(Photo Credit: Anil Mungal)

Five-rock rule approved for all Grand Slam events

September 8, 2014, 7:39 PM

Get ready for more rocks and more excitement in the Grand Slam of Curling series.

The five-rock rule has been approved for both the men’s and women’s divisions at all Grand Slam of Curling events for the 2014-15 season.

Under the five-rock rule, teams are not permitted to eliminate their opponent’s rocks that are sitting in the free guard zone until five stones have been played in every end. Players can still hit the guards; they just aren’t allowed to knock them out of play. This can lead to a quarry of rocks to build up on the sheet and create high-scoring games.

“We want to open up the game a little more, create more offence,” said Pierre Charette, World Competitive Curlers Association director of competition. “Make it more difficult to protect a lead because the GSOC is not afraid to try new stuff in order to keep the game exciting and current for the players and the fans.”

Curling has come a long way since the days when there wasn’t even a free guard zone. As the quality of ice increased and players improved over the years, blank ends and low-scoring games were all-too common.

The free guard zone was introduced in the 1993-94 season to help alleviate the issue and make the game more entertaining for fans. Canada approved a three-rock rule while the World Curling Federation adopted a four-rock version. This made it difficult for Canadian teams who had to adjust at the world championships and Canada finally switched to the four-rock rule for the 2002-03 season.

The Grand Slam of Curling gave the five-rock rule a test drive at the 2011 Canadian Open. Winnipeg skip Mike McEwen was skeptical about the rule at first but was won over after his team ran the table at the event, posting a perfect 8-0 record to win the Canadian Open title.

McEwen wondered if the five-rock rule was “the next evolution” in a blog for thegrandslamofcurling.com and said simply yes.

“For the most part, especially when the game is close, you won’t even notice a difference,” McEwen wrote. “But, when a team is down is when the five-rock FGZ shines — the leading team on the scoreboard is forced to continually battle multiple-rock situations. … Defending becomes more complicated and that’s what everyone wants to see: head-scratching, finesse shot-making, clutter and more rock explosions!”

Team Glenn Howard lead Craig Savill said he was immediately impressed with the five-rock rule.

“With the incredible hitting ability of the top teams in our game, it seems that once a team is up two or three, the game is all but over. With the five-rock rule (as opposed to the four-rock rule) there seems to be a better chance at a comeback,” Savill said. “At the very least, the team that is ahead must still be offensive and leave rocks in play, creating chances for the losing team to score points. As a fan, I would rather see lots of rocks in play than a bunch of wide-open ends with little to no offence.

“Playing the five-rock rule, I never felt comfortable with any leading knowing that a three- or four-ender was always in play. It will be interesting to see how teams’ strategy evolves throughout the year as they play more games under the five-rock rule. For now, I can’t wait to get back on the ice to play under the new Grand Slam rules.”

Both the National and Players’ Championship events implemented the rule last season. St. John’s skip Brad Gushue praised the five-rock rule after finishing runner-up at the National.

“The good thing about it was when they got a deuce on us, we knew if we executed we would have an opportunity to score two as well. You never feel like you’re out of the game even if you get three or four down,” Gushue said. “It’s a lot of fun; a lot more rocks in play. It gives us an opportunity to really out-strategize the opponent a little bit more than with the four-rock rule.”

The Grand Slam of Curling series kicks off with the Masters running Oct. 28 to Nov. 2 in Selkirk, Man.