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I like sports....lots of sports...all sports!  Follow my blog as I talk about sports....if you like sports of course

Saturday, 9 January 2016

#BetweenTheSheets: A #BattleInBanff For Skins Glory
Opening draw sees two rivals face off for a spot in the final

This is quite a surreal moment #TwineTime fans.  It has always been a small dream to be included in the TSN family and...if even for a small moment and not officially....this weekend the dream becomes a small bit of reality.  The opportunity to be in Banff and cover the TSN All-Star Skins Game on this very blog is....well I really have no words to express how I am feeling.  Imagine that?  A blogger who is speechless!  Might lose my blog if I don't string some words together here....focus, focus, focus!

The All-Star Skins Game is quite a special event.  When I arrived at my new home for the weekend, the stunning Rimrock Hotel, the first thing I saw was Rachel Homan and Emma Miskew.  Now sure they don't know who I am and probably didn't notice me, but I noticed them right away.  Here are the best curlers in the world just hanging out right in front of me....as a small blogger such as myself, you try to regain composure not to be star-struck.  Soon after you have recent birthday boy Matt Wozniak, Ryan Fry and Team Simmons walking past you.  The joy of the sport of curling where athletes can actually walk around and inter-mingle with other guests and fans with no issues and concerns.  One of the pluses of this sport.

I have to thank Renee from TSN for all her support in inviting me to be a part of this weekend.  From the kind emails, to arranging the hotel room to just checking in throughout the opening draw as to how I was doing, it was all appreciated.  Like I said, to throw on a TSN lanyard, even if for only a few days and not in any official capacity, is still a little boy dream come true.  Plus....I mean look at my view from the hotel!!  Come on....

After a quick soothing nap (Yes, I actually fell asleep laying on my bed gazing out the window and looking at the mountains) I was ready for the opening draw.  What a heavyweight championship battle we had on the lineup with main rivals Rachel Homan vs. Val Sweeting.  Team Homan has been dominant this season and currently sits on top of this blog's #PowerRankings.  They have played 8 events, qualified in all 8 and won 7.  They are the best of the best right now.  Team Sweeting is having a good year as well, with 1 title to their credit and sitting 5th on the #PowerRankings.  Not to mention the history between these two teams.  Homan beat Sweeting for the Scotties title in 2014.  Former Sweeting player Joanne Courtney jumps over to join Homan during the summer of 2014.  These two recently faced off in the Canada Cup of Curling final (won by Homan).  There was certainly no lack of story lines for this match.  These two teams are the current and future of women's curling in Canada, without a doubt.

When you first walk into the Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre, you are quite surprised with the size of it.  The building itself is a fairly decent size but when you step into the curling area...it is quite cozy.  I think this is the draw for fans and players though.  The fans are literally sitting right at ice level, next to the action.  Fans can literally hear every conversation and comment on the ice.  Need proof?  During the 6th end, Homan is in the house talking to her team on the other end of the ice, with Miskew in the hack.  Miskew calls out to Homan suggesting they try to come through a tiny hole to get to shot stone.  Homan's response, "I didn't know this was a hole."  She cracked a grin and laugh as did all the spectators.  The crowd become a part of the shot, a part of the game.  They were engaged.  This is what the sport needs more of!  You feel a part of the action almost.  It is quite special to see and be a part of.  I will try to get a better picture of the entire venue to share with all of you.

Now if you watch the action on TV, all the camera angles are directed towards one side, the side with the crowd.  Wonder what the other side looks like?  It is basically the intimate media zone and the Pinty's zone for VIP guests.  It is quite small in comparison to the fan side with the bleachers.  Again, this is a draw to the event.  In between ends, during commercial breaks, you would often see players on the ice talking with people sitting in the Pinty's Pub & Grill section (I assume they were friends/family of the players but still, that close to have conversations).

The game itself started with Homan in complete control.  She took the opening skin with hammer, forced Val into a carryover for end 2 and captured the combined skin in end 3.  This game was getting out of control.  Team Sweeting was struggling at the beginning.  They weren't comfortable, weren't laughing, weren't enjoying themselves.  And the results showed!  In fact, after the opening two ends Val was only curling at 25%.  #Yikes!  Now, to be fair, both end 2 and 3 involved a measure to see who actually scored the point.  One went in favor of Sweeting (for the carryover) and one went in favor of Homan (for the skin).  But the entire match changed in end 4.  Sweeting and company looked more calm and relaxed.  They picked up their first skin and now...game on!

While Team Sweeting started making more shots, Team Homan saw the reverse.  Normally very precise and on target with their shots, they started missing.  Coming up light here.  Missing a take out there.  Little things that started to creep up and get them in trouble.  By the time Rachel was throwing her final stone in end 5, Sweeting was sitting 4.  Rachel made the call to attempt a raise but came up light.  #BOOM It was a #SweetingSteal and a tie game with three ends to play.

