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I like sports....lots of sports...all sports!  Follow my blog as I talk about sports....if you like sports of course

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Curling's 1st Grand Slam of the Season: The Masters

Before I get to handicapping my picks for the opening Grand Slam of Curling event, a few notes from this past weekend's action in Gatineau:
  • Team McEwen won again, now going 4 for 4 so far this season.  I picked against them in the final, big mistake!  Can anyone stop this team?
  • While I failed in believing Mikey and crew would continue their dominance, I overestimated Team Edin. A disappointing result for the boys from Sweden.  Although I did receive a tweet and a few RT from Nik Edin himself so I'll call this a draw :)
  • Impressive result for Team Menard in the home province.  The Quebec boys have not been putting up amazing results so far this year but proved that when a team has home ice on their side, never count them out.  My failure as well for not paying attention to the fact Menard has won in Gatineau three previous times.
  • Team Carruthers gets back to their winning ways.  Disappointed I am sure to not be in Selkirk this weekend curling, Reid and the boys showed they should not be taken lightly this season.  A SF loss to McEwen is nothing to get down about, heck doesn't everyone have a loss to them anyways?  The question is whether the week off watching the Masters hurt or inspire this team.
  • What a season for Team Bowser!  Have you heard of this team?  Did you know Bowser is more than just a bad guy character who steals a Princess and has to fight the plumbing duo of Mario and Luigi?  Well if you didn't know them before, you should know them now!  This team has qualified in three of their four events this year, culminating in a season-best SF appearance this past weekend.  Could a dark horse team be emerging in Ontario?
Ok, as in sports, last weekend is over and is nothing but a distant memory now.  Time to refocus, hit the road to Selkirk, MB and get for the opening Grand Slam of Curling event: The Masters!  As a quick reminder on the format, the draw consists of the Top 15 teams (men and women).  Teams are placed into 3 pools of 5 with the top 8 OVERALL teams advancing to the playoffs.  In theory one pool could produce multiple teams qualifying while another pool may only see 1 or 2 teams qualify. 

Of possible interest, my preview of the ladies draw can be found HERE!

Let's see the tale of the tape of the guys on the ice....

MEN

Pool A

Team Brad Jacobs (WCT Rank: 1) - Crazy to think the Olympic champs are still looking for their first grand slam title.  The casual curling fan might already assume this team has at least one under their belts, given how successful they have been the past few seasons.  These boys are hungry for a grand slam title though.  They started the season very strong with a 1st, 3rd and 2nd place finish.  They stumbled a few weekends ago in Portage however, failing to qualify.  Was this a one-off event or is this the small opening for other teams to walk through and catch this team while they are down?  My guess is the first option.
Projection: 3-1

Team Kevin Koe (5) - This is a very stacked team, tons of experience.  Strong results to start the season with a win in Edmonton and a runner-up finish in Portage.  I can't imagine many teams want to see them come playoff time either.  I see Team Koe continuing their great start to the season with another successful weekend.
Projection: 3-1

Team Steve Laycock (12) - #TeamSask has already played 5 events this year, including a victory and runner-up finish, both in Edmonton.  Can Manitoba be as friendly to this team as the City of Champions has been?  Yet to win a grand slam, they do have a semi-final finish at the National last year.  Can this be the big break through?
Projection: 3-1

Team Nik Edin (8) - #TeamSweden stays in Canada for another week ready to hit the ice and hope for better results.  This is a new team, with Nik joining up with 3 of the 4 members of last year's world championship silver medalists.  I mention Laycock playing 5 events already, well Edin has been on the ice even more.  This will be the 8th event of the season for these guys.  It has been a mixed results season, with failing to qualify the past 2 events.  Last week, #TwineTime expected a resurgence for this team when I picked them to win in Gatineau.  I was wrong.  Can they prove me wrong again this week?  I must say though I do appreciate Nik Edin himself tweeting out my blog predictions.  Thanks Nik!!
Projection: 1-3

Team Jim Cotter (15) - Ah Team Cotter, former Team Johnny Mo, former Team Cotter.  How will this team cope with losing their interim skipper of last season John Morris?  Can they find the same success on tour as last year?  One win away from the Olympics.  One win away from a Brier championship.  Nobody can fault them for finding it hard to replicate that success this season, not many teams could.  They have only played 2 tour events this season.  They could be in trouble this weekend.
Projection: 0-4

