Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Final Major of the Season

The Tylenol Championship, with prize money totalling $200,000, begins today in Calgary. Nearly all the top teams will be there, and it will be carried over the internet via CurlTV.

Here are the projected lineups:


Kevin Martin
Glenn Howard
Randy Ferbey
Brad Gushue
Pat Simmons
Kerry Burtnyk
Jeff Stoughton
Kevin Park (Koe)

Wayne Middaugh
Mark Johnson
Joel Jordison
Pierre Charette
John Base
Don Walchuk

Jamie King
Bruce Korte

Women's Teams

Sherry Anderson
Jennifer Jones
Cheryl Bernard
Shannon Kleibrink
Cathy King
Kelly Scott

Crystal Webster

Stefanie Lawton
Deb Santos

Sherry Middaugh
Karen Porritt
Colleen Jones (Law)
Heather Rankin
Renelle Bryden
Colleen Madonia
Darcy Robertson

Meanwhile, here I am in Edmonton -- so close and yet so far, and I'll have to miss my own club's "Spring Thaw" spiel this coming weekend... Oh well.... my team will be better because I'm gone.


Monday, April 09, 2007

Curling Brushes and "Picks"

I suppose most curling clubs are like ours. The club has some brushes that are available for people to use, but members are expected to get their own equipment after they have been members for a year. The brushes, at least at our club, are full of crud -- tonnes of gray dust that collects on them very quickly.

I have often wondered if the amount of crud that collects on our brushes might be reduced dramatically if we had a better filtration system for our ventilation and air circulation. I also speculated earlier that poor air filtration might have contributed to the poor ice conditions at the 2007 Tim Horton's Brier. I have no idea how much merit this speculation has, but my own brush sure seems to pick up a lot of crud awfully quickly at our club.

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Curling: still no respect

I was listening to "590 - The Fan" on the car radio yesterday between 11:00am and 12:30pm before the 2007 Men's World Curling Championships began. Never, not once, did they even mention that the finals of the Men's World Curling Championships were taking place yesterday afternoon. Never, not once, did they mention that Team Canada had been dominating during the round robin.

But they had lots to say about hockey...

Sometimes I wonder if maybe even Glenn Howard and Team Canada couldn't beat the Maple Leafs at hockey....

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Canada Wins 8 - 3 over Germany in 8 ends

After taking 3 more points in the 6th end with very classy workmanlike curling, Canada led 8 - 2. Germany blanked the 7th and took one in the 8th, and then they shook hands.

Throughout the tournament, Canada never gave up a steal; and I'd venture their curling percentages were higher than they have ever been for a winning team.

One thing that seemed clear, as I mentioned once before, is that the teams that play more leading up to the Worlds tend to do better.

Canada win Ford Men's World's

Germany concede after 8 ends behind 8-3. The first end meant this never became a real contest.
Over the whole tournament I cannot recall seeing such domination of a tournament at this level as that of Howard's rink. (Of course I missed the round-robin match with the US.) The end result is well deserved. Doc and I called this one and in the end Howard made it look easy, and made our call lok a lot easier than it really was.

Trading singles - 5-2 Canada after 5

Some vague chance of some excitement but Canada has the hammer and are not missing much. Canda is hooting inthe 90s, Howard high 90s.

Germany take 1 in the 3rd end

Canada 4-1 - Germany had a good try at 2 in the third, after blanking the second end. But they missed a shot marginally and took 1. Canada still stronlgy in command of the championship match.

Canada-Germany First End

Canada score 4. This is not likely to create a competitive match.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Germany go to the final!

A wilingness to tolerate some complication in the tenth end lets them steal one from the US and move on to meet Howard tomorrow in the final.
Congratulations to the Andy Kapp rink!

USA-Germany : Have I a Favourite?

I have seen more of the German team than of the US, thanks to Germany's having to prevail in three straight sudden-death matches yesterday. As a result, I have a lot of sympathy for them, as clearly having proved some toughness. (Of course, if any other team had worked their way through to beating Switzerland, that would have been true of them too.)
As for the US, they were a terrible disappointment last night (though that was confined almost totally to skip rocks, with some not quite ideal third shots).
One thing I will say, I would not pick to have the weaker team play Canada. I want the best possible match tomorrow. Howard deserves to win but on any given day ....
One utter highlight of yesterday was an Andy Kapp shot where his front end insisted on sweeping while the camera showed him desperately calling them off, with both vocal and body language at its maximum. It was very funny, and in the end it worked out for Germany.
It has been a week with its amusements.
Germany lead 3-1 after 4, deservedly, with a tad of luck in 4.

How Much Does Mankato Care about Curling?

I just checked the Mankato Free Press on-line. Their team's unexpected success is only the third story in the sports section!

