CLICK HERE for a blog post Championship wrap-up
February 28th - Day 8
O Canada - Champions of the World
Sweden 9-2 in the gold medal game this afternoon, topping the podium for
the first time in a World Championship. The win was every bit as
definitive as the score suggests, with Sweden falling behind on a steal
of two in the 1st and never recovering.
I had been most impressed by Sweden of all the
teams that played this week aside from Canada, and felt they were
unlucky to lose 6-3 to Canada in the round robin game. Some scraped
guards and draws that went just a touch too long, suggested that in a
replay Sweden would present a significant challenge.
But Canada were in unbeatable form, putting lead
stones into the house and waiting patiently for rhe inevitable missed
takeout. "Two words: patience and process," coach Joe Rea had said at
the start of a very long day. And Canada were patient, keeping to a game
plan that challenged opponents to hit, and then drawing accurately into
the house as soon as there was a miss.
Though skip Armstrong did not have his best day,
missing a couple of hits that brought his percentages down to just over
50%, that was still twice as good as his opposing skip, Jalle Jungnell.
Armstrong's team came through time and again, with the front end
shooting over 80% and Darryl Neighbour a more than respectable 64%.
The team benefited from never being asked to make
shots beyond the precision available without sweepers, and that has been
the story of the week when Canada has played well. They were always
taking high percentage shots.
Coach Joe Rea said before the game: "We've worked
all year to get here and we're going to enjoy the experience. But Jim
likes to win and he'll enjoy it more if we win. Same game plan; keep it
clean." The Swedish coach said their plan was to play better than in
their round robin loss.
When Sweden fell behind early, I expected to see
them attempt some corner guards, but by the time they switched gears in
the 4th end, it was too late. Most teams. the Swedes included, consider
it far easier to play hits than draws. Jalle told me over lunch that he
reckoned to hit at least 8 of 10 takeouts, but maybe only get a draw
into the 8 foot half the time. Canada too have had spells where they
struggled with draw weight, but not when it mattered, in the
championship's final three games.
The further Sweden fell behind, the more difficult
were the shots they faced, and the less able to make them. Teams shook
hands after 7, in time to watch the final end of the bronze medal game
between USA and Germany.
With the score tied at 4-4 and Germany with the
hammer, USA sat one touching the button and guarded by 6 stones
clustered around the centre line. With his last rock, German skip Jens
Jäger ran back a wide German stone close to the hogline. It shot off
wide, but redirected off a corner guard, and took out the buried shot
stone to score a highly improbable 2. German 3rd
Marcus Sieger, who had held the broom and knew the delivery was wide,
dropped his head into his hands in disbelief at the result.
worth a visit to
CurlIt.com to see it diagrammed.
It was a huge fluke, but Germany had the best
record in round robin play, and USA had hit their own circus shot to
beat Canada. USA second Jimmy Joseph said afterwards, "We knew we had
it. No way could they get at our shot stone." He's young, he'll
Team USA are a team that has some growing to do,
and the enthusiasm to do it. It took them a while to believe the swing
on this arena ice, as they typically play on surfaces that curl a foot
or so, and not the 4 to 6 feet players faced this week.
I felt pleased for Jens Jäger. He had been
available all week, willing to talk curling and share his experiences.
His team was over-matched in the morning 3/4 game against Canada. In the
first, facing one with last rock, Jens had a hit for two, but lost his
grip on his delivery stick, which followed the rock over the hogline.
The stone was removed by the officials before it
reached the house, and both teams felt they had a reasonable claim on
relief. Germany argued that the player's hand was not in contact with
the stick over the hogline, while Canada felt the stone should have been
allowed to reach the house, because it would, in Canada's opinion, have
resulted in 2 for Canada. The official explanation for the rock's
removal was that the stick touched the stone past the hogline and
therefore had to be removed.
I asked the German coach whether the incident would
affect his skip's concentration. "Perhaps," he shrugged. But Canada
didn't begin to pull away until after the break. The 10-4 scoreline was
inflated by a 3 posted in the eighth end even though Germany
shook hands with two stones left to throw.
When I spoke to Jens after the
semi-final loss he said that he was not disappointed. "Not at all," he
said. "I have learned a lot, and we will be back stronger next time."
The teams topping the table after the round robin, were both club sides.
Team Canada's prospects going into the tournament had centred around
whether Jim Armstrong was ready to throw at this level. Long after the
medals had been handed out, and Swedish lead
Anette Wilhelm had been awarded the
Sportsmanship Trophy, voted by the players for the person who
best exemplified the true spirit of curling, Jim Armstrong was still
sitting by the podium, posing for photos and reveling in the atmosphere.
For someone with such a long and illustrious playing career, this was
his first appearance on a world stage and he was savouring every minute.
"What a week," he told me. "If you're coming to the banquet you can buy
me a beer. It's been a real roller coaster week, so many ups and downs."
Darryl Neighbour looked dazed. "It's just fantastic. I can't describe
it," he said. "We were up and then we were down, then up again. We'd
think we had things worked out, then we'd lose again. It's going to take
a while to sink in."
Canada did have spells where they did not play well; generally when the
rest of the team allowed their skip's loss of form to affect their own
play. When he played well, so did they, and tactically they outplayed
every opponent except China who ignored Canada's invitations to the
wings and played a winning game in the 4 foot.
This looks to be a team that will only get stronger. They know they can
throw an 80% game if their skip keeps it simple. Their one doubt is at
lead, where Chris Sobkowicz struggled until stepping aside for Sonja
Gaudet, who is still working on her ability to throw reliable takeout
This was a great week for Team Canada, and their coaches who shared the
blame for the disappointment last year and deserve credit for producing
a winning team this year.
O Canada - Go Canada.
Playoffs - Canada relentless in win
over USA. Sweden hold off Germany to advance to gold medal game.
Team Canada, shocked by a Norway team
fighting relegation in the last round robin draw, held a team meeting
and then an afternoon practice at the Richmond CC. By the time they came
on the ice they were ready to play.
