The other day, in a radical break from my usual practice, I arrived at the arena for hockey early. In fact, I was the first person there.
It felt weird.
Since I was early I couldn’t just look for an occupied dressing room so I checked out the clipboard hanging by the door. As usual, it appeared that no room had been assigned to us. (The expensive HD display was no help either — it was busy displaying the seasonal rates for the water park outside. Definitely something I needed to know IN NOVEMBER). With no direction I went to the same dressing room as last week; it looked promising because it was clean (ish) and the door was wide open. (Of course, since the door was wide open it was also damned cold.) While I was sitting there alone, trying to work up the nerve to, um, get undressed so I could get dressed I mused a bit about the differences between the two ice sports I play — hockey and curling. Besides the obvious ones, I mean.
One of them is that there doesn’t seem to be a significant number of people that play both sports. (At least, not in my circle of acquaintances; I only know two. One of them didn’t show up, probably because he recently took a puck to the, um, er, ‘package’. That’s another difference, I suppose.) But the main difference that I mused about is the difference in venues.
Hockey — at least the kind I play — is ‘mostly’ played at publicly owned and operated arenas — the current ratio of public-to-non-public arenas around here is about 8:1. (There used to be two, not one — there was one at each university until they tore one down and then discovered a two hundred million dollar cost overrun. Now they rent ice in a city-owned arena.) Curling, on the other hand, is ‘usually’ played in curling clubs. Curling clubs can be standalone facilities or ‘attached’ to something else (often, but not always, a golf club). They also vary wildly in size — from one sheet on up. (Back in the day, there was a 48 sheet facility in Calgary.) (A sheet of ice is, more or less, 45 meters long by five meters wide.) Locally there are three clubs — a six sheet standalone club and two more (a six and a four) that are associated with golf clubs. Of course, whenever you have more than one of anything, rivalries often form. The local curling clubs are no exception.
In particular, at the end of the curling season there’s a city championship where the various league champions from the three clubs play off for bragging rights. A few years ago, some of the mixed league champions from our club had vacation time booked on the same day as the city championship. Their skip asked me to spare.
So, for a weekend, ‘his’ team became ‘my’ team. Let’s call the players on his team G, H and I. The lead (G) was a quiet, competent and consistent woman from Saskatchewan. The third (H) was a somewhat excitable (but very competent) woman in a kilt. The second (I) was a fellow with a quirky sense of humour who was recovering from surgery.
How quirky? Well…
The curling delivery involves a lot of bending and crouching. Because of this it’s entirely likely that before or during a delivery some of one’s clothing may be thrown into… disarray. When this happens, how do I put this delicately, there may be, um, ‘cleavage‘ — usually without benefit of felines to hide it.
I was playing in a bonspiel once with Mr. I. We entered the ice area to play our (I think) second game and there was this guy, crouched right in front of the door. Being a guy, he wasn’t that concerned with what he was showing. Mr. I picked up a pencil from the nearest stack of scorecards and dropped it… well, you can guess where.
As I said, Mr. I had a somewhat quirky sense of humour.
Back to the city championship.
Through a series of events that aren’t worth explaining (which means that I can’t remember them — I’ve never been shy about rambling on about not-really relevant-at-all things), we made it to the final in our category. In the championship game we all played pretty well. Ms. G was steady and reliable, Mr. I made lots of shots and swept like a demon (given his surgery I was worried but he held up fine) and Ms. H did a darned good job of everything I asked of her. Me? I called a decent game, ‘read’ the opposition fairly well and made the odd shot. The upshot is that we were playing the last end (this is often referred to as ‘coming home’) up in the score by three points. The other team had the advantage of throwing the last rock, but they needed to score three points just to tie the game.
This is/was a darned good situation — one that would make almost anyone happy and confident. It certainly put all the pressure on the other team — they knew they had to put rocks in play, they had to think hard about just where they should be put and then they had to make their shots Just So. All we had to do is hit everything in sight.
And, as luck would have it, we made ‘enough’ shots so that, when I went to throw my first rock, they had one stone in scoring position but it was wide open — easy to hit. That meant that if I could remove it from play we would win — it would be mathematically impossible for them to score three points. So the plan? Hit it and win the game.
Normally being in this position brings pressure, but I felt fairly confident. After all, I was only a spare, it wasn’t my team. A victory — if there was one — wouldn’t be my victory. It would be their victory. I’d feel good about it, but it wouldn’t be a big deal. When you’re a spare, you have a significantly reduced emotional involvement in the game — perhaps no emotional involvement whatsoever.
So I was crouched in the hack (the curling equivalent of a starting block, more or less), not displaying a pencil holder, thinking about all this. Mr. I waited until I was just about to throw then bent over and said to me “This is for the game, eh?”
My target — the opponent’s stone — was about a foot wide. I missed it by slightly less than half a football field.
Like I said, quirky.