Pool B

Team Mike McEwen (2) - Hot shot Team McEwen!  These guys can do no wrong this season.  4-0 in events entered.  They have dominated the tour.  Don't be fooled by that #2 ranking next to their name.  These boys are the best team in the world so far this year and the clear favorites to win their 4th career grand slam title.
Projection: 4-0

Team John Morris (6) - Welcome back to the ice Team Morris.  Ok well, mostly defending Team Canada (minus Kevin Koe) and new skip John Morris.  We have not seen this team yet this season.  What a way to come back to tour, starting at a grand slam.  Will the lack of competitive playing hurt them or will the rest prove to be to their advantage?  Time will tell quickly with their first game vs. de Cruz.
Projection:2-2

Team David Murdoch (9) - Another team who started the season with strong results but have faltered as of late.  They head into the grand slam having failed to qualify their past 2 events.  How will they stack up against a red hot McEwen squad, a untested Team Morris and the two Swiss teams?  The talent is obviously there, proven by the silver medal at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
Projection: 2-2

Team Peter de Cruz (11) - This team, skipped by Benoit Schwarz, won the bronze medal at last year's world championships over Team Canada (Team Koe).  They have the talent to run up and down the ice with any team in the world.  The results have not been there this year as many may have expected however.  A better turn out in Portage should give some confidence and they have been drawn into a pool where they could pick up some wins.  Enough to qualify though, tough to say.
Projection: 2-2

Team Sven Michel (13) - The other Swiss team in the field, in the same pool.  Michel won the European Championship in 2013 and big things have been expected of this team since that win.  Unfortunately a disappointing finish in Sochi and tough start to this season is beginning to downplay that European title.  Having failed to qualify in 4 of their past 5 events, with a bright spot runner-up finish in Basel, does not yield a lot of confidence heading into a field of this caliber.
Projection: 0-4

Pool C

Team Thomas Ulsrud (4) - The defending world champions, The Pants The Pants!  What is not to like about this team?  They have been a marketing darling for the sport for years now.  More people may watch this team just to see what pants they wear than for their actual curling ability.  Luckily, they also have the tremendous talent to support their (questionable) fashion decisions.  This is very tough pool for them but something tells me the pants are ready to go.
Projection: 3-1

Team Glenn Howard (7) - Howard, Hart, Mead and Savill.  Yikes!  The names alone could strike fear in an opponent.  This team has tons of experience.  Glenn has 6 (6!!) grand slam titles already, a record.  Glenn comes to play when the grand slam season gets going.  Never to be counted out.
Projection: 3-1

Team Jeff Stoughton (16) - A new team, same results.  Jeff and company have been curling outstanding this season.  They have qualified in 3 of their 4 events this season.  I am just not sure how the young front end will hold up on this grand of a competitive scale.  Although with a skipper like Jeff, one of only four curlers to complete the career grand slam, you can never count him and his team out.  His leadership alone can carry this team to a few wins.
Projection: 1-3

Team Brad Gushue (3) - The "Goo" has Mark Nichols back as his vice and the results have been positive.  They have qualified in all 4 of their tour events this season but have only 1 semi-final appearance.  The opening game vs. Stoughton will tell a lot about the potential for this team to qualify for the weekend.
Projection: 2-2 
Team John Epping (10) - Is it odd to say the 10th ranked team in the world, with 2 runner-up finishes this year already, is considered a huge underdog in this pool?  Not even in this event overall, but in this POOL!  That speaks volumes to the talent and experience in the "Pool of Death" as Mike McEwen called it.  Unfortunately the early season success seemed to vanish recently as this team has failed to qualify in their past 3 events.  I cannot see them turning things around this weekend, not against this field.
Projection: 0-4

Qualifiers: Team McEwen, Team Jacobs, Team Koe, Team Laycock, Team Ulsrud, Team Howard, Team Gushue, Team Morris

Men's Championship: Team McEwen over Team Koe - These two teams played each other in the final in Portage a few weeks back, with McEwen picking up the win.  As mentioned above, this team has been unstoppable.  They are playing in front of home province fans.  They have momentum.  They have confidence.  How can anyone bet against them?  I made that mistake last week and they made me look foolish.  I will not make that mistake this time.