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The Hizzle of T-Fizzle » Blog Archive » December Curling - USWCA 5 and Under Bonspiel

December Curling - USWCA 5 and Under Bonspiel   


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Finally a real curling update! And there’s still 2 weeks left in the season (when I started writing…now it’s over)!

I believe I mentioned in a previous post that I have joined a competitive men’s team consisting of Ken B, Eric R, Vince F and me. Our plan was to go to The Dykes (Francis Dykes Bonspiel - don’t get any ideas), which is one of the premier men’s “5 and Under” events on the east coast. 5 and Under is a division that requires all team members to have less than 5 years’ experience. It gives them a chance to have a good shot at doing well in a tournament without getting kicked to the ground by people with lots of experience.

The US Women’s Curling Association sponsored their first-ever 5 and Under Open event this year at Nutmeg Curling Club in Connecticut. I believe their intent is to sort of round out a “Grand Slam of Novice Curling” that includes The Dykes for men, Women’s Challenge for Women and Kayser for Mixed. For those of you wondering, the difference between Mixed and Open formats is that Mixed requires 2 men and 2 women throwing alternately while Open can be all men, all women or any combination and throwing in any order.

Being a new event, this bonspiel didn’t have an existing fan-base to fuel attendance, and it’s close proximity to the December Holidays may also have made teams hesitant to register. I have since also learned that curlers like to wait until the very last minute before they commit! In any case, at our Harvest Bonspiel, someone let slip to Kaptain Ken that the Nutmeg event was still looking for teams to compete. Ken did a quick straw poll and found that we were interested and probably available, although lacking a 4th man (at this point Eric R had already pretty much finalized his decision to not stay with our team). Fortunately, it turned out that there was another 2nd year curler at Broomstones in Boston looking for a team. An unholy alliance between Boston and Philly was thus formed.

Friday, December 14 was the opening day of the tournament. We had a nice draw time in the afternoon that meant we would not have to get up insanely early or leave the day before to make it to Nutmeg in time. I drove up with Ken while Vince decided to have a go at taking the train. Ken and I made fine time getting to Bridgeport and arrived at the train station 15-20 minutes ahead of Vince. We used the time to explore Bridgeport a little bit and rustle up some lunch at Subway. After picking up our food, we circled around to the train station, picked up Vince and headed out to the curling club, some 15 minutes away.

We made a couple minor wrong turns on the way but we arrived at the club in short order with nearly an hour to eat, change and stretch before our match. And of course figure out who our third man was. Our third man had asked to play second and we figured we would give him that. In league play Vince and I had switched off at vice and Ken was indifferent about where we played in the lineup at the bonspiel. He basically said “Let’s try it one way and if we get killed maybe we’ll switch for the next game.” Good plan! Well, having recently started keeping notes of my shots and accuracy percentages, I was clocking my strongest average in guard shots at 53.13% and my draws and takeouts were both in the 40% range. In addition, I had been playing lead in most of my teams and felt that I was throwing really well at lead so I might as well try and grow it as much as possible.

That, and I like playing lead. In club play the least experienced players usually play at lead and second (front end). The reason for this is that a strong vice and skip (back end) can make up for a terrible front end. If the front end makes their shots, so much the better. If the front end misses everything, hopefully the more experience back end can bail them out. This makes a lot of sense in club play because putting the newbies in the back end makes it very hard for their team to score and will lead to the players feeling discouraged and not having a good time. You don’t want that. The downside is that it leads to a notion that front end spots are “lower-ranking” than back end spots. People have a desire to “move up” from the front-end. As a result, the lead position could be a real chance to shine.

In any case, due to my enjoyment of playing lead and my recent strong performances, I nominated Vince to play Vice. Around this time, we were introduced to our final player, the affable Dan Hines. A man brimming with what I can only describe as “Boston-ness.” He’s got a little bit of the accent, but really when I say Boston-ness I mean he’s just really friendly, easy to get along with, nice guy, etc. He sort of embodies what I feel when I go to Boston…if that makes any sense.

A stretch, bite and a handshake later we found ourselves out on the ice playing against some beloved New Jerseyans from one of the other PCCs, the Plainfield Curling Club. I won’t bore you with a stone-by-stone accounting of the match. I was a little bit jittery when we first stepped onto the ice. Ice at bonspiels is usually a little quick compared to our ice at home and I was very nervous about not being able to slow things down enough, but I managed to throw my first stone in front of the house and hogged my second stone. I was definitely able to keep my weight down.

The game was close throughout, although I felt that we had things under control for the duration. Things got a little bit scary in the final end. I don’t know what happened, but as you can see in the stats I missed both of my shots in the final end setting Plainfield up for a comeback, but Dan swooped in after me and cleaned up the mess. We pulled it together and finished up the win. My 43.75% on the game was not my best work, but it was not too bad, either. I was psyched because I had not won a single bonspiel match and while I thought we had a solid team, we are still on the low-end of 5 years.

