Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The Season Ahead: The Men

Now let’s see – where are we?

Spring – that was summer; summer was winter; autumn is summer and now it’s winter again. Aye, it’s a confusing old world right enough but as far as I am concerned, I should still be golfing. Younger readers may care to note that the older you get, the faster time flies by. Which brings me neatly to the new curling season that beckons – indeed has started for most now that we are into October.

First the bad news: Lochgoilhead has gone. I appreciate that for those of us who inhabit the more populous parts of our glorious nation, this matters not a jot nor a tittle, but pause and bear with me for just a second. This was the ice rink that served the likes of Dunoon, Oban and the Argyll peninsula; this was the rink that produced some great raw talent – Ross Paterson, for example was in last season’s European Championship rink and is playing with David Murdoch this season. We may scoff, but Lochgoilhead was a buzzing curling centre in its time and we curlers should mourn its passing. The Magnum Centre in Irvine is also no more, though there are other rinks in the area to pick up its displaced curlers.

Good news as well though as investment has been announced for the Dewar's Rink in Perth and a new Dumfries curling facility has been opened successfully. We need to cherish and look after our facilities, be they council-run or privately-owned; be they modern or 'traditional', for without the rinks to play on, our great game dies on its feet.

We have an exciting year of competition ahead as well, with some new teams getting together and, of course, some older teams sticking together and giving things another go. I wonder if the Scottish Men's Championship is not as open as it has been for a while. Tom Brewster is back with his Scottish Champion team from last season of Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews and Michael Goodfellow. Having been around the block and won a silver medal at the World Championship, they will fancy their chances to repeat last season’s epic performance. I fancy though, that they will have to get past David Murdoch again if they are to do that.

This season David has moved Glen Muirhead up to third, Ross Paterson comes in at second and Richard Woods plays lead stones as before. You might argue that the loss of Warwick Smith weakens the team, but do not make the mistake of underestimating Glen’s talent at third, nor indeed replacement Ross Paterson’s contribution at second. This is a strong-looking team and will challenge for the Scottish title right to the end.

David Smith returns to skip duties after a number of seasons of playing third – most recently to Hammy McMillan. Both he and his third player Warwick Smith have less time for curling this season and will probably only play the Edinburgh International, Perth Masters and Scottish Championship. With a front end comprising Craig Wilson and Ross Hepburn, they will be the most-capped team on the ice come the finals of the Scottish and anyone who fancies their chances of the title will have to find a way past them. It will not be easy for any of the other pretenders to the title!

Ewan MacDonald is taking a back seat this season, though he will be competitive – any team with Graeme Connal, Pete Loudon and Euan Byers in it will be competitive. I get the feeling that they are playing for the love of the game and the fun this season, though I might have that one horribly wrong – we shall see!

Sandy Reid’s team from last season returns with Neil MacArthur replacing Scott Macleod at second. Moray Combe and Dave Soutar remain in place. I was impressed by their showing in the Scottish last season and would not be surprised to see them back in the hunt this time around as well.

Of the younger skips, I am looking forward to watching Dave Edwards steer his team through the season. He has brought in Scottish Junior Champion skip from last season, John Penny, at third. Scott Macleod moves in at second and the experienced Colin Campbell stays at lead. The top end both play in Aberdeen, so will have plenty of chances to play and practise together. I also expect a challenge from Logan Gray, Al Guthrie, Steve Mitchell and Sandy Gilmour. Interestingly, Ross Paterson was going to play in that team, but there was a kind of domino-like ripple caused by Warwick Smith’s retiral from Dave Murdoch’s team. Ross has gone to Dave, and Steve has come to Logan from young Ally Fraser’s original team. Difficult to keep up, really!

Onto the junior men: warm favourites for this year’s title is the team skipped by Jay McWilliam, with Scottish Champion third, Colin Dick, Grant Hardie moving down to second from third in the team last season and Scottish Champion lead, Billy Morton, making up the four. Their strongest challenge may very well come from Blair Fraser and his team, which includes Jay’s displaced second, Struan Wood, throwing lead rocks, Hamilton McMillan playing second and Thomas Sloan at third. I hear that young Thomas has suffered a pretty bad injury that may keep him out of things for two or three months, so I do not know how they will cope in the first half of the season. Hopefully he will have recovered enough to get some match practice in before the championships start in earnest early next year. All the best to him on his road to recovery.

I am liking the look, mind you, of the team that Kyle Smith has put together. Thomas Muirhead plays third stones, Kyle Waddell is the second and Kerr Drummond brings his wealth of championship-winning experience to the party at lead. These boys are passionate about the game, passionate about winning and all throw the stone pretty well to boot. If they can channel their energy towards winning the really big games and not let the small stuff get them down, they could very well end up with the Murray Trophy early next year.

Interestingly, they have former World Junior Champion, Robin Halliday, coaching them this season. He knows his way around an ice rink and it is good to see him helping develop young talent. While I am on that subject, we should take our hats off to the likes of Keith Prentice, Debbie Knox and Robin himself for the work they are putting in to the game at elite level. There are (and have been) others out there who have done the same kind of work – you know who you are and we should doff our hats in your general direction.

Expect challenges also from some of the younger rinks who are moving towards the age when they might expect to reach the last four of the championship. I will be looking out for Duncan Menzies and Bruce Mouat – to name but two – to make a strong challenge this season.

Right – that’s enough for now. I will put together some thoughts about the two ladies competitions in the next week or two in the fond hope that his nibs will allow me to post two blogs in the one month.

Easy, tiger! Walk first – then run!

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