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Thursday, 5 November 2015

#BetweenTheSheets: BroomGate to Safety Patrol
Curling controversies sliding into the house this season
What a curling season we are having rock heads.  More slams, different formats and new teams was the main focus heading into the season.  A few months later and talk of #BroomGate, equipment regulation and safety concerns are now the dominant topics.  Are we losing our attention to the action on the ice?
Change is inevitable in sports...in fact evolution of the game is often encouraged.  Remember when the 4-rock rule was brought into play?  Some were for, some were against, some sat on the fence.  The introduction of the page playoff system was another change that, back in the day, stirred some debate.  Purists of the sport argue changing the sport can be harmful.  Evolutionists charge back the sport needs to have growth to stay relevant in an ever-evolving, media dominating, action packed sports world.  Both sides have a point.  It is finding that middle ground of enhancing the sport without taking away the pure art behind the history of curling. 
Now we see focus shifting to all new heights.  BroomGate brought forward the notion of an unfair competitive advantage for some teams using certain equipment.  Evolution of sport sure but keeping the sport pure of "cheating" is something nobody wants.  Now, to be clear, I am not saying I agree or disagree with the arguments being made on both sides of the coin.  I am not a curler.  I am not on the ice using, trying and testing various different equipment.  I will say equipment regulation rules are a normal progression for all sports.  Hockey, baseball, tennis, golf, athletics, volleyball...the list goes on and on from professional sports to amateur sports.  Which category does curling fall into?  Does it matter?  The fact being regulation takes the control out of the hand of manufacturers and levels the playing field.  Is this not what we want to see happen?  Nobody wants to see a team have an advantage on the ice based solely on which equipment they use.  Should a team who has a higher profile or more financial support or the ability to become "full time" curlers be given an advantage on equipment over a new team?  A junior team?  A "part time" curling team?  I would say nobody wants to see this, especially the fans.  We want to see the best athletes, the best strategy, the best curling possible without equipment playing a factor.  Right now, the argument could be made various manufacturers are playing too strong a role in the evolution of the sport.  I say the athletes, the governing bodies, the fans should take back control of the sport we all love.  Remember, equipment manufacturers need us more than we need them!  Yes, many (if not all perhaps) have a passion for the sport, a love for the game.  But, the end game for any business is always the same: financial advantage.  If a team wants to use company A over company B, go for it.  Forge a strong relationship with one over the other, nothing wrong with that.  We see that in many sports with some teams choosing Nike over Adidas or Under Armour.  Hockey sees players choose Bauer over Cooper or vice versa.  But are the outcomes on the field, or in this case the ice, decided by the equipment manufacturer an athlete is using?  It shouldn't be!  A team doesn't win because they wear Nike.  A team doesn't lose because they wear Adidas.  Curling should be no different.  The broom you use, the slider you wear, the shoes you put on....in essence they should all be the same with just a different logo attached.  How you use the same equipment, the preparation you bring to the ice, the skillset you acquire through those long training hours....that is what should make you a champion.  Equipment regulation, seizing control of the game away from the business and back into the hack of the athletes, should be encouraged by all.  But hey, I am just one fan...what do I know?
This past week has been a crazy one.  The Masters wrapped up, head injuries with concussion protocol was raised...and #TwineTime notched a first of it's own.  But let's start with the celebrations with a #GunnerRunback of last week's action.
  • The Masters of Curling sailed to success in Truro, Nova Scotia.  A highly competitive field on both the men's and women's side yielded some great games for both athletes and fans alike.  On the men's side, Team McEwen brought home their second Masters title and 6th grand slam title overall, besting #TourChallenge Tier II champion Jim Cotter in the final.  Cotter remember had to win the Tier II title in Paradise just to earn a spot at this grand slam event.  And did he make the most of it with an incredible run to the final.  On the women's side, Team Homan once again went #MeanGirls on the competition.  Homan went undefeated at the event, besting rival (and defending champion) Val Sweeting in the final.  Similar to Cotter's nice result though, props to Tier II champion Kerri Einarson's rink reaching the SF in Truro.  Another shout out to home province favorites Team Arsenault.  Not considered a threat entering the event by many (myself included, my apologies Team Arsenault), they gave the fans something to cheer for upsetting Jennifer Jones in the RR and finishing with a 3-1 record en route to nabbing a QF spot.  The results of the Tier II champions truly opens another debate though on the points system currently in place for grand slam qualification.  But we may need to tackle that at another time...only so much room in one blog post!
  • At the Medicine Hat Charity Classic, congrats goes to Calgary's Shannon Kleibrink's rink on their title defeating defending champion Casey Scheidegger in the final.  On the men's side, Saskatchewan's Shaun Meachem rink continues to find success in the neighbor province of Alberta picking up their second title of the season beating Randy Bryden in the final.
  • In Whitby, ON, Jacqueline Harrison took home the Gord Carroll Curling Classic title with a defeat of Mallory Kean in the final.
  • In Sarnia, ON, the American rink skipped by John Shuster picked up their first title of the year in cooling off the recently red hot Mark Bice rink to claim the Huron ReproGraphics Oil Heritage Classic championship.

