Curling Night in America: What You Can Learn from Watching Curling

Like most Americans, I was basically unaware of curling before the Olympics. I became completely engrossed in the competition in 2014 though, even going so far as to wake up at stupid o’clock in the morning to catch matches live. My enthusiasm built as the games went on and never waned. Afterwards, I found myself wanting more.

So there I was, watching lots of curling yet never having played. The more I watched, the more I wanted to play. I found Windy City Curling, attended a learn to curl session, and soon was playing regularly. I was definitely an armchair skip…I could call shots and strategy, but could barely slide out of the hack without falling over, let alone make a shot. I kept at it though, and now I find myself able to hold my own…Kevin Martin I am not, but at least I look like I know what I’m doing.

Watching curling led me to play in the first place, and I think it has helped me to become a better player as well. The top players have excellent form, and I find myself emulating their technique, even if subconsciously. When it comes to strategy, I find I’m better able to visualize shots, and know what is and isn’t possible, based on what I’ve seen in matches. Besides that, I’ve picked up on how easy and/or difficult certain shots may be…sometimes it’s easier to nail that double takeout than to draw around a guard to the button. Conversely, I find that I enjoy watching curling more after having played for awhile. Playing has given me a better understanding of the game as a whole, and on a situational level I think I have a better appreciation of what it really takes to make a particular shot.

philCOf course, the players I watch are light years ahead of my skill level. However, therein lie some of the best lessons I’ve learned from them…everybody misses shots, everybody makes mistakes, and nothing is certain. I’ve seen some of the best curlers in the world miss “easy” shots, skips make foolish calls, seemingly perfect shots pick and inexplicably fall off line, and so on. Given this, when I make a bad shot or mess up it keeps me grounded to know that the best in the world do the same thing at times, and I don’t feel as bad about it.

Of course, outside of the Olympics curling is rarely shown on American TV. Most of my viewing has been on the internet. That is set to change soon as NBCSN and Universal Sports Network are debuting “Curling Night In America” this week. Curling always draws huge ratings in the U.S. during the Olympics, and this presents a great opportunity for curling fans to show the powers that be that curling can be a ratings draw outside of the Olympics. So, if you’re a fan of curling be sure to tune in, watch, and record the series. Live viewing and recording will both help with ratings, so it’s important to do both if you are able to. Curling is a growing sport in this country, both for players and fans, and good ratings for this event will only help to get more curling on TV and more often, which in turn will only help to grow the sport more.

Here is the broadcast schedule for Curling Night In America from NBCSN:

January 23, 2015 – 10 PM Central
February 6, 2015 – 10 PM Central
February 13, 2015 – 11 PM Central
February 20, 2015 – 10 PM Central
February 27, 2015 – 10 PM Central
March 20, 2015 – 10 PM Central

Here is the schedule for Universal Sports Network:

January 22, 2015 – 1 PM Central
January 30, 2015 – 1 PM Central
February 6, 2015 – 3 PM Central
February 15, 2015 – 5 PM Central
February 27, 2015 – 5 PM Central
March 13, 2015 – 2 PM Central

Here is a link to a press release from USA Curling about Curling Night In America: http://www.teamusa.org/~/link.aspx?_id=1697D7FAF978489999B0BE85EDDCC38F&_z=z

philB

Phil Darin is new into curling, but is an experienced veteran when it comes to Loudmouth Pants.  Want to hear more about curling, beer and music? Is your name Eve Muirhead? Click on the button to follow Phil. .


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Interview with WLRA’s Shane Gustafson

Windy City Curling’s own Eric Reithel was recently interviewed on WLRA 88.1 FM, The Start!

Broadcasting live from Romeoville, Illinois, WLRA gives the students of Lewis University the chance to create and broadcast their own radio shows for all to hear. News Director, Shane Gustafson, sat down with Eric to record an interview all about our club, our sport, and how new players can get involved.

You can listen to the entire interview above.

Keep It Moving

“I feel the need… The need for speed!”
-Maverick & Goose, Top Gun

One of the things that makes the sport of Curling so unique is the etiquette. Curling – for better or worse – is known traditionally as “Gentleman’s Game.” This is not because it should only be played by men, but rather, this expression (as it is used in the modern day) is metaphorically used to imply that the players of the game, both men and women, all abide by a Code of Ethics. Any good curler knows that this is a sport of delicacy and finesse. We are not ruffians mixing it up on a pitch. We value honor, integrity, and sportsmanship.

Yes, we take our sport very seriously and do our very best to perform at the peak of our present abilities every time we step out on to the ice, but never so seriously that we cannot laugh, smile, and enjoy the sport as we play it. We almost have to: there are no referees to call our fouls or mistakes. If everyone playing the sport suddenly lost control of his or her emotions every time a bad shot was made, or we thought another team’s sweeper touched the stone, or had a disagreement over which stone is closer to the button than another, games would result in brawls and bruises instead of beers and brother- or sister-hood.

But you already knew that. And this blog isn’t about that aspect of good sportsmanship. I’m writing this blog to go a little more in depth into the more technical aspects of etiquette. The reason being that in the last two weeks Windy City Curling has sent four teams to two different bonspiels. (And it’s looking like we’ll be sending a few more to another in December.)  That. is. Awesome!

