Watching a world championship has a different feel than watching a Canadian championship.
There’s more on the line. It’s less festive, because there is more at stake. It doesn’t feel like a bonspiel. But it’s still top-notch curling. And unlike TSN’s Brier/Scotties coverage featuring a healthy dose of each elite team, the game selection on World Curling Television (WCTV) works a lot differently.
For starters, yes, we were able to watch all of Canada’s games, even in the USA. But Vic Rauter’s dulcet tones are notably absent in the states; we get the international commentators instead. But we also, surprisingly, have been able to watch all of Japan’s games. Some of us wondered why.
As it turns out, Japan’s sports TV network NHK paid to have the WCF cover all 13 of their round-robin games. The USA and Denmark had the next most featured games with six. So while we were waiting for the next Shuster rollercoaster, we got to know this team skipped by Yuta Matsumura quite well.
Their team didn’t start off particularly well, going 2-6 in their first eight games, all of those six losses coming to playoff contenders, and none of them going the full 10 ends. But they did respond with four straight victories and Matsumura, the lefty skip, made some highlight reel runbacks that would make him the favorite son of any western Canadian curling club.
And it’s not like they’re a second-tier team. At the 2019 worlds this same squad finished fourth, and they made a draw to the four to knock off USA in the first round of the playoffs. This year, they won their national championship (and were fortunate enough to actually play one). They also feature the oldest lead in the field, Shinya Abe at 41, and vice-leads are always fun role players.
So while the 2021 results didn’t quite show, their team demonstrated a lot of composure all week. And yes, shots like this helped.
In a perfect world, more of the focus would have been on those top seven teams, with cursory looks at the next tier such as Italy and Japan. Instead, the Japanese team was pretty much positioned in our face, for financial reasons, and we viewed the entire field through that lens.
Was it a bad thing? Not particularly, especially since many of their games finished an end early, giving us some prime look-ins at other matches. Plus there’s nothing wrong with a country that is crazy about curling to the point they fund the webstream. It beats figuring out how to load the Olympic Channel app.
(Full disclosure: while I do not know anyone personally on the Japanese national team, I am also a left-handed skip in my own right and therefore own any implicit bias within.)