What to do about the broom? Top skips weigh in on curling's possible sweeping solutions

Ryan Harnden works the broom while his brother, E.J. watches at the 2016 Players' Championship. (Anil Mungal/Sportsnet)
Ryan Harnden works the broom while his brother, E.J. watches at the 2016 Players' Championship. (Anil Mungal/Sportsnet)

It's been a season unlike any other in curling.

When the issue of new, more aggressive materials on broom heads first came to the fore last autumn, it ushered in a year of measures and counter-measures peppered with finger-pointing, accusations of cheating and of frustration. As well as charges of "corporate bullying." When a moratorium on one abrasive synthetic fabric was brought in, good old-fashioned hair brushes then became a target of new regulation. Now, a third wave of consternation. Because with virtually all teams using what's called "Top Gun" material on their broom heads (it's said to be less abrasive than the material banned earlier this season yet still of an aggressive nature), the World Curling Federation is poised to take some off-season action on regulating the game and the equipment used to play it more rigidly.

With next month's "Broom Summit" looming, and many of the best players on the planet in Toronto to take part in The Players' Championship, it seemed a good time to gather the thoughts of some of the game's elite on the matter.

I compiled comments from eight of the world's top skips, as well as the Grand Slam of Curling's Competition Director, Pierre Charette, based on two basic questions:

1) If I could promise that the World Curling Federation would emerge from next month's broom summit with exactly the solution you'd like, what would that look like?

2) Can you describe the frustration you've felt this season as the continuing saga of broom heads has unfolded?

Here are their answers:

Pierre Charette

“I think it’s gonna come to every company’s gonna have to use the same fabric. They’ll have to come up with a fabric that does not damage the ice. It’s gonna have to start with the fabric.”

“Some teams still try to find a loophole where they can get away with something. And it’s too bad.”

Charette's frustration in the matter shows when he refers to this year's World Championship and rules that allowed for four new broom heads to be used each game. “It made for World Carving Championships,” he said.

Kevin Koe

2016 world champion Kevin Koe. (Anil Mungal/Sportsnet)
2016 world champion Kevin Koe. (Anil Mungal/Sportsnet)

“I would hope that they limit the material and make no changes to sweeping technique. I don’t have a problem with the way anyone is sweeping. I think the material being used these days is just too aggressive. You just shouldn’t be able to manoeuvre a rock the way you can these days. The Brier rule with two brooms and a little tweak to the material is the way to go.”

“It’s crazy what’s happened this year. It’s shocking to me that no one’s figured this out before. It’s been quite the year and every month it’s been different rules. I think it’s been challenging for them (officials) but I think it’s getting close (to a resolution).”

Niklas Edin

“I think a material that doesn’t scratch the ice, only warms it up a bit so the rock can go further and curl later. I think we need a new material that is only creating heat on the ice but no scratches.”

His frustration level? “It was playing the games and losing to better pads. That’s about it. We were one and seventeen against Hardline before they banned them. You know you’re gonna lose before the game starts. It’s frustrating and we’ve kind of been on the the wrong side of this the whole way.”

Val Sweeting

"I think, personally, the issue is the fabric. I think there needs to be a standardized, approved, material.” Sweeting doesn't necessarily think sweeping techniques need to be looked at. “If there is an evolution in sweeping I think that’s okay.”

“It was hard every week. You’d think the problem goes away and we’re in a good place and then another head comes out. I guess we should have been making sure we had the best head out there versus practicing all the time. It made it really hard and frustrating.”

2013 world champion Eve Muirhead. (Anil Mungal/Sportsnet)
2013 world champion Eve Muirhead. (Anil Mungal/Sportsnet)

Eve Muirhead

“For sure something has to be done. First things first, the material needs to be kind of looked at. I haven’t actually thought a lot of it because I think we’ve just gotta go with the flow. You’ve gotta go with what’s happening. We can’t influence, too much, the final decision but obviously we want it to be back to a sport of curling and not a sport of brushing. Back to how it was would be fantastic. Because that’s when it was more of a skill game."

Brad Gushue

“Number one: Address the abrasiveness of the material on the brooms. That’s the biggest issue. So, really directional sweeping becomes, to a certain extent, irrelevant. After that, I’d like to see "snowplowing" completely gone where you have some sort of rule where you can’t have the handle of the broom or your body behind the rock. I do believe with the right group (at the broom summit) we can get a good set of rules that are really gonna eliminate this.”

“It’s been a pain in the butt. We’ve adjusted the heads of our brooms so many times this year. It’s hard to get in a rhythm and a routine and every week you seem to be practicing with different materials.”

David Murdoch

"For me, the fabric’s way too aggressive. It still needs to go back a little bit more. I think these rules (two brushes for sweeping with no switching, which were the rules employed at The Players' Championship) with a a reduced abrasiveness in the fabric would be good. I don’t think we’re ever gonna be able to police the directional sweeping. So long as we’re not straight north south "snowplowing." That’s what we’re trying to get rid of. I don’t mind the angle, I think that’s here to stay. So long as we reduce the fabric, I think you’ll see all the teams pretty happy.”

“Every week it’s been changing. But we now know what the solution is and certainly we can fix it. So I think we should. For me, it’s not been curling this year. It’s been steering.”

Alina Pätz

2015 world champion Alina Pätz. (Anil Mungal/Sportsnet)
2015 world champion Alina Pätz. (Anil Mungal/Sportsnet)

“I would love to see everybody playing with the same pads. The same fabric, at least. I think that would be the best solution for everybody. I think we should go a step back. I don’t like all the directional fabric. Even now with the rules here at (The Players’ Championship) it’s better but you still have the chance to guide the stones in different directions and I don’t like that.”

“The first few months, from September to November, it was just all about brooms. The concentration was more about the brooms than the shotmaking and I think that we should still be able to concentrate on the game and not on the brooms."

Glenn Howard

“Totally regulate the material that we have. It has to be such that you can’t control the rocks as much as we have. What that material is I don’t know. We’ve gotta get back to where we were a couple of years ago. The materials we have today, we have way too much control. The hardness of the head is also another big issue. The harder it is, the more it acts like sandpaper. Everybody’s making shots they shouldn’t make. It’s gotta go.”

On all the controversy: “It’s been exhausting."