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Thursday, 5 March 2015

Red Marker Roll Up Time
#Brier midterm grades

#TwineTime has arrived at the 2015 Tim Hortons Brier!!  After missing the first few days, catching up with results on TSN and online and injecting numerous "sad to be missing this live" comments on twitter to those who have been here, I am FINALLY here!  What an experience.  Being a part of the media team offers some behind the scenes viewings.  Just walking through the catacombs of the Saddledown to find the media room, you walk by some of the biggest names in curling: Reid Carruthers, Adam Casey, Kirk Muyers, Kevin Koe...I was fanstruck when I first arrived at last night's draw.  The fan in me got distracted at first but the professional part of me took over quickly so luckily I did not make a fool out of myself.  I will save that for later in the Patch I am told!

Well well well...what a Brier we have seen so far.  Everyone knew going into this year's showcase event we would be in for a treat.  Did we expect to see anything this close though?  With the conclusion of Thursday's opening draw, we have little to no answers in regards to playoff positions.  We have 3 teams still with a shot at 1st (NO, NL, SK).  We have 8 teams still alive for playoff spots.  The only thing decided is, unfortunately, the team being relegated.  With Jamie Koe's tough loss to BC this morning, #PolarPower will have to take the long way back into the Brier field in Ottawa next year.

Of course, I wouldn't be deserving of this media badge without being objective of the action on the ice.  I started the midterm grades with the Scotties and, in efforts to remain gender neutral, I will do the same for the Brier.  I got out Big Red and the grading criteria...here we go!!


Northern Ontario (Jacobs) - Ok so they suffered their first loss right as I am writing this but still.  This team has been operating on full cylinders all event.  Yes, there were some uncharacteristic errors in the loss to NF but they rebounded when they needed to and made Gushue draw for the win in the 10th.  Champions stumble at times but these champions only stumble for a few ends, not for a few games.  That is what makes them so formidable and hard to bet against.  Right now, they are the class of the field.  They have a HUGE game tonight (Thurs) vs Team Canada though.

Newfoundland and Labrador (Gushue) - The #TwineTime pick to win this entire event is looking right on track.  Yes, they have 2 losses.  But they just knocked off previously undefeated Northern Ontario and, should they win out, they can lock down 1st place.  This team is looking very comfortable right now and seem to be ready to step up to the top of the podium.  It won't be easy of course but when you have Goo throwing highlight of the night shots, should any of us really doubt the possibility of the Rock welcoming home a champion on Monday still?


Team Canada (Morris/Simmons) - Ask me a few days ago what grade I would give the defending champs and this would have been a solid C.  Cue the line up change and BOOM!  This team is rolling now.  All credit to John Morris for recognizing things were not working the way the team wanted and pulling himself from the skip position, moving to vice and letting Pat Simmons take over control of the house.  Since that move (which was highly scrutinized), the team has not lost.  They sit 7-3 after the win over Quebec this morning and look locked into, at least, a tiebreaker.  Not bad for a team many people (myself included) questioned heading into the event.  The way this team is curling right now, a repeat title is not out of the question.  Remember Morris lost last year's final...I am sure he wants a bit of redemption and another title.  His tough but correct call for a line up shift shows his dedication to winning with these guys.  Watch out this weekend....

Team Saskatchewan (Laycock) - Has any team been flying unmentioned and under the radar more this event than #TeamGreen?  With perennial top contenders Jacobs, Gushue, K. Koe, Morris receiving much of the spotlight, Laycock and company are rolling right along.  Sitting at 5-3 going into Thursday action, they are right in the playoff  hunt.  Upcoming games against AB and ON will test where this team is but, even a split today, one has to like their playoff chances.  The schedule favors their odds.  Big props to vice Kirk Muyers as well.  Curling 89% so far (T3), Kirk has quietly been putting together high quality shot after shot to help his team out.  He may be the wildcard to this team's success for the rest of the week.  If Kirk continues to excel, the boys in Green should find themselves playing this weekend.

