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Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Canada Cup Brings High Caliber with High Stakes
The drive for PyeongChang 2018 starts this weekend

All eyes in the curling world really will be fixated on Camrose, Alberta starting Wednesday.  The 2014 Home Hardware Canada Cup of Curling will kick off on Wednesday and crown a men's and women's champion on Sunday.  To say there is a lot on the line for the 14 teams (7 men, 7 women) competing would be a bit of an understatement.  Just how high are the stakes this weekend, take a look at what is awaiting for the two champions:

  • Compete for Team Canada at the 2015 Continental Cup in January in Calgary
  • Awarded first 2 spots in the 2017 Road to the Road Pre-Trials event (an opening step towards trying to become Team Canada for the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics)
  • Entry to the 2015 Home Hardware Canada 
  • Taking home some cash ($140,000 purse with $14,000 to the winners)
I would say those are strong motivating factors to want to have one of the best week's of your curling season. An additional bonus will be the confidence heading into the grueling part of the curling season: provincial playdowns!  

So who will be in Camrose, who are the favorites, who should we watch out for and who could play the role of spoiler to the top teams?  Let's take a look at the men's and women's draw:

MEN

This event has been DOMINATED by Alberta teams in the past with Kevin Martin being the only 4-time winner and Randy Ferbey being a three-time champ.  Kevin Koe also has a victory under his belt.  Jeff Stoughton and Glenn Howard are the only other former champions.  Can either of the two Alberta teams playing this year continue the domination for the Wild Rose province or is it time to see another province take over (perhaps a Buffalo)?

The Favorites

Team Mike McEwen (1 Order of Merit, 1 YTD) - Well no surprise here. Team McEwen has been on fire all season.  With the defeat of home town hero's and Olympic Champions Team Jacobs in the final at The National, Mike and the boys took over the number 1 ranking in the world.  They have 5 wins from 6 events this season.  To say these guys are hungry for a Brier berth would be underselling them.  They looked primed for a World Championship!  They certainly are playing like it #freighttrain

Team Brad Jacobs (2, 2) - Have to be considered a co-favorite heading into this event.  Sure they were not successful on the home ice at The National but there was still many positives to take away.  They started the event off slow, perhaps due to the overwhelming pressure playing at home weighing on them.  Once they moved into a hotel and found their routine again, they looked unstoppable.  They just ran into a brick wall known as McEwen, as many others have this season.  When the pressure is on though, these boys come to play.  Could they also find extra motivation in wanting to get back that #1 ranking?

Watch Out For

Team John Morris (7, 30) - Team Morris, or Team Canada as we should be calling them, have played a very light schedule so far and I still don't think we have seen anywhere close to the competitive level we can expect from them.  They have only played the two Grand Slam events, losing in a tie-breaker at The Masters and a 5th place finish at The National.  This team is still finding its groove and taking time to get to know one another.  They already know they will be playing at The Brier (in front of home town fans in Calgary) so there is no additional stress of playdowns.  They can take their time and put the puzzle pieces together in due time.  One has to think it is not a matter of if they can make it work but when.  Camrose seems like as legit of a time as any.

The Dark Horse

Team Jim Cotter (16, 95) - No surprise on who is the dark horse this week.  Some may be wondering why they are here over some other very high profile teams, like defending champ Jeff Stoughton or Reid Carruthers or John Epping or Steve Laycock.  One has to remember this team is coming off a VERY competitive and successful season, finishing runner-up in both the Roar of the Rings and The Brier.  Now, fair enough, that was with John Morris as skip and this team has struggled to regain that winning formula since his departure.  I cannot see them putting up much of a fight in this field either unfortunately. 

Projected Standings

1. Jacobs 5 - 1
2. McEwen 5 - 1
3. Howard 4 - 2
4. Morris 3 - 3
5. Koe 2 - 4
6. Gushue 2 - 4
7. Cotter 0 - 7

CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL:  Team Mike McEwen over Team Brad Jacobs - Rematch of The National final, the 2 best teams on the planet, everything on the line....same result.  Until Team McEwen is knocked off, it is very hard to bet against the boys of Manitoba!

WOMEN

The Canada Cup of Curling may as well be considered the Western Canada Cup of Curling.  We see the stranglehold for Alberta with the men, the women's past champions may not see as strong of one provincial domination but more one region.  The Western provinces have seen 8 of the 10 champions with Saskatchewan (Stef Lawton, 4), Alberta (Shannon Kleibrink, 2 and Cathy King, 1) and Manitoba (Jennifer Jones, 2).  Ontario (Sherry Middaugh) and Nova Scotia (Colleen Jones) also have one champion a piece.  With 4 Western teams battling 3 Ontario teams, it really is a battle of West vs East.