Coach Joe Rea said about USA before the
game; "We know this team, we had our chances last game, and we're not
going to change our game plan. We're not making a big thing about this
game. It is what it is."
USA Coach Rusty Scheiber, asked for a
quote, said, "Tell my wife I miss her!" He added, "USA wll play
agressively and come into the rings. We're going to make the Canadian
skip make his draws."
I looked like an interesting match-up,
with Canada seeking to keep things clean, and USA seeking to mix it up.
When the game started, however, both teams chose to draw in and then
hit. This was well executed curling on both sides, but played into
It's tough to out-hit Canada, and with
skip Armstrong shooting an incredible 88%, Canada wore USA down. The
game started close, but with end after end of precision shooting it was
only a matter of time before the less experienced team cracked. When
they started to miss their takeouts, Canada poured rocks into the house,
and they stole the game away, 9-2 in seven ends.
Gerry Peckham, The CCA's high performance
coach, was on hand to see his team win. "We were relentless this
evening," he said. "USA played well for four ends, but eventually they
had sme misses and we just kept up the pressure."
It was an impressive win, but USA played
a very similar game to Korea, the other game that Canada threw over 70%
as a team. But regardless of how well USA might have played, it's tough
to beat a skip shooting high 80s. A more complicated game may have
challenged Canada more, but all credit to the Canadians. They played the
rocks they were given and were never in serious difficulty.
Tomorrow morning they take on Germany,
who lost 7-6 to Sweden despite staging a late charge and taking 3 in the
final end. Swedish skip Jalle Jungnell shot 70%, outstripping Germany's
Jens Jäger by 20 points.
Jäger is far more experienced than
Perez, the USA skip and is less likely to choose to play on Canada's
terms. Canada won comforatbly when they faced an already qualified
Germany on the last day of round robin play.
I suspect the task will be tougher
tomorrow, but if Canada get momentum, and hit their shots early, they
are very difficult to beat. Canada have curled wonderfully at times,
with unheard of percentages. They have alo allowed their chins to drop
when things have not gone well. They are a new unit amd still learning
the team dynamics that will mould them into a consistent winning team on
We'll find out which Team Canada turns up
for tomorrow's semi-final at 9 am.
Canada came into the tournament with a
team goal of reaching the playoffs. They have succeeded, and know that
if they can move past USA in the 3-4 game this evening, they have
already beaten both Germany and Sweden in round robin play.
Last year's Team Canada were an open hit away from a place in the 1-2
game and a guaranteed medal, and that last match loss proved costly as
they were unable to regroup against a USA team that were a surprise
play-off contender. USA were riding high and they posted a comfortable
8-1 win over a Team Canada that felt they should have been playing in
the 1-2 game.
That was last year, but if you are a Canadian fan there are some
worrying parallels this year. Canada could have been in the 1-2 game
with a last game win over Norway. USA are on an emotional high, holding
to just 4 losses by winning their last two games. "We're coming good at
the right time," said USA third Jim Pearce. Skip Goose Perez plays on
emotion, and there has been plenty of emotion in the USA camp. "I had a
long "come to Jesus" talk with Goose before our last game," said team
coach Rusty Scheiber, happy his skip seems to have regained confidence
in his draw.
We have seen throughout the event that draws win matches. You can't rely
o hitting your way to victory, and if you can't draw, as has been said
throughout curling's history, you can't skip.
Canada are likely to have learned a lot from their defeat by USA in the
round robin. A spectacular circus shot, a heavyweight hit of a rockpile
in the 4 foot with no other option open, won the game for the Americans.
It was a shot that many skips might not have seen, let alone attempted,
and the skip had drawn his team together before the shot to ask "Do you
trust me to make this?"
The team emotion after that shot was a highlight of the week for several
of the officials I spoke to at the end of the round robin. "When the
Americans all rushed to their skip and hugged him after that shot, well
I nearly lost it," said one.
Canada know that if they play to their potential they are unbeatable.
This evening they will have to play past a team not afraid to show
emotion, on an off the ice. If they make their early shots, if their
front end stones don't stay short, if Darryl makes a couple of hits, and
Jim makes a couple of early draws, Canada will be favoured to win.
But if they let USA get ahead, that self-doubt may creep back in, the
smiles disappear as they have tended to do when they have struggled.
Canadians must hope that some early end success will give their team the
confidence to carry them past a USA team that learned in the round robin
against Canada, sometimes it's as important to be lucky as good.
Germany (7-2) plays Sweden (6-3) in the 1-2 game. When they met in the
Draw 6 of the round robin it was a very high scoring game, 12-7 to
Sweden who posted a 3, a 4 and a 5. Both teams finished the round robin
with losses, though with playoff places assured.
Germany were not impressive when they played Canada, choosing to
challenge in a hit game when their skip was struggling to find draw
weight into the empty houses. Sweden played well against Canada, without
getting any breaks. draws scraped guards and hits missed by fractions.
Sweden have impressed me however, though perhaps it has something to do
with skip Jalle Jungnell's approach to the game.
"It has to be fun, or why play?" he told me. Jalle played basketball for
25 years so understands competitive pressure. German skip Jens Jäger
has also made a point of being available during the breaks. Hi team has
a rooting section that sings and waves flags in the stands after every
"This game is all about being sociable," said Kate Caithness, WCF
vice-President in charge of wheelchair curling. She blamed the coaches
for hiding their players out of sight. "It wasn't the intention when we
brought wheelchair curling nto the Paralympics that you would never see
the players away from the ice."
Perhaps not, but well funded selected teams like Canada take it all very
seriously, with their every minute programmed. It may not be a
coincidence that Germany and Sweden are both club sides; fierce
competitors, but here to enjoy themselves.