A scary incident occurred during the live televised quarterfinal match-up in Truro between Brad Gushue and Steve Laycock.  Brad Gushue took an unfortunate slip on the ice and landed head first.  For those who were watching live, it was a shocking moment to see.  Gut wrenching and scary to be honest.  Seeing one of the best curlers of the year land on his head on hard ice caused massive concern.  Social media blew up instantly.  I will not provided a link or image of the fall but I am sure you are all tech savvy enough to find it for yourself if interested.  When Gushue got up, blood oozed from his head above his right eye.  There was blood on the ice and, for a moment, the competition took a break out of concern for one of their own.  Luckily Gushue was able to walk off the ice, towel in hand, and head to the hospital for stitches and a medical look over.  Gushue would return to the ice to end the game with his team, much to the surprise and cheers of those in the crowd (and watching at home).  Sporting a nasty shiner and stitches, in the post-game interview (Gushue's team wound up losing the game), Goo said his head hurt a bit but his ego was hurting more.  A solid response from a strong athlete.  But even with that response, concussion protocol entered the minds of many.  Should Gushue been discharged from the hospital that quick?  Should he have been allowed back onto the ice?  We question the medical advice.  We question the power's of be watching over the sport and the event and ask if they should have stepped in and maybe stopped him from returning?  From Brad's perspective, sure he wants to get back on the ice and join his team trying to win a grand slam quarterfinal.  Completely understandable from a competitive perspective and respect to him.  But sometimes others need to step in and look out for the greater good of the athlete, even when the athlete's own drive/passion/love of the sport is taking over.  To be fair, I have no idea if this happened and maybe the medical staff and event organizers did their proper due diligence and Brad was perfectly fine.  Of course, those of us who have watched sports for years know concussions should be taken very serious.  Let's be thankful Gushue did not suffer another fall.  His head HAD to be throbbing throughout that last end.  There is great debate right now over whether helmets should be worn by curlers.  I don't think we need to go that far but we do need to recognize slips on the ice happen...they happen more often than perhaps we want to admit.  The question should be, does Curling Canada or the World Curling Tour have up to date concussion protocols in place for monitoring the well-being of an athlete.  We get the tough guy image of not wanting to take a seat because we bump our head...but sometimes ego needs to be put aside when someone from a governing body standpoint says "I'm sorry, based on what we know about this kind of injury and concussions, we need to look out for the best interest of you as an athlete.  We cannot let you back on the ice."  There is no shame in this!  Time will tell what happens next but this conversation, similar to BroomGate, is only in the opening end.

