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Thursday, 3 December 2015

#BetweenTheSheets: Canada Cup of Curling Preview
Winners off to the Roar of the Rings!
All curling eyes will be focused on Grand Prairie, Alberta this week when the Home Hardware Canada Cup of Curling hits the ice.  This is when the sport becomes serious!  After weeks of playing on tour from Korea to Alberta to Ontario to Newfoundland and Labrador, this is the one event teams have had circled on their calendars.  Sure there is prize money to be won.  Sure the winner received a spot on Team North America at the upcoming Continental Cup in Las Vegas, NV in January.  But let’s be completely honest here....teams competing really have their eye on one prize.  The men’s and women’s champions earn a direct spot in the Roar of the Rings, the event to decide who will wear the maple leaf at the 2018 Winter Olympics.  Survive the competition this week and come out on top this weekend means a little less stress for the next two years.  Everyone wants to represent Canada at the Winter Olympics and here is your opportunity to take the first step towards that goal.
Before we look ahead, let’s look to the past.  After taking the past week off from covering tour action, and publishing a GREAT interview with Team Laycock vice Kirk Muyres #TeamOranje, let’s hit up the #GunnerRunback for what has happened over the past two weeks:

  • The European Championships concluded last weekend in Denmark.  Team Sweden, led by Nik Edin, reclaimed their title from a year ago and finally went back-to-back at the Euro Championship.  Sweden defeated Peter De Cruz’s Team Switzerland in the final.  Undefeated in the RR, Team Norway (Thomas Ulsrud) unfortunately had to settle for bronze after a tough loss to Sweden in the SF.  The Euro’s no longer use the Page Playoff but revert back to the old 1vs4, 2vs3 playoff format remember.  Ulsrud defeated Aku Kauste’s Team Finland for bronze.  On the women’s side, Team Russia (Anna Sidorova) took home the title defeating Eve Muirhead’s Team Scotland in the final.  Bronze went to the surprise Team Finland (Oona Kauste, Aku’s sister), who defeated home nation hopeful Team Denmark (Lene Nielson).  It was a tough loss for Nielson as this was her 4th consecutive 4th place finish at the European Championship.
        
  • The big event (outside Europe) happened two weeks ago in Morris, MB at the DeKalb Superspiel.  On the men’s side, Team Carruthers picked up their 1st win of the season, defeating the surging Charley Thomas.  ICYMI, special notice goes out to Matt Dunstone and his rink for collecting two..yes 2!!...victories over Mike McEwen and qualifying through the B side.  Dunstone would lose the QF to Team Thomas however.  Team McEwen would regroup to qualify through the C only to come up short against Team Carruthers in the QF.  The women’s competition saw Jennifer Jones and her defending Canadian champions pick up a spiel win beating Erika Brown’s USA team in the final. 
  • Also two weeks ago in Halifax, NS at the Mayflower Cashspiel, Team Gushue continued to dominate the field this season collecting another championship trophy, this time dispatching Sven Michel’s Switzerland foursome in the final.  The women’s final saw Jill Brothers defeat Theresa Breen to collect her 1st win of the season.
  • Last weekend’s big event on the women’s tour was in Lloydminster, AB and the Boundary Ford Curling Classic.  The championship went to Casey Scheidegger after defeating Brett Barber in the final.  Worth noting top tour teams Chelsea Carey and Shannon Kleibrink lost in the SF.
  • The big event on the men’s tour was the Weatherford Curling Classic in Estevan, SK.  The host province fans went home happy when Josh Heidt defeated Manitoba’s Willy Lyburn in the championship final.  Props to Team Lyburn though as they have been playing the past few weeks on tour with only 3 players as skip Lyburn recovers from surgery.  Making the championship final going #3mancurling is an impressive feat.
  • A special #TwineTime mention this week as well goes out to good friend and supporter Kerr Drummond.  Last name look familiar?  Well it should, Kerr is the brother of Team Murdoch vice Greg Drummond.  This past weekend in High River, AB at the High River Cash event it would be Kerr picking up his first victory on tour, playing with Team Kevin Park.  Congratulations on that first win man.  Perhaps this is a changing of the guard in the Drummond household on who is the best curler in the family?  #DrummondDebate


With two weeks of results and many top teams in the world competing, should we see some shakeups in the #PowerRankings this week...finally?  Let’s take a look...

