|Bill Martin, left, and George Achtymichuk practising stick curling at the Highland Curling Club recently.|
Photograph by: Don Healy, Leader-Post , Leader-Post
Bill Martin and George Achtymichuk stand tall when it comes to curling.
The 1973 Canadian men's curling champions turned to stick curling when their bodies couldn't handle the physical demands of the traditional game.
"I had cartilage removed from my knee years ago and it wouldn't take sliding on it,'' said Martin, who with Achtymichuk as his partner begins play today at the Canadian open two person stick curling championships at the Highland Curling Club. "I would get down and it would hurt so much - Otherwise it was OK unless I put weight on it. I couldn't throw from the hack, period.''
Harvey Mazinke, Martin, Achtymichuk and Dan Klippenstein shared in the 1973 and 1975 Saskatchewan men's championships and the 1973 Canadian men's curling title. The Reginabased foursome, skipped by Mazinke, finished second at the 1973 world championship, which was staged in Regina. Achtymichuk eventually turned to the stick for curling after undergoing hip replacement surgery.
"Before that, I had to give up sliding from the hack because when I was delivering the rock I had to get rid of it in a hurry because it hurt so much,'' said the 76-year old Achtymichuk. "Once the hip was in place, I was still worried about doing anything like sliding out. If I had, I think it would have taken three people to lift me off the ice at the end of my slide.''
Achtymichuk and Martin had heard about stick curling, but didn't get involved in the two-person competition until 2009 when a championship was held in Winnipeg. The two experienced immediate success.
"We hoped that we would win one game and darn it all if we didn't win it all,'' Achtymichuk said.
There are some differences between stick curling and the regular game. There are two-person teams and each member stays at their own end of the rink. There are six rocks per end and the players alternate delivering all six rocks. Players must deliver the rock with a stick and it has to be released before the stone reaches the hog line. There is a threerock free-guard zone and some limited sweeping is allowed, but not between the hoglines. The six-end games usually take an hour to complete.
"It's easy to get into the game because there are so few rule changes,'' said the 78-year-old Martin.
"It's really not any different than the other curling. Without stick curling, there would be a lot of people who wouldn't be curling. You know what it's like in the curling rinks. There are less people there all of the time.''
There aren't any age restrictions in two-person stick curling, though the competition tends to attract older participants than those in the regulation game. Sticks are only permitted in the masters divisions (60-and-over) in provincial competitions, but many players use them in club matches. Achtymichuk has noticed an increase in interest in stick curling, despite its use being banned until players reach the masters division.
"You really notice it among people with back, hip or knee problems,'' said Achtymichuk, who curls in Thursday's two-person stick league at the Highland. "Without the stick they wouldn't be curling. If I didn't have a stick, I know that I wouldn't be curling at all.''
A total of 48 men's, women's and mixed teams are taking part in this championship, which runs through Thursday. There are 24 teams from Saskatchewan, 13 from Manitoba, five from Alberta, four from Prince Edward Island and two from British Columbia.
Draws start each day at 8 a.m. The finals are slated for 6 p.m. on Thursday.
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