Archive for March, 2011

In case you didn’t get the cheesy title reference, this is the first post in a series of posts that will document my quest to find the best Pokemon.

This quest started on a boring day in Pallet Town as I meandered past Professor Oak’s laboratory.  I was just kicking around my Celadon City Department Store-brand footbag, when I was attacked by a rabid Pidgey who had somehow gotten into the town from Route 2.

As I was recovering from this vicious, blindside attack in Veridian City, I started to wonder how I could prevent such attacks in the future.  While a Pidgey is a very weak Pokemon (yet its Peck is deadly when applied to one’s eyes…), I could not be sure that Gary wouldn’t ambush me in a back alley with his fleet of high-powered Pokemon.

I needed to find the one Pokemon that could defend me against all others.  I needed to find the best Pokemon.

And so my quest was born.  As soon as I got back to my house in Pallet Town – after taking a vacation in the far-off land of Sinnoh – I began to develop a system for finding the Pokemon who could destroy any rogue Pidgey that stumbles into my path.

Through painstaking hours spent hunched over my Pokedex, searching for stats and other relevant information that I could work into my formula, I crafted a system that – barring a few minor flaws – shall enable me to capture the best Pokemon.

Let me break down my system for you, of which there are three main parts.

The first part deals with the strengths and weaknesses of a given Pokemon’s type combination.  Each Pokemon gets a point given for the effectiveness of its moves against the other types and a point is taken away for every type it is weak against.

Let me give you an example in the Pokemon Metagross.  Metagross is a Steel/Psychic type.  Through its Psychic-type moves, Metagross gets a point for the Fighting and Poison types as Psychic is super-effective against both of these types.  Metagross also gets a point against Ice and Rock, which the Steel type is super-effective against.  This adds up to 4 points in the plus column.  On the other side, Metagross’ type combo only allows it two weaknesses – against Fire and Ground.  This adds up to a +2 score for Metagross for its strengths and weaknesses.

Keep this number aspect in mind as I explain the rest of the system as a Pokemon’s strengths and weaknesses number will come up again further on.  To keep things easy, I’ll keep using Metagross as an example as well.

The second part is the statistics of the given Pokemon.  Each Pokemon has a score for HP, Attack, Defense, Special Attack, Special Defense, and Speed.  These scores are averaged out, with a couple of caveats, to give a score for a Pokemon’s overall stats score.  The caveats are simple.  Speed gets an automatic 1.5x boost due to its importance in battle.  Therefore, a Pokemon with good speed will have an advantage.  The other caveat is that Pokemon get a boost in either Attack or Special Attack based on which stat is used more in their moveset.

Again, let’s look at Metagross for an example.  With caveat #1, Metagross’ Speed score is inflated to 393.  Since Metagross uses more moves that depend on its Attack score, its Attack score is inflated to 607.5 and its Special Attack score is decreased to 158.5.  Including Metagross’ other stats, the average score works out to 370.5.  This is probably the simplest part of the system.

So, on to the third and most complicated section: movesets.  For those out there who don’t know, a Pokemon can learn up to four moves at any one time.  This part of the calculation takes into account the moves that a Pokemon can learn naturally, as well as the potential TMs that they can learn.  As a realization that moves are more effective when matched with a Pokemon of the same type, the requirement has been set that a Pokemon must have two moves in its moveset for each of its types.  If this requirement cannot be met, then a Pokemon’s Egg Moves are considered.  If it is still not met, then the next best move, regardless of type, in the Pokemon’s natural moveset will be used.

This all fits together in the following way.  The four strongest moves of each Pokemon are taken and added up along with the average of all the TMs that can be learned by that Pokemon.  For Metagross (yes, that guy again!!), this breaks down in the following way.  For Metagross’ four moves, it adds up to 287 points (Metagross’ moves are Zen Headbutt, Psychic, Meteor Mash, and Bullet Punch, by the way…).  Metagross also has a TM average of 95.89, which gives Metagross a total move score of 382.89.

You’re probably wondering by now what I meant when I said that a Pokemon’s strength and weakness score would come back into play.  I will now tell you.

