On Bad Ice, Vegas, and the GOAT
Who is the best men's team of all-time?
It’s gonna be a bit of a short one this time out, as I want to try to not always write the massive essays you’ve seen from me over the last while. Sometimes quick hits are good, and I just wanted to touch on a couple of things from the Men’s Worlds that were interesting to me.
First of all, the ice. It was bad. There’s just no way of skirting around that issue. Whether it was due to the humidity outside or some bizarre icemaking strategies inside, it was among the worst arena ice we’ve seen since that time Scotland had the tremendous idea of putting the 2005 Women’s Worlds directly beside a swimming pool. (by the way, this is one of the better paragraphs in all of curling Wikipedia. Just sentence after sentence of WHAT! NO! COME ON!)
When both the winner and loser of a World Men’s Final are forced to acknowledge in their post-game interviews that the ice was bad, we have a problem. One thing that people will often bring up in conversation (and it is usually an older curler who will), is something akin to the spirit of this tweet:
Was it? Was it great to watch that game? Because I really don’t think it was at all. Now I get it, there is something to be said for challenging ice conditions. It creates a few more misses (which can be responsible for more offence), it forces the skips to learn the ice a little better, and it makes runbacks more difficult, so a solid finesse game becomes even more valuable.
I get all of that. But this wasn’t challenging ice. This was unplayable ice. Now, that’s not to say they couldn’t have a game on it. Obviously it wasn’t unplayable in the true sense, but I’ll give a comparison. A LOT of people who believe good ice conditions are “ruining” curling will use the example of the U.S. Open in golf. For years, the USGA has tried to punish the world’s top golfers by bringing them onto courses that specifically tailor their entire season to the event. They make the rough deep, the fairways narrow, and the greens as hard as a dance floor. You wanna know something they don’t do? Put divots in the green on purpose. Put a sand trap in the middle of the fairway. Force the golfers to take their drives off the cart path. The difference between a difficult course layout and bad curling ice is that golfers can still make all their shots. Yes, it might be tougher, but no shot becomes impossible because of the conditions. Putts from certain parts of the green don’t become impossible to make. Drives look the same as they always do, off of a groomed teebox and a tee (even if the fairway is narrower and the first cut of the rough is longer). When curling ice is bad in the way this was, with multiple runs in the ice and sloping, certain shots become impossible to make. And for me, that does not make the game better.
I also thought this tweet from Quebec fourth-rock thrower Félix Asselin was funny:
I mean, he’s not wrong. I should’ve specified BAD club ice. With the buildings being better than ever and icemakers being better than ever, clubs are getting closer and closer to being able to mimic arena ice, especially the top ones. Scott Foster in Oakville. Dave Merklinger in Vernon. The list goes on. So yeah. Just tragic conditions for a world championship.
Speaking of tragic conditions, how about those stands? Woof. It’s very tough to run an event where you’re expecting 95% of your audience to travel to it, particularly exiting a pandemic. Now, I know this event was a bit of a make-good for Vegas losing the event that was scheduled before we had ever heard of COVID-19, but it’s tough to see a Worlds contested like that with the stands virtually empty all week and about 10-15% full for the finals. The Continental Cups have done well in Vegas particularly because the curlers don’t really care about the results (no offence to them or the WCF but they don’t, really. Winning is nice but it means very little). This lack of caring leads to the curlers themselves being a part of the party. They’re accessible and around, they’re having fun with the fans, and it creates its own sort of vibe that people want to travel to and be a part of. The Worlds are always going to be different, and maybe we learned this week Vegas isn’t the right home for it. I saw a few people suggesting Duluth would’ve been a more appropriate spot and given how many of the top curlers are coming out of Duluth for USA Curl now, it’s tough to argue it shouldn’t be there next time the USA is on the hosting docket.
Plus, it would actually give the US home-ice advantage. You’re telling me Korey Dropkin and his squad, out of the DULUTH CURLING CLUB, wouldn’t have been shown love if the championships were there? Instead, they had to be relegated to the second-favorite team on the week due to the travelling Canadian contingent that took over Orleans Arena. Which is too bad, because Korey is exactly what the sport needs right now: young, talented, affable, and kind. His whole team is. Great run for them this week.
Let’s talk the GTOAT (Greatest Team of All-Time). Listen, I can’t launch into numbers and winning percentages and blah blah here. Other people will dissect that better than me. But here are just a few thoughts I’ve had in the last few days as Brad has stirred the pot on Twitter for discussing just who IS the best team of all-time.
—You’ll see a lot of people in the replies to this tweet dunking on Brad for not being humble enough. Fuck that. One thing curlers have always been very good at is being honest in interviews. We praised Brad for letting us into his mind during the Olympics, and the emotions that went into that entire experience, so now we’re slamming him for being honest about his accomplishments? You can disagree with his statement, but I got no issue with someone talking about their place in the game’s history.