Team Homan would not roll over though, as expected.  They regrouped, came out strong and took the skin for end 6, regaining the lead.  The pressure was back on Val.  If Homan steals the skin in end 7, game over.  But with the confidence and swagger all in favor of Sweeting, Val and company came out on top with a big open hit and roll to score the skin, pick up $4,500 and take her first lead in the game, $8,000 - $6,500.

For the first time all night, Homan had her back up against the wall.  Sitting with hammer in the final end with all the money ($6,500) and win on the line, this was the pressure test.  Unfortunately for Team Homan, Team Sweeting was ready to steal this victory as well.  While all of Sweeting's team was making their shots, the execution woes continued for Team Homan.  Rachel would find herself in the hack, last shot, trying to avoid giving up the steal and the game, facing 2 Sweetings stones.  Luckily Homan was sitting third shot though so she gave the runback double takeout a try...just to force a carryover.  Now this isn't the top skip in the world for no reason people.  Honestly, the shot didn't look possible from where I was sitting.  But, being the champ she is, Rachel made it happen, scored her one and forced the carryover.  To a simple draw to the button we go....for the win!  The drama was everything all of us in the Recreation Center wanted.  Again, could this game write itself any better.  Big rivals.  Skins game semi-final.  Draw to the button for the win.  Rachel vs. Val.

Val was up first and the sweepers barely touch it the whole way down.  It is looking fast.  The rock hits the rings and still seems to have some speed.  Finally the rock settles to a stop just back of the 4 foot.  If Rachel can find a piece of the button or even full 4 foot, she has the money and the win.  The crowd was dead silent...as had been the case for most of the night when the action was going on....and Rachel slid out of the hack.  Again, barely a brush on the ice.  Miskew is quiet.  Homan is quiet.  The rock is streaking along down the ice.  And it keeps going.  And going.  And...gone!  The rock settles in the 8 foot but too far.  Sweeting wins!  The crowd finally erupts with noise.  What a game.

The joy of sitting in the media zone, besides listening to how hilarious Bryan Mudryk is on the sidelines, is also the opportunity to learn from one of the best.  Standing only a few feet in front of me, I had the opportunity to watch and listen to Mudryk's post-game on-ice interview with Val.  Trying to listen to what he asks, while also ensuring I don't double up the questions later, it was a change for a non-media guy such as myself to take mental notes.

After waiting for the Calgary Sun to do their interview, it was #TwineTime folks.  Finally I had the chance to talk to a curler I have been waiting to speak with for months, a victorious Val Sweeting!

TwineTime(TT): How do you feel after the match today?

Val Sweeting (VS): Pretty good.  You know whether we won or lost that one, I thought we played really well.  We learned alot from last year.  We were more aware and executed a lot better so that helps too.  Overall it was a good game.  Both teams made some good shots.

TT:  Do you feel like it was a bit of a game of two halves?  The first half of the game was a bit different for you but then you really propelled in the second half to really take that game over.

VS:  Yeah, I think that is how skins works a bit.  It's really the last three ends of the game.  But it's really nice to get a skin early too so you feel comfortable and have a bit of a cushion.  We tried to stay really patient and not worry as much about what happened in the first half.  We wanted to win the second half.

TT:  How do you guys prepare for the skins game?  It is totally different than how you prepare for your other events during the year.

VS:  It is tough.  This is also our first event after our winter break, which wasn't very long.  We played a bunch of different styles with the 5-rock rule in the slams, the 4-rock rule as well.  It is a little bit different.  But we got on the ice and practiced, just making shots in general.  We also played a little game within ourselves in a skins format and talked about different scenarios and what we were going to do.  As long as the whole team is on the same page, it goes really well.

TT:  You guys also seemed to have a lot more fun out there as the game progressed on.  It seems that when you guys are out there laughing and having fun you curl a lot better.

VS:  I would agree.  When we are looser out there, it's more fun of an event.  And that is what this event is all about.  You want to do well and want to win and there is a lot of money on the line.  But also the crowd was getting into it.  They can hear us, which they probably aren't used to either.  When they start laughing, it is all the more fun for us.

TT:  Of course.  Playing off the crowd and being the home favorite, do you feel that positive energy?  Are you able to take that onto the ice and feed off of it?

VS:  For sure.  In any setting, when the crowd is on your side it is great.  When they can laugh with you and cheer for you, it is always motivating.

TT:  Very true.  Well now you are off to the final.  Good luck on Sunday.

VS:  Thank you!

There you have it stoners and rock heads.  Day 1 is in the books.  Saturday will be a long day with 3 more semi-final games on the schedule.  I will be at the rink all day covering the action on the ice and, hopefully, landing a few more player interviews.  Join me on twitter for live, as it happens, action.  I will also do my best to get another blog post out summarizing the day.

Enjoy the action...and stay warm friends.  I'm off to go down some hot chocolate...and maybe pour some on my toes.  I can barely feel them!  #BeerMe

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