Friday, April 29, 2016

Hardline Curling Response to Sweeping Controversy

With the curling season coming to an end, Hardline Curling would like to respond to articles written and opinions given in recent weeks, and ask a few questions ourselves.

In Don Landry’s article “What to do about the broom? Top skips weigh in on curling's possible sweeping solutions”, he interviews several skips asking their thoughts on what should be done about the broom/sweeping issue.

In it, Niklas Edin mentions Hardline by name, saying that their team had a poor record against Hardline teams. We felt we needed to respond to this. It is unfortunate that Edin infers that the Hardline icePad is the reason for their poor record against Hardline teams. 2014-15 was the first year we had top men’s teams playing with the icePad Pro cover – McEwen, Carruthers, Shuster. In the 2015-16 season, we added Gushue and Laycock in the top 10 teams. Going back and comparing Edin’s record against these teams before they used Hardline icePad clearly shows that Edin had a poor record versus Hardline sponsored teams way before they ever joined Hardline.

Another team that has been a strong opponent of the icePad is Team Ulsrud. Looking at their record against Hardline top men’s teams, Team Ulsrud was 3W-20L before our players joined Hardline and 1W-3L after. Are Edin and Ulsrud really saying it is the fault of the equipment for their poor performance vs Hardline players playing with the icePad?

Team by team, it is the same story. Let us take another example. Team Jacobs’ records versus our top men’s teams:

vs McEwen:  4-6,  vs Gushue: 2-4,  vs Laycock:  5-3

With Hardline:
vs. McEwen: 5-7,  vs Gushue: 2-4, vs Laycock:  4-1,  vs Carruthers: 6-4.

Not much difference in the records.  It is a shame when certain teams say there is a huge advantage with Hardline, when the statistics do not indicate this at all. You can see the head to head statistics at the end of this blog. The line in the picture indicates when players switched to Hardline. For those teams who claimed Hardline had an unfair advantage using the icePad, perhaps you should have played with it yourself since it was available to anybody. For any team to claim that you lost the game before it began because of the icePad is not only misleading, but disrespecting those teams who have beaten you consistently way before they even used an icePad and who have committed and sacrificed to be one of the best at this great game.

Since the fall of 2015, Hardline and Hardline athletes, whether at the pro level, or recreational, have undergone character attacks, blaming first the icePad Pro fabric, “directional fabric”. Our teams were called “cheaters” for using the brooms.  A small group of players did not like the icePad Pro, so they launched a campaign to tarnish our reputation, with one company bringing out their own “Blackhead” broom which “was to prove a point”. So a players’ agreement forced our teams to play with a new fabric. We scrambled to find a new fabric. A Goldline rep was kind enough to give us the name of the manufacturer and we went with that fabric, which became the Tour Elite. We did not think there would be any concerns because this same fabric was used back in 2010 on the older Goldline pads.  So the same players who now are opponents of this fabric actually played with the very same fabric in years past. And since then, Goldline is using a more waterproof fabric on their Norway pad that is currently accepted as “legal”.

When we received the fabric and felt it, it was noticeably more abrasive and rougher than the icePad Pro fabric. It was mind-boggling to say the least, but we went with it for the sake of our teams. Don Landry reported in his article that it was said that this fabric we were given is less abrasive than the fabric that was restricted (icePad Pro cover), but yet still aggressive in nature. Well, we polled over 50 curlers, and had them feel each fabric and each cover, and 100% of the curlers said the fabric we were given was more abrasive than the icePad Pro cover. We are not fabric experts and this may very well not be the case, but any layman could see that the fabric that was supposed to be “legal” was more abrasive than the Pro cover.

When our teams continued to win with the inverted Pro fabric, it had to be something else with the brush, so the next step was to target the plastic insert. Teams then complained that the plastic insert was too much and caused the rocks to move against the laws of physics.  However, there was a player experiment done at the Masters in Truro in October 2015 stating that the icePad with inverted fabric and the plastic insert performed similar as other manufacturers’ brooms. Edin even did testing with Reid Carruthers on the inverted fabric with insert and also agreed it performed similarly to other pads. It was based on his recommendation that the plastic insert and inverted Pro cover was even accepted as an alternative at the time. There was also testing done by the players in Oshawa at the National Slam where it was shown again that the icePad with insert did not back up rocks and it did not cause damage to the ice so as to impact the next shot. We have this report in our hands. So why was the plastic insert banned? We still do not have an answer even after months of demanding answers from the WCF and Curling Canada, but we believe it is because certain teams complained loud enough and the governing bodies agreed to it. We still have yet to see any proof or evidence from the governing bodies that the plastic insert had any adverse effect on the ice or shot-making.

