If you were going to ask Canadian skip Mark Ideson who the favourites in wheelchair curling are at this year’s Paralympic Games, he’d tell you Norway won the world championship, and Russia won the two before that, and that the USA is playing really well lately.
He certainly wouldn’t put Canada on the list, even though they’ve won the last three Paralympic gold medals.
Based on Ideson’s modest prognosis, you’d expect for a Canada-Norway game to be lopsided. And it was, but not in the way his handicapping would suggest.
Instead, Canada beat Norway 10-1 in six ends (they conceded before the usual eight), and finished their first day of competition with two wins, both of which were blowouts.
“The team is gelling. We’re learning the ice, and we’re feeling pretty good,” said Ideson, unassuming as ever. “It’s four people out there, trying their hardest.”
By “trying their hardest,” his teammates made sure Ideson didn’t have to throw anything terribly difficult, and made the game a nightmare for Norwegian skip Rue Lorensten.
Only once after the first end did Norway have a reasonable shot at scoring points, and even in that case he needed to draw full four-foot… easier said than done in wheelchair curling where there are no sweepers to help.
The rest of the time, Canada sat buried behind walls of granite, under no threat from the Norwegian skip. Each time Ideson would throw another guard, or lob another draw into the house. For a team that’s not a “favourite,” they were making it look pretty easy.
“There’s a lot of energy out there. It’s exciting, and it’s great to have our families there. But there are a lot of distractions,” said Ideson. “So we’re really just trying to take it one rock at a time, stay in the moment, and enjoy ourselves. Hopefully that puts us in a good spot at the end of the week.”
So far so good. With a two-win day, Canada sits at the top of the table, albeit early in this 12-team round robin.
Canada ousts Switzerland in game one
The Canadian Wheelchair Curling team is treating the 2018 Paralympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea like a marathon. It won’t be won or lost on day one, and it will take a consistent effort over the 11-game round robin to set them up for a sprint to the finish line.
While there is still a lot of curling to be played, they couldn’t be happier with their results out of the gate.
In their first game on this Paralympic marathon, Canada defeated Switzerland 8-0, with the Swiss conceding after the sixth end.
“We’re pretty happy with that start,” said third Ina Forrest, playing in her third Paralympics. “We’ll take that any day.”
It seemed Canada seized control of the game before it even began, with two good shots by Forrest and skip Mark Ideson, in the pre-game Last Shot Draw (LSD) challenge, to determine which team gets hammer in the first end.
“There were a few nerves for the LSD (Last Shot Draw), and then once that was over, I was good!” said Forrest. “I was feeling really comfortable out there.”
Comfortable may be an understatement. Forrest shot 81% in the game, nearly 20% higher than any other player.
“I was very happy with how I played today. It’s nice to have that first one out of the way with a good result,” she said.
Other than being the first win for Canada in this competition, it was the first Paralympic win for Mark Ideson as skip. Ideson, who was the alternate in the 2014 Sochi games, showed no signs of nerves and made several clutch shots, including a nose hit for two in the first, and a perfect freeze in the second end to set up a steal.
After that, Canada was in cruise control, putting pressure on and benefiting from a few Swiss miscues. They stole one in the third and fourth, two in the fifth, and one more in the sixth before the Swiss decided to shake hands.