Sunday, March 30, 2014

A National Championship From A Different Perspective

The Canadian Senior Curling Championship (CSCC) for 2014 is being hosted by the Yellowknife Curling Centre. Of course I'm always interested in this national event as I am honoured to accompany the winner in each gender category to the 2015 World Senior Curling Championship (WSCC). As a result, the two new Team Canadas will have approximately 13 months to prepare so even though they could be anywhere in the this vast land, I'll have opportunities as I travel the country to hopefully meet with them along the way.

This year, one of the teams I will take to the 2014 WSCC in Dumfries, Scotland late next month is here representing the province of Nova Scotia based upon its win in the NS provincial senior playdown. It's the Colleen Pinkney team from Truro.

Championships like this involve three groups of people, the local organizing committee, the officials and the Canadian Curling Association. The CCA staff person who is responsible to see that everything (and I'll define "everything" in a moment) arrives at the host site and is positioned so that the best senior athletes can compete for a national championship and entertain spectators is Danny Lamoureux who doesn't get nearly enough recognition for not only the work he does but his professionalism in doing that work!

Danny's official title with the CCA is "Director, Championship Services & Curling Club Development". Sounds like a cool job but as this post will reveal, it's demanding and onerous!

For four days leading to the onset of play, I tried to be Danny Lamoureux in Yellowknife as the World Senior Women's Curling Championship in Saint John, NB was under the direction of the CCA from a logistics perspective but of course the World Curling Federation conducted the event and therefore Danny was on site in Saint John. When the word "logistics" is mentioned, enter Danny and even Danny can't be in two places at one time so given my desire to attend the CSCC to see the competitors, again two of whom I'll take to the WSCC, I've always offered to be put to work at the event. This time Danny took me seriously about the "put me to work" part. He asked if I'd pinch hit for him until he arrived on the first day of competition.

As I begin to write this, we're on the first day of the pre-qualifying portion of the event. It's the event that takes place two days before the start of round robin play involving provincial & territorial representative teams. The pre-qualifying teams attempt to play their way into the event in a four team competition.

But before those teams could take to the ice, there were a seemingly endless number of tasks to be completed including but not limited to; erecting that blue bunting around the rink boards you see on TV, assembling the scoreboards (a vinyl fabric held erect with aluminum rods), finding the boxes of numerals for the scoreboards, uncrating the CCA time clocks and hanging them from the hockey Plexiglas (without breaking the Plexiglas), finding the wireless consoles and connecting them (to control the time clocks), finding the boxes with the team standings boards and erecting them, finding the boxes with the computers for statistics and live game scoring, assisting with the ice installation crew and technician to make sure they and he have/has everything required, finding the shipping crate with the provincial/territorial placards and flags, checking the crates with the trophies and awards. There were more responsibilities but I don't think you'll find the extended list too stimulating.

As you might guess by now, all the equipment we, as TV spectators take for granted, arrives at the site of the event via shipping crates, many shipping crates, each with a numeral and Danny knows what's inside, or should be inside each and everyone of them. This time, the contents were not complete for a few of them so it was Danny on speed dial that saved the day.

Another one of Danny's tasks is to ensure that players and officials have accommodations which means dialoguing with area hotels to reserve rooms which if you've ever done that for you and your family can be exacting and time consuming. Try doing it for over 100 people coming from all over the country. There were some "glitches" with which Danny had to deal and in the true spirit of co-operation and fellowship, the local teams put up their hands to make what could have been a very awkward situation work out! Heh, it's curling after all!

Then of course there's the dialoguing with the local organizing committee(s) to ensure what the CCA requires is being executed by the heads and members of those committees. In the case of Yellowknife, Maureen Miller, her steering committee and 170+ volunteers made our job very easy. They not only crossed all the "t's" and dotted all the "i's" but did it with a sense of humour that permeated everything we needed done! In terms of statistics, line scoring, time clock operation etc., many of those volunteers attended training sessions to ensure that the data gathered was accurate and meaningful to the athletes, spectators and media. If you've ever been part of a CCA event you know that it would come crashing to an unceremonious halt were it not for volunteers!

The head official for this event is Janie Hobart from Fort Smith, NT, ably assisted by her good friend, Marg White from Whitehorse, YK. Along with Janie and Marg, highly certified officials from western Canada joined them to complete that component.

