Saturday, February 28, 2009

O Canada - Champions of the World

Canada crushed Sweden 9-2 in the gold medal game this afternoon, topping the podium for the first time in a World Championship. The win was every bit as definitive as the score suggests, with Sweden falling behind on a steal of two in the 1st and never recovering.

I had been most impressed by Sweden of all the teams that played this week aside from Canada, and felt they were unlucky to lose 6-3 to Canada in the round robin game. Some scraped guards and draws that went just a touch too long, suggested that in a replay Sweden would present a significant challenge.

But Canada were in unbeatable form, putting lead stones into the house and waiting patiently for rhe inevitable missed takeout. "Two words: patience and process," coach Joe Rea had said at the start of a very long day. And Canada were patient, keeping to a game plan that challenged opponents to hit, and then drawing accurately into the house as soon as there was a miss.

Though skip Armstrong did not have his best day, missing a couple of hits that brought his percentages down to just over 50%, that was still twice as good as his opposing skip, Jalle Jungnell. Armstrong's team came through time and again, with the front end shooting over 80% and Darryl Neighbour a more than respectable 64%.

The team benefited from never being asked to make shots beyond the precision available without sweepers, and that has been the story of the week when Canada has played well. They were always taking high percentage shots.

Coach Joe Rea said before the game: "We've worked all year to get here and we're going to enjoy the experience. But Jim likes to win and he'll enjoy it more if we win. Same game plan; keep it clean." The Swedish coach said their plan was to play better than in their round robin loss.

When Sweden fell behind early, I expected to see them attempt some corner guards, but by the time they switched gears in the 4th end, it was too late. Most teams. the Swedes included, consider it far easier to play hits than draws. Jalle told me over lunch that he reckoned to hit at least 8 of 10 takeouts, but maybe only get a draw into the 8 foot half the time. Canada too have had spells where they struggled with draw weight, but not when it mattered, in the championship's final three games.

The further Sweden fell behind, the more difficult were the shots they faced, and the less able to make them. Teams shook hands after 7, in time to watch the final end of the bronze medal game between USA and Germany.

With the score tied at 4-4 and Germany with the hammer, USA sat one touching the button and guarded by 6 stones clustered around the centre line. With his last rock, German skip Jens Jager ran back a wide German stone close to the hogline. It shot off wide, but redirected off a corner guard, and took out the buried shot stone to score a highly improbable 2. German 3rd
Marcus Sieger, who had held the broom and knew the delivery was wide, dropped his head into his hands in disbelief at the result. It's worth a visit to to see it diagrammed.

It was a huge fluke, but Germany had the best record in round robin play, and USA had hit their own circus shot to beat Canada. USA second Jimmy Joseph said afterwards, "We knew we had it. No way could they get at our shot stone." He's young, he'll recover.

Team USA are a team that has some growing to do, and the enthusiasm to do it. It took them a while to believe the swing on this arena ice, as they typically play on surfaces that curl a foot or so, and not the 4 to 6 feet players faced this week.

I felt pleased for Jens Jager. He had been available all week, willing to talk curling and share his experiences. His team was over-matched in the morning 3/4 game against Canada. In the first, facing one with last rock, Jens had a hit for two, but lost his grip on his delivery stick, which followed the rock over the hogline.

The stone was removed by the officials before it reached the house, and both teams felt they had a reasonable claim on relief. Germany argued that the player's hand was not in contact with the stick over the hogline, while Canada felt the stone should have been allowed to reach the house, because it would, in Canada's opinion, have resulted in 2 for Canada. The official explanation for the rock's removal was that the stick touched the stone past the hogline and therefore had to be removed.

I asked the German coach whether the incident would affect his skip's concentration. "Perhaps," he shrugged. But Canada didn't begin to pull away until after the break. The 10-4 scoreline was inflated by a 3 posted in the eighth end even though Germany shook hands with two stones left to throw.

When I spoke to Jens after the semi-final loss he said that he was not disappointed. "Not at all," he said. "I have learned a lot, and we will be back stronger next time." The teams topping the table after the round robin, were both club sides.

Speculation about Team Canada's prospects going into the tournament had centred around whether Jim Armstrong was ready to throw at this level. Long after the medals had been handed out, and Swedish lead
Anette Wilhelm had been awarded the Sportsmanship Trophy, voted by the players for the person who best exemplified the true spirit of curling, Jim Armstrong was still sitting by the podium, posing for photos and reveling in the atmosphere. For someone with such a long and illustrious playing career, this was his first appearance on a world stage and he was savouring every minute.

"What a week," he told me. "If you're coming to the banquet you can buy me a beer. It's been a real roller coaster week, so many ups and downs."

Darryl Neighbour looked dazed. "It's just fantastic. I can't describe it," he said. "We were up and then we were down, then up again. We'd think we had things worked out, then we'd lose again. It's going to take a while to sink in."

Canada did have spells where they did not play well; generally when the rest of the team allowed their skip's loss of form to affect their own play. When he played well, so did they, and tactically they outplayed every opponent except China who ignored Canada's invitations to the wings and played a winning game in the 4 foot.

This looks to be a team that will only get stronger. They know they can throw an 80% game if their skip keeps it simple. Their one doubt is at lead, where Chris Sobkowicz struggled until stepping aside for Sonja Gaudet, who is still working on her ability to throw reliable takeout weight.

This was a great week for Team Canada, and their coaches who shared the blame for the disappointment last year and deserve credit for producing a winning team this year.

O Canada - Go Canada.