The Favorites

Team Jennifer Jones (1, 1) - Can we just put "See Team McEwen" here?  Ok, they have not been as dominant on tour this year as Mike, but they are the defending Olympic Champions, they are the top ranked team in the world and they have two event wins this season already.  I would say those stack the odds in their favor.  Considering the resume of this team, every event they enter from now until they stop curling together, they will be considered a favorite! One has to wonder, do Dawn and Mike have a side bet going on who can have the more successful season?  Imagine being the brother/sister to either one of these two?  "Yeah, work is going good, well on a way to a promotion in a few years perhaps.  How are things with you?" "Oh you know, another parade to honor my Olympic Gold medal, Mike won another grand slam event. But I think we need to renovate our living room.  The mantle above the fire has no room for all these trophies and medals.  It is causing quite the issue" "Oh...well....that's good"  :(

Team Rachel Homan (3, 7) - What a competitive curling world we live in here in Canada when the two-time defending Scotties Champions are listed as a second favorite for an event.  Have to wonder if Team Homan is ready to escape the shadow of greatness from Team Jones and argue for their full spot in the sun.  One has to imagine that until Homan continuously defeats Jones and overthrows her, perhaps Game of Thrones style, this team will always be considered co-favorite at best.  No victories on tour this year have been a bit surprising.  Could this be the big event they need to really shake up the women's rankings in Canada and propel themselves to the top of the list?

Watch Out For

Team Val Sweeting (6, 6) - Quite the little season so far for Team Sweeting.  A runner-up finish to Homan at the Scotties to end last season, lose a player to Team Homan in the off-season, pick up a high caliber skip from New Brunswick only to lose her on the eve of the first grand slam of the year, only to then rebound with a super-sub and win the entire event!  Could this season be scripted any more like a Hollywood movie?  This will be the first major event for the new, new line-up, with vice Lori Olsen-Johns on board.  All eyes are still on this team and there is big expectations of them here but also in Alberta.  They are being dubbed the team to take down Jones and Homan.  How will they handle the pressure?

Dark Horse

Team Sherry Middaugh (9, 5) - Ok for the men's preview above, my dark horse mention was a team many would not expect to challenge for the championship.  For the women however, my dark horse mention is a team that could very well find themselves in the playoffs on the weekend and competing for the win.  Remember, this is the same team who were one win away from going to the Olympics.  They have qualified in all 7 events they have entered this season, including 2 tour victories and 3 runner-up finishes.  This team may not be the media darlings or fan favorites, but I think flying a bit under the radar works best for them.  Sherry Middaugh is a seasoned vet when it comes to big events, having played in almost all of them.  She knows how to step up the game when she needs to.

Projected Standings

1. Homan 5 - 1
2. Jones 5 - 1
T3. Sweeting 4 - 2
T3. Middaugh 4 - 2
5. Anderson 2 - 4
6. Nedohin 1 - 5
7. Flaxey 0 - 7

CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL:  Team Homan over Team Sweeting - With no disrespect towards the Olympic Champs and Canada's favorite female team, this is the battle everyone wants to see in a championship final.  Former teammates battle.  The Scotties rematch.  The potential future champs vs the current champs.  This match-up has all the makings of a prized championship fight, similar to what we will see on the men's side.  Unfortunately for Team Sweeting, it may be a case of deja vu watching Team Homan walk down the ice arms raised as victors once again.  Although, I must admit, the last time I had doubt in the success of Team Sweeting at a big event, The Masters, they ended up proving me wrong and winning the entire thing.  Either way, this would be a final not to be missed.

There you have it.  Both championship finals showing a battle of West vs East.  I think at the end of it all, we will see each regional group welcome home a champion.  Follow along on twitter (Canadian Curling Association) and join the discussion at #CanCup.  Most importantly, enjoy the action.  For those who attend, take some pics and share, make those of us unable to attend even more jealous!

Sidenote:  Special shout-out this weekend to my brother who will be turning 30!  I will be flying back home to spend the weekend with him and will miss most of the curling action.  Family first though, and he is one of, if not the, most important person in my life!  HAPPY BIRTHDAY NICK!!