Wednesday, 23 December 2015
#BetweenTheSheets with Matthew Blandford
We discuss winning at fatherhood, curling career changes & being a Jeopardy curling answer?
The #TwineTime family continues to grow my friends. In my second season of covering the sport of #curling, I have been truly blessed to have support from some of the best athletes we see week in and week out on the ice. In the past, Jamie Koe, Mark Kean and Kirk Muyres went #BetweenTheSheets to share with you, the fans, information on being a curler in today’s world. I am excited to bring another member into the family: Matthew Blandford. I was fortunate enough to meet Matt back at the 2014 Boston Pizza Cup (Alberta provincial championship) in Lacombe, Alberta. He was a down to Earth great guy then and continues to be. Matt has been a supporter of this blog since Day 1 so when the opportunity finally arose for us to sit down for a chat, we jumped on the occasion. I will preface this interview by saying it took place back in October. There have been changes to Matt’s season since this interview. But fear not rock heads, Matt has an update on what is to come for 2016...and he shares it exclusively with #TwineTime below.
Get comfy friends, time to go #BetweenTheSheets with the Newfie himself, Matt Blandford!
#TwineTime (TT): We are here with Matt Blandford for a little #BetweenTheSheets action. Let’s first talk about a brand new season for you and a brand new team, joining forces with Brock Virtue. How did that come about and how is it going so far?
Matt Blandford (MB): It was a bit of a rollercoaster. The summer started and my original plan was to kind of cut back a bit on curling with a new baby and to spend some more time with the family. I was originally going to curl with Jamie King. As the summer went along, we lost a player we weren’t expecting to lose on Jamie’s team. At the same time, the opportunity to curl with Brock came about. I had a few talks with Jamie and he was very encouraging and encouraged me to take the opportunity to play with Brock. It took me a couple of days to make my decision and ultimately decided to give it a shot. I felt if I didn’t do it I probably would have regretted it at a later date.
TT: So is the deal with Team Virtue to give it a go for this season and then re-evaluate or?
MB: We want to give it a 3-year commitment and be in it for the long haul. If it goes really well in the next few years, maybe it will be an even longer haul. We will see how it goes but I am really excited. Our record doesn’t show it out there but we are getting better. Our communication is getting better. Our shot making is getting better. It’s the little things. The more we do the little things right, the easier the game will be.
TT: Exactly. Now what about moving from skip to vice. How has that transition been for you?
MB: It’s not bad. I spent a lot of time this summer working on sweeping. That is new for me. I pretty much haven’t swept my whole life. To get out there and start doing that and judging rocks, sweeping at the right times and trying not to miss shots by my sweeping but rather help make shots from my sweeping. Sweeping has become so effective in this game. People are realizing how you can miss and make shots just from sweeping. I think this was a big learning experience for me and something I really took to heart and worked on. So far I think it has been pretty good.
TT: So you haven’t swept and fell on your face yet?
MB: *laughing* Not yet, not yet but it is only a matter of time. But also not calling shots or calling my own shots is different. Letting Brock call the shots and giving him his space is a bit of a learning experience as well. Right now we are working on it and finding a common ground where we are both getting what we need and be able to make shots.
TT: What does the schedule look like for this year? How busy is it going to be for you guys?
MB: We have 8 events. Hopefully maybe we can get hot and sneak our way into a slam. We played here (Edmonton), Saskatoon and playing 5 weekends in a row right now: Edmonton, Portage, Red Deer, Medicine Hat and Calgary all back to back. It’s going to be busy.
TT: One thing you have talked about is the busy schedule right now and earlier you mentioned having a newborn child at home and taking on fatherhood, on top of your wife (Darrah Blandford) being a curler as well, how is the family dynamic going?
MB: Well, it’s been busy. We are very fortunate to have an awesome little girl who sleeps well and eats well. We are very fortunate. The wife is curling with Brock’s girlfriend actually (Kalynn Park). They have not as quite a busy schedule, only a few events. Very rarely are we conflicting, I think only twice. Luckily we have Darrah’s parents who live in Fort Mac and they really chip in a lot to help us out when we are in trouble for finding someone to look after her. With curling at this point, it’s go home and spend as much time with them as I can and then it’s work, then it’s curling...it’s a lot! I’m hoping it will be ok and she is very supportive of what I am doing. When you have someone who really cares about what you are doing, it makes it that much easier.
TT: With her being a curler as well, she also understands the sport and the offering of support.
MB: I think with any athlete, another athlete just understands what an athlete needs to do to be successful. If she wasn’t an athlete maybe it would be difficult to understand. When you are a curler it is a lot of commitment. At some points your family becomes your curling team and not your own family. You become brothers and you have to respect each other, be honest with each other and do all the same things you would do with your own family at home.
TT: Exactly. So how is fatherhood going?
MB: Well it’s busy. It’s pretty awesome. It’s getting to the point where I am becoming a lot more relevant. She comes to me when she wants to play and goes to her mom when she is not in a good mood.
TT: *laughing* So basically you are winning?
TT: *laughing* That’s pretty good then. So now with mixed doubles going into the Winter Olympics, I talked with Mark Kean about him and his wife curling on a regular basis, what about a Blandford run here?
MB: To be honest with you it was a serious conversation before this season. But right now, with the baby being so young, we wouldn’t have the opportunity for another couple of years. If things go really well for me, I would stay with men’s curling. Since I was a kid my dream was to win a Brier, win a Canadian championship. Now with the Olympics, to get to an Olympic trials and have a shot at the Olympics, those are some goals for me. Walking away from those goals would be tough. With her, right now, the timing was good for me to take this opportunity. Maybe after this run and depending how it goes. We were serious about it. We have one mixed doubles national appearance already together a couple of years ago when it was in Leduc, AB. We enjoyed it and had a lot of fun. But it’s tough curling with your significant other. You are walking on thin ice. Luckily we are both really competitive and understand that what happens on the ice stays on the ice. We are trying to make each other better so we both win. I don’t think it is a matter of if it will happen but rather when will it happen. It will depend on how her women’s is going and how my men’s is going. Our goals are still the Scotties and the Brier. Even though mixed is in the Olympics, it still is not traditional. When you play from 10 years old into your thirties and you want to go to a Brier, you want to go to the Brier and you want to win.
