The first game of the season was last week, and it took several days to recover.
Don’t get me wrong: I had committed myself to a strict regimen of bike-riding, weight-lifting and stretching before stepping on the ice. In fact, my whole summer was downright active, so I thought I was prepared.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the news that one of our teammates couldn’t make the game, no spare was available, and we would be curling with three, instead of four, players. Not only that, but we were scheduled to play a team of four very strong, experienced curlers. There would be no opportunity to take it easy. Against this team (matching shirts, calling out zone numbers as the rock came down the ice – you get the picture) we had to make our shots.
The three-versus-four scenario provides a texture to the game that is missing when all the players are present. For one thing, because you’re asked to move up or down in the throwing rotation, you suddenly find yourself playing two positions. In my case, as second, I was propelled up into the house as vice to hold the broom and call the line, something I love to do. Not only that, but I had to make those important shots to set up the house for my skip (actually, she’s our vice, but she’s a darn good skip). Challenging, but fun, too. Our lead, who was expecting to do lots of guards and draw-weight come-arounds, found herself facing takeouts and rolls – an exciting addition to her usual repertoire.
And then there’s the sweeping. Watching a rock curl down the ice is a beautiful thing. Watching it swing, slowly and inevitably, closer and closer to that guard, the gap between rock and obstacle getting smaller, smaller, smaller – not so beautiful. Two sweepers can carry a rock a long way and keep it away from danger. One sweeper can do that too, but it’s a lot harder. And it’s especially hard for a sweeper – our valiant lead, mostly – who is out there all, all alone. Alone, and playing the first game of the season. We threw well, but we lost a few rocks that might have squeaked by or hit the mark if two of us had been on the brushes.
But the real challenge of three-versus-four is in the throwing. The front end on the short-handed team throws three rocks each. Some might think this is a disadvantage – and in one very significant way it is – but overall, throwing three rocks every end is a bonus. What better way to get a feel for draw weight? And how about picking up on those hills and valleys that sometimes creep into the sheet? Not only that, but the skip gets a chance to watch each player’s release three times – one more opportunity to adjust the broom, get a sense of who lets it go a bit inside (Yes, that’s me) or who needs less ice on a normal weight take-out. Three rocks means three opportunities to get it right, and anyone who has played against a threesome knows to be wary…
Until the fatigue sets in, that is. The downside of three-versus-four is all about fatigue. And if it’s the opening game of the season, and you’re throwing your first rocks after a long summer, expect fatigue. We did just fine for about six ends. In seven, I noticed a little tightness as I stood after delivering my third rock. By eight, I was wobbling. Helen, the lead, and I exchanged a few war stories (“Are you feeling this as much as I am?”). After keeping pace on the scoreboard, Matching Shirts took three, and the game was suddenly out of reach.
The next day (and the day after that), my sore muscles told me that I had just curled my first game of the season. They also told me that although I thought I was ready, I wasn’t. In recreational curling, the three-versus-four game isn’t that rare – and it’s a great chance to throw a lot of rocks, get lots of sweeping practice and test your fitness. I’ll be ready next time.