And yet, if teams are going to go out into the fray and start competing against clubs in spiels, those need to know that they represent Windy City Curling in all aspects: not just in whether they win or lose.

Being in a club that does not currently own a dedicated facility, Windy City Curling’s access to ice time is limited to two-ish hours once a week. That’s it. Two hours to complete a full eight-end game. Ice time is a valuable, limited, and precious resource. Therefore, keeping the pace of the game moving is of the utmost importance.

The last blog I posted, The House Rules, was posted as a standalone resource. And most of the items on that list are rather self-explanatory. But a lot of the rules posted there can easily fall under one big blanket rule: Keep the game moving. Going further in-depth with those rules is what this blog is all about.

Note: I am NOT calling for a break-neck pace that makes the game feel “rushed.” Being a sport rooted in strategy and fine-tuned precision, rushing only leads to mistakes and all-around unhappiness. Instead, I am offering tips and tricks to cut out things that consume extra time needlessly so that more time can be spent where it is needed: in strategy and focusing on making finely-tuned shots.

I’m All About that Pace, ‘Bout that Pace, ‘Bout that Pace – no Stumble

While the list of etiquette is not exhaustive nor even “official” by any rulebook, it was compiled to be a basic guide from various sources including: this signage in the Fort Wayne Curling Club, opinions solicited on Reddit, other club websites, and a lot of back-and-forth emails from the higher-ups in the club. I repeat some of the rules here, with further examples and explanations as to why in (parenthetical asides written in Italics).

For the Non-Delivering Team:

  1. Sweepers should remain still, off to the side, and between the hoglines. (This allows the current shooter and sweepers to see their Skip’s call. A lot of times, sweepers on the non-delivering team don’t realize they’re blocking the view of the current shooter, or sometimes they back up so much they end up on the neighboring sheet, doing the exact same thing. It’s important to be mindful of one’s surroundings when “waiting in the wings.”)
  2. Once the opposing team has delivered their stone out of the hack, the next player on-deck to shoot should ready their stone in front of the hack and clean it. If need be, this is also the time to put a slip-on slider over your shoe. (This simple act alone is what saves so much time during games. You are allowed to do this once they leave the hack, even if their stone is still in motion. Just try to do so in a manner that isn’t distracting. Depending on the shooter, they may not have gotten that far out of the hack. That doesn’t mean they aren’t watching their line and helping their shot.)
  3. The Skip and/or Vice should be waiting behind the back line of the house to give the current Skip peace and space to focus on their game. (You are allowed to move into the house to sweep once their stone is on its way. Prior to this, though, any discussion should be kept to a non-distracting volume. I get it – you want to talk about the possibilities that may arise, but remember that while you’re talking about your next potential shot, the current Skip is trying to focus on their current here-and-now shot.)
  4. Any player on a non-delivering team should be standing with their brooms parallel to the ice, especially anyone behind the house at the playing end. (This eliminates giving a false or distracting target to the current shooter. There’s nothing more confusing than looking down to see your Skip’s broom, only to see three brooms on the ice instead. If you’re not calling a shot, hold your broom up off the ice and as parallel to the ground as comfortably possible.)
  5. Any talking while the other team has the ice should be kept to a non-distracting volume. (This does not mean “Shut up,” “Be quiet,” or “No talking.” Curling is a social sport – we get that. Just keep it down out of respect to the current team. Remember that when you’re on the ice, the game comes first. Broomstacking is where the real socializing comes in.)

For the Delivering Team:

  1. Be ready to deliver your stone once your team has the ice. (If you’ve prepared your stone once the hack is vacated from the previous shooter, this should be easy.)
  2. Sweepers should be alert, paying attention, and ready to sweep when needed. (While every team is different, a part of being ready to sweep is moving in from between the hoglines and down towards your shooter once your team has the ice. Waiting halfway down the sheet for your teammate’s shot to come to you is nowhere near close enough: You never know how soon your Skip is going to call you on.)
  3. Every member of the team should actively help the current shot. (Shooters should be watching their line and for the break in the curl, sweepers should be observing and calling down the stone’s weight, and skips should be reading the ice and ready to command the sweeping, if needed. Only by playing and communicating as a team will anyone improve.)
  4. Leads and Seconds can greatly help the pace of the game by readying the stone for their Skips and Vices (especially if they are currently engaged in a strategic discussion). (And if you see a teammate struggling to get ready, feel free to lend a friendly hand, too. Those slip-on sliders can be tricky, you know!)
  5. Move to the sides of the sheet as soon as your shot comes to a rest to yield the ice to the other team. (I’ve seen so many instances where a shot finishes, and all four members of that team suddenly stand in front of the house to look at what they’ve just done. While it’s nice a team is communicating, stopping the progression of the game for what would be 64 stones suddenly turns a two-hour game into a three-hour game. As hard as it may be for some new players to understand, sometimes you just have to make the shot and move on. Leave it up to the Skip to figure out what your last shot means for the team/game. Besides, when you’re at a timed competition, yielding the ice is what stops your clock and you’re aren’t given that much to begin with.)