Ok, I am really on a soap box rant this week aren't I?  Well, one last point to make here.  This week also brought something new to #TwineTime: disagreement!  I have been happily going about my business on this blog for over a year now covering a sport I love.  I have been thankful to receive feedback every once and awhile from the curling athletes themselves on how they read the blog and enjoy it.  Every time I am always shocked and surprised (and VERY thankful) to receive feedback from the very athletes I write about.  This week I saw a new type of feedback.  I had a team call me out for how they perceive I have portrayed them in my blog.  I wouldn't say it was a negative call out or an attempt by the team to slam or disrespect me, at least I didn't take it that way.  But they did call me out for, what they perceive, my lack of respect towards their success this season.  A very fair argument from their point of view.  As I feel I have the freedom of speech to write about the sport, they also have the freedom of speech to question me.  In the end, I respect all teams, all athletes.  My comments, my predictions, my #PowerRankings....anything I say about the sport is never meant to be disrespectful to anyone.  I call the action as I see it and offer up just one perspective on the sport.  I have a set process I use every week for every event, taking many points into consideration when making picks (ie: draw, recent results, history etc).  Am I always right?  Nope, not even close.  Am I completely out in left field and have no knowledge about the sport?  I wouldn't go that far.  Sure, I have also been told by someone I write too many fluff blog posts and am not critical enough of players and teams.  At the same time, from the same person, I am told I do not respect the results on the ice.  At the end of the day, this is all a positive.  From my perspective, it is a compliment when a team actually wants to reach out to me and disagree with me.  It means they are actually reading what I write.  I am flattered!  From (hopefully) their perspective, this blog adds additional coverage to the sport and continues to #growthesport.  Not everyone is going to like what I say.  Not everyone is going to agree.  But if I can get most to read and stir debate or conversation amongst athletes and fans, don't we all win in the long run?  What a world we live in where we get to debate sports...SPORTS.....in comparison to many of the other issues going on around us.  Sports can unite a town, city, community, country without (hopefully) racial, gender, religion, sexual orientation boundaries.  I love sports.  I love writing about sports.  I love curling.  I love writing about curling.  Hopefully you, as a reader, agree with at least that much!

And let's step off the soap box and get back to the love of the game shall we?  The #PowerRankings are going to be interesting this week.  The results of the Masters should cause quite the shake up.  In addition, for weeks fans have been voting on this site for which men's team they think should top the rankings.  Voting closed Nov. 1 and, as promised, the team with the most votes automatically would be given the top spot this week.  The survey says....

MEN

1.  Brad Gushue (LW: 1)
2. Mike McEwen (2)
3. Kevin Koe (3)
4. Steve Laycock (4)
5. Jim Cotter (NR)

Hon. Mention:  Team Jacobs, Team Carruthers, Team Edin, Team Howard
  • The Goo squeaked out a victory in the fan vote, picking up 36% of the votes barely beating Masters champ McEwen (33%).  McEwen winning the Masters for sure caused me to wonder about this but, in looking at complete resume for the season, Gushue still deserves the top ranking spot.  They have been the top team all season.  But the gap between Gushue and McEwen continues to close each week.
  • Koe and Laycock both retain their spots due to the strong SF showings in Truro.  Hard to move either of them up or down right now.  Laycock beating Gushue was impressive, especially after their horrendous 0-2 start.  Koe rolled along as expected and lost out to the #redpants in the SF.  The top 4 right now are looking very strong.
  • Jimmy Cotter debuts in the Top 5, moving from unranked to spot #5.  And why not!  A #TourChallenge title to his credit and now a finalist spot at the Masters.  This team is dangerous.  Sure we may not have seen them as often on tour this season as the teams above and below them, but when they are on the ice, watch out!  They have made the SF or better in all 5 of their events this season.  Not too many teams have that kind of winning record.
  • Jacobs drops out of the Top 5 due to the strong run of Cotter but stays mentioned with his QF showing.  Similar for Carruthers, another QF showing for the defending Manitoba champs.  Edin makes the QF in Truro keeping the world champion in the hunt for top spot.  And Howard lost a tiebreaker to Laycock but still had a strong week as well.
  • For reference on the fan vote, Koe finished with 10% of the vote, Howard 6%, Edin 5%, Jacobs 3% and Other 3% as well.