Draw 12 - Canada reach champoinship goal, not with a win over Norway
but a loss by China
Canada knew before they had to play
two-time defending Worlds champions Norway in the final draw, that they
had secured at least a tie-break for tomorrow's playoffs. Canada coach
Joe Rea said before the game, "We know this side having played them this
season. We know they can kick your butt if you don't play well. We'll
stick to our game plan. We needed to win our last four games and we
can't stop now."
Norway's coach gave his struggling skip Rune Lorentsen 3rd stones, and
played his alternate, Anne Mette Samdal, at lead. The game began
innocently enough with a blank; none of the pile of rocks at the front
of the house actually touching. But that pile was an ominous omen for
Canada who, in the games that have gone well have played to an open
house with skip stones. The teams that have challenged and beaten Canada
have managed to bring the play into the inner rings.
In the second Canada missed a chance to steal a second point when Jim
Armstrong's draw into the rings was outscored by a Norway stone back 12.
An Armstrong draw that failed to reach the rings cost a stolen point in
the 4th, and suddenly we were watching a team that curls at the same
unspectacular pace as most of the other teams, missing about half the
Norway stole a decisive 2 in the 7th to go ahead 5-2, the final score,
and after the game coach Thoralf Hognestad was pleased with how his skip
had responded to the line-up change. "That was the big factor in our
win. Rune had lost confidence but played well at 3rd." The win gave
Norway a 4-5 record and dropped Canada to 5-4. As it transpired, a
Norway loss would have relegated them to the Qualifying tournament in
USA and China both had the opportunity to match Canada with evening
wins. USA beat Sweden 7-2, which had no effect on Sweden's standing
though you would not have known it from the disappointment written on
skip Jalle Jungnell's face at his performance. Two days ago the USA
coach had feared 4 losses would be too many, but his team moved into 3rd
place when China lost to Scotland 6-5. The young Chinese team had come a
long way in a very short time, and played to the last stone even though
they were down 3 with a long guard and just one in the house.
Germany (7-2) plays Sweden (6-3) in tomorrow's 1/2 game while USA and
Canada will replay last year's 3/4 game. Canada will hope to avoid the
flat 2008 performance that saw their title hopes crash in an 8-1 defeat.
Canada came into this championship with high expectations for their
shooting. Jim, Darryl and Chris had each told me that they expected to
see shooting percentages way higher than the very respectable numbers
Canada have actually posted. But arena ice, stiff competition, fatigue
from 6 days of double draws, and inexperience at high level wheelchair
competition at skip and lead may have contributed to a Canadian
performance that was very well skipped, but with just competent, not
exceptional shooting, the 83% game notwithstanding.
When teams play Canada in the centre of the rings, anything can happen,
and Canada win no more than their share. Wheelchair curling remains a
game of misses.
Last year the rules stated than ties in ranking for relegation would be
determined by a single pre-tournament draw to the button. Japan were
relegated by an inch, a`result so blatantly unfair that the rules were
changed this year. Now no team can be relegated except by losing a
match. The scheduling official's nightmare scenario happened today, as
five teams ended with 4-5 records. Scotland, Norway, Korea, China and
Italy must play in a three level series of tie-breaks to determine who
will be in 9th place and join Switzerland in the Qualifying tournament
in 2011. (There is no World Championship in a Paralympics year.)
Scotland were the first team to avoid the drop, beating Norway 10-3 in a
late game this evening. Tie-breaks continue tomorrow morning and
afternoon, with Korea playing China and Italy playing Norway, and the
losers playing to avoid 9th place.
Germany/Sweden and Canada/USA play 8pm tomorrow and we will bring you
live coverage of Canada's game.
Draw 11 Recap - Canada has a plan and
Canada assured themselves of at least a
tie breaker in the 7 - 4 win over a listless Germany. It was hard to
avoid the thought that this game was more important to Canada than it
was to Germany, who at 7 -1 are already guaranteed a place in the 1 - 2
The ice was very fast --- 14 seconds hog to hog for a tee line draw.
Canada's skip, Jim Armstong struggled with his early draws. But as he
has in every end of every game, left himself a way into the house.
Once Germany had fallen behind 5 -2, they didn't have a game plan that
challenged Canada to play in the rings. After the game, Jim Armstrong
agreed that Germany had not played an agressive game. He was surprised
that they chose not to mix it up. Canada coach Joe Rea was a happy man.
"We had a plan, we stuck to the plan, and the plan worked," said Rea.
German skip Jens Jäger was philosophical in defeat. "Sure we wanted to
win, and we always try to win. But this wasn't really an important game
for us." That's how it appeared from the stands. Germany just didn't
play with the intensity they showed in previous games.
In the other game, Italy and China both had four losses and knew that
whoever lost would probably be eliminated. It was a close game up until
the break, with a very animated Chinese team screaming at their rocks,
both when they were going too far and when they weren't going far
China pulled away over a tiring Italy, who have lost their last four
China plays a resurgent Scotland this afternoon. Scotland need a win to
avoid relegation to the qualifying tournament in 2011. (There are no
Worlds in Paralympic years.) China, with a record of 4-4 will gain at
least a tie break with a win, depending on the outcome of this
afternoon's Sweden - USA match.
USA had a convincing win against Norway last night, with their skip
Goose Perez regaining confidence in his draw. USA needs to win to remain
at four losses and assure themselves a spot in a tie break.
If USA wins and China loses this afternoon, then USA goes through to the
playoffs. If China wins and USA loses, then China goes to the playoffs.
If they both lose, then all the teams with five losses will have the
potential to be in tie breaks as they start this afternoon's game.
Switzerland is out. Germany and Sweden have already qualified for the
Draw 10 recap - defending champs
Norway lose 5th, USA still alive
USA beat Norway 10-5 to maintain an
outside chance at a tie-breaker. Sweden bounced back from their loss to
Canada by beating Korea. Sweden can finish no lower than 3rd and will
play in the 1/2 game if Canada fail to win both their games. Scotland
won their second game of the day, beating Switzerland 9-2 in the battle
to climb away from relegation. athey are 3-5, tied with Korea and
Norway, but have lost to both of them. This is going down to the wire,
with only Germany and Sweden sure of a playoff spot.