Gold Medal Game - Line Scores Below

Gold Medal Game - Sweden vs Canada

Sheet C   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Final
CAN       2   1  0  2  0  2  2  X       9    
SWE       0   0  1  0  1  0  0  X       2     

Bronze Medal Game - USA vs Germany

Sheet A   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Final
GER       1   0  0  1  0  2  0  2       6
USA       0   1  1  0  1  0  1  0       4

Semifinal Preview Patience and Process

Canada take on Round Robin leaders Germany in this morning's Semifinal game.  Canada had an impressive win over USA last night, wearing them down with relentless hitting in the early ends and accurate draws that stole a convincing win after seven ends. Canada's skip, Jim Armstrong, shot a remarkable 88%.

Germany did not play well against Canada in a last draw Round Robin loss.  "They lacked focus," said the German coach.  "They had already qualified and they didn't play well."  Germany lost to Sweden in last night's 1-2 game.   Down four in the final end, they had a shot for five but took three. Jens Jager is a very experienced skip playing with his club team.  We will see whether they allow Canada to play the open game that has been a hallmark of Canada's victories.

Canada Coach Joe Rea looked confident this morning.  "Two words," he said.  "Patience and Process," as he headed for practice.

Semifinal Game - Scroll Down For Linescores

Semifinal Game - Canada vs Germany

Sheet B   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Final
CAN       1   0  0  3  2  0  1  3      10
GER       0   2  1  0  0  1  0  0       4

Friday, February 27, 2009

Canada Relentless In Win; Sweden Advance to Gold Medal Game

Team Canada, shocked by a Norway team fighting relegation in the last round robin draw, held a team meeting and then an afternoon practice at the Richmond CC. By the time they came on the ice they were ready to play.

Coach Joe Rea said about USA before the game; "We know this team, we had our chances last game, and we're not going to change our game plan. We're not making a big thing about this game. It is what it is."

USA Coach Rusty Scheiber, asked for a quote, said, "Tell my wife I miss her!" He added, "USA wll play agressively and come into the rings. We're going to make the Canadian skip make his draws."

I looked like an interesting match-up, with Canada seeking to keep things clean, and USA seeking to mix it up. When the game started, however, both teams chose to draw in and then hit. This was well executed curling on both sides, but played into Canada's hands.

It's tough to out-hit Canada, and with skip Armstrong shooting an incredible 88%, Canada wore USA down. The game started close, but with end after end of precision shooting it was only a matter of time before the less experienced team cracked. When they started to miss their takeouts, Canada poured rocks into the house, and they stole the game away, 9-2 in seven ends.

Gerry Peckham, The CCA's high performance coach, was on hand to see his team win. "We were relentless this evening," he said. "USA played well for four ends, but eventually they had sme misses and we just kept up the pressure."

It was an impressive win, but USA played a very similar game to Korea, the other game that Canada threw over 70% as a team. But regardless of how well USA might have played, it's tough to beat a skip shooting high 80s. A more complicated game may have challenged Canada more, but all credit to the Canadians. They played the rocks they were given and were never in serious difficulty.

Tomorrow morning they take on Germany, who lost 7-6 to Sweden despite staging a late charge and taking 3 in the final end. Swedish skip Jalle Jungnell shot 70%, outstripping Germany's Jens Jaeger by 20 points.

Jaeger is far more experienced than Perez, the USA skip and is less likely to choose to play on Canada's terms. Canada won comforatbly when they faced an already qualified Germany on the last day of round robin play.

I suspect the task will be tougher tomorrow, but if Canada get momentum, and hit their shots early, they are very difficult to beat. Canada have curled wonderfully at times, with unheard of percentages. They have alo allowed their chins to drop when things have not gone well. They are a new unit amd still learning the team dynamics that will mould them into a consistent winning team on the ice.

We'll find out which Team Canada turns up for tomorrow's semi-final at 9 am.

USA vs Canada (3 vs 4) - Scroll Down for line scores

Page Playoff

Sheet A 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Final
GER 0 0 0 2 0 1 0 3 6
SWE 1 1 1 0 2 0 2 0 7

Sheet D 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Final
CAN 0 1 0 2 1 2 3 X 9
USA 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 X 2

Playoff preview

Canada came into the tournament with a team goal of reaching the playoffs. They have succeeded, and know that if they can move past USA in the 3-4 game this evening, they have already beaten both Germany and Sweden in round robin play.

Last year's Team Canada were an open hit away from a place in the 1-2 game and a guaranteed medal, and that last game loss proved costly as they were unable to regroup against a USA team that were a surprise play-off contender. USA were riding high and they posted a comfortable 8-1 win over a Team Canada that felt they should have been playing in the 1-2 game.

That was last year, but if you are a Canadian fan there are some worrying parallels this year. Canada could have been in the 1-2 game with a last match win over Norway. USA are on an emotional high, holding to just 4 losses by winning their last two games. "We're coming good at the right time," said USA third Jim Pearce. Skip Goose Perez plays on emotion, and there has been plenty of emotion in the USA camp. "I had a long "come to Jesus" talk with Goose before our last game," said team coach Rusty Scheiber, happy his skip seems to have regained confidence in his draw.

We have seen throughout the event that draws win matches. You can't rely on hitting your way to victory, and if you can't draw, as has been said throughout curling's history, you can't skip.

Canada are likely to have learned a lot from their defeat by USA in the round robin. A spectacular circus shot, a heavyweight hit of a rockpile in the 4 foot with no other option open, won the game for the Americans. It was a shot that many skips might not have seen, let alone attempted, and the skip had drawn his team together before the shot to ask "Do you trust me to make this?"

The team emotion after that shot was a highlight of the week for several of the officials I spoke to at the end of the round robin. "When the Americans all rushed to their skip and hugged him after that shot, well I nearly lost it," said one.

