2019 USCA Arena Nationals Recap

2019 USCA Arena Nationals Recap

For the week of May 5th 2019 I got to be a full time professional athlete. Just let that sink in for a second. It’s definitely as cool as it’s sounds but it was also a crazy, tiring, whirlwind of a week. The other word to describe it, privilege.

  • I had the privilege of representing my club, Windy City Curling, on a national level event.
  • I had the privilege of playing on the best curling ice I have ever seen in the USA.
  • I had the privilege of meeting and competing with some of the best arena level clubs/players in the country.

While you typically take a look at things one game at a time, this bigger picture wasn’t lost on me during the week. Here is what the week entailed.

Pre Tournament Practice - This is something I have never had prior experience with. We had 6 minutes to practice on each of the sheets, 5 in total. During this 30 minute session we got a chance to feel what the ice was like and see how well it curled (spoiler it was awesome). We have never had to work under a clock before so it was quite chaotic but we got our job done.

Draw 1 (Pool-Play) vs. Jersey Pinelands - I have never been nervous to walk out onto the ice. That is until this game. That quickly went away in the first end when we hung 7 points. If you don’t know curling, the maximum points you can get per end is 8. Now in order to make this happen a lot of things have to go right for us and wrong for the other team. It just so happened that it did. We were also told after the game that there was also a lot of chatter on the official’s radio’s because putting up 7 points in a national tournament really just doesn’t happen. If we would have gotten all 8 we would have been able to call a technical timeout in order to take a picture :) After that exciting start we took our foot off the gas a bit and settled in to take the win. It was great to have a win under our belt but overall we know we didn’t play as good as we could. Definitely things to work on.

Draw 2 (Pool-Play) vs. Lone Star - With the first game jitters out of the way we knew it was going to be a tough but fair game. Overall we weren’t bad but we just didn’t make the shots that we needed. We were just a hair off on everything which ends up with us leaving points on the ice instead of converting. We took our loss but grew as a team.

Draw 3 (Pool-Play) vs. Cleveland - This was, interesting. We started well but in the 4th end we had a bit of an odd occurrence, a giant scratch in the ice. This scratch essentially burned 4 stones (2 of ours and 2 of Cleveland’s). We alerted the official’s and were told to finish the end to allow them to work on it through the halftime break. As soon as the last stone of the 4th end came to rest the entire ice crew descended onto our sheet to take a look, find the culprit (a stone pebble that they found), and fix it. For a bunch of arena curlers it was quite a sight. When we finally conceded, we were given praise from the officials letting us know that we handled the situation much better then some other high performance teams that they know would have. That made us all feel great. We needed that feedback given that with this loss we were now 1-2 and most likely would not make the A event playoffs.

Draw 4 (Pool-Play) vs. Wine Country - An 8AM draw, against what we knew was the toughest team in our pool. Combine that with we need a win to stay alive, or at least have a respectable record, meant that the pressure was on. After 6 ends we were down 8-2. Really we should have shook. But when Eric stepped up and asked George to throw we just went for it. Good thing we did as we put up 4. Only down 2 coming home without hammer, things just started to fall into place. We threw our last rock and were sitting in a position to steal the 2 we needed. Their final rock didn’t make it past the guards and all of a sudden were playing an extra end. At this point were the only draw left on the sheet. You can feel all the people up in the bar watching and you know that any noise you hear in the stands is because of your game. It’s a really weird, but amazing feeling. When we get down to our last stone it was time to call for a timeout and get together as a team and look at the options. Safe to say, it wasn’t good. With Wine Country sitting one we didn’t have a good way of drawing into the house, too much junk in the way. The only viable shot was a double angle raise to sit on the button. Holy crap, this is like something we see on TV. Can we really make this shot? In the end, we did. And perfectly I may add. The throw was great, the sweep call was precise and everything just came together. We still left our opponent’s the ability to make the same shot but we had done our job and it was the best we could do. We waited to see what they could do try and out count us. They saw the same things we did and went for it, but came up short. We won. That put us up to 2-2, our goal for the pool play. We knew it wasn’t going to be enough to make the A event but at that point it didn’t matter. We were a team and we came together to make that game happen.

