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Thursday, 24 September 2015

#BetweenTheSheets: Curlers Turn Up in ToonTown
Point Optical Curling Classic headlines A+ field

The World Curling Tour enters Week 6 action and teams SHOULD be feeling comfortable on the ice and ready to win the big events.  This week we still see a few teams hit the ice for the first time but, at this point, all competitive teams for the 2015/16 season should have some ice on their sliders by now.  As the tour really starts to rev up, we see more events every weekend and more opportunity to see which teams truly will be the teams to watch throughout the season.

Last week showcased big events in Edmonton, Cornwall/Brockville and Surrey.  Here is a quick recap at Week 5 action:

The HDF Insurance Shoot-Out in Edmonton brought out top teams from Western Canada.  Defending men’s champion Brendan Bottcher returned to the championship only to be denied a repeat title on home ice by Saskatoon’s Shaun Meachem rink.  We also saw success from new teams Charley Thomas and Bruce Korte, both reaching the semifinals.  On the women’s side, Edmonton’s Val Sweeting team picked up their first spiel win of the season defeating the slightly new Stef Lawton team in a Scotties championship calibre final.  Early season rookie of the year candidate Kelsey Roque continued her great run to the season with a semifinal showing.

The AMJ Campbell Shorty Jenkins Classic split time between Cornwall (men) and Brockville (women).  In Cornwall, the top ranked team led by Brad Gushue continued their tear on tour picking up another championship, this time defeating Glenn Howard in an extra end.  Gushue’s win continued a trend we are seeing at this event with guys named Brad.  Brad Jacobs was the two-time defending champion but suffered a semifinal loss to his namesake.  Gushue kept the title in the Brad name though with his victory.  In Brockville, Team Kim from Korea continued to build off their Tour Challenge success winning their first tournament of the year besting past Ontario Scotties champion Alison Flaxey in the final.  This event also saw a strong welcome back from 8-time Quebec Scotties champion Marie-France Larouche, who finished third.

The Cloverdale Cash Spiel in Surrey provided curling fans a first look at many of the top teams from British Columbia.  On the men’s side, Dean Joanisse reclaimed his 2013 title defeating surprise finalist Chase Martyn.  Joanisse’s rink lost the BC final last season to Cotter and look to be back on track, ready to challenge for another BC title this season.  The women’s final saw a slight upset with Diane Gushulak besting defending BC Scotties champ Patti Knezevic.  Gushulak went undefeated at the event and perhaps has positioned herself as the slight early favourite for a BC title.

I must admit, Week 5 may be the best week of #TwineTime predictions we have ever seen....and perhaps will ever see.  Correctly predicting both Shorty Jenkins champions and Team Sweeting winning in Edmonton is pretty darn good.  #TwineTime even called Bottcher’s final appearance.  In fact, if we break it down more, #TwineTime nailed 5 of the 8 men’s qualifiers in Cornwall and 7 of 8 in Edmonton.  Perhaps this is just building momentum towards the next event we see a #TwineTime vs @NerdCurl pick’em challenge.  Getting worried yet Phil?  If not, you should be!

Based on the results in B.C., Alberta and Ontario, have we seen a shake-up in the Power Rankings?  Let’s take a look:

MEN

1)      Brad Gushue (LW: 1)

2)      Brad Jacobs (4)

3)      Mike McEwen (2)

4)      Kevin Koe (3)

5)      Glenn Howard (NR)

Hon. Mention:  Team Cotter, Team Edin, Team Carruthers

  • The Goo continues to play week in and week out and continues to win.  Add another title to the trophy case on The Rock.  The teams behind them are trying to close the gap but if Gushue continues playing at this level, they may just stay on top all season.
  • Jacobs moves up the rankings due to his strong semifinal showing in Cornwall and McEwen and Koe taking the week off.  As mentioned last week, right now all three of these teams could be a deadlock tie in the rankings behind Gushue.  Expect to see some movement amongst them most of the season I think.
  • Howard goes from off the rankings to Top 5.  And why not?  A slight adjustment to the rink in the off season with the addition of son Scott at lead and the team is quickly finding success.  A quarterfinal appearance at the Tour Challenge two weeks ago backed up by a finalist appearance in Cornwall, this team has come to play and it appears Howard is putting notice he is in it to win it again this season.  Incidentally enough, look who Howard has lost to in his past two events in the playoffs: Brad Gushue.  When your losses are to the top team, you still score major power ranking points.  The question is whether he can find the game to knock off the top teams ahead of him.  He does have a victory over Jacobs in Paradise and two wins over defending world champion Edin in Cornwall.  The stock is rising fast on the tour veteran. 
WOMEN

