By Michael Norton
A sheet of curling ice may be one of the most meticulously crafted playing surfaces in sports. Even the smallest divots or pieces of debris can send rocks wayward or halt them abruptly, ultimately having a crucial impact on the outcomes of games. Ice makers routinely spend hours cleaning, scraping and resurfacing the ice so that “picks” can be minimized and the games can be contested as fairly as possible.
Sometimes, all that effort still isn’t enough.
The Ontario University Athletic (OUA) championship dreams of Ryerson’s men’s curling team were dashed Monday afternoon, as the Rams lost to the Brock Badgers 6-5 in the final of the 2018 OUA Curling Championship, and it all came down to one dreaded pick.
Needing to steal a point to claim the championship, the Rams began the final end in strong position, as second Jonathan U drew behind cover to sit shot stone. The Rams held their advantage until skip Alex Champ’s first stone, where an unfortunate pick caused Champ’s rock—intended to be a guard—to curl too far, leaving the Rams stone in scoring position exposed. Badgers skip Eric Bradey, a strong takeout thrower, took full advantage, making back-to-back hits with his stones to earn OUA gold and hand the Rams the silver.
By making it to the final, both the Rams and Badgers have qualified for the 2018 U Sports/Curling Canada Curling Championships in Leduc, Alta., which run from March 24-28. The Waterloo Warriors also booked their ticket to next month’s tournament by winning the bronze medal game.
“The fact that we got it back to (a 5-5) tie was good for us. We held them when they had hammer, we scored our two and were in position to win, and then we had a pick,” Rams head coach Perry Marshall said.“It was a great game, but those are the things that happen in curling.”
“(It) just wasn’t a fair way to lose at all. Especially since they were set up to steal,” wrote Maggie Macintosh, the skip of the Rams women’s team who was on hand to watch the final with the rest of her teammates, in a text message. (Macintosh is also an Eyeopener reporter).
It’s the second year in a row that the Rams curling program has earned a provincial silver medal and a spot at the U Sports championship tournament. The women’s team was defeated 6-4 by the eventual national champion Laurentian Voyageurs in last season’s OUA Championship final in Thunder Bay. With this year’s silver medal, the men will get their first shot a national title.
Without hammer in the first end, the Rams got off to an excellent start by limiting the Badgers to a single point, and then taking two of their own in the second end to take a 2-1 lead. The Badgers came right back to get two in the third end, and a missed draw behind cover for four by Rams skip Alex Champ in the fourth end allowed the Badgers to steal and take a 4-2 lead into the break.
The game remained tightly contested as more rocks were put in play in the second half. After the Rams limited Brock to a single point with hammer in the sixth end, they were able to split the house and score two in the seventh to tie the game 5-5 going into the final end when the Badgers pulled ahead.
When asked about the ice conditions over the course of the tournament, Marshall said they were “fantastic” and he commended the Algoma Thunderbirds and the Community First Curling Club in Sault Ste. Marie for “a marvellous job hosting.”
The Rams went 3-3 in the men’s B pool round-robin to claim the third playoff seed out of four available. The Rams defeated the Queen’s Gaels 8-5 in the quarterfinals and the Western Mustangs 7-5 in the semifinals.
The Badgers went 5-2 in the men’s A pool round-robin to finish third in their pool as well. The Badgers beat the Laurentian Voyageurs 4-2 in the quarterfinals and the Waterloo Warriors 7-2 in the semifinals.
Having been placed in opposite pools for the round-robin, the final was the only meeting between the Rams and Badgers at this year’s championship. The teams met in the round-robin of last season’s OUA Championship, a game which the Rams won 5-4. The Badgers wound up taking the bronze medal, while the Rams missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker.
In the next month, Marshall said the men will continue to practice skills they have worked on this entire season, particularly their releases, sweeping, and—perhaps most important given today’s result— communicating with each other about changes observed in ice conditions.
“They’re all good teams (at nationals), so we’ll have to bring our A-game. We saw that at nationals last year with the women,” Marshall said.
“We’re confident in the teams we’re playing—we already know two of them—and we think we can compete with any of them.”