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Thursday, 29 October 2015

#BetweenTheSheets: The Masters Has Arrived
No green jackets here...only green rings

Rock heads and stoners rejoice, #TwineTime has returned!  Ok not that I was heavily missed but due to work commitments (and a lovely visit to Lake Louise, AB last weekend) I was unable to do the blog post last week.  My apologies to you all....deep down I know you missed me.  And I miss you (and curling) as well.  What a week to come back to though....a grand slam event!

Before we do the spin-o-rama report on The Masters (and a mention to a MASSIVE junior spiel happening this weekend as well), let's take a quick #GunnerRunback at what went down last weekend on tour:
  • Top men's and women's teams met in Red Deer, AB for the Red Deer Curling Classic.  On the men's side, Edmonton's Mick Lizmore (btw congrats Brad Chyz!) rink ended the 2-year title reign for rival province Saskatchewan beating Regina finalist Jason Ackerman's squad.  Defending champion Josh Heidt lost the SF to Lizemore.  On the women's side, #TwineTime's ROY contender Kelsey Roque made it an Edmonton sweep on top of the podium, besting current world champion Alina Paetz from Switzerland.  Paetz was the defending champion and Rocque's win ended the two-year championship reign for the Swiss (Binia Feltscher won in 2013).
  • At the Challenge Chateau Cartier de Gatineau, Brad Gushue and company continued their dominating season picking up another title defeating surprise finalist Mark Bice.  Shout out to a #TwineTime favorite Guy Hemmings in making the playoffs, falling to The Goo in the QF.
  • The women hit the ice in Portage, MB for the Canad Inns Women's Classic.  Defending Canadian champion Jennifer Jones welcomed back super lead Dawn McEwen and rediscovered their winning ways.  Unfortunately they would fall one win short, losing the final to the upstart Korean team of EunJung Kim.  The Jones rink was the two-time defending champion heading into this year's event. 
  • The Red and White hosting of Champery, Switzerland proved to be good luck for another team representing the Red and White.  New Brunswick's James "Jimmy The Kid" Grattan took the Curling Masters Champery title beating home favorite Rito Keller in the final. 
  • The Lady Monctonian Invitational Spiel in Moncton, NB saw an all-Halifax, Nova Scotia final with Mary Mattatall beating Theresa Breen. The Mattatall rink reached their second consecutive event final last weekend and skip Mary Mattatall picking up her first tour victory since 2004.  
  • At the Bernick's Miller Lite Open in Bemidji, MN, the junior rivalry between Canada's Matty Dunstone rink and USA's Korey Dropkin continued to build.  Once again the red and white reigned supreme though.  Dunstone knocked off Dropkin in the final game of the round robin en route to picking up the championship over another American rink, Pete Fenson.  The battle for the Junior #CanAmCup (or North American Cup as the teams are calling it) is becoming a heated rivalry, one #TwineTime has called to be the North American Rivalry of the Future.  Mark my words folks, these two skips are going to be battling for world championship and Olympic gold one day!
Photo courtesy of Korey Dropkin's Instagram (@koreydropkin)
    Did the results of last weekend shake up the #PowerRankings?  We must also remember, as there was no blog post last week (again, my bad..blame work!), these rankings take into consideration play of not only last weekend but the previous weekend results as well.  Which teams are on the top heading into the grand slam event and which teams are on the cusp of moving up?  Let's take a look:

MEN'S

1. Brad Gushue (LW: 1)
2. Mike McEwen (LW: 2)
3. Kevin Koe (LW: 3)
4. Steve Laycock (LW: HM)
5. Brad Jacobs (LW: 5)

Hon. Mention:  Team Bottcher, Team Howard, Team Thomas

  • Goo picked up another W last weekend, coupled with Mikey's shocking failure to qualify two weeks ago in Portage, cements the team from The Rock on top of the table...for now. 
  • Koe stays in the coveted #3 spot but almost inched past the #redpants.  The final appearance in Portage was impressive and this team could be the hottest team on tour right now, after Gushue.  Imagine if Koe wins The Masters and either Gushue or McEwen fail to make the playoffs....what would happen to the rankings then?
  • Welcome #TeamOranje to the Top 5.  After going undefeated en route to the title in Portage, knocking off top teams McEwen, Koe and Edin, the Sask foursome earned this spot.  A strong showing this week at The Masters could see these boys push the Top 3 and create a Rival 4 for the season.  Special Happy Birthday shout out to skip Steve Laycock, celebrating his birthday on Thursday October 29.
  • Welcome Charley Thomas to the honourable mention section.  Team Thomas surprised many in Portage with their semifinal appearance.  Not #TwineTime though.  Go back a few weeks and see why Team Thomas was listed as a dark horse team to watch.  These guys mean business and are looking to give the top teams a run for their money.  Don't undersell them just because they aren't playing in the grand slam events...yet!

WOMEN'S

1. Rachel Homan (LW: 1)
2. Eve Muirhead (LW: 2)
3. Alina Paetz (LW: 4)
4. Anna Sidorova (LW: 5)
5. Kelsey Rocque (LW: HM)

Hon. Mention:  Team Tirinzoni, Team Kim, Team Jones, Team Sweeting

  • Homan and Muirhead stay at the top.  Sure Eve and company are not winning spiels but they are qualifying in every event and that kind of consistency says a lot.  Not too many teams are able to do this week in and week out...other than the team at the top of course!  Homan has her team looking VERY hungry for a world championship this season and is showing no signs of slowing down.
  • The World Champion moves up a spot to 3 by making the final last weekend and trying to defend her title from a year ago.  Again, consistency matters.  Not every team will pick up a spiel win every week but when you make the playoffs and have strong results, that's what carries you through.  Perhaps this is also a bit of tennis ranking-bias in me too for the strong repeat performance.
  • Welcome Kelsey Rocque!  For weeks I have been debating whether to move this team into the Top 5 but after picking up the title last weekend, no question now.  These young ladies have arrived and Rocque seems to have found her spot in the women's game now.  If I was Sweeting or Chelsea Carey, I would be a bit concerned right now.  Again, don't fault this team for not playing at The Masters, that is due to how the teams are selected by ranking cut off date.  This team deserves to be there!
  • The Honourable Mention section is getting crowded with the women's rankings as well.  Tirinzoni drops out of the Top 5 as her Tour Challenge victory is holding less and less weight, especially as we kick off a new grand slam event.  Team Kim continues to impress and is on the cusp of moving up as well.  Jones and Sweeting are also just a strong showing away from moving up.  Finding a Top 5 in the women's game right now is becoming increasingly difficult week in and week out.
The voting for Top Dawg on the #TwineTime men's Power Rankings is coming to a close this weekend.  Voting will remain open until the end of the Master's event.  The top spot vote has actually shifted over the past few weeks.  The Goo was a clear leader when voting opened but #redpants have poured it on and now lead the fan vote 36% to 34%.  Team Koe remains in third spot with 8% of the vote.  Interesting note, Jacobs has been passed in the voting as well by both Howard and Edin.  Have your say though now (FOUND HERE)!  The team with the most votes will take over top spot on next week's #PowerRankings.  Starting as well for November, we will do a similar vote to crown the women's top team.  Stay tuned....

Ok let's turn our attention to the excitement of this week: The Masters!  This year will celebrate the 15th year of the men's Masters tournament and the 4th year for the women's Masters.  Before we put on our sliders and hit the ice with predictions, here are a quick facts about the Masters:

  • This will be the first time The Masters has been hosted in Nova Scotia.  Truro will open up their upgraded facility to the best curlers in the world over the next few days.  The Masters has been held in Ontario a record 8 times.  Newfoundland and Labrador have hosted twice, including the inaugural spiel back in 2002 in Gander.  Saskatchewan has hosted twice as well, with the most recent being way back in January 2008.  British Columbia (2013) and Manitoba (2014) recently hosted their first Masters championship. 
  • The format has the Top 13 teams based on the current Order of Merit rankings automatically qualify for this event.  The Tour Challenge Tier II winners also received an invite (Jim Cotter, Kerri Einarson) as well as two sponsor exemptions for local teams (Shawn Adams, Mary-Anne Arsenault)
  • Nobody has dominated the Masters title like Glenn Howard.  Howard is a 6-time champion at this event, including winning 4 in a row.  His most recent title came in 2013.  He has also never lost a final here so should he be playing on Sunday, don't bet against him.
  • The #KoeCurse was finally lifted at this event when Kevin Koe won his first Masters title in 2012.  Prior to this victory, Koe was always the best man and never the groom.  Koe had previously made three straight finals and went 0-3...losing all three finals to Glenn Howard.
  • On the women's side, Rachel Homan won the first two Masters titles in 2012 and 2013.  She was denied the three-peat last season though, losing in the SF to eventual champion (and main tour rival) Val Sweeting.
  • The Masters has not been kind to the best international teams.  No team outside Canada has ever won a Masters title, men's or women's.  In fact, on the men's side there has never even been an international finalist!  The past two seasons have seen an international women's finalist with Eve Muirhead (2013) and Margaretha Sigfridsson (2014) coming up just short.  Can Nik Edin, David Murdoch or Thomas Ulsrud end the dreaded men's curse?  For the women, 7 of the 15 teams competing this week are international teams.  If there was ever an opportunity for an international women's champion, this could be the year.
So you know the Top 5 heading into the #gsoc event.  You received a brief history lesson on #TheMasters.  What do you say we get in the hack and make the perfect draw to the button with predictions?

The Masters Grand Slam of Curling
Truro, Nova Scotia

2014 Champions:  Brad Gushue (men) & Val Sweeting (women)

Format:  15-team round robin with 8 qualifiers

The Favorites:

Team Gushue - No surprise here.  Goo and the boys from The Rock have been the best team on tour this entire season.  I don't put a lot of weight into the rankings or order of merit, I go strictly by on ice results and how teams stack up against their competition and, this season, Gushue has proven he can beat anyone, all the time.  Five championships already this season and a runner up finish at the Tour Challenge, why would anyone bet against Brad to pick up another grand slam title?

Team Homan - Again, no surprise.  Homan and company have gone straight up #MeanGirls over the tour lately.  Similar to their #TwineTime top ranking team above, a runner up finish at the Tour Challenge seemed to only spark this team.  Three tour victories later and this team is looking like the team that dominated Canadian curling just two short years ago.  Homan wants that Canadian title back.  Last year this team lost a bit of that dominating and intimidating factor at events.  Teams aren't scared to face them....but they are starting to get concerned again.

Watch Out For:

Team Koe - The Kevin Koe of the past has resurfaced this season.  Yes he is only two years removed from a Canadian title but last season was a struggle with the newly formed team.  One year under their belts and they are looking like a serious threat to win a few grand slam titles, make a push for the number one ranking and, more importantly, reclaim that Brier championship.  The Tour Challenge win brought this team back to relevance.  The two victories that followed in Edmonton and Portage brought this team back to real contenders.  Lots of confidence on this team right now.

Team Sweeting - This is not the same dominant tour team we have seen from Val the past two seasons.  But don't sell them short either.  Remember this team has back-to-back Scotties final appearances under their sliders and are the defending champions at this event.  With only 1 tour title to their credit this season, it is easy to see why many may be underestimating this team against a stellar line-up this week.  The disappointing Tour Challenge result doesn't help either I suppose.  But I really like their chances to pick up, at minimum, 3 wins in their group.  The draw is going to help them build that confidence and momentum needed for a repeat playoff run.

The Dark Horse:

Team Cotter - The Tour Challenge Tier II champions should not be considered sideline players this week.  This team dominated the Tier II competition at the beginning of the season to earn their spot here.  Let's remember Cotter was here last year as well and is by no means new to grand slam events.  This is an experienced team.  They enter with momentum as well with back-to-back semifinal appearances at their last two events.  Everyone made the joke "Welcome back, Cotter" after the Tour Challenge event, I think Jim is ready to stay in the upper echelon group of contenders for awhile now.  Don't let the rankings fool you!