Draw 9 recap - Canada back down to
earth, but still win
Canada came back down to earth from the
heady heights of 80 plus percent shooting to score a competent if not
very exciting 6-3 win over second place Sweden. Sweden will consider
themselves unlucky to lose as a succession of shots grazed guards or
traveled an inch too far. Skip Jungnell seemed upset with his difficulty
in placing the broom, complaining that some takeouts needed a foot of
ice and others two feet. He certainly had trouble placing the broom for
his 3rd, Glenn Ikonen, who missed a succession of takeouts. And when an
opponent struggles with a particular shot against this Team Canada, they
tend to have plenty of opportunities to practice.
Canada stayed with the line-up that played so well against Korea, with
Sonja Gaudet at lead. Coach Rea said before the game that Sweden had a
habit of scoring at least one big end every game and Canada's plan was
not to let that happen. The Swedish coach said they had no particular
plan for Canada. "We play our game and adjust as we go along," he said.
Overall the score flattered Canada, but the team won, and the scores on
the other sheets broke their way. Italy, Norway and China all picked up
a fourth loss, so Canada are sure of a playoff spot if they win their
last two games tomorrow.
On Sheet A Germany played Norway in what may remain for years wheelchair
curling's lowest scoring 8 end game. Germany won 4-1, but the teams were
scoreless at the break. Norwegian skip Rune Lorentsen missed an open hit
for 2 in the last end that would have sent the game into an extra.
Norway play USA this evening with both teams on four losses.
Scotland had a frank team meeting this morning and came to the ice with
renewed determination. Michael McCreadie skipped and threw 3rd stones in
a 10-2 defeat of Italy. "We felt we needed Michael's experience at
skip," said coach Pendreigh. Italy have now lost three in a row after a
run of four consecutive wins.
China fell to Switzerland, who for a second game managed to maintain a
mid-break lead, winning 7-2. The Team China coach appeared unhappy with
his very young team, scolding his skip at a time-out. China has only two
curling rinks, one in Beijing and the other in Harbin. The team manager
said the team comes from different areas and trains together outside of
competition for maybe four week-long sessions during the year.
To accommodate the possibility of three rounds of tie-breaks, tomorrow's
games start at 9 am. Cate, who has been doing all the heavy lifting, the
setting up and also the typing during the games, dragged herself from
her sick bed to allow coverage of the afternoon draw. She is now
burrowed under the covers hoping to feel well enough to help bring you
the Canada/Germany game tomorrow morning.
Though Germany have secured their place in the 1/2 game, I am sure skip
Jens Jäger, who is being cheered on by vocal group of supporters, would
be more than happy to force Canada into tie-breaks by winning.
Last year Japan were relegated and forced to try to re-qualify on the
basis of a pre-tournament draw to the button that came up an inch short
of allowing them a berth in this year's competition. That rule has
changed. Teams level on points will play tie-break games if necessary to
decide on relegation.
All being well we'll see you live online tomorrow.
Draw 9 preview - Can Canada
It was a completely different Team Canada
on the ice last night playing Korea. Sonja Gaudet, who has been
reworking her delivery to add takeout weight, an increasingly important
shot for leads, brings sunshine to the ice, and from up in the stands
the team looked happier than they have been all week.
Chris Sobkowicz's struggles at lead had meant that Canada were not
setting up their ends early and that inevitably makes for more
difficult, or more vital shots for those following but it would be
unfair to accord him all the blame for Canada's slow start. Korea's game
plan last night played into Canada's hands given that everyone was
shooting so well. With so few stones in play, and rarely anything inside
the 12 foot, there wasn't anything to get in the way.
In six games I have yet to see skip Jim Armstrong come to the line
without a plausible shot, and at least one way into the centre of the
house, and that's remarkable testimony to his game calling. With centre
stones, he chooses a side to come around and keeps playing to that side,
leaving the other open for his skip stones.
I doubt that Swedish skip Jalle Jungnell will be as cooperative as Korea
in his game calling. Jungnell skipped the bronze medalists at Torino.
His one loss so far this week was to Italy, and he has already beaten
Germany, the other team at only one loss.
No wheelchair team can withstand an opponent posting numbers you'd be
pleased with at the Scotties, taking place a ferry ride away in
Victoria. Did Canada have a generous official scorer last night? Will
Sonja's pixie dust work against the more experienced and unflappable
Swedes? You'll find out right here.
In other matches, Germany, at 6-1 already assured of at least a
tie-break, play Norway, sitting on the dreaded 3 losses. Italy (4-3)
play Scotland (1-5) and China (3-3) play Switzerland (1-5).
Draw 8 - Canada shoot lights out
When Korea stormed through to the final
of the 2008 World Championship with shooting percentages that raised the
bar of excellence, they made every high performance coach re-examine
their expectations of what it would take to win.This year many people
felt that with a further year's practice, and the experience of playing
in a final, Korea would be the team to beat in Vancouver.
They have struggled, and came into this evening's game against Canada
with both teams carrying 3 losses and knowing a fourth might be fatal.
Would Canada be able to rebound from a theatrical last rock loss against
USA in Draw 6, and when would Korea start posting the stats that so
impressed last year?
Coach Rea told me that Chris Sobkowicz, who has struggled at lead, had
asked to sit out a game, and that Sonja "was more than happy to play." I
like and respect Chris, and know that he has it in him to do what he
thinks is in the best interest of the team. But whether or not he jumped
before he was pushed, I have to say that the team looked happier with
Sonja on the ice. And Sonja had her smile back for the first time this
You can see the match commentary below, but Canada shot an incredible
83% team percentage. Sonja shot 90%, Ina 86%, Darryl a mere 77% and Jim
80%, 23 points better than the respectable shooting of his opponent.
Korea's concentration on hitting (32 hits against 24 draws) kept things
very simple. What stones remained tended to be in the 12 foot, and when
you shoot as well as Canada did, without any stones to get in the way,
then you are unstoppable.