Canada know that if they play to their potential they are unbeatable. This evening they will have to play past a team not afraid to show emotion, on and off the ice. If they make their early shots, if their front end stones don't stay short, if Darryl makes a couple of hits, and Jim makes a couple of early draws, Canada will be favoured to win.

But if they let USA get ahead, that self-doubt may creep back in, the smiles disappear as they have tended to do when they have struggled. Canadians must hope that some early end success will give their team the confidence to carry them past a USA team that learned in the round robin against Canada, sometimes it's as important to be lucky as good.

Germany (7-2) plays Sweden (6-3) in the 1-2 game. When they met in the Draw 6 of the round robin it was a very high scoring game, 12-7 to Sweden who posted a 3, a 4 and a 5. Both teams finished the round robin with losses, though with playoff places assured.

Germany were not impressive when they played Canada, choosing to challenge in a hit game when their skip was struggling to find draw weight into the empty houses. Sweden played well against Canada, without getting any breaks. draws scraped guards and hits missed by fractions. Sweden have impressed me however, though perhaps it has something to do with skip Jalle Jungnell's approach to the game.

"It has to be fun, or why play?" he told me. Jalle played basketball for 25 years so understands competitive pressure. German skip Jens Jaeger has also made a point of being available during the breaks. Hi team has a rooting section that sings and waves flags in the stands after every good shot.

"This game is all about being sociable," said Kate Caithness, WCF vice-President in charge of wheelchair curling. She blamed the coaches for hiding their players out of sight. "It wasn't the intention when we brought wheelchair curling nto the Paralympics that you would never see the players away from the ice."

Perhaps not, but well funded selected teams like Canada take it all very seriously, with their every minute programmed. It may not be a coincidence that Germany and Sweden are both club sides; fierce competitors, but here to enjoy themselves.

Relegation tie-breaks - Italy and Switzerland relegated

Italy, who had an early 4-1 record, lost six consecutive games to finish in 9th  place after relegation tie-breaks. The will join 10th place Switzerland in the next Worlds Qualifying Tournament in 2011.

The World Curling Federation changed the rules governing how it chooses which of the bottom two teams would be forced to re-qualify for the next Championship in the event that teams with equal won/loss records faced the drop.

Last year ties at the bottom of the table were decided on a single draw to the button before the tournament began. Japan was relegated by a fraction on an otherwise meaningless stone. This year there are three levels of tie-break built into the schedule, and they were needed when five teams finished with 4-5 records, tied for 5th and also tied for the dreaded 9th place.

Line scores are at the bottom of this post. The losing team from each game continued to play. It's all backwards.

Tie-breaker 1 - Thursday 26th 8PM - Scotland beat Norway 10-3 . Norway play on.

Sheet C   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Total
SCO       2   0  0  3  1  0  4  X      10
NOR       0   1  2  0  0  0  0  X       3

Tie-breaker 2 - Friday 27th 9AM - Korea beat China 6-5 - China plays Italy.
Sheet A   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Total
KOR       0   1  2  0  1  0  0  2       6
CHN       2   0  0  1  0  1  1  0       5

Tie-breaker 2 - Friday 27th 9AM - Norway beat Italy 9 - 4 - Italy plays China

Sheet B   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Total
ITA       1   0  1  0  2  0  0  0       4
NOR       0   1  0  3  0  1  2  2       9

Tie-breaker 3 - Friday 27th 2.30 PM - Italy is relegated

Sheet D   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Total
CHN       1   1  0  3  1  0  0  0       6
ITA       0   0  1  0  0  1  1  1       4

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.

Draw 12 - Scroll down for line scores

Draw 12 - World Wheelchair Curling Championships 2009

Sheet A   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Total
CAN       0   1  0  0  1  0  0  X      2
NOR       0   0  1  1  0  1  2  X      5

Sheet B   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Total
SWE       1   0  0  1  0  0  0  0      2
USA       0   1  2  0  0  2  1  1      7
Sheet C   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Total
SUI       0   0  0  1  0  1  1  X      3
KOR       2   2  1  0  2  0  0  X      7
Sheet D   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Total
SCO       2   2  0  0  1  0  1  0       6
CHN       0   0  1  2  0  0  0  2       5

Draw 11 Recap - Canada has a plan and it's working

Canada assured themselves of at least a tie breaker in the 7 - 4 win over a listless Germany. It was hard to avoid the thought that this game was more important to Canada than it was to Germany, who at 7 -1 are already guaranteed a place in the 1 - 2 game.

The ice was very fast --- 14 seconds hog to hog for a tee line draw. Canada's skip, Jim Armstong struggled with his early draws. But as he has in every end of every game, left himself a way into the house.

Once Germany had fallen behind 5 -2, they didn't have a game plan that challenged Canada to play in the rings. After the game, Jim Armstrong agreed that Germany had not played an agressive game. He was surprised that they chose not to mix it up. Canada coach Joe Rea was a happy man. "We had a plan, we stuck to the plan, and the plan worked," said Rea.

German skip Jens Jager was philosophical in defeat. "Sure we wanted to win, and we always try to win. But this wasn't really an important game for us." That's how it appeared from the stands. Germany just didn't play with the intensity they showed in previous games.

In the other game, Italy and China both had four losses and knew that whoever lost would probably be eliminated. It was a close game up until the break, with a very animated Chinese team screaming at their rocks, both when they were going too far and when they weren't going far enough.

China pulled away over a tiring Italy, who have lost their last four games.

China plays a resurgent Scotland this afternoon. Scotland need a win to avoid relegation to the qualifying tournament in 2011. (There are no Worlds in Paralympic years.) China, with a record of 4-4 will gain at least a tie break with a win, depending on the outcome of this afternoon's Sweden - USA match.

