What’s going on at the Sweeping Summit?

sweeping girls

DISCLAIMER! – I sometimes work for Curling Canada, but have little to no idea what’s going on at the Summit. I’m not at all involved in it. These are my musings, thoughts, and opinions. There is nothing official about any of this…  Cheers – Brian Chick

Hey… you know what we haven’t talked about lately? SWEEPING!

Of course, this year’s buzz topic has already been beaten into the ground. We’ve seen a million articles (some of which I wrote), blog posts, videos, and heard a million more anecdotes about what is possible with brush X vs. what you can do with brush Y.  There were about 143 different rule changes, depending on which level(s) of competition you played, and endless debates about what sweeping can do, should do, shouldn’t do, and what “they” – the associations – should do about it.

Well, as sick of it as you may be, there is finally actually legit news on this front, and it will hopefully put this whole thing behind us.

This week, in a small town near Ottawa, some of the world’s best sweepers, coaches, manufacturers, federation & association heads, and other reps have converged on a curling club to figure out, using SCIENCE no less, what the heck is going on.  The World Curling Federation has enlisted the help of the National Research Council of Canada to lend some empirical credibility to the data… which has been almost purely anecdotal until this point.

Before the Sweeping Summit, the entire world curling population (players, stakeholders, fans, etc.) were invited to participate in a questionnaire in regards to the role of brushing in curling. After nearly 5,000 responses to their survey, the overwhelming consensus was that:

1)      A curling shot should be more about the thrower than the sweepers

2)      Sweeping shouldn’t slow down or “back up” a rock.

So with those two staples in mind, what are they actually going to look at?

FABRICS

If you recall, the thing that set this whole fiasco in motion was the use of certain “extra aggressive” fabrics early in the season. The harder/rougher the fabric, the more pronounced the scratches in the ice, and the more directional control a sweeper is able to affect.

The summit group will look at different fabrics and their scratchiness factor (*SCIENCE!).  They’ll likely end up with a set of guidelines to which manufacturers with have to adhere when making new heads. It will be specific to the fabric material, the coating (waterproof, textured, directional, or otherwise), and the stiffness of an insert (if any are actually allowed).

They’ll be looking for something that allows traditional sweeping (speed + pressure = farther and straighter), and discourages the directional stuff we saw all year.

TECHNIQUE

Another thing they’ll look at is various guidelines in regards to body positioning and brush-head angle. To confuse the issue, Curling Canada and the WCF already had different rules in this category (and personally, I think the WCF has the better one). After this week, though, we may have a new set of criteria about what sweepers are allowed to do, how, and potentially when. If you watched any of the broadcasts this year, there was a lot of talk about how to fix things, and one suggestion (I think it was from Sportsnet’s Mike Harris) was to eliminate carving (directional sweeping from the outside sweeper, trying to force curl) until after the far hogline. That way,  “finishing” a rock –sweeping the last few feet for extra curl – would still be legal, but trying to steer a rock the length of the sheet wouldn’t be.

The other great debate is that of the snowplow technique. I would be surprised if any form of that was still legal by the beginning of next season. There will likely be a side-to-side movement required and potentially an angle (ie – 45 degrees to the path of the stone?) implemented. The WCF already requires this… Will Curling Canada follow suit?

It should be noted that the summit can only make recommendations and the WCF would have to ratify any rule changes at their annual congress in September. Considering the clusterf**K that was sweeping this curling season, I’m sure they’re all going to pass with flying colours.

Finally…

ICE CONDITIONS

This is the one that’s flying under the radar, but perhaps the most important one. Anybody who tried (at their curling club) to duplicate what the Brier boys were doing on arena ice probably didn’t see same results. Sure, they’re the best players with the best technique/equipment, but don’t underestimate the importance of ice conditions in that equation.

Unless your club ice is 26.5 seconds with six feet of curl, and your icemaker is battling the temperature swings that come with thousands of fans coming in and going out of the building every few hours, you’re not playing on the same field.

While I don’t know this for a fact, I would be stunned if they didn’t experiment with different ice conditions. They’ll change the temperature, the pebble size, the scraping techniques, etc. to see how much that affects the ability to drag, carve, or otherwise affect the path of the stone.

