Thoughts on Doubles #Curling

I can't quite remember how it came about, but on one of our last nights of Tuesday curling at the Jasper Place Curling Club sometime in March, @1CathyC had a brilliant idea: a fun doubles curling league in April.

So that's what we did. And this is how it went.

First - what's doubles curling? The inspiration was the mixed doubles event at the Continental Cup, although the 'mixed' rule was relaxed for our league. Conveniently, there's the World Mixed Doubles going on right now and my favourite national curling association just posted an overview!

Basically, each team throws five rocks. One person throws the first and the last, the other person throws the middle three. Two rocks, one for each team, are pre-positioned at the start of each end - one at the back half of the button, the other midway between the house and the hogline on the centre line to guard the rock in the house. The team with the hammer decides if they want their rock at the button or as the guard. The team whose rock is placed on the button gets last rock, so whoever's rock is the guard goes first (this is tricky, we kept forgetting how this works, so my rule of thumb when I'm in the hack was whichever rock is first goes first). No rock can be taken out until the fourth stone. You can't sweep your opponent's rock past after the T-line. You play six ends.

Confused yet? Watch this:

Yes, it is confusing, but we got it eventually. Almost. We played six games over three weeks, so two games a week. With twelve teams signed up, there was a four game round robin and two games of playoffs. The cost was $40 per person. So how did it turn out?

Well, @kevinmalinowski was a great doubles partner and we had a lot of fun. I had a good season of curling and wasn't quite ready for it to end in March, so it was nice to play a bit more in April. Most of the teams were made up of 2011 Canadian Wheelchair Curling Championship volunteers or curlers, so since I'd just spent a week hanging out with them, and was going through Wheelies withdrawal anyways, it was nice to see them again. Knowing everyone in the league was the best part - and made for some fun post-curling conversations in the bar afterwards. The World Men's Curling Championship was on during the first week, and it was super fun to watch the last few ends of great curling with a bunch of curlers, as opposed to by myself with only twitter for company.

It improved my curling skills too. Well, not my delivery, but because there was only two of us I got to play skip a lot, and as I'm usually the lead and have nothing to do with calling shots, so it was a nice change seeing the view from the house. Kudos to Kevin for letting me pretend to call some shots, and for not getting mad when I missed! We quickly figured out that we did better when I threw first and last and when Kevin threw the middle three (he is less sucky and unpredictable than me, plus is way better at hits and takeouts and making angles), so I got to call three rocks each end. Kevin was a good teacher and I think I got better at strategizing shots, figuring how much ice to give, and calling line. I made some good shots and I missed some good shots, so pretty much par for the course delivery wise.

We did ok, and finished dead middle, 6th out of twelve teams, winning half our games. We lost the B final and a chance at a $10 bar tab by 1 point. Guess we shouldn't've let them get 4 in the first and steal two in the third. Oops.

There were three wheelchair teams playing, and that's where I think the real strength of doubles curling is. I agree with Cathy, the national/international wheelchair curling should be doubles as opposed to team competitions. During team competitions, once the lead and second throw, that's it, they're done. There's no sweeping so they just sit there and get cold. Sure, they hold the throwers chairs, but I imagine it's not overly exciting for them. Doubles changes that. Curlers are constantly wheeling up and down the sheet, and both players get to call shots. There's more action. And I think the wheelchair curlers liked playing doubles. They sure had fun, and they were fun to play against.

Plus they let me try stick curling from a wheelchair! A few of the Alberta Host Team curlers were giving me advice for how to move my arm, where to position the stone, how to throw the turns etc. It was harder than I thought. I wasn't expecting the stick head to pivot like it did, and all my rocks stopped in the middle of the two hog lines, so I certainly didn't get the weight right in the six rocks I threw. It was good fun though. I totally appreciate and respect the wheelchair curlers' skills - they are very talented curlers. I was wondering what it was like and the curlers were rock stars for giving me a lesson!

So double curling was fun, but not super fun.

It was quiet. With a quarter of the people of a regular league, there weren't as many people to chat to. And there was little sweeping. This is the part I didn't like. I'm a lead, and I'm not the most consistent or accurate curler, but I like sweeping. It's the part of the game I think I'm good at. I like walking out with the rocks and judging weight and line that way. I like the bursts of exercise and the excitement that occurs when someone is yelling at you to sweep harder. There's not much of that in doubles. I'm not quite so coordinated enough to get up and sweep my own rock (nor should I, as it's not super safe) and on occasion did run out of the house to sweep during Kevin's shots, but not very often. It's not as active a game.

And that meant my feet got really cold, even with the addition of a second pair of socks!

It was quite challenging sorting out weight too. I'm used to throwing guards or draws to two sweepers who can push it a few extra feet. Not so in doubles. The first week a lot of rocks were hogged. And now I'm used to throwing to no sweepers, so I could never play in doubles and team leagues at the same time, I wouldn't be able to sort out the weight. I'm just not that good.

Only throwing five stones and only playing six ends also screws with your game.  We were often able to score three or four rocks when the first rock is in the house, so if you have a bad end or two the other team can get so far ahead that you can't catch up in the short time allotted. This led to some lopsided scoring. I'm sure if we were star curlers we wouldn't have this problem, but we're not, so we do.

Would I play doubles curling again?

Maybe. I wouldn't play in a league that lasted a whole season, but I would play a couple one-off games for fun or as a bonspiel or in a short spring league. It was a nice, social league that allowed me to extend the curling season a bit and get to know some awesome people. But it wasn't quite as fun to play as team curling.

Well done Cathy for organizing it. Maybe we'll do it again next April!