Shot of the year


It’s not clear what “shot of the year” means, but let’s be clear: I have not watched every shot thrown in the curling world this year. What I have done is interrogated my shot database, found the made shots that were estimated to be the most difficult, tracked them down on video, if possible, and made a totally arbitrary decision.

A great shot is really in the eye of the beholder, but for this beholder, greatness is only a starting point. A shot that unlocks interesting points of discussion is a bonus. And it helps if it’s something few people have seen. So Nik Edin’s spinner is not under consideration. (Plus, Edin lost that game and I want winners.)

My choice took place in Draw 3 of the Men’s World Junior Championships in the Bundesstützpunkt Arena in Füssen, Germany. This was a doozy of a game between Canada and Switzerland that would go to an extra end after Canadian skip Landan Rooney converts a sick angle raise for two on his last shot in the 10th. (The video of this game is available on Recast for one U.S. dollar, but I can hardly recommend it as the video is nearly unwatchable due to frequent glitches.)

The extra end is almost a mirror image of the 10th, with several rocks in play from the get-go. Canada puts two guards on the center-line and real curling ensues as both teams play to the middle of the house. Hooray for the no-tick rule!

Switzerland spends the next few shots narrowly missing double peels. On their third’s last shot, Jan Iseli misses a heavy draw in an attempt to move a Canadian stone off the button. Rooney guards on his first and Switzerland’s fourth, Philipp Hösli tries to tap his stones in the house to set up some options on his last shot. Canada, playing red, is still shot and faced with this:

Switzerland currently has two ways to move the red stone off the button and get the win. Either play the thin angle raise on the right-most yellow, or run back the left-most red guard onto a yellow-yellow combination.

Canada has a lot of time to discuss their final shot. Recognizing that they can’t guard both of Switzerland’s options, the team discusses hitting the right-most yellow and rolling towards the center-line. This would take away the angle raise on the right and possibly disturb the angles enough for the run-back on the left to take away that shot as well.

After two minutes and 40 seconds of discussion, including a timeout, Canada appears to be committed to the shot. But then this happens:

That’s Canada’s third, Scott Mitchell, tripping over the guard near the hog line he threw just a few minutes ago. We’ve all done it, but what a time for an extra layer of drama. A technical time-out lasts for about a minute as Mitchell and Iseli try to figure out whether the stone was moved or not. It was, but Iseli is good with it as is.

But when we return to play, Rooney has changed his mind and decided to guard the angle-raise, daring Hösli to make the runback. And since this is the shot of the year, you know what happens next.

Well, that’s a neat shot. I mean, we could find better ones, but this shot has a lot more to ponder than your standard double runback or whatever you want call it. If Kevin Koe or Bruce Mouat makes this shot, I don’t find it too interesting, but these are juniors, and this shot was pretty important at the time, moving Switzerland to 3-0 in pool play. And there’s some interesting stuff to unpack here, too.

Guards are good but not that good

It would seem that throwing a guard on your final shot, as Canada did, would be an indication you are in a favorable position. But it’s not as favorable as you might think. I have 845 men’s games in my database where the game was tied in the final end. In those games, there was a guard attempt on non-hammer’s last shot in just 68 (8.0%) of them.

Of those, the non-hammer team went 33-35 (48.5%). So in a relative sense, non-hammer is in a much better position than when they started the end. But also, the average situation for non-hammer after a guard attempt is not even a coin flip.

Some of those guard attempts result in a more favorable situation than the overall numbers suggest, but of course some have to be less favorable, as well. If you are guarding in big-time curling on your last shot, you better have investigated all the other options, because often times, guarding isn’t great. Interestingly, in the tenth end, Philip Hösli tried guards on Switzerland’s last two shots only to have Canada score 2 and force the extra end.

Some guards are useless

Now let’s get provocative. Here’s an interesting fact: If you have a choice of guarding between two equally likely shots, then the guard is useless. It sounds wild, but I will fight you over this.

You’re only counter can be that two shots are never truly equal. And that’s true, but work with me. If you had perfect knowledge and knew your opponent’s two options were exactly the same, then the guard would be useless. In fact, if you want to get really contrarian, a guard just gives the opposition clarity. Especially when there’s a time crunch – and Switzerland had about a minute on the clock for their last shot – clarity might be helpful.

I’m not experienced enough to have a strong opinion on whether the angle-raise or the double-runback would have been easier for Switzerland, but Team Canada didn’t know, either. Mitchell thinks the runback is easier, while Rooney eventually chooses to guard the raise. (Personally, I’d think the raise was easier.)

That said, nobody is going to throw it away in this situation. In my shot log database, I have 1,695 cases of a game being tied in the final end (men’s or women’s), and in none of those cases did non-hammer throw it through on their last.

It’s not surprising that it hasn’t happened. While some guards are nearly useless, they rarely hurt anything. Still, I await the game where the circumstances align and a bold pioneer decides to throw it away on shot 15.

The Butterfly effect

Finally, I wonder what would have happened if that guard hadn’t been accidentally bumped by Mitchell before Canada’s final shot. Canada was getting ready to commit to the hit-and-roll and something changed during the technical timeout. Rooney may have not talked himself into the guard without the extra time. The hit-and-roll may or may not have worked, but we’ll never know because of a random unrelated event.

It’s also interesting that the kicked guard was moved to give Hösli a bit more room to make the runback. The shot would have still been there anyway, but Hösli might have needed to go a bit wider to make it.

Regardless of the shot chosen by Canada, Hösli still had to make a difficult shot. If he misses, none of this other stuff matters and I’m not even aware the game happened. So kudos to Philipp Hösli for making one of the best shots of the year. His shot didn’t achieve the fame of Edin’s spinner, but it was a lot more interesting to talk about.