SCIENCE

The wonderful thing about this whole gathering is that all the major stakeholders are involved and there are genuine scientists and engineers doing actual measurements and taking genuine data. This is no longer going to be “he said/she said” (hopefully eliminating the need for lengthy poorly-written rants on company websites), but instead there will be conversation and consensus based on real experiments.

While the whole season was a bit stressful for everyone, hopefully this summit puts that to bed through the spirit of cooperation and sportsmanship that makes our sport great.

May 24th, 2016 • Permalink • By brian

Calm down people! Directional sweeping’s days are numbered.

Before you start reading, please understand that these opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my employers. I’m a curling pro at the Toronto Cricket, Skating, and Curling Club, and also do periodic work for Curling Canada… who definitely don’t officially endorse any of this. 

benny

 

As this season wraps up, it’s safe to say that it will go down in curling history as the one with the brush head debate, #broomgate, directional sweeping,  and to some people: the one where the new sweeping technique ruined curling.

GraScreen Shot 2016-04-12 at 3.34.45 PMnted, it was a change in equipment and technique and as a result, strategy was adjusted (remember during the Worlds when Benny said they could “carve it” better than the other guys because they still had fresh heads?). It was a change, an evolution, and yes, a part of the game that needed attention from the governing bodies. What it wasn’t, however, was the goddamn apocalypse that everybody on the internet seemed to think it was.

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 3.33.31 PM

With all due respect to Mr. McMillan, this is not cheating. Players were playing within the rules both at Canadian events and World Events (the rules are different), and yet there was an uproar about how they were ruining the sport.  Yes, the game was different, and I applaud the players for getting the best results they could within the framework that existed that week.  For Ben Hebert to know that the other team’s brushes were flat was a critical detail at that point in the game, and gave them a competitive advantage. Not traditional curling, but not cheating by any means. Nobody is ruining the game. They’re changing it… even temporarily.

But of course, everybody hates change.  Change ruins things.

I was young, but I remember a time before the free guard zone, or Russ Howard’s Moncton Rule. I remember old men swinging corn brooms and rink rats. I remember 10 pound wooden-handle Brownie brushes, and carpet covered heads. I’ve seen Brier videos of guys smoking mid-slide. I’ve read about a time before hoglines, or even indoor ice. Change happens and, as it turns out, the sport is somehow surviving. So, take a deep breath, climb down off your soapbox, and put away your pitchfork.

If you don’t like it, and most people don’t… who do you want to blame?

The Players?

Nobody cared about any of this until September when Brad Gushue started with this one sweeper business (using Hardline IcePads) Other teams quickly jumped on board, and a few weeks later at the Stu Sells Toronto event, a super aggressive Balance Plus product was used “to prove a point” about how aggressive heads can ruin the ice. The rules changed, and heads changed, and the techniques remained. Then the players discovered that hair was equally (more?) effective. Then they banned hair. It’s those sneaky players who kept trying to get the best results with the equipment they were allowed… how dare them?!

You can’t blame an athlete for trying to gain an advantage (WITHIN THE RULES) when national titles, Olympic berths, and hundreds of thousands of dollars are at stake. So who can you blame?

The Governing Bodies?

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 3.33.59 PMEven last week during the worlds, Twitter and Facebook comments were enflamed with suggestions that “they” need to change the rules.  Of course there were very few suggestions about who “they” were or how the rule should change.

First of all… it is a very slippery slope when a governing body decides to change a rule mid-season. Between the WCF and Curling Canada, the brushing rules were changed at LEAST four times. First “directional fabric” and inserts were banned (WCF and CC). Then hair brooms were banned (WCF and CC). Hair was allowed only if you were a skip (CC). The number of brushes in play was restricted at the Scotties and Brier (CC), but it wasn’t until after the Junior Worlds that the WCF got on board for the Women’s and Men’s worlds.

So it’s safe to say “they” changed the rules many times, trying to keep up with the changing technique. One WCF official told me in February they were just trying to get through the year without any more major controversy. The “Brushing Summit” was in the works long before it was announced, and yes, you should expect more rule changes… but not without proper research, consultation, and discussion first.

