See 'embedding'. I thought it was something completely different. I thought it was something young Lotharios did of an evening once the sun had settled over the horizon. Stranraer has taught me something new - as oft it does - and there was I, your embedded correspondent, at the Double Rink Championship, sponsored by McMillan Hotels, this past weekend. A right good time was had by one and all, let me tell you, including a visit to a very loud couple of pubs by your correspondent - all in the spirit of research, you understand.
But first, by way of explanation, let me give you some background. Clubs, often after playdowns in their local rinks, send two teams down to the championship. There, they find themselves in sections of four and each club plays against the other in a league format, two points for a game won, one point for a game drawn and no points for a game lost. Points are added and the winning club from each of the three sections progresses through to the semifinal. The highest-up second-placed club also progresses through, so that there are four clubs in the semis.
This means a lot of work for the ice staff. Each section had one game on the Friday and two on the Saturday. Put that another way: six full sessions of ice time on the Saturday with all of the preparation in between the games. At the conclusion of the games on both the Friday and the Saturday, there was another couple of hours’ worth of preparation. Aye – different from the old days when a Zamboni would hurtle round the big skating rink at Crossmyloof preparing the ice for the evening curling sessions in about five minutes flat!
And now – a rant! Well – you wouldn’t expect anything else, would you? The Double Rink championship harks back to an earlier, more innocent time when curlers travelled over hill and through valley to compete against the next village when the plough was frozen in the furrow. The Grand Match, the world’s biggest bonspiel, and the Strathcona Cup series between Scotland and Canada work to the same principle. Never mind points and ends; the results are based on shots-up, pure and simple; ends only come into it in the event of a tie. The semis and the finals of the Double Rink Championship use that system. Two teams, each representing their club with pride, try their best to win their game, but have to adjust their tactics depending on what is happening in the other game. This is curling as it used to be played on outdoor ice in the days of the crampit. My own view, shared by quite a few of the competitors and the watchers behind the glass, is that the league section of the competition should revert to the true double-rink format – in other words aggregate scores totalled and be done with all the points for a win and ends won.
The current system within the leagues means that there is not the same need for that furtive look across the boards; the games are too insular; there is not that feeling that there is another team involved, whose fortunes good or bad reflect on you and your team. One of the semifinal match-ups illustrates my point; more of that later.
Onto the competition itself. It was hard-fought and it was tight. Games, never mind league tables, fluctuated like the ebbing tide out in the now ship-less Stranraer harbour. At the end of it all, the Musketeers from Edinburgh found themselves competing against Kilsyth in one semifinal, whilst Stranraer faced off against the highest-up runners-up, Forfar, in the other.
Musketeers obviously like the third ends of matches. Alan Chalmers and his team scored a three and Graham Cormack and his scored a four in their games. Though Graeme Baxter kept things relatively tight in his game and though John Davie got a three right back in his fourth end, the truth was that from the fifth end on in both games, it looked like there was only one winner.
Shot of the semis though was a run back triple that John Davie played – he needed it, mind you and he still lost a two that end!
In the other match, the true nature of the old-fashioned double rink format shone through. Philip Wilson and his team scored a two in their last end to recover from a 6-2 deficit in end five; a great fightback from Philip, Ian Kirkpatrick, John Parker and John Munro, who was substituting for Ben Wilson. They ended up winning their game by one shot. The other game also went to the wire though, to be fair, it was about an end and a half behind all the other games. Two hours twenty-five minutes is an awful long time to play eight ends of curling, people! Anyhow, Stranraer, skipped by Jim Cannon, found themselves three shots down – two in aggregate – playing their last end without the hammer. They needed to steal a two to even up the aggregate score; Stranraer would then go through on ends won. Jim slid out true and managed to hit a double to lie the two shots needed with his last stone. That left David Russell with an open hit for the match, though it was down a floaty piece of ice on the in-turn.
As soon as his stone was laid, there was a audible gasp from the watchers immediately behind the game that spread like wildfire through the rest of the bar. On the ice, the Forfar boys had been already been shouted at: “wow,” was the loud cry. We and they all knew that anything wide of the brush down the left-hand side going away from the bar on the in-turn was a miss, pure and simple. There was a ghastly inevitability as the played stone tracked further and further wide of its target. David, his team mates and the other Forfar team, who had waited to a man to offer support on the ice, could only watch as his shot drifted wide. He later admitted that he jammed the stone back as he put the handle on at the end of his slide. Though he had won his own game by a shot, the overall match had been tied, and Forfar went out on the ends count. Stranraer had qualified from ten shots down an hour earlier and had set themselves up for an exciting looking match against a strong Musketeers team. For Forfar, it was the long drive home through the snow with nothing in their hands but the memories of a guid weekend in the south west of Scotland. You had to feel sorry for them.
And so to the final and another exciting match, pitching as it did the strong-looking local rink from Stranraer against the reigning double rink champions, the Musketeers club from Edinburgh. Gail Munro, who, as well as making the ice, also updated the scores on the Royal Club site (with a little help from her daughter, Robyn) reports on another tight, tight match. Jim Cannon again found himself at the centre of things with his last stone; a hit and stay would secure a win in his game. Sadly for local supporters, his played stone rolled out, so Stranraer 2 had to be content with a peel instead of a one-shot win. Meanwhile, Musketeers 1, skipped again by Alan Chalmers, managed to score a big three in the seventh end of his game against Philip Wilson’s Stranraer 1 team to come home two shots to the good. Despite Stranraer’s best efforts to lay the perfect freeze, Alan was able to pick Philip’s stone perfectly to run him out of stones and secure a two-shot victory in his game. The winners photo is here.
What was particularly impressive about their win is the fact that these boys were all in one of the very loud pubs that I had visited the previous night. There did not seem to be any conspicuous hanging-back when it came to the singing, the dancing, nor indeed the consumption of falling-down juice. A proper curling weekend then, from which Stranraer will take some time to recover!
Gail pebbling the ice is by Robin Copland