Get into curling and fight, fight, fight

Canada's current champion, Lyall Dagg, plays as if he doesn't think curling is the second toughest game on ice. Here he outlines his philosophy—and gives some graphic advice on how to curl to win

Derm Dunwoody December 14 1964

Get into curling and fight, fight, fight

Canada's current champion, Lyall Dagg, plays as if he doesn't think curling is the second toughest game on ice. Here he outlines his philosophy—and gives some graphic advice on how to curl to win

Derm Dunwoody December 14 1964

Get into curling and fight, fight, fight

Canada's current champion, Lyall Dagg, plays as if he doesn't think curling is the second toughest game on ice. Here he outlines his philosophy—and gives some graphic advice on how to curl to win

Derm Dunwoody

THE KING of the more than half a million Canadians who are rapidly making the sport of curling the most popular way to keep fit over the winter is, for 1964 at least, a handsome, athletic, thirty-five-year-

old businessman from Vancouver named Lyall Dagg. Dagg won the crown in Charlottetown last March when he skipped the British Columbia rink to victory over rinks from the other nine provinces and from northern Ontario in the annual Macdonald Brier Championship, the supreme test of Canadian curling.

Dagg’s victory was a major upset. Curling is a sport that requires, above all things, experience and consistency — and 1964 was only Dagg’s tenth year of competition. Dagg made up for this with a scrupulous concentration on the fine points of curling techniques and with his intense competitive spirit — an attitude that still occasionally gets him into hot water with some other curlers, the country-club set, who regard curling as a strictly social pastime in which the point isn’t so much to beat the opposition as it is to have a good time.

Curling may in fact be more of a social sport than, say, golf or tennis, but it is just as tricky and tough to master. In one sense, curling is the art of being last with the most. No points are scored until the last

rock has come to rest at the end of each sequence of play — or “end,” as it’s called in curling parlance. Each member of a four-man team throws two rocks, and when the last curler has thrown his last stone, the score is tallied. One point is awarded for each rock that is sitting closer to the centre of the counting rings (the “house”) than the opposing team’s rock that is closest to the centre. The best score possible is an eight end, but that’s as rare as a hole in one in golf. In championship play, the rink scoring the most points after twelve ends is the winner; in ordinary club play, ten ends make the game.

What complicates curling — and makes it challenging — is that a curling stone seldom runs a straight line. If the stone is thrown with the handle pointed directly toward the curler, it rotates two or three

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or more times counter-clockwise on its way toward the rings, and, with loss of momentum, it curls toward the left — an in-turn. Thrown with its handle pointing slightly to the left of the curler, the stone develops a clockwise rotation and breaks to the right — an out-turn.

The team captain — “skip” — takes up position at the scoring end of the rink and “gives the ice” to his teammates — that is, he indicates with his broom where the curler should aim. Until he becomes his team’s final shotmakcr, he is quarterback, captain and absolute authority. “The skip is the boss always,” says Dagg. “On my rink there are no discussions or bickering during play. And 1 don’t encourage post-mortems either — if 1 give someone the wrong ice, 1 know about it without anyone telling me.”

The skip varies his calls depending on the run of the game. By patting an opponent’s shot-rock (the stone nearest the centre) with his broom, then planting the broom’s thin edge down on the ice, he might call for a “take-out” — a shot that ends with both his own and his opponent’s rock outside the scoring rings. Or the strategy of the moment might suggest a “wick-and-roll” shot in which his man’s rock scrapes past the opponent’s into counting position. Or he could call for a delicate “freeze” — the thrower must nestle his rock against an opponent’s, putting it in scoring position and almost impossible to pick off. Or the skip might ask for one of the most difficult shots of all, a close guard to protect his own team’s shot-rock from being knocked out by the opposition.

“Even if the players are all beginners,” says Dagg, “a skip should call for the correct shot, not the easy shot. No matter how many times he misses, a curler should play the game as it’s meant to be played or he’ll never get any better.”

Sweeping, Dagg believes, is thirty percent of the game. Usually two players — and occasionally three — accompany a teammate’s

rock down the ice laying to with their brooms as instructed by the skip. “Swee-ee-eep!” he’ll yell, when he knows that the thrown rock needs more speed to reach its intended destination. Sweeping in front of the rock has the double effect of ridding the ice of impurities and making the surface slicker. In week-long bonspiels. sweeping can leave the sweepers with sore, bleeding hands. It is an art in itself, requiring short, brisk, rhythmic strokes.

