in SWEEP! Magazine -
Jim Armstrong plays Whack-A-Mole as Canada win gold
The smiles were a long
time coming, but when it was finally time to sing, the tune was O
Canada. The Maple Leaf rose centre flag for the first time at a World
Wheelchair Curling Championship and Team Canada skip Jim Armstrong had
shown in the playoffs that you don't play for 50 years through six
Briers without knowing how to coax your opponents into playing your
It didn't look so rosy at the beginning of the week. After an opening
win against Scotland, thrashing with their delivery zone, Canada were
outplayed by a disciplined China team who ignored the temptation to
chase rocks floated into the 12 foot.
A defeat by Italy and a win against Switzerland, the tournamentís least
experienced team, saw Canada at 2-2 and showing the stress of high
expectations unmet. Jim Armstrong was struggling and chins were low. "I
think it affected Darryl because we play together all the time and he
never sees me miss," Armstrong joked, but this was not a group of peers,
and as the leader went, so did his team.
Next up were USA, with a skip fueled on emotion. With one rock to play
and two Canadian shot stones buried so deep coach Joe Rea felt it would
take two to dislodge them, "Goose" Perez called his team together and
described a hit through a narrow port.
"Do you trust me to make it?" he asked. They did, and seconds later USA
sat two for the win. The Americans rushed together for a group hug, It
was the second most memorable shot of the week, but the team's reaction
was the week's highlight for one on-ice officials. "Seeing that shot,
seeing that joy, I nearly lost it," she said.
With Canada at 2-3 something had to change and it was Chris Sobkowicz,
perhaps playing out of position throwing first stones, who fell on his
sword, making way for Sonja Gaudet to resume her career at lead. There
was an immediate change on the ice. The smiles returned and wins over
Korea, Sweden and Germany had Canada assured of at least a tie-break
coming into the final draw against Norway.
The two-time defending had hardly played prior to the Worlds as building
delays cost them their local ice-time. They had to win to avoid
re-qualification for 2011 and when Norway have to win, they find a way.
Fortunately for Canada, China also lost, allowing Canada (5-4) to slip
into the playoffs in fourth place behind Germany, Sweden and USA.
Canada retreated to Richmond for a heart-to-heart team meeting and a
practice, and it was a different team that came out to play USA in the
Page playoff game. "Relentless," was programme director Gerry Peckham's
admiring assessment of Canada's defeat of a spirited USA side who kept
pace through the first four ends, but wilted after the break. Germany in
the semi and Sweden in the final offered less resistance as each were
sucked into Armstrong ' Whack-A-Mole; a game they didnít have the
skipping skills to win.
Would Canada have won without Armstrong's skills at skip? Doubtful when
you realise their very average shooting was bolstered by his management
of fresh out the box rocks, his ice-reading, and the fact that no-one
was asked to make a shot that wasnít there. Armstrong himself went
through twelve games always having a clear path for his last rock.
Where will this team be next year as they attempt to defend their
Paralympic gold medal? It's hard to imagine that with another year's
practice this team wonít be shooting closer to 60%.
Wheelchair curling at the world level is a very amateur affair outside
Canada and possibly Scotland. Itís taken seriously of course, but
without the resources available here. Korea, so impressive last year,
are a headstrong club side over-committed to the hit. China are young
and enthusiastic, but play together only four weeks a year. They have
arrived too late to build enough Paralympic qualification points for
2010. Switzerland, the weakest of the 2009 teams as they attempt to
rebuild their program. qualify on the strength of a second place finish
The two sides with the best round robin records, Germany and Sweden, are
perhaps not co-incidentally both club sides with intelligent skips who
will learn from their defeats. If nothing more they will know they have
to play in the four foot. USA would benefit from practicing on ice that
curled more than a foot. Their 3/4 game against Germany was one of the
week's best and had the most exciting last rock shot of the week. You
can watch it on video
While the play was entertaining, the crowds were pitifully small and
most of the 49 athletes managed to hide themselves away from any
interactions off the ice. What press coverage there was tended to
concentrate on how Armstrong was adapting to a new sport. They might as
easily asked if he was a ringer, but fortunately for Jim and for the
Canadian program, this story had a happy ending.
Eric Eales - Kelowna,