What is Wrong With This Ice?!

November 10, 2005 Revised Feb. 2013

More than one of you and one of you more than once has said to me, “There’s something wrong with this ice.” This is bad news but believe it or not, it’s also good news. Let’s start with the good news. If you’re actually expecting the rocks to do something before you let them go, then it means that you’ve actually put some thought into what the rock should do. It means you’re actually trying to read the ice and that’s good!

Learning to read ice takes a long time and many curlers never really get the full hang of it. As a skip, I consider it one of my major “areas for improvement”. (That’s my encouraging way of saying I have a problem with it…) To be proficient as an ice reader, you have to concentrate, be observant, have a decent memory and have an open mind. I’ll explain.

First, when I say, “read the ice” what do I mean? Reading the ice means figuring out how much rocks will curl with a given weight anywhere on your sheet and remembering it! It’s like making a map of the sheet in your mind only instead of hills and valleys you have to “see” where rocks will curl and where they may not. Every player on the team needs to do this to some extent; it’s not just a job for your skip. (Trust me, we’ll never admit it but we skips need all the help we can get…) Ideally, you watch every stone thrown on your sheet, remember the weight, path and curl.

In reality however, only the skips get to do this. As a sweeper you can’t very well stand behind your own teams rocks and assess how they’re curling. So, what do you do? You watch the other half of the stones thrown in your game, namely those thrown by your opponents. Unless you’re getting ready to throw your own rock you should get into a position where you can get in behind (yes, not in front…) of your opponent after she releases her stone. From there you have an ideal view of the stone as it makes its merry way along. A couple of things to remember when you’re doing this, don’t get in the way of the thrower in any way. Wait until they have passed you by and then quietly get in behind them.  The best thing to do is wait until they have released the rock before moving at all. If you’re in a good position you’ll see the shot well enough if you wait until the release to get in behind it. What do you look for now that you have this great view? First thing, what is the line? What path was the stone on when the player released it? This is the first important piece of information to note. Don’t worry too much about where the skip is holding the broom. To be perfectly honest, when building your mental map, the position of the skips broom doesn’t matter much. You’ll want to take note of it to see if the player you’re watching is hitting the broom but if you’re trying to read ice you need to think about where the rock is going, not where the skip wanted it to go!

There is an old story about Ed Werenich. It was said that there were times during play when he would signal his team in a particular way (like tugging on his ear) to indicate that they should throw at one of his feet instead of the broom. If the opposing skip and team were watching where he put his broom then this would cause utter confusion because if they used the same ice then they would get completely different results. To the opponents, Ed’s team was missing the broom every time but somehow making all the shots. Of course Ed would throw up his hands in apparent frustration with each shot that “missed the broom” by a foot just to further confuse his opponents. Now, if the other team was wise enough to actually watch the rock and its path and forget about the broom then none of this worked. I’m not sure any of that is true but it’s still a fun story and shows why watching the other teams skip isn’t only not helpful but could be confusing!

So, I said you needed a few things to be good at reading ice. First, why do you need good concentration? Curling rocks move in many different ways. Shots have to be watched from beginning to end to see what’s really going on with them. For instance, rocks may curl right away then straighten out, they may stay straight then curl right at the end, they may not curl until they get inside the hog line or they may curl in the middle of the sheet and stay straight as they slow down. These are just a few of the different ways rocks can travel down the sheet. It’s important to watch the whole shot, not just the first or last bit because knowing the whole path of a rock down the sheet will help you decide when and if and when you need to sweep a stone. For instance, let’s say you’ve been concentrating on the shots and you know rocks stay straight for ¾ of the way down then curl right at the end. Now let’s say your skip asks your vice to for a draw shot around a guard. As a sweeper, you will know that if your vice (okay, let’s say my vice because, well, it happens a lot!) lets go of a rock and it starts to curl right away then you’re in for a big sweep! You know that the rock will stay straight for the first while and really bend at the end. It helps you anticipate what’s going to happen and in curling, if you can do that then you have a huge advantage already.

Often this “curl” point is referred to as the “break point” (curling term…not the Patrick Swayze movie…).  Knowing where the break point is (the place on the sheet where the majority of the curl begins) allows you as a skip to sweep early if the shot coming is narrow, or leave it off if the shot is a bit wide.  Find the break point.  Watch the break point.  Watch to make sure the break point doesn’t change throughout the game.

