Archive for February, 2011

The Schenectady Curling Club Open Bonspiel 2011

February 8, 2011 2 comments

Starting from left to right: Art Merkley, Liz Lansing, and Lisa Nieradka.

At the beginning of this curling season, I made a promise to myself that I was going to focus my time and attention on another project. I have recently befriended two brilliant storytellers and we decided to put our heads together to make a short film. This is something I have always wanted to do. So when the opportunity presented itself, I grabbed it. Unfortunately, I knew that if I was going to take on this filming project that I wasn’t going to be able to concentrate on my curling as much as I have in the past. I had to make a decision and not curl as much as I would have liked, at least, not for this season.

I decided I would curl for fun only and not be competitive; so no bonspiels and no men’s leagues. I signed up for these new leagues that our board had just approved: The Sovik (an open format Tuesday afternoon league) and the Friday Open. And so far it’s been great! It’s been all about fun games and fun people. Surprisingly, I have had a great run this season. Currently, I am 9-7 and in my opinion that is not too bad for a league. And two of those 7 loses I actually won the game, they just couldn’t be counted because I didn’t have a legal rink; technicalities! So for all intents and purposes, I’ve won more than two thirds of all of my games so far! Not too shabby!

A few months ago my wife tells me that she and Lisa Nieradka had talked about putting a team together for the Schenectady Open Bonspiel. It was their influence and their collective effort that put this team together. They talked to Art Merkley who had sworn a blood oath never to curl mixed again. However, Art is an old friend and I don’t think he even batted an eye when was asked by Liz and Lisa. There was only one problem. They didn’t have a skip. Art wanted to vice and the girls just wanted to have a fun time at downrink. Liz asked me if I wouldn’t mind skipping the team. I remembered my promise to myself; however, since it was winter and our writing team had taken a short recess for the holidays, I agreed to skip the team. I have curled with all of them in the past and I knew what each player had to offer. With that in mind and also that we were all thrilled in our positions; I thought this was going to be a fun team.

There was no pressure. We weren’t going to play to win games, we were going to play to have fun and for the love of the game. We were nervous, sure, and of course we wanted to win, but that wasn’t our goal. Our goal was to play our best, have fun and have a few laughs and we held on to that creed like a long lost relative.

Our first game was on Thursday 6:45 PM. We were to play a good friend, Kathy Brown. One of my writing partners was also on her team. We had a fun time playing against them. I tried my best to keep it fun and not let the fact that Kathy is such a good friend and a sweet person to keep me from treating her like my mortal enemy!

Kathy was great. I loved playing against her, even when she tried to be cute by trying to distract me by dancing around in the house. Nice try Kathy, but I am immune to your evil charm! Unfortunately, she was having some really bad luck! She even started to second guess her curling skills. I had to reassure her, she was playing fine, odd things just kept happening that would ruin perfectly good shots. However, I really admired her for staying so cool and collected on the ice even after so many things went wrong for her.

Kathy was a source of inspiration for me for the rest of the weekend and I used her influence to keep cool when things didn’t go right for us. Kathy is a great curler and a delight to play against. I wish I had an ounce of her courage and enthusiasm.

Our second game on Friday was a little tougher as expected. I was going against my old Skip, Tim Brooks. I have never been able to beat him in league games and to make matters more “interesting”, we were down one player. My wife couldn’t get the time off from work, but I was thankful to Joan Pearson for stepping in and filling in for her. Joan did a great job and gave me some really nice lead rocks that in my opinion I would’ve never been able to defeat Tim without. I owe her a debt of gratitude for it. Unfortunately, she had to leave right after the game, so I never even got a chance to thank her properly! I also forgot to thank her during the presentations of the awards and I feel terrible for that. Thank you so much Joan you were a life saver!

I have always been intimidated by Tim. He is a great curler and a great skip. I must admit, I almost went into that game pre-defeated. I just knew I wasn’t going to be able to overcome my silly mental block. Yes, I almost did that, but I didn’t. I put my faith in my team players. I knew they would have my back and I also knew that they would not be thrilled with me if I went in there with the attitude that we had already lost without even trying. So I recouped and decided put my focus on the game and not on Tim, sorry Tim!

And so I read that ice like I have never done before. I used memory skills that I didn’t know I owned. As a result, I think that I called a great game and used the quirkiness of the ice to my advantage and I was able to execute incredible shots like perfect hit and rolls and great draws. We were on fire and one again thanks to my great team, we won that game too.

Defeating Tim was huge milestone in me conquering a lot of my own personal demons. I still have respect for him and will always consider him a great curler and friend. Thank you Tim for a great game!

Our third game was against yet another old teammate, Dan Navratil. The dreaded Fleetwood Hack! The team was composed of great friends (Dan & Fay, Tom & Paula Lancaster), good curlers and formidable opponents, but I let it all hang out for this one. I was loose and cool and I allowed myself to enjoy the game. I felt that we were both evenly matched. The game really could’ve gone either way.

The only strategy I had was not to get upset if and when I missed a shot or I blew a call. It really was a great game. We all played awesome and if I may say so, it was the best and most fun time I have ever had in my life, on the ice. I love each and every one of those guys. I love to play with them and against them. They just know how to have a great time and they are equally fun on and off the ice. My only regret was that only one of us could win the game.