USA had a convincing win against Norway last night, with their skip Goose Perez regaining confidence in his draw. USA needs to win to remain at four losses and assure themselves a spot in a tie break.

If USA wins and China loses this afternoon, then USA goes through to the playoffs. If China wins and USA loses, then China goes to the playoffs. If they both lose, then all the teams with five losses will have the potential to be in tie breaks as they start this afternoon's game. Switzerland is out. Germany and Sweden have already qualified for the playoffs.

Draw 11 - Scroll down for linescores

Draw 11 - World Wheelchair Curling Championships 2009

Sheet A   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Final
CHN       0   1  1  0  2  2  2  0       8
ITA       1   0  0  1  0  0  0  0       2

Sheet D   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Final
CAN       0   2  0  3  0  0  2  0       7
GER       0   0  2  0  1  0  0  1       4

Draw 11 Preview

Canada drew the short straw as they play against tournament leaders Germany in one of just two early morning games. If Canada win, they can clinch a playoff spot with a win against Norway this afternoon. If they lose, they will be scrambling for a tie-break chance as either Italy, China or USA will end with only 4 losses, and possibly more than one of those teams will be 5-4.
If China wins twice and Canada loses twice, the teams with 5 losses and back in the game. Vic Rauter would love it.
There have been flurries overnight and it's -2 outside, but the ice makers say that won't changed conditions in the stadium.  "This is a state of the art facility.  It's got everything.  We can adjust it to any weather conditions."

The German coach says, "We will be treating this game like a final.  We are confident.  We don't have a special game plan to play Canada."  Germany are already assured of a place in the 1 -2 game.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Draw 10 recap - defending champs Norway lose 5th, USA still alive

USA beat Norway 10-5 to maintain an outside chance at a tie-breaker. Sweden bounced back from their loss to Canada by beating Korea. Sweden can finish no lower than 3rd and will play in the 1/2 game if Canada fail to win both their games. Scotland won their second game of the day, beating Switzerland 9-2 in the battle to climb away from relegation. They are 3-5, tied with Korea and Norway, but have lost to both of them. This is going down to the wire, with only Germany and Sweden sure of a playoff spot.

Draw 10 - World Wheelchair Curling Championships 2009

Sheet B   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Total
SUI       0   1  0  0  0  1  1  X       2
SCO       1   0  4  3  1  0  0  X       9
Sheet C   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Total
USA       0   3  3  1  0  2  0  1       10
NOR       0   0  0  0  2  0  3  0        5
Sheet D   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Total
KOR       2   2  0  0  0  3  0  X       7
SWE       0   0  4  1  3  0  3  X       11

Draw 9 recap - Canada back down to earth, but still win

Canada came back down to earth from the heady heights of 80 plus percent shooting to score a competent if not very exciting 6-3 win over second place Sweden. Sweden will consider themselves unlucky to lose as a succession of shots grazed guards or traveled an inch too far. Skip Jungnell seemed upset with his difficulty in placing the broom, complaining that some takeouts needed a foot of ice and others two feet. He certainly had trouble placing the broom for his 3rd, Glenn Ikonen, who missed a succession of takeouts. And when an opponent struggles with a particular shot against this Team Canada, they tend to have plenty of opportunities to practice.

Canada stayed with the line-up that played so well against Korea, with Sonja Gaudet at lead. Coach Rea said before the game that Sweden had a habit of scoring at least one big end every game and Canada's plan was not to let that happen. The Swedish coach said they had no particular plan for Canada. "We play our game and adjust as we go along," he said.

You can see our commentary in the post below. Overall the score flattered Canada, but the team won, and the scores on the other sheets broke their way. Italy, Norway and China all picked up a fourth loss, so Canada are sure of a playoff spot if they win their last two games tomorrow.

On Sheet A Germany played Norway in what may remain for years wheelchair curling's lowest scoring 8 end game. Germany won 4-1, but the teams were scoreless at the break. Norwegian skip Rune Lorentsen missed an open hit for 2 in the last end that would have sent the game into an extra. Norway play USA this evening with both teams on four losses.

Scotland had a frank team meeting this morning and came to the ice with renewed determination. Michael McCreadie skipped and threw 3rd stones in a 10-2 defeat of Italy. "We felt we needed Michael's experience at skip," said coach Pendreigh. Italy have now lost three in a row after a run of four consecutive wins.

China fell to Switzerland, who for a second game managed to maintain a mid-break lead, winning 7-2. The Team China coach appeared unhappy with his very young team, scolding his skip at a time-out. China has only two curling rinks, one in Beijing and the other in Harbin. The team manager said the team comes from different areas and trains together outside of competition for maybe four week-long sessions during the year.

To accommodate the possibility of three rounds of tie-breaks, tomorrow's games start at 9 am. Cate, who has been doing all the heavy lifting, the setting up and also the typing during the games, dragged herself from her sick bed to allow coverage of the afternoon draw. She is now burrowed under the covers hoping to feel well enough to help bring you the Canada/Germany game tomorrow morning.

Though Germany have secured their place in the 1/2 game, I am sure skip Jens Jaeger, who is being cheered on by vocal group of supporters, would be more than happy to force Canada into tie-breaks by winning.

Last year Japan were relegated and forced to try to re-qualify on the basis of a pre-tournament draw to the button that came up an inch short of allowing them a berth in this year's competition. That rule has changed. Teams level on points will play tie-break games if necessary to decide on relegation.

All being well we'll see you live online tomorrow.

Draw 9 - Scroll Down For Line Scores

Draw 9 preview - Can Canada maintain momentum?

