Philly Sports Live

Curling National Championships Come Back to Philly

If you couldn’t get enough of curling on TV during last month’s Olympics, you will get the chance to see it live, without the pesky television screen and time difference getting in the way.

The 2014 US National Curling Championships make their triumphant return to the Philadelphia area this week, with the Aston IceWorks Complex playing host to the event for the second time in three years.  The last time it was here, the event was greeting with enthusiastic crowds, including a sellout on the final day that saw 1300 people watch both the men’s and women’s title matches.

For a sport that has always been on the fringe, curling has, with the thanks of the Olympics, exploded in popularity.  The Philadelphia Curling Club, for example, has had a wait list for membership since the 2010 games in Vancouver, and their semi-annual open houses have filled up quickly.  A second curling club, the Bucks County Curling Club, was founded in Warminster not long after Vancouver and has been just as popular.  Given that response and the impressive crowds of the 2012 Nationals, the decision to return to Aston two years later seemed academic.

The appeal of the sport itself is manifold.  A combination of shuffleboard, bocce, and ice walking mixed together with the camaraderie (and beverage selection) of darts, curling is a sport for anyone and everyone willing to give it a go.  For example, four of the five members of the US Women’s Olympic Curling team were over the age of 40.  By contrast, Broomall natives Sarah and Taylor Anderson are both just 19, and have already represented the US at the 2012 Youth Winter Olympics in Innesbruck, Austria.  It is also very much a family sport.  Of the 86 competitors taking the ice in Aston, there are eight sets of siblings, two sets of cousins, a father/son team, and a married couple taking part.

If you happen to not be familiar with the rules of curling, two teams of four players each take turns sliding granite “stones” with handles down a sheet of ice, trying to get it closest to the center of a target, called a “house”.  Teams can control the speed of the stone by sweeping in front of it in order to maintain its speed, or by letting it go to slow down on its own.  Each game lasts ten rounds, called “ends”, and each team throws eight stones in an end.  Whichever team is closest to the center of the house scores one point for each stone closer to the center than their opponents.  Whoever has the most points at the end of the regulation ten ends wins the match.  If tied after ten ends, extra ends are played until there is a winner.

Both the men’s and women’s competitions will each feature ten teams playing in a round robin format for a total of nine matches.  The four best teams will advance to the Page playoff system.  In the quarterfinals, the top two teams will face off for the right to go directly to the final match, while the loser will go to the semifinal and play the winner of the other quarterfinal match between the #3 and #4 seed.  The winner of the semifinal will advances to next Saturday’s final match.

Of course, there is more at stake than just the title of National Champion and the trinkets that go with it.  The winners will go on to represent the US at the World Championships later on this month; the Women will head to St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, while the Men’s winners will travel all the way to Beijing.

Six of the eight men’s captains, or “skips”, have skipped National Championship teams before.  John Shuster’s Duluth Curling Club rink, which turned in a disappointing 9th place finish in Sochi, look to be the favorites of the men’s field.  Shuster skipped the 2009 National Championship side, and is looking for his fifth overall crown.  Bemidji, Minnesota’s Pete Fenson, who will be looking for his sixth title as skip and eighth overall, will have something to say about that.  Defending National Champion Brady Clark, a native of Seattle, looks to defend his team’s title and improve on last year’s ninth place finish at world’s.

Over on the women’s side, Allison Pottinger, the alternate on the last-place Olympic side, is the only skip in the field who has already won a National title; the last time she curled at IceWorks.  The 40-year-old Pottinger, a veteran of three Olympic games, is looking for seventh overall championship.  The local crowd will be behind the Anderson twins, however, as they try to improve upon their ninth place finish at last year’s Nationals in Green Bay.

Links to the schedule and standings are below. The tournament kicks off this Saturday at 2:30pm with the Opening Ceremonies, and runs until next Saturday, March 8th. For more information on tickets and events going on this week, including “Learn To Curl” sessions, visit 2014usacurlingnationals.com.

I’ll be at IceWorks all next week — braving the elements in some cases — to bring you coverage of what should be a fantastic week of curling.  Follow along here on PSL, and on Twitter @phillysportlive, and on @BigBrain61.

Men’s schedule and standings
Women’s schedule and standings

Featured Image: ESPN