A Pokemon’s strengths and weaknesses score acts as a modifier for their moveset.  The logic here is that a Pokemon’s moves will be more effective overall if they are more likely to be used against Pokemon that they are super-effective against.  As such, for each point, either positive or negative, that a Pokemon gets for strengths and weaknesses, they get a 10% modifier to their move score.  Again, this can be either a positive or negative modifier.  In the case of Metagross, there is a 20% boost – due to Metagross having a +2 strengths and weaknesses score.  So Metagross’ move score receives that boost up from 382.89 to 459.47.

And now for the cherry on top.  The overall score is calculated by adding the Pokemon’s stats score to the Pokemon’s move score.  Our test subject, Metagross, therefore has a overall rating of 829.97.

Now that I have a system to find the best Pokemon, my quest has truly begun.  The next step is actually finding Pokemon that are good enough to meet my criteria.  For the next installment of this blog series I plan to investigate the Pokemon around my native home of Pallet Town as well as some of the Pokemon that inhabit other areas of Kanto.

But until then folks, to catch them all is my real quest and to train them is my cause…

Advertisements

Italy’s history as a rugby-playing nation does not make for pretty reading.

Since they were added to the Six Nations Championship in 2000 Italy have failed to finish better than fourth on the table and have finished the tournament winless on multiple occasions.  In this year’s tournament Italy pushed Ireland close in their first game, but the next week gave up 59 points to England.

During Italy’s participation they have had four coaches: Brad Johnstone, All Black legend John Kirwan, current Racing Metro coach Pierre Berbizier, and Italy’s current boss Nick Mallett.  Each coach has seemingly made some progress with the team, but each has failed to move the Azzurri forward in any meaningful manner.  Even Mallett, who had an extremely successful stint as the coach of South Africa, has not had the impact that many thought he would when he took the job back in 2007.

Now, I can hardly fault any of these coaches for struggling to turn Italy into a rugby powerhouse.  After all, Italy hardly has the best rugby talent in the world.  They do boast players like Sergio Parisse or Martin Castrogiovanni who would walk into any team of the world’s best players, but after them and the rest of their front row the stocks begin to dwindle rapidly.  Their backline is devoid of talents such as Wales’ Shane Williams or James Hook, England’s Chris Ashton, or France’s Maxime Medard and as such is near-toothless in attack.

It then seems odd that I would greet the news that Perpignan coach Jacques Brunel might be signed to coach Italy after this year’s World Cup with any kind of cheer.  Why should he fare any better than those who came before him if given the exact same tools to do the job?

However, let’s look at some of Brunel’s credentials.  First up is his 2009 French Championship with Perpignan and a return trip to the final in 2010.  The victory was the first for Perpignan since 1955.  Ever since Brunel took the reins at Perpignan, the club has been in title contention.  Secondly, Brunel was an assistant coach for the French National team under Bernard Laporte for two World Cups—reaching the semi-finals in both tournaments.

In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t much.  Some of the other coaches mentioned above have achieved just as much, if not more, and were still left without success as the coach of Italy.

The answer to the question of ‘Why would Brunel be a good fit for Italy?’ is simple: look at Brunel’s current team at Perpignan.

The team that Brunel leads at Perpignan is more similar to the Italian national team than first meets the eye.  They, like Italy, are possessed of a big, bruising forward pack that other teams have trouble dealing with.  They, like Italy, have a backline full of journeyman players (although Perpignan does have one or two real talents as well).  Jacques Brunel has seen Italy’s like before and has led that team—Perpignan—to two French Finals appearances and one title.

Let’s break the comparison down further.

In the forwards, for Perpignan’s Nicholas Mas, Marius Tincu, and Jerome Schuster there is Italy’s Salvatore Perugini, Leonardo Ghiraldini, and the aforementioned Martin Castrogiovanni.  For Perpignan’s Rimas Alvarez Kairelis there is Quintin Geldenhuys.  For Perpignan’s Jean-Pierre Perez and Henry Tuilagi there is Alessandro Zanni and Sergio Parisse.

In many of these comparisons, the Italian players are better than their counterparts at Perpignan.  As such, Brunel will have less work to do on this aspect of the Italian team, especially given how well they compete with other top nations in the scrum or at the breakdown.

In the backs Italy has no one on par with players such as Maxime Mermoz or David Marty of Perpignan.  These two players have been capped many times for France and are routinely mentioned as one of the top center pairings in Europe.  In comparison, the pairing of Gonzalo Garcia and Gonzalo Canale is akin to that of a club team in Belleville, Ontario.