MEN

(1)    Brad Gushue (LW: 1)

(2)    Kevin Koe (2)

(3)    Mike McEwen (3)

(4)    Reid Carruthers (5)

(5)    Nik Edin (HM)
Hon. Mention:  Team Jacobs, Team Thomas, Team Ulsrud, Team Laycock
  • No surprise with Goo leading the way yet again.  They played an event.  They won an event.  The world keeps spinning.
  • Team Carruthers continues to make the climb up the rankings.  Moving into the Top 5 a few weeks ago after their final appearance at The National, they follow up with their first tour win of the season.  With #redpants on a bit of a slide lately, can #Reidarama make the push for Top 3 next?
  • Nik Edin...I never lost faith in you and your Swedish champions.  Clinging to a spot on the Hon. Mention list, Edin vaults himself back into the Top 5 after successfully defending his European Championship.  Strong results from Team Ulsrud the past few weeks move Team Norway back into the Hon. Mention section as well.

WOMEN

(1)    Rachel Homan (LW: 1)

(2)    Anna Sidorova (3)

(3)    Eve Muirhead (HM)

(4)    Jennifer Jones (HM)

(5)    Team Sweeting (2)
Hon. Mention:  Team Tirinzoni, Team Rocque, Team Fleury
  • Homan has a stranglehold on the top spot right now and until she is defeated, and defeated on a regular basis not just 1 loss per event during a RR, it will be hard to see any team taking over top spot.
  • Team Russia reclaims the coveted second spot after their Euro win.  With Homan cemented on top, all other teams seem to playing for 2nd and right now Sidorova owns this spot.
  • Muirhead and Jones rejoin the Top 5 after their stellar play at the European Championships and Dekalb Superspiel respectively.  Both teams have been hot and cold this season so time will tell if they hold onto these positions.  But for right now, we reward outstanding play and results on the ice as of late.
  • Sweeting’s drop is more about the strong results from the teams who leapfrogged her combined with their team not playing.  Sweeting is the defending Canada Cup champion this week so she has ample opportunity to climb back up the ladder.
TIME TO ROCK THE VOTE!!!  The ladies need your votes.  On the #TwineTime main page (HERE) I still want to know who you think should top the women's #PowerRankings.  This vote will remain open until the end of 2015 and the team who garnishes the largest support will begin 2016 at the top of the rankings.  Homan is DOMINATING the vote, taking 86% of the votes.  But will the strong play of Sidorova, Muirhead or Jones sway your opinion?  Have your vote heard!
Ok we looked at the past, check!  We discussed the present, check!  Now, let’s shift our attention to the future.  And there is no bigger place to shift than Grand Prairie.  The Home Hardware Canada Cup of Curling will have curling fans around the world tuning in as we officially kick off the TSN Season of Champions.  Before I dive into a full preview, I have one small bone to pick with Curling Canada here.  The status quo format for this event has been the Top 7 teams based on merit points qualify to compete.  This year, we see 8 men’s teams competing.  The rationale behind this decision was the final spot was a virtual deadlock between two teams (Team Carruthers and Team Epping).  Now, before I continue, let me be clear these comments in no way reflect Team Carruthers or Team Epping.  I have more of an issue with the format and qualification standards and not with either of these teams competing.  Ok, are we clear on this?  I do not expect to see an onslaught of hate messages or tweets saying I dislike either or both of these teams.  Ok, all clear, check! 
Two teams had a virtual deadlock?  Really?  Why do I find this hard to believe given the crazy way points are handed out.  Most events hand out points to the second decimal in number (ie: 30.45 or 300.67).  And two teams were tied?  Come on!  Let’s say they had the exact same number points, no tie breaker procedure was developed for this?  Instead, let’s make the other 6 teams who did qualify play an extra RR game.  With an Olympic trials spot on the line!  Yup, that seems really fair.  It seems the Top 6 teams have been punished to allow two “deadlock” teams to play.  Sure, let’s see this happen in other professional sports.  Two teams tied for the final playoff spot in hockey or football...heck let them both advance to the playoffs.  We can then allow the 2 tied final qualifiers to play a Survivor Series RR against the overall #1 seed to determine who advances.  Yes, let’s do that...that seems fair to everyone involved.  At least in baseball, if two teams tie they play a tie-breaker game.  What if 3 teams were virtual deadlocks?  Would we now see 9 teams competing and the Top 6 would be forced to play an extra 2 games now?  Figure yourself out curling!  You want to be considered a professional sport, not an amateur sport, right?  Then stop pulling amateur moves like this.  How do you have a qualification procedure in place for an event, especially an event with this type of significance, and not have a tie-breaker procedure in place?  I don’t like it and am not supportive of saying “well they finished tied for the final spot, let’s have them both play and make everyone else play an extra game on top of it”.  Yup, sounds like a professional sport to me!?  Is this also the same governing body supporting relegation at the Brier and Scotties?  So at a national championship we do not have room for all actual provincial/territorial champions, thus relegation.  But at this event, sure let’s let everyone in because of a flawed points system.  Pot meet kettle.  And while you are at it, have your cake and devour it in front of us.  I love you curling and I love the sport...but this kind of craziness is just unacceptable.  #BeBetter