When Danny finally arrived I was happy, and relieved that all was in place and pretty much ready to go. To say I was exhausted would be putting it mildly. Now I could watch the teams play and get a sense for which two I might be with in 2015.

I'm delighted to report that two of the teams in the semi-finals came from the pre-qualfying event, one women's team and one men's team and although they were not successful in reaching the final, it was an endorsement of the process to the point that if your province or territory is involved in the pre-qualifying portion of a national championship, don't despair, in fact, see the glass as half full as the two teams to which I referred above both saw the games played in the pre-qualifer as a chance to acclimate themselves to the ice, rocks and general competitive environment. And it's worthy of note that both the teams played the maximum number of games in the pre-qualifier!

As I was about to board the aircraft to head back to BC last Tuesday morning, I knew that should Danny ever need a back up, heh, I now knew what to do and what was in all those shipping crates. But the most important thing I took away was a much greater respect for all the little things needed to conduct a national championship!

As I'm about to hit "publish" on my software, the final games are about to start in Yellowknife and to two of those teams, congratulations. I'll be contacting you to get ready for 2015!!!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Know the Score

A number of emails have come into my inbox from curling television fans who have noticed on closeup shots of curling stones that there's a line etched into the circumference of the stone parallel and about a centimetre or two from the "striking band". It's called the "score line" and it was placed there when the stone was manufactured and here's why.

If one removes the plastic cap from a curling stone and the bolt that holds it in place, one will discover that a curling stone is perfectly symmetrical. When it's "naked", it has two running surfaces. In other words, a stone can be flipped over and it will respond as any curling stone might. In the "old days", when curlers still used actual curling brooms (can you imagine that, oh wait, that's what I used, yikes) most all curling stones were "homogeneous" (my word, not that of a curling stone manufacturer so my apologies to "Canada Curling Stone", "Kays of Scotland" etc.). In other words, the stone was formed from a single piece of granite, kinda like "single malt scotch" (and I don't even like scotch). When a set of curling stones arrived at a curling club, spankin' brand new, the handles were attached so that the "score line" on each stone was either above or below the striking band.

Over time, the ice technician might decide to turn/flip the stones so that the other running surface might get some "ice time". Well, this flipping could get confusing if there was no way to tell top-from-bottom. Without a handle or cap there would be no way to tell if a stone had been flipped. The score line removed that doubt.

In those same "old days" when most curlers employed a back swing delivery, the ice technician would regularly rotate the stone relative to the position of the handle so the same point on the running surface was not coming into contact with the ice when it literally struck the surface on the down swing and some down swingers really made the landing of the stone an adventure. With today's no back swing delivery, I doubt whether any ice technician does that any longer.

Most curling stones manufactured today are not "homogeneous". They are composed of two types of granite and are known by the term "insert". The shell of the stone is likely to be a type of granite known as "trefor" while the portion of the stone that actually touches the ice is "blue hone" granite which has been inserted into the trefor shell. Trefor granite makes for great striking bands while blue hone is ideally suited for running surfaces and will last, well, much longer than anyone reading this post. Although there is another running surface under the cap, it's not destined for use. So, I guess a score line for an inserted stone is really not necessary but many inserted stones are stones that started their curling life as homogeneous and the score line was already there.

And that's how many curling stones are made today. One of the manufacturers will take the blue hone curling stones a club might have and retrieve three "insert" cores. The manufacturer will then core out the bottom of a set of trefor stones and voila, that lucky curling facility has the best of both worlds and the curling stone manufacturer has two more inserts ready to be placed (by epoxy adhesive) into more trefor shells.

This "Season of Champions" we've been hearing a lot about "lively rocks". It's not exactly the rock material (i.e. the granite) that makes rocks lively, it's the profile of the striking bands. When stones are "new" the striking bands (they appear a lighter shade of grey [no ladies, we're NOT taking about  "Fifty Shades of Grey" so settle down]) are somewhat "convex" (get your dictionary out, you remember dictionaries, the books with all the words and their meanings). As a result, the stones have little actual striking surface and therefore "bounce". As those striking bands wear down, they flatten out and become wider. As that occurs, they become less lively!