However, the rest of Italy’s backline is very similar to Perpignan’s.  Perpignan’s fleet of underwhelming, journeyman fly-halves is matched by the Italian quest to replace the long-retired Diego Dominguez with one of Craig Gower, Kris Burton, or Luciano Orquera.  Out wide, the parallels between Julien Candelon, Farid Sid, and Jerome Porical for Perpignan and Mirco Bergamasco, Andrea Masi, and Luke McLean for Italy are uncanny.

Italy’s previous coaches have never come from such a similar background before assuming the Italian job.  Mallett was in charge of a South African team possessed of talented backs such as Henry Honiball, Percy Montgomery, Stefan Terblanche, and Joost van der Westhuizen in addition to their traditionally strong forward pack.

Berbizier coached the French national team from 1992-1995, during which time the team included Philippe Saint-Andre, Philippe Sella, Emile Ntamack, and Fabien Galthie.  The French are famed for playing a very attacking backline game, which is only possible with the kind of high-calibre players that Italy does not have.  As such, Berbizier’s favoured style—evident in his current Racing Metro squad—was largely contradictory to his stint as Italy coach.

Even John Kirwan was a former All Black, winning the 1987 World Cup and playing in New Zealand’s 1991 entry.  At one point was New Zealand’s top try scorer and played with other great backline players such as Grant Fox, Kieran Crowley, and David Kirk.  After coaching Italy, Kirwan went on to coach Japan who he moulded into a fast, attacking team which Italy does not have the players to reproduce.

Brunel’s experience is much more relevant to the Italian team than that of any of the previous coaches.  Where the others honed their coaching skills and tactical styles on strong attacking teams in South Africa, France, and New Zealand, Brunel has honed his skills on the rough, brutal forward-oriented game of Perpignan.

And, given the inconsistent ineptitude that Italy has shown over recent years, that experience might be exactly what is needed to take Italy to the next level of the rugby world.

I must now point out that Italy’s win over France this past weekend calls this all into question…

I hate Raj.

I’ve sat through three and a half seasons of The Big Bang Theory and I’m now finally comfortable saying it: I HATE RAJ.  I have given him countless chances to carry an episode, most notably in The Pirate Solution (304) and The Thespian Catalyst (414), but he has never delivered in any kind of satisfactory manner.

He adds nothing to the show on his own, but only serves as a foil for the other, more interesting characters.  Without Sheldon, Howard, or Leonard, Raj is nothing.  He even needs others to talk for him.

This week’s episode of The Big Bang Theory underlined this in my mind.  Raj’s role in The Prestidigitation Approximation was nothing short of abhorrent: he was simply Wolowitz’s tool in messing with Sheldon.  Raj did not play any independent role of his own, just bobbing his head along annoyingly to Wolowitz’s quips and tricks.

Raj is there simply to make up the numbers and his presence takes away from a show whose other main characters are all interesting and drive the action.  All of the other main characters act, they don’t, like Raj, simply respond.  Each character is forced to respond to the actions of the others, but they also act upon the others as well.  For an example of this, look at the rest of this week’s episode.  Howard acts upon Sheldon, who in turn acts upon Raj, Penny, and Leonard.  Priya acts upon Leonard, who in turn acts upon Penny.  Penny acts upon Leonard and Priya, causing Priya’s acting against Leonard.  Raj simply responds to the actions of Howard and Sheldon without directly acting of his own volition.

Now, before I dissect the rest of the episode, I must explain why there’s no “Battle of Thursday Nights” post this week, despite there being a new episode of The Big Bang Theory.  And the explanation is simple: because there was no episode of Community this week, I have nothing to compare this week’s TBBT to.

Some of you might wonder why I am not automatically awarding a point to TBBT.  I don’t award points for weeks where only one show has a new episode because that practice would necessarily be biased in favour of Community, which has two more episodes per season than TBBT.

So, on to the analysis…

While taking good steps in recent episodes to move on from the Leonard and Penny relationship, this week’s episode just forces this storyline forward with no consideration for subtlety.  The explanation for this could come from two sources.

On one hand, Priya is a forceful character who knows what she wants and when she wants it.  And right now she wants Leonard.  However, I don’t buy this as the full explanation.  It certainly works in order to give some legitimacy to the storyline, but I can’t buy that this storyline falls conveniently after weeks of Leonard-Penny turmoil.

