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(published in SWEEP! Magazine - November 2008)

Armstrong cleared to curl for Canada

Team Canada’s chances of repeating Paralympic gold in Vancouver in 2010 received a huge boost when BC Brier competitor Jim Armstrong was cleared to play by the WCF. Armstrong had already met Canadian eligibility standards. Last March, he skipped BC to the national championship, and had been working as an on-ice consultant with Team Canada.

I spoke to him on his return from the Kinross International in Scotland, where he beat fellow squad member Darryl Neighbour in the all-Canada final by millimetres on a tie-break draw to the four-foot.

“Though my reliance on my wheelchair is increasing,” he said. “I think it was the opportunity to discuss my situation in person with the WCF assessor, have a real appraisal of my degree of disability, rather than any particular change in my mobility, that led to my being cleared to play in WCF events.”

“Getting back to the ice has done wonders for me personally. And my family,” he added. “I’m out of the house and on the ice most days, and throwing more rocks than I have ever done. The squad has some excellent curlers who are improving all the time and I must earn my place.”

Team Canada has struggled since Torino, especially at skip, and Armstrong brings a wealth of experience that other international sides will find hard to match. The CCA’s Gerry Peckham is delighted that his old friend and teammate will be available. “Skipping is about strategy, ice reading and team management, as well as shot execution,” he said. “These take years to learn and adding someone with Jim’s experience is very helpful.”

With eight players under serious consideration for Team Canada 2009, expect at least one change when the team for next February’s World’s in Vancouver is announced in December.

Calendar

Canada will field two teams at the Cathy Kerr Memorial Bonspiel in Ottawa, November 28-30, where they will face Team USA, who beat them for bronze at the 2008 World. They'll skip the US Open December 5-7, but face the touring Scots the following week in Richmond BC, December 9-13.

Programs have begun at the Callie in Regina, St. John's in Newfoundland and in Lennoxville near Sherbrooke, Quebec. Newfoundland/Labrador and Saskatchewan are hoping to bring to eight the number of provinces who will compete for the national title in Nova Scotia next March.

New rules

The Kinross Spiel used the new delivery zone with stones placed within 18 inches of the centre line, an addition of approximately 6 inches of width either side of centre. This should bring the point at which stones cross the near hogline more in line with stones thrown from a hack.
How will it play in practice? Will throws be accurate enough without sweeping, to take advantage of these extra inches? The Canadian camp definitely thinks so, and is working on strategies that incorporate what they expect to be a significant expansion of available shots.

Jim Armstrong’s experience is likely to prove invaluable to Team Canada’s ability to take advantage of the new rule, and that may have been in repeat world champion Norway’s coach Thoralf Hognestad’s mind when he expressed displeasure at the rule change.

“I only heard about it in June,” he complained. “If you want wider angles, you should throw from further back. The WCF should have asked the wheelchair curlers before making the change. Norway does not like the new rule at all.”
For a long time, it has been presumed that wheelchair curling was a game of misses, an analysis borne out by the statistics, and the comparatively high number of points scored per end. If, however, it proves possible to throw 60 or 65% or more, then the implementation of rules that make more shots possible will dramatically change the game if skips are able to take advantage.

Canada’s competitive future looks bright.

Practice as you mean to play

You have to practice if you are going to improve your skills, but unless you practice with a plan, you may be wasting your time. Here’s some tips to keep in mind.

Never throw a stone without knowing what you want it to achieve -- its speed, its rotation, its target. Practice builds muscle memory, and that’s what you will rely on in game situations, so don’t corrupt the memory databank with aimless throws.

Most people’s chairs move during delivery, especially on up-weight shots. If your chair is braced when you compete, don’t practice from an un-braced chair. If you do you’ll find yourself changing your position and delivery to compensate for the movement, and if you throw differently in practice, then practice won’t help. You’d be better off in the gym.

Finally, if you want to become a competitive wheelchair curler and play on a team with able-bodied curlers, do not allow your stones to be swept. It’s tempting, but you’ll learn to compensate for sweeping that won’t be there when it matters.

Eric Eales - Kelowna, October 2008

 

 

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