It was a completely different Team Canada on the ice last night playing Korea. Sonja Gaudet, who has been reworking her delivery to add takeout weight, an increasingly important shot for leads, brings sunshine to the ice, and from up in the stands the team looked happier than they have been all week.

Chris Sobkowicz's struggles at lead had meant that Canada were not setting up their ends early and that inevitably makes for more difficult, or more vital shots for those following, though it would be unfair to accord him all the blame for Canada's slow start. Korea's game plan last night played into Canada's hands given that everyone was shooting so well. With so few stones in play, and rarely anything inside the 12 foot, there wasn't anything to get in the way.

In six games I have yet to see skip Jim Armstrong come to the line without a plausible shot, and at least one way into the centre of the house, and that's remarkable testimony to his game calling. With centre stones, he chooses a side to come around and keeps playing to that side, leaving the other open for his skip stones.

I doubt that Swedish skip Jalle Jungnell will be as cooperative as Korea in his game calling. Jungnell skipped the bronze medalists at Torino. His one loss so far this week was to Italy, and he has already beaten Germany, the other team at only one loss.

No wheelchair team can withstand an opponent posting numbers you'd be pleased with at the Scotties, taking place a ferry ride away in Victoria. Did Canada have a generous official scorer last night? Will Sonja's pixie dust work against the more experienced and unflappable Swedes? You'll find out right here.

In other matches, Germany, at 6-1 already assured of at least a tie-break, play Norway, sitting on the dreaded 3 losses. Italy (4-3) play Scotland (1-5) and China (3-3) play Switzerland (1-5).

Draw 9 - World Wheelchair Curling Championships 2009

Sheet A   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Total
GER       0   0  0  0  1  0  2  1      4
NOR       0   0  0  0  0  1  0  0      1

Sheet B   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Total
CAN       0   2  1  1  1  0  0  1      6
SWE       1   0  0  0  0  1  1  0      3
Sheet C   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Total
SCO       0   3  0  4  1  1  1  X      10
ITA       1   0  1  0  0  0  0  X       2
Sheet D   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Total
CHN       0   0  0  1  1  0  0  0       2
SUI       1   1  1  0  0  1  1  2       7

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Draw 8 - Canada curl lights out

When Korea stormed through to the final of the 2008 World Championship with shooting percentages that raised the bar of excellence, they made every high performance coach re-examine their expectations of what it would take to win.This year many people felt that with a further year's practice, and the experience of playing in a final, Korea would be the team to beat in Vancouver.

They have struggled, and came into this evening's game against Canada with both teams carrying 3 losses and knowing a fourth might be fatal. Would Canada be able to rebound from a theatrical last rock loss against USA in Draw 6, and when would Korea start posting the stats that so impressed last year?

Coach Rea told me that Chris Sobkowicz, who has struggled at lead, had asked to sit out a game, and that Sonja "was more than happy to play." I like and respect Chris, and know that he has it in him to do what he thinks is in the best interest of the team. But whether or not he jumped before he was pushed, I have to say that the team looked happier with Sonja on the ice. And Sonja had her smile back for the first time this week.

You can see the match commentary below, but Canada shot an incredible 83% team percentage. Sonja shot 90%, Ina 86%, Darryl a mere 77% and Jim 80%, 23 points better than the respectable shooting of his opponent. Korea's concentration on hitting (32 hits against 24 draws) kept things very simple. What stones remained tended to be in the 12 foot, and when you shoot as well as Canada did, without any stones to get in the way, then you are unstoppable.

We had been waiting for Team Canada to play the way we see them in domestic competition, and this evening everything worked. Rea said this was a must win game. "They are all must win games now," he said at the start. "One down, three to go," was his comment at the finish.

In other games, Germany rolled Scotland 9-2, stealing 3 in the 2nd and 2 in the 3rd. It's unclear what further experimentation Coach Pendreigh can attempt. Nothing is working, and he will be sure to come under increasing pressure to abandon the 'shoot from the near T-line' experiment. Relegation is looking a distinct possibility, a fate only narrowly averted last year.

Norway Coach Thoralf Hognestad was his animated self, at one point leaning over the stands to challenge an umpire that his team's clock was running when it should not have been. (in an earlier post I suggested he had been rebuked and he had not. My apolgies, Thoralf.) Italy took 1 in the 1st, and stole their way to a 5-0 lead at the break. Thoralf was not a happy camper, and terrorised his team into taking 4 in the 5th and stealing 6 in the 6th, thus avoiding the dreaded fourth loss.

USA were not so lucky. Playing winless Switzerland, they fell into the same trap that most Swiss opponents experience; falling behind early. This time the Swiss did not fold after the break, holding on to win 7-5. It was a bitter loss for Team USA coming off two thrilling come from behind last rock wins. I'd blogged after Canada's win over Switzerland that "they took five with the hammer in the 7th by putting too many stones in the house for the Swiss' ability to hit." Said Coach Rusty Schieber, "The house? What's the address, we can't find it."

Canada have one game tomorrow, against Sweden (5-1) whose skip is as smart as anyone on the ice. They then finish against leaders Germany (6-1) and defending champions Norway. If they qualify for the playoffs they will have earned it, and if they play as they did today I would not bet against them.