The lead story in the sports section is about a high school girl's golf team.

The second story is about the Mankato Area Gymnastics School.

Curling. Still the Rodney Dangerfield of sports?

Update #1: Phil Miller tells me this story was front and center of the print version.
Update #2: Todd Birr had another poor showing today, curling only 73%, and the US lost to Germany 7-5. I expect that Alan's wish has come true, and Canada will face the better of the two teams in the final tomorrow.

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Canada-USA last night

Having missed the round-robin match, the only one Canada lost, I was disappointed at how easy a win Canada had over the USA in the 1-2 Page Playoff last night.
One factor that was discussed at length was somewhat straighter ice than in previous rounds (and a natural effect of the ice-maker's being worried about a full arena that evening). Neither Canada nor the US at the back end played well in early ends, and Canada's steal of 2 in the 4th, which was really crucial in determining the outcome in the end, seemed to have been built from the US team doing even worse at reading the ice than Canada was (it was an ugly end, featuring bad misses). The scoring stats show that Howard and team did start getting the ice more right after the first few ends, but the US skip never did seem to get it. His misses were costly, but were not misses by a lot. And others on his team made some small misses, enough to open big holes for Canada, that seemed to me possibly a matter of reading somewhat changed ice.
One can hope the USA-Germany match will be a barn-burner. I need something to entertain me until CBS' contract with the Masters lets them start broadcasting live.

On Any Given Day...

There is a cliche in sports that on any given day, any given team can beat any other given team. This cliche represents a basic understanding of probabilities applied to binomial outcomes (you win or you lose). It also helps explain why playoffs in most sports (baseball, basketball, hockey) involve the best x out of y games (and probably would in football if the players could play 3 or 4 games in a week.

Another example might be that on any given toss, I could roll two fair dice and get a twelve. The odds of my doing so would be low, but it might happen (on average one out of every 36 times I tried it). Analogously, on any given day a team with a low probability of winning might defeat a team that most of us would expect to win, more often than not. And while the mediots might search for explanations for the loss, it could simply have been due to randomness.

I think that is what happened in the Canada - USA curling game during the round-robing game at the 2007 Men's World Curling championships. As I wrote before, the USA curled MUCH better than expected; and even though Canada curled well (curling 91% to 90% for the US), they missed a few key shots and ended up losing the only game they have lost so far in the entire tournament. I was, quite frankly, surprised by the performance of the US, having seen them get off to a 2 - 3 start in the round robin and, in one game carried via the internet on CurlTV, struggle mightily against France (see my comments here).

The question in many people's minds was what might happen when the two teams met again in the playoffs. Many of us wondered whether the US defeat of Canada had been a fluke ("...any given team on any given day...") or whether Team USA would once again give Canada a run for its money.

I don't think we got a clear answer last night.

The game between Canada and the US was conceded by the US when they gave up 3 in the 7th end and trailed Canada 7 -1 (but they had to pretend to play the 8th end because of a tv contract -- funny but dumb). Once again, Team Canada was in good form, curling 89%; but this time Team USA curled only 79%, with their skip, Todd Birr, curling only 53% (vs 91% in their earlier matchup).

As people at curling clubs like to say, "That's the way it goes sometimes. Sometimes you're on, sometimes you're not." No attempt to explain the deeper, inner causes for the US's poor curling last night -- just, "That's the way it goes sometimes." In other words, shot-making in curling is in large part skill, but also the result of randomness. Curlers who are really, really good manage to have fewer down times and rarely, if ever, have such poor outings at Todd Birr had last night; and this ability to control both the mean AND the variance of their performances is what keeps them at the top of the game. Curlers with high game-to-game variance in their performances are less likely to be able to persist with top performances through an entire round robin and the playoff system in curling; .... but they might.

Today the US meets Germany in the bronze metal game. The loser of this game gets the bronze metal and the winner gets to play Canada tomorrow (Easter Sunday) for the championship. This means that the US, if they defeat Germany today, will get yet another shot at the Canadians on Sunday. Curling is the only sport I know of (though I expect there are others) that uses this "page playoff" system. Here is how it works:

At the end of the round robin (ignoring tie-breaker games), the teams that finish 1st and 2nd play each other, and the teams that finish 3rd and 4th play each other. The winner of the 1-2 game gets a bye until the final championship game, and the loser of the 1-2 game plays the winner of the 3-4 game. The winner of that game then plays for the championship. This way, a team that finishes 1st or 2nd during the round robin gets a second chance, creating an incentive to finish 1st or 2nd during the round robin. Also, it means that if one of the top two teams has an "on any given day..." poor performance (e.g., the US last night), they are not automatically eliminated. Given the vagaries of the ice in some tournaments, and given the variabilities in performances sometimes, I must say I love the page playoff system. It has a tendency to remove some of the randomness from determining an overall champion. For more on the page playoff system, see this.