And now I will bounce off my soap box once again :)  Let’s shift focus back to the action on the ice.  A brief history lesson on the Canada Cup of Curling....get off your pen and paper kids, there may be a test on this later:
  • From the inaugural year in 2003 up until 2010, teams would qualify for the Canada Cup through various mechanisms including: Brier/Scotties, CRTC points and qualifying events.  This qualification system was abolished for the 2011 edition of the tournament when the number of teams accepted to compete was sliced from 10 to the current (minus this year of course) 7.
  • Alberta teams have dominated this event on the men's side.  From 2003 to 2009, Alberta produced the champion.  In fact, in that same time span, only 1 non-Alberta team even made the finals (Glenn Howard, 2006).  Kevin Martin leads the way with 4 titles and 3 runner-up finishes.  The Ferby Four have 3 championships and 2 runner-up results.  Glenn Howard finally ended the Alberta stranglehold with his victory over Kevin Martin in 2010.  Overall, Howard has 1 title and 2 runner-up spots.  Worth noting though, Manitoba has produced the previous 2 champions (Jeff Stoughton, Mike McEwen).
  • On the women's side, Alberta once again leads the way with 4 titles.  Saskatchewan (all won by Stef Lawton) comes in next with 3.  To note, the first 2 years of this tournament were won by teams from Ontario (Sherry Middaugh) and Nova Scotia (Colleen Jones).  Since then, only Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have produced champions.  
  • The 2015 field could see a similar trend in the statistics on the men's side.  We have 2 strong Alberta teams very capable of reclaiming the win for the Wild Rose.  Manitoba is backed by 2 strong teams as well to try and keep the title with the Buffalo for a 3rd straight season.  Ontario will try to claim only their 2nd title, also having 2 teams competing.  But perhaps all trends must end with the favorite for the event being from Newfoundland and Labrador and a trendy dark horse pick being from Saskatchewan.
  • The 2015 women's field also sees strong provincial lines.  We have 2 Alberta and 2 Manitoba teams looking to keep the title out west.  However, leading the charge will be 3 teams from Ontario.  And, similar to the men, the favorite is from a province with little success at this event in the past.  Is this a year of #historyrepeating or #historyrewritting?
Time to enter #TourLifePredictions for the #CanCup2015:

Home Hardware Canada Cup of Curling
Grand Prairie, AB

2014 Champions:  
Men - Mike McEwen
Women - Val Sweeting

Format:  8 men’s and 7 women’s teams round robin.  Top 3 advance to playoffs with top seed earning a bye to the championship final.
The Favorites

Team Gushue – No surprise here right?  Goo is the best on tour this season and has been almost unstoppable.  The only thing that seems to slow him down is his own feet with a stumble on the ice.  Even a little blood and stitches didn’t stop him from missing an entire game...only a few ends.  This is a season of destiny for this team and the Olympic trials berth seems squarely fit for their shoulders.  They already have 6 tournament wins this season....why not make the big one lucky number 7?
Team Homan – See above!  Homan has been dominating the women’s tour in the same fashion Gushue has been dominating the men’s tour.  Homan wants the maple leaf jacket back.  Homan wants that Olympic berth and they look more hungry and determined to take it than any other team they hit the ice with.  The #MeanGirls barely look like they know or care who they play...it’s just another victim to them!
Watch Out For