1)      Rachel Homan (LW: 1)

2)      Eve Muirhead (2)

3)      Silvana Tirinzoni (3)

4)      Alina Paetz (4)

5)      Val Sweeting (NR)

Hon. Mention:  Team Jones, Team Kim, Team Lawton, Team Fleury

  • Not a lot of movement amongst the top women’s teams as most took the week off.  Sweeting is rewarded for her hometown win over a competitive field and slightly knocks Jones out of the Top 5.  Team Kim from Korea is also charging hard to move up the power rankings and making a strong case for a truly international Top 5 in the coming weeks.
  • Lawton joins the honourable mention list with her strong performance in Edmonton and could be ready to make a push this season with the addition of Trish Paulson at vice.  Keep an eye on this team.

This week will see four spiels on both the men’s and women’s tour, with the big events happening in Saskatoon (men) and Stockholm, Sweden (women).  Here is what to expect in this week’s edition of tour life predictions:

MEN

Point Optical Curling Classic

Saskatoon, SK.

2014 Champion: Mike McEwen

Format: 26 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers

Top Teams Entered: Team McEwen, Team Jacobs, Team Edin, Team Laycock, Team Carruthers, Team Bottcher

Dark horse candidates: Team Meachem comes home after a spiel win in Edmonton.  On their championship run last week, Meachem picked up big wins over King, Kim, Korte and Bottcher in the final.  Even more amazing, this team started the event 0-2.  The confidence as a team to overcome a slow spiel start and leave with a championship should help them going into this event.  The field in Saskatoon will be much stronger than the one they faced in Edmonton of course, but when you are hot you are hot...and right now this team is on fire.

What to Watch for (W2W4): Which of the big boys steps up.  With current tour dominator Gushue taking the week off, this is the time for one of the other power teams to assert their own dominance over their competition.  The #redpants brigade of Mikey and the boys are looking for a repeat of last year’s championship win.  What about the hometown boys of #TeamOranje and Steve Laycock?  Can they make a strong run in front of the pro-SK crowd?  Team Edin started the year on fire but has found up and down success during their Canadian portion of the tour.  And Team Jacobs is coming off a semifinal loss of their own last weekend and will be hungry for their first title of the season.  With so many top teams competing, who will live up to expectations, who will exceed expectations and who will fail in their expectations?

Qualifiers: Team McEwen, Team Jacobs, Team Laycock, Team Bottcher, Team Shuster, Team Edin, Team Thomas, Team Korte

Championship: Team McEwen over Team Jacobs

Mother Club Fall Curling Classic

Winnipeg, MB.

2014 Champion: Sean Grassie

Format: 20 team round robin with 8 qualifiers

Top Teams Entered: Team Calvert, Team Dunstone, Team Peters, Team Kolomaya, Team Muntain

Dark horse candidates: Andrew Irving returns to the skip position after playing with William Lyburn last season.  He brings a strong team with him having Jim Coleman as second, who previously played third with Steen Sigurdson last season.  Add in Coleman and now vice Daniel Grant’s experience playing with Matt Dunstone’s University of Manitoba team last year and this team could be a surprise at this event. 

What to Watch for (W2W4): The junior takeover is in full swing in Manitoba.  With McEwen and Carruthers at the front of the pack in Manitoba, neither should feel too comfortable because they get to play the slams and big money spiel events.  Both Team Calvert and Team Dunstone are putting pressure on the top teams and are quickly climbing the rankings.  Calvert and Dunstone played a junior event in Blaine, MN last weekend with Dunstone beating his junior rival Calvert in the final.  These two teams are no longer up and comers....they have arrived and the junior movement is ready to take over.

Qualifiers: Team Kolomaya, Team Irving, Team Sigurdson, Team Peters, Team Muntain, Team Dunstone, Team Calvert, Team Marnoch

Championship: Team Dunstone over Team Calvert

KW Fall Classic

Kitchener-Waterloo, ON.

2014 Champion: Scott McDonald

Format: 19 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers

Top Teams Entered: Team Maus, Team McCormick, Team Brewer, Team Liu

Dark horse candidates: Team Corbett from New York could surprise.  They went 0-3 at StuSells Oakville but barely missed a qualifier spot at the OCT Fall Classic (also in Oakville).  The 2008 U.S. Junior Men’s silver medallist is also a PhD student at McMaster University. 

