The 2015 Scotties Tournament of Hearts is closing in on playoff weekend. There are only 4 draws remaining (3 on Thursday and 1 on Friday morning). Teams are jockeying for a playoff position and need to bring out their A game if they want to play past Friday morning (or Thursday for some). The playoff spots are not the only thing teams should be watching out for. With the new pre-qualification event added this year, teams also need to ensure they escape the bottom of the standings and send their province/territory into the dreaded pre-qualification next year.
After 13 draws, some amazing shots, some less than entertaining games and overall great curling action, it is time to reflect on the half-way point of the event. I have never had an inclination to be a teacher but, in a #TwineTime first, here are some Mid-Scotties grades based on the action we have witnessed so far....
The Big 3 - Heading into this event, the favorites dominated the conversation. 2-time defending champions Team Canada (Homan), 4-time Scotties Champ and 2014 Olympic Gold Medalist Team Manitoba (Jones) and last year's finalist Team Alberta (Sweeting) were expected to roll through the field. So far, I would call it a huge success. The plus/minus stats sure support this claim. They are the top teams in points for and points against. They are all scoring multiple points while limiting giving up the big ends to their opponents. They are a combines 21-3 right now. Of course, with them having to play one another (Jones already beat Homan) there will be at least 3 losses. Nova Scotia ran over the juggernaut teams of Jones and Homan on Wednesday to add to those losses. Alberta leads the pack with an 8-0 record but still has to play both Homan and Jones. These teams have been the class of the field. They lead the field in team percentages and are topping the player percentage categories at all positions. There is no reason to expect them not to be the final 3 standing by Saturday. Worth noting, the only perfect game curled so far this week was by Dawn McEwen vs BC.
Northern Ontario - How can you give this team anything short of an A grade so far? They had to compete in the pre-qualification event just to make the field. They rolled through the Northwest Territories (Galusha) and Yukon (Koltun) to make the qualification game during the opening draw last Saturday. In an emotional game, playing beside their future competitors who were playing their opening games, Team Horgan beat Team NWT to become the 1st team from Northern Ontario to play in the Scotties repping the Green and Gold. Their reward? Amazing scheduling! They were back on the ice for draws 2, 4 and 5. By the end of opening weekend, they had already played 6 games in 4 days. Here they are entering Thursday action in a tie for the final playoff spot at 5-3 after a HUGE win over hometown Team Saskatchewan (Lawton) Wednesday night. Regardless of how the rest of the week shapes up (games remain vs Ontario, Manitoba, Canada), this will be considered a huge success. #FearTheMoose is alive and well at the Scotties!
The Home Province - Team Saskatchewan (Lawton) has not been disappointing but has not been overwhelming. They are not wowing the crowd but are still pulling out the wins. The tough loss last night to Northern Ontario was a heartbreaker for Lawton and company as it puts their playoff hopes on the brink. They have already underperformed in their losses to Canada and Manitoba. Sitting at 5-3 with games remaining vs. New Brunswick, Alberta and PEI leave no room for error. Overall, the player/team percentage numbers are strong. Some interesting play calls and tough breaks led to those 3 losses. Giving up the least amount of points (34) so far in the field shows the defensive game of Lawton and company is still strong. The unfortunate side is the struggle scoring multiple points in games. They have only put up 42 points (9th overall) and if you want to win, you have to score. I still expect #TeamGreen to be in the playoffs but they are going to have to elevate that game against the Big 3 to stand a chance at taking home Saskatchewan's first title since Amber Holland (2011). The question is can defense win you a championship in curling, in this day and age?
The Dark Horse - Julie Hasting's Team Ontario entered the Scotties as a dark horse team to make the playoffs. So far, they still have a shot. They enter today's play at 4-4. To really solidify a playoff spot, they should aim to finish 3-0 (vs. Northern Ontario, PEI, New Brunswick). The schedule is doable. They have beaten the teams they should and lost to the 4 favorites (Canada, Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan). I would say, besides Nova Scotia, they have played all 4 of the favorites the closest. This team also came loaded with a few pairs of the #StealPants. They lead the field in stolen ends with 15. The next closest is Manitoba with 12. The schedule is there, they have received the help they needed, the question is can the capitalize and get into the playoffs now? Don't be surprised....#TwineTime told you in the preview to watch out for this team.
