Ice, ice maybe


Let’s catch up on curling news.

There was a lot of talk about the ice issues at the Men’s World Championships in Las Vegas. And indeed, the ice was bad. Unfortunately, it was worse towards the end of the event and the ice issues were in full display for the gold medal game. Others can talk about the ice issues with more knowledge than myself.

But from a statistical standpoint, one could understand Brad Gushue’s complaints immediately after the loss to Sweden. I have 201 games for Gushue in my shot database and his 62% in the gold medal game was the third-worst among them. And that percentage doesn’t include the infamous takeout that backed up a few inches on him in the third end, which the WCF graciously chose not to score, a distinction usually reserved for picks.

Gushue’s 71% in the semi-final win over the U.S. was the 11th-worst game in the database. The games prior to that were not that bad, though, and Gushue’s average of 81% for the event was “only” fourth-worst among the 21 events I have data for. The 2019 Canada Cup (78%), 2006 Olympics (78%) and 2021 GSOC Masters (80%) beat it out.

On the other hand, Nik Edin’s 82% in the final wasn’t terrible even by his standards (though maybe it was for a final game). His worst game of the event was in a Session 14 loss to Korea, where he curled 64%, his fifth-worst game in 237 games I have for him.

For all of the talk of the ice, the results at the worlds didn’t give away the fact that conditions weren’t ideal. The top six teams in the event made the playoffs and the top two teams made the final.

The USA Curling icemakers may have brought disgrace to a nation, but in their defense this wasn’t the worst ice in an event with world ranking points on the line. That honor goes to last April’s Murom Classic.

The Murom Classic was a hastily-scheduled event added to the end of the World Curling Tour schedule last season. Held at a remote hockey arena four hours east of Moscow, this wasn’t exactly a convenient location for a tour event. Russian champ Sergey Glukhov was the headliner, and there were even a few teams from outside of Russia, although not many names you’d recognize unless you were collecting data for a world ratings system.

Sometimes when you’re playing on a bad sheet in league, you might think, “if only I played on tour, I wouldn’t have to deal with this”. Well, Sergey Glukhov will have none of your complaints. The following video is one of the semi-finals in the event. It took place on Sheet A. And Sheet A had about four feet of negative ice.

That’s not the whole story, though. When throwing towards the home end, the ice flipped inside the hog line. So you aimed for the edge of the house, threw reverse rotation, watched the stone drift back to the center line and then at the far hog line, it changed direction and ended up on the edge of the four foot. Hey, at least the speed was consistent.

The no-tick rule: a smashing success!

OK, maybe it wasn’t a smashing success, but I don’t understand why there’s any pushback on this change, even if it is a minority of elite curlers and fans. There were more ends with rocks in play late in the game and while I’m sympathetic to the idea that the lead’s role becomes more boring in a no-tick world, the lead’s role is still important.

In the past four men’s worlds, tick shots by leads with hammer scored 68%. There were an average of 122 tick shots played in each event. This year there were just 37 ticks played to a score of 49%. There was no such drop in accuracy in the women’s worlds so the ice may may be entirely responsible, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if tick accuracy drops in the future as it stands to reason that ticks are more difficult when the target can never be on the centerline.

In addition, center guards require more precision in a no-tick world as well. In the past four worlds, leads throwing center guards scored 94%. In this year’s worlds, that dropped to 86%. (In the women’s world, the accuracy dropped from 92% to 84%, so the ice probably wasn’t the culprit in this case.) I haven’t investigated it but I assume scorers were less forgiving in scoring guards that didn’t touch the center line. At least they should be. A guard that’s an inch off the center line late in the game can now be punished by the opponent much more than a guard on the center line. So there is still some skill needed from leads in these situations.

As far as actual results, the world’s don’t give one enough games to draw conclusions. For the men, teams tied with hammer in the last end (10th or 11th) won 12 of 13 games. For the women, it was 14 of 17. In the slams that have used the rule, the win percentage is closer to 75% for both men and women in these situations.

That’s progress although honestly, I’m not sure going from 85% to 75% really changes the idea that elite teams are happy to settle for being tied with hammer in the last end. Sure it makes the final end a bit more interesting, but in a perfect world (OK, my perfect world) you want a situation where the leading team can’t settle for being tied with hammer in the final end. The game is more interesting if you incentivize offensive tactics late in the game.

Bruce is still king and 3 is as good as 4

I’m not sure why Team Mouat went off at +500 in the Players Championship last week given that Bruce Mouat is the king of curling (despite losing to Team Edin in the gold medal game in Beijing). But that was the case. Mouat steamrolled the field in Toronto, only needing to throw his last stone once in six games. Mouat stole 12 ends and got stolen only once.

Mouat beat Edin in the final. Notably, Edin went with a three-man team in this event, with lead Christoffer Sundgren injured and his replacement at the world’s, Daniel Magnusson, apparently out of paid time off back in Sweden. Or maybe it was a choice. (I didn’t watch much of the coverage.)

Regardless, I hope nobody on the broadcast talked about how amazing Edin’s run was. Because we’ve seen enough between this and Gushue’s run at the Brier to understand that there is no particular disadvantage to playing with three. Even Team Germany’s 6-7 performance at the 2021 women’s worlds is evidence that life goes on playing with three.

Really, the question should be if it’s actually an advantage. You see the occasional five-person team on tour, but if anyone’s paying the attention, the day is coming where instead of a five-person team playing four, a four-person team will largely play three. Given the modern understanding of sweeping mechanics and how difficult it is to crack the elite realm of curling, it is only a matter of time before a team realizes that having their best three players throw all of the teams stones in key games and ends is (possibly) a cheap way to more success.