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Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Duffer in the Hall of Fame - and Scotties preview

Duffer in the Hall of Fame.

Pierre “Duffer” Charrette was inducted this week into the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame - clearly a well-deserved spot in the hall from one of the most successful and enigmatic curlers to come from la Belle Province. He has won a Grand Slam Event, lost 2 Brier Finals and played in a pile of Briers at just about every position. He likely has won more money than any other curler in Quebec. He now runs the World Curling Tour, he is coaching Marie-France at the Scotties and will once again play 5th man at the Brier for Jean-Michel this year in Ottawa.  Not a bad career by any measure.
For you younger readers of my blog – Pierre is more than just the guy standing behind the ice at the Grand Slams. In the 1990’s, Pierre was the Man. Every team he was one was the team to beat, every team he is was on seemed to have more swagger, more confidence, more luck and more money than any other team. He went to more than half the Brier’s in the 90’s, while playing on a number of different teams. He dominated curling at a time when there were 100-150 teams vying to represent Quebec at the Brier every year.
To be honest, I really hated him back then. I got kicked off of Guy Hemming’s team in 1996, and was replaced by none other than Pierre Charrette, who then took Guy to back-to-back Brier finals. And at the time, I always struggled to understand how Pierre had so much success. The consensus was that he really did not throw the prettiest of curling stones. At the time, the game was ruled by guys like Stoughton, Howard, Martin and Middaugh, all with picture-perfect curling slides. Pierre was a stark contrast: his slide was high and awkward – his release had too much rotation and he wasn’t the best sweeper in the world. Yet, he always seemed to be on the winning end of games.

Ted Butler (another Buckingham curling legend) explained it best to me back in the 90’s. 
I asked Ted how Pierre managed to win so much, despite his unattractive looking curling slide.
Ted sat back, took a sip of his Coors Lite, and sighed deeply.
“Mike, you just don’t get it. Pierre is a winner. He wins. Mike, do you ever go to the racetrack to bet on the horses?”
“No, not really Ted.”
“Well, if you are ever at the racetrack, and you look at the program, and the next race features Pierre Charrette running (without a horse) against 6 horses – take all the money you have and bet it on Pierre to win.”
“Are you saying that he will run faster than a horse?” I asked naively.
“You are still not getting it Mike. Pierre will win. He does not have to run faster than the horses. He will talk to two of the other jockeys before the race and get them to fight each other and get disqualified. He will whisper in one of the horse’s ears before the race, and convince the horse he should not run. One of the horses will run straight through the first bend into the crowd. And the 6th horse will break it’s leg on the final turn. You can guarantee that down the stretch, it will be just Pierre jogging across the finish line. Slowly. Pierre is a winner. Plain and simple.”
So congrats to one of the smartest curlers to ever play the game. Well deserved.

The Scotties
So the Scotties started this year.
Last year in my daughter’s soccer league, the organizers made a mistake and ordered white uniforms for all eight teams in the league, forcing us to play with pinnies all season. I wondered how anyone could be so dumb to make such a mistake. Apparently Curling Canada also made the same mistake!!!
I cannot handicap the teams, quite honestly because I really do not know them that well.

I will go out on a limb and say that either Chelsea Carey or Jennifer Jones will likely win. JJ is probably the greatest clutch curler in the World (male or female).  Chelsea Carey beat Val Sweeting in Alberta, probably the 2nd or 3rd best female team in the country right now. Of course the Scotties is missing Rachel Homan, who surprisingly lost the Ontario final to Jenn Hanna.

Marie-France Larouche (Qc) should do well.  She is experienced and throwing pretty well. To be honest, they have likely not played enough this year to be serious contenders at a national level, but I am counting on their wisdom and experience to win them some games that they shouldn’t. I would not be surprised to see them in the playoffs in what is a relatively weak field.

No Hair:
As was to be expected, hair brooms have been banned from competitive play. Once the Gushue video came out, the writing was on the wall. So like the top of my head, the Brier and Scotties will be bereft of hair this year. So teams will have to find another non-banned item to direct their rocks. Not sure what is next, but I still believe we are headed for a one-material rule.
Somehow, a little part of me is sad. I was sweeping with hair before it was cool (or directional). Although I usually only sweep six feet at a time.

Longue Pointe CC

I am sad to see another Montreal curling club bite the dust; especially one that still has a decent membership and revenue base.  Not surprisingly, the Military Leaders that run the base are not keen on keeping a curling club open when none of their military personnel use it. 
Sadly the francophone Montreal curling community has become completely irrelevant.
Apart from Boucherville CC on the South Shore and Laval CC, Montreal lacks a Francophone curling club that entices growth in the game within one of Canada's largest Metropolitan areas. 
While I always liked Longue Pointe, I think it was still an old-style curling club. The old club model, relying on volunteers to find new members and promote the sport has become a dinosaur. The sport needs a new business model to survive. The modern curling club needs to look more like a city sports complex (ideally it is situated right next to the municipal arena/pool/gym) so as to present itself as a viable activity for all ages. The sport needs to embrace modernity while maintaining a strong connection to its history and tradition which is still a big part of the game’s charm and lure.

