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Thursday, 15 January 2015

It's Scotties Season...But No Time to get Soft
Top Ladies Curling Team vie for Provincial Championships

The next few weeks are going to test the best ladies curling teams in the country.  The copious amounts of hours in the gym, the early morning practices, the long hours on the ice in competitions and the family sacrifices will all be worth it for a few select teams come Sunday.  While the men are still qualifying for provincial championship qualification, many of the best women's teams are competing for the big prize: Provincial Championship Glory!

The best way to stay up to date with all the breaking news, scores and draws is to follow along with the action at www.curlingzone.com  But with all the action on the ice, you may need a quick preview of what to look for.  Again, this is where #TwineTime serves as the perfect guard for your game winning stone.

If you are in or around Thunder Bay, ON or Victoriaville, QC or St. John's, NL, I would recommend you head down to the club hosting these events and enjoy the action live.

Settle in hack, take a few deep breaths, soak in the moment and slide out...here comes your preview:

Sidenote: Check out my preview of the men's playdown action HERE

NORTHERN ONTARIO

Welcome to the big show N. Ont!  For the first time in the history of the Scotties (and all the previous version of the event name) a team from Northern Ontario will have its own spot in the championship.  In previous years, teams from N. Ont would qualify to compete in the Ontario Scotties but due to the expansion of teams from up North (we will get to this in more detail below), Northern Ontario will have it's own representative to cheer for, similar to the men.  The men have produced champion teams like Al Hackner and Brad Jacobs, time to see if the women can do the same.

For the inaugural event, I will admit I was a bit disappointed to only see 5 teams compete in the championship.  There have been talks and rumors on adding a N. Ont team to the Scotties for years; however, if you cannot host a strong competitive provincial field, odds are slim on the national side.  But let's not take away from these five teams. 

The early front runner has to be Team Tracey Horgan.  Skip Tracey Horgan has been to three Canadian Junior Championships and was the 2012 Ontario Scotties Champion.  This season the team found some success on tour with some huge results, including beating Team Jennifer Jones in the Dekalb Superspiel final at the end of November.  

The question is can anyone challenge them?  I think the only team who could perhaps pose a challenge would be Team Kendra Lilly.  They are a young team with not a ton of experience on tour but up and coming younger teams can also be the dark horse to win it all (just ask Kelly Scott at last year's BC Scotties). 

N. Ont Champion:  Team Horgan over Team Lilly

QUEBEC

Similar to the men in Quebec, the women will be hitting the ice crowning their Scotties representative.  Regular powerhouse Marie-France Larouche has stepped away from the competitive game to enjoy motherhood but I think many fans wish she would come back.  She has been the only real spark for the people of Quebec to support over the past few years in women's curling.

There are six teams qualified to compete this week.  The teams will play a round robin format with each team playing one another twice.  The top team will receive a bye to the championship final while the 2nd and 3rd place teams will battle in a semi-final.

With Larouche cleaning up the messes of a toddler, the door is open to see which of the six teams in Victoriaville can clean house themselves.  This is a tough one to call in all honesty.  Two-time defending champ Allison Ross is not in the field this year so it is wide open and a perfect opportunity for an up and coming team to make their mark.  When doing some research on the teams, I found it quite clear this should (SHOULD but probably won't) be a two-team race between Team Lauren Mann and Team Kimberly Mastine.  Mastine finished 3rd two year ago and was a runner-up last year.  With arch rival Ross swept away to the sidelines, Mastine has to feel this is her best chance to snag the blue jacket.  Mann, on the other hand, is pulling a page from Ross.  She came over to Quebec after years of disappointment in Ontario.  She has found success with her new team this year as well, including a tour title at the Carleton Heights event in Ottawa and a runner-up finish at the Shorty Jenkins Classic.  They have been the most consistent team from Quebec this year and are the favorites.

Quebec Champion:   Team Mann over Team Mastine

NEWFOUNDLAND and LABRADOR

Ah the rock....and only one team can be as STRONG as a rock while playing on the rock.  Get it?  Of course I am trying to be witty in reference to perennial powerhouse Heather Strong.  Strong has 11 (11!!) provincial titles to her name.  Come on, that is impressive!  Strong is going for title number 12 this week in hometown St. John's.  Hard to really imagine anyone knocking her off.

The field consists of 5 teams playing a round robin format with each team playing one another once.  The top two teams will advance to the winner take all championship final.

So we know how strong Strong is.  Can anyone else really step up and present a challenge?  The only challengers Strong has faced over the years are Shelley Nichols and Stacie Devereaux.  Nichols won't be competing in St. John's but Stacie will.  You may not recognize her right away though as she is now Stacey Curtis.  Strong and Curtis (nee Devereaux) have battled back and forth over the past 4 years for this championship, each picking up two wins.  Curtis is really the only team I can see presenting any challenge to us seeing Strong back at the Scotties.  They seem to alternate with Strong winning even years and Curtis picking up the odds.  This is 2015.  Can the trend continue?

Newfoundland & Labrador Champion:  Team Strong over Team Curtis

YUKON

Similar to Northern Ontario, Yukon will field their own representative in Moose Jaw this year.  And what a representative they will have.  The rookie darling skip of last year's Scotties Sarah Koltun will return.  Koltun's debut last year may seem disappointing as she finished in last place with a 2-9 record but she was quite competitive in her games and not afraid to keep rocks in play.  The problem she faces was perhaps some inexperience as complex ends would get the best of her and leave her with almost impossible circus shots to save an end or give up the big steal.  If she can learn from last year's experience, she could find herself as a dark horse to surprise some of the favorites this year....assuming she makes it out of the first-ever pre-qualifying tournament where she will come face to face with familiar competition.

NORTHWEST TERRITORIES

Back at it again, one of the most popular teams across the country, Moose Jaw will be excited to welcome Team Kerry Galusha.  Absent from last year's event due to losing the NWT/YK final to Koltun, the addition of a NWT team means curling fans will have the opportunity to cheer on their favorite polar sisters every year (presumably right now anyways).  This will be Galusha's 12th appearance at the Scotties.  Similar to Koltun though, to make the field she will have to win the pre-qualifying tournament.  She could be in tough there though facing northern rival Koltun, potential N. Ont rep Horgan and the team representing Nunavut (also a first!).

Alright curling fans, grab your rocks (keep your minds out of the gutter here friends) and get ready to see some outstanding action this weekend.  Best of luck to those competing.  Come back next week as #TwineTime will offer up previews of the remaining provincial/territorial playdowns.