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Thursday, 15 October 2015


#BetweenTheSheets: #BroomGate Rocks the Curling World
Equipment debate and updated power rankings reign supreme this week


The coveted top spot in the #TwineTime power rankings is starting to become quite the battle.  Each week on tour seems to feature more outstanding shots, more outstanding results and, perhaps, more heated debates?  Let’s address the elephant on the ice from the beginning: #BroomGate!
The curling world has been quite active this past week in discussing equipment used by top contending teams.  The use of a specific broom head fabric has stirred quite the debate, beginning this past weekend in Toronto.  Players are coming together in supporting a unified stance on the topic of equipment regulation.  Advanced technologies being applied to sports equipment is nothing new.  We have seen this in all sports, from football gloves to golf clubs to soccer balls.  Curling should not be inept from embracing new technologies elevating the level of game play.  However, recent improvements are causing many curlers to feel enhancements are actually hindering the integrity of the game.  In a sport that has worked so hard on changing its image from a “beer drinking, chain smoking social game” to a competitive, fit, athletic elite sport, the notion a new broom head leading any curler to basically place a rock in a final position Xbox One style has curlers throwing their brooms in the air with disgust.  For a full article, including feedback from world class curlers Wayne Middaugh, Nolan Thiessen and Brad Gushue, give Don Landry’s article (FOUND HERE) a read.  Female curlers are also joining the debate as Landry followed up his aforementioned article with another one featuring comments from Rachel Homan and Val Sweeting (FOUND HERE).  Regulation of equipment is not unheard of and, in many sports, is often embraced.  The question is not a matter of if but rather when the World Curling Federation, the sport’s governing body, steps in and makes an announcement on this issue.  If regulation is imposed, and I as a fan would support this, how soon will the national bodies, such as Curling Canada, step in and mandate the same regulations?   Top teams seem quite comfortable right now making a friendly agreement to no longer use the broom heads in question during competition until the issue of regulation is discussed by players, manufacturers and sport representatives.  In fact, check out the recent blog post from Thiessen addressing 22 elite teams proclaiming they will stop using this new “directional fabric” during tour events and grand slams.  This is quite the coup for the sport where we see athletes coming together making a decision and agreement amongst themselves with no mandate to do so.  The question remains, will top teams stick to this friendly handshake or will we see some fingers crossed behind the backs?  Let’s remember, this is still a sport with points, money and career dreams on the line.  In the end, do results speak louder than words?  And what will happen when a team continues to use the controversial equipment against a team clearly against it?  This is just the tip of the iceberg on #BroomGate...stay tuned folks, this is going to get interesting.

But let’s return to the action on the ice shall we?  With all top teams on tour fully submerged into their season schedule, the results each week start carrying more and more weight as we head into the winter season.  This is known as the “WHEY” point of the season.  No, no I do not mean every curler go hit the gym with whey powder and bulk up.  I am speaking of the fan “WHEY” experience.  Let me clarify: we Want to see the top teams pull to the front of the pack each week; we Hope to see some up and coming teams pull some upsets; We Expect to see the best of each team week in and week out; we Yammer on and on about just who is the best team on tour.  Some of us, #TwineTime included, maybe spend a bit more time on the Yammer part of the fan experience...but hey yammering leads to blogging...blogging leads to conversation...conversation leads to growing the sport.  In conclusion, #TwineTime grows the sport (shameless ego plug right there, thank you!) :)

Time for the #GunnerRunback on last week’s action:

Speaking of Gunner, I was fortunate to watch him play with his new skip Willy Lyburn in Edmonton over the weekend at the Direct Horizontal Drilling Fall Classic.  Unfortunately for Gunner and Team Lyburn, it was not the best weekend as they failed to qualify.  However, Team Kevin Koe had LOTS to be thankful for as they defeated Team Bottcher in the final to repeat as champions.  It was great to watch some outstanding games on Friday and do some CurlingGeek coverage as well.  Last week I mentioned to watch out for Charley Thomas’ rink and boy did he prove me right, qualifying on the A side.  As an aside, #TwineTime was able to connect with a few top players for some #BetweenTheSheets interviews...stay tuned for those in the upcoming weeks.  Not revealing names but I can say, for one of these guys, many ladies would be quite jealous I got some alone time with him.  LOL


In Toronto, the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard saw a continuing trend over the past few seasons now...#redpants win and win and win.  Team McEwen picked up a huge spiel victory, knocking off fellow top contenders Brad Gushue in the QF and Glenn Howard for the title.  Fellow top teams making the playoffs included Brad Jacobs (l. to Howard SF) and Nik Edin (l. to Jacobs QF).  Huge props to #TourChallenge runner-up Mark Kean as well.  The new Kean team must have drank a bunch of Bomb energy drinks (their new sponsor) leading up to the event as the qualified A side and made a SF appearance (l. to McEwen).