Draw 8 - Scroll Down For Updates

Draw 8 - World Wheelchair Curling Championships 2009

Sheet A   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Total
USA       0   1  0  1  1  1  0  1      5
SUI       3   0  1  0  0  0  3  0      7

Sheet B   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Total
NOR       0   0  0  0  4  6  1  X      11
ITA       1   1  1  2  0  0  0  X       5
Sheet C   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Total
CAN       2   0  3  2  1  1  0  X       9
KOR       0   3  0  0  0  0  1  X       4
Sheet D   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Total
GER       1   3  2  0  1  0  2  X       9
SCO       0   0  0  1  0  1  0  X       2

Draw 7 - Ice conditions excellent as curlers adapt to the rocks

First I owe the ice-makers an apology. A couple of days ago I quoted the Scots' coach as saying he was unhappy with the playing conditions. He mentioned difficult ice and new rocks, and made an analogy to challenging Tiger Woods to a putting contest on a ploughed field. That was not a reference to the ice. What I did not make clear was that the ice, while challenging, was in great shape. The ice-makers, who have been extremely cooperative to me, have done an excellent job getting the new surface in shape, and tournament leading Swedish skip Jalle Jungnell said he thought that the ice was excellent.

My apologies to the ice-makers for an unfortunate positioning of a quote. You're doing everyone proud.

Team Germany skip Jens Jaeger outplayed his Chinese counterpart in a very well executed 5-3 win in a game between top four teams. You can replay our commenatry in the post below. China had a chance to win at the end but their skip came up short on a potentially game saving draw on the last shot of the game.

Scotland sat skip Michael McCreadie to give a sore arm a chance to rest, and played an all female back end, probably a first for a major wheelchair curling tournament. Scotland shot a tournament best 59% but still came out on the short end of a 6 -5 decision.

Team USA left it late against Italy. They scored one in the eighth to tie the score at 4, and then watched Italy put a rock on the button and then throw a succession of semi-guards. Skip Perez' first stone had to travel through a narrow port to save the day. He was tight on the guard and Italian skip Tabanelli had a chance to close the port. But his guard again overcurled. Perez' last rock did not miss. He looked up to the ceiling, said a quick prayer, threw a rocket that smashed into the shot stone. Team USA erupted and then remembered that Italy had another rock to throw. When things quieted down, the Italian skip tried the same path but came up short. Team USA fight on with three losses, and play winless Switzerland this evening.

Sweden (4-1) beat faltering defending champions Norway 10 -6 with a four in the seventh end and a steal of two in the eighth.

Torino Gold Medalist Sonja Gaudet makes her first appearance of the tournament at lead, replacing a struggling Chris Sobkowicz.  Join us tonight for live blogging the Canada vs Korea at 6:00 PM Pacific time.

Draw 7 - Scroll Down For Line Scores

Canada has a bye this morning.  We will live blog two top of the table teams, Germany at 4-1 vs China at 3-2.  Please join us at 12:30 Pacific Time.

Draw 7 - World Wheelchair Curling Championships 2009

Sheet A 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Final
KOR     1 0 1 0 0 3 0 1    6
SCO     0 1 0 1 1 0 2 0    5

Sheet B 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Final
GER     0 2 1 0 1 1 0 X    5
CHN     1 0 0 1 0 0 1 X    3
Sheet C 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Final
NOR     0 2 0 2 0 2 0 0    6
SWE     1 0 1 0 2 0 4 2   10
Sheet D 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Final
USA     0 2 0 1 1 0 0 1 3  8
ITA     1 0 2 0 0 1 1 0 0  5

Draw 6 reflections

It's a little hard to write anything uplifting from a Canadian perspective after the 6-3 loss to Team USA. Canada gave up an opening steal when Armstrong almost made a double take-out but rolled too far to get shot. USA stole again in the second. With Canada sitting 4, USA skip Perez hit and rolled open to lie second shot. Armstrong's last rock overcurled and instead of removing the USA stone he removed shot stone and gave up one.

The teams swapped singles until the 8th. A pile of rocks in the front of the T had Canada lying 1 and seemingly certain to gain at least an extra end. Coach Rea felt it would take at least two stones to dislodge Canada's shot stone in the centre of the pile. Goose Perez called his team together. His voice carried across the sheets. "Do you trust me to try this shot for the win?" he asked, pointing to a wriggly path between several stones. Ray Turnbull would have had a screen full of arrows.

The team said yes, he went back to the far end and threw a rocket that blasted the rock pile asunder, leaving two yellow American rocks closest to the button.

"I knew it was there," he told me afterwards. "Were we lucky this evening? Sure, but it's the first luck we have had in five games. I told the team we were losing and not having any fun. So tonight we were going to have fun win or lose."

Jim Armstrong doesn't look like he's having fun. He played well tonight, called an intelligent game and outplayed Perez by 10% but can't catch a break. Canada's lead, Chris Sobkowicz had a very tough night, as did the tournament's top 2nd, Ina Forrest, who dropped 40 points from her morning performance.

Germany lost their first match 12-7, giving up 3 big ends, a 3, a 4 and a 5 to Sweden. Italy continued to roll, handing Switzerland their fifth loss 7-4. Switzerland, with a very inexperienced team playing behind skip Bollnger, have been in every match, often ahead at the break, but have always faded in the second half. 

China won a tight match against Korea, stealing 1 in the 8th for a 7-5 win and a 4th place 3-2 record behind Sweden, Germany and Italy at 4-1. Canada sits at 2 and 3 having already played Italy and China above them. A fourth loss would be cause for worry.

Canada has a bye tomorrow afternoon, and plays Korea in the evening.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Draw 5 Review and updates

Switzerland played Canada tough for the first part of the game, going into the break 3 -2. Skip Manfred Bollinger bailed out his very inexperienced team mates on several occaisions. But it all fell apart in the fifth end. Canda put lots of rocks in the back of the house and Bollinger drew in to sit shot for a potential save. Jim Armstrong removed that stone and when Bollinger attempted the same draw, he was heavy and gave up a steal of four.