Draw 5 (B Event Quarterfinals) vs. St. Louis - After a day off we started the B event playoffs on Friday morning against our fellow Midwest Curling Association (MCA) club St. Louis. We knew most of these guys as we play with them in local bonspiels quite a bit. Again we went down in the beginning, clawed our way back to tie it up after 7 coming home without hammer again. We were in the process of setting up our steal when unfortunately one of the St. Louis players took a hard fall. Luckily he was wearing a crash hat and was able to shake it off. It was great to see everyone on the sheet and in the arena clap as soon as he was helped up and walking. After resuming play we were able to get our steal and stay alive.

Draw 6 (B Event Semifinals) vs. Vikingland - This was the first time we were going to be playing two games in a day. On top of that were playing the team that lost the tie breaker to get into the A event so we knew it was going to be a tough game. After six ends we were down 10-2 and we were just running out of gas. We didn’t have another big end in us and ended up conceding. Or so we thought. As soon as handshakes were finished we had multiple officials descend upon on our sheet. They asked Vikingland to follow them off the ice and asked us to stay put. We were very confused. We assumed that something happened and that our opponents did something wrong but were not sure. After a few minutes they came back to the ice and told us that they were disqualified and that we would be moving on instead of them. They were disappointed, were were confused. It turns out that they had a rule violation in which players were behind the house while we had control. The rule states that only the Skip and Vice Skip can be back there which they violated. They followed the normal bonspiel rule of only two players behind the house so we didn’t think twice about it. Either way, we stayed alive and were now playing in the B event final!

Draw 7 (B Event Finals) vs. Lone Star - When we arrived at the arena the Lone Star team found us right away. They had talked to the officials and found out that the B Event was solely a friendly play down, no awards. This was news to us as well. It seems that this was the first year for this format and it was more of an experiment. The reason this was important is because they had a flight to catch at 4:30PM, the game was at 1:00PM. We chatted quickly and came up with a plan. We play 6 ends and then shake. If we are tied after 6 (which was our specialty over the week) then we would have the leads do a warm draw to determine the winner. We had to stick with the leads doing it so that we preserved the throwing order and were not disqualified for a rule violation. To be honest, both teams were a bit out of gas. We both played well and in the end Lone Star got the better of us. We took our loss and ended the tournament with a record of 4-3.

Like I said, it was a whirlwind of a week. But keep in mind that this was only half of it. While all the games above was the schedule and recap for the men’s team we had a women’s team there as well. If anything the women actually did better then us, reaching the A event quarterfinals. They may not have had the drama that we did in what seemed like every game but it was still great to see them out there representing our club so well.

We were there to support them but we also live streamed (or Streamlined™) them for our club back home. This was something that I helped do a couple years back at Arena Nationals when they were in Norte Dame but this year we took it to a whole new level. All 12 games (7 men, 5 women) were streamed via Facebook live. Throughout the week this took on a life of it’s own. We added in segments during the breaks, games to keep the audience entertained, we even provided some actual curling commentary once in a while too (imagine that). We kept getting great feedback from our club members as well as other clubs that were there that hadn’t even thought of it. By the end of the week the seats on the glass of the bar were filled with club members streaming games to clubs all over the country. We even ended up on the local news for a few seconds.

I drove home after this week completely exhausted and sore. But knowing that we were able to not just have a good time but also represent our club well was worth it. This was the last time we as a club are going to be eligible for this event as were moving to our own dedicated facility this month. It’s exciting but also bittersweet. I had such a good time that I would love to go back. That just makes me want to set my sights on USCA Club Nationals now in order to get back to this level of play. I’m nervous as to what it will take to get there but at the same time I can’t wait.