Who Am I?

My photo

I like sports....lots of sports...all sports!  Follow my blog as I talk about sports....if you like sports of course

Friday, 27 February 2015

Rroolll Up The Rim....on a Brier Win!
#2015Brier hits Calgary with All-Star field 

Before we get going on the #2015Brier preview, can we just take a moment to reflect on the outstanding viewership numbers for the #2015Scotties?  Over 7.2 million viewers watched some or all of the Scotties in Moose Jaw.  The average audience through the week was 556,000 viewers.  This is great news for the sport of curling.  This also speaks volumes to the stellar field we saw in Moose Jaw.  Congrats to all the athletes, organizing committee, TSN and to all the fans who helped create this viewership success.

Soooo....can the #2015Brier see similar, or higher, numbers this week?  Well, when you scan through the field this year I would be quite comfortable saying I would take the over bet if this was an over/under betting option.  This is, arguably, the strongest field we have seen at a Brier in years.  Picking a favorite, trying to figure out who will make the playoffs and seeing if perhaps 5 losses can get you a tiebreaker this year are all tough questions to answer.  Calgary is going to be rocking with 2 Alberta teams on the ice as well.

I am excited to announce #TwineTime will be in Calgary next week and I will do my best to live blog some of the draws and maybe...just maybe....get some one on one time with a few of these all-star athletes.  Follow along here and on twitter for more info and feel free to send me suggestions on questions you would like to ask your favorite curler.  If I have the chance to meet any, I promise I will do my best to ask your questions.  This blog is #4TheFans after all.  I will also be assisting with CurlingGeek covering a few games.  Be sure to check them out for a more interactive viewing experience, covering the games not featured on TSN.  Selfishly, I am really hoping I can land a quick selfie with Russ Howard.  Look out for that....

Ok onto the preview show....

As we saw with the Scotties, there are new changes in place this year.  For the first time, the Maple Leaf will be on the ice, covering the back of last year's champions.  We have seen a Team Canada at the Scotties for many years but this will be a first for the Brier.  And what a perfect backdrop for the first Team Canada...hometown Calgary!  A battle of Alberta will occur Tuesday night...be ready!

Pre-Qualification

We will also see the first pre-qualification event at the Brier.  We saw how this went at the Scotties.  There were many issues and complaints across blogs (mine included HERE), social media and just general word of mouth.  Well the issue of pre-qualification is not going away right now, hopefully some of the issues on scheduling will be re-vamped for the three teams participating.  We will see the first Team Yukon (Robert Smallwood) as well.  As we also saw at the Scotties, the territorial champions will now represent their home territory and not the jointed Yukon/NWT banner they flew under in the past.  Nunavut was invited to attend but, similar to the Scotties, declined the invite as they feel they require more time to properly prepare.  Based on previous year's results, Nova Scotia (Peter Burgess) and Prince Edward Island (Adam Casey) will join Yukon in a three team shootout to make the Brier field.  This will be a mini round robin with each team playing one another and the top two teams playing in the featured game on the opening draw for the right to be the final team in the field.  Again, if the teams finish 1-1, a draw to the button will decide which teams advance and who goes home.

In this field, we have an overwhelming favorite in PEI.  I think this would be a huge upset if Casey and the Islanders did not qualify.  I see them pulling similar a similar result to Team Northern Ontario (Horgan) at the Scotties.  They should roll quite easily through the two round robin games and find themselves facing their fellow Atlantic competitors, Nova Scotia, in the qualification game.  We saw what the extra games did for Horgan and the success they had, don't be surprised to see a similar result from PEI and Team Casey.  Remember, this team is currently ranked #19 on the world curling tour rankings and have had success on tour this season (including two Grand Slam event appearances).  If they do make it through the qualification stage, they will not be scared to face any of the teams already in the field and could easily become the dark horse to put your money on.  I will say that it will be a bit sad to possibly not see Nova Scotia compete in the Brier.  They were the very first winner of the Brier (back in 1927 known as the Macdonald Brier), just seems wrong to not have the Bluenosers there.

The Favorites

Team Northern Ontario (Jacobs) - The "fitness freaks" are back!  Jacobs missed last year's Brier as he was busy winning Olympic Gold in Sochi.  The team has had a successful year on tour with a few runner-up finishes (National, Canada Cup) in Grand Slam events.  They only have one win on tour (Shorty Jenkins) but this team comes to play in big-time situations.  We saw what a year away from the national championship did for fellow Sochi champion Team Jennifer Jones at the Scotties, could lightning strike twice this year?  Interesting to note, the last Brier held in Alberta (Edmonton and I was there) was in 2013 when Jacobs won his first.  

Team Alberta (K. Koe) - The defending champion...skip!  Koe enters the Brier as the defending champion skip with a different team.  The breakup of last year's champion team is fully well-known and should be old news (it won't and many media outlets will probably focus a bit too much on this storyline).  Koe comes back to the Brier with a very successful team at his side.  Joining forces with Marc Kennedy, Brent Laing and Ben Hebert will make a formidable opponent for any team.  Worth noting, Koe has been in 3 previous Briers, winning 2 (2010, 2014) and taking a silver (2012).  That translates to one amazing winning percentage!  Should we just slot them into the final now?  With these boys playing on home ice, do not count them out.  They may just have a bit of luck on their side as well.  DYK all three previous Briers played at the Saddledome in Calgary resulted in Alberta victories?  Kevin Martin did it twine (1997, 2009) and Randy Ferby (2002). 