TT: That makes sense. But with mixed doubles going to the Olympics it is good growth for the sport though.
MB: Oh for sure. And mixed doubles is fun. I loved it when I played it. I wouldn’t take back the experience and I am sure I will play it again at some point of my life. But when it comes to the list of things I want to do, it comes maybe number three or four.
TT: Exactly. Now I was going back into a little history and I believe you are the last person to beat Brad Gushue at the Newfoundland provincials.
MB: Yeah, I think that is a true story.
MB: *laughing* Well it is pretty irrelevant. It was a long time ago. Me and Brad had a lot of good head to head matchups for a lot of years. We were probably one of the only teams who really gave him a good run for his money, besides maybe Mark Noseworthy, for a lot of years. We were quite a few years behind him and that was the big difference. When it came down to it, they were just the better team. We wanted to win just as bad. But they had the money, they had the travelling, they had the experience and they had the games under their belt. By the time we were at a provincial, we had maybe 20 games under our belt and he had played maybe 80. It was a disadvantage. He is a great curler, especially right now. This year he is the top 3 in the world.
TT: *laughing* Well depending what rankings you look at, I have them at #1 on my #PowerRankings.
MB: *laughing* Right now, for sure. I have a lot of respect for Brad. We have probably bumped heads a few times in our careers. He was someone I looked up to as a junior. Having done what he did as I was coming up through juniors, it was helpful. It made me think I had a chance. He brought that to Newfoundland. You can never take that away from him. When he won the Olympics that was a huge thing for Newfoundland.
TT: And a bit of Newfoundland pride I would assume anytime you see an athlete succeed.
MB: For sure. Like I said, we have a great history. We have beaten each other. Overall I am sure he has beaten me more than I have beaten him. When it comes down to it, we were one of the only teams to give him a run for his money and I am sure he would say the same thing if you asked him. He has a lot of respect for me over the years and I have a lot of respect for him. There probably are not too many better throwers than him in the world right now. He makes a lot of shots. I looked up to him for a number of years. When I became his competitor, you don’t look up you look straight across and try to play the best game you can and beat him. We were fortunate enough to do it a few times...and I guess the last one’s to do it. It’s kind of a funny thing, not really a claim to fame for me. I feel like what I have done here in Alberta in my four years has been progress. When I came to Alberta, I didn’t have a team and didn’t know a lot of people. But you slowly make a name for yourself and move up the rankings and hope to make a run at a Brier. Overall, I am the last person to beat Brad Gushue at a Newfoundland provincial but it is kind of good and kind of bad. It shows Newfoundland depth is not the greatest right now. But being one of the best teams in the world, they are probably going to win Newfoundland even if they did get beat once or twice. It would be nice to see some teams in Newfoundland step up and give him some competition. Last year only having two teams in a provincial is kind of embarrassing.
TT: Very true and this leads right into my next question perhaps for you. If you could change one thing about the sport, what would it be? Would it be something about growing the sport with younger athletes or looking at provincial qualification? If you could change any one thing, right now, what would it be?
MB: It’s tough to say. There are so many things going on right now that are good for the sport but also things that are counter-productive. The slams having more events will mean you take top teams away from some of the normal events and the opportunity for some tier II teams to play them. Next year, when there are 8 slams, are you going to see the same top teams at these kind of events (in Edmonton)? When you are a young team or a new team or a junior team, you come to spiels hoping to play these top teams like Kevin Koe or others. Are we going to miss that as the slams continue to get bigger and bigger? When you look at the slams, the point system change is a big help. I think that was positive for the sport. It is going to help more of the west coast teams build some points and get into these events. There seems to be a bit of east coast dominance. There are a lot of good teams and good curlers out here (in the west). They deserve to be in a slam. You play in an Alberta provincial. You play in a slam. To be honest with you, when I played in a slam, it didn’t feel that much different to me. You are playing against good competition and you have to be sharp every single game. Anybody can beat you at any time.
TT: The joy of sport though right?
MB: Exactly. Right now there are lots of positives on how to grow the sport. There is a lot more publicity. People are watching. People are going to those big events. You also see a lot of changes. My team now was three teams five years ago. Brock skipped his own team, I skipped my own team and Darren (Moulding) skipped his own team. We have to do this though to be competitive. At the same time you are almost taking away from the growth because that is now 9 other players that are out or might not be playing at all. We have all had great accomplishments but having to throw three of us together on one team to be competitive, it’s pretty crazy how much the sport has changed.
TT: In talking about accomplishments, what is your greatest curling accomplishment?
MB: I don’t know. There are some unforgettable moments. Losing a junior national final, that was an unforgettable moment. I can remember every shot of that game. Playing in a grand slam, I can remember pretty much every shot of that whole week. That was an awesome experience and I definitely want to get back there. Good ice and good competitive curling. You feel like you can just make everything because you are given a good surface and good rocks. You aren’t thrown any curveballs. You don’t want to miss out on an awesome experience of playing in a slam. I think that was a big deal for me. Also, the semi-final in Alberta (vs. Kevin Koe) a few years ago (2014 Boston Pizza Cup in Lacombe, AB) was a step in the right direction for me. Only being in Alberta for four years, every year I have been here I have played in the provincials. I think it shows that I don’t just make playoffs in Newfoundland, you know? For me personally, that was an accomplishment I was really proud of because I felt like we were taking it to the next level. We were right there. In that semi-final, it was a close game. I think we were a little timid. If I could have that game back I probably would have done things a little differently. We got schlacked by Kevin Martin in the 1vs2 and then played a little too safe in the SF. We had some opportunities to maybe play more draws and put pressure on them but we didn’t. Hindsight is 20/20 though.