—Is he right? This is of course, the big question. I think the big word here in this is longevity. When we think of good teams over the course of history, many of them were either not together as long as this Team Gushue, or not as productive for as long as they were. For me, there are only 4 teams in the GTOAT discussion on the men’s side:
2007-2010 Kevin Martin
2004-2010 Glenn Howard
2014-2022 Niklas Edin
2014-2022 Brad Gushue
Of course, both Martin and Howard had some success after 2010 (Howard having more), but Richard Hart was replaced with Wayne Middaugh so the team wasn’t the same, and Martin failed to even make a Brier Final in the 4 years following their OGM.
Before we get TOO into the weeds and you start naming teams like the Richardsons and the Howard Bros. rink in the late 80s/early 90s and some of the Manitoba rinks of the 80s/90s/00s, or the Ryan Express, or the Ferbey Four…no. There’s cases to be made for all of them, but none of them have the strength of resumé to compete and so I’m glossing over them for the sake of brevity here.
Ok, back to the topic at hand. So Howard had roughly the same stretch of time as Edin and Gushue, but they didn’t get really good until the latter half of their union. So as far as longevity goes, there’s really only two teams in the mix: Brad Gushue and Nik Edin.
—if longevity + success is the true measure (and it seems like Brad thinks it is), it’s hard to argue that Gushue’s resumé is better than Edin’s. I mean, look at this year alone. Edin went 4-0 against Brad in the Olympics and Worlds. He has more Olympic medals, more World titles (by a lot), and he’s done something no one else has ever done: win 4 in a row.
(wanna know a bonus fun fact? A COUNTRY has only won 4 in a row 3 times. Canada won 6 in a row from 1959-64, and then 5 in a row from 1968-72, and then 4 in a row from 1993-96. But those were all different squads. It makes Edin’s feat even more crazy. Sweden became the first country in almost 30 years to win 4 in a row, and Edin was responsible for all of them. Wild.)
Now, you can point to the Grand Slams, where Gushue’s record is clearly better. He’s won more WCT events, too. But do those really matter? They do, but a few more tour trophies can’t really trump 4 consecutive World titles, and no curler would tell you otherwise.
—The key argument, always, is the Brier one. And it’s a big argument. If Niklas Edin were Canadian and would need to win the Brier every single year to get to Worlds, could he still have won 4 in a row? I think it would be foolish to say yes. That said, there’s always an inverse to that argument: if Nik Edin were Canadian and had to win the Brier every single year to get to Worlds, would Brad Gushue have won 4 of them? It’s another difficult team in the field to beat during round-robin and playoff play, plus finals. I think you could easily make the case Edin in the Brier puts a dent in Gushue’s overall Brier record.
—That argument against Edin can also be filtered to Gushue in the sense that Gushue has had what has roughly amounted to a free trip to the Brier every single year (no offence to Newfoundland curling, but…you know). It took him until his 14th try to win the Brier. If Brad Gushue had to win Alberta to make the Brier, would he have 19 Brier appearances? Of course not. If he doesn’t get that many tries, does he win as many? Who knows. But we don’t hold that against Brad, so why would we hold the fact that Edin is Swedish and has an easier path to the Worlds/Olympics against him? You can only beat the teams that are in front of you, and the reality is that Nik Edin has beat the teams in front of him an awful lot.
—so John, you’re ready to say Niklas Edin’s team with Oskar Eriksson, Rasmus Wranå, and Christoffer Sundgren is the best team of all-time? I’m actually not. I think it’s the 2007-2010 Kevin Martin rink. And here’s why: fear. I was starting to truly curl competitively around the time of that Martin team, and absolutely no one wanted to play them (except Glenn Howard). We used to call it the “Kevin Martin Tax”, because teams were so afraid to play them they’d often give up 3 or 4 in the first end and then Martin would cruise to victory because they could hit everything in sight. Their W-L record over that 4 year period is absolutely absurd. They went undefeated through 2 Briers and undefeated through the 2010 Olympics (a feat that has not been matched) en route to a commanding Olympic GMG win. For a period it felt like only David Murdoch or Glenn Howard were even capable of beating them.
Ben Hebert used this argument when talking about the appointment of John Morris and Rachel Homan as the Mixed Doubles squad this Olympics, that sometimes when it comes to appointing a team, you approach it using the strategy of “who would the opposition want to play the LEAST?” While I don’t think all of the teams at the Olympics would have feared John and Rachel necessarily, that was certainly the case with that Martin team, and there is something to be said about a team being so dominant that teams are literally afraid to play them. Now, the curling landscape is different and there are so many teams up on that top level that fear is less of a factor than it used to be, but the frank reality of the situation is that the top level of the game now is so good BECAUSE of that Martin team. They set the fitness standard, they set the practice standard, and they won just a remarkable amount of games. For me, they’re the Greatest Team of All-Time. But Niklas Edin is really, really, really close. Maybe one more World title next year would do it. ;)
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