When an End is Finished:

  1. Only the Thirds shall determine the score. All other players should remain out of the house until this is done. (There is no need for more than two people to agree on a score. Anymore than that, and things get cluttered, which slows the game down.)
  2. The scoring Skip that is to start the next End should immediately head to the playing end of the sheet to call their first shot, instead of helping clear stones. (I know it seems unfair that he or she doesn’t have to help clean up the mess everyone just made, but readying up for the next end is also a huge time saver in the long-run.)
  3. The Lead to deliver the first stone of the next End should get their slider on (or gripper off) and ready their first stone in front of the hack while the other players clear away stones. (Same as above. Anyone that does any act to move the game along is only helping everyone out.)

I know that a lot of this may seem like old-school strictness, but there are some things about Curling traditions that are still very much applicable today. You would be amazed at how many games I’ve seen drag on longer than necessary simply because there were frequent moments of lag waiting for any of the above things to happen.

Speaking from experience on a few of these points:

As a Skip, I always sincerely appreciate it whenever a Lead or a Second has my stone cleaned off and ready for me. If I could strategize and ready my stone simultaneously, it would be amazing. But alas, those two objectives must happen roughly 140 feet away from each other, rendering such an act impossible. I always try to thank my team for doing this for me every chance I can because, after a focused discussion on strategy to come up with the ideal shot, being able to just head down and drop straight into the hack to deliver my stone helps me stay in-the-moment.

No one ever likes feeling like they’re holding things up. For this reason I’m going to add further stress and emphasis to the point of helping each other out when it comes to readying stones. Most of our club is composed of new players. Many of these new players don’t own their own curling shoes yet. Accordingly, many players have to use the slip-on sliders.

Donning a Slip-On Slider: An Awkward Interpretive Dance

If you know your video game history, I equate slip-on sliders to the first weapon the hero is given at the beginning of The Legend of Zelda (yeah, the first one released for the old Nintendo all the way back in the mid-1980’s.).  It was dangerous to go alone, so the hero took a sword made of wood. Sure, it did an adequate job getting the player off and running quickly and was a trusty sidearm at the start of a big adventure, but it was no Master Sword (like having your own pair of Curling shoes can be). It had its limitations. So too, do the slip-on sliders.

Try putting one of those things on securely. It’s not easy, is it?

I’ve seen so many players try and do that one-footed balancing act/dance ON ICE in an effort to don one that I think our video man, Dan, should record all of us trying to do this and edit the footage together into a music video set to the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from The Nutcracker. (You’re imagining the hilarity now, aren’t you? You’re welcome.)

And if they can’t stand on one foot to do it, I’ve often seen players sit on the ice to get their slider on, which cannot be warm by the sixteenth attempt to do so in an eight-end game. Failing that, they just drop it down and treat it like a step on slider (which has its own follies I won’t even get into).

My point: Many new players are at the mercy of these slip-on sliders, and they often take more time to get ready than a stone. Therefore, teammates should be there to help. You can do this by either readying the next stone for a teammate getting their slider on, or offering an arm for balance for our one-footed dancer friends who don’t want to sit down on the ice and put a slip-on slider, well, on.

A Humble Suggestion:

One of the things that I’ve observed curling at the Notre Dame Curling Club was that each team would use it’s own slider for the duration of the match. This really helped moved the pace of the game along.

I know it’s a tradition at Windy City Curling to leave a loaner slider at each end of the sheet for the game, but think about it: That’s an entire End that a slider is just sitting there not being used.

If each team had its own slider for the match (as in, have two sliders on the same end of the sheet simultaneously), as the current player is sliding out to deliver their stone, the next shooter from the other team can get their rock ready and then put on their slider while the current shooter is still wearing one. Since the next player to go already has a slider, you either hold on to the one you just used (if you have another stone to throw) or pass it off to your next teammate up to shoot while you both wait on the sidelines.

It was amazing to me how such a simple thing could help save so much time.

I realize the common pitfall to this is forgetting a slider at one end of the sheet as everyone moves to the opposite for the next End, but after seeing how quickly some of you Windy City players can shoot a slider across the length of the rink with your broom hockey-style, this “delay in game” will be fixed much quicker than our current system.

Which would you rather have?  1.) Having a Skip send a slider across the rink so each team has one within a second or two? or 2.) leaving the slider there and then watch a player deliver a stone, wait for their shot to stop, then stand up, take the slider off, pass it to the very next shooter on the other team, and then wait for the current shooter to put the slider on…for every…single…stone…

Make no mistake: this blog is NOT specifically calling any player out as being slow or a drag on the game. I see the energy and the enthusiasm every single one of you bring to the ice each week. After getting to know many of you incredibly well enough to call friend, I know for a fact that no one at Windy City is intentionally slowing the game down. (If anything, I slow the game down more as a Skip with my strategy talks – which is something I promise I’m working on.) But, you all know how late our nights presently last due to the time slot we have on the ice.

So rather, this blog is calling out the current system we have in place to hopefully better the Windy City Curling experience for everyone there, while also encouraging everyone to focus on upping the pace of their game. Not only will practicing this at our home club make Thursday nights more enjoyable (and not go as late), it’ll also be proper preparation for if/when anyone decides to jump into a bonspiel and get out there in the awesome and fun competitive world.

I mean, it’s not like doing any of this will cut into our all-important broomstacking time… (That’s why we rock that out first.)

-Eric 🙂

(Eric Reithel is a resident blogger for Windy City Curling. He also loves using terrible pop culture references, horrible puns, and awkward visuals to help make his point. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @TheCraftyCurler.)