The Maritimes - When the field was announced for this year's Scotties, many expected to see the Maritime teams struggle and at the bottom of the standings. When Heather Strong started the Scotties becoming only the 2nd player to win back-to-back Ford Hot Shots, maybe this would be the good luck needed. PEI (Gaudet) is still in the playoff hunt at 4-4. Their schedule is daunting however (vs. Manitoba, Ontario, Sask). I will be the first to admit I did not give this team enough credit heading into the event. They have been a pleasant surprise. I have enjoyed watching Birt get back to the winning ways at the Scotties. Nova Scotia (Arsenault) is sitting at 4-5 and probably eliminated but did pick up the 2 biggest upset wins of the week so far, beating Manitoba and Canada back-to-back yesterday. They also came oh so close to knocking off Sask the night before. Tough losses to Northern Ontario and PEI hurt their playoff chances though. Strong and Team Newfoundland & Labrador started STRONG (hahaha, get it? Ok lame I know, my bad) but just have been unable to compete with the favorites. Great shots in some ends but unable to put together a complete game of 20 great shots has made some games harder than others. New Brunswick (Robichaud) started the event slow, losing their first 5 games but are 2-1 in their last three, including HUGE victories over struggling Quebec and BC which could save them from relegation. Interestingly enough, PEI, NS and NF could all finish 5-6. I would call that a success for the Atlantic region given the strong field this year. Also worth noting, of the 4 Atlantic skips, Robichaud has the highest overall curling percentage at 77%, tied with Horgan and just below the favorite 4.
The Rookies - Team Quebec (Mann) and Team BC (Knezevic) have struggled this week. Both teams sit 1-8 entering today's play. Both teams still play NF and Nova Scotia. Quebec beat BC back in draw 3, which might be the only thing saving them from relegation. Unless either team can pull off the upsets over the next day and half, one of them will be relegated (and odds are against BC right now). Both teams will leave Moose Jaw feeling disappointed in their record and how they curled but hopefully they take away a lot of learning from their first Scotties experience. BC struggled hard at the beginning of the week but has been curling at a higher level as the week progressed. Unfortunately giving up 73 points and only scoring 36 makes for a long week. Quebec has been competitive in many games and has just found themselves in some tough ends that have ultimately cost them a chance at winning the game. This team can score, putting up 49 points so far (T7) but also give up some big ends (67 points against, 11th overall). Don't be surprised to see both of these teams back at future Scotties though.
Relegation - Well I doubt I will hear any arguments against this grade! What is left to be said that hasn't already found its way on social media and curling forums. CCA really missed the boat on this idea. During the pre-qualification event on Thursday/Friday, other teams were having practices, the Ford Hot Shots was going on, pre-event banquets started....there were distractions left and right as three teams (NWT, Yukon, Northern Ontario) were on the ice fighting for the Scotties lives. It was commented on social media that the pre-event banquet began while teams were still on the ice playing. Really? That just isn't poor planning, it is disrespectful to teams who won the right to represent their province/territory. In the end, fans were left with 3 Ontario teams in the field and NO teams from the North. Take nothing against Team Horgan and Northern Ontario, this isn't their fault. They just played the games they needed to play and won. Congratulations to them, and look at how successful they are (see above!). But all one had to do was watch that opening draw match-up on TSN Saturday afternoon and see the emotion on Team NWT skip Kerry Galusha's face after the tough loss to know why this is a bad idea! The Scotties Tournament of Hearts broke in half in that one moment caught by a TSN camera. Hopefully this will be a lesson learned and something can be done. Fans and athletes alike have voiced their dislike of this format. Let's see if the CCA heard?! Congratulations to Team Yukon (Koltun) and Team NWT (Galusha) on winning their respected territorial championships and making it to Moose Jaw. I will always consider them as part of the #2015Scotties field. I hope we get to see both of these teams again at a future Scotties.
Agree or disagree, share your opinion with me on here or on twitter. As has always been the case, conversation around the Scotties and the sport of curling by fans and athletes alike only benefit and help grow the sport. If you are in the Moose Jaw area, try to get out to Mosaic Place and watch some of the action live.
Best of luck on the remainder of the event to all the teams. And thank you for providing some memorable moments for fans of the sport. It has been a great week so far...and we are just getting ready for an action-packed playoff weekend!!