We had been waiting for Team Canada to play the way we see them in
domestic competition, and this evening everything worked. Rea said this
was a must win game. "They are all must win games now," he said at the
start. "One down, three to go," was his comment at the finish.
In other games, Germany rolled Scotland 9-2, stealing 3 in the 2nd and 2
in the 3rd. It's unclear what further experimentation Coach Pendreigh
can attempt. Nothing is working, and he will be sure to come under
increasing pressure to abandon the 'shoot from the near T-line'
experiment. Relegation is looking a distinct possibility, a fate only
narrowly averted last year.
Norway Coach Thoralf Hognestad was his animated self, at one point
leaning over the stands to challenge an umpire that his team's clock was
running when it should not have been. (in an earlier post I suggested he
had been rebuked and he had not. My apolgies, Thoralf.) Italy took 1 in
the 1st, and stole their way to a 5-0 lead at the break. Thoralf was not
a happy camper, and terrorised his team into taking 4 in the 5th and
stealing 6 in the 6th, thus avoiding the dreaded fourth loss.
USA were not so lucky. Playing winless Switzerland, they fell into the
same trap that most Swiss opponents experience; falling behind early.
This time the Swiss did not fold after the break, holding on to win 7-5.
It was a bitter loss for Team USA coming off two thrilling come from
behind last rock wins.
I'd blogged after Canada's win over Switzerland that "they took five
with the hammer in the 7th by putting too many stones in the house for
the Swiss' ability to hit." Said Coach Rusty Schieber, "The house?
What's the address, we can't find it."
Canada have one game tomorrow, against Sweden (5-1) whose skip is as
smart as anyone on the ice. They then finish against leaders Germany
(6-1) and defending champions Norway. If they qualify for the playoffs
they will have earned it, and if they play as they did today I would not
bet against them.
Draw 7 - Ice conditions excellent as
curlers adapt to the rocks
First I owe the ice-makers an apology. A
couple of days ago I quoted the Scots' coach as saying he was unhappy
with the playing conditions. He mentioned difficult ice and new rocks,
and made an analogy to challenging Tiger Woods to a putting contest on a
ploughed field. That was not a reference to the ice. What I did not make
clear was that the ice, while challenging, was in great shape. The
ice-makers, who have been extremely cooperative to me, have done an
excellent job getting the new surface in shape, and tournament leading
Swedish skip Jalle Jungnell said he thought that the ice was excellent.
My apologies to the ice-makers for an unfortunate positioning of a
quote. You're doing everyone proud.
Team Germany skip Jens Jäger outplayed his Chinese counterpart in a
very well executed 5-3 win in a game between top four teams. You can
replay our commenatry in the post below. China had a chance to win at
the end but their skip came up short on a potentially game saving draw
on the last shot of the game.
Scotland sat skip Michael McCreadie to give a sore arm a chance to rest,
and played an all female back end, probably a first for a major
wheelchair curling tournament. Scotland shot a tournament best 59% but
still came out on the short end of a 6 -5 decision.
Team USA left it late against Italy. They scored one in the eighth to
tie the score at 4, and then watched Italy put a rock on the button and
then throw a succession of semi-guards. Skip Perez' first stone had to
travel through a narrow port to save the day. He was tight on the guard
and Italian skip Tabanelli had a chance to close the port. But his guard
again overcurled. Perez' last rock did not miss. He looked up to the
ceiling, said a quick prayer, threw a rocket that smashed into the shot
stone. Team USA erupted and then remembered that Italy had another rock
to throw. When things quieted down, the Italian skip tried the same path
but came up short. Team USA fight on with three losses, and play winless
Switzerland this evening.
Sweden (4-1) beat faltering defending champions Norway 10 -6 with a four
in the seventh end and a steal of two in the eighth.
- Day 3
Draw 6 - Reflections
It's a little hard to write anything uplifting from a Canadian
perspective after the 6-3 loss to Team USA. Canada gave up an opening
steal when Armstrong almost made a double take-out but rolled too far to
get shot. USA stole again in the second. With Canada sitting 4, USA skip
Perez hit and rolled open to lie second shot. Armstrong's last rock
overcurled and instead of removing the USA stone he removed shot stone
and gave up one.
The teams swapped singles until the 8th. A pile of rocks in the front of
the T had Canada lying 1 and seemingly certain to gain at least an extra
end. Coach Rea felt it would take at least two stones to dislodge
Canada's shot stone in the centre of the pile. Goose Perez called his
team together. His voice carried across the sheets. "Do you trust me to
try this shot for the win?" he asked, pointing to a wriggly path between
several stones. Ray Turnball would have had a screen full of arrows.
The team said yes, he went back to the far end and threw a rocket that
blasted the rock pile asunder, leaving two yellow American rocks closest
to the button.
"I knew it was there," he told me afterwards. "Were we lucky this
evening? Sure, but it's the first luck we have had in five games. I told
the team we were losing and not having any fun. So tonight we were going
to have fun win or lose."
Jim Armstrong doesn't look like he's having fun. He played well tonight,
called an intelligent game and outplayed Perez by 10% but can't catch a
break. Canada's lead, Chris Sobkowicz had a very tough night, as did the
tournament's top 2nd, Ina Forrest, who dropped 40 points from her
Germany lost their first match 12-7, giving up 3 big ends, a 3, a 4 and
a 5 to Sweden. Italy continued to roll, handing Switzerland their fifth
loss 7-4. Switzerland, with a very inexperienced team playing behind
skip Bollnger, have been in every match, often ahead at the break, but
have always faded in the second half.
China won a tight match against Korea, stealing 1 in the 8th for a 7-5
win and a 4th place 3-2 record behind Sweden, Germany and Italy at 4-1.
Canada sits at 2 and 3 having already played Italy and China above them.
A fourth loss would be cause for worry.
Canada has a bye tomorrow afternoon, and plays Korea in the evening.
