Trust the Process

When I first arrived in Morris, MB, I could barely wait to get out onto the ice and throw some stones. I had come straight over from PACCs in China, and thought I was throwing some decent rocks.

In hindsight, I feel as though from the time I arrived in Morris, I have really had my eyes opened in terms of what it means to actually throw a ‘good’ rock. Looking back, it is clear to me now that what I thought a ‘good’ throw was, was really an extremely complex battle with my body to get my rock somewhere close to the line of the skip’s brush before I reached the hogline. And that is what the Cargill Curling Training Centre (CCTC) allows you to do – understand your throw, and improve it.

Using a number of tools available here at the CCTC, I have been able to refine and rebuild my slide, understand why my body does what it does, learn my tendencies, and see in black and white terms how well I am throwing my rocks. Boy, what an eye-opener that has been!

For example; the day after arriving in Morris I was out on the ice for a one-on-one training session with Lorne Hamblin. Lorne had set up a green laser at the far end of the sheet, aiming perfectly to the centre of the hack I would be sliding out from. Further to this there were two PVC gates with ribbons, perfectly set to a stone width wide each, and a camera set to over hang the sheet we were on, precisely lined up with
the laser pointing towards the hack.

The next step was Lorne showing me a diagram of a curling rock from a front on view, with 7 points split evenly across it’s circumference. ‘1’ was the left edge of the rock (looking at the front of the rock), ‘4’ the centre, and ‘7’ the right-hand edge of the rock.

Ideally, at all points through a slide the green point of the laser should be sitting on the ‘4’ (centre of the rock). That would show you have perfectly hit the broom. Release true, and the stone will travel through both PVC gates without touching any of the ribbons. If you hit any of the ribbons, either your slide or release wasn’t perfect, and we would then go back to review where it went wrong. Practice Perfect.

“Throw a four” was the challenge from Lorne.

I threw three rocks, all out-turns, while being recorded by the on-ice camera. After the third stone came to rest, Lorne and I went over to the huge flatscreen TV at the side of the sheet to review what the camera had recorded.

“The good news is you got to a four” Lorne began positively… “On your way from a two in your anchor point to a six on release” he then continued.

Well, sh*t. They felt good to me.

It was at this point that it really sank in for me. This is what I am here for. Being able to see in black and white terms – what am I doing wrong, and how do I correct this to improve the chances of me throwing a rock accurately? The tools, the knowledge, the facility – it all works towards making you perfect in every
aspect of your throw.

We are now in March, and I am finally feeling confident on my improvement. Countless afternoons I have been down at the rink practicing that exact same drill. A laser, two gates and a camera. Practicing both turns, all weights. After every eight rocks now I stop, review the footage, and think about how the good slides felt and looking at what was different in the slides that weren’t as perfect. Countless hours have also been put in with Chris and Lorne (who I am so thankful for) working on timing, foot placement, keeping shoulders square, release. Trying to improve a little every day. It has been a long road, and there have been some very frustrating moments along the way, but I can now see the the progress I have made.

Through consistent practice and review, I now know what MY perfect throw feels like – an important point pushed by the Hamblins. Everyone is different. Every body is different. That is why at the CCTC they teach the simplest form of the perfect throw, and work with different body types to achieve this.

“Process, process, process” and “You missed because you were thinking about the outcome, not the process” have been two of the core messages engrained into us here at the CCTC by Chris and Lorne Hamblin.

I am not perfect all the time, but I now know what my perfect throw is, and how to achieve it – and that is massive for me. My challenge is to achieve that throw as consistently as possible.

As somebody who also enjoys and focuses on the mental side of the game, it has been so interesting to notice the change within my own mind throughout this process. Focusing on the process rather than the outcome has taken a huge amount of weight off my shoulders when playing in high level games. I take confidence from the work I have put in correcting my technicals – it is now one of my main pillars of strength. A runback is the same as an open hit. A draw against four is the same as a draw for four. I no longer need to worry or think about the pressure or outcome of a shot, as my mindset has switched to thinking process, process, process. When I miss, I quite often catch myself that I was thinking about making the shot, not about throwing the perfect rock at the broom, at the desired weight.

