Don't slip on that ice

CON GRIWKOWSKY -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:56 AM ET

EDSON -- Reading the ice has become somewhat of a lost art over the years. These days, with advances in technology and training courses, icemakers have been transformed into ice technicians.

Players have insisted on pristine conditions at national curling championships and Grand Slam events, and technicians have delivered.

Most rinks around northern Alberta have predictable surfaces that allow players to focus on their deliveries and make it simpler for skips to call the game by taking out variables.

This week in Edson, skips have been forced to shake some of the rust off their memory banks.

VARYING CONDITIONS

With varying conditions on every sheet, the old skills of reading ice and managing their supporting casts have evoked memories of old-time curling.

"You have to think about more than how you're going to make the shot,'' said James Pahl, who's delivering last rocks for the Sherwood Park rink skipped by Mark Klinck.

"On this ice, you also have to think about the best way to throw it if you miss.''

To be fair, there haven't been many complaints about most of the sheets, and most of the players have been up for the challenge.

"On the tour, we just don't see it,'' said Kevin Martin, who was knocked down to the C event last night, losing 9-7 to Ted Appleman. "The icemakers are doing what they can and that's the truth. They're awesome. ''I just wish part of the process here would have been to have a guy like (NACA icemaker) Tim Yeo come and assist. He could have been a great benefit.

"It's like Tiger Woods out there and there's hail, a big wind, and the traps haven't been raked. It's a skill, I suppose (to read the ice). Sure, there's inconsistencies from sheet to sheet.

''This ice is really quite true, but there could be a bit more movement.''

When Blake MacDonald threw his winning draw to the button in an extra end against Shane Park on Friday afternoon, the play was for the rock to break in from the 12-foot, a five-foot break.

On other sheets, the draw weight break was as low as 2.5 feet.

There's weight-sensitivity and release- sensitivity issues on all the sheets, and the skips that can think through all the variables are the ones most likely to qualify for the provincials at Innisfail.

Unfortunately, the outside sheets can send any team into the ditch faster than the dozens of abandoned vehicles along the slick Highway 16 that leads into town.

NOT UNIQUE

Edson is not unique in that regard.

Some outside sheets at St. Albert and Fort McMurray are equally quirky. Sheet 1 at Edson "falls'' or exaggerates the break toward the outside boards.

"You only play out-turns away from the glass and in-turns coming home,'' said Drayton Valley skip Jeff Erickson after he stole the 10th to beat Martin Friday.

"That's the only way you can bury anything.

''You know when those guys are missing, it's tough ice. It's horrible. Nobody wins on that sheet.''

With a temperature of plus-eight predicted for today, local knowledge says sheet 8 could become just as tricky, with conditions changing throughout the game.

That's when the real ancient skills will be needed.

But then, curling always has been a slippery game.


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