a hack weight hit – they are suggesting that the new brooms can hold the rock absolutely straight (or even make it fall) by sweeping against the curl – in other words by having the sweeper on the “low” side sweep in the opposite direction that the rock is curling in.
Gushue believed in this so much that he does not even let the other guy (the guy on the “high” side) sweep – as he harbours the belief that sweeping the other way will make it curl. So only one sweeper is sweeping hard, while the other guy just stands there looking goofy.
Gushue has also taken it to different level by changing pads between shots. Their belief is that a new pad is more effective on hits, but an older pad is more effective on sweeping a draw further. So his guys carry multiple pads in their pockets, and switch based on the shot they are playing. Not sure if anyone else is doing this.
So what do I think of this?
Full disclosure – I am a user and am a promoter of the brooms in question – my team has been with Hardline for a couple of years now – and we are very happy customers.You will notice their ad in the banner of my blog.
Having said that – I call BULLSHIT on this.
I have played against Gushue this year. I have talked to Mike McEwen (who also uses the Hardline brooms) this summer. I have played with the brooms for years.
The Hardlines that I play with are not joysticks that control the rocks – they do not have magical powers.
I definitely think both McEwen and Gushue are very effective at keeping rocks straight – thus making hit and rolls and runbacks easier. (Unfotunately, my team has not been able to use the brooms to win $100,000 yet, but we are still working on it).
Gushue and Caruthers and McEwen make a lot of hit and rolls. I agree with the notion that new brooms are FAR more effective at keeping hits straight but they might be LESS effective at dragging a draw further (they just seem to get too wet) and they perform better after a few games.
When we played Gushue in Cornwall, I thought he had some effective sweeping – but it did not seem to be doing RIDICULOUS things to the rocks. He had pretty effective sweeping last year too – and it certainly helps that his sweepers look like the “after” pictures in a Bowflex commercial. But I would not have said his rocks did anything crazy. I read an article quoting Wayne Middaugh saying that he could make a rock back up four feet. I have never seen this with the Hardlines – and I am assuming that this is a misprint and he meant 4 inches. But they are claiming that the new Balance Plus brooms can do magic like that. If that is the case – then maybe we should look at banning these.
But here is the thing – broom technology is not new. This has been happening for years. The EQ pads – developed in partnership with the CCA to give Canadian teams an edge at the last Olympics – used a piece of foil in the heads to heat up the pads –making them more effective at destroying the ice! The Norway pads use a coarse, ribbed material. I think when either of these pads are new – they could likely have been used to have similar effects as what we are seeing now at holding a takeout straight by sweeping against the curl.
What has changed however is the ability to change pads between shots. While players used to change pads within a game – it was usually only once per game – and was only to put a new head on - because new heads are more effective. They did not change heads based on the type of shot played. Now teams can change pads in seconds depending on shot selection by snapping on a new head.
The other problem is sweeping rules have been pretty relaxed over the years. The rules used to be specific about a “back and forth, sweeping across the face” movement – now that has been stretched to the limit.
Ben Hebert got called out for “dumping” in front of a rock (which is scatological way of saying he lifted his broom and dropped debris in front of the rock to slow it down) by Richard Hart in a Slam final a few years back - So the rules have pretty much been – “as long as you are not damaging the ice – significantly – then anything goes”.
So do we need to ban these?
My answer is No.
I think this debate sounds a lot like the same debate that happens every time a new piece of golf technology comes out.
So we need to ban Titleist Pro-V’s? How about big-head drivers? Or belly putters?
I think some rules might need to come into effect that restrict a players ability to change heads within a game – much the same way you can’t use a Pinnacle to hit your drive further and then switch to a soft ball when you are approaching the green. Switching heads from one shot to another just seems wrong – and seems to be an awkward advancement for the game. I am old enough to remember playing against teams that would sweep hits with a brush, and then draws with a corn broom (damn I am old). Switching brooms or heads based on the type of shot played seems wrong. It did not make sense back then…and rules were changed to prevent this.
But I do not think you can go backwards and ban the brooms. I have played with Hardlines for a few years – and have not seen anything crazy to suggest that I have an unfair advantage. Admittedly we do not have the team budget to play with new heads every game…but my rocks do not do magic tricks. I wish they did.
Furthermore, I am not sure how a ban can work. We would have to ban types of synthetic heads? Or only certain materials? Would we have to play with brooms that only have a limited coarseness? Do we all have to back to hair brooms? Would it only be banned in competition? Only on tour?
Apparently my spies tell me that the players meeting did not settle anything, and seemed more about posturing than problem-solving.
I am not sure where this issue is going – and I get the impression that the debate is being driven as much by competitive marketing then it is by facts or science.