The bad news - we were playing some Juniors from Broomstones. JHCurl blogged that you might see these kids in the Olympics. Their opponents in the first round quit after just 4 ends. It was a total blowout. I told X that if we lost to a bunch of kids we’d probably have to talk Ken down off a ledge, so let’s hope we don’t have to actually play them. There goes that theory!

I picked up a Plainfield pin. They have a really cool junior pin that looks like a NJ license plate, but I opted for the “traditional” one. Hopefully I can get one of the other pins later. After the Plainfield folks cleared out, we noticed one of them left their pouch of pins. I’m not sure why, but we decided to pick it up so that it we could safely return it to them the next day. As if they would not be coming back to the club…strange logic, but I guess we were tired. There was not a whole lot going on at the club that night so we grabbed a little dinner and headed back to the hotel.

I had heard Bridgeport is seedy. It is. I had heard the hotel is seedy. It sort of is. It’s in a seedy area, but once inside the hotel it seemed pretty average as far as “budget” accommodations go. We all definitely agreed that next time we’re at Nutmeg we’ll probably stay in Trumbull instead of Bridgeport. Sorry, Bridgeport :)

It was only about 7PM when we checked in. Thinking the hotel was seedy, I did not bring my laptop since it is a work laptop and I’d hate to have it stolen. So all I had to entertain myself was a couple books and TV until at least a reasonable time to sleep. We had an early game but I can only go to bed so early! I told Ken and Vince to give me a call when they were settled if they wanted to go down to the hotel bar for a drink to kill some time.

Ken rang me around 7:30 and we headed down to the hotel bar which left us less than impressed. We left pretty much as soon as we came and sought Vince who had been exploring the hotel. We picked him up at his room and went to Ken’s room to look for a place to go hang out. We weren’t finding much except a bar that might be at a nearby college and might be more our speed. We went downstairs to ask the front desk if there was anything nearby. She told us of a place just a couple blocks away. I was a little nervous about venturing out there, but we gave it a shot.

We stepped into this little sorta-Irish bar and found it well-light and fairly pleasant. There was an interesting mix of people and the music blaring from the jukebox reflected this in a rather bizarre oscillation between the likes of Queen and 50-Cent. It seemed like a pleasant neighborhood bar where all the regulars knew each other and just hung around on a Friday night. We had a few drinks. Vince, who has a rather canine drive to explore new surroundings, got up to scope out the back rooms. He reported that there was a pool table back there and while no one said anything to him, he got the impression that he should probably not stick around.

While we drank, we commisserated about the match ahead of us. I’m going to talk frankly here, so I want to preface this by saying that I don’t intend any offense to anyone. I hope my 2 or 3 readers would find our psychological struggle interesting and there’s nothing more to it then that.

We were a little bit unhappy with the prospect of playing the Juniors. We were scared of getting our butts kicked, but we were also sceptical of their eligibility for the tournament at all. You see, youths can begin curling with half-sized stones at age 6. They switch to full-sized stones when they enter the Junior level at age 12. These guys ranged from ages 12-14. Even if you only give partial “credit” for their years playing with half-sized stones, it seems a stretch to consider that they have less than 5 years’ experience. The 14-year-old was conceivably in his 8th year curling! We don’t mind losing, but it seems really weak to lose to a team that perhaps shouldn’t be eligible to play at all.

We asked ourselves a lot of questions that night. Should we complain to the organizers? Should we complain to the juniors’ coach? Should we complain to the USWCA? Should we forfeit that match under protest? Should we call someone at our club and ask their advice? One of the main problems was that if we played them and won, we really had no grounds to complain. If we played them and lost, it would seem like sour grapes to complain. We basically needed to complain before playing.

But what would complaining really do for us? We stepped back and looked at the facts. Somebody gave these guys the OK to come down here and play. They paid an entry fee just like the rest of us. Maybe it’s normal to allow competitive juniors to compete in Under-5. Maybe it’s not normal but the bracket was not filled up so the organizers made an exception to allow them. In any case, we’re talking about guys 12-14 years old who just want to curl. If we complain or forfeit, we won’t be teaching them a lesson; they’ll just wonder why the adults wouldn’t play with them. At the end of the day, we also represent not just ourselves, but our club. Poor conduct on our part would basically be considered poor conduct from all of Philadelphia. We concluded that the only honorable course of action was to go out, play the best we could and hope for the best. After the bonspiel we could consider expressing our concerns.