WOMEN

1. Rachel Homan (LW: 1)
2. Anna Sidorova (4)
3. Val Sweeting (HM)
4. Eve Muirhead (2)
5. Silvana Tirinzoni (HM)

Hon. Mention:  Team Paetz, Team Rocque, Team Jones, Team Kim, Team Einarson
  • No question Homan remains on top of the standings.  Another event, another title.  5 events.  4 titles.  1 runner-up.  Any questions?
  • Sidorova and Sweeting are the big movers this week.  Anna's 3-1 record and QF appearance move her up the list.  Val's run to the finals (which included defeating Anna in the QF and Einarson in the SF) make Team Sweeting the biggest movers.
  • Muirhead suffered a disappointing 1-3 Masters event, causing the slight slip.  Tirinzoni went the opposite direction with a 3-1 record and QF showing.  Remember Tirinzoni did win the Tour Challenge as well.
  • The honourable mention category is filling up quick.  Paetz drops out of the Top 5 due to her poor Masters showing (1-3).  Jones and Kim battled in a tiebreaker (Jones won) for the right to lose to Homan in the QF so hard to drop these teams from mention.  Rocque didn't qualify for the Masters (again, let's question the qualification perhaps) but we will see her at next slam (The National).  And how can we ignore Einarson?  The Tour Challenge Tier II winner makes a surprising run to the SF in Truro. 

Ok fans, now let's turn the tables over to you once again.  We let the men take control of the fan vote, time for the ladies to have their chance.  On the main page (HERE) have your voice heard on who you think should top the women's #PowerRankings.  The options are available and voting is NOW OPEN!  As with the men, we will keep this vote open for 2 months and the team who garnishes the largest support will begin 2016 at the top of the rankings.

As most of you are aware, #TwineTime is locked into a battle with @NerdCurl for predicting the results of all the major events on tour.  As we entered the Masters, NerdCurl held a 14-11 advantage.  I am happy to report TT did outscore NC at the Masters, winning the event 19-18.  I accurately predicted 7 of the 8 men's qualifiers (I did have Howard qualifying but he lost a TB, so I say half point should go to me LOL).  I missed on the final though as I did not have McEwen or Cotter.  On the ladies side, an average prediction on qualification with only nabbing 5/8.  However, huge success with the final going perfect calling Homan to defeat Sweeting.  As we prep for The National next week, NC has a slim 32 - 30 lead.  Don't worry TT fans, I got this!

Week 12 on tour is a tricky one.  A week after one #gsoc event and a week before another.  Do the top teams take the week off to prepare?  Do they hit the ice and squeeze in another event to get more ice time?  What about the teams who didn't qualify for The National?  Is this their time to try and pick up some points and move up the rankings ladder?  AND we kick off the #SeasonofChampions as we prepare to crown our first Canadian champion of the season at the 2016 Canadian Mixed Curling Championship (running from Nov. 8 - 14).

Let's slide in to #TourLifePredictions:

MIXED

Canadian Mixed Curling Championship

Toronto, ON

2015 Champion:  Team Saskatchewan (Max Kirkpatrick, Jolene Campbell, Chris Haichert, Teejay Haichert)


Format:  14 team round robin.  Top 4 in each preliminary pool advance to the Championship Round pool where Top 4 compete for the title.  Bottom 3 in each preliminary pool advance to Seeding Pool.

Top Players Entered: Mick Lizmore (Skip, AB), Dean Joanisse (Skip, BC), Bruce Korte (Skip, SK), Dawn Moses (Vice, NWT), Brit O'Neill (Vice, ON), Amanda Gates (Lead, NOnt)

Dark Horse Candidates:  Can Team NWT replicate the championship final run of one-year ago from brother/sister duo Jamie Koe and Kerry Galusha?  Or will another surprise contender emerge to challenge the traditional power provinces?  A surprise may come from Maxime Elmaleh's Quebec team.  They are competing in the weaker of the two preliminary pools and could use a hot start to propel them to a championship round run.

What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4):  The mixed is always a bit of a roulette wheel for predicting who will come out on top.  With the event taking place mid-way through the curling season, some of the players have not had much playing time together since winning their provincial championships.  Most have been on tour with their men's and women's teams but re-connecting with a new team and re-establishing the dynamics and strategy is a steep learning curve at a Canadian championship.  At the same time, history has taught us the more experienced skip-led teams often have a strong showing.  Previous Canadian champions include: Jeff Stoughton (1988, 1991), Kevin Koe (2000), Jean-Michel Menard (2001), Mark Dacey (2002, 2010), Shannon Kleibrink (2004, 1st and only female skipped team to win), Mark Nichols (2005) and John Epping (2006).