Draw 5 - Results and updates
Switzerland played Canada tough for the
first part of the game, going into the break 3 -2. Skip Manfred
Bollinger bailed out his very inexperienced team mates on several
occaisions. But it all fell apart in the fifth end. Canda put lots of
rocks in the back of the house and Bollinger drew in to sit shot for a
potential save. Jim Armstrong removed that stone and when Bollinger
attempted the same draw, he was heavy and gave up a steal of four.
Canada took five with the hammer in the 7th by putting too many stones
in the house for the Swiss' ability to hit.
USA started promisingly, taking two in the first against Korea. But
things quickly fell apart when Korea took two in the second, stole one
in the third, stole four in the fourth. USA skip Perez appears to have
lost confidence in his draw, and keeps trying to hit his way out of
trouble. It's just not working.
Sweden played Scotland not knowing which Scotland would turn up. It was
Scotland's best performance of the tournament, said Coach Pendriegh.
"Unfortunately poor shot selection in the third ruined what was other
wise a good game. We could have thrown hits to reduce potential damage,
but we failed at two freezes and gave up five."
Sweden's skip Jalle Jungnell said that he started the game with
mis-matched rocks. One rock needed a foot of ice for a takeout, the
other over two feet. Several skips have mentioned that matching the
rocks has been very necessary.
Norway got back on track against Korea, finishing strong with a steal of
three in the sixth and a single in the seventh to win 8-3. Teams are
allowed 68 minutes plus one time out, but most teams had 10 or 15
minutes on their time clocks by the end of the game.
Updating the replayed end in the Korea - Italy game last night: In the
third end Korea was sitting one and asked for a measurement to see who
was second shot. Before the measurement could be made, a volunteer moved
the stones. By rule, Korea could have accepted the one point, or asked
for a replay. They asked for a replay. Italy stole 3 and Korea failed to
regain their composure, going on to lose 7-1.
In this evening's games, Canada plays USA and won't have forgotten the
humiliating 8-1 defeat in the Bronze medal game at last year's Worlds.
USA feel they need to win this game if they hope to qualify for the
playoffs. USA are just not used to curling on ice that moves more than a
foot. This week the rocks are curling between four and six feet. But we
can't know if all of that is due to the ice, or if the brand new rocks
are also a factor.
Scotland Coach Tom Pendreigh is disappointed with the playing conditions.
"The curlers deserve better," he said. "The brand new rocks and
difficult ice are making the games a bit of a lottery. To those who say
the conditions are the same for everybody, I use the example of a
putting challenge to Tiger Woods. If we were putting in a ploughed field
I would have a chance. In Augusta, I'd have no chance.
"We're adjusting to the conditions. Last night's win was encouraging. We
had more than one player throwing well. Michael McCreadie will be
skipping from third rocks, as he did in our win last night."
Canada coach Joe Rea agreed with Scotland coach Tom Pendriegh that the
rocks were not allowing the players to play to their potential. "It's a
shame that the spectators are not seeing the quality of curling that we
know the players are capable of," said Coach Rea. "A lot of that is down
to the rocks. It'll be interesting to see how the World Juniors cope
when they add brushing."
It's far too early for Canadian fans to
panic. Having said that, this is a team built around Jim Armstrong, and
when he struggles there is no one there to pick him up. It's not Jim's
team, it's the team that he has been given, and while it may well be the
team that he himself would have chosen, it is not a national team forged
in adversity, with a personal history.
Jim is calling a great game, and it was fascinating to watch him attempt
to put the pieces back together down four in the final end of their last
two games. Had he been able to execute his own shots, Canada may well
have come back from the dead and be sharing top of the table.
But his teammates are deferential. They talk and encourage each other
while he is sitting alone at the other end, and they listen attentively
to him during the break. But who's going to be the one to say "COME ON
Jim, you can do it! Let's go!"
Jim had said before the championship that we would be impressed by how
accurately the team would play, that wheelchair curling was moving away
from being a game of misses. His game plan has always left Canada with a
makeable last shot. But it remains extraordinarily difficult to throw a
stone into the rings, period, let alone to a particular spot under
Jim has has decades of experience facing adversity. He'll find his
touch, but throwing from a chair under this type of pressure is new for
him. He's thrown as many and probably more rocks than anyone on the ice
this past year. He has experience at 3rd and the tournament's only soft
opponent in Switzerland this afternoon. Look to Canada to rebuild their
confidence before their USA grudge match this evening.
- Day 2
Draw 4 wrap-up - a bad day for
It was a bad day for the favoured sides,
though the in form team, Germany, kept winning. They may have used a
whole week's worth of good fortune in scoring four in the final end to
overcome a two point deficit to beat USA 10-8.
You can review a recap of the game as we reported it live
our blog but in short USA played well enough to win, but missed
takeouts with their last four stones, gifting Germany a fourth win to
stay top of the table.
Scotland finally found their form after struggling painfully in their
first two outings. They fell behind 6-2 to Norway at the break, but then
scored 7 unanswered points. Norway coach Thoralf Hognestad was in
constant motion, jumping up and down, imploring his side to pull their
game together but to no avail. If it had been a soccer match he probably
would have been banished from the sidelines. It's refreshing to see some
animation from a coach. Most have gone to coach stoicism school, and
betray no emotion.
Sweden pricked the China bubble, stealing singles in three of the ends
in a 6-5 victory, and Italy continued their momentum from their morning
win over Canada by swamping Korea 7-1. There was a lengthy delay a the
third end when an official incorrectly moved a stone. After much
deliberation it was decided to replay the end. Korea, who had given up
two singles, were unable to regain their composure, giving up a further
three steals before getting on the board.
Tomorrow morning Canada face Switzerland, who are still looking for
their first win. The Swiss team has been completely reworked with
long-time skip Manfred Bollinger leading a team with very little
experience. USA play Korea in a game that will test who can better
rebound from frustrating Draw 4 losses. Sweden play Scotland and Norway
take on China.