With this mental shift, the game can seem a lot more simple.

For me, this has been the biggest contributing factor to my improvements, and I believe this shows in our results as the season has progressed. After sneaking in to the Super League playoffs in 4th place, we managed to knock off the top seed Randy Neufeld with a draw to the button on the final rock of the game in the semi-finals, and ran the 2nd place qualifier out of rocks in the final end to take out the competition. The improvements from week 1 of Super League to playoffs were remarkable, and noticed by all.

The goal moving forward is to continue to work on trying to achieve this perfect throw, every shot I play. Work and review, trust the process.

The results will follow, and the outcome will take care of itself.
I am by no means finished or perfect. I am, however, a whole heap closer than I was when I first arrived, and I know what my perfect is.

Brett Sargon

The South Central Super League

While we do love a good practice, the best way to test our developing skills will always be with a high-level game of curling. With this in mind, our coaches entered us into the South Central Super League to give us regular games. This tournament has the added advantage of us seeing a bit more of Canada, as each week of the round robin is held in a different club in Southern Manitoba.

Opening Night in Portage la Prairie

We started our campaign in a club called Portage la Prairie, with a game against Team Thomson. As we were still without our Brett, our super sub Steve Michaleski stepped up again to help us. We took a few ends to get going in this game, with the scores tied at 1-1 after 3 ends. Some sharp shooting from Garion at third was capitalised on by Steve at skip in the fourth end, netting us 5 points to lead 6-1 at the half.

Game 1 against Team Thomson

The strong shot-making continued into the second stanza, with a force to one point followed by a triple with the hammer. We finished our first game up 9-2, and headed in early for pizza and our prize money. One of the cool things about curling in Canada, is that there is often cash prizes for winning games or placing high in the finals. The Super League is one of these cases, where each win nets your team $200, with $100 for a draw. With money in hand, a win under our belts, and pizza in our stomachs, we were pretty happy with our night’s work.

Straight Ice in Carman

With Brett fresh off the plane, we headed to Carman for our next two league games. In Carman we were greeted with some extremely straight ice, and set about trying to figure out how to curl on it. Unfortunately we were taught a few lessons in accuracy here, as there’s nothing that can be done about a stone thrown wide on non-curly ice as it won’t come back at all. Missing narrow was no good either, as we were taking so little ice to begin with.

It was a baptism by fire of sorts for Brett, slotting in at skip. We made some nice shots in our first game, but fell to Team Lukowich 7-3. In our second game we played against the undefeated Team North, and were promptly shut out by some accurate curling. The two losses were obviously not what we came to Carman looking for, but with a 1-2 record we were tied for 5th/6th place, just outside of the top four that would make playoffs.

You’re On Our Ice Now

One of the best things about the Super League is that although it travels around, you still get to play on your home ice at some point. This was the case for us in Week 3, as the Super League came to the Morris Curling Club. With our coach Lorne wanting to take a more off-ice role (filming our lovely slides) we once again called on Steve to join us.

Once on the ice, we quickly set about using our home advantage, forcing ones and scoring twos to be set up nicely at 4-2 with last rock in the 7th end. Unfortunately, after making 6-8 shots out of 8 per end for the first 6 frames, we forgot how to curl for an end, making only one lonely shot in the 7th, and giving up a huge steal of four points to be 6-4 down with only one round to play. After the opening exchange of shots in the last end, it quickly turned into a game of ‘hide a stone somewhere so we can have a chance at two’. It seemed like it would be a lost cause, with Team Bachalo peeling everything that was put in play, until Steve drew his first shot into the house. It came to rest in front of the only other stone in play (one of our opponent’s rocks) and cannoned into it when removal was attempted. Steve was cool as a cucumber, and popped one right in the middle of the rings for our second point, tying the game at 6-6.