The Field - Overall, let's give credit to all the teams playing this week.  I know this may come across as a bit fence sitting but I'm Austrian/Russian not Swiss so get that thought out of your head right now!!!  Look at the stats.  Look at the standings.  The games have, for the most part, been very competitive and close.  Fans of the sports should be embracing this field and enjoying the event.  The experienced teams are in a dog fight for playoffs.  The rookie teams (ON, MB, PEI) entered with many wondering how they would perform and I would rate them all very high.  Sure a few bad games, bad breaks here and there, but that comes with experience.  I expect to see all 3 of these teams back in future Briers.  When have we had a Brier where at the mid-way point of Thursday we had 8 teams still jockeying for playoffs?  Each game in each draw on each sheet is a toss up almost.  And that is what the sport really needs!  Enjoy this competitive field and appreciate the hard work of all these athletes.


Team Alberta (K. Koe) - Now that I have been polite and nice, we also need to be honest.  Alberta has been a bit of a disappointment so far.  Playing at home, with crowd support, Kevin Koe and team just have not looked like their champion selfs we know and expect from these guys.  I am not counting them out yet but sitting at 4-4 with games coming up against SK and MB should have the hometown fans a bit concerned.  This team really cannot afford another loss.  Can they go on a roll and win out?  Of course!  Will they?  I don't know.  Yes Kevin started the event feeling under the weather and that hurt them for sure.  It's odd because when you look at the stats, all the players are at or near the top.  The team itself leads the standings too at 90%.  Just the results aren't matching.  Let's call this grade a temporary C with full expectations to improve over the next 24hours.  Unfortunately with grading, one can only go on the results so far though and not on future expectations.


The Crowds - Come on Calgary!  Come on curling fans!  Where are you?  This is the most competitive, dynamic Brier field we possibly have ever seen.  Why are these stands not packed?  Sure Tuesday night's game between Alberta and Team Canada was full but that is expected with two Calgary teams battling.  What about the rest of the draws?  These guys are laying it all out there for the fans and love of the sport, they deserve better attendance numbers.  I am glad to hear TSN is reporting a 33% increase in viewership mind you, especially with the widely popular showing of two games per draw across the network stations.  But that cannot be a direct cause of the lower attendance numbers can it?  The weather in Calgary has been nice so that can't be keeping people away.  In talking with a few people yesterday upon arriving, perhaps the organizing committee missed the mark on ticket prices.  I have heard a few comments that the cost per draw may be a bit steep.  If so, this might be something to look into for the future.  Increased TV coverage and online coverage help grow the game but could they impact the in-person audience too?  Regardless, I know I could be watching at home as well but the experience of being here, in person, enjoying the action is unbeatable.  Hearing the players communicating, seeing the expressions on their faces with good and bad shots and getting the live look-in at 4 sheets at once cannot be beat by sitting at home on my couch in my boxers or at my computer.  Yes, putting on pants sucks....but come on, this field is worth pants!!  Get out here people......


#KneeGate - The tap heard around the world!  Two Ontario teams battling it out on the ice.  The experienced Olympic Champs vs the up and comer rookie team.  This was already primed to be a great battle.  And then it all went south with one tap.  We will never know exactly what words were exchanged between the players, whether good or bad.  Each team has their side of the story.  Do we all agree kneeling on the ice for an extended period of time is detrimental to the pebble? Yes!  Do we agree many players do it? Yes!  Do players know better? Of course.  Is taping the foot or leg of the player who just threw a stone the appropriate response? Probably not.  This was a scenario where nobody won and, overall, the sport lost.  Curling is often referred to as one sport where sportsmanship and respect between athletes reigns supreme.  This was a case where that did not happen.  While I believe with the facebook posting from Team Jacobs saying they did not mean the tap in a malicious way, the end result was still not a positive.  Let's hope this kind of negative attention does not find its way in the sport very often.  Luckily for us, we have also seen way more positive examples of sportsmanship this week that will hopefully override this story and make #KneeGate a small moment in time forgotten in the future.

There you have it curling fans, midterm grades have been reported.  Some received better than others.  But overall, can we just grade this entire Brier at an A already?  Nobody should be walking away from this event feeling disappointed in the action or the lineup.  Enjoy the rest of the week and, if you are around Calgary, join us at the Saddledome and take in the action live.  We are due for an exciting playoff weekend!