Overall during the round robin, Canada curled 91% to lead the field, and the US was tied for 2nd at 84%, a substantial difference in performances. But never did Todd Birr, US skip, ever curl worse than 75% during the round robin. In fact after a cursory look through the stats for all the players, I could find only three other games in which curlers did worse than 53%, two from the Korean skip (Korea won only one game in the tournament) and the other from the Danish skip, who had the second lowest curling percentage of all the skips in the tournament.

So was last night's performance truly random and horrible? Probably. At the same time, the performance of Team USA against Canada during the round robin was also an outlier in the other direction. Given the potential variabilities and the randomness, you gotta love the way the tournament is set up with the round robin and the page playoff system.

I know this post is getting too long, but here's more, on a personal basis. My own curling percentages, self-assessed, over this past season have varied from 10% up to maybe as high as 50%. Others at the club level tend to have similar variances but with higher means. Given such huge variances, it is clear, at the club level, that "on any given day...."

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Hooray for TSN ..

... and the 500-channel universe.
TSN Broadband has a channel among the 500, and so I will be switching back and forth between the Germany-Sweden tie-breaker and The Masters. Ahh what a great Good Friday.

Tie-breakers (Round One): Sweden Defeats France 6-5;Germany Defeats Finland 8-5

I watched the tie-breaker between France and Sweden on CurlTV today (with snatches of shots shown from the other tie-breaker between Germany and Finland). Skip Lindholm of Sweden made two absolutely marvelous shots in the 10th end to score two for Sweden. His first shot was a very difficult in-off take-out to get around all the guards and move France's shot rock off the button. And then, after France raised one of their guards to be sitting shot, Lindholm removed it and stuck his shooter to score two for the win.

Once again, Markku Uusipaavalniemi curled a lower percentage than any of the four skips and missed a difficult shot (it looked like a double-raise takeout) with his last rock, allowing Germany to score two in the tenth end. Although, as I had suggested, he improved considerably during the tournament, he just didn't seem as polished as he was last year.

The two teams, Germany and Sweden, meet at 4pm EDT in the second round of tie-breakers, which will also be shown on CurlTV.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Curling Cufflinks

In honour of the Men's World Curling Championships, I wore these to work today:

Too bad TSN decided to show something else instead of curling on broadband this afternoon!

Things We Don't Really Need to Overhear

The miking of the players during the 2007 Men's World Curling Championships has led to our hearing some things most viewers don't ordinarily hear during curling matches, in addition to the usual utterances of expletives now and then:

"Do you have any Kleenex back there?" -- a reference to the fact that curlers' noses usually run a bit while they are curling, and most clubs keep boxes of Kleenex on the walls at each end of the ice. I've never seen the boxes of Kleenex at the championships, but I assume they are there, somewhere.

"It's really hard to go to the bathroom here." -- Usually curlers take care of bathroom needs before the game or in a mad rush during the 5th end break. If it's a long, awkward journey, making a pitstop during the 5th end break can eat into your team's allotted time.

"Wow, did you see that woman!" -- I didn't really hear anyone say that.

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US Defeats Canada 7-6

The US Men's Curling Team from Mankato, Minnesota, curled their starred-and-striped butts off Wednesday night to defeat Canada, scoring three in the 10th end at the 2007 Men's World Curling Championship. Through the entire game, it became apparent that the US team was playing much better than they did against France, often forcing Howard of Canada to blank or take just one point rather than score 2 or more points when he had the hammer (as in ends 4, 5, 8, and 9).

It was an awesome display of curling, as both teams curled over 90% (details here). In fact, Canada marginally out-curled the US percentage-wise, but in the 10th end, with Canade leading by two points, both Hart and Howard had slight misses, culminating with Howard's wrecking on a guard to leave Birr with a gentle tap for three and the win.

As Alan said, even though Canada curled over 90%, they appeared to have a chink in their armor, an Achilles' heel, so to speak. At the same time, though, the US team looked very good in the win.

Ironic that Team Canada's first loss should come after I posted that they seemed unbeatable. Oh well. I'm sure that my posting such a thing in Clinton, ON, had nothing to do with the loss, no matter how much power you might ascribe to chaos theory.


Mankato finds a chink in the armor!

