Around the House: Skips I have known – for better or for worse

A few weeks ago I wrote about the challenges of playing three-versus-four.  Our vice, B., moved into the house and took over the job of calling the game for our absent skip. I became vice for the night, and H., our lead, threw the first three rocks and did a lot – a LOT – of sweeping, all by herself. It was tough, and we hung in for seven ends, but the fatigue caught up to us, and our opponents took over in eight. We were looking forward to our second game – but unfortunately our skip was still away and we came up short in finding a spare. We shook hands after six ends in that one. But guess what – it happened again in Game 3. This time we came out, guns blazing, and managed to get on the scoreboard fast, hanging on for a tie after six longs ends.  Celebrations all round! And all this time, B. was in the house, calling the game with calm and precision, learning our deliveries, figuring out how to win with these three players. That tie was as good as a win to us, and it was as much a testament to B.’s great skipping as it was to our throwing and sweeping. The best skips play that way: captain of the ship, but calling on all crew to be part of the passage. Talk about a team effort! I’ve been on the ice with lots of skips in my years of curling, and some of them stay with me forever, for better or for worse. Without naming any names, here are a few who I just can’t forget. 1. Whistle While You Work He was always positive, always supportive, a great shooter and as wily as they come.  And he had a trademark: once he’d decided on his shot, he’d slide down the ice towards the hack, whistling. Ever heard a good whistler at work in a two-sheet curling club? The sound resonates with a sweetness that could rival any concert hall. Everyone on both sheets would stop to listen – and smile. The bonus? He always made his shot, too. 2. Inventing Your Own Lingo The first skip I ever played with (the one who introduced me to curling etiquette) was a serious, very accomplished curler. But he had a tendency to invent his own lingo. My favourite, which I still use today, was the term for that weight you throw when you want it go to the boards, but gently. Not quite hack, not quite board.  He called it “back here” weight. Perfect. 3. Win Or Else! I’d get down in the hack to throw and be so nervous that I was going to miss my shot – that I missed my shot.  She was just scary. Enough said. 4. Three Choices When I graduated from the front end, a veteran skip took me under his wing and taught me more in a six-game draw than I think I have learned since.  One thing he hated was skips who took too long to make up their mind about what to call.  “You have three choices,” he told me. “Hit, draw, or guard. Pick one and put the broom down.”  Playing with this guy was a dream, because the games were fast and exciting – and we often won.  His other great advice to me, his vice, was “It’s close enough for a measure.”  In other words, don’t let the rings fool you and the other vice intimidate you.  If it’s close – even if you think the rock isn’t in your favour – measure.  You might be surprised – and I sometimes have been, too. Great advice. 5. Feedback King/Queen The best skips, in my opinion, are the ones who know how to give constructive, helpful, supportive feedback.  Yes, I often release the rock inside on my out-turn. I know this, and I appreciate it when the skip tells me I hit the broom, or when I didn’t. But it’s hard not to feel like an annoyed parent is standing at the end of the ice scolding me when the skip picks up the broom and dramatically places it (hand on hip, head shaking “No! No! No!”) where I actually let it go. Okay, I screwed up. I’ll get it next time. The best skips give feedback, straight and honest. “You were inside that time.” “It needed more sweeping.” “That was board weight – we needed tee.” Curlers are the first ones to recognize their mistakes – a cranky skip really isn’t going to help me get it right next time. And finally…. 6. Till Death Do Us Part Some people say that couples shouldn’t curl together, but the most curling fun I’ve ever had was playing on a team with my husband. He skipped – trying out cool shots (pretending he was Kevin Martin much of the time) – and I played vice, the voice of reason. Five fun seasons, and he’s still my favourite skip of all time.