Calgary hosted the women’s tour Curlers Corner Autumn Gold Curling Classic and saw Rachel Homan’s team continue their hot start to the season.  Homan and company picked up another tour victory, this time besting Team Chelsea Carey in the final.  A highlight of this event is the continued success of rookie team Kelsey Rocque.  Rocque made her third consecutive SF appearance (l. to Homan).

As the Women’s Masters Basel in Switzerland, Russia’a Anna Sidorova dominated the high-calibre international field.  Sidorova went undefeated over the weekend, besting home crowd favourite and #TourChallenge winner Silvana Tirinzoni in the final.  Anna also made the shot of the event in her double-raise takeout to score 3 in the final end to claim the title.  Check out the shot HERE.  Canada’s Sherry Middaugh represented the Red & White with a strong QF appearance (l. to Feltscher).  To no surprise the Swiss were well represented once again with playoff appearances by Tirinzoni (final), Feltscher (SF) and defending world champion Paetz (QF).  Scotland’s Eve Muirhead also made a strong push for the top of the world rankings with a SF finish (l. to Sidorova). 

The St. Paul Cash Spiel in St. Paul, MN saw 47-year old Todd Birr upset favourite Heath McCormick in the men’s final.  The women’s final saw the young Cory Christensen (#TwineTime’s dark horse pick) go undefeated and dominate Jamie Sinclair in the final to claim the title.

Halifax, N.S. played double hosting duties as well this weekend.  At the Bud Light Men’s Cashspiel, a battle of young guns met in the final with Stuart Thompson beating Jamie Danbrook.  At the New Scotland Clothing Ladies Cashspiel, Nova Scotia junior champion and 16-year old Mary Fay picked up her first win of the season beating Mattatall in the final.

The #TwineTime predictions had a lot to be thankful for this weekend.  Accurately predicting 6 of 8 qualifiers in Toronto (including a championship for McEwen) was offset by the lacklustre 4 of 8 correct in Edmonton (although predicting a Koe finals appearance).  A nice 6 for 8 finish in Calgary (coupled with a correct Homan victory call) and a similar 6 of 8 accuracy in Basel equals a successful weekend on the women’s tour as well.  Correct calls on dark horse teams Christensen and Fay and McCormick’s run to the final were also successes last weekend.  Again, not a perfect draw to the button but not a stone in the boards either.

So what about those #PowerRankings?  McEwen continued the #redpants victory tour, did he finally pass Gushue at the top?  The #HomanTrain continued to roll over the competition but did the results in Basel affect some of the other top teams rankings?  And what do we make of Koe’s repeat title in Edmonton?

MEN

1.       Brad Gushue (Last Week: 1)

2.       Mike McEwen (LW: 2)

3.       Kevin Koe (LW: 4)

4.       Glenn Howard (LW: 5)

5.       Brad Jacobs (LW: 3)

Hon. Mention: Team Laycock, Team Bottcher, Team Edin, Team Carruthers

  • The debate on Gushue vs McEwen is a tough one.  McEwen did beat Goo in the QF en route to the title so that gives an advantage to Mikey.  However, Goo does still have his #TourChallenge runner-up finish to accompany his three tour titles already this season supporting his claim to the top.  Mikey isn’t far behind though with his second straight title and a SF appearance at the #TourChallenge.  These two are clearly the best in the world right now...and this debate will rage on all season.  And I couldn’t be happier!!
  • Koe moves up the ladder with another tour win.  The second-year team is quickly accelerating up the rankings and perhaps it is time to consider this top rung a three-team power race?  The #TourChallenge champion seems to finding his groove right now and could be tough to stop.
  • Howard also moves up the standings after a championship final appearance in Toronto.  A second runner-up showing is not a bad result for the veteran team and they are slowly turning back the clock every week. 

