Monday, November 8, 2010

New Brooms: The Sky Is Falling

Ever since The Calgary Herald's All Cameron broke the news of the Super Broom Head, there has been a general sense of The Sky Is Falling from various parts. In fact, it’s almost laughable what’s transpired from icemakers and equipment dealers. This entire story has been messed up since Day 1 with all sorts of incorrect facts.

Let’s back up just a minute. A year and a half ago, some researchers at the University of Western Ontario developed a broom head that was much more effective than previous models. The technology was somewhat simple: a piece of reflective material was put between the face and the head, which caused the heat generated by sweeping to reflect back. More heat means the rocks go further and curl less.

Now contrary to what has been written in several places (here and here, for example,) this technology was not developed using Own the Podium funds, the program that was created to help Canadian Olympic athletes gain an advantage heading into the Vancouver Games. The folks at Western had been doing curling-related testing prior to the OTP funding and this was developed as part of that. OTP funding was used later in other research that helped the Martin and Bernard rinks win gold and silver respectively.

The Canadian teams did get to try the new heads and found that while effective for the women (who used them in Vancouver), it wasn’t so for the men. Ben Hebert and Marc Kennedy were so strong already, they found they would rip the pebble off the ice after three ends.

Earlier this year, Balance Plus signed an exclusive license on the patent for the broom heads with Western and is planning to bring them out very soon.

To the best of my knowledge, at the time of my writing, only two teams in Canada have these special heads: Bernard’s rink and that of Dale Matchett, who works for Balance Plus.

And that’s important to note because already there has been a remarkable amount of negative press surrounding these. Here’s a blog that’s on the Goldline web site that essentially says these brooms are going to be bad news for curling clubs and icemakers. Of course it’s important to note that Goldline is a competitor to Balance Plus so this is sort of crapping on the other guy, in my opinion. (Full disclosure: Balance Plus is an advertiser in the Ontario Curling Report of which I am a part owner, Goldline is not.)

I also spoke to a noted icemaker over the weekend who was similarly wary of the new brooms and wondered if it wasn’t time for something such as the Ontario Curling Association to establish some rules.

The general consensus of these folks is that the new brooms will flatten the ice by removing the pebble earlier in the game.
The point is that as of this moment, how these brooms affect the ice when being used by anyone not named Hebert and Kennedy or Laing and Savill is unknown. Matchett reported that when his rink used them, there was no noticeable ice deterioration. Now part of that was that the effectiveness of the brooms allowed them to use a less abrasive cloth on the face, which may be more of the problem than the heat retention.

In the limited testing that was done, elite men’s teams only managed an extra 30 per cent effectiveness with the new heads. I say only because the women saw a 100-per-cent increase.

Where this would seem to bring the most benefit would be to club curlers, men and women. And that to me, is a good thing. But the truth is no one really knows and until they do, everyone should just sit back and relax. This could turn out to be a huge benefit for average players. But until we know for sure, I’d say it’s tremendously unfair to be weighing in.

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