See you online as we
live blog the Canadian game.
Quick impressions of Draw 3
As goes the skip, so goes the team.
That's true for any curling team but especially so with this one. Jim
Armstrong is the powerful personality on the team and the player that
the rest of the side look up to. And he is calling a great game.
Today's problems were that even though he
gave himself a chance to bail his team out every end, too often he
failed to execute.
Italy were very pumped for this game and even though their front end
struggled, Tabanelli at skip remained calm and out shot Jim Armstrong.
That said, Italy nearly made the same mistake as China in the final end.
Canada threw a corner guard and Italy, rather than throwing through,
chose to challenge Canada with draws. Jim still had a chance to save the
day if he could have made his first stone of the final end count. But he
came up short and Canada were out of rocks.
In other games, Scotland continued their erratic play in a 10-6 loss to
USA. Tom Killin and Michael McCreadie both struggled with weight control
and the score would have been much worse than 10 -6 had Aileen Neilson
not bailed them out a couple of times.
Norway's coach chewed out his team at the fourth end break. Norway took
2 in the first but then gave up steals in the third and the fourth to go
into the break down 4 - 2. The Swiss team have a very experienced skip
but are otherwise new to wheelchair curling, and Norway Coach Thoralf
Hognestad was not happy to see his defending champions behind to a team
he would expect to beat.
"I told the team I was angry at them. They were not focusing. I told
them they had to visualize the path of the rock before every rock and
not be looking into the stands."
His words took effect as Norway scored three in the fifth and had single
steals in each of the last three ends.
Germany took on favoured Korea and beat them decisively 8 - 3. Germany
started with a 3, gave up 2, but finished with steals in the 6th and 7th
ends for a decisive victory. Germany lead the table at 3 - 0 and take on
the USA this evening.
See you there!
Visit our blog for up to the minute match reporting of
February 21st - Day 1
The teams were led in by the RCMP pipers
and the trophy was carried in by an RCMP officer with jaw that jutted in
the best comic book tradition. It was a stirring sight for a
disappointingly small crowd. I'm sure it was more trouble than it was
worth to collect the five dollars they were charging at the door. Pass
checkers outnumbered people lacking passes.
Scottish coach Tom Pendrieigh told me that he was hoping for a good
start to Scotland's campaign as they had the toughest early draws of any
of the teams. "I hope there's a lot of rocks in play," he said, "and
that we provide some entertainment for the crowd."
Both Canada and Scotland struggled in the first couple of ends. Canada
managed to get three rocks in the rings in the first end and they all
counted. They followed up with a steal of two and the game was pretty
much over as a spectacle as Scotland struggled at all positions.
Scotland were throwing from behind the tee line in the near rings for
draws and moving up to the hogline for hits, but were never able to get
going. Michael McCreadie struggled to make the rings towards the end of
the game. The final score tells it all: Canada 10 - Scotland 2 although
Michael had to be told by an official that he had been run out of rocks
in the eighth end and had to leave the ice. Now that is a never-say-die
USA played China and the game was very close with a rare blank end.
USA's problem was that they played the first end with lots of rocks in
the rings and gave up three. Coach Brown was philosophical in defeat.
"We just have to make more shots," he said.
Swedish skip Jalle pointed out to me at the end of the evening that I'd
been wrong in suggesting that the qualifiers, Germany and China, might
struggle with an increase in the standard of competition at the Worlds.
Bothe finsished the day 2-0.
China gave Canada a spanking through seven ends although inexperience at
skip nearly cost them a four-ender in the final end. The game started
slowly. China without the hammer threw centre line guards. Canada threw
to the wings. China hit and rolled. Canada hit and rolled. Canada missed
first, and China stole singles in the first three ends.
In the fourth end Jim Armstrong changed tactics when China's centre line
guard was further from the rings. He came in first and scored three with
lots of play around the four foot but Canada failed to build on that
momentum and in the last end were down 7 - 3.
They threw a hopeful corner guard and China missed their peel and then
forgot about the guard. Canada tucked three rocks behind it and were
sitting three when China threw their last rock, a fully buried come
around back of the four foot. Coach Joe Rea said, "You can't be unhappy
if you're down four and have a chance to tie the game with your last
rock," and Jim had a legitimate chance to tap the Chinese shot stone
back to score four. It wasn't to be.
"I was too tentative," he told me afterwards. "I should have gone for
it." His rock clipped the guard and China scored one for an 8 - 3 win.
Norway and Korea, two of the favoured teams, went to an extra end tied
at 5 after Korea stole singles in the seventh and eighth ends. Norway
had an open hit to win the game with their last rock but crashed a guard
and lost 6- 5.
In other results, Germany crushed a very inexperienced Swiss team 10 - 2
to go 2 - 0. Sweden scored often but not often enough to overcome a
five-ender in the third, losing to Italy 10 -7.
The first thing you notice as you
approach the brand new Olympic/Paralympic Curling Centre, site of the
2009 World Wheelchair Curling Championships is that it is still a work
in progress. You are entering a building site and this championship is
the venue's first event.
A friendly lady handed over a media credential courtesy of the CCA. and
pointed to an elevator festooned with sticky tape over buttons yet to be
programmed, The "wheelchair media' table, up a ramp to the coaches area,
afforded a view of only 5 of the 8 rings across the 4 sheets, so
tomorrow I hope to report from the regular press area if I can find
someone to pull my chair up the 11 scaffolded steps.
Each team had a couple of 45 minute practice sessions broken into 15
minute segments on different sheets. Attitudes to practice, and the
practice teams had at practicing, showed in how efficiently they used
their allotted time. Chairs were allowed to enter the ice a couple of
minutes before the practice, to cool their tires. Then an official with
a microphone announced "You may begin."
