Around the House: Playoffs!

It’s playoff season for recreational curlers, and that means something different at every club. You might be in a closing bonspiel that involves the entire membership. Or you might be in playoffs that will see a champion crowned for each, separate league. In either case, there’s a buzz that takes over the club room and spreads out onto the ice as the season rolls to a close. At my club, it’s a league-driven championship. That means we’re in the race along with the 15 other teams who have been meeting on Wednesday nights at 6pm all season long. Every other league – men’s, mixed, juniors, ladies, seniors, competitive or social, all scattered across the busy schedule at my 8-sheet club – has its own playoff schedule and final, ultimate, champion. For our team, which spent most of the season hanging around at the bottom of our league, it means we could go home with some hardware.  All we have to do is win a few games against the other teams who have been keeping company with us on the winless side of the score sheet, and we too could be smiling faces in the end-of-season photos with the words “winners” and “trophy” next to our names. No, we won’t be official league champions: that honour is reserved for the A-flight teams at the top. But with generous intentions, the league organizers have set up our playoffs so that each group of four teams has a shot at something. Something to shoot for: that’s all we ask. In my first season of curling, our little club only had enough people to run a single closing draw.  We were all assigned to random mixed teams. The regular leagues were collapsed into this one, every-night-of-the-week draw, and we competed for the prize of Club Champion. The whole thing was a bit of a crap shoot, because although the organizing committee did its best to keep teams fairly evenly matched, we had no input into who we would be curling with. The results were sometimes surprising. A team with a senior, a junior, a rookie and a fairly new skip could win enough games to challenge one of the respected competitive skips with a solid, experienced line-up behind him. All good fun, and a great way to end the season. This year, our playoffs started two weeks ago with a win, only to hit a bump with a 6-end loss in the second game.  In our third game, we faced our opponents short-handed in a sudden death, must-win match. With a triple-knockout format, the playoff pressure was on. Playoffs are fun for the recreational curler because suddenly there’s something on the line. It’s not just your usual weekly game; the intensity picks up. Players put pressure on themselves (and sometimes on each other, too) to focus on making those shots. The “recreational” part of the game slips a bit, and the “curler” part makes itself heard. Well, for us, it was one of those nights where every rock ticked a guard, came up a foot short, or just sailed by its target. Our opponents made every shot, and we didn’t. So while other teams continue the battle for a championship trophy, we are consigned to the sidelines. The closing banquet and the golf course beckon. For us, the playoffs and our season are over.