In Review: Hardline and the IcePad

For those of you who have been around Windy City Curling the past few weeks, you probably know that I was recently sent a new curling brush to try out. Featuring the truly unique icePad, Hardline Curling supplies is a relatively new company to the fold of curling products, and they sent me a demo broom to review.

About the Company: Hardline has only been around since it started off as an idea amongst friends in 2009. Since then, they’ve grown large enough in prestige to have two internationally known teams, the Carruthers and McEwen rinks, take their sponsorship. These teams will be using Hardline gear this Fall as they enter what will be the freshman year of tournaments leading up to the 2018 PyeongChang, South Korea Winter Olympic Games. A rather impressive resume for a company in its fifth year, to be sure, but Hardline seems to be the kind of company who follows the old competitive adage, “Go big or go home.”

Just take a look at their website. The bold claims they make about the signature icePad lend themselves to this idea. This is not a bad thing, mind you. After all, when you’re a start-up company competing against curling product giants like Goldline, BalancePlus, and others, you almost have to be. As I emailed back-and-forth with a representative from Hardline, Archie Manavian, I was told, “We called ourselves Hardline for a number of reasons. a) It’s curling terminology, and b) my personality. I don’t take crap from anybody (except the wife). I stand up for what I believe in and I don’t back down from bullies.”  The emails I received from him held a lot of the same trumped-up claims woven into the language of the website. There are really no comparisons between the icePad and the other brushes on the market. The icePad is the logical choice.”

I’ll admit, upon reading that in an email, I rolled my eyes in skepticism. So upon receiving my brush in the mail, I gave Archie a call to ask some preview questions. Not only was Archie incredibly informative and helpful, but the one thing that stood out to me the most in our chat was that Archie was a genuine and friendly guy.

A big thing lost in the boasts and claims of Hardline’s website is the honest sense of pride Archie and Hardline have in their product. The words about the icePad may have been virtually the same, but when spoken through Archie’s voice, there was no ego, no salesmanship, nor any trace of arrogance: just plain and simple belief. This man truly believes in the product he’s selling, and every line uttered about the icePad was stated simply, confidently, and matter-of-fact. That goes a long way with easing my mind about purchasing something new and untested by time because it leads me to believe that, for better or worse, the company will be there to back their product up and do what it takes to ensure customer satisfaction.

So how did the trying out Hardline’s icePad go?

Initial Observations: Well, for starters, when I first got the brush in the mail, I honestly thought the box they shipped it in was empty when I picked it up off of the front porch. “Uh oh… they forgot to put a broom in here,” I thought. Imagine my surprise when I opened the box and saw that not only was the handle in there, but so was the head and the icePad.

Yes, it IS that light.  In fact, in the two weeks I’ve been sporting the Hardline broom at my side, everyone who has curiously asked to hold it has also been unanimously impressed by how light and almost airy it rests in the hand. “Wow. This is light,” (or some variation thereof) became a common first utterance.

In fact, when I first held it, the first thought that came into my head about the Hardline broom was a quote from Will Smith’s character, Jay, in the film Men in Black when he receives a tiny little ray gun over any of the other beast-looking weapons on the armory wall: “I feel like I’m going to break this damn thing.”

Another observation was the design sealed onto the handle. The demonstration brush I was sent was Hardline’s “Evolution” style. Red and white in color scheme, “This looks sleek,” I thought.  (Sure, I may have been hoping to test out the equally impressive and forward-thinking “Pride” design, but requesting that specific design might have been asking too much of Hardline just to sate my personal preference.) Clearly a lot of thought went into the design, not just mechanically, but aesthetically as well.

I also noticed that the broom handle was tapered in a manner I didn’t expect. Unlike other competitor designs where the broom is either uniform in thickness or tapered to be thicker at the head (a staple of BalancePlus), the Hardline design is tapered to be more narrow at the head. I asked Archie the thought process behind this decision: I’ve (always) believed that you can get a stronger grip on a thin handle than you can on a thicker handle. … I just personally feel the thinner the grip on the lower hand while sweeping, the stronger your grip.In my testing, I didn’t notice this having any difference or affect on my game, but I’ve always held my broom at least a third of the way up the handle from the head (where the Hardline’s tapering begins).

But perhaps the initial observation that piqued my curiosity the strongest was the material composition of the icePad itself. I wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting (a type of synthetic cloth akin to BalancePlus’s EQ or Goldline’s Norway pad, perhaps?), but it certainly wasn’t what was was there. I can only describe it as thin plastic-like fabric, honestly. I asked Archie about the composition of the icePad’s material and how to describe it better, but this was met with a humorous reply of, If I tell you, I’d have to kill you.” (I’ll admit, I laughed out loud at that. As serious as Hardline is about their product, it’s refreshing to see that they haven’t lost their sense of humor along the way.)

Putting it to the Test: First and foremost, I had to test one of the bolder claims on the website: taking the icePad off of the head to clean it under a faucet. After watching a quick demonstration video online, I was able take the pad off, clean it in the sink (something I would never do with a cloth-based pad), and put it back on all within ten minutes with relative ease. Fun note: I watched the video demonstrating how to do this weeks ago out of curiosity as I was researching my entry Gearing Up: Brooms and I still remembered the process without needing a refresher. It’s that easy. So straightaway I knew that the icePad was designed to last a long time.

