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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, 9 December 2014

Red Rings + Red Pants = Another McEwen Win?
15 team come to Yorkton trying to stop the McEwen frieght train

The Grand Slam of Curling will be making their 3rd stop of the season in Yorkton, Saskatchewan this week.  With the action starting tonight (on a Tuesday!!) and finishing with crowning another grand slam champion on Sunday, we are sure to be in for a full week of great curling action.

As noted in my preview of the women's field (found HERE), this format is a bit different than the other grand slams.  Having a triple knockout rather than a round robin places a bit more intensity in every game.  As well, with a round robin, you know who you are playing and when once the draw is released.  You can scout your competition a bit.  In a triple knockout, you know who you play first and can speculate a bit on who you play second but really every game after the first is a toss up.  Who you play depends on all the other games.  You cannot really look ahead.

The 2014 Canadian Open of Curling will be the 14th edition of this event.  When you see that number you would think the event began in 2000 and was held annually.  Oddly enough, you would be incorrect.  The Canadian Open began in 2001 and was not held in 2004 or 2008.  So how are we getting ready to kick-off the 14th event?  Well, in 2007 and 2011 the event was held in January and December of the same year.  The event kind of served as a bookend to the curling calendar year in a way.  Even more strange, when the event was held twice in the same year, both times the event had the same winner.  In 2007, the Kevin Martin team won both events.  In 2011, team Mike McEwen pulled the double.

In preparation of the National, I noted the previous winners were dominated by the West (namely Alberta for the most part).  The Canadian Open is no different.  Alberta teams have won 6 of the past 13, with Kevin Martin staking claim to 5 of those championship wins.  Manitoba and Ontario have 3 titles each with Saskatchewan having 1 (2003).  The defending champion is Kevin Koe, but with the team he had last year so a new TEAM will be crowned champion this year.  The win at this event sure seemed to be a boost to the Koe team though, look where their season ended (Brier Champions).  Who could walk away with the title this year and will they have a similar success story to Team Koe last year?  Small note worth making here, this is also the first time this event has been held in the province of Saskatchewan.  

Let's get to the men's preview....

The Favorites

Team Mike McEwen (1 Order of Merit / 1 YTD ranking) - I am not sure what can be left to say about this team.  7 events this year.  6 wins.  1 runner-up.  1 grand slam title already.  They are the hottest team on the planet right now.  The rings for this event are red.  They wear red pants for championship weekend games.  Should we just assume now the other 15 teams are playing for the prestige of playing in a grand slam final on Sunday and taking home the runner-up prize? 

Team Niklas Edin (7/5) - The Swedish team could almost be mistaken for wanting to be from Switzerland given how successful they have been on Swiss ice this season.  They may want to just adopt Switzerland as a second home.  The newly crowned European Champions found success on the Swiss ice a few weeks ago.  They not only won...but won convincingly!  From the opening draw it seemed like this team was destined to win the entire championship.  Let's also make note of two 3rd place finishes this year in Basel and Baden.  Their results on Canadian ice have been a bit unpredictable.  Playoff qualifications at Stu Sells Oakville and the Point Optical in Saskatoon are promising but missed qualification results at the opening grand slam (Masters) and Shorty Jenkins were disappointing.  Those results seem like the distant past though now and this team is coming in red-hot....perhaps ready to challenge McEwen even?

Watch Our For

Team Glenn Howard (5/6) - Glenn has won this event twice in the past (2009, 2012).  Longtime lead Craig Savill was part of both of those winning teams and best bud, current vice Richard Hart was a member of the 2009 championship.  With McEwen's hot start and Jacobs Olympic success still dominating the media, Team Howard has been quietly putting together a very good season.  Sure they missed out on a qualification spot at the Masters, but they looked strong at the National (minus the QF shocking loss to Heater).  Qualifying in 5 of 6 events and making the semi-finals in 4 of 6 events (including last weekend's Canada Cup) makes this team a strong threat to be playing over the weekend.

Team Brad Jacobs (2/2) - Could this team be hitting the Olympic hangover period now?  Back to back championship game losses to Team McEwen (National, Canada Cup) has to start eating a way a bit on the confidence.  Their 1 tour win this year was back in September and is becoming a faded memory behind the recent losses.  However, let's remember who this is.  These are the Olympic champs.  And they are making these finals still.  They are curling at a level higher than most of the teams in the world right now.  It is still hard to believe this team does not have a grand slam title yet.  The knockout format might be advantageous for these guys to pick up that elusive slam title.

The Dark Horse

Team Steve Laycock (10/10) - Similar to my women's preview, we cannot discuss an event in Saskatchewan without mentioning a home province team.  Team Laycock will have strong fan support with skip Steve Laycock being from the surrounding area.  With teams like McEwen, Jacobs and Howard playing so well, it is sometimes overlooked that this team has qualified for the playoffs in both grand slam events this season.  They also have a tour win (Weatherford Curling Classic in Estevan, SK) and a few runner-up finishes on the year (Direct Horizontal Drilling and HDF Insurance Shoot-Out, both in Edmonton).  If they can ride the green wave of support in the crowd, they could pull the upset and take home this title.

Team Reid Carruthers (14/8) - The Rama Train seems to be on the right track now.  I questioned this team heading into the last grand slam, The National, and boy did Reid prove me wrong.  They went undefeated in the round robin, including playing their opening two games with a spare in place of regular vice Braeden Moskowy.  A tough quarterfinal draw vs Jacobs ended their National hopes but still a very solid event for the Winnipeg team.  They were not blessed by the draw gods in this event unfortunately.  Koe to open, Morris/Stoughton and possibly Jacobs just on the A side.  Slip up in the A and they could find themselves facing off against Howard/Edin/McEwen in the B.  The top half of the draw is a bit more staked in resume successes in comparison.  However, the Rama Train has shown rankings mean little once you hit the ice.  Can they build on the success at the National and get out to the hot start again in their second grand slam?  Will we see the Rama Train or the Rama Roller Coaster this week? 

Qualifiers: Team Jacobs, Team McEwen, Team Howard, Team Laycock, Team Edin, Team Stoughton, Team Epping, Team Koe

CHAMPIONSHIP: Team Niklas Edin over Team Mike McEwen - Going with a bit of an upset here.  I think a bit of fatigue will set in for Mikey and the boys.  Can the winning streak really just keep going?  With the recent success for the Swedish boys, the confidence (plus the bit of a break) plays as a huge advantage.  The Edin team has struggled a bit on Canadian ice but this is the perfect event to turn that around.  If they can avoid taking the long road to qualification and nab an A or B spot, they could very well be playing on Sunday.  Plus, for those who love colors, a red vs blue pants match-up would be entertaining.  Wouldn't this be an excellent preview towards a potential 2015 World Championship final even?  Oh the possibilities when you start to look too far ahead.....  

SIDENOTE:  I made mention of this in my women's blog preview but I also want to mention it here.  A huge thank you to the men's teams around the world who have been very supportive of my blog.  The positive comments, RT and Fav's from players (Mike McEwen, Nik Edin, Reid Carruthers, Team Jacobs, Team Laycock, Team Blandford, Team Epping and more) really means alot.  I started this blog just because I am a huge fan of sports, curling being one of them.  I thought sharing a pure fan perspective would be interesting and the feedback from the actual athletes on the ice has been amazing!  Give the teams a follow on twitter, it is worth it.  The engagement with fans and their fellow competitors really shows the unique comradery of the sport.