Canadian Mixed Curling

Starting Strong: The Importance of the Lead in Curling (Plus who has the edge in today’s final of the Canadian Mixed Curling Championship)

While all eyes at today’s final of the Canadian Mixed Curling Championship at the Rideau Curling Club in Ottawa will be on the skips – Alberta’s Darren Moulding and Ontario’s Cory Heggestad – just as important a battle is brewing at the lead position. Often dismissed as inconsequential, leads are critical to a team’s success. Great shots from a lead can seize control of an end and make the skip’s job a lot easier.

Both leads in today’s game appreciate that responsibility and understand their importance to their respective teams. “Lead is a really important position and I want to come out and make both of my shots because I know it makes it easier on the rest of my team,” said Alberta lead Anna-Marie Moulding. Ontario lead Amy Balsdon agreed: “I find if I make my shots, it makes it easier on the team.”

That being the case, Ontario may have the advantage in today’s game as Balsdon is shooting 82% for the week while Moulding sits at 75%.

Not only do leads have the pressure of setting up the end, but they also endure the physical brunt of sweeping the other 6 shots. Over the course of an 11-game, six day schedule, that could be 660 shots.

When asked how she keeps her energy up through the week, Moulding had a straight-forward answer: “sleep.”

“For me it’s just a lot of rest in the hotel, it’s a lot of sleep, making sure that you’re hydrated…and just staying in shape outside of the game,” said Nova Scotia lead Katarina Hakansson. She admitted that during a long week, it can be tough: “It takes a lot out of you and when it’s the last rock in an extra end and you’ve been curling for three hours, your arms are exhausted but you’ve got to sweep.”

It’s not just the arms, however, as sweeping also takes a toll on the lower part of the body. “My legs,” Balsdon answered when asked what hurts the most after a game, “I get pretty low when I sweep.” Even in a lopsided game, she doesn’t ease up: “Every shot I’m into it, that’s my job.”

The physical toll contributes to a general dislike of the position among club curlers. Another element of this is that leads don’t generally play a wide variety of shots.

“I think there’s an art to playing lead and it’s easy to get bored and start missing your shots, but if you make your shots as a lead, you set up the end,” Hakansson explained. When asked what is the most difficult part of the position, Manitoba lead Calleen Friesen said “guards cannot go in the house.”

Those who play the position at a competitive level do not launch the same complaints often hurled by club curlers and many say that it’s their preferred position.

“I like it,” said Northwest Territories lead Debbie Moss, “you’re involved in every shot of the game. You throw your first two and you sweep the rest [so] I find that you’re always involved in what’s going on.”

And when they perform well, skips are quick to credit their leads. “[Saskatchewan lead] Kelsey [Dutton has] been playing super all week and that really [puts us] in a good spot,” said Saskatchewan skip Shaun Meachem. “In this game with the four-rock rule you can’t hide anybody, they all have to be well rounded players and Kelsey’s been playing great for us.”

They may not get the attention and notoriety of skips, but leads are critical to a team’s success. Today’s final may not ultimately be decided by the leads’ rocks, but they will go a long way to crowning a national champion.

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