A guy in a weird puffy coat with fur trim came in. He looked like trouble. He talked to the bartender for a few minutes, then left. We then struck up a conversation with the bartender. He told us that soon after the other bartender came in at 10:00 the place would fill up with “knuckleheads.” What kind of kuckleheads? Let’s just say that after 10PM they don’t serve anything in a glass container. If you order beer in a bottle they pour it into a plastic cup before they give it to you. A glance down at the watch…9:30. And the creepy dude with the puffy coat just came back in. Maybe it’s time to get out of here while we can still call it a pleasant evening. We also needed to prepare for the tough battle ahead of us. We walked back to the hotel, came up with a meeting time for the morning and went to sleep.

Day 2, early. We met in the hotel lobby and walked around the corner to Dunkin Donuts to grab some breakfast before heading to the curling club. Wondering off-handedly if Dan will show up since he had a comp and spent the night at Mohegan Sun. We rehash our strategy. I will not disclose it, but one of our mantras was “Don’t give up any big ends.” The atmosphere among us had the grim gravity of going into a battle that you are pretty sure you cannot win. Nonetheless, we suited up and headed out onto the ice to face our youthful adversaries.

I lead off with a half-decent draw to the front of the house. The Broomstones lead immediately replaced it with his own. And that’s when we started digging in hard with our strategy. We didn’t take that stone out. Ken called to tap it back or sit on it. As I delivered the stone I heard one of the guys on the other team say “What the heck are they doing?” After the first-end smoke cleared, we had scored. If nothing else…it wasn’t going to be a shutout.

For the next 7 ends, I tried to shape my face into a mask of non-chalant, completely unconcerned, but utter determination. Anytime I started to get jittery, I’d strike up a conversation with Dan which calmed my nerves. As the numbers ticked up onto the scoreboard, end after end, they somehow kept ending up on our side of the scoreboard. We kept stealing aces and even though we weren’t crushing them and we knew one mistake could quickly turn the tables (hence our “No big ends” mantra), it seemed like our strategy was working and as long as we could continue to execute it, we might actually pull it off.

When all was said and done, I had 59.38% accuracy, my second best recorded score since I started keeping notes. I had also thrown a career-high 65% on guard shots. But more importantly, after the 8th end ran out….we were ahead! Somehow we managed to eke out a victory against them to stay in the 1st event. Elated, but drained from the match that was perhaps more emotionally strenuous than physically, we went out to the warm room to broomstack.

One great thing about beating teenagers is that you don’t have to buy them a beer :). We hung out for awhile chatting, and as we got to know the kids and their coach, the more I knew we made the right decision playing them even if we had lost. You remember being 12, 13, 14. Sure you want to win, but at the same time, you just want to have a good time. Regardless of whomever allowed them to enter the tournament, whether it was correct or not, from these guys perspective, all they wanted to do was just go out and play! And now if these guys ever make it to nationals, worlds, olympics, etc, we can tell everyone that we won a match against them back in the day :-)

We couldn’t celebrate for too long, though. We now had a match against another Broomstones team in just a couple of hours. There went the plans to go back to the hotel for a nap. We did make a brief drive back to the hotel area, though. Remember those pins that the Plainfield guy left? He came in for the next match and was relieved to learn that we rescued them for him. I went to get them out of my bag…they weren’t in there! They must be in the car. Go look in the car…no pins. Now I was getting nervous. I tried to recollect exactly what I had with me in the morning. Best I could do was this: we had a gift bag that we got when we checked in. I had taken it back to my room the night before with the pins in it. In the morning, I must have taken the bag with me, pins and all, and then while we were in Dunkin Donuts, I sat the bag on the counter so that I could pay and forgot to pick it up again. The only problem with this theory is that no one remembered me carrying this gift bag! With little else to go on, Ken drove me back to the Dunkin Donuts and waited in the car while I ran across the street. I stepped into Dunkin Donuts and stuck my hand in my coat pocket and felt something in there next to me gloves. CRAP! The pins were in my coat all along! I really didn’t bring the gift bag! Annoyed that I didn’t think to look in my coat, but relieved that I hadn’t lost the pins, we drove back to the club and I was able to return them. I still don’t know why we didn’t just leave them…it’s not like they would have gone anywhere! Ahh well.

Not much time left then, just a quick bite before it was time to take on more Broomstoners. Poor Dan had to take on some of his own people! This was also a beefy team. If you look on the GNCC bonspiel results pages for names like Karen Walker, Paul Marseglia and Stephanie Torta, you’ll see them appear in a lot of places.  Tough match-up!  It’s also worth noting that Stephanie Torta is the graphic designer behind LittleFish whom we met last year at Schenectady.