Team Koe – If anyone seems to be able to give Gushue a run for the Roar spot, Kevin Koe could be the favourite to do so.  Already with two tour victories under their belts and having qualified in every event they have entered, Koe’s foursome won’t be an easy out for anyone this week.  It is probably a blessing Koe plays Gushue in both team’s opening round game.  Either team can afford an early slip up against one another and still be able to reel off 6 straight wins to claim a playoff spot.
Team Sweeting – This has been a quiet season for Val and company.  The two-time Scotties runner-up has found success on tour but not claimed a title this season.  They have competed in fewer events than in the past and perhaps that is causing many to underestimate them.  But don’t underestimate them too much now.  Remember they are the defending champions.  They are coming off F (Masters) and SF (The National) appearances at the past two grand slams.  Sure they didn’t claim the title...but only Homan has done that so far.  Even with the success Sweeting has had over the past two seasons, it feels at times she does not get enough credit or is still battling to be considered a top contending team.  Perhaps the underdog label fits her better though....she seems to strive when people are paying more attention to the Rachel Homan’s and Jennifer Jones’s of the world at competitions.  


The Dark Horse

Team Carruthers – Outside of Gushue, no team is hotter on tour right now than #TeamRama.  This team has played more events than almost every other team on tour, 8.  They have also qualified in every single event.  Going 8 for 8 is a stat not to be ignored.  They are coming off their first grand slam final appearance as a team (l. to Gushue, The National) and their first tour victory of the season in Morris, MB.  Many people may still be holding on to the disappointing Brier finish from the reigning Manitoba champions but that was way back in March.  This team has turned the corner and looks to make a steady rise to the top of the curling world.  But they can continue the hot streak now that they are no longer flying under the radar and considered an actual threat?  They were a dark horse pick at the Brier and faltered...can they officially turn the page this week or will we see history repeating?
Team Rocque – The #TwineTime Rookie of the Year candidates enter this event fresh off their first grand slam together.  And what a result!  Team Rocque went to Oshawa with little expectations and came away with a QF appearance and two tough loses against Homan.  Add in a few weeks prior was their first tour win of the season in Red Deer and perhaps this team is no longer the future of curling in Canada...maybe the future is now!  The more experienced teams of Jones, Sweeting, Homan, Middaugh should not underestimate what Kelsey Rocque is capable of.  She plays with little fear and big confidence.  Opening day matchups with Team McDonald and Team Middaugh could see this team sitting 2-0 and in strong playoff contention from the beginning.  An interesting matchup to watch will be the final round robin game Friday evening vs. Team Fleury.  Both of these teams could be considered dark horse contenders and capable of surprising the field and winning this event.  Plus it will be sister vs sister in a possible elimination game with Team Rocque lead Jen Gates battling Team Fleury lead Amanda Gates.  Who will have bragging rights around the Christmas table this year?  #GatesDebate
Projected Standings

MEN                                                WOMEN
Koe                 6-1                           Homan             5-1     
Gushue          5-2                           Sweeting          4-2
Jacobs            4-3                           Jones                4-2
McEwen        4-3                           Middaugh        3-3
Laycock         3-4                            Rocque             2-4
Simmons       2-5                           Fleury                2-4
Carruthers    2-5                           McDonald         1-5
Epping           2-5

QUALIFIERS

Men – Koe, Gushue, Jacobs

Women – Homan, Sweeting, Jones

MEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP:  Team Koe over Team Gushue

WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP:  Team Homan over Team Sweeting
All my fellow rock heads and stoners, there you have the #TwineTime preview for the Canada Cup of Curling.  I would be amiss to not mention the on-going #CanAmBattle between myself and @NerdCurl as well.  After a narrow TwineTime victory at the European Championships, I have closed the gap on my curling neighbours to the south.  NerdCurl enters the Canada Cup holding a slim 2 point lead.  There will be 30 points on the line this week though, 15 for both events.  It will be tough to catch up as I would imagine (I never listen to Phil’s prediction until I publish my own of course) Phil and I are supporting similar teams at this event.  Toss them a follow and listen though for their predictions and compare it to my own.
Watch live coverage of the games on TSN in Canada and ESPN3 in USA.  Follow along at CurlingZone as well for draw by draw coverage if you cannot catch the games being televised.  Personally, welcome back to my TV screen this week Vic, Cheryl and (my favorite curler of all-time) Russ Howard!  I was a complete media #fanboy at the Brier in Calgary when I was lucky enough to have a brief chat and snap a pic with Mr. Howard.  Enjoy GP!