Guest post by Ian G. Sheffer
Snow, Ice, freezing temperatures. These are usually the things from which one seeks refuge during the dark months of winter, but of course curlers know better. We head north for the warmth of camaraderie and the thrill of the next bonspiel. And so the Bucks County Men's 5-and-under rink "All Bucked Up" -- with Dave Schmel skipping, "Good Ian" Sheffer at vice, Kevin "Captain Draw" Brady throwing second and Bert Tyler leading off -- headed north to the Rochester Curling Club in Rochester, NY.
The 77th annual Francis Dykes Memorial Bonspiel drew 40 teams from across the GNCC, with curlers coming from as far as the Panthers Curling Club in Miami, Florida. With this many teams, the tournament started on Wednesday night. Though our first draw wasn't until 9:00 a.m. Thursday, we headed up on Wednesday morning.
After winding through scenic Bucks County, we stopped for lunch at Aiello's in Whitney Point, NY. Located on the corner of Main and the other street in town, Aiello's has been serving authentic Italian cuisine for over 50 years. Having stopped there on the way to another spiel in Utica the week before, Dave was already chatting up the owner and fitting in like a regular.
Well rested from our evening at the exactly-as-luxurious-as-it-needed-to-be Best Western Inn at the Rochester Airport, we took the ice for our first draw against a Broomstones/Merrimack rink. Even with the pressure of being on the featured webcast sheet, we came out ahead. As happy as we were to chalk up a win, we were perhaps just as excited that a win put our next draw time at 9:00 a.m. the following day, allowing ample time to make sure that our brooms were well stacked!
Friday's game was against a team with strong roots at Broomstones. A spirited game left us the wining side again, and with some time before our next draw, Saturday at 5:30 p.m. With some time to kill and lots of curling going on, Dave took the opportunity to take the headset and provide his signature color commentary for the webcast.
During the Friday afternoon scrape of the sheets, we decided to head out into the city, to The Strong National Museum of Play. Home to exhibits ranging from doll houses to video games, the Strong was a blast. Our skip particularly enjoyed the Pinball machines. I was partial to the giant-sized Super Mario Brothers game and original arcade version of Pong, complete with knobs to move the paddles and 1970s yellow cabinet. We even got to see the earliest known Monopoly board, painted in the hand of inventor Charles Darrow. A fun time behind us, we headed back to the club to catch the late draws, cheered on the Philly rinks, and then home to rest up for our next draw.
Our Saturday afternoon draw against the Rochester rink "Legion of Broom" was perhaps the most stressful of the whole weekend. We'd beaten a team with matching shirts earlier in the week, but when The Legion won the flip, chose colour instead of hammer, and started throwing their stones out of the usual 1-8 order, we knew it was going to be a game more serious than most. A shirts team? Sure, we could take on a shirts team no problem. A home team with a rock book? Well, that's another thing entirely. We held on though, joking among ourselves to keep the mood light, and soon it became clear that though they were very serious curlers, we weren't exactly hacks in the hack. By the time the last skip's stone was up, their only way to hang in was a long double across the most of the house. Only one of their rocks was able to remain a counter, and we were on to Sunday at the Dykes.
Nine a.m. brought some definite nerves (no large Belgian waffle at the hotel breakfast bar for Dave today), and we headed to the club a bit early to get ready for our game. The Stoffer rink from Schenectady were clearly serious (I learned after getting the latest issue of The Curling News when I got home that they were the champions of the Schenectady 10-and-under Men's spiel), but they were a fun team to be in a game with, so we all breathed a sigh of relief. It was tight all the way, and in an early end we had just about every rock in play in a draw-fest of a dogpile at the back of the house. This managed to eat up enough of our time to cut us to our second seven-end game of the weekend, and the pressure was on. Fortunately, our skip came through in a clutch with an in-off double to take us into the A event finals. Our hearts were racing as we stepped off the ice to wait for the next draw.
We tried to rest and unwind as best we could, and as best we knew how. We all of course had a drink to take the edge off, and to hold us over until the ceremonial shot of Drambuie in honor of the piper. Eventually the pipes and drums worked their way to the club and it was game time. We would be up against the Fitzpatrick rink from Broomstones. They had matching shirts, too. We were all clearly nervous, but the tone in the warm room was relaxed, and we all quickly got the sense that it was going to be a fun game no matter what the outcome. Cheers to the spirit of curling.
With the drone of the piper carrying through the club, I got the lump in the back of my throat I always do with live bagpipes, and we took the ice. The first end was tough, but we all had the sense that this was not an un-winnable game. Broomstones took two in the first with the hammer. Not ideal, but an "acceptable outcome." End two, however, brought a much different outcome. Our second to last stone of the end over-curled unexpectedly. Our intrepid skip was drawing against four, so the timing was less than optimal. We came around the other side on our next shot, trying to avoid disaster, but it didn't go our way, and Broomstones was now up 6-0. Sure, I've come back from behind like that before, but an end like that takes the wind out of your sails more than a bit. We kept pressing though. Our skip did his best to boost our spirits with some spirits, and ordered a round of Jameson shots for us at the end of the fourth. We managed to find a few points in the sixth, scoring at least the moral victory, but after we only got one in the seventh, it was clear what needed to be done. Handshakes were had, and we headed off of the ice.
It's not an easy thing to loose the A event finals at the Dykes. It takes work. There's a hell of a lot that goes into it as a matter of fact. There's the run-up weeks and months where you play in league nights as much as your schedules will allow. There are the spiels you try to get into to warm up for competition with your team-mates. There's the long drive there (and the seemingly longer one back). There's the countless hours put in by the volunteers at the host club. There's the countless hours put in by the teams just like you who have the same idea to throw their hat in the ring. There are the matches you actually play in the tournament, where you fight and hope for the TV shot to actually hit the broom. There are the new friends you make after some games, and the old ones you catch up with after others. There's the heartfelt support of your family and friends, and your club watching back in their warm room, cheering you on. There's the ice crew, working in the wee hours to give you a surface to play on. There are your teammates, who are now much closer friends than they were the week before. There's the work you put in, getting better at the roaring game as best you know how. Oh, and one team or another gets their name on a plaque at the end of it. When you sit back for a second and think about it all, it's enough to keep you smiling like a fool through any number of ends, regardless of whose name ends up on the trophy at the end of the day.
Hi there. I'm Michelle, your blogmaster and a novice Bucks curler.