Watch Out For

Team Newfoundland & Labrador (Gushue) - The team everyone is dubbing as the team to watch and team to beat.  Could this finally be the year Gushue breaks through and wins his first Brier?  He already has the Olympic gold but he really wants to have Brier Champion added to his resume.  Yes, the field is the most competitive from top to bottom but that seems to favor Gushue.  Just look at his results on tour this year: 2 Grand Slam titles (Masters, Canadian Open) and ranked #3 in the world.  There is no team here Gushue cannot beat and his team should be entering with a ton of confidence.  The only concern could be the lack of playing time lately.  It was widely noted Gushue only had to "survive" a best-of-5 two-team championship final to qualify and had no problems in doing so.  But with Mark Nichols back at his side, this could be the year of the Rock.  Gushue would love to be the 1st Brier champ from the Rock since the sole win for the province in 1976.  At the same time, this is Gushue's 12th appearance with only 1 final to show (lost to Glenn Howard, 2007).  He must be feeling a bit of pressure.

Team Saskatchewan (Laycock) - Speaking of teams trying to end a long provincial drought, Saskatchewan is right up there.  The last SK champion was Rick Folk in 1980.  There have been many outstanding teams to throw on the Green Jacket in the past but Laycock and company may just be one of the best.  I also think they have one of the best chances to end the drought this province has seen in awhile.  #TeamOranje (known because of their bright orange gear on tour) suffered heartbreak last year, losing their final game on giving up a steal of 3 to New Brunswick that eliminated them from playoff contention and finishing with a 6-5 record.  This team has looked confident and driven all season.  They currently sit #7 on the world curling tour rankings, are coming off a win at the US Open of Curling to start 2015 and saw a breakthrough Grand Slam performance in Steve Laycock's hometown of Yorkton at the Canadian Open.  They have played and beat every team in this field and are quite capable of hanging with the so-called big boys throughout the week.  Do not be surprised if at the end of the week we see the transition of #TeamOranje to #TeamGreen to #TeamGolden

The Dark Horse

Team Quebec (Menard) - How quickly many people forget about Team Menard and his Quebec foursome.  This team does not play a lot of tour events during the season and, because of that, I think enter the national championship flying a bit under the radar.  I also don't think they mind that one bit.  Sure they enter only ranked #18, but let's remember this team took Koe to an extra end last year in the semi-final game and came oh so close to reaching the championship.  Never...ever...underestimate Jean-Michel Menard.  This will be Menard's ninth Brier appearance and lets also remember he is a former champion and world silver medalist (2006).  See, now you are remembering why this team is a threat aren't you?  Will they receive as much media attention and fan appreciation as say, Jacobs or Koe or Morris, probably not.  But then again, that could be the perfect plan for them.  Keep quiet, slug it out in the round robin, make the playoffs and pull a surprise to everyone by taking home another Brier championship.


The Field

Team Canada (Morris) - It is a bit weird to mention the defending champions here as I really feel they are a team to watch and are quite capable of making a run at repeating.  The core former Koe team (Pat Simmons, Carter Rycroft, Nolan Thiessen) will be joined by the skip they beat in the final last year, John Morris.  Morris himself is always a crowd favorite and joining forces with the three returning champions, with home town support, will make this team a tough one to beat.  The only concern is the lack of playing time this team has had this season.  But, these guys are all professionals and past champions.  We know they will be ready and prepared to battle.  Here is a little DYK info: skip John Morris will be the 1st player in Brier history to participate in the event wearing 4 different team colors?  With him throwing on the Red and White this week, this will be an addition to previously representing British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario.  With such a strong field though, any little slip up could be the difference between playoff weekend and sitting in the stands.  This team needs to get on a roll early, not an easy feat when you open with Manitoba and Newfoundland.

Team British Columbia (Cotter) - Welcome back Cotter.  Ok, I am sure that has been used over and over again but still...it fits!  Cotter and company return to the Brier after coming oh so close to winning last year.  Remember this team (now minus John Morris) lost both the Olympic trial and Brier final last season.  Talk about heartbreak.  But here they are, continuing to fight.  Jim Cotter is one of the best skips out there and can throw the hard hits to score multiple points or the soft draws to save an end.  New vice Ryan Kuhn has been a great addition to the team as well.  Can they replicate the results of last year?  That might be asking a lot given the field but I would not underestimate this team too much.