Championship Round Qualifiers:  B.C. (Joanisse), Alberta (Lizmore), Saskatchewan (Korte), Northern Ontario (Colin Koivula), Quebec (Maxime Elmaleh), Manitoba (Bob Sigurdson), Ontario (Mike McLean), New Brunswick (Charlie Sullivan)

Championship:  Team B.C. (Joanisse) over Team Saskatchewan (Korte)

MEN

CookstownCash

Cookstown, ON

2014 Champion:  Pat Ferris

Format:  30 team round robin with 12 qualifiers

Top Teams Entered: Team Epping, Team Kean, Team Casey, Team McCormick, Team De Cruz, Team Clark

Dark Horse Candidates:  Mark Bice has been on a roll the past few weeks.  After curling with Greg Balsdon the past few seasons, Bice returned to the skipping position this year with a new team.  They struggled in their first two events of the season, failing to qualify.  But the ship seems to be in clear sailing mode now.  Back-to-back runner-up finishes in Gatineau and Sarnia have turned this team from pretender to contender.  Could Team Bice be the dark horse team to challenge for the Ontario tankard title this season?

What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4):  Can Pat Ferris make it 3 for 4?  This is the 4th year of this event and Ferris has won two of the previous three (2014, 2012).  Many people outside of Ontario may not be familiar with Ferris but he seems to bring his A game to this event when he signs up to compete.  This event also serves as a mini litmus test for many Ontario teams.  How will they stake up against one another?  With defending ON tankard champion Mark Kean, last year's tankard finalist John Epping and other notable Tankard contending players like Greg Balsdon, Scott Bailey and Mike Harris in the field, if one of these teams can end up being the sole survivor they will have a ton of confidence moving into the second half of the season.  But be warned, don't undersell the non-Ontario teams either.  USA is well represented with Heath McCormick and Brady Clark.  PEI's Team Casey and Switzerland's Peter De Cruz may have struggled so far on tour but these are two teams who could right the ship quick and turn out a championship performance at any time.

Qualifiers:  Team Epping, Team Clark, Team Bailey, Team Ferris, Team McCormick, Team Dow, Team Bice, Team Balsdon, Team Casey, Team Murphy, Team Kean, Team Maus

Championship:  Team Bice over Team Maus

Original 16 WCT Bonspiel

Calgary, AB

2014 Champion:  Brock Virtue 

Format:  16 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers

Top Teams Entered:  Team Thomas, Team Lizmore, Team Virtue, Team Sluchinski

Dark Horse Candidates:  Kevin Yablonski could be a surprise team this weekend in Calgary.  Yablonski has quietly put together a strong season on tour, reaching the SF in Edmonton and the final in Airdrie.  A tough result last weekend in Medicine Hat hurt a bit but I think the momentum is still there for this team to break through for another shot at qualifying.  The draw won't be easy as they find themselves in the top bracket stacked against many top contending teams. 

W2W4:  A top heavy draw could see a few top contending teams drop down to the B side fairly quick.  With Thomas, Virtue and Sluchinksi all on the top A side of the draw, only 1 will survive while the others will be have to fight it out in the B (or C).  And how will defending champion Brock Virtue's team respond with yet another new line-up for the season?  Matt Blandford has stepped back from tour play for the rest of the season and Virtue will be back in the house calling the shots with an updated team in front of him.  Consider this also an advantage for teams on the lower bracket of the A side.  Can a team like Kim or Park or Konschuh take advantage of this opportunity early on?

Qualifiers:  Team Thomas, Team Lizmore, Team Sluchinksi, Team Kim, Team Yablonski, Team Virtue, Team Park, Team Konschuh

Championship:  Team Thomas over Team Sluchinski
WOMEN
Colonial Square Ladies Classic

Saskatoon, SK

2014 Champion:  Eve Muirhead

Format:  32 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers

Top Teams Entered: Team Paetz, Team Lawton, Team Carey, Team Sinclair

Dark Horse Candidates:  Madison, Wisconsin's own #BadgerTeam of Erika Brown is a team to be wary of this week.  Brown has qualified in all 3 events they have played this season, most recently in Portage.  They have played against many of the teams they could face this weekend as well and come out victorious.  Without the support of the USA Performance Centre, Brown and company have been on their own competing and earning valuable points towards qualification for the 2016 world championship and the right to wear the Red, White and Blue. 