Then on November 18, 2015, after weeks of silence, the WCF came out with their moratorium on brushes. Essentially, the icePad Pro cover, and “hardening or stiffening inserts” were restricted at Elite Play. Recreational curlers were still free to use the icePad Pro. But that did not happen. Certain leagues and associations enforced this brush ban – the icePad Pro ban – which was unfortunate and went totally against the moratorium.

After the moratorium came in, the new fabric is in play and the plastic insert is out, and yet our teams continue to win events. The governing bodies then came out with a moratorium to ban hair brushes, a product that has been a staple in curling for the last 30 years. Our teams continued to play well and win events.

Can we finally put to rest that it is not the fabric or the plastic insert? The plastic insert or the fabric is not making non-Hardline teams shoot mid 90s for the last 3 months. What else can it be?

What everyone is trying to avoid talking about is the sweeping technique. In August and September 2015, Team Gushue determined through hours and hours of practice and actual game play, that employing only ONE sweeper was more effective than using two sweepers, almost 20% more effective. They discovered that using two sweepers actually counter-acted what sweeping was trying to achieve. They were ridiculed, and were accused of cheating and going against the ethics of curling, and because they switched to Hardline icePad, naturally our brooms were to blame as well.  Fast forward 3 months and 99% of teams are now using the one sweeper method and all the teams have seen shooting percentages skyrocket no matter what brooms they use. Team Gushue should be applauded for being sweeping pioneers.

It is Hardline’s position that this entire sweeping issue has to do with sweeping technique and not the fabric or the icePad insert. The plastic insert should be reinstated immediately and the icePad Pro fabric should be brought back. Why, after 30+ years in play, were hair brushes banned?  What changed from last year, when it was ok to use, to this year?

What changed from last year to this year, when teams call the world curling championships the “world carving championships”?  You never heard the “carving” term being used before February 2016, especially with regards to the icePad Pro with insert. And remember this new fabric was given to us by a Goldline rep!  Our competitors began to use the same fabric on their own brooms, forcing the WCF to alter the moratorium to allow them to use that fabric. The moratorium also stated that brush heads must be available for retail sale to the public as of Nov 18, 2015, but we could not help but notice teams were playing recently with a new head that is not available to the general public. That is because the governing bodies altered the moratorium once again. This is just another example of the governing bodies making exceptions.

In the Don Landry article, there is mention of scratching the ice. The truth is everything puts micro-scratches on the ice. All brushes - the icePad, the Norway, the EQ – all brushes. An old pad that has not been changed for 100 games will put micro-scratches on the ice and will still be able to manipulate rocks. A cornbroom scratches the ice. The curling rock even scratches the ice! The micro-scratches created are invisible to the naked eye and can only be seen with special microscopes.

The problem is the message about scratching the ice. Is scratching the ice actually damaging the ice? The answer is no. Damaging the ice is what the “Blackhead” did at Stu Sells Toronto. When you cannot make a shot because your rock is in a trough, then that is damaging the ice. Curling Canada performed testing in Oshawa with the players, to see for themselves about the icePad. The icePad with insert did not back up rocks, nor did it damage the ice to affect the next shot. But the icePad and insert was still banned.  We are still wondering why?
Some players have suggested finding a fabric that will not put micro scratches on the ice.  The fact is every fabric with any type of weave will leave micro scratches and players will be able to manipulate rocks with the current sweeping technique. We have searched for a non-abrasive fabric ourselves but could not find anything that will not put micro scratches on the ice and not make players manipulate shots. Has the WCF or Curling Canada taken the time to find this fabric?

