Sunday, January 25, 2015

Some Sunday night thoughts on ice conditions

Bad ice. It gets the blame for everything these days. We've heard a lot about it recently and while watching the women's provincial playdowns, it was easy to see. 

In the Ontario men’s playdowns, the conditions during regional play were described as horrid. Straight and relatively slow. That was where Glenn Howard got bounced.

In the Alberta women’s championship, the game between Heather Nedohin and Chelsea Carey had some inconsistent speed and curl that seemed to confuse both teams.

Same thing in the B.C. semi-final, which appeared to have a bit of a straight spot that caught Kelly Scott’s last rock, and the Manitoba women’s semi where Einarson and Spencer were made to look silly.

Now it should be noted that none of these curlers used the ice as an excuse for the results of the game. But clearly conditions do affect outcomes, for better or worse.

And it should also be noted that ice technicians do everything they can to create great ice surfaces, understanding that conditions, experience, weather and arenas all affect the result.

If you’ve curled long enough, you’ve played on bad ice (or, in many cases with bad rocks). It happens. Sometimes during regular weekly games, other times at the Brier.

A few years ago while playing in the big Goldline, City of Toronto championship, we visited three or four different clubs and at two of them the conditions were so horrible I would quit the game if I had to play there regularly.

I’ve also covered enough Briers where the ice was a disaster, thankfully usually only for a draw or two. But before my time, in the 1970s, conditions were often bordering on unplayable – before the CCA had its own rocks and before ice technicians knew how to work in arenas.

Sam Richardson told me once in the Canadian Mixed that he saw a rock stop at the back 12, half in the rings, half out. As he turned to call the next shot, the rock suddenly sprung to life and slipped out of play. The ice had a ledge that severe right at the back of the sheet! 

For the regular knee-slider, conditions aren’t as much of an issue because most of us simply aren’t that good. But most top players are spoiled. They don’t play that often in clubs any more but rather in arenas with the top ice technicians in the game who have learned to create not only very good conditions but also very similar ones from event to event. In general terms, you know what you’re going to get almost before you throw the first rock.

I remember playing in a summer charity event a few years back where we had about a two-foot fall. Our celebrity, a noted female curler with lots of national experience but fairly young in age, had never experienced negative ice. That shocked me.

These days, it seems that late into the games, ice conditions can break down. I’m not sure if that’s because of the technology in the new brooms that simply wears out the playing surface, or body heat from sliding, or curling clubs that aren’t used to TV lights or rocks sliding over the ice – over and over – or a combination of all of those things.

It sure does give good thought for moving everything to eight ends.

I think ice technicians are really being pushed to the limit and I’m always amazed at just how good they can make things most of the time. A good ice technician at a club is worth his weight in gold, that’s for sure. (I’m lucky enough to play at a club with one of the best in the business, Don Powell.)

Bad ice is tough two different ways.  The first is that you can throw a good shot and not get rewarded. That irks curlers of all levels. You expect one result and see something totally different. You throw what you think is perfect weight and it comes up short. You expect it to curl and it runs straight. This is mostly ice that changes during the course of a game.

The other type is just very different than what you are used to. You like four feet of curl and you get half a foot. You like fast ice and you get sludge.

In my opinion, slow straight ice is like death. It produces boring curling and reduces the skill level. 

But you know what? If you are playing in a competition, you deal with it. You find a way to play on it. You won’t always get the result you want but that’s curling. If you play long enough, hopefully it all evens out.

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