What to Watch for (W2W4): Can Scott McDonald pick up his third straight KW Fall Classic title?  McDonald is playing on a new team this year, skipped by Codey Maus.  They enter this event fresh off the OCT Fall Classic title and should be a top contender this weekend.  Also watch for the return of Chinese skip Rui Liu.  Liu took last season off and has struggled in their first two events in Oakville.  This team did pick up three tour titles in 2013/14 though and could be a threat if they find their groove again.

Qualifiers: Team Maus, Team Liu, Team McCormick, Team Heggestad, Team Brewer, Team Corbett, Team Krell, Team Ferris

Championship: Team McCormick over Team Maus

Appleton Rum Cashspiel

Lower Sackville, NS.

2014 Champion: New event

Format: 16 team round robin with 8 qualifiers

Top Teams Entered: Team Murphy, Team Stevens, Team Fitzner-Leblanc

Dark horse candidates: Jamie Danbrook’s rink could be the dark horse of not only this event but for the Nova Scotia title this season.  The Memorial University student enters his second full season as skip, coming off a successful rookie skip campaign, including a title at the Gibson’s Cashspiel and a semifinal appearance at the Atlantic Curling Tour Championship.  Danbrook curled one season with Brad Gushue (2010/11) and could challenge the top teams in the province.

What to Watch for (W2W4): Watch the Doug MacKenzie team on the ice this weekend.  MacKenzie will be fielding a mixed curling team for the event, bringing Jocelyn Nix as his vice and Shelley Barker at lead.  Nix has been a regular fixture at the Nova Scotia Scotties championship, including a championship finals appearance in 2013 (l. to Mary-Anne Arsenault).  Can the mixed team complete, and beat, some of the best men’s teams in the province?

Qualifiers: Team Danbrook, Team Fitzner-Leblanc, Team Stevens, Team Murphy, Team Thompson, Team Mayhew, Team Paul, Team MacKenzie

Championship: Team Murphy over Team Danbrook

WOMEN

Stockholm Ladies Cup

Stockholm, SWE

2014 Champion: Margaretha Sigfridsson

Format: 20 team round robin with 8 qualifiers

Top Teams Entered: Team Homan, Team Muirhead, Team Tirinzoni, Team Paetz, Team Jones, Team Sigfidsson, Team Sidorova

Dark horse candidates: Two-time World Champion (1988, 2010) Andrea Schoepp is still curling at the young age of 50.  Even better, she is still curling with longtime teammate, Monika Wagner.  The three-time Olympian and 7-time European Champion should never be counted out regardless of the field she is competing against.  Can Schoepp win this event?  Probably not.  Can she surprise a few of the favourites?  Count on it.  On a #TwineTime level, Schoepp was one of the first international female curlers I started to follow and cheer for as a kid.  I will always be a fan of her.  Can you believe she has 19 World Championship appearances?  Crazy!

What to Watch for (W2W4): Who steps up and who disappoints!  This is arguably the strongest international field on the women’s tour this season.  Many of these teams may be back on the ice against one another at the World Championship in Basel, Switzerland.  But with such a high calibre field, not all of these teams will have success this week.  Some of the strong teams will succeed.  Some of the top teams will falter.  The question will be which side of the coin will it be?  With a short round robin event, no team can afford a slow start or major slip up in any game.  I would be paying close attention to the results in Stockholm this weekend if I were you.  You may see some surprising results.  Also of notice, no Canadian team has ever won this event.  Hmmm.....

Qualifiers: Team Muirhead, Team Feltscher, Team Paetz, Team Sigfridsson, Team Jaeggi, Team Jones, Team Homan, Team Tirinzoni

Championship: Team Homan over Team Paetz

Mother Club Fall Curling Classic

Winnipeg, MB.

2014 Champion: Kristy McDonald

Format: 20 team round robin with 8 qualifiers

Top Teams Entered: Team McDonald, Team Einarson, Team George, Team Thurston, Team Montford

Dark horse candidates: Shannon Birchard has been one of the top junior girls teams in Manitoba for many years.  She was the 2013 Manitoba junior girls champion and would go on to a runner-up finish at the 2013 M&M Meat Shops Canadian Junior Championships (l. to B.C. Corryn Brown).  Last season Birchard lost the Manitoba junior girls final.  The 21-year old University of Winnipeg student could turn some heads if the top teams at this event underestimate her.