That leads into the other explanation: the show’s writers are pushing for a final resolution to the Leonard-Penny relationship.  For its entire existence the show has been focussed on this relationship and in order for it to go on for another four or five seasons it needs to resolve the old stories and begin some new ones – which they already have to an extent with the introduction of Bernadette and Amy Farrah Fowler as full-time characters.  This tension between Priya and Penny can resolve itself in one of two ways: either Leonard finally gets over Penny for good and stays with Priya or Leonard and Penny get back together permanently.  In either case the show would then be open to new storylines.

Overall though, I thought that the “card trick” half of the episode was no more than filler.  It won’t feature in any future episodes and did not contribute to any existing storyline in the slightest.  While it was refreshing for Sheldon not to be right for once, was it really necessary for the show to spend half of an episode on, considering that the other half will actually have a big impact on the future of the show?

The potential is there for this episode to lead to great things, but those great things are not present in this episode.  The Pestidigitation Approximation just sets the scene for the end of the season; it doesn’t steal the scene on its own.

Tune in next week for the renewal of hostilities as The Big Bang Theory and Community both return with new episodes!

It has only been two days, but I already miss the Brier.

I miss the big shots.  I miss the tight draws.  I miss the intricacies of strategy that underly every shot.

But most of all, I miss the festive and friendly atmosphere of the general curling fan.

The curling fan is a unique breed.  They are not like the rowdy drunks you might see at any given NFL game or the hooligans that populate soccer stadiums worldwide.  They are polite and respectful, but also loyal and passionate.  The roar that Glenn Howard received when he was introduced before the Championship final can be directly contrasted with the silence that accompanies Howard as he slides from the hack to deliver his final rock.

Each and every fan has their favourite players or teams, but all are united in their love for the Roaring Game.

During my time watching curling this past week I met many new people, likely who I will never see again, but that displayed exactly what it means to be a curling fan.  There was the elderly lady who, with no qualms whatsoever, talked to me like I was a long-lost grandson.  There was the 20-something who was there to spend time with her mother.  There was the young mother who left her kid with the babysitter so she could enjoy a night out with her girlfriends.  There was the young fiance there watching his first curling game with his bride-to-be and her sister.

All of them came from different walks of life and each engaged the game it their own way.  The elderly lady was content to sit back and watch casually.  The 20-something talked the finer points of the game.  The young mother just wanted to get drunk.  The fiance wanted to bring a little bit of the NFL rowdiness.  What united them all was that they all just wanted to watch some men slide 45-pound stones down a sheet of ice.

These are the people that made my week so enjoyable and why it is so hard to return to the real world and all it holds.

Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t give some commentary on the Championship game.  It was a close game up until the sixth end when Howard missed his draw against two of Jeff Stoughton’s yellow stones.  From there on out it was only a matter of when and not if Stoughton would win his third Brier – and Manitoba’s 27th.  Not only was Stoughton’s team on fire in the final, but the top teams do not let you back in the game.  They have enough tactical nous to close down a game and not allow the opposition to score three or four points to get back in the game.

After the game, many have criticized Howard for his reaction to the missed draw.  Howard blamed the ice straightening out, and, while I would rather the first thing out of the losing skip’s mouth not to be an excuse, he was somewhat justified in doing so.  Simply put, no one misses the broom by that much at the highest level.  To be almost a foot off the proper ice is something you’re more likely to see in your local beer league than on national television.  However, as a top level skip, the onus is on Howard to read the ice properly and be aware of the way that the ice can fluctuate end-to-end.  That he failed to do so is entirely his fault.

Another point of interest for me after the final was the Hec Gervais award for the playoff MVP.  Manitoba’s vice Jon Mead won the award and, as you might expect from my previous posts on the Brier, I was severely disappointed that Richard Hart was overlooked.  While the two were tied in shooting percentage for the round robin, Hart clearly out-curled Mead in the playoffs.  In the three games Hart played, he missed maybe three or four shots.  He was the primary reason why Team Ontario made the finals after losing to Alberta in the final draw and having to claw their way up from the 3v4 game.

Don’t get me wrong, Jon Mead curled very well in Manitoba’s two playoff wins, but he was not the driving force that Hart was.  Giving the award to Mead, as good as he may have played, seems to me to be giving it to someone from the winning team just because they won and that kind of system is why I have very little respect for the NBA MVP award.