When it came to practical matters, I was able to test the broom under three unique circumstances: teaching a Learn2Curl, practicing on dedicated ice, and – the main focus – playing a game at my club on our arena ice.

First up: teaching a Learn2Curl. The major observation of having a Hardline broom in my hand when teaching brand new players the game of curling was that it seemed to lend a sense of credibility to my instruction as a teacher in the eyes of the students.  Sure, none of them may have known about Hardline specifically, but this is where the aesthetic design of the broom receives its praise: it looks like a high-end product. And when I had a group of fresh faces standing on the ice looking at the loaner brooms out of the bin, and then looking at this fancy broom in my hand, I sensed that there was a subtle acknowledgement there from them that yes, this guy probably knows what he’s talking about because he cares enough about this sport to be wielding this fancy broom. That feeling didn’t seem to exist during previous classes I’ve taught.

I also found myself pointing out a lot of stuff on the ice (lines on the sheet, far away rocks, etc.) with my broom. I never used to do this with a fiberglass loaner out of the bucket, so to that end, I give the lightness of the broom further praise.

Of course, I wasn’t really able to test out the broom in action until I went to the Fort Wayne Curling Club. As part of the certification process to become a Level 1 curling instructor with the USCA, we were given various drills and exercises to teach on-ice. Between these drills and exercises, we had a few extra minutes to play a few ends for fun. Windy City Curling’s vice president, Matt Galas, and I convinced two of our fellow classmates to partake in a fast round of Mixed Doubles. (I mean, after all, it was a beautiful club with well manicured dedicated ice. How could we not?)

This is where my preconceived notions about the Hardline icePad were almost instantly changed.

During one particular tricky shot, I was attempting to curl my rock around two guards for a light tap-back of their shot stone. For those of you familiar with the format of Mixed Doubles, you know that there are no sweepers. It’s two-versus-two, and often called a “draw game” for good reason: if your stone needs sweeping, you get up after delivering it and, with your slider still on, catch up to it and sweep it yourself. Finding draw weight without needing sweepers is crucial.

Needless to say, my shot needing sweeping. It curled quicker than expected and Matt called for the sweep to try and hold the line as best I could. So there I was, sweeping furiously with the icePad as hard as I could without touching it. I took one look at the situation and knew there was no way this shot would clear the guards. I kept sweeping anyway. Sure enough, little by little, the rock kept going further. I passed one guard, still sweeping hard, and Matt kept encouraging me. As my shot approached the side of the second guard, I thought disaster was imminent.

It cleared the second guard by the tiniest of margins (as in, millimeters).  The moment it did, I let off the rock so that it could curl and make the shot. I almost couldn’t believe it. As we’ve all seen at one time or another, a few millimeters can be the difference in this sport.

But here’s the thing: I know that there is no way on Earth that I would have made that shot if I didn’t have a Hardline broom in my hands with the icePad at the end of it. Had I been holding any broom of lesser quality (like a loaner out of the bin), my stone would have wrecked completely on a guard. I was sold.

“Maybe there is something to Archie’s claims after all…” But before I got too excited and put the cart before the horse, I knew I had one more test to put this broom through.

On Arena Ice: For as well as the icePad performed on Fort Wayne’s dedicated ice, it’s not the arena ice of Windy City Curling. At this point in review, the only trial Hardline had passed so far at Windy City was merely being impressive to look at in the eyes of new players (and a few of my club mates). Finally, Hardline was going to be put to a full-game test in the place I cared about most. So I jumped into a game playing lead, asking my teammates to pay attention to the sweeping I’d be doing as best they could.

The biggest item of note about the Hardline broom is how different it is compared to anything I’ve used previous. For example, when delivering a stone, the lightness of the handle under my arm was a bit unnerving at first. I was worried that I was going to bend the broom if I leaned on it too much. Yes, intellectually, I know that its made of carbon fiber and not going to break or bend without a significant amount more force or pressure placed on it than I am capable of, but that didn’t change the fact that its lightweight nature didn’t take some getting used to.

(And before anyone mentions it: yes, I know a shooter isn’t supposed to lean on the broom. It’s only supposed to be there for balance checks, but balance is something I’m still working on and, full disclosure: I do sometimes lean my broom. Using the Hardline forced me to face this detriment to my game, which adds a point to the ‘plus’ column in my eyes for them.)

If there is an honest critique to be had about Hardline when delivering, it’s to be found the design of the head. Whereas the edges of the plastic surrounding the pad on a competitor’s Performance head have a wide, flat lip that extends out enough to rest on the ice when delivering a stone, the design of this lip is smaller on the Hardline design. This only becomes a problem if you don’t use the traditionally accepted delivery method of tucking your broom your arm. Since I use this method, I observed no issues; however, another Windy City member who tried out the Hardline rests his broom on top of his shoulder during delivery. The sharper angle from his shoulder down to the ice meant that plastic lip wasn’t making contact with the ice surface, the icePad itself was which caused a slight bit of drag.

When I asked Archie about this, he replied: The icePad was tested with all levels of curlers for (four) months before it went to market. The one negative comment was from a player who had the same issue when delivering. … We tried different versions of the icePad to correct this situation but found that it didn’t look good. For the handful of people that do have issues, we recommend the inconvenience of carrying a second sliding broom. … We figured that for the few who do have issues, it’s not going to be a major issue to bring along an older broom that they’re used to for delivery. Many players do it.

