What happens when hockey players try curling?
Almost every American who has ever been exposed to curling has heard the comment from someone.
“Oh, that doesn’t look too hard. Just give me a few weeks and I can be in the Olympics as a curler!”
During the recently held U.S. Olympic Curling Trials in Fargo, N.D., a top-level junior hockey team in the United States Hockey League called the Fargo Force learned that curling is far more difficult than it can sometimes look when they were invited to try to play the sport while the U.S.’s top curlers were competing for Olympic spots in their home arena.
“My first step on the ice wearing those sliding shoes that they wear, I almost had a wipeout,” said Josh Elmes, a 20-year-old Force defenseman who at 6-foot-3 and over 200 pounds is normally as sturdy as they come on the ice.
“You wore the one shoe where you could slide whichever way away from your other shoe. There were about three guys that fell right on their backs. I expected that it was going to be a lot easier.”
Embedded owg_slideshow: What happens when hockey players become curlers?
While Elmes’ reference more referred to expecting balancing on the ice in curling shoes to be easier for him than it ended up being, his comment didn’t even begin to address the issues that many of the hockey players had with curling’s nuances even after finding their footing.
“My first shot, I thought I had to give it (the curling stone) a BIG push,” added Elmes. “But I pushed it way too hard and it just flew down the ice (way past the target).”
“Some only went halfway down,” added Force team captain Neal Goff. “Some went right down through the target area. It’s really tough.
“It was so hard, the stance and everything,” added Goff. “Anybody that says they can pick the sport up just like that, I don’t think those people know what they are talking about.”
After the Force players (somewhat) got the hang of balancing on the ice in curling shoes rather than in hockey skates, and had special teachers provide them basic instructions of how to maneuver the curling stone down the ice, the hockey players did what you’d expect them to do: They divided themselves up into teams, Canadians against Americans, and got competitive.
“My first throw, I was yelling pretty loud,” said Elmes, a Canadian-born native of Brandon, Manitoba who remembers his grandmother watching—and recording—curling on TV every day growing up.
“There were always a few guys just yelling ‘SWEEP’. Everybody got a good kick out of it.”
Besides getting “a kick” out of his first venture into the world of (somewhat) competitive curling, Elmes also admitted to getting another sensation when taking his first crack at a new sport.
“If you’re a sweeper,” sighed Elmes. “The first time I swept in front of a rock, I was dead by the end when we got down to the circles there.
“You’re giving it all you got for about 10 seconds straight, so it’s definitely very tiring.”
Besides instilling a new respect for Olympic curlers, a memorable team-building event and bragging rights for the (victorious) Canadian-born members of the Force, their first few hours on the curling sheet also did something else for the hockey players.
“We actually have a new curling club here in Fargo, so I think we’re going to go back out for Round 2 here pretty soon,” says Goff, a Minnesota native who played for the losing American side.
“I think our team will take a big interest in curling now,” added Elmes. “I know I’ll definitely be giving it a watch in the Olympics.”