Canada took five with the hammer in the 7th by putting too many stones in the house for the Swiss' ability to hit.

USA started promisingly, taking two in the first against Korea. But things quickly fell apart when Korea took two in the second, stole one in the third, stole four in the fourth. USA skip Perez appears to have lost confidence in his draw, and keeps trying to hit his way out of trouble. It's just not working.

Sweden played Scotland not knowing which Scotland would turn up. It was Scotland's best performance of the tournament, said Coach Pendriegh. "Unfortunately poor shot selection in the third ruined what was other wise a good game. We could have thrown hits to reduce potential damage, but we failed at two freezes and gave up five."

Sweden's skip Jalle Jungnell said that he started the game with mis-matched rocks. One rock needed a foot of ice for a takeout, the other over two feet. Several skips have mentioned that matching the rocks has been very necessary.

Norway got back on track against Korea, finishing strong with a steal of three in the sixth and a single in the seventh to win 8-3. Teams are allowed 68 minutes plus one time out, but most teams had 10 or 15 minutes on their timeclocks by the end of the game.

Updating the replayed end in the Korea - Italy game last night: In the third end Korea was sitting one and asked for a measurement to see who was second shot. Before the measurement could be made, a volunteer moved the stones. By rule, Korea could have accepted the one point, or asked for a replay. They asked for a replay. Italy stole 3 and Korea failed to regain their composure, going on to lose 7-1.

In this evening's games, Canada plays USA and won't have forgotten the humiliating 8-1 defeat in the Bronze medal game at last year's Worlds. USA feel they need to win this game if they hope to qualify for the playoffs. USA are just not used to curling on ice that moves more than a foot. This week the rocks are curling between four and six feet. But we can't know if all of that is due to the ice, or if the brand new rocks are also a factor.

Scotland Coach Tom Pendreigh is disapointed with the playing conditions. "The curlers deserve better," he said. "The brand new rocks and difficult ice are making the games a bit of a lottery. To those who say the conditions are the same for everybody, I use the example of a putting challange to Tiger Woods. If we were putting in a ploughed field I would have a chance. In Augusta, I'd have no chance.

"We're adjusting to the conditions. Last night's win was encouraging. We had more than one player throwing well. Michael McCreadie will be skipping from third rocks, as he did in our win last night."

Canada coach Joe Rea agreed with Scotland coach Tom Pendriegh that the rocks were not allowing the players to play to their potential. "It's a shame that the spectators are not seeing the quality of curling that we know the players are capable of," said Coach Rea. "A lot of that is down to the rocks. It'll be interesting to see how the World Juniors cope when they add brushing."

The ice had been difficult at the start of the tournament but the ice-makers worked hard to strike a balance between ice speed and new rocks. The faster the ice, the more curl and these rocks curl plenty.

Scroll to the post below for live shot by shot coverage of the USA - Canada game.

At the 2009 World Wheelchair Curling Championship

Just to show how dedicated we are, between today's draws Eric tested the ice.

Thank you Peter, Jurgen, and Andrew, who held the chair.

By the way, that rock ended up on the pin!

Draw 6 - Scroll Down For Line Scores

Draw 6 - World Wheelchair Curling Championships 2009

Sheet A   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Total
GER       0   2  0  2  1  0  2  x       7
SWE       3   0  4  0  0  5  0  x       12

Sheet B   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Total
ITA       1   3  0  0  1  0  2  x       7 
SUI       0   0  1  1  0  2  0  x       4
Sheet C   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Total
KOR       2   0  0  1  0  2  0  0       5
CHN       0   1  2  0  1  0  2  1       7
Sheet D   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Total
CAN       0   0  1  0  1  0  1  0       3
USA       1   1  0  1  0  1  0  2       6     

Day 3 Canada preview

It's far too early for Canadian fans to panic. Having said that, this is a team built around Jim Armstrong, and when he struggles there is no one there to pick him up. It's not Jim's team, it's the team that he has been given, and while it may well be the team that he himself would have chosen, it is not a national team forged in adversity, with a personal history.

Jim is calling a great game, and it was fascinating to watch him attempt to put the pieces back together down four in the final end of their last two games. Had he been able to execute his own shots, Canada may well have come back from the dead and be sharing top of the table.

But his teammates are deferential. They talk and encourage each other while he is sitting alone at the other end, and they listen attentively to him during the break. But who's going to be the one to say "COME ON Jim, you can do it! Let's go!"

Jim had said before the championship that we would be impressed by how accurately the team would play, that wheelchair curling was moving away from being a game of misses. His game plan has always left Canada with a makeable last shot. But it remains extraordinarily difficult to throw a stone into the rings, period, let alone to a particular spot under pressure.

Jim has has decades of experience facing adversity. He'll find his touch, but throwing from a chair under this type of pressure is new for him. He's thrown as many and probably more rocks than anyone on the ice this past year. He has exprience at 3rd and the tournament's only soft opponent in Switzerland this afternoon. Look to Canada to rebuild their confidence before their USA grudge match this evening.

Draw 5 - Scroll Down For Line Scores

Draw 5 - World Wheelchair Curling Championships 2009

Sheet A   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Final
SUI       1   0  2  0  0  1  0  X       4
CAN       0   1  0  1  4  0  5  X      11

Sheet B   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Final
USA       2   0  0  0  1  0  0  X       3
KOR       0   2  1  4  0  3  1  X      11
Sheet C   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Final
SWE       1   0  5  0  3  0  2  X      11
SCO       0   1  0  2  0  2  0  X       5
Sheet D   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Final
NOR       1   0  2  0  1  3  1  X       8
CHN       0   1  0  2  0  0  0  X       3

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Day 2 at the Worlds - a bad day for favourites

It was a bad day for the favoured sides, though the in form team, Germany, kept winning. They may have used a whole week's worth of good fortune in scoring four in the final end to overcome a two point deficit to beat USA 10-8.

