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Thursday, 12 November 2015

#BetweenTheSheets: Who Can Survive The Purple Curler Eater?
The National Grand Slam of Curling takes center stage


All ready for another Grand Slam of Curling event fans?  Can you believe it was only 2 weeks ago we were watching and cheering on our favorites at The Masters and here we are ready to do it up again.  This stretch of the grand slam season is similar to the middle grand slams in tennis with Wimbledon coming only a few weeks after the French Open.  Unlike tennis however, at least curlers do not have to transition from one surface to another.  It's all Ice, Ice, Baby!!

As is tradition, we begin each blog post looking back before we look forward.  Time to do up those seatbelts and hold on tight...here comes the #GunnerRunback:
  • In Cookstown, the Swiss reigned supreme last weekend.  Peter De Cruz and his team from Geneva, SUI captured the CookstownCash event beating Brent Ross in the final.  It has been a tough season for De Cruz and company so it was nice to see them get back to winning.  
  • At the Original 16 WCT Bonspiel in Calgary, home town favorite Charley Thomas continued his hot streak on the season beating Thomas Scoffin in the final.  Team Thomas has seen their ranking skyrocket into the Top 10 with this win (as predicted by #TwineTime btw).  Perhaps we will see Charley and company at a future grand slam?
  • The Colonial Square Ladies Classic in Saskatoon proved to be a welcome back event.  Former Northern Ontario champion Krista McCarville made her presence known in claiming the title.  With all the focus in NONT being on Team Fleury, McCarville's win last weekend was a statement to Fleury and the rest of the country not to forget about her.  The event also was a welcome back of sorts for Sherry Anderson.  Anderson left long-time teammate Stef Lawton in the offseason and is now skipping her own team.  Many thought this would be the end of Anderson  but pump the brakes folks!  Anderson had an outstanding event making the final before coming up short.  As McCarville throws down the challenge to Fleury, did Anderson do the same to Lawton this weekend?
  • In Kemptville, ON, home province favorite Jacqueline Harrison prevented an all-Swiss Ontario tournament weekend beating Silvana Tirinzoni in the Royal LePage OVCA Women's Fall Classic championship.  Harrison has been having an outstanding season of her own winning her second straight title and third of the season.  Welcome back notice also to Jenn Hanna.  The former Scotties finalist made the SF last weekend and this could be the start towards another Scotties run.  This event was not without some controversy though (#BroomGate) but more on that below.
Last week in this space I expressed my opinions on #BroomGate and the recent #SafetyPatrol controversies sliding around the curling world.  I want to express thank you to those fans and athletes who reached out and provided support comments over the past week.  While I do not pretend to know everything nor expect everyone to agree with me, I appreciate people taking the time to share their opinions and offer positive feedback.  *Warning: selfish praise moment coming up here* I was very flattered when the Team Canada Olympic twitter account read my blog and offered support.  How cool is that?  Ok back to the important topic at hand.  Unfortunately the #BroomGate debate continued to heat up the ice in Kemptville.  Now I say unfortunately not because of the comments made or what happened, more because this issue is really drawing negative attention towards a great sport with great athletes.  If you are unfamiliar with what I am referencing, here is a great response from Mary-Anne Arsenault over what she witnessed this past weekend.  You can easily read between the lines on which team she is referring to.  I 100% respect and admire Arsenault for her honest, candid opinion on the topic and thank her for sharing it with fans.  I can only hope we see resolution on this topic sooner rather than later.

Another nerve topic discussed last week was disagreement.  I touched base on a team calling me out for my lack of positive support in this weekly blog.  For a full recap, check it out HERE.  While I had hoped calling attention to this would not bring negative feedback but rather shed positive light on athlete/fan interaction, apparently this was not the case.  One athlete made the decision to unfriend/unfollow me after the post.  While this is disappointing to see, I cannot change how I write or my personal thoughts on the sport based on the feedback (positive or negative) of the athletes themselves.  Do I love the support I get at times from them?  Yes, of course...I'm always flattered.  Do I mean anything personal or negative on a team? Of course not.  In a perfect world I would have all curling teams across the world follow me and comment on what I write, whether they agree or disagree.  A few weeks back Mary-Anne Arsenault's team called me out for not picking them to do well at The Masters.  I was flattered they would even make a comment back to me, it meant they read the blog.  I responded saying they were right, they played better than I thought and I can admit I underestimated them.  It was a friendly exchange between athletes and a fan.  This is what I love to see and am thankful it happened.  I can only hope my honest take on the sport and the action on the ice can be seen as an increase to #growthesport and not be taken in a negative way.  Unfortunately one person now has this opinion but, as I said last week, if I want to have the freedom to write how I think, I need to respect this person on having the freedom to disagree and no longer read/follow/support this blog as well.