There are many things to note when watching a thrown rock. Keep an eye on how the player released the rock. Was it a clean release or did they hang on to it longer than they should have? How much handle (or rotation) did the rock have as it traveled down the ice? This has a huge impact on what path the rock will take. Most of us have seen a “spinner” or a rock that has been rotated very quickly before it has been released. These rocks usually don’t curl very much until they start to lose their forward momentum. When they finally stop, they tend to really dig in and swing hard in the direction they were spun. Rocks with very little rotation may lose their spin all together and take a very meandering path down the ice. Shots like this won’t tell you much about how the ice is behaving and you shouldn’t include them when trying to figure out what the ice will do. The weight thrown also has a big impact on how much a stone will curl. Rocks thrown with more weight rocks usually (but not always!) run straighter than draw shots. You have to watch each shot so you know as much as you can about the ice. It’s clear why you need a decent memory for this; after all, it’s a big sheet of ice and you need to know as much as you can about the whole thing. It’s helpful to try to break down the sheet into a few separate areas. As you start thinking about this, you can divide the sheet in half down the centerline. That most simple division of the sheet means you have to keep 16 different paths in your head. Sixteen you say! Yes, consider…

To the glass

Right side

Clockwise Turn

1. Draw

2. Take out

Counterclockwise Turn

3. Draw

4. Take out

Left side

Clockwise Turn

5. Draw

6. Take out

Counterclockwise Turn

7. Draw

8. Take out

Away from the glass

Right side

Clockwise Turn

9. Draw

10. Take out

Counterclockwise Turn

11. Draw

12. Take out

Left side

Clockwise Turn

13. Draw

14. Take out

Counterclockwise Turn

15. Draw

16. Take out

Oh yah, and double that if you have a lefty on your team because their rocks travel on a different path all together.  Now, I have a good memory but it’s short (an old joke sorry…). Plus my memory is short (a new joke maybe not funny…). Honestly, keeping information current in all these situations is one of the things good players (again, not just skips) do well. Many top notch skips are able to recall every shot in a 10 end game. That’s 160 rocks for the big girls and boys. Being able to do this is a very big advantage because teams and players that can know what to expect on every shot thrown and can call more precise shots.

Now, why do I say you need an open mind? If the ice was the same all across and down the sheet and if it didn’t change then life would be much simpler. You could say, “seen one rock, seen them all!” Of course, the ice is not the same all over the sheet and ice conditions do change. In fact, the ice can change very quickly even during an end but usually it’s more gradual than that. As you’re watching what’s going on you have to believe what you see. Trust your eyes and be open to the fact that what you saw previously may not be what you see next! This may sound elementary but I once won a game simply because the other skip called the wrong ice three times in a row! I was down by three in the last end and my opponent missed an open take out in a spot of ice that wasn’t behaving the same as any other place on our sheet. Needing half my rocks to count, I put a second rock there. He called the same ice and missed again, so, well, I put another rock there. After the third miss, with the ice call in the same spot, he was convinced that his players were out to make him look bad. He and his team were suddenly completely rattled and just couldn’t recover. I ended up taking four and winning the game by one point. The fact was he did not believe what he saw. He thought he knew something that his eyes had told him wasn’t true. Keeping track of changing ice conditions can be very a challenging thing for players especially considering how many observations you need to keep in your head. I personally have a difficult time doing this. I want to believe that I know what the ice is going to do and it usually takes me a couple of mistakes before I begin to see that things aren’t what I thought they were. If you want to be competitive then you cannot afford to make that many mistakes before you make your adjustment. Believe your eyes.

Okay, now back to that “wrong ice” and the bad news about it. Believe it or not, the bad news isn’t that there is problem with the ice. Except in a few very extreme cases, there is nothing “wrong” with the ice. What is wrong is your understanding of why your rock didn’t behave as you expected it to. The reason this is bad news is that as a player you have automatically assumed that every single part of your delivery was perfect and the fault lies with the ice. This is a bad way to look at things because the ice is what it is and you can’t change it. It’s also bad because you have ignored the one thing you can change (and the likely thing that caused the bad shot), your delivery. In another article I’ll address the many things that affect your rock when you throw it and how many of them are actually in your control. For now, lets just say it’s likely that bad shot was thrown differently than the other rocks you remember in that spot. This is an important reason for working on having a consistent delivery. If you deliver every rock in the exact same way every time then you have that many fewer variables to consider. No one at our level of play is consistent enough (yet!) to blame the ice before we blame our own inconsistent deliveries. Think hard about how you delivered the rock in that “bad” spot. Were you on the broom? Did you throw the right weight? Did your rock have 2 ½ to 3 ½ rotations as it traveled the length of the sheet? Did you have a clean release? Do you get the idea? Can I stop asking questions about your delivery now? Good.

If all of this seems too complicated take heart. I would say that it’s likely most of you are already doing this sort of thing but you’ve just really never though about it that much. Remember what you see and if something happens that’s unexpected, think about those things that are most likely to have been different. That means, think about your delivery first before you blame the ice. If you do this and start to consciously read the ice then you will immediately become more competitive and your game will improve. As always, if you have questions please, ask! I’m here to help.

Sean Turriff

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