Our draw for week 3

With a 15-minute break between games (not even kidding a little) we were back out on the ice to play Team Hamblin. Not Lorne Hamblin that is, but his son David Hamblin, an extremely talented curler and 2002 Junior World Champion. This game got off to an even faster start than the first one, with a few lucky rolls in the second end leaving us lying five points, after Hamblin’s last shot clipped a guard on the way into the house. There was no time to celebrate though, as they immediately clawed back a triple in the next end. We were in trouble again soon, as many failed draws from both teams left Hamblin lying shot stone behind 4 or 5 guards, with a solitary Cargill CTC stone sitting in the edge of the circles. Thankfully, Steve saw the angle runback, liked the angle runback, and made the angle runback, pushing one of our guards straight into the shot stone for two points, and giving us the win 9-6. With two games left in the Round Robin, we were 2W-2L-1D and had just snuck inside the top four.

Return to Portage la Prairie

So we returned to Portage la Prairie, knowing we’d probably have to win at least one of our games in order to stay inside the top four. Luckily for us (not), our last two games were against teams ranked 1 and 2, Hyde and Neufeld. Our game started off slower than usual, with a few blanks in search of our multiple point end. Sitting at 1-1 after 5 ends, we finally got rid of the hammer, and stole a 2 and a 1 to be 4-1 up in the last end. We nearly blew the lead (but not quite), coming away with the win 4-3!

With the second seed taken care of, we took to the ice against Team Neufeld, who was sitting with a 6-0 record. Unfortunately in this game, we were shown the level of curling that you need to have a perfect record over a season, with Neufeld either scoring a multiple or blanking every end in which they had the hammer, and forcing us to score only the one point when we had the last rock. We shook hands after 7 ends, going down 6-2.

The Final Countdown

Just as we were hoping, 3W-3L-1D was just enough for us to sneak into the top four! This means that we qualify for playoffs this weekend in Mordon, playing who else but Team Neufeld again! Playoffs are a straight semis -> finals series, and are being held on the 25th of January. We’ll let you all know timings via social media, as well as if we’re able to stream the games.

What’s Next?

Stay tuned to hear all about our exploits at the Manitoba Open (the world’s largest curling bonspiel) as we faced off against a field of 224 teams over 4 days!

Until next time, Mā Te Wā – Benji

Going to the Ledge

In December last year, we had the pleasure as being recognised as official visitors to Manitoba by the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba. The three of us hopped in a car with our coach Lorne and made the short trip up to Winnipeg. Our day started with a tour of the Manitoba Legislature Building where the assembly is based. The building features two massive bison statues, huge columns, and is nearly 100 years old! Thanks to Garion for taking some photos inside.

During the tour, we were treated to far too much information about the building and it’s history. We learnt about the construction of the legislature, where the number 13 was integrated everywhere into the structure of the building. It’s honestly everywhere, from the number of columns, to number of lights in a hallway, to the number of weird knobbly things around a door frame. This was thought to “trick” bad luck into leaving the building alone, as it thought it was already inside. My favourite story had to be where the builder thought it’d be a great idea to nick a few of the columns and display them on his front lawn. Would you believe he got caught?

After the tour (and a brief slice of pizza at the Legislature cafeteria) we were through the metal detectors and in session at the Legislature. During this there were a number of people recognised for their achievements, including Adoption Options Manitoba, for their services to birth and adoptive families, an 11-year-old violinist who was winning all sorts of awards, and Greg Ewasko (who you might remember from the Dekalb SuperSpiel post) for being named head ice maker for Canada. It was an honour to be recognised among these people, but also quite funny that hearing we were from NZ drew a gasp from the assorted Legislature. Guess we’re more of a novelty than we realise 😛

A huge thanks to Lorne Hamblin and his many contacts at the Legislature for setting both the tour and ceremony up, it was a very cool experience for us to take part in. Here’s hoping they still want us visiting at the end of our time here!