Alright, let's get on to the #PowerRankings.  With many of the top teams taking last weekend off to either prepare for this week's grand slam event or the upcoming European Championships, little movement was made in the rankings.  Let's check them out:

MEN

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

Hon. Mention:  Team Jacobs, Team Thomas, Team Carruthers, Team Edin
  • No real surprise here in the lack of movement.  The newest addition is welcoming Team Thomas into the Hon. Mention category.  This team will not be in Oshawa this week so may slide back a bit depending on how the rest of the teams mentioned do but they are still a team to watch out for this season.

WOMEN

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

Hon. Mention:  Team Rocque, Team Jones, Team Paetz, Team Kim, Team Harrison
  • The tumble up and down the rankings continue for Tirinzoni.  Another final appearance last weekend when most of her top competitors took the week off moves her up a spot this week.  With the top European teams declining the National bid this weekend, these rankings could see some shake up next week as well. 
  • Team Harrison moves into the Hon. Mention category this week.  One cannot deny the outstanding season and run this team in on right now.  Winning back-to-back weeks on tour is never easy and Harrison has done so.  Homan is the huge favorite to win Ontario again this season but Harrison is looking in fine form to try and give her a run.

VOTING REMINDER TIME!!!  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.  So far Homan is dominating the vote, as she has on the ice this season.  But do not just concede the top spot to her fans if you think otherwise.  Have your vote heard!

Now we get to the fun part, the preview of The National!  Purple rings will be the highlight of this event.  The question is which teams can survive the purple curler eating rings and pick up a grand slam title?  Remember a title this weekend not only means money and points but also a berth in the Champions Cup event at the end of the season.  Lots on the line this weekend in Oshawa.  Here is a quick primer on the event itself, The National:
  • This year's edition will be the 15th anniversary of The National.  Beginning in 2002, we have seen 7 different men's champions.  The all-time champion is a tie between Kevin Martin and Glenn Howard, with 4 titles each.  Wayne Middaugh also has 4 titles, 2 as a skip (2005, 2008) and 2 while playing with Howard (2012, 2014).
  • Ontario leads the pack of champions with 6 titles.  Alberta follows behind with 4 and Manitoba has 2.  Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec each have 1 title.
  • This event has been contested twice in one calendar year 4 times.  Back in 2004, the event took place in January and November.  In 2007, we saw the National in March and December.  In 2010, January and December crowned National champions.  And just last season, we crowned champions in March and November.
  • This is a milestone year for The National.  For the first time, the women will compete for this championship.  A great addition to the grand slam calendar and always a welcome sign when we see equality between the men's and women's tours.  Let's keep the grand slam events and opportunities the same, regardless of sex.  Plus the fans get more action....tv coverage has more games to choose from....sponsors win....everyone wins!  Welcome to The National ladies..sorry it took so long!  #TitleIX
  • The National has had its fair share of name changes.  Previous names of this event included:  The Pomeroy Inn & Suites National, The Swiss Chalet National, The BDO Curling Classic and the Syncrude National.  

Time to slip on the slider and tackle #TourLifePredictions:

The National Grand Slam of Curling
Oshawa, ON

2014 Champions:  Mike McEwen (men) & No Champion (New Event - Women)

Format:  15 team round robin with 8 qualifiers

The Favorites

Team McEwen - The defending champions are fresh off a grand slam title in Truro a few weeks ago and look to have found their groove of last season.  McEwen has reached the final two of the past three times this event has occurred and should never be underestimated in a slam.  In terms of pool strength, they don't have the most difficult pool draw but not the easiest either.  They have winning records against everyone they match up with for the round robin though so qualification should not be an issue.  And we all know, once the playoffs arrive the #redpants come on!  McEwen will be looking to once again repaint the purple rings with a splash of red come Sunday.

Team Homan - What's left to say about this team that I haven't said already?  Can I just say "see Masters preview"?  Similar to Mikey and the boys above, Homan comes to Oshawa fresh off The Masters title.  The #meangirls nickname seems to be more and more accurate week in and week out they way they are handling the competition.  Also similar to McEwen, Homan highlights Pool A and while she doesn't have the easiest draw it's also not the hardest.  Expect to see her battling well into the weekend.