Dagg himself is an uncompromising perfectionist at every aspect of curling. He didn’t take up the game until one night in 1954 when his brother got sick and his mother asked Lyall to fill in on the family rink for a mixed bonspiel. “I played atrociously,” Dagg says now, “but I was hooked.” Since that night he has worked doggedly to perfect his curling style.

He concentrated first on developing his delivery. Gradually he smoothed his backswing and throw into a single rhythmic flow culminating in a long slide. “Too many beginners worry too much about their slide,” Dagg says. “They should think of it as like the followthrough in golf. It’s the result of a good delivery motion, not the reason for it.” Dagg spent a couple of hours three or four times a week tossing stones down the ice until he reached the point where he could consistently draw seven out of ten rocks inside the inner fourfoot rings.

As Dagg’s game gradually improved, he began entering as many competitions as he could, taking to the road for out-of-town bonspiels on weekends. “We’d go anywhere within driving distance,” Dagg says. “Sometimes J’d play Friday nights with my family in a Vancouver ’spiel, then we’d take off at midnight and drive all night to a bonspiel in the interior. We’d grab a couple of hours’ sleep and get out on the ice at noon. It was fine when we won but if we lost, the drive back home seemed twice as long.”

It was during one of those long drives back to Vancouver that

Dagg made up his mind he'd put together a rink that would go all the way to the Macdonald Brier Championship. In October 1960 he told friends that if he didn't make the Brier in two years he was quitting the game — it was taking too much time from his family and business life.

His plan ran a couple of seasons behind schedule. For three years, he experimented with teammates in an effort to build a rink strong at all positions, but he failed to win the B. C. championship. Sometimes his rink missed out in the regional Pacific coast playdowns; other years he took the Pacific coast championship only to lose in the B. C. finals to a rink from the interior. “It was frustrating,” says Dagg. “The toughest thing in the world is to be always close but never make it. You can’t keep a rink together if you always lose the important game.”

Early this year, Dagg decided to take a last whack at the championship. This time he made it, and in March he led his rink, as B. C.’s representatives, to the Macdonald Brier in Charlottetown. Though he was given only a slim chance of victory by the final day of the round-robin competition, Dagg needed only to beat the P.E.I. rink to clinch the championship. A loss would have forced a play-off between B. C. and Saskatchewan. Going into the eighth end, the B. C. rink was down to P.E.I. 5-2. But Dagg brought them back into contention with a superb shot — a deft in-turn that knocked out one P.E.I. counter and froze against the face of a second P.E.I. rock. That shot locked the score and enabled the B. C. rink to win in the extra end. “It’s a team sport until the skip has to throw the last rock in a crucial situation,” says Dagg. “Then all the pressure’s on one man.”

A week later, Dagg’s rink traveled to Calgary to represent Canada in the Scotch Cup World Championships and brought Canada its sixth world championship in a row.

The aggressive professional approach that took Dagg to his title has also brought him a share of criticism. After almost every big bonspiel win, he gets two or three anonymous letters or crank phone calls accusing him of being arrogant and conceited. The criticism is unfair and, in any event, it isn't going to change his attitude to competitive curling. “Curlers kid themselves when they pretend that curling is different from other sports,” Dagg says. “They say that it doesn't matter whether you win or lose in curling, but all they're doing is giving themselves an alibi for losing. I lose hard. 1 hate to lose. 1 wouldn't enjoy the game if it weren’t for its competitiveness.”

Dagg thinks that anyone who is really serious about curling should practise hard and play in as many bonspiels as he can squeeze in. “You don't have to be a skip to enjoy the competition in curling,” he says. “There's nothing wrong with being a lead (the team member who throws first). Some curlers would do better to play lead all the time. I'd far rather be a topnotch lead on a good rink than a mediocre skip on a bad rink.”

Dagg is uncertain about his own curling future. Provided his job — he’s director of marketing operations for Crown Zellerbach Canada Ltd. — permits, and his wife Shirley raises no serious objection over the prospect of spending another winter as an ice widow, Dagg and his rink will be after a second Brier in 1965. Like poker players, curlers aren't supposed to quit when they’re ahead. “But they’ll all be out to get us this year.” he says. “1 think we'll be lucky even to win the club championship.”

Like a veteran football or hockey pro, Dagg is taking careful measure of what are — in sport — his declining years. “If I take some kind of physical training in the off-season, I can probably stay with competitive curling for another three or four years,” he says. After that, he’ll retire to the gentler, less combative world of social curling — if he can stand the quiet. ★