Return of the Kiwis

After our visit to the legislature, we heard tell on Facebook of an outdoor curling tournament in the legislature grounds. This turned out to be the 19th Annual Ironman Outdoor Curling Bonspiel! It’s a not for profit event raising money for the Heart & Stroke Foundation and is held each year in February in Winnipeg Manitoba. Needless to say we entered straight away!

It runs from the 7th to the 9th of February and is played in some pretty tough conditions, depending on the wind chill that weekend. We’re hoping that our experience on Auckland ice will serve us well on what could be some tricky sheets. If anyone wants to donate to the Heart and Stroke Foudnation, our team donation link is here: We’re also lacking a funny team name so please comment if you have any ideas, we may be able to get it changed as entries are not finalised.

We’ll keep you updated as the event approaches!

What’s Next?

Tonight we have our last two round robin games of the South Central Super League, so hopefully today I’ll get a blog up telling you what that’s all about (unlikely if I’m being honest). We’re also only a week out from the Manitoba Open! Our first team gym session with our new personal trainer is next Wednesday so we definitely have enough time to get in shape…

Until next time, Mā Te Wā – Benji

And Sargon Makes Three

Yes you read that right! We’ve been joined by Brett Sargon in Morris, and he’s settled straight in to Canadian life.

A Man Of Many Skills

For our readers who don’t know Brett personally, he’s a pretty multi-talented guy. To assert his dominance within the team structure, he ventured out onto the ice at halftime during a charity hockey game, and sunk a shot from halfway:

Other ways in which Brett likes to flex on us include table tennis (pictured below) and being undefeated in the club stick league (until he lost, that is).

Dreaming of a White Christmas

Despite all the hype about Brett being here, he’s actually not here right now. Brett has been taking advantage of the holidays to catch up with loved ones in New York for Christmas and New Years (I think he just couldn’t face the very mild Canadian Christmas we had).

Garion and I spent the holiday break mostly chasing various Hamblins around (our coaches’ grandkids) whether that be around the living room or up and down the toboggan hill. We spent Christmas day with them too, and tucked into a potluck at the Brandt family gathering on Boxing day. We were overwhelmed with how welcoming everyone was over Christmas, with Hamblins, Brandts, Mazinkes, and many more inviting us as family to spend time with them. Thanks to everyone who thought of us over the holidays!

Taking a break from tobogganing to snap a photo with Santa Claus!

Merry Christmas to all our readers, especially our family and friends back home! We all miss you lots, thank you for supporting us in chasing our dreams. We hope you had a good New Years, even if you mistakenly celebrated it a day early!

What’s Next?

Updates to come on the South Central Super League, our trip to the Manitoba Legislature, and our plans for 2020. Also we’ve all moved in together so that’ll be a laugh. This definitely means that the blogs will be coming thick and fast next year, as the lads are closer to beat me up if I’m not working on them. Feel free to give me feedback or suggestions!

Now that there might be some actual content, I’d recommend you subscribe via email so you don’t have to trust in my incredibly erratic upload schedule!

Until next time, Mā Te Wā – Benji

The Super-est of Spiels

In our second week in Morris Garion and I were lucky enough to be able to enter the Dekalb SuperSpiel! The Dekalb SuperSpiel is a tournament where teams from across Canada and the US (and a few international) compete for substantial prize money. This year was the 12th SuperSpiel, with 24 men’s teams and 19 women’s entering, making it the largest tournament either of us had ever played in.

The format of the tournament was something quite foreign to us also, played as a triple elimination bracket. This means that when you lose your first game you drop into the B division, where losing a game in the B division drops you into the C division. Any teams that lose in the C division have lost 3 games and are therefore eliminated. As long as you only lose two games, you can hang in there all the way to the playoffs. By the Monday of competition, the 24 men’s teams would be reduced to just 8.

