Saturday, February 28, 2015

A lousy two centimetres

Two centimetres. Less than an inch.

That was the difference between Nova Scotia playing on and going home.

Any way you slice it, it's a hard thing to stomach and I'm sure the CCA Curling Canada was none to happy about seeing this result, a kind of perfect storm of bad possibilities.

On Friday, PEI defeated Nova Scotia in the final game of the pre-qualifying round robin, creating a circular win-loss record. That brought into play the first tiebreaker which was the totals of the pre-game draws to the button.

Before each game, one team member threw two shots -- an in-turn and an out-turn -- with the total distance recorded. The two game total was registered and when all the cyphering was done, Nova Scotia came third, just a lousy two centimetres behind Yukon.

As a result, PEI and Yukon will play in today's final with the winner moving into the main field. Nova Scotia will head home. For the first time in the Brier's history, there won't be a Bluenoser team in the Brier. And they'll face the same task again next year. N.S. skip Glen MacLeod told it was a tough loss to swallow.

"Two centimetres was all it was," MacLeod said. "As far as the game goes, P.E.I. was the better team today. 
"The format, I'm not too fussy about. The draw to the button is a little disappointing. It's an easy shot. We had that in our hands."

It's hard to digest the change and there is understandably outrage from the curling folks in Nova Scotia.

If PEI was to lose today to Yukon, there would be equal frustration from the folks in that province.

But there would also be jubilation from the folks in Whitehorse where it would mark the first Brier for a team representing just the Yukon as opposed to the Territories.

The funny thing about this change is that judging from social media response, which understandably really isn't a perfect way of measuring things,  it isn't popular with curlers and it isn't popular with fans.

For example, here's Brad Gushue talking to about it:

"I'm not a big fan of the relegation," said Newfoundland and Labrador skip Brad Gushue. "I think it's a little embarrassing for the teams. The way they're playing out here with nobody watching and no ceremonies or anything, it's not right. 
"It's disappointing not to have one of Nova Scotia or P.E.I, who have been in the Brier since I think the '30s. It's a little bit odd."

For fan response, just go on Twitter. Or Facebook. I have yet to see a positive response to this situation.

That same article had a quote from Jean-Michel Menard saying he was now in favour of the 14-team format used at the Junior, where rinks are divided into pools. He said he wasn't a fan of that at first but thinks it's better than relegating teams.

I have to agree. I wasn't a fan of pools for a number of reasons. The primary one is that not every player plays everyone else. But the more I think about it, the more I think it's an improvement over relegation.

First is that every team gets to play. Second is that -- finally -- the Page Playoff System would be used the way it was intended when it was created.

Right now, the cut is deep and still bleeding. To be sure, no one likes change.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Pre-qualifying could come down to draw to the button

So here's a scenario that the CCA  Curling Canada -- or any curling fan -- probably doesn't want to see. But it's possible a team could be eliminated from the pre-qualifier by a draw to the button. 

So far, Yukon defeated PEI and lost to Nova Scotia. The Bluenosers beat Yukon. If PEI defeated Nova Scotia in the game this afternoon, then the there will be a circular tie. The tiebreaker? The pre-game draws to the button. 

Prior to each game a member of the team throws an in-turn and and out-turn with the combined distance to the button being recorded. Here's what's happened so far. 

Game 1
Yk 20.8
PEI 25.1

Game 2
Yk 97.5
NS 23.7

So Yukon's total is pretty high. It has to hope that Nova Scotia beats PEI, in which case Nova Scotia and Yukon go to the final. If PEI wins, it has to hope that one of the two messes up its draws to the button. 

The top two teams will move on to the final to be played on Saturday. 

Sad start to the "Prior"

Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun recounts the opening game of the pre-qualifying between P.E.I. and Yukon, describing it as sad. And hard to argue with him. Two teams that have won their region/province battling it out in front of almost no one, with no ceremony or even introductions. 

It might have been interesting. But it was hardly a happening. 
There were no bagpipes. Nobody carried a sign with the name of their team. Nobody carried their flag. There were no introductions. 
Just one P.A. announcement: “The game will begin in one minute.” 
It was sad. 
And it’s going to get even sadder.This morning Nova Scotia, a legitimate province that won the very first Brier back in 1927 and interrupted what would have been a five-in-a-row run by Alberta’s Randy Ferbey to win its most recent one in 2004, will play the Yukon. That’s the territory that didn’t even bother to send a team to compete in the Territories finals last year in Yellowknife.

If you think there's pressure on guys like Koe, Morris  and Jacobs, think about these guys playing just so they don't have to go home on Sunday. Here's Adam Casey:

“P.E.I. has been in every Brier since 1936 and everybody I talk to in P.E.I. is saying ‘Get us out of this relegation.’ I’m looking at it as a hurdle on my way to a full Brier.”

In the Free Press, Paul Wiecek outlines just how significant the changes to the format are:

To put the magnitude of this change into context, consider there has never been a Brier that has taken place without Nova Scotia, a charter participant and the winner of the first Brier in 1927. 
It's been almost as long a run for P.E.I., as the province has participated in the Brier every year since 1936. 
But all that tradition ends this weekend as a new era for the Brier begins in which the four lowest-ranked teams from the previous year must take part in a play-in round immediately prior to the Brier.
And kudos go to Jeff Mackinnon of the Calgary Herald for putting in print what social media has been calling this event -- the "Prior." And he tells the story of how the PEI team just made it to Calgary in time for its game.