What to Watch for (W2W4): How does Kerri Einarson’s team follow-up their surprise Tour Challenge Tier II victory?  They took last week off to relax, rest and hopefully celebrate their triumph but it’s time to focus on the present and not rest of the successes of the past.  Can they build off the momentum of the huge victory or will they suffer a post-event hangover? 

Qualifiers: Team McDonald, Team Birchard, Team Thurston, Team Robertson, Team Spencer, Team Brown, Team Einarson, Team Montford

Championship: Team McDonald over Team Einarson

KW Fall Classic

Kitchener-Waterloo, ON.

2014 Champion: Julie Hastings

Format: 18 team round robin with 8 qualifiers

Top Teams Entered: Team Hastings, Team Flaxey, Team Brown, Team Varnes

Dark horse candidates: Team Balsdon could be the surprise qualifier...and semifinalist...this weekend.  Her team has drawn arguably the easiest of the 4 pools and should be a favourite to win her pool.  This team qualified last season and will be looking for a repeat performance.  If they can win their pool, as expected, they could be a dangerous team come playoff time.  I would not underestimate them.

What to Watch for (W2W4): Team Hastings goes for the three-peat.  This is the main story line of this event.  Can this team win their third straight KW Fall Classic and fifth title in seven years?  Hastings has already won 4 of the initial 7 titles since this spiel began.  This is her ice and it’s up to the other 17 teams competing to try and sweep her off the throne.  It will not be an easy task...just ask everyone who has tried.

Qualifiers: Team Hastings, Team Brown, Team Auld, Team Liu, Team Balsdon, Team Flaxey, Team Harrison, Team Varnes

Championship: Team Hastings over Team Flaxey

Appleton Rum Cashspiel

Lower Sackville, NS.

2014 Champion: New event

Format: 16 team round robin with 8 qualifiers

Top Teams Entered: Team Arsenault, Team Jackson, Team Mattatall

Dark horse candidates: Team Fay is the future of curling in Nova Scotia.  This young team, led by 17-year old skip Mary Fay, should not be an unfamiliar name to any team and/or fan in the sport who has been watching Canadian Junior Curling Championships in the past few years.  Fay is the current two-time Nova Scotia champion, including picking up a bronze medal at the 2014 championships.  Fay is also the 2015 Canada Winter Games silver medallist.  They may lack the experience of some of their competitors but they are no stranger to competition.  This could be their coming out party for the 2015/16 season.

What to Watch for (W2W4): All eyes will be on 47-year old skip Mary-Anne Arsenault leading her young team towards another Scotties berth this season.  Arsenault is a 12-time Nova Scotia champion and part of the Colleen Jones dynasty, winning 5 Scotties (1999, 2001-04) and 2 World Championships (2001, 2004).  Arsenault moved to the skip position in 2007 and has won 3 Nova Scotia provincial championships (2008, 2013, 2015) since.  She leads a young team but an experienced team learning from one of the best in the sport.  This team is coming off a successful first season together, winning two events (Gibson's Cashspiel, Molson Mayflower Cashspiel) en route to the NS title.  Can this team build off last year's success?  This is the perfect event to start on the road to repeat.


Qualifiers: Team Arsenault, Team Mattatall, Team Dwyer, Team Tatlock, Team Adams, Team Jackson, Team Fay, Team Brothers

Championship: Team Asenault over Team Brothers

There you have it rock heads and stoners.  New power rankings and previews of the 4 men's and women's events on tour....you are now fully prepared for Week 6 action.  Follow along with draw by draw scores and updated standings on CurlingZone.  As always, feel free to share your thoughts on the power rankings or perhaps share your power rankings with me on twitter.  Maybe it is time to add a fan's choice team to the power rankings?  If so, vote on the #TwineTime blog website or share your vote on twitter.

On a personal note, and stepping away from the ice for a moment, #TwineTime will be participating in Exile Island - Calgary on October 1.  This event is a fundraiser for The Children's Wish Foundation of Canada.  The CWF touches a special place in my heart.  My younger brother was born with cerebral palsy and our family was fortunate to be granted a wish vacation to Disneyland and Universal Studios.  I rarely ask anyone for support but this is one event...for one organization...I would love to have curling fans support.  Please visit the website below and any donation amount you feel you can give would be greatly appreciated.  Please help me in my pursuit of granting a wish for another child and give back to an organization which offered my family our first family vacation.