EDMONTON -- Predictably, the teams who've been struggling in the early going at the Canadian men's curling championship aren't big fans of the new set of curling rocks that are making their Brier debut this year.
And just as predictably, the teams who are winning think the concerns being expressed about the Brier rocks -- which were used for the first time at last month's Canadian Juniors -- are overblown.
Alberta's Kevin Martin -- who, it should be noted, also didn't much like the Manitoba Curling Association rocks which were the house set at the Brier until this year -- said after a loss to Quebec Sunday morning dropped him to 0-2 he was having a hard time matching the new rocks.
"I couldn't find a pair -- tried lots of them," said Martin. "You're just trying to find a pair that are somewhat near the same. And it's not easy. And the problem is if you get behind, then you have to gamble and your shots are tougher."
Saskatchewan skip Brock Virtue also criticized the new rocks after his team was pounded 7-2 by Newfoundland's Brad Gushue Sunday afternoon to fall to 1-2. "It's been a really big struggle. They're brand-new rocks and it's crazy," said Virtue.
Virtue's opponent, however, had a less extreme perspective on the new rocks. "They're tough. There's some bad ones out there," said Gushue. "I've felt like we've done a pretty good job of scouting them and reading them early in the game and getting rid of the ones (by giving them to the lead to throw) that are a little bit straighter or heavier...
"I think the top skips are going to pick up on it quicker and it's going to be an advantage as you go."
While the CCA still uses the MCA's rocks sometimes at national events -- most recently at January's Continental Cup -- the decision was made to replace them at this year's Brier with a new set the CCA received this winter from the same Scottish manufacturer who made the rocks that will be in use at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The rocks that the CCA got are identical twins of those new Olympic rocks, made to the exact same specifications as the ones that will be in use next February in Sochi.
The new rocks in use here will also be used at the Olympic Trials at the MTS Centre in December and the CCA believes that will give whichever two teams qualify in Winnipeg a distinct advantage when they head over to compete in Sochi.
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NORTHERN Ontario skip Brad Jacobs seemed to be making an allusion to some dissent within the ranks of a struggling Team Alberta when he was asked Sunday morning about whether it is possible for curlers to play together without being the best of friends.
"Just go stand out there on Sheet A for a little while," Jacobs said, referencing the sheet Alberta was playing on at that moment, "and you'll see a perfect example of that right now."
So the question was put directly to Alberta skip Kevin Martin by reporters a few minutes later -- Are you guys getting along out there?
"I can't even respond to that. This is our eighth year (together)? Ninth? Yeah, everything is fine that way. We just have to make more shots -- there's no problem," said Martin.
Pressed on the issue later, Martin did concede his team does have its squabbles, but said it was nothing out of the ordinary for the sport -- or relationships generally. "That's more like a marriage," Martin laughed. "I think that's normal."
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SPEAKING of Martin, he now has his own iPad app, called simply enough "Kevin Martin Curling."
For $1.99, the app features short instructional videos on everything from release to strategy, as well as sections on equipment and behind-the-scenes videos from curling events. The app also includes live linescores from around the curling world via curlingzone.com and, for an extra fee of $11.99, you can also email Martin a question and he will personally send you a video response.
Martin says he doesn't know how many apps he's sold since it went up last October, but said he's been enjoying shooting the videos for the app.
"It's unlimited where we can go with it," said Martin. "And it's a lot of fun."