Casey’s gone on record as saying the new Brier pre-qualifying is “stupid.” He arrived in Calgary four days before the start of play Thursday to workout at The Glencoe Club, but struggled when he moved over the Saddledome. His team arrived in Calgary at four hours before Thursday’s game because of flight delays.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Stoughton announces his R . . . . .

He has trouble using the word, but Jeff Stoughton announced on Twitter that he is calling it a career.
The three-time Brier winner and two-time world champ said the time is right for him to step away and perhaps seek off-ice opportunities to stay close to the game.

In the Winnipeg Free Press story, he said he won't ever leave curling completely.

"I still want curling to be a part of my life in the future," Stoughton said. "I still want curling as a big part of my life. Hopefully, now that I’m stepping away, this opens up some doors for me."
I'd think that probably means he's hoping to do move to TV, but if so, that field is a bit crowded right now. Mike Harris and Kevin Martin are all over Sportsnet and Russ Howard is locked in at TSN. However, if there's a second feed at TSN as reports indicate, maybe Stoughton could join the second team.

In any case, Stoughton's retirement (there, I said it if he won't), marks the end of a tremendous career. As a curler Stoughton was exceptional and was part of the Big Three --along with Martin and Glenn Howard -- that dominated their era. He was impressive with a number of different lineups and when he was on, he was virtually unbeatable.

The Winnipeg product will play two more events -- one in Grand Prairie and the Players Championship in Toronto, assuming he qualifies.

As a journalist covering the game, Stoughton was always a pleasure to talk to. He was accommodating, a good quote and win or lose, always prepared to stand in front of the microphones. Classy is the word that comes to mind when I think about Stoughton.

Scotties numbers set records

A little late with this news but the TV ratings are in for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and it is impressive.

OK, it’s actually beyond impressive, into the WOWZA category.

Take a look at some of these numbers:

** More than seven million different Canadians watched some part of the championship. With a population of approximately 35 million that’s one-fifth of every last person in this country.

** The average audience for the entire tournament was 566,000, which is massive considering many of the broadcasts were on in the middle of the day, traditionally a low viewing time.

** The final attracted 1.05 million viewers – going up against the powerhouse Academy Awards. That’s up 15 per cent over last year. It should be noted that last year came on the heels of the Olympics so there was probably some burnout in curling-watching.

Now Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada was the top sports show of the week (2.2 million), but after that curling ruled the charts. Compare it to things like the Daytona 500 (500k), the NHL outdoor game with the Kings vs. Sharks (also 500k), or the Leafs at the Hurricanes (another 500k) and you see the power that curling has.

You can probably expect similar number for next week’s Brier too, which, by the way, will experiment with showing two games from the same draw at the same time, using TSN’s five channel feed.

It does bring into question how these growing numbers will affect ticket sales as the CCA and host committees are trying to find ways to get bums in seats. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Pre-qualifying done, not many fans of new system

Nobody likes change.

That's why it's tough to accept the new qualification system for the men's and women's national championships, the first of which wrapped up yesterday at the Scotties in Moose Jaw. Northern Ontario's Tracy Horgan advanced, Kerry Galusha and Sarah Koltun are done.

Take nothing away from the two teams from the North, but it's hard to imagine that a rink from either territory (as well as Nunavut) will appear in many future Scotties or Brier. They don't have the means or resources to play competitively on a consistent basis against the best in the rest of the land. I fear for these two and other have-not regions in the coming years.

In my world, a Scotties or Brier without the Territories, is not worthy.

To no one's surprise, the classy Galusha took the high road after being bounced from play, as Mike Koreen reported in the Sun chain of papers.

"We weren't loving it coming in, but we're excited to be here," Galusha said after losing 7-6 to Northern Ontario's Tracy Horgan in the pre-qualifier final at Mosaic Place on Saturday. "So many other teams would kill to be here fighting for the chance to get out of relegation and into the Scotties. I guess I'd consider ourselves lucky to even be here and have that chance."

Horgan, the victor, also tried to blue-sky the change.

"The nice thing about curling is we're not afraid to try new things," the Sudbury-born Horgan said, not fully endorsing the plan. "This format is different. I don't know if this is the right answer yet, but we're trying it out and we support the decision made to go this route." 

The entire process was awkward and unusual and a little bit disheartening for the teams as they battled it out, as CP's Gregory Strong relayed:

The new qualification setup created a few awkward moments. 
Galusha and Koltun started their game Friday while the other three sheets of ice were being used for a skills competition. Instructions and results were broadcast through the arena while the high-pressure game was ongoing. 
There was even a rare curling heckler in the crowd. One spectator voiced his displeasure that the teams in the qualifier weren't able to participate in the skills competition. 
The main-draw curlers left the rink well before the completion of the qualification game, which went to an extra end. The game didn't wrap until after the start of the traditional pre-tournament banquet at a nearby hotel. 
The two skips took a few questions from reporters before being hustled out of the arena to attend the function. One can only guess how Koltun was feeling as she attended a banquet for a tournament she was no longer a part of. 
Overall, it appears this is not going to be popular with many people. Not the curlers or their fans. As I said, no one likes change, especially not this one.