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Tim Hortons Brier: ‘Pigs’ causing headaches for curlers in Edmonton

Tim Hortons Brier

EDMONTON _ Some of the loudest noise being made at this week's Tim Hortons Brier is the complaints over the curling rocks being used.

"There's a couple of pigs out there," said Northern Ontario skip Brad Jacobs.

That's actually one of the nicer terms being tossed around.

Curlers say the rocks are as unpredictable as Charlie Sheen on a Saturday night. The "pigs" are slow. That means they require more weight to throw than the rest of the rocks. Some have more curl than Little Orphan Annie's hair while others run straighter than a Saskatchewan highway.

"I'm not going to sugarcoat it. It's tough," said Ontario's Glenn Howard, the defending champion who is appearing in a record 15th Brier. "They are not matched very well. There's a lot of different ones out there.

"Some are 15-plus feet slower than the next one. I've never experienced that."

Brad Gushue, the 2006 Olympic gold medallist skip from Newfoundland & Labrador, said teams are struggling to figure out which rock will do what.

"There are some that curl a little bit more and some that are slower and some that are straighter," he said. "It's tough getting sets for everybody."

Officials with the Canadian Curling Association have defended the recently acquired rocks and suggest the problem may be more pilot error.

"They are very good stones," said Danny Lamoureux, the CCA's director of championship services and curling club development.

The stones come from Kays Bonspiel Company in Scotland and are made to the new Olympic specifications. They cost about $500 each plus $1,000 for the electronic handles.

"The identical twins to these stones will be used in Sochi," at the 2014 Winter Olympics, said Lamoureux.

Before coming to the Brier the rocks were tested for a couple of weeks at an Ottawa curling club. They were also used at the recent Canadian Junior Men’s and Women’s Curling Championships in Fort McMurray, Alta.

"They were fast and swingy," said Lamoureux. "We brought them here.

"They need to play sooner or later."

While the players make it sound like Armageddon on the ice, the statistics tell a different story. The leading skips at the Brier are all shooting over 85 per cent. None of the regular leads or seconds are less than 80 per cent.

Many teams keep careful track of rocks. They have a book on each stone and how it performs. That's partially the issue here. These stones are an unknown quantity. They have no history.

Marc Kennedy, the second on Kevin Martin's Alberta rink, doesn't think the Brier is the right place to test drive new stones.

"You have to question bringing new rocks to a Brier," he said. "You can tell out there the precision shots aren't being made as easily as some sets of rocks we used before. The rocks are a little bit different. They are going to take a while to cure and change and get a little bit more natural.

"We're a team that's very into the rocks. When we have brand new ones and they are different, we struggle a little bit. It's a little more even playing field between us and the rest of the teams. If we want to do well this week we are going to have to adjust. There's no point complaining about it."

Gushue believes the top teams will have the rocks figured out before the playoffs.

"It's going to be a learning process for all the players here," he said. "I think the top skips are going to pick up on it quicker and it's going to be an advantage as it goes."

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