Now that it’s all over, I’m back to the real world.  Back to the hustle and bustle of university life and away from the simple pleasures of curling.

I’ll feel the pangs of withdrawal for a little while yet, but I can always sleep easy knowing that the Men’s World Championships are just around the corner.

This sh*t happens, so get used to it.

People get hurt in hockey.  People get checked into the boards by big men flying around on skates.

But that doesn’t mean that for every injury in the NHL that results from a body check the checking player should be suspended.  It sounds ridiculous even to say it.  You wouldn’t give Scott Stevens a suspension for making a legal hit on Eric Lindros as he cuts across the blueline with his head down, would you?

Yet that is what we’ve come to in today’s world of hockey.  We’ve become so intent on policing headshots and preventing injuries that any time a player is injured, whether the play by which he was injured was legal or not, we scream out for a penalty or a suspension.

We assume that because someone is injured that the play was dirty and therefore deserving of suspension.  That thought relies upon the assumption that the game is safe to begin with and that in the regular course of a game no one will get injured if they play by the rules.

Personally, I blame Matt Cooke.  I could blame Cooke for a lot of things because I really don’t like the guy, but in this case the blame lies firmly at his feet after his dirty hit on Marc Savard.  His blindside elbow to the head knocked one of the most skilled players in the league out of action for the rest of the regular season.  Cooke went unpunished for what was unquestionably a dirty, cowardly hit.  This prompted a harsh backlash by fans and players alike for the league to crack down on headshot-throwing felons like Cooke.

The bottom line is that the Cooke incident set off a chain reaction that has led us to the point we are at now.  From that point fans looked for headshots – the true marker of which is whether or not the player is concussed in the aftermath – and came down harshly against the players who injured other players by throwing elbows to the head.  That sentiment then evolved to any other kind of injury and now when players get injured through being hit by another player in any way people cry out for suspensions or create lynch mobs to hunt down and castrate the offending party.

For those of you who don’t believe this, take a gander at the current discussion surrounding Zdeno Chara’s hit on Max Pacioretty.

On one hand you have the people who are inherently biased because of what team they cheer for.  Bruins fans see nothing wrong with the hit and some of them attribute rather feminine qualities to Pacioretty despite the fact that he was concussed and fractured some vertebrae (seriously, I’d like to see you keep playing in that condition!).  Montreal fans have made Chara the most wanted man in all of the Montreal area, considering the hit he delivered to be full of reckless intent to injure.  The Montreal side is calling for blood, obviously angry that one of their players has been knocked out of action for a while – and the awkward construction of their home arena makes it even less easy to swallow.

On the other hand you have the non-biased, such as TSN’s Bob McKenzie (who I normally agree with on a lot of things), who in trying to view the situation objectively have found themselves advocating for punishments based on injury alone.

The logic to this position is easy.  Injuries are bad, no matter how they are caused.  They detract from the on-ice product which has effects upon both the financial and physical aspects of the game.  Less injuries are ultimately better for both the league and the players themselves.  Due to the ever-present possibility of freak injuries, it is impossible to cut all injuries out of the game.  Injuries to players that happen as a result of actions of other players are not freak accidents and are preventable.  Therefore, it makes sense to cut out any and all preventable injuries, including those that result from actions of other players.

It also helps the argument when a player, in this case Pacioretty, decrys the act by which he was injured shortly after being declared unfit to play for the forseeable future.  It worked wonders for the crusade against headshots when Sidney Crosby vented immediately after his run in with concussion (although it didn’t work wonders for his image as a whiner or the NHL’s image of only caring about its stars).

However, that viewpoint is patently wrong.  You can’t penalize or suspend players for every injury that is a direct result of their actions.  You can punish them for injuries that are a direct result of their intentions or for injuries that are a direct result of obviously illegal plays, but not for injuries that are a direct result of legal plays.

If you start punishing players for legal plays only in the cases where a player is injured, then you create a double standard of punishment.  Suddenly a play becomes illegal in some cases and legal in others.  Even the standard to which an action is deemed to be illegal fluctuates based on the referee or league disciplinarian that is presiding on any given day.  Simply put, a fluctuating and uncertain standard is not standard at all.