We challenge anyone to find a woven fabric that will not leave micro scratches on the ice where players will not be able to manipulate a shot with current sweeping techniques.  If someone does find a fabric like this, we are fairly certain all manufacturers will be happy to put it on. There will be a sweeping summit to determine what is and isn’t acceptable. The WCF and Curling Canada have announced a Sweeping Summit, however have yet to confirm a date. In their statement, the WCF said a decision will not be ratified until September 2016, right at the start of the curling season.  How is it fair for manufacturers to plan for the next season when a decision is reached in September 2016, after the season has already started?

Some players in the article commented that they do not want to change sweeping technique.  This was an “eyebrow raiser” for us. Only Brad Gushue and David Murdoch addressed certain sweeping techniques need to change. All the other players were ok with the corner sweeping and snow-ploughing. The players all know that the problem is with sweeping, but no one wants change because they say it is too hard to police. If the players really want to go back to the old way and not manipulate rocks anymore, then the only solution is to change the sweeping technique. And if a material does exist where rocks are not being manipulated with the new sweeping techniques, then let us know.

When push brooms came into play in the 1980s, it was a new innovation that changed the game. Players were able to manipulate rocks however they wanted by corner sweeping. What happened next? Ask any curler old enough to remember. The governing bodies put rules in place to ban corner sweeping and not the brooms. And then what happened? Everybody stopped corner sweeping. Why? It was because it was in the rules of curling. The players respected the rules. Players respected each other. But most important, the players respected the game. We do not remember any issues regarding sweeping violations in any event prior to this year. To say the players of today could not respect new rules about sweeping is simply too hard to believe. Back in the day, there was no need for on ice officials for sweeping. Were there any problems back when there were sweeping rules? No.  Did players respect the sweeping rules? Yes. Were there officials calling out players who swept wrong, like at this year’s world championships?  No.

We just do not understand why the players will not enforce sweeping rules by themselves. It is just like dumping in front of a rock to slow it down. It is against the spirit of curling, and no one does it. If a rule is in place that no corner sweeping or snow-ploughing is allowed, then why wouldn’t players adhere to the rules? Is this not “the game of sportsmanship”? Enact sweeping rules and there would be no need for a ban on brushes, except for brushes that damage the ice.

There have been several rule change experiments in recent Grand Slam events.  We feel these rule changes are acceptable. Why weren’t these rules put in place in October/November, instead of an outright ban of the icePad insert and Pro cover? For the elite curlers, all of this sweeping controversy could have been avoided if the governing bodies tried these experiments, instead of an outright ban. Enact rules for only two sweeping brushes per event, and color code a left side broom, and right side broom or to make it even simpler – one brush per player and no changing sides. You would still be able to use the one sweeper method and no brushes would need to be banned.  The decision making of the governing bodies has been extremely suspect since the controversy began – changing rules on the fly, putting a moratorium in place, only to change it to allow other manufacturers to bring in new products.

There is a lot on the line. Enforce the sweeping rules for no corner sweeping, no snow-ploughing, and only sweeping across the face of the stone. There would be no need to restrict any brooms, inserts, or fabrics, or hair brooms, unless to the point of damaging the ice like the “Blackhead” did at Stu Sells Toronto. The tour players all know the real problem is not the brush fabric or the insert, but the lack of sweeping rules. Who will be the bold one to stand up and say, ''It IS the sweeping. Let us fix this, and play by the rules, for the spirit of curling''. We hope there will be players who have the integrity to address the real issue of sweeping with all curling brushes.

We are afraid our statements will fall on deaf ears.  If enacting sweeping rules are indeed not going to be looked at, then we implore the WCF and Curling Canada to let us know what fabric will be accepted and we will have no issues using it.  BUT, a decision must be finalized in MAY 2016 to allow manufacturers time during the off-season to prepare for the 2016-17 season and comply with the selected fabric.  A final decision in September is totally unacceptable.  It has been a very frustrating season of curling, but Hardline Curling still holds out hope that the right decision will be made.

If certain players want to continue the smear campaign, against players that have chosen to use the icePad, and question the integrity of these athletes and our products, it would be best if solid evidence were presented to back up your claims. Hardline is proud of athletes that play with our gear and support them 100%. They have demonstrated an incredible amount of integrity this past year, through all the slander that has been thrown their way. Their success is due to the incredible amount of hard work, dedication and sacrifice they have given this great game. For anyone to suggest that their success is due to better equipment, is not only an insult to Hardline athletes, but it is an insult to the integrity of the game.