Must admit, I've never watched an entire mixed doubles curling game.
Not that I'd be termed a stuffy purist. Just ask anyone at my club who's had the misfortune of listening to me talk about a slew of outside-the-box changes I'd like to see at least tried in the roaring game and they'll attest to that.
I don't have anything against mixed doubles. I just never found a reason to watch it in the past, not even at the Continental Cup. Things have changed, though. Mixed doubles is on an upward track, its momentum gathering as we get closer to the first ever Canadian Mixed Doubles Curling Championship this March, in Leduc, Alberta. That will be followed by the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship in Fredericton, New Brunswick, in April.
Resistance is futile. The Canadian Curling Association is getting behind it and there's a push to get this 'novelty" version of curling included in the Olympics, perhaps as early as 2018.
So today was the day I decided I'd watch an entire mixed doubles game, as it took centre stage at the 2013 Continental Cup in Penticton, British Columbia.
The game leaves me a little cold. Might sound silly but it seems a little lonely out there with just two players aside. The dynamic changes dramatically. That might be something to get used to. So, too, will the sight of somebody regularly releasing a stone and then immediately popping up to catch up with so they can sweep the thing.
Still, there's plenty to like about this version of the game. With each duo throwing just five stones - two other stones being placed with one as a centre guard and the other at the back of the button to begin each end - and no takeouts allowed until after the third stone is thrown, players really need to worry about precise rock placement. As TSN analyst Linda Moore said during the broadcast of the John Morris/Kaitlyn Lawes versus Niklas Edin/Christina Bertrup match:
"The one thing about this format... is it does really define set up shots and scoring shots. For those that struggle with strategy. It's one of those things - we talk about skins being an interesting format in which to train strategy and angles and lots of parts of the game - this does make your mind work (and) actually makes those set up shots so important. There has to be a huge focus on the first couple of stones of the end."
Certainly with three fewer stones to throw each end, you have less of a chance to make bailout peels if you deem them necessary.
Another thing: This game is a real test of up-weight accuracy. There just isn't time for a shooter to pop up and catch their stone for sweeping purposes on a takeout. So, a clean throw right at the stick is crucial. Actually, it's a real test of draw weight accuracy, too. Anyone who's thrown to one sweeper as opposed to two knows that. Edin's struggles with light weight early in the loss to Morris and Lawes is also testament to that. This game could really mess with a curler's psyche when first taking it up, so there's something to be said about how challenging it actually is.
Another interesting strategic addition: While one player shoots rocks one and five and the other shoots rocks 2, 3 and 4, they are allowed to flip flop and switch that order from end to end if they like.
That's pretty good. Can't tell you how many times I'd switch it up and get someone else on my team to throw skip stones for me after a rocky start.
It's early yet. Can't say for sure whether I've begun a lifelong affinity for mixed doubles curling. It might just be a passing fancy. But, it's off to a decent start.
This kind of game just might grow on me.