The US team last night got an improbable win over Glenn Howard's Canada rink by taking 3 in the 10th end. Achilles does have a heel after all - it did not seem so for a long time.
Howard will be playing today to secure a position in the 1-2 game. I will be cheering for him.
I concur utterly with Doc's admiration of the match his rink played against Germany. I do not recall seeing this level of play ever.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Canada Still Looks Unbeatable after 13

Going into the 13th draw, Germany had been looking pretty darned good and Canada had been looking darned-near perfect. It looked as if this draw might really challenge Team Canada at the 2007 World Men's Curling Championships. In the end, though, Canada was SO impressive, it is difficult to know what superlatives to use. Gentle taps, perfect draws, impressive picks. Canada took two, forced one, took two, forced one, took two, forced one, took three, shook hands. Textbook curling, both in shot-making and in strategy. Have I used the word "impressive" yet?

Team Canada looks so good that it will truly be a travesty if they do not win the championship in the play-offs. I'm thinking of flying to Edmonton to watch 'em live....


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

What Good Is Hi-Rez If You Miss Seeing the Shots?

I am stuck in my workplace today and must sneak peeks at the 2007 Men's World Curling Championships via TSN's broadband telecasts. I must say the resolution of the pictures is distinctly superior to that of CurlTV. But that isn't worth much in many ways because the TSN broadband telecast kept freezing up on me during the morning draw (I'm writing this before the afternoon draw).

I couldn't believe it: On Glenn Howard's last shot of the 7th end, I could see the rock leave his hand and start sliding down the ice, but then the picture froze. I could hear the rock hit something, and hear the exclamations, but I didn't see the shot. Then suddenly, the picture was back, showing the French team conceding and shaking hands with the Canadians. And I managed to sort of see a replay (but with lots of jerkiness to it).

Hi-res is good if you don't miss the shots. I'm finding the same thing with

Maybe by next year, CurlTV will bump up its resolution and TSN will improve its reliability. Let's hope so.

(apologies: I had to close comments on this posting just to delete one comment I had approved earlier. Please do not post comments that have links to sites with "tribal infusion" or whatever.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

French Strategy

Among other things*, I watched the 7th draw of the 2007 Men's World Curling Championships on CurlTV this afternoon. I was intrigued by the strategies of the teams. For the first three ends, the US tried to start by putting rocks in the rings, and the French peeled them. The French managed to blank the first three ends as a result, and the frustration among the US curlers was readily apparent. On the fourth end, to try something different, the U.S. began with guards, and as the end evolved, the French managed to take two points.

Later, in the 6th end, the U.S. was forced to take just one with the hammer, evincing even more frustration. But then they stole one in 8th, so the teams were tied 2-2 going into the 9th end, with France having the hammer. France then scored 3 in the 9th end and 1 in the 10th to take the game 6-2.

I was intrigued by the French strategy. It seemed to frustrate the US team. In fact, the US out-curled the French team in terms of curling percentages 85% to only 77%. It is not often that a team on the short end of that big a difference wins the game, but in this case there was a combination of strategy and luck that allowed or even caused the French to win. It will be interesting to see how others react to this strategy.

If I had been there as a fan, I'd have been tempted to boo the French by the third end, just to register my disapproval, not of their strategizing, but of games that have three blanked ends in a row -- they frustrate the fans at least as much as they frustrated the US curlers.

*I also watched a lot of baseball this afternoon, much of it via's premier broadband service. Their 700K telecasts have great resolution, compared with CurlTV; however, the constant re-buffering and freezing up make the overall package considerably inferior to that offered by CurlTV.

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Men's World Championships in British Columbia????

That's what the guide for TSN on my digital cable service says:

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Practice Helps - Just Ask Finland

Well, nuts. If we had known that the Finnish team has not been curling all that much during the past year, we probably wouldn't have picked them to finish among the leaders. After two draws, Finland is 0W - 2L, and has not looked all that good in their losses. The losses were not blow-outs, and as a team Finland is curling 78%, ranked 8th among the twelve teams. And the skip, Markku Uusipaavalniemi, has curled only 68%, 11th among the skips.

I expect that as the team plays through the round robin, they will improve. But not being well-practiced appears to have hurt the team.

[Of course I am generalizing from personal experience: I've discovered that when I curl three times a week, I'm better than when I curl only twice a week. I curl 20% instead of only 16%.]


Exceeding Expectations

I tried to tune into Draw 3 of the Ford Men's World's on CurlTV this morning and got the at first puzzling message that I could not see it locally for licensing reasons. And then I thought, that must mean it's on TSN! Hooray - it is! I never even bothered to look at the TV listings, simply assuming morning draws would not be covered until Thursday.
Thanks TSN, and apologies for not having more faith.
BTW Howard is off to a 3-0 lead over Denmark after 2. Howard is shooting 100% but the Danes seem to be helping him.

UPDATE: I figured it out - TSN is covering draws that have Canada playing. Well, they are probably right that those are the only ones that will draw much of an audience but what a sad statement.