They can’t just change all the rules fundamental to the game, because as stated above, national, world, and Olympic championships are on the line here, and those are big business. Especially that last one. Do you think the any Olympic committees would like it if you forced their teams to change equipment, but other countries got to keep theirs? Changes had to be subtle so as to not pick on any particular team or brand.

So why didn’t they just ban anything they felt was too “scratchy?” Because they feared legal action from…

The Manufacturers?

Imagine if the NBA suddenly said, that players wearing Nike shoes had an unfair advantage and that nobody could wear them anymore. How fast would a major lawsuit be on their hands?

While no curling manufacturer has the money that Nike does, all governing bodies were walking on eggshells trying to make sure that they didn’t offend any one company too specifically (namely Hardline) for that reason. When all the products have been in use for years (except for the Balance Plus blackhead, which was only used in one bonspiel), the associations needed to find a way to ban/limit them without being too specific to one brand.

Meanwhile, all the suppliers were trying to do was make a more effective brush, which they did. Shotmaking has never been better. Fractions of an inch have never been easier to hit. Precision has been dialed up to 11 thanks to these tools and techniques.

And yet… everybody thinks they’re ruining the game.

So what’s going to happen?

With this weekend’s Grand Slam comes another innovation in brushing rules. After limiting the number of heads used in competition to 2, this week’s experiment involves keeping brushes on a specific side of the sheet… no more trading the sharp brush to the curly side. We’ll see how it goes.

What we’re going to see further on, is a gathering of WCF, Curling Canada, players, manufacturers, and scientists who can come together and figure out how to agree on what sweeping should do, what it shouldn’t do, which heads/fabric are going to allow that, and which rules need to be adjusted to bring an end to this whole fiasco.

There will be studies. There will be rule changes, perhaps to govern both equipment and technique. We’re going to end up with a scientific answer of how “scratchy” a head can be, and the manufacturers  will have to comply. Less scratchy means less carving, and potentially an end to directional sweeping as we know it.

In the meantime, everybody chill out, and enjoy the last couple events of a brief era…

April 12th, 2016 • Permalink • By brian

Looking for an Oil Boom in Sarnia

Sarnia Oil Heritage Classic logoAfter finishing with a 1-3 record in the season opening Stu Sells Oakville Tankard, and then a month and a half away from the competitive circuit, we return to action this week at the 3rd annual Huron ReproGraphics Oil Heritage Classic in Sarnia, Ontario. This is easily the best ‘new’ event on the Ontario Curling Tour, as the ice conditions and hospitality at the Sarnia Golf & Curling Club are on-par with the best in the country. With another strong field that features teams like Balsdon, McCormick, Frans, Rumfeldt, Prebble and more, we are looking forward to a stern test in our return to the ice.

This event is also near and dear to our hearts as it is run by original Game of Stones member, Ian Parker. This all-around beauty runs a great event with strong club and sponsor support, and even finds time to play in the bonspiel with a strong rink that this year features Jason Young (1993 World Junior Champion) and Viktor Kjell (2012 World Champion – Sweden)! We have no doubt that the 2014 edition will only continue to cement this event as a must-stop on Tour.

Follow us on Twitter (@GameofStones), Facebook (Team Johnston) and Instagram (gameostones) for updates, scores and general shenanigans from the event and around Sarnia this weekend!

October 21st, 2014 • Permalink • By wes

2014/2015 Season 2 Weeks Away

We’re excited to be kicking off another season on the second stop of the World Curling Tour with the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard at the Oakville Curling Club. Our pool includes Ontario rinks Rumfeldt and Ross, along with Quebec fixtures Menard and Desjardins.

Between now and then we have 3 summer league games to get back into form and ready for a world class field.

August 20th, 2014 • Permalink • By wes

Onward & Upward: Regions Bound

The Search for the Winter Peak

The Search for the Winter Peak

Ask most curling teams why they compete on the OCT or WCT event circuit and they’ll likely tell you they’re working on peaking their performance in time for their provincial playdowns. Everyone has their eyes on a Tankard or Scotties birth in hopes of reaching the pinnacle of curling in Canada: the Brier or the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Without consistent performances in the lead up to playdowns, it can be hard to shake the feeling of being unprepared as the first playdown date draws nearer, so teams work hard to feel ready.