WOMEN

1.       Rachel Homan (LW: 1)

2.       Eve Muirhead (LW: 2)

3.       Silvana Tirinzoni (LW: 5)

4.       Alina Paetz (LW: 3)

5.       Anna Sidorova (LW: NR)

Hon. Mention:  Team Rocque, Team Sweeting, Team Jones, Team Feltscher

  • No surprise on Homan being at the top.  She seems to have cemented herself into this position and has no intention of giving it up anytime soon.
  • Muirhead’s SF appearance in Switzerland keeps her at second, for now.  Tirinzoni makes the move back up to 3rd spot with her run to the final in Basel.  World champion Paetz also stays in the Top 5, dropping a spot, with her QF appearance in her home country.
  • Welcome Anna to the #PowerRankings!  What a masterful performance over the weekend...one #TwineTime cannot ignore for the rankings.  Going undefeated against a strong international field should put teams on notice.  The question always is sustainability....can they remain here for longer than 1 week?
  • The other big mover is Team Rocque.  Another event, another semi-final showing.  If this team can finally get over the SF hump, they could crash the Top 5.  But who knows, maybe stronger consideration should be given to strong consistent results for the Rookie of the Year contending team. 
  • The big drop goes to Team Jones, previously ranked #4.  Failing to qualify in Calgary, losing a C-elimination game to Homan on top of it, coupled with strong results from other top contending teams results in a slide down the rankings.  The defending Canadian champions have struggled this season, failing to qualify in 2 of their 4 events.  Can they turn it around?  Maybe Dawn McEwen plays a stronger role on this team than we think?   
A friendly reminder there is still time to have your voice heard on who YOU think should top the #TwineTime men’s Power Rankings.  Voting is still open on the blog main page (FOUND HERE).  The battle for the top is becoming almost too close to call.  At last check, Gushue and McEwen were tied for the top of the voting, each collecting 35% of the vote.  Team Koe sits third overall in voting with 8%.  It is becoming very clear #TwineTime and the fans have two clear cut favourites.  The question now is which one of the two will come out on top?  Voting will remain open until the end of October.  The team with the most votes will take over the top spot on the #PowerRankings beginning of November.

As we head into mid-October, the world curling tour sees some big events out West.  The men will convene in 4 locations this weekend (BC, AB, MB, ON) and the women will bust out the brooms at 3 events (BC, MB, ON).  Most eyes will be on Portage though with most of the top men’s teams competing.  Can #redpants win their 5th title in 6 years?  Also we see a few top European teams missing in tour action, namely teams from Scotland and Switzerland, as they are battling it out for European qualification.  As of press time the schedules were not posted for the dual event in Kamloops and the women’s event in Winnipeg.  Unfortunately #TwineTime is unable to offer predictions for these events.  A summary of the results will be posted next week during the #GunnerRunback section of the blog.  It’s that time of the week folks, time for #TourLifePredictions:

MEN

Canad Inns Men's Classic

Portage la Prairie, MB

2014 Champion: Mike McEwen

Format: 32 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers

Top Teams Entered: Team McEwen, Team Koe, Team Howard, Team Jacobs, Team Bottcher, Team Edin, Team Laycock

Dark Horse Candidates:  Mark Kean without a doubt tops this list.  Kean is coming off his first Brier appearance last season, a complete team overhaul in the off season and hitting the ice with new guys this season.  Despite the high’s and low’s of the past few months, Kean has hit his stride on the ice and continued his rise up the standings.  Team Kean finished runner-up to Team Cotter at the #TourChallenge Tier II event in Paradise.  Last weekend, Kean shocked a few curling teams and fans qualifying A side at Stu Sells in Toronto and reaching the semifinals before bowing out to eventual champion Mike McEwen.  Mark has become a return of the living dead type of story over the past few seasons.  This is the second time in two seasons he has had to reform his team in the off season.  Last season he ended up winning Ontario, defying the odds.  This season, again left for dead, he has risen from the ashes once again, assembled a top notch team and again is finding strong results.  The draw is not going to be easy but at this event, with this calibre, nobody has an easy draw.  If they can build off the confidence and momentum of last weekend, watch out!


What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4):  Line up changes are hitting the season.  This week we see a shift for one new team as Brock Virtue has moved into the vice position and Matt Blandford has stepped into the skip position.  With many of the top teams already finding success on the season, the new teams and up and coming teams need to step up their game fast if they want to stay and compete.  Team Virtue has not found the results they were hoping for early in the season and have made the line up change in hopes of shaking up the results.  We saw this mentality work quite well at the Brier last season when Team Canada struggled at the beginning of the event, John Morris moved to vice, Pat Simmons took over skipping duties and BOOM...we all know how that ended.  Slight shifts in line ups are not unheard of and with most curlers having the skills to move along the line we should not expect to see this trend stop anytime soon.  Will this shift help or hinder Team Virtue (now Team Blandford)?  Time will tell but in speaking with the new skip, he is quite confident the team decision is the best one for all the guys. 

