A Day in the Life

A Day in the Life of the Continental Cup

For the second time in three years, the Continental Cup of Curling is being played in Las Vegas. The event, which pits six North American teams (3 men’s, 3 women’s) against six teams from the rest of the World. The Ryder Cup style format features a race to 30.5 points with regular team play, skins, and mixed doubles.

For the first day, I attended all three draws and tried to capture what it’s like to lie a day in the life of the Continental Cup of Curling.

8:38 – Lisa Weagle, Ben Hebert, and Natalie Nicholson simultaneously throw to kick off the event. Pretty good crowd – especially for the morning draw – as the building is at least two-thirds full.

8:53 – The first end of each game all end within two minutes of each other – Team World scored singles in two of the games while the third game has a blank end. Despite their numbers, the crowd is barely reacting to anything on the ice. Too much Vegas-ing last night?

9:11 – Kevin Koe hits and rolls for three. Marc Kennedy says that he was a little worried about the curl while Ben Hebert adds that he’s glad he wasn’t throwing it. They’re smiling and happy as they talk, something which they don’t really do when they’re on camera during a game.

9:23 – Rachel Homan flashes a hit to give up a steel of one – and go down 4-0 – prompting a loud gasp from the crowd. They are really surprised by that.

9:26 – Crowd still murmuring about that flash as Homan stands silently by herself at the other end of the ice. Skip can be a lonely position.

9:27 – Erika Brown misses a shot to give up a steal of two and go down 5-0. Small gasp from the crowd. They don’t seem nearly as surprised. Perhaps this is why Canada Curling got rid of the American teams last year?

9:42 – Eve Muirhead misses and Homan has a relatively simple shot for three. The smart curling crowd senses the opportunity and cheers as she heads down the ice.

9:43 – She makes it and the crowd makes more noise than they have all morning. They’re starting to wake up.

9:44 – Polite applause as Erika Bown makes a shot for one. Seems like the only people watching that game are the ones sitting right in front of it.

9:45 – Thomas Ulsrud trying a hero in-off shot as Koe sits five with the hammer.

9:46 – He made it. Partisan crowd gives a gasp but really no applause.

9:47 – Crowd yells at the Erika Brown team to get out of the way so they can watch the Koe shot. They are cheered as they move. That is the biggest reaction they have gotten all morning.

9:48 – Koe makes it and the crowd goes wild. Hebert wonders if they have to play all eight ends.

9:49 – All four games are at the fourth end break. When games are played specifically for television, i.e not national or international championships, they only play eight because it’s more exciting – the teams are more aggressive and there are fewer blank ends. Yet the World Curling Association continues to insist that their games are ten ends – thus giving us the pleasure of boring blank ends at the sport’s biggest events.

10:21 – I talk with the security guard by the media bench. He tells me that there is a bigger crowd this year than when the event was here in 2014, but thought that my estimate of 99.9% of them being from out of town was too low. He said it’s not that locals wouldn’t come, but rather that it hasn’t been advertised in the city so people don’t really know about it. From my conversations with cab drivers and the starter at the golf course, that certainly seems to be the case.

10:52 – Eve Muirhead misses two shots and goes from up 3 to down 2. The crowd doesn’t cheer the misses, but also isn’t disappointed.

11:04 – Muirhead hits for two and the game ends in a tie. The fun part about the Continental Cup is that there are no extra ends – the teams split the points and the draw is a tie, with both teams earning 1.5 points.

11:05 – Muirhead says that she doesn’t really notice the partisan crowd, they have to have tunnel vision on the ice.

11:44 – The seats are empty, but there is plenty of activity in the arena. The blue carpet is vacuumed, the tech crew does sound checks, and the ice crew meticulously works on the ice. This involves scrapping, cleaning, and pebbling the ice. By the time they’re done it’ll be like nobody had played on the sheets this morning.

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12:34 – The players who are playing in the mixed doubles afternoon draw have arrived and are getting ready to start their practices. They get mic’d up by the TSN crew, stretch, and figure out which team will practice first. There seems to be some confusion over this final point and multiple umpires are called in to clarify. For players who do this a lot, it seems like it should be easier to coordinate.

13:02 – Keeping with the, in my opinion, annoying tradition of playing the national anthem before sporting events, the Continental Cup actually added a mildly interesting spin. With eight countries represented, they’re playing the national anthem of a different country before each game.

13:11 – There are new timing rules for the mixed doubles – twenty seconds of thinking time, thirty seconds where the rock is going down the ice, and 20 seconds where you can’t throw. This means that all three games go at the same pace, which is a little strange and makes me wonder what TSN thinks – they love the live look-in for the last rock of an end, which they can’t really do for this.

13:12 – Jeff Staughton is sitting next to me and explains the new rules. I figure there are worse people than a former world champion to give details on what is going on.