Instead, old-style curling clubs tend to be located on dead-end streets in forgotten parts of town where they have little hope of attracting significant numbers of new members.

Lots of solid thinking, marketing and effort is required to ensure that most curling clubs do not suffer the same fate as Longue Pointe.
Here is hoping that the new head of Curling Canada picks up the mantle of helping develop curling at the club level, and not just focusing on the Elite level of the game.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Broomageddon - Return to hair!

I have not written on this for a while. And so much has happened I do not even know where to start.
My thinking has evolved a lot on this issue. If I go back to my first blog on this subject – I feel like I was writing it before having seen the light. I can’t say I remember a period of such rapid evolution in a sport. In the space of six months – we have ALL changed the way we sweep, the tools we sweep with, and how we communicate on the ice (I now have to remember the names of the guys sweeping for me!). For a lifelong curler, this is a lot to absorb! And if you have been away from the game for a while – this will be a big shock.

I played an exhibition game with last week with Jean Gagnon, who has played lead at a number of Briers not too long ago, but was not playing competitively this year. He has not drunk the directional-sweeping Kool-Aid yet. It was a totally bizarre experience. A rock was over-curling – and I said “YES – but not you Jean”!  He looked at me like I was insane. Stop sweeping! You are making it curl!

I feel like my eyes have been opened on this one. I wonder how many times in my curling career I have over-curled and crashed a guard while my lead sweeper pounded a rock on the “wrong” side to make it curl. I wish I had known then what I know now. Since the beginning of the season I have seen things. I have learned things. I have practiced with the different techniques – the different fabrics. We played a provincial against teams using hair and/or icepads. I have seen virtually everybody come to the realisation that you can make a rock curl by sweeping it (a certain way).
One-sweeper and directional sweeping are here to stay. I think at least some of this is simply the result of a better understanding of the underlying physics of the game – which has caused us to challenge the established thinking.

The genie is out of the bottle, there is no going back. The biggest learning for me in this has been that you can make a rock curl sweeping “with the curl”, EVEN WITH A NORMAL, ACROSS THE FACE TECHNIQUE. Watch the video that Team Gushue put out his week to prove the point that hair brushes are as bad as the banned Icepads.  Walker is not sweeping illegally. He is just sweeping. We practiced it and saw similar results. When you sweep with the curl – you can make a rock curl. A lot.

As far as what type of broom you use – here is the deal:

The more abrasive the broom – the better (for directional sweeping at least). Abraisive brooms might be crappy at making a rock go further, but they sure as hell can move it around the ice. The Banned Icepad, a hairbroom, a new performance pad, the new LEGAL icepad, can all have the same impact with varying degrees of effectiveness. The newer the product – the better it works. Even sweeping a handful of rocks with a pad seems to minimize the effectiveness of the broom as a directional tool.

Hair brushes have added a new wrinkle to the debate. hair brushes work as directional sweeping tools. With hair- the shorter the bristles, the better it works (which is why most teams are using the Asham brush with short hair in the middle. But also depends on the type of hair – and the mix of synthetic materials. Not sure if newer hair brushes work better - but hair has made a comeback! Its like a 70's porn movie on the ice now.

So where do we go from here?

I think we will need to agree on a few points for competitive play:

1)      We will never be able to effectively control technique. I think this is a flawed solution to the problem. If we go this route, we will need umpires, officials, and tons of pain-in-the-ass judging to ensure that the guy sweeping is moving across the face of the stone. I really hope it never comes to this. This solution sounds simple on paper – but would result in curling becoming more of a “judged” sport, where an official would need to interpret a sweepers motion to see if he is crossing the path – and at what angle. Will we need protractors?
2)      We will need regulation on fabric. I am not sure how to test – but clearly there are a number of products that have too great an influence on the stone – hair brushes being one of them.  Some guidelines on what kind of fabric is acceptable will have to come from the WCG/CA/WCT. Will we have to go to one fabric? I think he are heading that way. The more abrasive the pad – the more effective it is. The physics of the technique is the same regardless of what tool you are using – but the results can vary significantly based on the material. We need to draw a line.
3)      The other option is to let it all go. Sweep with whatever you want, as long as it does not damage the ice. This will not happen. “Damaging the ice” is subject to a wide degree of interpretation – as any sweeping likely damages the ice at some level. Plus it will leave us in a situation where the skill of the game will be reduced to who can make a rock best do magic tricks. The game loses all credibility if it comes to this. I think I might have to switch to Mixed Doubles!
I realize that I am contradicting what I wrote about this just a few months ago. But as I mentioned earlier, I have seen things. I see where this is headed, and clearly we need to fix it quickly for the good of the game.

I know everyone is getting sick and tired of this. Curlers just want to curl. I heard some nasty stories coming out of pretty much every provincial playdown of accusations, name-calling and dumb rulings. And we are now in a situation that if you are not directional sweeping – you are not winning. It’s like steroid use in cycling.

Reasonable solutions are needed – and they are needed fast. I hope the powers that be can wrap their heads around this one and come up with something that settles the storm and sets everyone on a level playing field.


People are asking when I will blog about provincials. My therapist says I am making good progress – and I might be able to talk about it someday!