Out on the ice we played a decent match.  In fact, while it did not FEEL like the strong match we played against the juniors, the numbers I recorded in the notebook were even better - 62.5% overall and 75% on guards.  My draw percentage was also ever-increasing.  I did not throw any takeouts this match.  Unfortunately, despite another strong showing, we somehow managed to run afoul of our “No Big Ends” rule somewhere in the 6th or 7th end where a 3 or 4-ender put the beantowners out front with too little time to recover.  Our trip to the First Event final ended in the semi-finals.  The good news is that regardless of win or loss, we had guaranteed ourselves a 4th game by winning the first two, and would get to play on Sunday in the 4th Event final!

Saturday evening there was a nice dinner followed by a game where you took one of the half-sized youth stones and put it in a specific location in the ice and then play a relatively normal game of curling using the small stone as the “button.”  Oh, and if you hit the small stone and move it, the stones are scored based on the actual location of the stone.  In other words, the target moves.  We had a re-match against the juniors here (well, Vince and me) and a clutch shot by one of our teammates saved us in the end.  After that there were drawings and raffles.  We didn’t stay too late since we had another 8AM draw.

Sunday.  Not to be superstitious or anything, but…repeat process from yesterday with Dunkin Donuts for breakfast and then a trip to the club.  For the Fourth Event final we were facing some potential home-team ringers from Nutmeg.  I mean, the skip’s name was LaRoche and based on the liberal use of French we could only assume some of these people were Quebecois.  I had already had my fair share of trouble from Montreal…here was more.

As luck would have it, the Canadian portion of our adversaries did not actually take up curling until after moving to the US (this was a tournament for 5 years’ experience or less, remember), so it wasn’t the usual beating I’ve gotten from Canadian opponents.  Not to say it was an easy match, but we managed to keep it tight and this time we got the big end and held on to the lead.  I managed to increase my scores again, ending the tournament with a “career-high” 67.86% overall and 83.33% in the guard department.  At some point during this match Ken offered me a choice between a guard and some other shot and I told him that at this point I’ve probably thrown 50 guards this weekend and a lot of them are starting to go where they are supposed to go.  If it ain’t broke, I’ll throw a guard!

After the match we had a quick drink and a mingle.  We could not stick around too long because Vince had a train to catch and we wanted to get home and get some rest!  There was a brief presentation of the award pins, and our gracious hosts supplied us with some slices of really tasty hoagies for the road (N.B. the box said ‘Wedge’ so I have now seen this rather obscure name for a hoagie used in the real world).  We dropped Vince at the station and headed for home.

It ended up being a great weekend.  I really did not know what to expect - while we didn’t do awful in men’s league, we certainly weren’t winning matches.  Sure, a bunch of second-year curlers should be outmatched by pretty much every team, but we also thought that at some point things would line up correctly and we would pull out a victory!  On top of this, we had to acclimate ourselves to a player we had never even met before, and the pressure and jitters of a bonspiel.  There was also a lot riding on this because getting crushed would probably have been a sign that we should disband our team and come up with different teams to bring to the Dykes in February.

Fortunately, it didn’t come to that.  We almost made it to the top.  Despite its name, the 4th event is basically the consolation game - if you assigned 1st/2nd/3rd place, you’d probably call it 3rd place.  Nothing to complain about there!  Our surprise victory against the juniors was defintely the highlight.  The entire team was completely focused and connected.  It was an amazing game.  A big thanks also goes out to Dan Hines for playing admirably for us even against his own Broomstones compatriots.

On a personal level, I was able to keep the nerves (and the weights) down and put stones out front for cover or to be tapped in later on.  As can be seen in the stats, my scores improved with each game and my overall average was 58%.  It will be interesting to see how bonspiel scores compare to “regular season” scores as I accumulate more data.  Our performance at this tournament had us really looking forward to the possiblities of what might happen at the Dykes!

Here are the stats:

Cumulative percentages before and after:

And the full data can be seen here.

3 Responses to “December Curling - USWCA 5 and Under Bonspiel”

  1. Gregg Wolff Says:

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    There’s an old lawyer joke - a lawyer arrives at the holy gates (the first part of the joke) and asks why is he there, because he’s only 46. St. Peter responds, “Well, based on your billable hours, we thought you were 97.”

    I dispute Ken’s claim that he is a second year curler. Based on his games, I say he has been playing 10 years.

    I enjoyed both the description of your psychological struggle and applaud your decision to play the kids.

  2. Troy Says:

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    LOL…true! When you get right down to it, it’s almost hypocritical to wonder if those Junior guys had too much experience for Under 5! Here’s hoping no one decides to convert “Under 5 years” to “Under 500 games!”

  3. Dan "in the house" Hines Says:

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    Bridgeport Nutmeg USWCA under 5 was one of many fun curling events to be enjoyed.
    Great playing with Philly team even if Dr J 76r vs the Bird/Celts era memories are burned into my past.

    Feel free to live vicariously thru our Celts/Red Sox now that your beloved sixers exhausted Detroit for us! lol

    See you at the 2008/2009 Bonspiels.

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