Matt Hames is the former U.S. columnist for The Curling News and lives with his wife and two children in Buffalo, NY. He is currently enjoy round two of his competitive curling retirement, after going pretty hard in an attempt to represent the United States at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
by Matt Hames
TCN photos by Anil Mungal (click on image to increase size)
GRIMSBY, Ontario – They said it would be cold here at the 2011 Ontario Men’s Tankard championship, otherwise known as the “Can Anyone Beat Team Howard” Ontario Championship. They were right. As The Curling News Twitter feed showed us last week: Brrrrr.
The semi-final featured Greg Balsdon’s Loonies against former Howard teammate Peter “The Constable” Corner just finished.
An interesting stat: Team Corner was the oldest team in the competition. Their team average age of 46 was older than just about every player in the field, so despite you hearing about old bald guys competing at the upcoming London Brier (Howard, Martin etc.) there would appear to be plenty of younger guys – some of them balding – coming up on the scene, too.
Before the game I talked to Team Corner second man Phil “The Head” Loevenmark, and he agreed that his team was old. Phil may feel old but he still looks exactly as he’s always looked, so cheers to him. Maybe it’s that large head. Or perhaps that retro mullet.
It was tempting to call the semi-final The Experienced Old Veterans versus The Youngsters, but I don’t think that’s fair. Sure, Balsdon made a few rookie-ish mistakes, but in the end his team simply executed their shots better.
Maybe the Corners seemed a bit rusty. I understand rustiness. You might have watched thousands more rocks coming down the sheet than your opponents but if you haven’t watched a lot this season, rustiness can strike at any moment. That isn’t to say that Corner's team was rusty, or that they lost for any reason other than their opponents made more shots. But they were just missing hits and rolls – ie. the rolls after the hits – and some of it was sweeping calls.
A couple of moments here and there, and they could have really put some pressure on Balsdon. They didn’t, and his squad was on their way to the final against a team that is as experienced as Corner, but not even remotely rusty.
Outside of the fourth end – a Corner steal – Greg’s team wasn't too bothered in the semi. That would change in the final, and I’m not saying that now that the final over. I actually typed that after the semi and before the final, you see, but the editor is just posing my stuff now. So there.
(It’s true. Every word is true. –ED)
The final is underway in an hour or so, and you would have to be a fool to bet on Greg Balsdon’s team. That said, there’s a reason they play the games, folks. Just because it seems pretty obvious that Howard’s team will win, curling can be a funny game, like any other. Sometimes funnier, like any other.
It’s not that funny, really. Glenn Howard was going for his 13th provincial championship – wow – and to beat him, Team Balsdon had to file away who they are playing, what game this was, and just go out there and do what they can… and start by throwing stones as decently as they know they can.
Easier said than done, I know. Finals have their own level of adrenaline. Hack weight easily becomes board, and board weight easily becomes normal weight… particularly on arena ice.
For Balsdon’s team – and for anyone in a final, actually – it’s best to think about the game one end at a time. Go further and think “one shot at a time”, if possible. Don’t focus on who you’re playing against, focus on the shot you’re playing. Because if you’re thinking of the face, and/or that you are in a final, you’re thinking about outcomes.
Think about a curling shot, any old curling shot… like a 20-foot straight runback on a guard, for example. That is, in actuality, exactly the same thing as a nose hit. Another… a hit-and-roll to the centre is no different from a 20-foot angle-runback triple.
In both instances, it’s important to hit the stone in the right spot. The difference is the story that we give the shot: one is “hard” and the other one is (relatively) “easy.” That’s because outcomes add a degrees of difficulty to the shots we throw and attempt to “make”.
There is supposed to be no difference in a final. A final adds degrees of difficulty because of the story we attach to it. For Glenn Howard, who has been in more finals than every player on Team Balsdon combined, thinking about this as just another game comes naturally. Particularly when he’s been in, what, eight such finals in a row?... and has in fact won the previous five in a row. Wow again.
One thing you rarely hear the TV commentators say in curling is this:
“Well, Jim, you have to give them credit. They hung in there to the end, and they played hard.”
Can you think of another sport in which it’s okay to quit, ie; concede the match before the allotted playing time is completed? There isn’t one. In curling, it’s not only okay, it’s considered sportsmanlike behaviour.
Of course, you probably can’t think of another sport in which the thrown or otherwise delivered object – ball, puck, stone, whatever –can be affected in-flight (think curling brushes) before it stops its trajectory. Because there isn’t one.
But I digress.
In terms of conceding the match early, curling finals that are televised are somewhat different. This The Dominion Ontario Men's Curling Championship was, sadly, basically over after the first end. Team Howard scored three, but more than that, they got into the heads of Team Balsdon. You could see it in their body language: they tried to fight it, buyt they knew they’d lost. Down 8-2 after five ends, the only requirement from then on in was to finish the required (from television) minimum of eight ends of play.
When everyone knows it’s over, it’s easy to phone it in. Fast shots, zero conversations, get-into-the-hack-fast-and-throw-just-to-make-it-to-the-eighth-end kind of “speed curling”. Howard is already at the other end to throw, and Balsdon is also standing at the other end, waiting to throw.
Glenn Howard is one of the best to ever play this game. He holds the record for the most Ontario titles, and his team of Richard Hart, Brent Laing and Craig Savill are, arguably, the best team in the world. They are definitely, in my opinion, the most fun to watch.
That they are going back to The Brier, once again, is really excellent news for the London organizing committee. And it’s also excellent news, in my opinion, for fans of curling.