Canada

Canadian champion Bottcher has positive view of controversial curling rule changes

“When we think about curling, we think about the Briers in the ’80s and ’90s and that nostalgic feeling that’s associated. We’re very resistant to rule changes in general,” he said.

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In the view of Canadian men’s champion Brendan Bottcher, curlers need to be open-minded about rule changes coming down from the World Curling Federation and start adapting as soon as possible.

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“We’d all be wise to figure out how to work within those rules as opposed to fighting a decision that has already been made,” Bottcher said from Edmonton on Tuesday.

“I think we should also be open-minded when we look at some of these rule changes and try to see the value in how this maybe further increases the viewership and the demographic of the people that are watching our sport.”

Many Canadian curlers were shocked over the weekend when the WCF announced three trial rule changes that will be implemented at the 2022 world men’s and women’s championships.

The most controversial change is doing away with extra ends during the round-robin portion of a tournament, and going to a draw-to-the-button contest to decide how extra points in the standings are awarded. Teams which win games outright (in 10 ends) will be awarded three points, while the team that wins the draw to the button gets two points and the team that loses the draw gets one point.

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Many Canadian curlers balked at the announcement, with Newfoundland’s Brad Gushue calling it “extreme,” Edmonton’s Darren Moulding calling it “horrible” and Calgary’s Chelsea Carey referring to it as “complete B.S.”

Bottcher, Moulding’s teammate, has a much more balanced view.

“It certainly can be looked at as a positive,” Bottcher said.

“If we can condense the game, even by one end, and it fits into a TV window and gives us more exposure, I definitely think, as athletes, we need to be accepting of that change.

“In the relatively short amount of time that I’ve been doing this, every couple of years we’ve gone through rule changes. The athletes moan a bit at the front end — we all have to adjust what we do — but I think the quality of curling has increased quite a bit in the last few years. From a viewership standpoint, I think it’s as exciting now as it ever has been.”

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The other trial rule changes include end-by-end timing, with teams being allotted four minutes (four minutes and 15 seconds after five ends) to complete and end, instead of 38 minutes to complete all 10 ends, and a “no-tick rule,” which will prevent teams from moving rocks off the centre line in the free-guard zone.

Most curlers like the “no-tick rule” but have a hard time understanding the value of end-by-end timing and the removal of extra ends.

“Yes, having no extra ends does change the strategy quite a bit but I think it is creative in the sense that it really helps consolidate the window into a time slot for TV,” Bottcher said. “I do see the value in that rule even though, as an athlete, it will take some adjusting. But it will also spur on some new strategy that maybe we haven’t seen before. Often we would play the late ends of a curling game solely to have hammer in the extra end, and now we’ll have to be a little more aggressive because it will be an advantage to try and win in eight or 10 ends, as opposed to trying to go to that extra end. You might see more aggressive play in that end, which is pretty good for TV also.”

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Bottcher said he has taken part in trials of each of the new rules in the past. He competed in Curling Night in America, a made-for-TV event, in 2019 and played the 3-2-1 point, no extra-end rule there. The “no-tick rule” has been trialled several times and the end-by-end timing was used at the 2018 Canada Cup, though it was panned by most of the curlers.

To some, it seems crazy to try the new rules at events as big as the men’s and women’s world championships (the women are in Prince George, B.C., in March, the men in Las Vegas in April), but Bottcher sees good logic in that as well.

“The WCF only governs one set of events and that’s the world championships,” Bottcher said. “They are doing all they can when they offer to trial something at the worlds. This is the perfect year to trial something. The Olympics (in Beijing in February) are gonna overshadow the worlds anyways. This gives them a year to maybe try a few new things.”

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A source said Curling Canada is talking about using the new rules at the 2022 Canadian men’s and women’s championships. The Scotties Tournament of Hearts will be played in Thunder Bay, Ont., Jan. 28-Feb. 6 and the Brier in Lethbridge, Alta., March 4-13.

“I would strongly, strongly recommend that Curling Canada follow suit, with all of those same rule changes in our national championships this year,” Bottcher said. “You need to best prepare your teams to head into that world event. Playing under different rules doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if we’re playing under similar rules at the Brier and Scotties this year.”

Bottcher was not surprised by the reaction of Canadian curlers to the rule changes.

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“In Canada, we have a very traditional view of what curling should look like,” he said. “When we think about curling, we think about the Briers in the ’80s and ’90s and that nostalgic feeling that’s associated. We’re very resistant to rule changes in general.

“Everywhere else in the world, the average curler is much younger and the average curler is much more willing to try something new. In Canada, we need to take a look in the mirror and maybe change a few things in terms of our thinking and maybe be more open to some of those changes. If we can grow the sport in all of those other countries, it will help us here at home too. We need to give it a shot and see how it goes.”

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