Saturday, February 14, 2009

Eight end debate and other picks

by Keith Borkowsky, The Curling Guy

Out of Left Field recently got an opportunity for a Q&A with a former Saskatchewan men's champion by pure luck. I walked into the Brandon Curling Club looking for another story and saw a guy with a broom and a bag emblazoned with Gerald Shymko's name on the side.

Turns out, he was the real deal and was in the Wheat City selling grain dryers that go inside grain bins to farmers at Ag Days.

And he was curling that night in the men's league in place of 1987 Manitoba champion Brian Fowler.

While Shymko has led his own players into Brier battle before, he used his time in Brandon to get ready for the Saskatchewan provincial championships after qualifying through the Saskatchewan Curling Tour with Doug Harcourt, himself a three-time Saskatchewan champion.

Q: How did you qualify for provincials?

A: We qualified out of the Saskatchewan (Curling) Tour. There's three guaranteed berths out of the World Tour and three out of the Sask. Tour, five out of the North and five out of the South. It gives us a 16-team triple knockout now.

Q: What did you have before this year?

A: We actually had a nine team playoff before with four from the North, four from the South and a wildcard. Before that there were only eight. But when I always looked back at Manitoba and thought about all the Briers they win that we didn't, I think getting 32 teams into provincials was always smart because you always got your best guys there and you still had a chance for up and coming teams. I'm happy we went with 16. I thought with our eight- and nine-team playoffs was really bad because we'd kill ourselves to get there.

Q: How do you like your chances this year?

A: You know I think this year is wide open, just looking at the teams that have done well on the World Tour. Pat (Simmons) has won four in a row and they are a real good team. But I think this year is wide open because there's years they've come in real strong. They aren't coming in as strong as they always have. Plus there's teams that have had some real good years like McKee and Joel Jordison.

This discussion with Shymko proved more timely a couple of weeks later when Ontario's curling association mused about moving to eight end games at it's championships.

That Grand Slam events are already eight ends, and that the Canadian Curling Association is looking at it too, makes it a valid discussion.

Ironically, Manitoba's championships are going to be reviewed from top to bottom over the next year, and that could mean the Keystone Province shifts games to eight ends.

Depending on who you spoke to at the Manitoba Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Neepawa (which ended with Barb Spencer winning the berth to nationals), eight is enough.

In spite of both Spencer and her opponent Karen Porritt's efforts to generate offence, they blanked the first two ends before mixing it up curling style in the third end.

While Porritt said eight ends would have made little difference in the opening ends of that game, shortening games is the way of the future.

"We want eight end games," Porritt said. "We play a lot of eight end games because all the Slam events are eight ends. We've actually played more eight end games than 10 end games this year. I like it a lot better because while Hans Wuthrich and Eric Montford can make the ice hold up for the whole 10 ends, not many icemakers can. So lots of times in the last few ends, the ice fudges badly."

Honestly, I'd never thought of that before. But when the most critical shots in a game are made, ice is the last thing a curler wants to worry about and It's one of the reasons they pebble the ice during a fifth end break.

Curling has evolved once before. Games used to be 12 ends before they were shortened to 10 ends. And while eight is the way of the future, some still prefer the 10 ends that are now in place.

"I do like playing eight ends because we've done that before, but you know for provincials, 10 ends is the way to go," said Darcy Robertson, third for her sister Spencer. "It's nice to have those extra ends early in the week to get a feel for the ice."

Any switch will change the style of play.

"Sometimes when you play 10 ends, you start off playing it a little cleaner," said Darcy Robertson, third for her sister Spencer. "If you have an eight end game you have to start right from the get go. You don't have that time so you have to be aggressive."

There are plenty of options, and the curlers themselves haven't settled on which sliding path to take. That makes the next few years an interesting time for the game.

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