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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!

The Canada Cup of Curling saw many of the top teams in the #PowerRankings battle it out on the ice.  Sure, Koe and Homan came away victorious but how did their results affect the rankings?  Did some teams move up the rankings due to strong performances in Grand Prairie?  Could disappointing results see a slide down the rankings?  Here are the updated Power Rankings:

MEN

(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.

WOMEN

(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.
SLIDE IN TO THE VOTING BOOTH!!!  #TwineTime wants to hear from YOU.  Slide over to the main page (HERE) and have your say on who you think should top the women's #PowerRankings.  This vote will remain open for a few more weeks and the team who garnishes the largest support will begin 2016 at the top of the rankings.  Homan is still DOMINATING the vote, taking 87% of the votes.  Your opinion matters though...don’t be shy!

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.
So you have a history lesson now.  You know the background, time to talk about the teams competing this season.  Let’s slide into #TourLifePredictions:

The Canadian Open
Yorkton, SK

2014 Champions:  Brad Gushue (men) & Eve Muirhead (women)
Format:  16 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers for both the men and women

The Favorites
Team 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 For
Team 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 Horse
Team 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.