But what about sweeping on arena ice?

Much like on Fort Wayne’s dedicated ice, the IcePad also shone on Windy City’s arena ice.  I was able to help carry rocks just as far as any other high-end broom out there, which is what most people look for in a broom. So if that’s what you’re looking for, then know that the Hardline broom delivers.

Beyond that, the biggest positive I found after sweeping front-end for an entire game was in the ease of use. Being accustomed to heavier brushes, I’m used to feeling like I need to exert a lot of muscle strength when sweeping a rock. That’s fine for one shot that might require a great deal of commitment, but not a full eight ends of rock-after-rock. And yet, after an entire game of sweeping, fatigue never really set in with the Hardline broom (and I will be the first person to admit I don’t have a lot of upper body strength.) To find a broom that allows me to go a full game without tiring out was not only exciting, but also rather liberating.

Before using the Hardline, I was worried that doing well at a bonspiel might not be in the cards for me. How could I possibly survive one full game at a tournament, let alone potentially multiple draws in a day? Now, not only do I feel as if I might make it through a spiel, I’m eager to get to one.

So are there are any critiques when it comes to sweeping?  If there are, they can all be summed in one word: adaptation. There is a learning curve that comes with using the icePad. Luckily, with dedication, it’s a quick process.

Given the unique material the pad is made out of, the sound produced when sweeping stands out immediately. Instead of the all-too common scrubbing sound other synthetic pads produce, the icePad makes what I can only describe as streaking. This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I would call it a trade off.

Synthetic cloth pads of the same price point and quality from other companies may be much quieter, but they’re accompanied by a sense of resistance and drag. Comparatively, the icePad glides almost too effortlessly across the surface of the ice pebble. When I first started using it, the only thing that let me know I was even sweeping effectively was the noise I was producing. Had it not been there, I would have assumed that I wasn’t making solid contact with the ice.

As Archie explained to me, Because the running surface of the rock only slides on top of the pebble, this is where the icePad targets the sweeping. It doesn’t go down into the pebble. One comment we hear over and over again is that when sweeping with the icePad, it doesn’t feel like there is any friction. On the contrary, the friction is only on top of the pebble, where you need it. What there isn’t is resistance.” 

It’s also worth noting that because the pad glides so smoothly, I was tentative to put too much of my body weight on the broom for fear that it might slide out completely from under me. A few quick ends of getting used to it, and I eventually adapted.

What I found interesting is that most of my critiques to this end are just as much mental as they are physical. Breaking old habits and shifting into new ones might take some time and re-acclimation, but they are in no way insurmountable after a game or two. And once that was done, I found myself helping the team just as I’ve always been able to.

But here’s the biggest concern: While the icePad shines on dedicated ice, on arena ice it didn’t seem to go “above and beyond” the competition. I suspect that this is because we only have time to put down one or two layers of pebble before game time, instead of housing a permanent “orange peel” texture as a dedicated club. Now, don’t get me wrong: on both surfaces the icePad holds it’s own just as any other high-end pad on the market; however, everyone present to the testing process on arena ice seemed to be of the consensus that, while a great product, for our purposes, the icePad wasn’t the end-all be-all as it might be on dedicated ice.

In summation: So would I recommend Hardline and the icePad?  In short: Absolutely, in a heart beat.

While it may not offer that much of a stark difference in the results of the distance a sweeper can carry a stone on arena ice, for a beginner (or any curler, for that matter), every thing else about the Hardline broom and icePad make it more than worth the cost. With some simple adaptation to the new sensations a sweeper will encounter, anyone getting this product will also be getting one of the lightest brooms currently on the market, one of the most effective pads currently in production, and a product that they can confidently take with them from an arena club onto any dedicated ice sheet for a friendly bonspiel without worry if it’ll hold it’s own against the competition when they get there.

Compared to the competition’s price point, for the $140 (plus shipping, online) Hardline charges, you might just also have some extra cash on hand to splurge on an extra icePad, should you ever need one (which you probably won’t for quite some time).

-Eric 🙂

(Eric Reithel is a resident blogger for Windy City Curling, a product reviewer for KodiakCurling.com, and a lover of craft beer. You can follow him on Twitter @TheCraftyCurler.)

Gearing Up: Brooms

“Well we can’t all come and go by bubble.”
-Elphaba, Wicked

WHAT CLEANING A HOUSE, QUIDDITCH, AND CURLING ALL HAVE IN COMMON

Buying a curling broom is a serious investment. With the right care, modern brooms can last for years. There isn’t a position on the ice that doesn’t need one for various reasons, though they more often than not will find their primary use in sweeping.

In fact, as I mentioned in my Primer,  some people are of the opinion that those who play front end (Lead or Second) should invest in a broom before they even buy shoes. I’m not here to debate that point. I’m here simply to help you make sure that whenever it is you decide you’re ready to buy a brush, whether new or used, you have a better sense of what to look for so that you find one that not only fits your budget, but also your needs.

Parts of a Curling Broom

Like I did with curling shoes, I’m going to break down what the parts of the broom are, and how they can affect your game.