TT: Being in Lacombe, that was a great game to watch. You guys played great all week. Finishing third is a huge accomplishment.
MB: We went that whole week and gave up only 1 steal. That is always a key in curling, if you keep stolen points off the board you will get a lot of wins. You don’t need to go out and score 3 or 4 every end. If you can curl great, score when you have hammer, force when you don’t and pick up a 2 along the way, you have a good chance at winning games.
TT: Very true. Now you are also a bit of a golfer and hit the links a few times. Now I am giving you a curling mulligan where you can redo any shot or any game in your career. Which one would it be? Apparently you have a very good memory of shots.
MB: Well, hmmm, it’s tough. It’s tough to weigh out which has been the most important. Winning a junior national championship and representing Canada would have been pretty awesome. But when I weigh it out on all of the things that could have happened, looking back, beating Koe in that SF game would have been a bigger thing for me. We would have been one game away from the Brier. We gave Martin a good game earlier too. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened in a one game final against them. Not saying we would have won the game but it would have been a good opportunity to see what would have happened. They are like 50/50. Can I have two?
TT: *laughing* No, you only get one.
MB: *laughing* Well, I can remember a pretty plain shot in that junior final playing Ryan Sherrard. It was an in-turn come around freeze. They got three that end and it was early. We did comeback and tie it. But, in that end, if I make that freeze I think it would have been a totally different game. I was light and only made top 12’. Luckily we only gave up three....actually I think they only got 2. Yeah, they got 2 because I think he missed his draw for 3. But if I make the shot, it would have been a steal and a three-point swing on the scoreboard. We would have had a two-point lead. History shows anytime Matt Blandford has a two-point lead, we don’t lose many games. That would be the one. There were too many shots against Koe that could have gone a different way. I think that game was more about some chances we didn’t take rather that a shot I missed.
*Editor’s Note: I went back in the record books and Sherrard did make his draw for 3 in the 5th end to take the 5-2 lead. Matt was correct, they came back to score 3 in the 7th to tie the final but would lose when Sherrard scored the championship clinching point in the 10th.
TT: Ok fair enough. So if we say shot it would be the junior final but if we say games it would be the SF vs. Koe.
MB: Yup, exactly.
TT: Ok, I’ll take that. Now let’s do some really quick rapid fire with you. Stanley Cup prediction?
MB: Well I am a Habs fan so I got to go with them.
TT: Yup, I knew that. Who is your pick from the West?
MB: I’m going to say Anaheim.
TT: Also what everyone seems to be saying. Not a back pick. Super Bowl prediction? I think I already know what you are going to say though.
TT: Ugh, lame. And who do they play?
MB: Well we are going to beat the Steelers every time we play them.
TT: Ok you barely beat us at the beginning of the season. To be fair, we have played you better than anyone else this season.
MB: Ok that is true. But it doesn’t matter, you didn’t win! *laughing*
TT: *laughing* Yeah, yeah..get out of here already.
MB: *laughing* Ok, I am going to say the Patriots and the Packers. Green Bay is looking good.
TT: Any tattoo’s or piercings?
TT: Against or for?
MB: Oh for. We are going to get a tattoo, me and the wife. Probably next summer.
TT: Excellent, very cool. What would be your walk-up song if curling allowed such a thing to happen?
MB: Oh my god, there is so many. My walk-up song? For the team or for me?
TT: Nope, this is all about you.
MB: Oh, all about me. If I had a walk-out song, what would it be? That is a good one. Probably the song by Jason Derulo “Want to Want Me”. I can sing with a high pitch voice really well too.
TT: And apparently you like songs where people say their names repeatedly because Jason Derulo tends to do that.
MB: Yeah, at the beginning. I love that.
TT: But maybe we can change it so that he says your name at the beginning every time.
MB: Exactly, that would be perfect. *laughing*
TT: *laughing* Fair enough. Who is your biggest rival in curling?
TT: Yup, lifetime.
MB: Currently and lifetime would be two different answers. Lifetime would be Gushue.
TT: And current?
TT: Would that have anything to do with the fact you just stepped off the ice to do this interview after a loss to Bottcher?
MB: Nope. We play each other a lot it seems and we come out on the wrong side quite a bit unfortunately. Rivalries cannot be built off one or two games. It seems like we play Bottcher all the time, every season. We play many events together.
TT: So the curling draw gods basically want you and Bottcher to be rivals?
MB: Bottcher and Wade White. We play Wade at least 4 times every year. It’s just how it is. Probably add Sluchinski too. There are a few Alberta teams we run into lots. But my main one would be Bottcher. We come up short against him often. I mean, when I was skipping, I don’t think Wade beat us for a few years.
TT: *laughing* So maybe you are Wade White’s main rival then?
MB: *laughing* Yeah, that could be.
TT: Smelliest guy on tour?
TT: Most people usually pick someone on their own team.
MB: Yeah Darren is pretty bad.
TT: Loudest guy?
MB: Probably me. If you ask a lot of people, it’s probably me. There is a tweet going around twitter about how I am a foghorn. They always call me the foghorn.
TT: *laughing* Nice. Now we have our #AskTheCurler question for you from Kirk Muyres. Kirk wanted to know why you would move to Alberta from The Rock, considering how beautiful it is out there.
MB: Well it certainly wasn’t for the curling. Although I feel since I moved here I have developed a lot as a player. “The patch” dragged me out here like many Newfie’s in Alberta. Newfoundland is a beautiful place there is no doubt but I think those days are all behind me now. Moving here brought me an even more beautiful wife and daughter which may not have happened if I stayed on The Rock.
TT: Family first right? And everything happens for a reason. Do you miss Newfie life at times? Have you been back home recently or plan to return home?
MB: I miss it sometimes, especially my tight group of friends. None of them curl *laughing* Luckily we still keep in touch on a daily basis. I miss the lifestyle there as well. Alberta is pretty work based where Newfoundland seems to have a good balance. I haven’t been home in 5 years. No immediate plans to go back. Maybe the 2017 Brier? Who knows?