Our fourth and last game, the game that would decide the winner of the S.O.B., was against a mixed national curling team. These guys eat, drink, think, dream — and possibly go number “2” — curling. They were little curling machines and they seemed to mow right through everyone that got in their way of the finals. I was very intimidated and nervous at first! I had no idea what to do or how to play the game against them. My only thought was: just to do our best, play the game we’ve been playing and see what happens. I honestly had no expectations of winning this one. In my mind we had no chance and even no business playing them. If I was a betting man, I would’ve put all my money on my opponent to beat us to a bloody pulp.

However, I began talking to some of the people that have played them in the past and/or during this spiel and I formed a mental image of my opponent. The picture I drew in my head was that of a team that was right on par with us. They were no longer unattainable, unbeatable machines. In fact the mere thought of them blowing us off of the ice seemed laughable to me now. We had a chance, a real chance! So I slipped on my hoodie (all weekend long I summoned the greatness of Banksy (look him up) to become, not a great artist, but a great curler!) and got ready for war, but in a fun way! I wasn’t going to let them get to me. I was going to get to them first.

Most of the teams that I talked to said that this team was so serious about curling that it really intimidated them. I thought maybe if we didn’t take the game as serious, we could make them relax a bit. When I stepped onto the ice I was having a good time with my team. We brought our good friend “Humphrey the Humping Dog,” we were cracking jokes and laughing it all up. I showed them right away that we weren’t going to take this game seriously and that we weren’t going to be intimidated by them. I was there to have a good time, not to win the game. I really think that by me doing so, it brought them down to our level and even if for just a moment, I was responsible for them having a good and fun game instead of just playing to win. Winning is fun and all, but I much rather lose and have a great time than to win and have it feel like work. Maybe I’m naïve, but that is how I look at things.

Just before the game started, Derek, their Skip, shakes my hand and tells me that I shouldn’t be so serious! Ha ha, my plan was working! Time to play! In the first end of the game they won the coin toss and took the hammer (last rock advantage), but I manage to hold them to one. In the second end we took two. It is at this point that I thought to myself, “Whoa! We have a real chance at winning this!” I made sure that my team knew that and we continued.

In the third end they took two, it happens, no big deal! In the fourth end we took one. I missed the opportunity to take a bigger end. I made a couple of bad calls that cost me, but again, no big deal. I regrouped and tried to play the next end more carefully and with more finesse. In the fifth end we stole two and then stole another in the sixth. It is at this point that I just knew we were going to win this game! But then I made the mistake everyone makes; I got comfortable and it cost me, big!

I had a really nice set up in the 7th, but their vice made a beautiful shot that doubled out my two shot rocks. We went from almost stealing two, to facing a big end against us. When those stones left the house, it was like a flat note sound and it took me out of the game long enough for me to miss two critical shots and that cost me three points. We were now tied going into the 8th and final end.

I thought back to our first game and how Kathy Brown had handled herself during it and I decided to be like her, keep cool and look at the bright side of things: I had the advantage of last rock and we were tied and one of my specialties is stealing, must be the Hispanic in me! This was not a great situation for my opponent, if I may. I switched gears a little and I put on my imaginary “serious cap.” It was the last end and I wanted to play it flawlessly and also give the crowd something to cheer about!

When it came time for the skips to throw their rocks, I had the house set up in such a way that my opponent had to make an incredible shot for them to steal a point. It took my opponent took almost five minutes to device his shot. It was not an easy call. In fact it was a one in a hundred shots. We were like, “There is no way this could work!” But the crazy bastard did it! I don’t know where he pulled this shot out of. Man, what a shot! That was something! I was really impressed, but now I was in big trouble! It was all over for me! Removing that stone from the button was going to take some precision shooting and I was nervous. I congratulated Derek on his great shot and sighed disappointedly!

I stepped in the house to take a look at my options, but when I got closer to the two rocks, I saw something odd. I don’t know if they noticed this or not. If they did, they kept it quiet and to themselves. I guess I would have too. Derek had thrown a beauty of a shot, but had come up short by just over an inch. I looked at the two rocks again even closer just to be sure. I was convinced! It was clear to me that we were closer to that pin by at least an inch. Art wanted to be absolutely certain by having me use my last rock to do a double tap back, a really risky throw, but since I knew ours was shot I decided not to take the risk; I didn’t need to. So, I just throw my last rock away. The vices measured the stones and we won the event.

It was an exciting and amazing game. And my opponents were very sportsmen-like about it and we had a great time after the it sharing a few beers. After the game was over we were told by them that they don’t often lose and that we were a great team. That was very humbling and I am still shocked and thrilled about the whole experience.

The event was one of the best I have ever attended. I was thrilled that it was at my club. I was also thrilled to see some old friends and that I met some new ones. Dan, Johanna, Adam and Tami you guys were the life of the party and you all looked great. It was awesome meeting you all. Sara, Brian and Jim, what can I say, you guys rock! You guys party like no one else and I had one of the best times ever on Friday night! Carol and Paul, you guys were hysterical! You had me in stitches with your outfits and that awful wig! :) Everybody was perfect, they were themselves and they all made this an incredible experience for me.

And to my team! I can honestly say that no one could ask for better teammates, ever! Lisa, Art and my wife, Liz, you guys were incredible, just incredible! If it hadn’t been for you guys: Liz’s awesome weight, Lisa’s machine like sweeping, and Art’s almost inhuman skills to call line, this event would’ve had a different outcome. I have played with some amazing curlers, but you guys are the absolute best! Thank you all for a wonderful weekend!

Categories: Curling
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