Outdoor Curling, the Actual Games

Welcome back to the culmination of my first, and probably only, outdoor curling adventure. You can double-back to read about how a Cali dude prepares for negative temperatures and some of the off-ice happenings, such as how I slipped and sprained my goddamn wrist on the ice. Yeah, yeah, how do I slip on the ice during an off-ice event? It takes talent!

But how’d the actual curling go? Well, after we lost our first game, which I also described in the “off-ice” post because I’m bad at definitions, we came back on day two won both games. Huzzah! But how one of those wins came about deserves some extra scrutiny.

The speed of the ice, which had been an issue when the sun was out and melting the ice the day before, was pretty good at our 7:00 am draw the following day. At least for the first half of the game, until the damn sun came up again. And during that first part of the game, we raced out to a 4-0 lead. Got to feelin’ pretty good about ourselves. Unfortunately, that’s the last thing you want as a curler. Kinda like when a golfer makes a couple good swings in a row and thinks he’s finally fixed it.

The other team scored three points in the 4th end, but we came back with two more in the fifth. 6-3. Should be safe as long as we don’t do something stupid. Like give up four in the 6th and another three in the 7th!

Holy crap! The next thing I know, we’re down by four and we’re in the last end. Shit! This is not how this game was supposed to go.

We battled back, though. Knowing we needed to score four, we immediately started putting stones in the house. Started setting up a good end. We got three of our first four stones into the house. They had two in, and technically one of them was closest to the button. No worries, though. If we can protect the ones we have, there’s a line where we can take theirs out. And my vice (third) is coming up next and takeouts are his specialty.

Except their vice went first. She pulled some random shot out of her ass and TRIPLED out all of our stones. That isn’t even what she was trying to do! I think she was trying to guard the stone we were about to go after. But she slipped in her delivery. Her shot was both heavy and off-line, like a baseball pitcher who meant to throw a curveball on the outside corner but lasers a fastball right down the middle instead. And now, with only four shots left, we have nothing in the house. We have one stone up top, but it’s mainly just protecting the THREE stones they have in the house.

No problem. All we have to do is… take out all three of their stones AND get all four of our stones in the house AND have them miss three straight shots. It’s the equivalent of being down by three scores late in a football game. You need to not only score three more times, but you also need to recover two onside kicks when everybody in the stadium knows you’re going for it. If the other team catches one kickoff, the game is over. One-percent chance. Okay, maybe crappy weather increases the chance of the opponent missing their shot or fumbling a kickoff. Maybe we’ve got a three-percent chance.

C Bracket’s looking nice and inviting right about now.

First thing’s first. I gotta decide if we’re going to try to remove their three stones or try to draw in behind them. The draw is the more conservative shot, but if we’re heavy or light, or if the stone overcurls or undercurls, it’s a wasted shot and they’re still sitting three. And we’d need to make that shot four times in a row. I don’t even know if there’s enough room between their stones and the button to get all four of our stones there.

The problem with trying to take out their stones is that, if we miss, our stone goes through the house and the game is over. Plus, we’ve been doing draws this entire end and I don’t know the line to take for an upweight shot.

But there are three stones sitting more or less in a row. That’s a pretty damn big target. And my vice can throw a fucking dart. So I put down my broom and tell him to throw the fuck out of it. He doubles two of them out and manages to keep his own rock in play. Now we’ve got one in the house and they have one in the house. Theirs is closer, but the good news is I know the line now. The bad news is we can’t use that line to get to their other rock because we have a guard in the way. We might be able to make contact with it, but it will be off-center, meaning our rock would spill out, too. We’re probably going to have to hit our own guard straight back to hit theirs out, and that shot is about as low a probability as it gets.

If we weren’t in a make-every-stone count situation, I could just push our own stone further in. But then the rock we threw to do that would be further out than theirs, so the most we get with that strategy is three. And we need all four. Plus, if we raise it, it’ll be underneath their rock, making it harder to remove. So I’m going to have to call less weight and hope for the best.

These are the thoughts going through a skip’s mind in between shots. That’s why it’s called chess on ice. The difference between curling and chess, though, became noticeable on the next shot. Because the queen ain’t gonna all-of-a-sudden fall over and knock out the pawn protecting her king. But that’s what the other team did. I don’t know what they were calling, but the lady who had just missed everything and been rewarded with a triple takeout missed again. She wasn’t rewarded this time. She knocked out our guard. Now there was nothing in the way of their remaining stone. I call the right line and my vice takes it out, no problem.

Now we had two stones near the front of the house, completely wide open. They were maybe two feet away from each other. All the other teams needs to do is make contact with one. They don’t even need to keep their shooter in. We need to keep those two stones where they are and put two more in just to tie. Remove one and the game is over. As my vice, who had just nailed both of his shots, was walking in my direction to put the target broom down for my last two shots, I almost told him not to bother. By the time he made it down to this end of the ice, the game would be over.