Team Kim -  Another team where you need to overlook the rankings and look at the results.  Korea's Kim currently sits 13th in the rankings but the results show another story.  How many teams above them are sitting with two event wins this season and a semifinal grand slam appearance?  Exactly!  Kim shocked many in the curling world with their deep playoff run at the Tour Challenge but really it shouldn't have been a huge surprise.  In September, they entered Paradise fresh off a title the previous week in Corwall and made the SF.  This week, they enter Truro fresh off a huge title in Portage last weekend and....#historyrepeating?


Projected Standings:

Men

Pool A                                 Pool B                                  Pool C

Jacobs 3-1                           McEwen 4-0                         Gushue 4-0
Cotter 3-1                            Koe 3-1                                 Edin 3-1
Bottcher 2-2                        Laycock 2-2                          Howard 2-2
Carruthers 2-2                     Simmons 1-3                         Epping 1-3
Ulsrud 0-4                           Adams 0-4                             Murdoch 0-4

Women

Pool A                                 Pool B                                  Pool C

Homan 4-0                          Jones 3-1                              Sweeting 4-0
Kim 2-2                              Paetz 3-1                               Muirhead 3-1
Tirinzoni 2-2                      Sidorova 2-2                          McDonald 1-3
Fleury 1-3                          Middaugh 1-3                        Feltscher 1-3
Sigfridsson 1-3                  Arsenault 1-3                         Einarson 1-3

Qualifiers:

Men - Team Jacobs, Team Cotter, Team McEwen, Team Koe, Team Laycock, Team Gushue, Team Edin, Team Howard

Women - Team Homan, Team Kim, Team Tirinzoni, Team Jones, Team Paetz, Team Sidorova, Team Sweeting, Team Muirhead

Men's Championship: Team Gushue over Team Koe

Women's Championship: Team Homan over Team Sweeting


BrokerLink OVC Junior SuperSpiel
Ottawa, ON

2014 Champion:  Korey Dropkin (men) and Lauren Horton (women)

Format:  32 team (16 men and 16 women) triple knockout with 8 qualifiers (4 men and 4 women).  This is a mixed event with a men's and women's draw being held simultaneously. 

What 2 Watch 4:  This is the future of curling all on the ice at one time.  Some of the best junior curling teams in Canada will be competing, including defending World Junior Men's Champion Braden Calvert.  Other top Canadian junior men's teams include:  Matt Dunstone (MB), Rene Comeau (NB), Tanner Horgan (ON) and Greg Smith (NL).  The international field will be strong as well on the men's side with defending Superspiel champion Korey Dropkin representing USA in addition to Bruce Mouat from Scotland.  The women's draw will also see some familiar junior teams on the ice, notably defending champion Lauren Horton (ON), Justine Comeau (NB), Sarah Hill (NL) and Carina McKay-Saturnino (NS).  The women will also see some strong international teams in Ottawa with Cory Christensen (USA) and Sophie Jackson (SCO) leading the way.  This field is deep with national and world championship experience.  Of these teams competing, some will become future men's and women's World Champions...and perhaps Olympic Champs!  Also worth noting, there will be one mixed team competing on the men's draw.  Tyler Tardi will be joined by former Nova Scotia junior champion (and already a winner on tour this season) Mary Fay.

Qualifiers

Men - Team Dunstone, Team Dropkin, Team Calvert, Team Comeau

Women - Team Christensen, Team Jackson, Team Horton, Team Brandwood

Champions:

Men - Team Dunstone over Team Dropkin

Women - Team Christensen over Team Brandwood

Stay glued to CurlingZone for end by end coverage of each draw at The Masters as well as check out live games on Sportsnet beginning Thursday October 29.  For the SuperSpiel, check out CurlingZone but also go to CurlingGeek for live shot by shot coverage of some of the big games taking place this weekend. 

As well, head over to NerdCurl to see how the #TwineTime vs. NerdCurl Challenge shakes out as we compare predictions.  NerdCurl has the slight lead heading into this weekend's event but stay strong #TwineTime followers..we can win this for Canada!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!