Now, in the face of all that's been happening in our world of late, aren't you glad to have all this "useful" information about curling stones! But if it's more you want, the Canadian Curing Association has, on its web site ( an excellent video on taking the mystery out of curling stones. As curlers, we need to learn as much as we can about our playing environment. The more you know about it (ice and stones) the better you will perform!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Mailbag - Lost It, How Do I Get It Back?

I recently received an email from an athlete who, along with her teammate, has just qualified to represent her country in the 2014 World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship in Dumfries, Scotland. Her letter to me revolved around an issue with which all curlers deal from time-to-time, that elusive "feel" for draw weight. In her case, she delivers stones #1 & #5. That stone #1 draw is crucial to success in mixed doubles, in fact, so much so that if it's missed (i.e. not frozen to the stationary opposition stone that's placed just behind the pin) to say you're in deep trouble would be an understatement. At the highest level of play in mixed doubles, you can just about kiss the end good-bye! I've written about this before but I'll embellish on that posting here.

I have had success with curlers on this topic by reminding them that "weight control" in a no backswing delivery is the "time" consumed between two stages of the delivery. I see five altogether. They are; #1 hack position (just the way it was taught at your novice clinic [you did start with a clinic didn't you?], #2 park (that position whereby your hips are brought to a spot from which you move forward), #3 bottom out (the very instant your hack foot leaves the hack), #4 slide (so that the weight of your body is evenly distributed on you slider) and lastly #5 release (remembering that if you have a million dollar delivery and a two cent release, you my friend, have a two cent delivery).

Q. - between which two stages is the amount of time consumed the essence of weight control (especially for "down weight" shots [defined as any shot that comes to rest in play])?

A. - stages #2 & #3 (park and bottom out)!

If you reduce the amount of time from park-to-bottom-out, you will be sliding faster and therefore you will impart more velocity to the stone. If, on the other hand, you consume more time from park-to-bottom-out, you will impart less velocity to the stone. Why, because more time consumed means one is sliding more slowly and less time consumed means one is sliding more quickly. This is not rocket science. Heh, I made this up and I'm not a rocket scientist (enough with the coughing and rolling of eyes out there). But it works and has helped countless athletes who get into a position similar to the one described in the email I received.

NB - You only think about time consumed between park and bottom out to get the "feel" back into weight control. You don't play like this from first shot of the game to the last. It's your weight control flotation device. It's there when you need it!

Before I close this today, I want to make a point here about the "topic de jour" in Canada and it's about the so-called "relegation" system that's now in place for national events. I'm not concerned about your feelings on the matter and I don't intend to air mine at this time but what I do want to caution those of you who are signing petitions and considering some form of speaking out to make sure you know to whom you should be speaking.

The term "Canadian Curling Association" (CCA) means just that. It's an association of members, in this case provincial and territorial curling associations (M.A.'s). My colleagues on staff at the office in Ottawa do not make this stuff up. Neither do the "board of governors"! It's your M.A. in concert with the other M.A.'s at the summer Curling Congress who make these types of decisions, so if you want answers or simply need to be heard on a topic, don't jump on the CCA staff or the board of governors. You're barking up the wrong tree. If it's governance or the way the directives of the M.A.'s are being implemented, then possibly Ottawa is the place to direct your attention. Bottom line, contact your M.A. not the CCA!

There are some of you out there who are scoffing at the inclusion of our newest territory, Nunavut, into the family of national curling competitors. I recently spent five days in "Rankin Inlet" with five young men who, in a few short years, are going to turn some heads in the rest of Canada. The same is happening in Iqaluit with a young women's team. Buckle your chin straps Canada, that sound you hear from the north are some really talented athletes training hard who just want a chance and they deserve that chance! They're just as Canadian, perhaps more so given their heritage, as the rest of us.

Many are using the model of the M&M Meat Shops Canadian Junior Curling Championship as the one to be followed. I think you'd better do some homework on how that event is conducted before jumping on that band wagon. I can tell you first hand that it's working well but I'm not sure it translates well to the other national championships. But, I'm happy that so many Canadians care. It shows that curling really is an important national sport and one about which its participants and fans care deeply. That's a good thing!

And, oh yah, let me know how that "time from park to bottom out" goes for you! You know how to reach me (