TT: Ah that was going to be my next question. Perhaps the stars are aligned for your return trip home to be a trip to the Holy Grail...The Brier? Plus the wife and daughter need to experience dad’s home province eventually right?
MB: *laughing* That’s the plan. We had thoughts of going back this summer depending on how things go. If we make a trip to the Brier this year then Newfoundland will probably be out for 2016. If not, it might be a good time to head back next summer. Hard to say what curling will bring next year.
TT: Sounds like a good plan. As they say, you can take the man out of Newfoundland but you can never take the Newfie out of the man right? Take it one season at a time and see what happens? As long as the drive and passion still exist, the rest will fall into place.
MB: Exactly. Growing up in Newfoundland you learn a lot...like how to make short sentences even shorter. How to confuse mainlanders. How to live with your front door unlocked. My grandfather always said if someone is going to walk in my front door and take something then he probably needs it a lot more than me.
TT: Wise words...and insight into the sense of true community behind living on The Rock. Something I think readers of this blog will be interested in reading. Thank you for sharing. I suppose thanks to Kirk for asking the question.
MB: Ya for sure. It was a good one.
TT: Now it’s your turn to ask a question and my next interview will be with Julie Hastings. You are the first person to ask a female curler a question on the blog. Any question you want, what can I ask?
TT: *laughing* Nice question.
MB: *laughing* Yeah. I want to know if any women do it. I want to know if any women just leave a stinker sitting right there. That is like a strategy for us men.
TT: Is this something you do on a regular basis? Or has it been done to you more often?
MB: Probably done to me more often. And I have done it myself too. But it happens at least once a game. But I want to know if any women do it as well.
TT: Excellent, well I will ask her and see what she says.
TT: Well thank you Matt for taking time out, mid-event, to do this interview and for the continued support.
MB: You’re welcome. Thanks!
UPDATE: Now since this interview, a few changes have been made in the curling life of Matt Blandford. Many thanks to Matt himself for providing #TwineTime with the exclusive first update.
MB: After Red Deer, things were not working out with Team Virtue. I am looking forward to spending more time with family and possibly mixed doubles with the wife.
TT: Wow, sorry to hear. Won’t be the same not seeing you in action on tour. But blessing in disguise perhaps. Plus more time spent with the little one is never a bad thing at all.
MB: It was tough but we are all still good friends. I left with no hard feelings.
TT: That’s good to hear at least. Sports should not ruin friendships.
MB: Nope for sure. The 5 spiels in a row made it tough. 5 in a row for a new team is probably not the smartest thing.
TT: But you aren’t giving up the sport right? What’s next for Matt Blandford?
MB: I will probably never hang it up fully *laughing* Right now it looks like I will be playing out of Yukon, with territorial championship in January.
TT: Wow, really? With who?
MB: Wade Scoffin. Wade called me up out of the blue and asked me. Tough to turn down a 50/50 chance to get to the Brier.
TT: True enough, you just need to beat defending champion Smallwood. So who is on this new team?
MB: Myself at skip, Wade Scoffin, Vern Jan and Clint Ireland. Our fifth will be Steve Fecteau.
TT: Nice. Have you guys had a chance to curl together?
MB: No, not yet. We will start things up in January a few days before the territorial championship.
TT: Wow, what an exclusive update. Very cool though. Who knows, you could be at the Brier in a few months.
MB: I’m hoping!
TT: Well thank you for sharing this new update with us. It is greatly appreciated. All the best and good luck in January.
MB: No problem buddy. Thanks!
What an exclusive update! Follow along with CurlingZone in January to see how all provincial and territorial playdowns shake out, including Matt competing with his new team in Yukon. Special thank you once again to Matt for sitting down and talking with me and for his continued support of this blog. I wish him and his family all the best in 2016.
Friday, 18 December 2015
#BetweenTheSheets: Curling Season Freezes for the Holidays
2015 ends with #gsoc, updated #PowerRankings & a guest blogger
Happy Holidays to you all! The #curling season has been a busy one the past few months and the athletes, volunteers, rocks and rings all deserve time to reflect, relax and enjoy time with family and friends. But that doesn't mean #TwineTime quietly drifts off into the snow pile. There are quite a few interesting story lines to discuss before the holiday break, including #EppingMadness, #PowerRankings, #CurlingFashion with a special guest blogger and....*dun dun dun* #RumorGate!
Tradition dictates we look back before we look forward. Here is the quick #GunnerRunback on last week's action on the ice:
- Yorkton, SK and the curling world embraced #EppingMadness last week at The Canadian Open grand slam of curling event. John Epping and his team showcased many #EpicEpping moments. After breezing his way through the A-side (beating Bottcher, McEwen and Koe), Epping continued his hot streak in the playoffs. When the ice smoothed over, Epping eliminated home province favorite (and last year's finalist) Steve Laycock in the QF, took out red hot Kevin Koe (again!) in the SF and stopped the #1 team in the world (and defending champion) Brad Gushue in the final. A perfect 6-0 record and a Canadian Open title for Mr. Epping and his team. If you missed any of the action, simply google 'John Epping' and 'Canadian Open' or head to CurlingZone's YouTube page for some highlights of the amazing shot making Epping made all week....including shots like THIS en route to curling 100% in the final!! 100% in a grand slam final!!! Also interesting to note, John is now one title away from the career grand slam, having won The National (2008) and The Players Championship (2011) previously. Next season he will try to complete the career grand slam at The Masters. The victory also secured Team Epping a spot at the season ending Champions Cup in Sherwood Park, AB.