You can review a recap of the game as we reported it live below this post but in short USA played well enough to win, but missed takeouts with their last four stones, gifting Germany a fourth win to stay top of the table.

Scotland finally found their form after struggling painfully in their first two outings. They fell behind 6-2 to Norway at the break, but then scored 7 unanswered points. Norway coach Thoralf Hognestad was in constant motion, jumping up and down, imploring his side to pull their game together but to no avail. If it had been a soccer match he probably would have been banished from the sidelines. It's refreshing to see some animation from a coach. Most have gone to coach stoicism school, and betray no emotion.

Sweden pricked the China bubble, stealing singles in three of the ends in a 6-5 victory, and Italy continued their momentum from their morning win over Canada by swamping Korea 7-1. There was a lengthy delay a the third end when an official incorrectly moved a stone. After much deliberation it was decided to replay the end. Korea, who had given up two singles, were unable to regain their composure, giving up a further three steals before getting on the board.

Tomorrow morning Canada face Switzerland, who are still looking for their first win. The Swiss team has been completely reworked with long-time skip Manfred Bollinger leading a team with very little experience. USA play Korea in a game that will test who can better rebound from frustrating Draw 4 losses. Sweden play Scotland and Norway take on China.

See you online as we live blog the Canadian game. Go to to see standings and a full results table.

Draw 4 - Scroll Down for Line Scores

Draw 4 - World Wheelchair Curling Championships 2009

Sheet A   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Total
SWE       2   1  0  1  1  1  0  0       6
CHN       0   0  2  0  0  0  2  1       5

Sheet B   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Total
SCO       1   0  1  0  3  3  1  0       9
NOR       0   3  0  3  0  0  0  2       8
Sheet C   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Total
USA       0   0  2  3  0  0  3  0       8
GER       1   1  0  0  3  1  0  4       10
Sheet D   1   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  Total
ITA       1   1  3  1  1  0  0  x       7
KOR       0   0  0  0  0  1  0  x       1

Quick impressions of Draw 3

As goes the skip, so goes the team.  That's true for any curling team but especially so with this one.  Jim Armstrong is the powerful personality on the team and the player that the rest of the side look up to.  And he is calling a great game.  Today's problemswere that even though he gave himself a chance to bail his team out every end, too often he failed to execute.

Italy were very pumped for this game and even though their front end struggled, Tabanelli at skip remained calm and out shot Jim Armstrong.  That said, Italy nearly made the same mistake as China in the final end.  Canada threw a corner guard and Italy, rather than throwing through, chose to challenge Canada with draws.  Jim still had a chance to save the day if he could have made his first stone of the final end count.  But he came up short and Canada were out of rocks.

In other games, Scotland continued their erratic play in a 10-6 loss to USA.  Tom Killin and Michael McCreadie both struggled with weight control and the score would have been much worse than 10 -6 had Aileen Neilson not bailed them out a couple of times.

Norway's coach chewed out his team at the fourth end break.  Norway took 2 in the first but then gave up steals in the third and the fourth to go into the break down 4 - 2.  The Swiss team have a very experienced skip but are otherwise new to wheelchair curling, and Norway Coach Thoralf Hognestad was not happy to see his defending champions behind.

"I told the team I was angry at them.  They were not focusing.  I told them they had to visualize the path of the rock before every rock and not be looking into the stands."

His words took effect as Norway scored three in the fifth and had single steals in each of the last three ends.

Germany took on favoured Korea and beat them decisively 8 - 3.  Germany started with a 3, gave up 2, but finished with steals in the 6th and 7th ends for a decisive victory.  Germany lead the table at 3 - 0 and take on the USA this evening.  See you there!

Jottings frm my (mental) notebook - Day 2

The rocks are "fresh out the box" new, a fact that pleases no-one, least of all the icemakers who are having to balance the extreme curl of new rocks against the need for fast ice.

Canada feel they have spotted a couple of "bad" rocks. What happens to them? Lead Chris Sobkowicz gets to throw them.

Coach Rea felt that China were allowed to get too comfortable throwing the same shots down down the same path. In Canada's one good end, where they scored 3,  Armstrong came in behind China's centre  line guard. He said as the team left for their hotel, "I've had better games." 
China will have learned how quickly a 4 shot lead can be threatened if you ignore corner guards and the other team executes as Canada did in the 8th end.

Team USA had brought software to do live audio broadcasts of their games. They were not allowed internet access, so had to abandon their plan. I spoke to a couple of Bell technicians who didn't think available bandwidth should be an issue. Obviously there is more at work here than meets the eye, but it is a shame when any opportunity to publicise the game and involve fans, is spurned.

Team USA Coach Brown told me this morning "Everyone in the curling world emphasizes the importance of all athletes following the 'Spirit of Curling.'

"In the same vein, only common sense would tell you in the "Spirit of the game," and for the promotion of Paralympic Sports and wheelchair curling, the WCF and VANOC should allow something as simple as a webcast.

"If they can't iron this out, they are clearly putting politics ahead of the Spirit of sport."

This won't be the last word, as I intend to see what can be done to allow this free publicity.

Italy, Canada's draw 3 opponents, arrived late the day before practice and skipped the social to catch up on rest. The looked flat in an opening loss to Germany, but scored a 5 ender against a very experienced Swedish skip in a 10-7 win.

That's it for now. See you live at 12.30 - the live blogging window is below this post.