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Curling·Analysis

Stop the clock: Curlers sound off on new timing system

If you’re still trying to wrap your head around the ever-shifting rules of curling and the game's landscape, you’re not alone. Conversations and changes surrounding the length of games, time clocks and five-rock, free-guard zones have fans bugging and players a little grouchy.

'What are we trying to achieve here?' asks longtime skip Glenn Howard

Kevin Koe, pictured at a prior event, was involved in an awkward exchange with officials regarding the new time clock rule during the recent Canada Cup event. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

CONCEPTION BAY SOUTH, N.L. — If you're still trying to wrap your head around the ever-shifting rules of curling and the game's landscape, you're not alone.

The people most affected by the changes are still trying to grasp the game's newest revamp: the time clock.

Conversations and changes surrounding the length of games, time clocks and five-rock, free-guard zones has fans confused and players a little grouchy.

This past week in Estevan, Sask., Curling Canada used a new timing system for the Canada Cup. It featured four minutes per end through the first five ends of the game, and then four minutes and 15 seconds in the last five. It did not go over well.

"In my opinion the timing per end took away from the game," said winning women's skip Jennifer Jones.

Normally teams would be allowed 38 minutes of "thinking time" for the entire 10 ends. Throughout the event in Estevan there were a few occasions teams ran out of time in an end, including during high-pressure and pivotal moments.

Effecting the championship draw

The somewhat controversial new system was catapulted into the spotlight during the men's championship final between Brad Jacobs and Kevin Koe.

During the fifth end there was mass confusion when Koe's team thought they had enough time to throw their last rock after having called their final 30-second timeout.

Halfway down the ice during Koe's draw, the official on the opposite end halted play and said the team never got the rock off before the clock hit zeroes. Koe's draw for two was heavy on the play but the outcome might have been different had B.J. Neufeld called a different line for the shot — it would have been disastrous had Koe's draw been made.

It led to an awkward and jarring exchange on the ice between the teams and officials not often seen in curling. The miscommunication between Koe's team and the officials was especially concerning.

"Marc Kennedy and I looked at one another at one point as their clock was ticking down obviously realizing they were getting very low on time. That's really all that we saw, was the clock ticking down," Jacobs said about the incident.

"What it appeared happened was miscommunication between the players and the officials."

But on Thursday, Curling Canada released a statement admitting to an official error.

"After an internal review, it has been determined that during the fifth end of the men's final of the Canada Cup on Sunday in Estevan, Sask., there was an officiating mistake that resulted in Kevin Koe's team being told its final delivery was being pulled from play," the statement read.

"The communication to Team Koe took place while the stone was progressing down the sheet, potentially resulting in a communication lapse between vice-skip B.J. Neufeld and the sweepers. That communication to the team was the result of incorrect timing a few moments earlier. The team clearly called for its 30-second clock-stop with 11 seconds showing on the clock, but the clock was allowed to run down to two seconds before stopping, and was never reset to 11 seconds. The team should have had 41 seconds available in total (11 seconds on the clock plus the 30-second clock-stop) to deliver its final stone, and it took approximately 36 seconds, meaning the stone was delivered legally within the time that should have been allowed.

"We want to give our athletes the best possible on-ice environment in which to show their talents, and we will continue to work with our on- and off-ice officials, and review all processes with regards to timing, to ensure this mistake isn't repeated in the future.

"The timing system used in the Canada Cup was a test, but the standard 38-minute full-game timing system will be used for all Canadian and world championship events."

The Brier and the Scotties championships will feature the traditional timing system, but there is potential the four-minute per end timing system could be used at the Continental Cup in January.

Game changer

Jacobs says the four minutes per end is a game changer and leaves teams feeling rushed throughout the match. He says his team addressed that early on in the Canada Cup because they knew it could be a problem.

"You have to really think ahead and be very decisive," Jacobs said. "We had a really good plan in place to battle the clock or at least not let ourselves get in time-clock trouble."

Jacobs went on to capture the Canada Cup with a win over Koe.

Watch Jacobs defeat Koe:

Brad Jacobs, the runner-up at the 2014 Canada Cup, defeated Calgary's Kevin Koe 5-4 to win his 1st Canada Cup. 1:05

Longtime skip Glenn Howard says he's yet to try the new timing system in a real game situation. He says he's played it twice before during the Grand Slam Elite 10 event but adds it was a different scenario because that was a Skins Game format.

"I love it and I hate it. I love it because it forces you to make quick decisions and you make mistakes. I hate it because sometimes you're running around with your head cut off," Howard said.

More than anything, Howard has a few questions about the direction of curling and what all the rules are leading to, especially with the time clock situation.

"What's the point to all this? Is the purpose to make us miss shots? To keep the game moving? What are we trying to achieve here?" he said.

Not a fan

Three-time Brier and two-time world champion skip Jeff Stoughton is in St. John's this week as a part of his scouting and coaching work with Curling Canada.

He's been exposed to a lot of conversations about the timing system. Stoughton says he wants to see how players adapt to the five-rock, free-guard zone rule before adding more changes to the game.

"We've made the game more difficult by adding the five-rock rule. Let's see how the teams and players adapt to that to see if that changes the strategy," he said.

Ultimately, Stoughton says he doesn't want to see the quality of curling affected by players being rushed.

"I'm not a big fan of it but then again I'm pretty old-school," Stoughton said. "My only issue is as along as it doesn't hurt the player's ability to play their best."

Stoughton says one of the great parts of curling is that officials or umpires play a very small role in the game, if any. But when you have all these timing issues and timeouts, officials become a factor.

"One of the things we always like to do in curling is eliminate an official making a decision. Having these time clocks and extra timeouts brings more officials into play."

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