W2W4:  This event can almost be renamed the Stef Lawton Charity Classic...as in Lawton allows teams to compete for 2nd place.  Isn't it kind of her to invite 31 of her closest friends to her hometown of Saskatoon just so she can often beat them all and hand out some consolation prize money at the same time?  Ok but being serious, since 2004, Lawton has claimed this championship 5 times.  Now recently Lawton failed to qualify (2013) and last year she skipped this event as she was still getting ready to return to the ice following the birth of her child.  But Lawton loves playing at home and often comes up big.  It is hard to bet against her having a strong showing this weekend.

Qualifiers:  Team Lawton, Team Montford, Team Carey, Team Brown, Team Flaxey, Team Englot, Team Sinclair, Team Paetz

Championship:  Team Lawton over Team Carey


CookstownCash

Cookstown, ON

2014 Champion:  Patti Lank

Format:  10 team round robin with 4 qualifiers

Top Teams Entered: Team Hasselborg

Dark Horse Candidates:  Are you familiar with Julie Tippin's rink?  No?  Well this is the time to get to know her and her team.  Tippin has a title already under her belt this season, winning the Stroud Sleeman Cash Spiel in Stroud, ON a few weeks ago.  Of the 4 events entered this season, Tippin and company have qualified in 3.  They have been consistent and should not be underestimated.  They also lucked out, in a way, of being in the perceived "softer" pool.

W2W4:  With 8 of the 10 teams registered being from Ontario, the question will be how the other 2 teams fair.  Led by Sweden's Anna Hasselborg, the international teams could prove to be the last teams standing come championship Sunday.  Last year's champion, American Patti Lank, is not competing but fellow compatriot and New York state team skipped by Joyance Meechai will be in attendance. 

Qualifiers:  Team Tippin, Team Cottrill, Team Hasselborg, Team Romain

Championship:  Team Hasselborg over Team Tippin

2015 Royal LePage OVCA Women's Fall Classic

Kemptville, ON

2014 Champion:  Cathy Auld

Format:  24 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers

Top Teams Entered: Team Tirinzoni, Team Arsenault, Team Hastings

Dark Horse Candidates:  Time to give the other half of the Kean family some due.  While husband Mark garners most of the family attention after his Brier appearance last season, wife Mallory has quietly been putting together a solid season this year with a new team.  They have qualified in 3 of the 4 events this season, including runner-up finishes at the opening event in Oakville and last weekend in Whitby.  This team stays close to home, playing only events in Ontario but is having tremendous success on home province ice.  This will be one of the strongest fields they have played in all season but they have strong momentum and confidence going their way right now.

W2W4:  There are MANY storylines to keep an eye on at this event.  We have the "Welcome Back" club of Marie-France Larouche and Jenn Hanna competing once again on tour.  We have the "GSOC" successful duo of Mary-Anne Arsenault and Silvana Tirinzoni.  We have "Veteran" teams of Julie Hastings, Cathy Auld and Theresa Breen.  We have the "Future" Scotties contenders of Mallory Kean, Danielle Inglis and Megan Balsdon.  Which of these groups will produce the sole survivor this weekend in Kemptville? 

Qualifiers: Team Tirinzoni, Team Hastings, Team Arsenault, Team Kean, Team Larouche, Team Breen, Team Harrison, Team Inglis 

Championship:  Team Tirinzoni over Team Hastings

Ok stoners, rock heads and sliders alike, enjoy the action on the ice.  As always follow along with CurlingZone for draw by draw coverage and CurlingGeek for live stone by stone coverage.  It may be November...and it may be getting cold out...but if you live in a city hosting a #wct event this weekend, go out to the club and support your favorite athletes on the ice.  Maybe buy them a hot chocolate....if you are cold, imagine how they feel?!