Thursday, February 26, 2009

Draw 12 - Canada reach champoinship goal, not with a win over Norway but a loss by China

Canada knew before they had to play two-time defending Worlds champions Norway in the final draw, that they had secured at least a tie-break for tomorrow's playoffs. Canada coach Joe Rea said before the game, "We know this side having played them this season. We know they can kick your butt if you don't play well. We'll stick to our game plan. We needed to win our last four games and we can't stop now."

Norway's coach gave his struggling skip Rune Lorentsen 3rd stones, and played his alternate, Anne Mette Samdal, at lead. The game began innocently enough with a blank; none of the pile of rocks at the front of the house actually touching. But that pile was an ominous omen for Canada who, in the games that have gone well have played to an open house with skip stones. The teams that have challenged and beaten Canada have managed to bring the play into the inner rings.

In the second Canada missed a chance to steal a second point when Jim Armstrong's draw into the rings was outscored by a Norway stone back 12. An Armstrong draw that failed to reach the rings cost a stolen point in the 4th, and suddenly we were watching a team that curls at the same unspectacular pace as most of the other teams, missing about half the time.

Norway stole a decisive 2 in the 7th to go ahead 5-2, the final score, and after the game coach Thoralf Hognestad was pleased with how his skip had responded to the line-up change. "That was the big factor in our win. Rune had lost confidence but played well at 3rd." The win gave Norway a 4-5 record and dropped Canada to 5-4. As it transpired, a Norway loss would have relegated them to the Qualifying tournament in 2011.

USA and China both had the opportunity to match Canada with evening wins. USA beat Sweden 7-2, which had no effect on Sweden's standing though you would not have known it from the disappointment written on skip Jalle Jungnell's face at his performance. Two days ago the USA coach had feared 4 losses would be too many, but his team moved into 3rd place when China lost to Scotland 6-5. The young Chinese team had come a long way in a very short time, and played to the last stone even though they were down 3 with a long guard and just one in the house.

Germany (7-2) plays Sweden (6-3) in tomorrow's 1/2 game while USA and Canada will replay last year's 3/4 game. Canada will hope to avoid the flat 2008 performance that saw their title hopes crash in an 8-1 defeat.

Canada came into this championship with high expectations for their shooting. Jim, Darryl and Chris had each told me that they expected to see shooting percentages way higher than the very respectable numbers Canada have actually posted. But arena ice, stiff competition, fatigue from 6 days of double draws, and inexperience at high level wheelchair competition at skip and lead may have contributed to a Canadian performance that was very well skipped, but with just competent, not exceptional shooting, the 83% game notwithstanding.

When teams play Canada in the centre of the rings, anything can happen, and Canada win no more than their share. Wheelchair curling remains a game of misses.

Last year the rules stated than ties in ranking for relegation would be determined by a single pre-tournament draw to the button. Japan were relegated by an inch, a`result so blatantly unfair that the rules were changed this year. Now no team can be relegated except by losing a match. The scheduling official's nightmare scenario happened today, as five teams ended with 4-5 records. Scotland, Norway, Korea, China and Italy must play in a three level series of tie-breaks to determine who will be in 9th place and join Switzerland in the Qualifying tournament in 2011. (There is no World Championship in a Paralympics year.)

Scotland were the first team to avoid the drop, beating Norway 10-3 in a late game this evening. Tie-breaks continue tomorrow morning and afternoon, with Korea playing China and Italy playing Norway, and the losers playing to avoid 9th place.

Germany/Sweden and Canada/USA play 8pm tomorrow and we will bring you live coverage of Canada's game.


Anonymous said...

Team Canada and whoever they now play are on a level playing field. That is, the game will have as much impact on them as Canada. Canada put themselves in a tenuous position early if the week, and found a way through it. Expect the same tonight. Rock choices, etc. (experience with decisions)on the weekend favour Canada's Armstrong. and they are in the thick of it with Armstrong admittedly frustrated with his own play.

I still feel a Canada win.

Anonymous said...

Norway was the first team that even came close to strategizing with Canada. Armstrong's knowledge will be the difference on the weekend.