Except they missed their shot. Their stone sailed majestically through the gap in between our two stones like an NFL kicker nailing a game winner. I didn’t even think the gap was wide enough to fit a stone through, but there it went without touching a thing, maybe six inches of clearance on each side.

Now I need to put my first stone in. We put it at a different spot in the house, because the last thing we want to do is clog up that hole he just found. I hit my shot and now we’ve got three wide-open targets. It’s like there are more options to hit than there are spots to miss. And they should know the line by now. No way he misses again.

He misses again. This time, he ticked off the inside of our right-hand stone. Our stone moved over six inches and his spun out diagonally across the house. Holy shit!

We’ve recovered our two onside kicks. But that’s only half the task. I’ve now got to score with my final possession. At this point all of the other games have stopped and there’s an odd stillness in the air, broken only by some dude yelling for us to hurry up cause he’s on this sheet in the next game and we’re over our time. Our opponent’s are all off to the side. There’s nothing they can do now except watch. All I’ve got in front of me is my two sweepers and a wide-open expanse of white. At the other end sit three red stones, waiting for their brethren in my hand.

I pushed out and let go. I knew I could be a little heavy, because the line we’re taking should run into the stones already there. So imagine my surprise when my sweepers start to sweep it, implying I’ve thrown it light. Oh well. It made it there. We got each of our last four stones in to tie the game. Now it’s on to the tiebreaker.

In curling, at the end of a tie game, we clear out the house and each team takes one stone back to the other end. One delivery each, closest to the button wins. It can technically be taken by anyone on the team, but usually it’s taken by the skip. And the team that just tied it up has to go first. No problem. I’ve just thrown two draws in a row. The last thing I want to do is have to wait until the other guy goes. Furthermore, I don’t want to know how close I have to get it. Sometimes the worst thing that can happen is if the other guy goes first and barely touches the outer ring. Then I think it’s an easy shot and throw it too light.

We call the exact same line as the shot I just threw. If the frozen pond looked weird with just my three stones in the distance, imagine how it looks with abso-fucking-lutely nothing there. Okay, breathe in, breathe out. Use the force, Luke.

The sweepers jump on it immediately. I’m light. Mother fucker!

Except I’m not all that light. It would’ve come to rest within a few feet of button. But they managed to drag it to just over a foot away. And the line was perfect. If this guys gonna beat me, he’s going to have to put it on the button. Except that’s OUR team name.

It wasn’t even close. Whereas I’ve just thrown the same shot three times in a row, he’s just thrown two takeouts. He has to scale back his delivery and guess the speed of the ice. Even worse, he missed those two shots, so he’s pissed. He’s thinking he can’t hit the broad side of a barn right now and I’ve just gone up and dropped it on a dime. He’s off broom. He’s light. I think he might have even thrown with the wrong turn, because it’s flying way off onto the other sheet and it’s barely making it past the hogline. No drama. No measurement necessary. The guy holding the broom turns around to shake our hand before the rock’s even come to a stop.

Woo Hoo! This is why I play the fucking game!

Now we just have to get drunk for the next ten hours. And maybe avoid slipping and spraining my goddamn wrist.

Speaking of drinking, something pretty cool happened on the sheet next to us during that second game. I’ve mentioned that the after-game social, the curling equivalent of the “19th Hole,” is known as broomstacking. Allegedly this term comes from something that used to happen in the middle of games, not at the end. If you fancied a mid-game break and enjoyed the camaraderie of your opponents, you’d all stack your brooms on the sheet you’re playing on. This was a signal to others who might show up that the sheet is occupied. You’re coming back. Don’t start playing on our fucking piece of ice, freeloaders.

Nowadays we do it afterward. Most of us have limited time on the ice, and we want to get as much curling in as possible. Plus I’m sure there’s a generational or societal thing. In the 1950s, dudes used to go out for a two-martini lunch. If I had two martinis at lunch, my fourth period class would be Advanced Placement Napping.

But in the fourth end on the sheet next to us, the teams disappeared. I looked at the scoreboard. Sometimes if it’s a 7-0 shitshow, the losing team will just want to shake hands and get the fuck out of the cold. But it was only 4-0. That’s hardly an ass-kicking. Nothing even a marginal team can’t come back from.

Then I saw this:

Holy shit! They’re actually broomstacking, as God intended! In fact, there they are in the hospitality tent, drinking what might be beer or might be something stronger. As a reminder, it’s barely 8:00 in the morning. The sun isn’t even up yet. Welcome to curling.

