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Getting to know you: Skins All-star curlers fight unfamiliarity

Jeff Stoughton releases his stone to sweepers Marc Kennedy and Nolan Thiessen. (TSN)

Rama, Ontario -

With $14,000.00 on the line with a single shot in the final end, a skip wants to know he can trust the players in front of him.

Trust is not a problem for the players on the ice at the Dominion Skins Game at Orillia, Ontario's Casino Rama. They're all-stars so, you know, they're all pretty good. Still, with all that money on the line, familiarity could go a long way toward breeding a pocket full of green.

Would've been nice, I'm sure, for either Kevin Koe or Jeff Stoughton to have their usual teammates on the ice with them, when the final end of the first draw of The Dominion Skins Game was being played for 14 large.

However, in an all-star format, with teams thrown together by way of a draft held Thursday night, neither Koe nor Stoughton had that luxury.

All of the players on the ice this weekend are, of course, world-class stone throwers. However, that doesn't mean they don't feel the general unease of something or someone new messing with their routine.

For Koe second Brent Laing, it's the chemistry thing that seems the most elusive ingredient in trying to bond quickly.

“That, I think , is the biggest challenge," he explained. "How to say things and when to say things. It takes a long time to learn when to shut up and when to talk to your skip. I know the guys (on his all-star team) really well. But, in the pressure situations, you don’t know when you want to say something and when not.”

His skip agreed.

“Knowing what to say, when to say or how to say it, takes years for a normal team, added Koe, minutes after playing a hit and stick to claim the fourteen grand. "So, you’re just kinda winging it out here.”

As for the difficulty of knowing your teammates skill set in such short order? Koe downplayed that a little, while admitting it's at least a bit of a factor.

“You don’t know tendencies and you’re a little unsure what to say sometimes, but that’s part of the fun.”

Another all-star, Kevin Martin, maintained that skips need to really bear down on learning the release tendencies and the possible difference in weight in comparison to what they were used to getting from longtime teammates.

For Stoughton, who's team struggled to stay in its game with Koe over the first four ends, the learning curve may have been partricularly steep. TSN colour commentator Russ Howard pointed out that his usual vice, Jon Mead, has a similar delivery to Stoughton's. Pat Simmons' would be altogether different. Maybe undetectable to the naked eye of an average club curler, but a major difference at the pro level.

Stoughton disagreed with that notion.

“Maybe some of the line calls are a little different," he said when asked about the difficulty of gelling quickly as a team. "To sweep or not to sweep. Other than that, it seems pretty good. I mean, all these guys are pretty darn good, so it’s not that difficult.”

The feeling-out process can continue for Koe's team, as they punched their ticket to Sunday's final. Lest you think it's all just a lot of fun out there, and that things are completely relaxed, Laing can tell you differently.

“There’s probably more pressure in this. As much as you don’t want to let down your (usual) team, you really don’t want to let down your peers.”

Peers that, for one weekend at least, are with you, instead of against you.

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