The Pad: The cloth-like fabric on the head of the broom that touches the ice. For the longest time, curling brooms were just that: literally, brooms. Made out of corn and/or straw, they looked like the stereotypical witch’s broom you see everywhere around Halloween. A while back I shared a charming short film called Gone Curling in this blog. Filmed in the 1960’s, this movie shows just what these bad boys looked like in action. You don’t see those old brooms anymore for one simple reason: technology has progressed enough to render them and their abrasive ways obsolete.

We are at a point of development in curling gear that virtually every single pad on the end of a curling brush is made of a synthetic nylon-esque material. These pads are far less abrasive to curling ice in the bad way (much like hockey skates are bad for curling ice – Right, arena curlers?!), and far more effective at polishing the pebble in the good way to retain the integrity of the sheet’s surface.

When it comes to buying a broom, the pad – more often than not – was viewed as the main point of focus to worry about. In fact, to paraphrase numerous people I asked, I was often told, “Above all else, make sure you get a broom that can support an EQ or a Norway pad.”

“…a what?”

There are two pads out there with specific brand names you should know: EQ faceplates (from BalancePlus) and Norway pads (from Goldline). These pads are not only made of a high-grade synthetic cloth, but they also have a layer of mylar (space blanket) on the inside. This helps retain the heat generated from the friction of sweeping and insulate it back down onto the ice. Despite minor design differences between the two (Norway pads are more ribbed, but whether this provides a better advantage or not is of much evenly-split debate), they both are, more or less, required for a competitive curler.

In fact, I recently had the opportunity to test out a broom with an EQ pad on the end of it. I can honestly say that the difference in my sweeping wasn’t just a slightly better than when I used an old loaner broom from our club, but glaringly better. I felt like a one-man sweeping army. For a guy with little no arm strength, that’s saying something. (Seriously, if you see any ripped muscular biceps and triceps lying around, I’d be happy to give them a good home.) In fact, the advancements in brush pad technology are what have narrowed the gender gap of the playing field to almost a nil difference.

For those of you using your own brooms that don’t already have an EQ or Norway pad: don’t panic. Luckily for you, most modern brooms with pivoting heads (which I’ll get into shortly) have two screws on the top of them that allow the pad to be replaced. And guess what? Both the EQ and the Norway pads are sold independently of brooms at many stores and online retailers and will fit the standard shape of a pivoting brush head. So, with rare exception, if your broom can fit one style of synthetic pad, it more than likely can fit any of them.

And yet, as time marches on, so does the gear. There’s a new player on the scene this 2014 season called Hardline, and they make a product called the IcePad. They claim their pad is revolutionary in its design and effectiveness. So much so, that there’s a lot of hype around how it could be the “Next Best Thing” in curling brooms. With a unique design and shape, the IcePad is not interchangeable with your standard broom head. This means you either need to buy their brand of broom specifically, or cough up the extra money for a new brush head to go with their pad.

And yet, apparently this slight drawback is worth the price, according to the one person I’ve talked to online who owns one. Unlike the EQ and the Norway pads, which degrade in quality as they sweep away debris off the ice (requiring them to be flat out replaced), the IcePad is machine washable, making it last longer. However, I can honestly say that while I am aware of this product, the aforementioned opinion was the only experienced one I could find. (That’s how new this product is, compared to others.) Yes, there are some elite teams out there you’ve heard of that will be using Hardline brooms and IcePads this upcoming season (which is a strong vote of confidence to the company’s claims), but just how much more effective they will be over what is already offered and considered standard has yet to be seen. I’m only mentioning the existence of this product simply to offer a complete picture of what exists on the market right now.

The Head: The plastic part of broom at the end of the shaft that holds the pads in place. The head of the brush is probably the easiest part to discuss because there are only two major types out there: rigid heads and performance (pivoting) heads.

Rigid heads are just that: attached to the shaft at an angle and immobile. In order for a rigid head to help be effective, the sweeper wielding a brush with one has to constantly be aware of how they hold they their brush, and at what angle. Because of this, it’s the sweeper that has to adjust their stance and sweeping style to match the broom, not the only way around. Popular in years gone by, a lot of brooms with rigid heads are now just a cheap alternative to their more modern brethren and they exist mostly to serve as a base line for comparison. While they usually come with synthetic fabric pads, these pads are often of a unique rectangular shape that doesn’t offer an EQ/Norway equivalent. That means these are nowhere near as effective.

Most mid-range or better quality brooms have what are called performance heads. These are the pivoting heads you see on the brushes of every major elite World-class level curler. If you plan to go competitive, you’ll need a broom with a performance pivoting head. The range of motion in these heads allows the sweeper more freedom of movement in brushing technique while keeping the entire face of the pad on the ice. It also allows skips the ability to bend the head to an angle that makes for a better target, and allows shooters to bend the head back into a comfortable position for sliding. In fact, many performance heads have a flat plastic lip on the side that rests on the ice during a stone’s delivery to protect the pad and reduce drag.

Many performance heads also come in the same standard oval-like shape. This is what makes replacing the pad one-size-fits-all easy. Not only that, but many newer brooms attach the head to the shaft with screws. So if the pivoting neck of the head breaks or becomes too loose with use/wear, replacing it can be easy.

The Shaft: The long metallic “handle” part of the broom that will always be in a player’s hands. Available in many styles, different materials, and a variety of artistic designs (depending on the depth of your pocketbook), this is what many people notice first about the broom.