- On the women's side of the draw at The Canadian Open, it was a simple case of #historyrepeating with the end result. As has been the case all season, Rachel Homan continues to dominate the field and show why her team is clearly the top women's team in the world. After suffering only their second loss of the grand slam season to defending world champion Alina Paetz in the A final, Team Homan rebounded quite nicely going full #MeanGirls in winning a B-qualifier over Tracey Fleury. Once in the playoffs, it was business as usual defeating European Champion Anna Sidorova, Chelsea Carey and current Scotties champ Jennifer Jones in the final. The win marked Homan's 5th grand slam title and first Canadian Open championship. Remember this year on the tennis scene all the talk was about Serena Williams winning the calendar grand slam? Well move over Ms. Williams, Ms. Homan is in the house and ready to do the same. If Homan and company can prevail at the Players Championship in Toronto in April, the calendar grand slam will be completed. No team, men or women, have completed the calendar grand slam in the history of the sport. Homan could make history in April. Stay tuned!
- In an updated look at the Rogers Grand Slam Cup standings, Homan is running away with the title on the women's side. Leading the field with 45 points, she only needs 2 wins in Toronto to secure the title. Team Sweeting and Team Fleury are tied for second spot with 22 points with Team Jones and Team Tirinzoni tied for forth with 21 points. On the men's side, the field is wide open. Team Gushue leads with 35 points, followed close behind by Team Koe (31), Team Carruthers (26), Team McEwen (22) and Team Epping (21). Points are accumulated at grand slam events (excluding the Tour Challenge Tier II, Elite 10 and Champions Cup). The Players Championship sees point values double though so the men's cup could be claimed by a handful of teams. The Rogers Grand Slam Cup champion wins $75,000. Last year's champions were Brad Jacobs and Eve Muirhead (her second cup title). For a full list of the standings and a breakdown of the points structure, visit HERE.
As another grand slam events picks up its rocks and puts them to bed for another season, a shift in the #PowerRankings is to be expected. Some teams soared in Yorkton while others struggled. How did the results shake up the standings? Let's take a look:
(1) Brad Gushue (LW: 1)
(2) Kevin Koe (2)
(3) John Epping (5)
(4) Mike McEwen (3)
(5) Reid Carruthers (HM)
Hon. Mention: Team Edin, Team Jacobs, Team Thomas
- The Goo makes another grand slam final and while he may not have been able to repeat his title victory of a year ago, making the final continues the hot streak of a season he is having. Gushue remains the top team in the world for a reason, consistency and winning! But Koe is closing in.
- How can Team Epping not be rewarded for their outstanding play last week? Making their debut in the #PowerRankings only 1 week ago, they now find themselves up to #3 on the list. This team is on fire right now. Let's remember this current line up is only in their first season together, having added third Matt Camm in the offseason. Not a bad result for a "freshmen" line up. The question will be whether the hot streak continues post-Holiday break. The way this team is curling and the confidence they have right now, let's hope the break doesn't slow them down.
- Manitoba holds the final two spots on the rankings with #redpants dropping a spot and #Reidarama moving up a spot. McEwen missed the playoffs at another grand slam event, almost shocking to even type this. McEwen and company have looked stellar some weeks and prone to upsets the next. We are just not used to seeing this from them...but don't count them out. This is still a high calibre team capable of winning the Brier this season.
(1) Rachel Homan (LW: 1)
(2) Jennifer Jones (4)
(3) Anna Sidorova (2)
(4) Eve Muirhead (5)
(5) Val Sweeting (3)
Hon. Mention: Team Fleury, Team Paetz, Team Carey
- Homan wins, Homan stays on top of the mountain and has probably secured her spot up there for the rest of the season. Interesting to note with Homan, while she dominates every team on the planet, perhaps Switzerland is her achilles heal? In her two grand slam losses, both came to Swiss teams (Tirinzoni and Paetz). A possible concern if she wins the Scotties and advances to the World Championship (just ask Jennifer Jones last year).
- A great run by Jen in Yorkton showed signs of a potential battle at the Scotties this season. Could we see Jones, Homan and Sweeting battle it out at the top once again? I for one would be all for this! Jones is always dangerous and looks hungry for winning once again...if only she could solve the Homan Curse!
- Muirhead moves up while Sweeting moves down this week. Muirhead beat Sweeting in the Canadian Open QF. Based on this head to head victory, for this week at least, Muirhead takes the upper hand in the rankings.
As we close the conversation on one set of rankings, let's open up discussion on a different kind of ranking. The joy of social media my friends. This season I have been quite fortunate to connect with curling fans around the world via social media. One fan, Rebecca in Arizona, and I have been discussing the teams and results of the season week in and week out. Last week, Rebecca mentioned some of the fashion choices of the men's teams on the ice in Yorkton. I thought, "What a great blog topic" and invited her to do a guest blog spot this week to discuss #CurlingFashion. Without further adieu, here is Rebecca!
As our Season of Champions is off too a great start with Teams Koe and Homan securing berths to the Olympic Trials, I think it's a great time to take a look the team uniforms that we see each and every week. Many thanks to #TwineTime for inviting me to be guest blogger this week. We connected on Twitter back when
Team Jacobs is a team of many different uniforms. They are proudly sponsored by Pinty's and
Thank you Rebecca for joining us on the #TwineTime blog and offering some insight on #CurlingFashion. Toss Rebecca a follow on twitter and share your thoughts on #CurlingFashion with her and I on the comment section below or via social media. The best way to continue to #growthesport is engagement and conversation among athletes and fans.
