Rogue rocks were the theme of opening weekend of the Canadian men’s curling championship.
Skips’ brows furrowed over a new set of curling rocks purchased recently by the Canadian Curling Association. They said some rocks didn’t behave like the others, making it difficult to decide broom placement and weight calls.
“There’s a couple pigs out there,” Northern Ontario skip Brad Jacobs observed Sunday at Rexall Place. “Slow, slow cutters. They don’t run true. They stop and die quicker. It’s just a matter of picking up on them as quickly as you can.
“I think that’s going to be a common theme this week. You’re going to hear a lot of the curlers say the rocks are tough and they are.”
Quebec skip Jean-Michel Menard concurred.
“There’s at least one rock per sheet that is way different than the others,” he stated.
“You’ve got to stay big-time focused and communicate well with your teammates on which rocks they were throwing. As a skip, it’s very exhausting mentally.”
The CCA tested the new rocks first at an Ottawa curling club and then at the Canadian junior curling championships last month in Fort McMurray, according to the CCA’s director of championship services.
“They were fast and swingy,” Danny Lamoureux said. “These are very good stones and (it was) recommended by our top icemakers that we make this deal.
“Every set in the world reacts differently. There’s not a set in the world that are identical. I think one of the issues is, no one has ever seen these before. They don’t have a book on them.”
Lamoureux says the Scottish company that produced the stones is the Olympic Games supplier. The stones at this year’s Brier — which cost about $500 apiece plus their $1,000 electronic handles — are twins to the set that will be used in Sochi, Russia, next year.
Pre-tournament favourite Kevin Martin of Alberta was uncomplimentary of the rocks as well. The reigning Olympic gold medallist opened the Brier in his hometown with a pair of losses before beating B.C. on Sunday evening for the host province’s first victory.
The top four teams at the conclusion of the round robin on Friday make playoffs.
“You’re just trying to find a pair that are somewhat near the same,” the veteran skip lamented after losing to Quebec in the morning. “It’s not easy.
“As the week goes on, we’ll get that. Hopefully we’re around still by the time we can get them matched up.”
Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador was alone at 4-0 heading into Monday. Stealing a point in an extra end, Gushue edged James Grattan of New Brunswick 7-6 on Sunday evening.
Northern Ontario, Quebec and defending champion Glenn Howard of Ontario were also undefeated teams at 3-0. Howard beat Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton 8-5 and the Winnipeg rink dropped to 2-1.
Jamie Koe of the Territories was 2-2 ahead of Martin and Saskatchewan’s Brock Virtue at 1-2 and New Brunswick at 1-3.
B.C.’s Andrew Bilesky, Nova Scotia’s Paul Flemming and Eddie MacKenzie of Prince Edward Island were still looking for their first victory.
The coach or alternate on each team is responsible for charting the behaviour of stones on each sheet throughout the tournament. Those that are deemed unruly are given to the leads to throw and get rid of early.
Playoff teams also choose stones from different sheets to create their set, which is another reason for a book on the granite.
“I thought we’ve done a pretty good job of scouting them and reading them early in the game and getting rid of the ones that are a little bit straighter and heavier,” Gushue said.
“I guess being brand-new rocks, they’re maybe a little bit green and maybe over time they’ll get more consistent. There are some that curl a little bit more and some that are slow and some that are straighter. It’s tough getting sets for everybody.”
Howard joined the chorus of those questioning the consistency of the rocks.
“I’m not going to sugar-coat it. They’re tough. They’re not matched very well,” the defending world champion said.
“There were some drastic differences. Normally, there’s a four or five feet maybe. There’s a 15-foot difference in some rocks and that’s an anomaly. You don’t normally get that. It makes your hair fall out.”
He says some teams have even put competition aside to share intelligence about stones with other teams.
“There’s been a little bit of collaboration where the guys are giving information around, which is really awesome,” Howard explained. “You still have to throw them. You’ve got to be really be on top of them and figure them out.”