Our last couple events on the Ontario Curling Tour included the Chatham Cash and the Brantford Classic. Both are ideal formats to prep for playdowns being modified double knockouts. In Chatham we got off to a strong start only to lose both A-B qualifying games, unable to shake the morning playoff game curse of our last few events. In Brantford, we got off to a slower start, dropping our first two to Peter Corner and Rob Retchless, only to string together 3 wins en route to winning the consolation bracket. Needless to say, the consistency we search for wasn’t there.

With a week left, our backend of Josh and Wes had a good weekend at the 65th Toronto Cricket Chisholm spiel, making the final which helped boost morale. Followed by a couple big wins for the Game of Stones in the Toronto Major League that brought us to 5-2, we felt pretty confident heading into Zones at Weston Golf & Country Club.

Zone 8 (GTA west/central) featured a lot of the usual suspects: Darryl Prebble, Peter Corner, Roy Arndt along with 3 other teams from our home club – 10 teams in all. Feeling confident that we’d be playing Rob Retchless at some point in the weekend having played them 4 other times this season, we managed to draw them first. With that rivalry as motivation, we came out strong for the win, moving on to edge Weston’s Aaron Clark to reach the A semi vs. Roy Arndt who single-handedly won a game where we had them outplayed early. 3 games and 30 ends done on Saturday put us on the B side Sunday morning vs. Peter Corner. Knowing that getting by them meant we had a solid chance of taking the other qualifier, we played our strongest game yet and capitalized on some unfortunate breaks for Corner & co. With two Royals rinks remaining, we pulled off a come-from-behind win vs. Flewwelling and managed to persevere in the final vs. fellow major league rink Team Prebble who was trying to rebound from a tough A-side final loss to Roy Arndt.

We’ve still got a tough road ahead, with Epping and Kean refocusing on the Brier after their Olympic runs, but our path is much more clear.

Our path to provincials continues in Lakefield in January.

Our path to provincials continues in Lakefield in January.

We’re pleased to be heading to Lakefield in a few weeks for Tankard Regionals and will be working hard to continue our momentum after some much needed downtime over the holidays. All the best from us for the Holiday Season!

December 16th, 2013 • Permalink • By wes

Ontario’s Time to Shine?

With the Roar of the Rings in full-swing, a culmination of 4 years of grinding it out on tour for Canada’s top teams, it’s hard to forget from whence they came. Great traditions like the Brier have so ingrained in us a loyalty to province or territory, it’s often hard to separate that from what is really a contest aimed at choosing representatives fit for Canada on the world’s biggest sports stage, the Olympics.

The Ferbey 4, 4 Time Brier Champs

The Ferbey 4, 4 Time Brier Champs

Since 1980, 21 of 34 Brier titles reside in the West. 23 Brier finals during that stretch featured either Alberta or Manitoba. Martin, Koe, Stoughton, Burtnyk, Ryan, Peters, Folk, Lukowich are all recurring names. Growing up curling in Ontario, I clearly remember the dominance of the Ferbey 4 for their five year stretch of Brier final appearances – likely the biggest contribution to my “Ontcurl Inferiority Complex”. There’s always been that nagging “East vs. West” mentality in competitive circles. Ben Hebert echoed that sentiment in a hasty tweet last season:

Seeing Glenn Howard walk through the province year after year with but a scratch certainly doesn’t help with the perception that Ontario has no depth. But does it?

The road to Sochi featured some new names that you may not have heard of thanks to the shadow cast by Howard’s dominance. Mark Kean’s young squad represents a generation of talented young curlers in Ontario, showing them that keeping a team together for a few years out of juniors and staying dedicated to a rigorous schedule pays off in both Slam appearances and a pre-trials birth. You’ll be seeing much more of them in one form or another, and more talent following their lead. Rob Rumfeldt’s squad showed the same kind of consistency that has seen Rob to numerous provincial finals. Notably for years with the Daniel brothers out of the Windsor area, who came so close so many times to a Brier appearance and fell just short. Joe Frans has held the skip reigns for years after former teammate John Morris left for Alberta, after a stint with Middaugh. Joining forces with three quarters of Dale Matchett’s perennial favourite OCT rink solidified them as regular favourites in any event. Balsdon, Higgs, Cochrane – the list goes on. 7 of 12 Road to the Roar teams had some Ontario born-and-bred talent. 8, if you stretch it to include the “King in the North”, Brad Jacobs, whose remarkable consistency this year after surprising everyone at last year’s Brier will surely make this year’s Battle of Ontario an exciting one to watch.