When they came back, the game changed its tenor. The team that was down came back and scored four straight to tie up the game. Wow! Either one team needed some hair-of-the-dog or else the other team plays really poorly with some alcohol in their system. We’re going to be playing one of those teams next. The winner of our game plays the winner of theirs, and the loser plays the loser. So I need to pay attention to who wins this now-tied game. If we play the guys who went up early, buy those fuckers a drink before the game! If it’s the other guys… well, I don’t know. Is it possible to ensure they’re sober in ten hours?

It ended up being the teetotalers. And it worked great, because by 8:45 PM, it was clear they’d had a few drinks that day. Game three was a bit of a snoozer. We won. I don’t remember it being too dominating a performance, but we weren’t ever really challenged. We scored a few, then we played it conservative. I’d learned after our initial arrogance in game two and wasn’t going to give these guys any big ends. Instead of going for all-or-nothing takeouts, I let them score if I could limit them to one. Then we’d come back and score one or two, so they couldn’t close the gap. I think the final score was 9-3. They shook hands when we still had two ends left to play. In fact, they didn’t even take their final shot. We were up 7-3, sitting two. He could’ve drawn one in and the score would’ve been 7-4. But this was an elimination game, so the loser doesn’t have to worry about waking up or hangovers tomorrow. So once the writing’s on the wall, might as well concede and get on with the drinking!

For us, though, it was one drink to be magnanimous and then home to get rested. We’ve accomplished Bonspiel Goal #1: Make it to Sunday. We’ll be back in the dark tomorrow morning for the second 7:00 AM draw in a row. And the forecast shows… Wait for it!

On Sunday, we fell behind early. We gave up three in the first end. I don’t really remember how. I think we were setting something up well, but they either got a good shot or a lucky shot. And clearly I didn’t do jack shit to limit them with my final shots. Blame it on the pitch black or the fact that my wrist and hand were the size and color of a fucking pomegranate or whatever.

Of course, astute readers might note that my wrist didn’t seem to be hurting us the night before. Nor had the darkness hindered us the previous morning. Funny how everything goes right in a win. However, in my partial defense, sometimes the worst thing you can do with a sprain is to let it rest overnight. It really did feel stiffer and puffier this morning.

Second end, we gave up two. In the third, they stole one more. It’s 6-0 and the sun isn’t even up yet. But they’re scoring less each end. If we can take two, maybe eke in a third, we’ll be right back in this. Not the worst position I’ve ever been in. We can do this!

Then it starts to snow.

Well, shit.

Here’s where I show my coastal noob. I knew that snow and ice were two different things. I just didn’t really think through the difference. I mean, come on, they’re both just frozen water, right? Why should it make a difference if it froze before or after it left the clouds? If it rains and then freezes, it’s super slippery and you can slide a rock across it. But if it drops from the sky that way, all of a sudden, it’s fluffy and you sink down to your knee when you try to walk across it. What the fuck?

But now it’s snowing on the ice. That’s gonna slow down the rocks. But I don’t want to make my sweepers walk along side it, because it’s even slipperier than the half-melted ice I bailed on yesterday. When we could sweep, we were just removing the snow, not creating more friction on the ice. We had a push-broom (you know, the kind you use at home to sweep your patio or driveway) to clear a brief path, but that could only be done between throws. Plus it’s hard to stay in that cleared path in a game that’s based around the stone curling off of a given path. At one point, one of my guys missed my broom and his rock went outside the swept path and immediately ground to a halt. On his next throw, he asked if he should aim for the broom or try to follow the path. Am I an asshole if I just respond “Yes”?

Anyway, the other team got two more into the house. Including this one, which I filmed instead of sweeping through:

We couldn’t get shit anywhere. Of the eight rocks we threw, five didn’t make it far enough to count. Three ended as high guards.

We’re now down 8-0. One guy thinks we can figure this out. Upweight is our specialty. He doesn’t realize that the other team is actually hitting better upweight shots than we are. Oh, and they’ve come to this outdoor bonspiel seven of the eight years it’s existed. So while we might come back against an inexperienced team, these guys have us right where they want us. And did I mention we’re down 8-0?

The other three of us look at each other. In addition to the score, need to drive back to Boise to catch some flights home tonight. The snow’s supposed to get worse. It’s a four-hour drive in good conditions. What the hell are we going to be driving through?

Besides, we have the entire outdoor bonspiel experience now. Playing in the dark? Check. Playing in the snow? Check. Slipping and hurting a body part? Check. The only checkmark we don’t have is negative temperatures.

And you know what? I’m kinda okay with that.

We shook hands and were Boise-bound within twenty minutes.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

Outdoor Curling, Off-Ice | The Writing WombatFebruary 16, 2020 at 9:27 pm

[…] Read on to find out what the beautiful town of Stanley was like and how I managed to snap my wrist! Then you can find the on-ice stuff here. […]

[…] Part Three Here. […]

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