Ice Ice Baby

Because there were so many teams competing, 6 sheets of curling ice would not do, oh no no no. This meant we were allowed to take over the arena next door for the week. But before we could curl on this ice, a little bit of work had to be done. Or quite a lot of work, as we discovered. Where 45 mins of ice prep is all we get in Auckland, the arena would undergo 4 days of preparation here!

We started bright and early on the Monday morning (I can’t quite remember but I feel like it was 8am?), painting over the ice hockey lines and logos so we’d have lovely white ice. As curlers whose club league is occasionally (read: often) disrupted by ice hockey, Garion and I found this part incredibly cathartic. The rings and all the lines on the ice had to be painted / placed in. After all the painting was done, there was much water flooded onto the ice in order to make it flat. This took an incredibly long time, it’s amazing how much work the rest of the ice crew put in. We were also there for some of it, but these guys put in some mighty long hours getting the ice in tip top shape for the competition.

Playing with the big boys

So now that we had the ice sorted, we just needed a team to play with. Thankfully our main man Lorne was on the job, and sorted us Ethan and Steve, who train in the Practice Perfect program that is held at the Morris rink. It was their first tournament of this size too, with Ethan being just 15 years old! With lofty visions of success and comically large cheques in our heads, we set off to compete.

What we were met with was some of the best curling we’ve ever seen live. As mentioned before, some curlers travelled a long way (although not quite as long as us) to compete at the SuperSpiel. There were some big name curlers like Mike McEwen’s rink, Tanner Horgan, and Laura Walker, who all compete in either the Tier 1 or Tier 2 Grand Slam of Curling events. There were Junior development squads from the US, and experienced Canadian teams who’d been here many times before.

The competition was both fierce and clever, and early on we struggled with not having played together before. In curling there are many subtleties about each player’s technique that you learn over the years, and communication patterns that you develop together to work to get that stone in just the right place. While we learned fast and improved with every shot, we quickly found ourselves down 0W-2L in the draw.

Now if you’ve been paying attention, you’d know that this was sub-optimal for our chances of winning the tournament. Any loss from here on in would mean the last game for us, and it was only Friday evening. Moreover, we’d still have to win 4 games (in a row) to make the playoffs, and another 3 after that to clinch the title. It was looking bleak for Team Long, but we were determined to push on and get that W.

And on Saturday at lunchtime, that’s precisely what we did. A near-perfect game from Garion built on some strong work from our front end to give me very easy shots to secure each end. A deuce first up was followed by a steal and a force, and when we hit and stayed to score three. This put us 6-1 up halfway through the game, and after teams traded ones with the last stone advantage our opposition conceded. We had our first win of the spiel, 7-2!

Team Long after our first win! Pictured: Ethan Brandt, Garion Long, Steve Michaleski , Benjamin Frew(Left to Right)

The highs continued after the game, as we were presented with our winnings. Each game won at the Dekalb SuperSpiel nets the team $100 in prize money. Garion and I realised for the first time ever we’d actually been paid for playing the sport we love, and by nobody’s definition (dictionary or otherwise) we decided we were now professional athletes!

Sadly we could not replicate the same performance that evening, and the next game of the tournament would be our last. We dropped behind early on, and while we played well in the rest of the game, it’s hard to come from far behind in curling. Despite the disappointment of the loss we were hugely happy to have won a game and to have taken part in such a high level tournament.

What’s Next?

Coming up are some fairly exciting times for us here in Morris. Most importantly, we’re receiving our third team member Brett Sargon express from China! (He’s actually already here but I’m slack at getting these out). We start the South Central Super League and compete in the Mordon Men’s Bonspiel, where there is more prize money on the line!

It’s really awesome hearing feedback on the blog, so if you enjoyed reading it give it a like, or if this one sucked and the first one was better give that one a like instead, or leave a comment! Almost all feedback is appreciated 🙂

Until next time, Mā Te Wā – Benji

So It Begins

Best laid plans

Anyone who has met me and Garion knows that it’s difficult to get us in the same place, at the same time, both doing the correct thing, but on October 20th that’s exactly what happened. At 11:43pm we both touched down at Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport, coming from different sides of the world. We literally saw each other before getting to the baggage carousel, which some might mistake for good planning, but we knew to be a whole lot of luck combined with me getting up very early in Scotland to catch a flight. After a big day of flying for both of us, we were about ready for bed. But first, some introductions had to be made.