13:17 – Thomas Ulsrud turns to the media bench to say that there is too much time between shots – that certainly seems to be the take from this perspective too. The weirdest part of this is that they’re playing music in between the shots as a way to indicate that the players can’t throw. This is the strangest in-arena curling experience I’ve had.

13:43 – The clocks are broken and during the delay Jill Officer is using her blow horn with greater regularity.

14:07 – During the fourth end break, the MC finds a couple that’s been married for 56 years and has them kiss for 10 seconds for a prize. The prize is vodka.

14:37 – Ben Hebert misses a shot to give Thomas Ulsrud an easy shot for four. He proceeds to slam his broom on the floor and it shatters. He then curses their shot calling during the end.

15:17 – The afternoon session is over and the players are making their way through the area for media scrums. It’s a small space that quite a bit colder than the media bench. There is a set-up for video interviews, which Marc Kennedy is doing right now before having to talk to me.

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15:20 – I ask Kennedy about the new mixed doubles format and the changes in sweeping across the sport. He’s the last player to leave the interview area – I guess that’s part of what comes with being an Olympic champion.

16:01 – Even though the draw has been over for a while there is still a line to get up the elevators to the hotel rooms. I also heard that the hotel set a single day record for check-ins yesterday, meaning that the vast majority of the activity in the building this weekend is related to the curling.

16:32 – My brother and I discuss the merits of the new mixed doubles format – our initial conclusion is that it didn’t work. What’s wrong with just letting them play?

17:34 – Back on the media bench in the arena. The doors have just opened to the public and a few folks wonder to their seats. One lady has brought a beer for one of the ice makers, which he gleefully accepts. All part of the sport’s charm.

17:35 – Twenty feet from where I sit, Randy Ferbey is talking to Vic Rauter. That’s pretty cool.

17:37 – Nolan Thiessen is the first player to emerge from the locker room for the 6:30 start time. He is quickly followed by Christoffer Sundgren. Apparently when you’re the lead that applies to everything.

18:00 – Practice starts, but Jennifer Jones isn’t on the ice. She runs down just as her team throws their first rocks. Kind of an inauspicious start.

18:31 – In the continuing effort to all countries represented, the Japanese national anthem is played. It takes two seconds before the crowd realizes the song is over and starts to applaud.

18:37 – The games have started and the crowd, while still pretty big, is definitely smaller than it was for both of the two earlier draws. Perhaps some of the fans have been waylaid by other Vegas entertainment.

19:06 – Not only is the crowd smaller, but there are several members of Team World that aren’t on their bench. So perhaps it’s not just the crowd that has hear Vegas’ siren song.

19:45 – A hush falls over the crowd as Pat Simmons gets in the hack to throw his last rock of the fourth end. He’s facing four stones, all of which are in the four foot. On another sheet Matt Hamilton wonders aloud if anyone would want to throw that shot.

19:46 – Simmons can’t make the slash and falls behind 6-1. But it’s the TV game. Thoughts immediately go to whether they’ll switch. Jones leads Ogasawara 6-2, so that might not be a great option. Shuster leads Edin 4-2, but TSN has been extremely hesitant to show the Americans, so it looks like they’ll stay where they are.

20:11 – 50/50 vendor to the stars Scott “What Do You Mean That’s Five Fouls!?!” Graham is spotted in the crowd. He can’t move without someone wanting to buy a ticket. Perhaps he went into the wrong business.

20:12 – The scoreboard says that the 50/50 pot is up to $22,870 and rising. That’s the curling 50/50 equivalent of this week’s big Powerball prize.

20:23 – John Shuster is down two with the hammer heading to the 7th end. He comes over to ask coach Rick Lang and captain Ann Swisshelm whether they should try to score to two and then try to steal to win or, go for the easier and more likely blank followed by scoring two to tie the game and split the points. It’s an interesting wrinkle brought on by this style of competition.

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20:25 – Niklas Edin puts the first stone in the house and Shuster hits, indicating that he’d like to blank.

20:26 – Edin won’t bite and they decide to freeze the stone in the house. These are definitely strategy decisions brought on by the lack of extra ends. It also reminds me that I should look to see if any of the sports books have odds on this – I figure they won’t know the intricacies of the Continental Cup and I might be able find some good value bets.

20:36 – The crowd, which has filled in nicely and might be bigger than this morning, cheers a miss by the Chinese skip, giving Pat Simmons an easy draw for two. That’s a breach of etiquette that I choose to blame on some folks overindulging in Vegas’ ample libations.

21:01 – The final rock of the day is thrown and Team World has a one point lead over Team North America. Last year’s event was a rout from the beginning, so perhaps this year will be more competitive.

21:07 – The media is active with photographers and the folks from Canada Curling getting tomorrow morning’s ‘Daily Cup,’ the event’s daily paper, ready for printing.

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21:15 – The arena is empty and all that’s left is to get the ice ready for tomorrow. In just over 10 hours, the place will be full again and ready for the start of another day in the life of the Continental Cup.

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