Oh #RumorGate how I love and loathe thee sometimes. Rumors are always circulating in sports. It is the nature of the beast and people love to speculate on what will happen next, whether it be about players or events. This week offers up yet another juicy segment on #RumorGate. The conversation of Scotties/Brier relevance and competition has increased in recent years. With attendance numbers on the decline at both national championship events, is the current format to determine Team Canada at the World Championships the best way to ensure we send our top team to complete for gold? The Canadian Curling Association (CCA) might not think so. Rumors have been swirling more and more on a new way to determine Team Canada. And how you ask will this be decided? Well from the Canada Cup of Curling of course. Could we see the men's and women's teams who emerge from the Canada Cup as the rightful holders of the red and white jackets? The CCA seems to think so...and they are not alone. A few players have been talking about this for a few seasons now and the train of support seems to be filling fast. But what does that mean for the Scotties and Brier? Well these two events could still continue but the prize at the end of the week may be a little less shiny. Rumors have also been swirling around the Canadian curling world for years on the format of having provincial champions come together for a national event may not be the best format for determining Team Canada. Are we really ensuring the top teams in the nation are competing for a national title this way? Or are we seeing every year a group of 12 teams come together where, in reality, only 2 or 3 of these teams actually have a realistic shot at not only winning the national title but competing for a world championship title as well? Perhaps teams in Alberta and Manitoba might think so. But what about teams in PEI or Northwest Territories? Is this just a movement by top contending teams to try and find a better road to world championship opportunities and eliminate the provincial playdowns and provincial championship path, where sometimes upsets can occur (ask Glen Howard or Kevin Martin) or one province having a few heavyweight contenders with only 1 advancing to the national stage (ie: Alberta)? It is a tough call here. The historian side of me and purist part of me would hate to see an end to the tradition of the Scotties and the Brier. However, evolution is sports in a natural way of life and shouldn't curling try to do the same? Whether the rumor of the Canada Cup of Curling being the right answer however is debatable. What say you curling fans? Are you for a change in determining your Canadian Champion or do you enjoy the provincial/territorial battles we see every year at the Scotties and Brier? Perhaps this could turn into a future #TwineTime poll...hmmmm?!
Normally the focus of the blog would shift to #TourLifePredictions right now. However, with the upcoming holiday season upon us, many teams taking time off and the fact I am behind on Christmas shopping due to heavy work schedule the past few weeks, can we all agree to take a pass on #TourLifePredictions this week? Don't hold it against me though ok?
I can say best of luck to those teams competing overseas in Japan (Karuizawa International), China (Yichun International Ladies) and Scotland (Dumfries Challenger Series). Also best of luck to teams competing south of the border at the Curl Mesabi Classic in Eveleth, MN. Last but certainly not least, best of luck to all the teams who start their road to a provincial championship in Alberta and Ontario with Scotties and Tankard qualification events.
I would like to wish each and every one of you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!! I truly appreciate all the support over the past year and half towards this blog. The opportunity to engage with athletes and fans of a sport I love is truly humbling at times. While we may not all agree at times, I know we can both agree and disagree with respect towards one another and the sport we all love. Enjoy this time of the year with your family and friends. As we move into 2016, let's all continue to come together and #growthesport!
Thursday, 10 December 2015
#BetweenTheSheets: Canadian Open Slides into Yorkton, SK.
Teams try to end 2015 on a positive at the next #gsoc stop
No rest for the wicked as we approach Christmas time for the top curling teams in the world. The Canada Cup of Curling wrapped up on Sunday and by Tuesday evening the ice in Yorkton was already being brushed. As the upcoming Christmas break is right around the corner, we wrap up the gift of the 2015 #curling season with a grand slam of curling event: The Canadian Open!
Before we dive into the curling on the ice, #TwineTime would like to take a step out of the hack and send positive vibes out to a true champion in the sport. It was announced earlier this week the news of Craig Savill and his battle with cancer. For those who have not had the chance to hear about this, HERE is a great article by Bob Weeks. As Mr. Weeks points out, Craig Savill is one of the most popular curlers on tour, adorned by fans, teammates and competitors. The two-time Brier and World Champion (playing as lead with Glenn Howard) has been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The outpouring of support both within the curling community but also across the country from fans, fellow athletes and Canadians in general was amazing on social media. I personally have never formally met Mr. Savill but have watched and cheered him on for many years. I was fortunate enough to be at the 2007 World Curling Championship final in Edmonton when Craig and Team Howard won their first world title together, besting Germany (Andy Kapp) in the final. I was fortunate enough to cross paths with him at a social event though and can only say, even in the brief few minutes of exchange, one can tell how positive and funny of a man he is. My heart goes out to him and his entire family during this time. As a fan of the sport, please also send positive thoughts and best wishes to Craig Savill this holiday season!As mentioned above, the Canada Cup of Curling just put the rocks to bed in Grand Prairie a mere 48 hours before the next big event was beginning. Let’s take a quick #GunnerRunback on action on the ice last week:
- Team Kevin Koe and Team Rachel Homan reigned supreme in Grand Prairie taking home the coveted Canada Cup of Curling title. With the win comes the added bonus of direct qualification to the Roar of the Rings in early December 2017 hosted by the Nation’s Capital, Ottawa, ON. Both Team Homan and Team Koe will also be members of Team North America at the Continental Cup in Las Vegas, NV coming up in January 2016. Team Koe looked to be the class of the field all week, suffering only 2 losses and prevailing over John Epping in the SF and Mike McEwen’s #redpants in the final. Team Homan was even more dominating. After a loss to Sherry Middaugh in the final RR game (which Homan already had locked up 1st place), Homan got revenge for last year’s final loss beating defending champion Val Sweeting for the title.
- At the WFG Jim Sullivan Curling Classic in Saint John, NB, Jamie Murphy and his rink from Halifax, NS prevented a home town celebration besting Jason Vaughn in the final. On the women’s side, Fredericton, NB’s Melissa Adams ensured a NB victor but, similar to the men’s final, denied a home town title when she beat Heidi Hanlon in the final.
- Special mention to one of the original #TwineTime supporters and perhaps the 2016 up and coming team of the year, Team Matt Dunstone. Team Dunstone took home yet another championship (title #4 if you are counting) this past weekend in Winnipeg. MB, winning the Thistle Integrity Stakes. I have said it before in this blog and on social media, if teams/fans are not naming this team as the dark horse contender for the MB buffalo this year, you might want to start paying attention now!
(1) Brad Gushue (LW: 1)
(2) Kevin Koe (2)
(3) Mike McEwen (3)
(4) Nik Edin (5)
(5) John Epping (NR)
Hon. Mention: Team Carruthers, Team Jacobs, Team Thomas, Team Ulsrud
- The championship final between Kevin Koe and Mike McEwen certainly was not a shock as both teams have been playing well all season. The true shock was Brad Gushue failing to make the playoffs. Overall it was a disappointing week for The Goo. However, their outstanding play all season is not a cause for concern for the rankings committee (i.e. ME). Given the overall results of the top 3 teams, it was tough to move any of them around...for now!
