Wednesday, 31 December 2014
Rocks Will Reign Down in Blaine
U.S. Open of Curling Kicks off 2015
After a lengthy time away from my laptop to refresh and celebrate the Christmas holidays with family and friends, #TwineTime is back baby! I have cleared the dust off the computer, did some finger exercises and am ready to ring in 2015. Some of the top curling teams in North America (including one team from China) will be heading down to Blaine, MN for the inaugural U.S. Open of Curling. In fact, when you look at the teams entered, there is more diversity in where teams are from than most events on tour. We have teams from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, P.E.I., Minnesota, Washington, Pennsylvania and China. Talk about an eclectic field of hometowns!
This is an excellent opportunity to continue growing the sport to our friends south of the border. Now there are world curling tour events in the U.S. during the season, but this event has a stellar field, especially given the time frame and being a new event to the tour. Huge kudos to the organizers of this event as one game per draw will be webstreamed throughout the event. For those interested, here is the link We have not seen this done very often on tour but this is the future of the sport. A few teams webstream their games at events (Looking at you Laycock and Dunstone to name a few). This is great for teams to maximize their exposure, great for fans to follow their favorite players/teams and great for team sponsors. Everyone can win here.
For many of these teams, this will be their final event before provincial/territorial playdowns get under way. Minus practices, this is a chance to get in as much high-level competitive games as possible for preparation. Nobody wants to enter the playdown part of the season on a low. This is when top teams step up. Anyways, on to the field preview....
Team Reid Carruthers (13 Order of Merit, 8 YTD) - I have been a bit critical of this team this season, namely referring to them as the Rama Rollercoaster. I think the stats support my critique with 9 events played and 4 missed qualification results. However, when these guys are on, they are a threat to win. Back-to-back qualifications at Grand Slam events (National, Canadian Open) plus the win early in the season at StuSells Toronto show this team can beat anyone. They excel in a round robin format it seems as well. They have an interesting group where they get the old skipper in Jeff Stoughton, but other than that they cannot complain about their draw. They should have no problem making the playoffs, it's just to see if they can find playoff mode when the pressure is on. Skip Reid Carruthers was welcomed into the 3-0 club this week as well. What a birthday gift: celebrate New Year's in MN and perhaps kick off 2015 with a big event win?
Team Steve Laycock (9,9) - Looking for a team with momentum and consistency this season? Just give the year results of the boys of Saskatchewan a view: 9 events played, 7 qualifications, 1 tournament win, a grand slam finalist appearance. This team is having a terrific season. Home town favorites Team McCormick look to be their only tough game in the round robin so expect to see them in the playoffs. If these guys continue to ride the momentum they built in Yorkton at the Canadian Open, watch out! #TeamOranje could look very golden by the end of this event.
Watch Out For
Team Heath McCormick (24,21) - This is the premier team in the U.S.A. right now. They will have heavy fan support as well since Blaine, MN is listed as their home location. It would be a huge plus for USA Curling to see these guys perform well at this event. It would be an even bigger story if they can pull out the win. Minus Laycock in their pool, they should have a clear path to the playoffs. Once there, anything can happen (just ask Glenn Howard). They enter with momentum as well having their semi-final appearance at the National grand slam and winning their recent event in Duluth (where they were considered hometown favorites again with vice Chris Plys calling Duluth home). These guys are putting USA Curling back on the map....this is the perfect time to make a statement!
Team John Epping (10,5) - I am sure the Christmas break could not come soon enough for this team. They have been curling a lot this season and probably welcomed a break. They have played in 11 events, qualifying in 6 and picking up a win already this year. But the hot start at the beginning of the year has fizzled down quite a bit. Failing to qualify in back-to-back grand slam events (The National, Canadian Open) are a bit concerning. These guys could use a big result here as they enter the playdowns. They were certainly blessed with the draw as they will be favored in each game they play for the round robin. If they can navigate themselves into the playoffs, we could see the Epping team from early in the season back on the ice.
The Dark Horse
Team Korey Dropkin (92,87) - Oh you haven't heard of these guys? Well you will....and soon. Dropkin has two USA Jr Championships to his credit (2012, 2013). He represented the USA at the 2012 Winter Youth Olympics and the 2013 Winter Universiade (playing with Chris Plys). This kid has the international experience to become the next big name for USA Curling. 2014 has already been a successful season as this team picked up their 1st tour event win early in the season at the Twin Cities Open. Interestingly enough, they also claim Blaine, MN as their hometown. They will have lots of family and friends in the stands supporting them. We have seen how teams excel when they have the crowd support (Jacobs, Laycock, McEwen, McCormick). If they can keep the emotions in check, they could knock off many of the teams ranked above them. They are in the same pool as Epping (and Adam Casey). They will have to pull some upsets to qualify but who doesn't enjoy cheering on a dark horse?
Qualifiers: Team Laycock, Team McCormick, Team Shuster, Team Epping, Team Casey, Team Dropkin, Team Carruthers, Team Stoughton
Championship: Team Steve Laycock over Team Heath McCormick - This is a tough call as I think there are 4 top teams who could easily win (Laycock, McCormick, Carruthers, Epping). But Laycock and McCormick have great momentum heading into this event. Plus, who doesn't want to see a Canada-USA championship matchup for an inaugural US Open of Curling event?
HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!!
Thank you for your support of this blog in 2014. Looking forward to more in 2015