TORONTO - They came, they saw, they lost, but they will no doubt remember the experience.
The Shannon Kleibrink foursome from Calgary were one of five international women’s teams to accept invitations to a new curling event in Yichun, in northern China.
Kleibrink and teammates Amy Nixon, Carolyn McRorie (Darbyshire) and Chelsey Matson along with coach Daryl Nixon spent a few days touring Beijing before flying to Harbin, where they were forced to take an eight-hour bus ride when their flight to Yichun was cancelled due to bad weather.
On the ice, the squad began well with a 10-2 shellacking of the U.S. entry skipped by Patti Lank but then fell 7-5 to highly-regarded Chinese national team skip Bingyu Wang.
The Canadians padded their won-loss record to 3-1 after big wins over a Chinese junior team and a local Yichun squad, but then the wheels fell off.
In quick succession Kleibrink lost 7-5 to Denmark’s Madeleine Dupont, 7-3 to Switzerland’s Silvana Tirinzoni and 8-3 to Sweden’s Anna Hasselborg to wind up in fifth place with a 3-4 record.
The Danes took gold with a huge 11-4 win over Switzerland in the championship final, while China finished third with a 6-5 win over Sweden in the bronze medal match.
The event is expected to become a key plank in Yichun’s plans to build, from scratch, a “curling city” — the new home of China’s burgeoning interest in the Roaring Game. The billion-dollar effort includes the newly-opened curling facility and the adoption of curling into the local school curriculum.
And we used to think it was the Americans who would rush in, spend a ton of money and end up sweeping up curling for themselves. If we’re not careful, China just might sweep us all aside.
The second Grand Slam of the season saw Mike McEwen’s Winnipeg foursome capture their third Slam title in two seasons with a championship win over Winnipeg rival Jeff Stoughton.
McEwen’s victory in Kingston came at the first test event of the new five-rock Free Guard Zone, and that in itself summarizes the confusion that still surrounds the rule. Here’s a team that doesn’t really like the new rule, and they still went undefeated and won the whole enchilada.
Many curlers and curling fans don’t know what to think of it. Not so for Wayne Middaugh, third for Team Glenn Howard.
“As far as curling goes, it’s better for the game,” declared Middaugh, whose team lost in the semifinals to Stoughton. “I can tell you, we play a game now, we give up a two, we take two, if the ice and the teams are equal — I can tell you exactly what’s gonna happen in the next six ends. Eight-end game, 10-end game, doesn’t matter.
“Bottom line, I loved it. I’d rather play that (rule) all the time.”
There’s no word yet on whether or not the rule will return to the next Slam, which is scheduled for Dawson Creek, B.C., at the end of January.
“The best part is that I think it does exactly what it’s supposed to do,” continued Middaugh. “For the team that gets down, it gives them the opportunity to come back.” Middaugh cited the semifinal as an example of the rule’s all-offence capabilities.
“We gave up four in the first end; in a regular game, the game is over,” said Middaugh. “You just can’t (come back), Jeff is going to give us two every end and then score his one with the hammer, and we just can’t catch him. But with this rule, we felt the whole time that we had the chance to come back and right up until the last end, we did.”
Observers were quick to note that seconds were playing a greater variety of shots; much more than the usual runbacks and peels. With the five-rock rule, the hit n’ run option has been all but wiped out.
“It really favours a team that has a strong lineup all the way through,” said Middaugh. “To quote John Kawaja 15 years ago, ‘You get a couple of plumbers to kick them down there for the first four rocks, then you have a great third and a great skip and win the Brier.’ Well, that sure won’t work anymore.”
Middaugh also noticed higher stakes on skip stones, even if the shots themselves weren’t more difficult. A miss typically led to a more horrendous outcome.
“A lot of times you’re drawing to split the rings and if you miss, the guy will have a hit for two. But now if you miss the split, you’re giving up four.
“And that’s kind of what you want to see, every player throwing tougher shots, right?”
Ironically, Middaugh’s wife Sherry — who skips the hottest women’s team in the world this season — doesn’t think the rule needs to be adopted for women’s play. As for recreational “club” curling? Fuhgeddaboudit: it’s not at all necessary.
And for the high-performance curling men, one tournament test is just the start. Further tests would determine if and how teams could defend against the rule, but at its inaugural unveiling in Kingston, the five-stone rule left some enthused, others lukewarm at best, and still others thoroughly baffled.