It makes no sense to judge players by one set of rules up until a certain point and then, because of some random coincidence, judge them by another set later.  In order to bring some sanity to the situation the league would have to either make the play itself illegal, in which case much of the aggressiveness of hockey might be lost, or accept that injuries do actually happen by coincidence.

And injuries to happen by coincidence.  A recent study shows that 8% of all NHL injuries are complete flukes.  That doesn’t include injuries that happen during the course of play or through body checks.  When those injuries are added, the number of coincidental injuries moves above 50%.  To make every play that leads to these injuries illegal would effectively neuter the game of hockey.  It might not take away the aggression fully, but it would change the game beyond recognition.

Therefore, everyone needs to realize that injuries do happen.  We need to realize not to overreact when we see someone taken off in a stretcher or hobbling to the dressing room.  Sure, we don’t like or want to see players hurt – especially our favourites – but such is the state of affairs in hockey and we need to accept that without going completely overboard.

We all love the aggression in the game, so grow up and stop whining when someone gets hurt because of it.

Richard Hart is the best curler at this year’s Tim Hortons Brier.

He’s a man who often stands in the shadow of his skip Glenn Howard, but this week has been Hart’s coming out party.  His performances throughout the whole tournament have brought him from a supporting actor to the star billing.

Hart has all the shots in the book, evidenced by his capture of this year’s Ford Hot Shots skills competition title and the car that goes with the victory.

In Saturday’s 3v4 Page Playoff and Semi-Final, Hart was outstanding, whether it be tight draws, massive run-backs, or even the more mundane tasks of controlled takeouts or peeling guards.  Such were the skill and execution of his shots that when Howard came up to throw the shots on the table were fairly straightforward and the end was almost already decided.

Through the round robin, Hart threw an incredible 87% with the only players better than that mark being leads and seconds.  That percentage was brought down by an uncharacteristic sloppy game (74%) against Kevin Martin in the final draw.  However, Hart atoned for those mistakes with a 95% game against Martin in the 3v4 playoff and a 94% game against Brad Gushue in the Semi-Final.

Hart’s game is characterized by a kind of efficient reliability.  He’s not an out-and-out banger like Mark Nichols.  He doesn’t necessarily combine awesome power with mesmerizing touch like John Morris.  Hart brings an understated game to the table.  He can make the big weight shots or cozy up a perfect freeze without fuss, preferring to simply make his shots and then slip back into obscurity.  Hart is the kind of player that you simply need to put the broom down for and he’ll hit it.  There are no qualms about whether or not he can play this kind of shot or that kind of shot.  Just put the broom down, tell him what to do, and it shalt be done.  Simply put, he is a skip’s dream.

For those of you who follow curling, none of this is new to you.  You have seen Richard Hart’s skills first hand.

But players like Hart often get overshadowed by their bigger name skips.  To most people, Richard Hart is just another cog in the machine that is Team Howard.  In that machine, Glenn Howard is the shot-maker, the finisher, the glory-getter.  Howard makes the scoring shots, the shots that you see cozying up to the button right before TSN flashes the final score at the bottom of the screen.

This happens across all the teams at the Brier and other teams across Canada: extremely skilled curlers are overshadowed by the skip whose name is on the scoreboard.  Take Steve Gould for instance.  Gould is a former Hot Shots Champion, but by day he plays lead for Jeff Stoughton’s rink.  Gould has all the skills and all the shots – as well as some massive sweeping strength – that would enable him to play vice or even skip, but, and this might be down to his ability to manage a game, he plays lead.  Not many people expect a lead to do much more than draw, guard, and occasionally pick.  Not many people expect a lead to be a top-notch curler.

Mark my words, Richard Hart will skip his own team someday.  And when that happens stay tuned for him to be celebrated as one of the greatest curlers of our generation.  Once he’s out from Howard’s shadow, possibly with a few more Brier titles to show for it, there is no limit to how far Hart’s star can rise.

Of course, don’t expect him to be flashy about it, he’ll just carry on being one of the most efficient and reliable curlers we have ever seen.

After a break from the action on Wednesday in order to have a life, I returned to the Brier for the final two draws on Thursday to answer some of the questions that I was left with after Tuesday’s games.