Image via Winnipeg Free Press

Jack Cox’s familiar roar of ONTARRRRRRRIOOOOOOO accompanied the rise of the likes of Howard, Homan and Epping – Image via Winnipeg Free Press

It’s been 16 years since Ontario was in the running for an Olympic rep, when Mike Harris, Richard Hart, Collin Mitchell and George Karrys bested Martin in Brandon for that trip to Nagano. I know many in Ontario hope Howard will make it through, thinking maybe then he’ll move aside for one of the many talented rinks to have a spot in the national spotlight (less likely at this point in the week now that he’s sitting at 3 losses). Part of me wants them to stick around and continue to raise the bar for years to come. Perhaps Epping & co. will pull a 2005 Gushue and string together enough wins to put them in that all important final game, where anything can happen. In any case I know I’m cheering for an Ontario rep fitting of the depth and potential for curling in our province.

It’s exciting to witness a change of the guard, as the end of this Olympic run will mean big changes for many teams. On the flip-side the 4 year run-up to this week also encouraged teams to stick together and build over three or four years, a trend that is not terribly common in Ontario that will hopefully continue.

December 4th, 2013 • Permalink • By wes

Steel Town Letdown; Wheels Rolling Onward to Chatham

As we continue to roll towards the OCA Zone Playdowns in early December, there have been some ups and downs recently.

After two qualifying weekends in both Ingersoll and Sarnia, things came to an abrupt halt in Hamilton at the inaugural Glendale Cash Spiel. Without re-hashing what was an extremely frustrating weekend, let’s just say we hope that type of play was a blip on the radar and behind us. We did not do much of anything well, and did not qualify, leaving us to depart Hamilton early and quite hungover.

Rob Ford approvesSince then, things have turned back around. We have rattled off two consecutive Toronto Major League victories and are excited to hit the road to Chatham for the OCT Chatham Granite Cash Spiel this coming weekend. We have enjoyed some success at this spiel in the past and are looking to build on that and get back to our qualifying ways. Our 5th-man, Brian Chick will be jumping into the lineup this weekend at lead, as Ryan Parker takes a weekend off. Stay tuned to our Twitter feed (@GameofStones) this weekend for updates.

Outside of our team, this is the busiest time of year in the curling world and we are watching with great interest as many friends chase their Olympic dreams. The United States Olympic Trials are on now and the Canadian Trials will be front and centre in the next couple of weeks. As always, we will be watching and commenting online on the multitude of stories that unfold.

Chat again soon Game of Stoners! (cool name, maybe Mayor Ford is a fan….. ;) )

November 13th, 2013 • Permalink • By ryan

Ulsrud Runback Quad for 2

Here’s hoping we don’t have to attempt any shots like this, this weekend. If we do, hopefully we can make it as good as Team Ulsrud did at the Grand Slam this week! #TeamGoldline

Click to view Ulsrud's Runback Quad

Click to view Ulsrud’s runback quad

November 1st, 2013 • Permalink • By oadmin

Scaring Up Some Good Results

The foulest stench is in the air; The funk of forty thousand years; And grizzly ghouls from every tomb; Are closing in to seal your doom; And though you fight to stay alive; Your body starts to shiver; For no mere mortal can resist; The evil of the thriller
– Vincent Price – Thriller – Micheal Jackson

@johnnymocurler carved this beaut.

@johnnymocurler carved this beaut.

Happy Halloween Game of Stones fans! It’s been a couple weeks since we last updated, so as we all search for the perfect costume to get (or just candy, for the lazy), here’s the latest spook-tacular news from the GofS crew.