Watch Out For

Team Jacobs - Jacobs lost the final to rival McEwen last season on home ice in Sault Ste Marie.  One has to expect this team to be looking to extract some revenge on Mikey and the field.  Jacobs and company have had a quiet season in comparison to much of their competition.  They have been consistent in always qualifying for every event they play in, but they have 0 titles to their name this season and only 1 final appearance (Shorty Jenkins Classic).  This is a team used to winning and coming up short week in and week out is going to start getting frustrating for the 2014 Olympic champions.  This could be their breakout event though.  They have arguably the easier draw sitting in Pool C and should be 4-0 entering the playoffs.  The question is never about qualifying though, it's about turning up their game to another level in the playoffs and winning when it matters.

Team Tirinzoni - With all the Swiss curling focus falling to past world champions Team Paetz and Team Feltscher, sometimes it appears Team Tirinzoni gets lost in the conversation.  Don't underestimate this team though.  Remember Tirinzoni owns a victory over Homan this season at the opening Tour Challenge (in the final nonetheless).  She also qualified for the playoffs two weeks ago at The Masters.  And, while other teams practiced and relaxed a bit heading into The National, Tirinzoni was on the ice making another final.  These ladies have the drive and passion to add another grand slam title to their resume this season.  They find themselves in a challenging Pool C with Sweeting/Lawton/Sinclair/McDonald but they should be able to navigate through and have a real shot at the playoffs this weekend.

The Dark Horse

Team Simmons - Ok I realize it may be a bit weird calling the two-time defending Canadian champions a dark horse pick but hear me out.  Look at the facts and the results of this team heading into the event.  They failed to qualify in Truro and have played a VERY limited tour schedule again this season.  Sure they have a title under their belt, the season opening event for them back in the beginning of October (Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic).  But having played only 3 events and failing to qualify in two of the three makes you a dark horse to come out on top giving the strength of this field.  Having said that, the draw gods blessed this team this week.  They find themselves in Pool C and a very winnable shot at qualifying.  Ok they have to deal with Jacobs but that should be their toughest challenge.  Bottcher has not looked strong this season and will be sporting a new line up as regular second Brad Thiessen is playing the Canadian Mixed for Team Alberta.  Sven Michel's team has also had a very tough season.  Edin will be the big toss up game for them.  If they can be 2-1 entering that game, win and they are in.  Lose and they may still find themselves in a tie-breaker position.  Last season this event was the only one this team qualified for the playoffs at.  I expect to see a similar result here in Oshawa.


Team Rocque - Dark horse may not really do justice to this team given how well they have played this season.  Perhaps they should be listed as the Watch Out For.  Newly formed in the off-season, Kelsey Rocque has been on fire this season.  The #TwineTime mid-season pick for Rookie Team of the Year, Rocque should be a team nobody wants to face this week.  Remember at the Tour Challenge they went 3-1 before a QF loss to eventual champion Tirinzoni.  They come to Oshawa fresh off their first title of the year in Red Deer.  The intriguing match up of the round robin will come Thursday night with the Rocque vs. Homan rematch.  When these two played at the Tour Challenge, Homan blitzed the young team 7-0 in 4 ends.  I wouldn't expect to see a similar result this time around.


Projected Standings:

MEN

Pool A                                      Pool B                                     Pool C

McEwen 4-0                            Gushue 4-0                              Jacobs 4-0
Epping 2-2                               Koe 2-2                                   Simmons 3-1
Carruthers 2-2                          Laycock 2-2                            Edin 2-2
Howard 2-2                              Ulsrud 2-2                               Michel 1-3
Shuster 0-4                               Menard 0-4                             Bottcher 0-4

WOMEN

Pool A                                      Pool B                                     Pool C

Homan 4-0                              Jones 3-1                                   Sweeting 4-0
Rocque 2-2                              Kim 3-1                                    Tirinzoni 3-1
Hasselborg 2-2                        Fleury 2-2                                 Lawton 2-2
Einarson 1-3                            Middaugh 1-3                           McDonald 1-3
Carey 1-3                                 Hastings 1-3                             Sinclair 0-4

Qualifiers:

Men - Team McEwen, Team Gushue, Team Jacobs, Team Simmons, Team Koe, Team Laycock, Team Ulsrud, Team Edin

Women - Team Homan, Team Sweeting, Team Jones, Team Kim, Team Rocque, Team Tirinzoni, Team Lawton, Team Hasselborg

MEN'S CHAMPIONSHIP:  Team McEwen over Team Jacobs

WOMEN'S CHAMPIONSHIP:  Team Homan over Team Sweeting

Enjoy the action on the ice in Oshawa for The National rock head and stoners.  We should see some great games and, perhaps, a few upsets along the way.  Check out CurlingZone.com for draw by draw coverage as well.  I will be trying my best to stay up to date on the results during my trip to California this weekend.  The opportunity to check out my Ducks playing in Stanford (and perhaps some NFL action) will be a great way to celebrate yet another year on this spinning rock.