- Props to John Epping and his team for their great result last weekend. I will be the first to admit I did not expect Team Epping to excel in GP but they proved me wrong. They played outstanding curling when they needed to and got the wins. They battled through a tiebreaker, eliminating two-time defending Canadian champions Team Simmons. Their magical run would end in a SF loss to Team Koe but still a very successful event. How can this team not be rewarded with a Top 5 spot? Just look at the teams they beat over the past week: Laycock, Koe, Gushue, Carruthers and Simmons. All teams ranked or mentioned in the power rankings.
(1) Rachel Homan (LW: 1)
(2) Anna Sidorova (2)
(3) Val Sweeting (5)
(4) Jennifer Jones (4)
(5) Eve Muirhead (3)
Hon. Mention: Team Tirinzoni, Team Middaugh, Team Rocque
- No major surprise here. Homan wins, Homan stays on top. The #MeanGirls squad continues to roll and is looking unbeatable.
- Sweeting moves up a few spots to #3 based on her finals appearance. Interesting to note, both 2014 Canada Cup champions (Sweeting and McEwen) returned to the finals this season and came up just short of the repeat. Also interesting, both teams currently sit #3 on the Power Rankings!
- I have a hard time moving Sidorova and her European Championship team from Russia out of the #2 spot due to inactivity this past week. Sweeting and Jones both had nice runs in GP but Sidorova did win a continental championship and that still holds strong weight. However, will all 8 teams mentioned above competing on the same ice this week, we could see some changes in the Power Rankings next week.
A quick #RumorGate to expose this week as well. Curling Canada announced St. Catherine’s, Ontario as the host for the 2017 Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Grand Prairie, fresh off the success last week, is set to host the 2016 Scotties. We also already know our 2016 (Ottawa, ON) and 2017 (St. John’s, NL) Brier hosts. This now leads to speculation....who is going to host 2018? Well #RumorGate doors have been slowly opening and #TwineTime has some insight to share with all of you. Could we see a curling hotbed located in the centre of the Prairies as the next Brier host announced? Many signs are pointing towards the Queen City, Regina, SK as the front runner for the 2018 Brier. The Brier was last hosted in Saskatchewan in 2012 (Saskatoon). Regina hosted the Brier back in 2006. The Brier seems to have record success out West and with British Columbia and Alberta hosting recently, could it once again be time for the Western Red Lily province to once again play host to the best men’s curlers in the country? But what about the Scotties you ask? Well, could we see a return out East to the home of one of the greatest female curling teams of all time? The Mayflower province of Nova Scotia could be due for another hosting opportunity. Halifax has not hosted the Scotties since 1992....1992!!! Since 1992, Colleen Jones has won 5 Scotties titles. In fact so has the other Jones of curling, Jennifer Jones. With Charlottetown, PEI hosting the Roar of the Rings Pre-trials in 2017, this could be a great opportunity to keep the sport out East for another national event. The #RumorGate is open....
Time to see RED....as in the rings of course for the Canadian Open and another stop of the #gsoc calendar. The Canadian Open returns to Yorkton, SK after a successful event in 2014. This year will mark the 15th anniversary of the event on the men’s side and the sophomore appearance for the women. Here is a quick history lesson on The Canadian Open:
- Kevin Martin has won the most Canadian Open titles with 5. His first title came in 2002 in Thunder Bay, ON and his final championship win was in 2010 in Winnipeg, MB. Overall Alberta leads the way with 6 total championships with Manitoba and Ontario next in line with 3 titles. Saskatchewan claimed their sole title back in 2003 (Glen Despins) and Newfoundland and Labrador celebrated their first title last season with Brad Gushue.
- Winnipeg, MB has been the main host of this event. In the 14 previous editions of the Canadian Open, the “Gateway to the West” has played host 5 times. Ontario has been the home province 3 times with Alberta and, now, Saskatchewan hosting twice.
- Last season was the inaugural women’s event at the Canadian Open. As curling continues to work towards equality on tour, the addition of a women’s event proved to be a success last season. Scotland’s Eve Muirhead claimed the first title beating Rachel Homan in the final.
- Worth noting, in 15 years of this event taking place there have been 7 name changes. Previous titles have included: Telus Canadian Open, M&M Meat Shops Canadian Open, BDO Classic Canadian Open of Curling and Canadian Open of Curling. In fact the current name, Canadian Open, was originally used in 2003 and 2005 before returning as the title name in 2013 through to this season.
- The format for this event is quite different from the other grand slam events. Rather than a round robin, we see the more traditional world curling tour format of a triple knockout. Basically teams have to keep winning to stay alive. Suffer 3 losses and your tournament is over. 2 teams will survive the A side meaning they have all day Friday off to rest and relax. 3 more qualifiers will then come from the B and C side of the draw. The tricky part with a triple knockout is teams never know their schedule. A team could play back to back games or have half a day or even full day breaks. Your results on the ice dictate your schedule for the event. With a round robin, you know the exact dates/times of your games and who you play. Not the case this week. You cannot fully prepare for any specific team because you never know who you will play next. A team can get on a hot streak and find themselves comfortably in the playoffs quick or they can start the event slow and see themselves in the middle of a #CSideGrind.
The Canadian OpenYorkton, SK
2014 Champions: Brad Gushue (men) & Eve Muirhead (women)Format: 16 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers for both the men and women
The FavoritesTeam Koe - No question here, they are rolling right now and seem to have the confidence and swagger we expected to see from this team this season. The Canada Cup victory was the feather in their cap this season and will take a lot of pressure off of them for the next few years (assuming Koe doesn't pull..well..a Koe and split the team before the trials). This team is a perfect example of what encompasses a true champion. We know all four members of this team have the skill to succeed, the difference here is the mental experience. They know how to prepare. They know how to win. They know how to be proactive in a game to score big ends and can be reactive when needed to ensure they don't concede the big score. Add in the many championship wins and confidence and this is a dangerous team.