After a relaxing Thanksgiving weekend away from the rink, we returned to Toronto, and to our home at the Royal Canadian Curling Club, to kick-off of the 2013-14 league season. With the club now up-and-running for the year we’ve been able to hit the ice a few times over the past couple weeks to get some reps in and work on all facets of the game. At this stage, it seems to be paying off.

Last weekend we traveled to Sarnia-Lambton in Southwestern Ontario for the 2nd annual Huron ReproGraphics Oil Heritage Classic, held at the Sarnia Golf & Curling Club. Hosted by our former second and lifetime Game of Stones member, Ian Parker, the spiel built on its inaugural year with another fantastic event. Ian has quickly developed this spiel into a premier stop on the Ontario Curling Tour, with the SG&CC boasting some of the best ice in the province, as well as first-class facilities.

Delicious Sideways Poutine

Delicious Sideways Poutine

We started the weekend with two solid wins: one over Jonathan Doan’s Sarnia rink and the next versus Scott McDonald and his rink from London, avenging a quarter-final loss in Ingersoll a few weeks prior. Off to a good start, we celebrated with some team poutines at Sideways in downtown Sarnia, then dropped by the hospitality room to enjoy some pints with the competition and share a variety of Muskoka Brewery craft beer.

We then met up in the A-Qualifier against Craig Brown and his team from Wisconsin. The ‘cheese-heads’ got the best of us in a morning showdown and we were forced to a B-Qualifier where we squared off against former Canadian junior champion, Jake Walker. Facing the possibility of having to play four games total on the day with another loss, and down 3-1 in the 6th end, we rallied to a 5-3 win to qualify in our second straight event. Enjoying another evening off, we tuned into CurlingZone’s After Dark coverage of the Cactus Pheasant Classic and provided @xlpurplesweater with some material for his nightly broadcast.

Back on the ice at 9am against Aaron Squires we found ourselves down early, and despite a valiant effort to generate some offense after figuring out the rocks, we were stopped at every turn by brilliant defense.

We’re now off to Glendale in Hamilton Friday night for our next stop on tour, where we look to continue our momentum. Good luck to our fellow Toronto major leaguers competing in Cookstown this weekend!

October 31st, 2013 • Permalink • By ryan

Making Some Cheese in Ingersoll; Turkey Time

With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching this weekend, and continuing beautiful weather here in the Toronto area, we felt it was time for an update on the Game of Stones crew.

Last weekend we suited up in our second spiel of the season, the Ingersoll Clash on the Ontario Curling Tour. The Clash is one of our favourite events on Tour, both for the fact that we seem to play well there, and also for the people who run the event and the teams that it draws on a yearly basis.

After a brief, but almost weekend-crushing, ice situation on Friday night (curling is hard to do on water, just sayin’!), we hit the ice late Friday night and quickly got a win under our belts. After hosting a few of the participating teams for some Muskoka Brewery beers later that night, we returned to the club on Saturday and notched another victory, ensuring ourselves a spot in the quarter-finals. Our final game of the round-robin portion of the event was one to be forgotten, as every one of us on the team struggled and the game was over quickly. After a much needed night of socializing and sweeping our performance from the memory banks, it was time for the playoff round on Sunday morning.

Facing off against Team McDonald, a team coming off a big win in Kitchener-Waterloo the weekend prior and undefeated on the season, we knew we needed to be sharp. After giving up 3 in the 1st end, the game settled in and became a battle. After stealing the 8th end to force an extra, Team McDonald played a solid extra end to prevent us another steal and eliminate us from the spiel.

Curling TurkeyAll in all, it was a good weekend. We put some money in our pockets and recognize that there is still some room for improvement. We plan to get some practice under our belts the next couple weeks and will be ready to hit the ice at the Huron ReproGraphics Oil Heritage Classic in Sarnia at the end of October.

Finally, we would like to wish good luck to all the teams competing this weekend at the StuSells Toronto Tankard at the High Park Curling Club here in ‘Hogtown’. Fans can follow along by visiting www.curlingzone.com or following @ontariocurlingtour on Twitter. Instead of sliding and hucking rocks, we are going to hit the links and get fat on turkey and gravy! Happy Thanksgiving!

October 11th, 2013 • Permalink • By ryan