When he came to Vancouver last week as leader of the U.S. four-man rink that would compete in the Scotch Cup matches for the world curling championship, Dr. Joseph B. Zbacnik had some positive ideas about a very difficult task. Last year in Perth, Scotland a U.S. rink skipped by Bud Somerville of Superior, Wis. had astounded stone-throwers everywhere by breaking a six-year Canadian monopoly and winning the U.S. its first world title, a victory that sparked a curling boom in the Midwest. Now it was up to Dr. Zbacnik and his reigning U.S. champion rink from Fargo, N. Dak. to defend what Somerville and his men had so audaciously won, and it soon became apparent in Vancouver that if audacity could do it the Americans were in again.
As the Canadians and their highly favored rink listened with wonder and awe, Dr. Zbacnik, a scowling, darkly handsome 28-year-old dentist, announced, "We will win this in eight straight games. This is not just a rink I have. It is a machine. We are unbeatable. No one else here has a chance." This was heady stuff, but the doctor said he had good reason to know he was right. Back in his dental clinic in Moorhead, Minn., which is just across the Red River of the North from Fargo, Dr. Joe has a $2,000 collection of taped discussions on the power of positive thinking. He and the other members of his rink, he said, had been listening to these as they went about their daily chores.
Dr. Joe's really positive thinking—"I have always been, well, sort of confident"—began in the fall of 1965. That was after he had talked Bruce Roberts, 23, Michael O'Leary, 23, and ex-Winnipegian Gerald Toutant, 33, into joining the business department of his dental clinic. All three of them were sound, experienced curlers.
"From the moment we got together we started thinking of nothing else but this very world championship," said the doctor. "We began daily training: a three-mile run before work, rigorous calisthenics and isometric exercises, daily ice drills and, of course, sessions on positive thinking. We would drive as much as 250 miles through snow for a night's competition. We became unbeatable. This year we won the U.S. title easily.
"There is absolutely no doubt now that we will win the world championship. We are a perfect team. I am personally convinced that my rink will dominate curling for the next 10 to 15 years."
The Canadian team, as well as the champion rinks of Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, France and Scotland, said nothing, perhaps being too stunned to retort. But the public reaction was volatile, and by the time the first rock of the round-robin play was ready to be thrown on Monday night in the Vancouver Forum, Dr. Joe had been elected Public Unfavorite No. 1.
Alas for the visiting dentist, tough talking was not enough. The eight-game win streak he had predicted was snapped before it began when a lightly rated Scottish rink made up of four Perthshire farmers neatly axed the North Dakotans 8-7.
This upset delighted the unsympathetic crowd of 4,000, which took pains to remind Dr. Joe of his positive thinking, isometrics, etc., and enthusiastically applauded bad U.S. shots. Unhappily, many of these were provided by the U.S. skip himself, who already was embarked on a miserable personal tournament performance. Did the hostile crowd bother him, the doctor was asked after the loss to Scotland. "Not a bit," he said. "I expect it. It's what I want. It makes us the aggressor."
The opening defeat was neither the end of U.S. chances nor by any means the end of Dr. Joe, who told reporters afterward, "The Scots have nothing. They couldn't beat us again in a million years. They don't belong on the same ice with us."
During the next two days the stylish Canadian rink from Calgary, Alta., led by Ron Northcott, scored decisive wins over France, Scotland, Norway and Sweden. The U.S. fought back to defeat France, Switzerland, Sweden and Norway, and the stage was set for the first meeting of Canada and the U.S.