Team Homan - Ok friends, I am at a complete loss for what to even say anymore about this team that hasn't already been said on this blog in the past. Can we just go with "see previous posts"? This team continues to win and continues to make it look easy. Val gave her a test in the Canada Cup final but, even then, you almost felt like Rachel still had complete control and was never really sweating it out too much. They are the best in the world...and it will take a lot to change my mind they are not the favorites for this event, the next event, the Ontario Scotties, the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the World Championship. This is Homan's year...and the rest of us are just living in it.
Watch Out ForTeam Simmons - The two-time defending Canadian champions looked good in GP last week. A TB loss of course is not what this team was hoping for but they still have lots to like about their game and chances heading into play this week. As we saw last year, this team plays a limited schedule in comparison to some of their competition. The lack of competitive ice time can be harmful but these guys seem quite capable of showing no signs of ice rust. This week will see a change in the line up however. Regular second Carter Rycroft will not be joining the team in Yorkton. But no fear Team Simmons fans, Pat and company went out and picked up a pretty good spare in Matt Dunstone. As mentioned above, Matty has been fire on ice this season. The only question will be how Dunstone responds to competing in his first #gsoc event and with a team he is a bit unfamiliar with. They have arguably the toughest opening draw match with provincial rivals Team Koe. While a win in that game might be a stretch, the B side draw could work in their favour. If the team can gel together and Matt finds his game on the grand slam ice quick, this team could be a huge threat come Friday.
Team Switzerland (Paetz/Tirinzoni/Feltscher) - Now I know what some of you may be saying, this is a bit unfair to name 3 teams as the one to watch out for. Hear me out before you go firing rocks at my stones! These 3 teams combine to form the most dominant trifecta of women's curling any country has seen in many years. Sure Homan and Jones have been strong and Sweeting seems to complete the trifecta for Canada but Team Switzerland has been winning world championships and tour titles. Paetz and Feltscher are the past two world champion skips. Tirinzoni has been climbing up the rankings for the past few seasons now and seems to have really found her game this year. Defending world champion Alina has struggled this season, most recently failing to qualify in her past 2 events. But this team has been smart in taking the past four weeks off to rest up, relax and prepare for this event. I wouldn't count out the world champs quite yet. They seem due for a rebirth of sorts. Silvana started the season qualifying in Oakville and winning the Tour Challenge. The team barely missed the playoffs at their last event, the #gsoc National, losing in a tiebreaker. They have already proven they can beat anyone in this field this season. Binia enters this event fresh off her first title of the season in Wetzikon, Switzerland a few weeks back. Well consistency may be an issue this season, stats show in fact over the years Binia wins 1 title a year and often is playing well into the weekend. Before we know it, the Canadian Open could quickly turn into the #HoppSchwiiz Open.
The Dark HorseTeam Epping - Well Mr. Epping you sir are an enigma for me. Some weeks I have thought you could be a threat to win an entire event and then disappointment. Other weeks I underestimate you and you pull out a SF result. Is it you or is it me in this curling/blogger relationship? In all seriousness, Team Epping seems to have rediscovered their confidence the past few weeks. Back to back SF appearances at two of the biggest events on tour, The National and The Canada Cup, are not to be overlooked. With big names like Gushue, Koe, McEwen, Simmons, Edin in the field, guys like John Epping might get lost in the shuffle on serious consideration as a threat to do well. Well make extra notice of the word serious folks! Epping and company have come to play and are ready to move from flying under the radar to A list contender at all events. Although, perhaps Team Epping enjoys flying under the radar a bit. No titles to their credit this season and some tough results to begin the year, the team seems to be in rally mode now and is finding their game at just the right time. But can they sustain the success and continue running with it?
Team Middaugh - Is it just me or does it feel like every major curling event this season Sherry Middaugh and company are entered and fighting for a playoff spot? Is it also just me who feels that people (#TwineTime included) often overlook how good this team really is? I think many were surprised with the strong performance last week in GP, beating Homan to make a TB before falling just short vs. Sweeting. This season, Team Middaugh has had the weird results of qualifying one week and failing to qualify the next. Consistency of playing well week in and week out is there but getting that final win or two to be in the playoffs has been lacking. Having said that, Sherry will have some home province love behind her this week as she is originally from Rosetown, SK. Last season this team failed to qualify at the Canada Cup and made the playoffs here in Yorkton. Could history repeat this year?
Qualifiers:Men - Koe, Gushue, Simmons, McEwen, Edin, Jacobs, Epping, Laycock
Women - Homan, Sweeting, Jones, Sidorova, Muirhead, Tirinzoni, Paetz, Middaugh
MEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP: Team McEwen over Team Koe - This is a very tough call. My sole reasoning here: Canadian Open has red rings....Mikey and the boys wear #redpants....therefore red wins! Perfect logic right?
WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP: Team Homan over Team Muirhead - It is hard to bet against Homan right now and I think she gets revenge for last year's championship loss to Eve.
MORTAL KOMBAT UPDATE!! If you have been following this blog and/or my twitter account, you would be familiar with the #TwineTime / @NerdCurl Challenge. For each major event throughout the 2015/16 curling season, both sides will make their predictions. Correct picks for qualifiers and final placement will earn various points. Heading into last week, my curling friends south of the border held a slim 2 point lead. Fear not Canada....#TwineTime not only battled back to take the lead, I completely destroyed them. A 2 point deficit has become a 12 point lead...after 1 event! A perfect prediction for the women’s side at #CanCup2015 certainly helped and was finally bolstered even more with a Team Koe victory Sunday evening. The season is far from over though and one cannot rest on most recent success. Follow along through this blog and the NerdCurl podcast to compare predictions and see who comes out on top this week.
Enjoy the action from my home province of Saskatchewan rock heads and stoners.