The only two major things to be worried about here are what material the handle is made of, and whether or not it allows the head to be replaced. All else is extra, superfluous, and up to the buyer. Given most modern mid-range brooms automatically account for the fact the head may need to be replaced, this section will focus mainly on available materials.

When it comes the pressure a sweeper applies to the ice, there are two big things a player can do to increase it: Work out more to build arm and core strength, or buy a lighter broom. (Ideally, you’ll do both, but I’m not here to talk about working out. When it comes to blogging, I like writing about things with which I have some miniscule level of familiarity.) When a broom weighs less, it’s not only easier to sweep, but more of the energy and force exerted when doing so is transferred down into the ice because not as much of it is needed to muscle the broom itself back and forth. As you might expect, yes, lighter brooms do cost more. Of what’s on the market right now, the lightest broom shafts you’ll find are made of carbon fiber.

Carbon fiber brooms are not only incredibly light, but also incredibly durable. In fact, many people I talked to have said that while replacement pads and performance heads have come and gone, the shaft of their carbon fiber broom is the one thing that has survived season after season (with some people even saying they’ve even had the same brush shaft for seven years!).

If I’m being honest, there wasn’t one person I spoke with who had anything negative to say about carbon fiber brooms. Even the people who didn’t presently own one (but had tried one out) expressed some level of envy over those who do, and mentioned wanting to get one down the road as a goal – myself included. As for brand choice, the opinions I received on the matter seemed to be simply based on preference.

Now if you can’t afford a carbon fiber broom, there are cheaper alternatives. The brand you pick will determine what other materials are available, but the most common and heaviest (thus, the cheapest) broom handles will be made of fiberglass. Some companies offer a middle-of-the-road composite broom – made of a mix of carbon fiber and fiberglass (if that makes sense) – and these are a great next-best-thing if you have some extra money to spare on a broom, but can’t afford to go nuts. However, I am of the opinion that if you can afford to go middle-of-the-road, you can do yourself a favor and wait just a little while longer to save up for a carbon fiber handle. It’ll be worth it in the long run.

Now as for the superfluous “extras” I spoke of earlier, these are simple either/or options that are solely up to the buyer. What you get should be based on whatever will make your game better.

For example, one option is handle thickness. The two choices (if given) offered will be either a 1” (one inch) diameter or a 1 1/8” (one and one-eighth inch) handle. Make this choice based on your grip. If you have smaller hands, get a thinner brush shaft. One company that received favorable reviews about this in particular was BalancePlus. Their broom handles are tapered to be 1” at the top, and 1 1/8” at the head. This gradually increasing thickness makes it easier to push down on the handle to really scrub the ice without your hands sliding down and throwing off your posture. They are the only company to offer a tapered handle. And yet, Goldline applies a layer of slick-resistant coating to their broom handles to give the same effect. These brooms also received many positive mentions.

See what I mean? These options are purely up to the preferences of the buyer. Heck, some companies even offer custom broom handle designs to really add a personal touch for the curler. While nowhere near the realm of “necessity,” knowing you can truly make your gear your own and retain your personal flair while competing is certainly one way to establish that emotional connection to the sport I talked about.

To Sum it All Up

So what can you expect? Well, if you merely insist on having your own broom, but refuse to remotely spend any more than you absolutely must to achieve that goal, a heavy fiberglass broom with a rigid head and basic synthetic pad with set you back $40-$60. But if you’re going to do this, you might as well save that money for broomstacking beer and grab a loaner brush out of the bucket every week. Seriously.

If you want to go a little better than that, but can’t go nuts, a lighter composite broom with a performance head and a synthetic pad (that is not EQ/Norway) will run you roughly $100-$120 new. And remember, if you do go this route, you can always upgrade and get a new replacement pad later for about $20-$30 to increase your sweeping’s effectiveness.

But, as I said, if you’re going to drop that kind of money on a broom, you might as well go the extra mile and get something that not only will be incredibly effective, but also durable enough to survive multiple seasons. A brand new carbon fiber broom shaft, with a performance head, and either an EQ or a Norway pad (assuming no custom design) will run $150-$180 (without shipping) depending on the brand you pick. No simple chunk of change, to be sure, but it’s only a minor step up from the middle-of-the-road brushes and almost universally believed to be worth the extra money.

Full disclosure: While I have done my best to ensure that everything I’ve written above is accurate, I must admit to you that I myself do not own my own curling broom just yet. Shocking, I know. However, I have tried out many brands and many styles, but none for any length of time that allows me the ability to offer a personal opinion rooted in deep experience. This particular entry to my “Gearing Up” series is more of an amalgam of opinions learned from talking to a great many people both in-person and online, reading multiple reviews, and testing out a spectrum of different brushes with varying options from week to week. I know what I’m aiming to buy when the time comes that I can afford to do so, but I felt the need to disclose that I am not quite there yet, should that alter your opinion of, well, my opinion.

-Eric 🙂

(Eric Reithel is a resident blogger for Windy City Curling who eagerly awaits the day he can afford a carbon fiber curling brush, as it seems to be an easier alternative to doing push-ups. Because he really hates – and he’s using the word hate here – doing push-ups. Feel free to mock his feeble arms on Twitter @TheCraftyCurler.)