These questions included who would be in the playoffs and the fates of Kevin Martin and Brad Gushue after their game on Monday night.  The first of these questions was half-answered on Thursday morning when Jeff Stoughton, Brad Gushue, and Glenn Howard all moved to 8-2.  This eliminated everyone except for Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs, who needed two wins and two losses for Martin on Thursday to even get a tiebreaker.

Now, before I get down to the business of breaking down Thursday’s action, I want to give some props for an amazing achievement that happened on Wednesday.  Earlier in the week I had raved about Richard Hart’s 99% game, but Jeff Stoughton topped even that by shooting a perfect 100%.  Stoughton became just the eighth skip to throw a perfect game in the history of the Brier on his way to a stomping of Kevin Martin in which his team as a whole curled 97%.

For a skip to throw a perfect game is about as likely as an 8-ender.  With all the rocks in play at the end of each end, the shots that skips are asked to make are extremely hard.  They come down to millimeters on the hits and one extra brush stroke on the draws.  So much can go wrong with some of these shots that faint-hearted skips may opt for an easier shot when faced with a double raise takeout to win the game.  It defies logic for a skip to throw a perfect game, but Stoughton did it on Wednesday to add his name to the list.

So, on to the playoff picture.

As I said, going into Thurdsay’s afternoon draw Brad Jacobs’ rink required two wins to make the playoffs as well as for Kevin Martin’s rink to drop both of their games against the Territories’ Jamie Koe and Ontario’s Glenn Howard.

To his credit, Jacobs played exceptionally well in his two games, winning them both convincingly against New Brunswick and Saskatchewan.  He showed glimpses of the kind of game that got him into the playoffs last year and left James Grattan and Steven Laycock trailing in his dust.

The real interesting part came on Martin’s side of the equation.  Given that his first game was against the Territories, one might reasonably expect him to rack up a quick 9-3 or 10-2 win and kick his feet up for the rest of the day.  That was not the case at all.

In the afternoon game against Koe, Martin did not play well at all.  A combination of bad decisions and missed shots – quite a few missed shots actually – kept Koe in the game.  Koe wasn’t playing badly either as most of Martin’s misses were under some kind of pressure from Koe.  The key moment in the game came in the eighth end when Koe had a shot at three points which would have put him ahead 7-5 going into the ninth end and would have effectively ended the game.  Instead Koe only got two, leaving Martin only down 6-5.  The ninth was blanked and the scene was set for what will likely be a curling highlight-reel staple for years to come: a double-raise takeout to score two and win the game.

Martin may have won the game, and in the process eliminated Brad Jacobs’ rink from playoff contention, but neither Martin nor the rest of the team played particularly well.  Martin shot 60% and the team shot a collective 74%.  However, as I predicted, they came out firing in the final draw against Glenn Howard’s rink, controlling the game for all but a couple ends.  It was a rapid turnaround from the display that we saw in the afternoon game.  Against Howard, Martin’s rink shot 86%.  Martin will have to be careful though as he heads to the playoffs as from here on out one bad game will mean the end of the tournament, unlike the round robin where Martin’s rink was able to bounce back from some below-par games.

With the playoff picture settled, I now would like to turn my attention to something that caught my eye in a negative manner on Thursday.

As I mentioned in my first post about the Brier, one of the great things about the tournament was the level to which the fans got involved, using the elderly Ontario fan who ran around with his flag as an example of such fan involvement.  When I went to the game on Thursday, I found that ‘Flagman’ was confined to his seat, or standing in a single place to wave the flag.  It also seemed that he was not waving his flag as often (although that could have been because Howard was getting dominated by Martin).

It is an absolute shame that the CCA and/or the Brier organizing committee has cracked down upon this kind of behaviour as it doesn’t hurt anyone and brings an added dimension to watching the sport.  As it was, Flagman picked his times so as to not distract the players and the players themselves embraced the fan interaction that was demonstrated by Flagman’s runs around the arena, with Glenn Howard making quite the scene by once running alongside him down at ice level.

When I go to watch curling live I want to see this kind of spontaneous action and this kind of fan involvement.  I don’t want to see a bunch of highly-trained robots slide up and down the ice.  I want to see curling played in good spirits, not played in the tight grips of stuffy organizers.  And I’m sure that the players, as much as the teams not getting as much fan support as others might feel left out, want to see the fans having a good time as well.

Anyways, CCA stuffiness aside, bring on the playoffs!!