The Native Population

The first Canadians we had the pleasure of meeting were our coaches, Chris and Lorne Hamblin. They picked us up from the airport (super late) which we were very thankful for. We’re going to be spending a lot of time with them, but fret not, they’re not interested in us developing a Manitoba tuck (whew). Chris and Lorne are world-class coaches with not only a Junior World Championship as coaches but also an Olympic Bronze medal! They have extensive experience coaching athletes from all around the world, so hopefully they’ll be able to polish the already beautiful techniques we possess (sure…).

We’ve honestly met so many people since arriving here, that we’ve forgotten more names that we even know. One that stands out to us is Bill from Stick Curling, he’s 91! And sweeps more than Garion does! In all seriousness though, if I’m still able to play curling when I’m even close to that age I’ll be pretty stoked. Despite us forgetting all their names on a regular basis, everyone here has been so lovely to us. It’s been a real pleasure getting to know everyone and curling with/against them.

A Not-At-All Busy Week

So for our first week in Morris, we thought we’d take it nice and easy. Our coaches, of course, had other ideas…

On Monday we were thrown in the deep end, with the coaching of the junior curlers. We quickly discovered that juniors in Canada can be anywhere from about 6 to 21 years old. The Monday course was the youngest cohort, which turns out can be quite challenging to coach. They’re all very talented when you have them in the hack, throwing the stones, but when they’re not focused and doing something, chaos emerges. In the two sessions we’ve done so far, Garion and I have had kids pretending to be doing pottery with curling stones, throwing without looking up (at any point) and being a sweeping fish. It’s been quite an experience… After coaching, we had our first game of club curling. To say we were underdone would be the understatement of the century, after scoring 3 in the first it all went pear-shaped, and the jet-lag took over.

On Tuesday we got to see how the high-performance program is run. There is a range of teams in this program, mostly juniors with a few adults here and there. All the players keep a journal, with a different focus every week to improve their curling. When on ice, they have access to the full facility including video feedback from iPads and use of the rock thrower. It was really cool to see such young teams playing at such a high level.

Wednesday was a very different day for us, as we had our first taste of Stick Curling. Neither of us had ever thrown with a stick before, and it could be said that it was obvious in our first game… Nonetheless, we had a great time, and we look forward to one day winning a game.

Trying to learn the game of stick curling

On Thursday we got our first taste of Canadian coaching. I think Garion and I would both agree that it went better than we thought it might. Turns out we’re not terrible at curling (yay!) there might be hope for us yet. For this session, we focused on the first few feet of the delivery. It was a bit rough but very cool to get instant feedback on our slides, either from the iPads or from the camera connected to the 55-inch tv next to the ice. Hopefully, we can compare the videos in 6 months and see just how far we’ve come.

Swan River (Not Swan Lake)

On Friday we were allowed to sleep in until 6am when we were picked up for the drive to Swan River, where we’d be helping run a weekend curling clinic. Garion decided to take advantage of the 6-hour drive to catch up on some sleep.

Making Elk friends in Onanole

This turned out to be a great idea, as the next few days were a whirlwind of curling, bottomless ribs, more curling, and something called a double grilled cheese burger. We coached more juniors (slightly less hectic this time) and even managed to catch some curling on tv! All in all, it was an awesome weekend, and a great way to finish our first week in Canada.

Coaching juniors at Swan River

What’s Next?

Next week we have the Dekalb SuperSpiel! It’s a massive tournament with 24 men’s teams competing. Garion and I are helping with the ice and competing in the tournament too. We’re very much looking forward to our first competition over here!

Until next time, Mā Te Wā – Benji

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