Team Korea already had their rocks ready, and had gone through a full
rotation before other teams had sorted out who was doing what. Korea
probably threw twice as many rocks as any other team, and looked a very
efficient unit. I clocked several 7 second takeouts and it would be a
brave team who challenges them to a hitting game. Their rotation over,
the skip, third and coach took stopwatches and scouted the other teams,
The Scots entered the ice wearing shades; small ones for Michael
McCreadie, and a pair that covered the entire top half of Jim Sellars'
face. The Scots were throwing from behind the tee line in the near
rings, and both team coaches spent a lot of time writing things down. It
will be interesting to see how that works for them. Everybody I spoke to
was skeptical about their chances.
Team Canada looked very focused. Coach Rea held the broom while Jim
Armstrong sat beside him chatting. There seemed to be as much chatting
as throwing. Somebody suggested they were trying to psych out the
competition. I wonder if anybody was paying attention enough to be
There were a variety of delivery styles
on display. Jim Pearce, USA third, used a two-handed delivery. The
Chinese had their chins almost at the level of the rock handles. Team
Canada has moved from a pendulum to a piston delivery, while Scotland's
Tom Killin continues to use a three-quarter side delivery that lines up
head, arm, hand, rock and broom through the length of delivery. I wonder
why it is not more widely used.
Team USA were in an ebullient mood. They have a new and very high energy
assistant coach and through Coach Steve Brown would not be drawn into a
prediction, the players I spoke to felt confident that they could
maintain or improve upon last year's success.
Many of the championship's teams draw from very small player pools.
Germany have perhaps a dozen wheelchair curlers in the whole country and
receive very little financial support. "Before we qualified for this
tournament, we were having to pay our own expenses," said Jens Jäger,
the German skip.
Jalle Jungell, the Swedish skip, said
there were maybe two dozen wheelchair curlers in Sweden, though this
year they had a four team playoff to decide who would represent Sweden
at the Worlds. Three of the Swedish team won bronze in Torino but they
only brought four players to Vancouver as one player was too ill to
travel. "We'll just have to stay healthy," he said, adding the
refreshing comment, 'but we are also here to enjoy ourselves. It has to
be fun." Both Jalle and Jens thought Canada should be considered
tournament favourites, though Jalle reminded me that Norway were a very
strong team, "Rune (Norway's skip) is a very cool person; he has no
nerves at all.'
The icemakers spent the day experimenting with different pebble and
temperatures on each of the four sheets, balancing the need for fast ice
and a manageable amount of curl. "The rocks are brand new," explained
Swiss ic maker Peter Luk, who with Denmark's Jorgen Larsen made ice at
Torino and tha lat twoWorlds. "New rocks curl a lot. The keener we
make the ice the more the rocks will curl, and we're still trying to
find a balance." Hog-to-hog tee line draw times were between 12 and 13
seconds, and the ice makers hope to get that to 14 or 14.5 seconds.
So, who's going to win? I didn't see anything today that makes me want
to change my mind from the assessment I blogged in the comments a week
ago. Canada are favourites: home ice, enormous experience at skip, more
than adequate skill throughout the line-up and a Torino gold medalist at
alternate. In the blog survey, 90% of respondents put Canada on the
podium, with most suggesting gold. Korea was 2nd favourite, with Norway
a close 3rd, followed by USA, China and Scotland. Here's my guess from a
week ago and I'm staying with it.
Those of you who worry that Armstrong has not been tested have a
point, but a small one. He throws well, at least as well as anyone
throwing last rocks for Canada, or he would be doing a Ferbey and
skipping from 3rd.
He's been curling 50 years, under pressure that none of the other
curlers will know. And I think he has had enough success this season,
not always with the best possible support, to have confidence in his own
ability to draw to the centre of the rings when he has to.
That was what Canada has lacked with past skips; someone who could draw
reliably with their last rock, though in fairness to Darryl, I would be
comfortable with him throwing 4th.
Jim's understanding of the game is a huge advantage given that he knows
that wheelchair curling is not able-bodied curling without the sweeping,
but a different game requiring a completely different approach. He won't
make the mistake of calling or attempting shots that are not there. He
will also understand the point that Linda Moore stresses; assessing risk
and reward, and calling for the shot likely to be made.
That's the area where I think he gives Canada its real edge, not so much
the ice-reading, or overall strategy which are so susceptible to the
fallibilities of throwing without sweeping.
He has also spent a lot of time practicing with Darryl which will help.
Ina is a very strong second. She (and Darryl) threw top of their
positions last year. She can throw weight, and also throw guards if as I
expect Canada comes into the rings with lead stones.
Chris at lead is the unknown. He has worked hard to earn his place and I
suspect that his ability to throw takeouts at opposing leads stones in
the rings is the reason he edges out Sonja. If he fails to overcome his
nerves, then Sonja is a more than adequate alternative.
The entire Canada squad have improved over the past year, but we won't
know until the weekend how much the other teams have improved also.
Korea shocked everyone in 2008 by how accurately they threw weight. This
year we'll be seeing how accurate they are on their draw game, and how
able they are to manage ends with lots of rocks in play,
USA have a team spirit and a confidence that will carry them past other
sides, though I don't think they have the opportunity to play enough to
challenge Canada and Korea. China is a complete unknown. I suspect they
will be too inconsistent to challenge at this level, which is a big step
up from the Qualifying Tournament.
I don't think Norway will emulate their recent successes. They have
never been a statistically impressive side, but have big game
experience. If they get to the semis they could win again, but I don't
think they'll get that far.
Strange to leave Scotland so late. They have the most experienced side,
but they have shown no form this season, and while I know from firsthand
experience just how good a curler Michael McCreadie is, I fail to see
how throwing from far behind the hogline helps their cause. Unless
Michael gets some early success I fear self-doubt will scupper his
Switzerland arrive with a reworked team, Sweden bring Torino medal
experience, Germany equaled China at Qualifying, and I'm afraid it will
be Italy, despite losing a tie-break for a playoff spot last year, doing
a Mike Harris and wondering where the easy games are.
So, as I posted at the top of this thread:
Here are some thoughts
from Torino Gold Medal skip Chris Daw on the eve of this event.