Qualifiers:  Team McEwen, Team Koe, Team Jacobs, Team Laycock, Team Kean, Team Howard, Team Edin, Team Bottcher

Championship:  Team McEwen over Team Koe

Stroud Sleeman Cash Spiel

Stroud, ON

2014 Champion: Colin Dow

Format:  20 team round robin with 8 qualifiers

Top Teams Entered: Team McCormick, Team Lui, Team Stjerne

Dark Horse Candidates:  The international teams are going to dominate the headlines at this event based on their level of experience alone.  However, if you are looking for a Canadian team to keep an eye on look out for Cory Heggestad.  The 42-year old originally from Saskatchewan seems to do quite well at this event.  In the past two years we has qualified for the playoffs both times, including a semifinal run last season.  Heggestad plays a light tour schedule but has a strong history of success in Stroud and could be the best bet for an Ontario home province champion.

What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4):  This event is basically a mini Continental Cup with Ontario vs. The World.  Top world teams like McCormick and Corbett (USA), Lui and Zou (China) and Stjerne (Denmark) will battle Ontario teams like Heggestad, Harris and Maus.  Which side will come out on top?

Qualifiers:  Team Liu, Team Heggestad, Team Maus, Team Corbett, Team Stjerne, Team Shane, Team McCormick, Team Shepherd

Championship:  Team Liu over Team Stjerne

McKee Homes Fall Curling Classic

Airdrie, AB

2014 Champion: Aaron Sluchinski

Format:  16 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers

Top Teams Entered: Team Sluchinski

Dark Horse Candidates:  A true dark horse may just be 24-year old Parker Konschuh.  Konschuh played last season as second with Mick Lizemore.  This season he has moved into skipping his own team.  This will be young team’s first event of the season so there could be some bambi legs on the ice for the first few ends.  Konschuh gained a ton of experience with the success of Team Lizemore last season though.  If he can handle the pressure of moving into the skip position once again and the young team can find some confidence early, they could surprise the field in Airdrie.

What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4):  Can Team Sluchinski pull the repeat?  This is not the strongest field for an event and Sluchinski has a great chance to repeat their win from last season.  Sluchinski has had a good start the season, qualifying at the HDF Insurance Shoot Out and just missing a playoff spot last weekend at the DHD Fall Classic.  This will be as good a shot as any this season for Team Sluchinski to pick up a tour title.


Qualifiers:  Team Sluchinski, Team Yablonski, Team Kim, Team Zhang, Team O’Connor, Team Konschuh, Team Collins, Team Hill

Championship:  Team Sluchinski over Team O’Connor

WOMEN

Stroud Sleeman Cash Spiel

Stroud, ON

2014 Champion: Julie Hastings

Format: 12 team round robin with 6 qualifiers 

Top Teams Entered: Team Flaxey, Team Harrison

Dark Horse Candidates:  Going with the Kean family this week for dark horse candidates.  Husband Mark Kean could be the dark horse in Portage but wife Mallory Kean could also have a strong weekend.  Kean has a new team around her this season and the addition of Glenn Howard’s daughter Carly at vice seems to provide a strong 1-2 punch on the back end.  At their first event of the season (OCT Fall Classic in Oakville), Team Kean reached the championship final.  This is not the strongest field they will face this season but this is also a good indicator to just how strong this team could be going into an Ontario Scotties run.  I’d buy a few stocks on this team now while the asking price is low.  

What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4):  This is Alison Flaxey’s spiel to win...or to lose.  Team Flaxey is clearly the favourite this weekend.  They enter this event fresh off their first title of the season at the KW Fall Classic.  Their event before their championship win was another run to the finals, finishing second at the Shorty Jenkins Classic.  These ladies are firing on all cylinders right now.


Qualifiers:  Team Flaxey, Team Harrison, Team Kean, Team Auld, Team Cottrill, Team Inglis

Championship:  Team Flaxey over Team Kean

Enjoy the action this weekend rock heads and stoners.  Keep an eye for more developing information on #BroomGate as well.  Join the conversation/debate by posting your thoughts here or on twitter.  The equipment used affects the players and their results but also affects the fans of the sport.  Let Curling Canada and your favourite teams know how you feel about #BroomGate and possible equipment regulation.