Team Manitoba (Carruthers) - Heading into playdowns everyone was talking about this finally being the year Mike McEwen would win a buffalo.  Team McEwen entered as the favorites and the #1 team in the world.  They were dominating the tour all season.  What people did not take into account was the drive and dedication of this newly formed team led by Reid Carruthers.  The #RamaRoll took off in Brandon.  While many were focused on waiting for a Mike vs Jeff final rematch, Team Carruthers just went about their business beating any team they were faced with and, ultimately, knocked off the favorite McEwen in the final.  But don't label this team as an underdog.  Remember Reid has tons of Brier (5th overall appearance) and world championship (2006 World Champion) experience.  Vice Braeden Moskowy is no stranger to competition either.  This will be his second Brier appearance (2013) but first representing the buffalo.  Combine the Brier experience of second Derek Samagalski (2012 bronze medal and all-star mention), Team Carruthers will not be nervous when they hit the ice at the Saddledome.  This team has had a tremendous season on tour as well, currently ranked #12 with a victory at Stu Sells Toronto and qualification spots at Grand Slam events The National and Canadian Open.  They may have some crowd support as well, lead Colin Hodgson is from Lacombe, Alberta and did represent (and win) a Canada Games gold medal for Alberta.

Team Ontario (Kean) - The young guns have arrived.  Mark Kean, Matt Camm, David Mathers and Scott Howard make their Brier debut and have many people expecting them to make a run towards the playoffs.  Many curling fans outside of Ontario may not be familiar with this team but that will change quite quickly this week.  In fact, I see this team picking up a lot of fans.  They can curl and they can play with the big boys.  I think if they can fight off the opening emotions that can come from playing in your first Brier, these guys can put together a very successful week.  They did beat favorite John Epping in the Ontario final and are looking to make a name for themselves this week in Calgary.  Also, Curling Geek will be covering all their games.

Team New Brunswick (Mallais) - The second all-rookie team in the field, Jeremy Mallais and his team from the Thistle-St. Andrew's will be heavy underdogs all week.  But I don't think they mind that role.  They entered the NB provincial tankard as underdogs and wound up beating favorite and previous champ James Grattan in the final.  They do not have a ton of experience facing off against this quality of a field and on arena ice but if they can put the nerves to the side and figure out the ice, they could surprise a few teams.  The big goal for Mallais and the boys will be to avoid the dreaded last place finish and relegation for next year's Brier.

Team Northwest Territories (J. Koe) - #PolarPower hits Calgary!  Jamie Koe and his team from Yellowknife return to make another run at the playoffs.  This will be Koe's 9th Brier appearance and 7th in a row.  He is also the first representative to sport the Northwest Territories name.  Team NWT received automatic entry in the field based on the performances of Koe in the past few years (including the 2012 Brier where he finished with a 7-4 record and finished 4th).  2012 will always be remembered for the infamous Koe vs Koe page playoff game where Kevin beat his brother.  These two will resume the brotherly love on Wednesday night.  Worth noting, 2015 is the first time all Koe siblings won their provincial/territorial championships.  Kevin winning Alberta, Jamie winning NWT and sister Kerry (Galusha) winning the NWT Scotties appearance.  The Koe family is one of the most successful curling families....and also huge crowd favorites.  Expect to see lots of #PolarPower support this week. 

Projected Final Standings

Team Alberta (K. Koe)  10 - 1
Team Northern Ontario (Jacobs)  10 - 1
Team Newfoundland & Labrador (Gushue)  8 - 3
Team Canada (Morris)  7 - 4
Team Saskatchewan (Laycock)  7 - 4
Team Quebec (Menard)  7 - 4
Team Manitoba (Carruthers)  6 - 5
Team Ontario (Kean)  3 - 8
Team British Columbia (Cotter)  3 - 8
Team Northwest Territories (J. Koe)  2 - 9
Team Prince Edward Island (Casey)  2 - 9
Team New Brunswick (Mallais)  1 - 10

Tiebreakers

Saskatchewan over Canada & Quebec


Page Playoffs

1 vs 2:  Northern Ontario over Alberta
3 vs 4:  Newfoundland & Labrador over Saskatchewan

Semi-final:  Newfoundland & Labrador over Alberta

TIM HORTONS BRIER CHAMPIONSHIP:  Newfoundland & Labrador (Gushue) over Northern Ontario (Jacobs) - I fully expect the Olympic Champions to find themselves playing on Sunday evening.  The Jacobs team is just too strong and focused on getting back that Team Canada jacket.  I suppose, in all fairness, they never really lost the Team Canada jacket.  They won the Brier in 2013 and won the Roar of the Rings months later to win the Olympic Team Canada jacket.  These boys have been reppin' the maple leaf for 2 years now.  The problem is they will meet another guy who is familiar with wearing the Olympic Team Canada jacket and also has an Olympic gold medal: Brad Gushue.  The difference now is Gushue has yet to finish off the stellar resume with a Brier win.  This is his year!  Mark Nichols rejoined this team for this exact reason, to win a Brier with Brad and for The Rock.  Gushue is due for this to happen, coming oh so close a few times in the past.  His team is firing on all cylinders right now.  This would be a first for the Brier: Olympic Champ vs Olympic Champ.  I think 2006 might just prevail in a history repeating lesson.  It is Team Gushue's time to step up.  Oh boy, will the Rock be celebrating hard on Sunday....and probably into Monday.  Might want to get the number for Premier Paul Davis on standby now because, if I am correct in this prediction, Monday March 9 may just need to be a provincial holiday.

It is going to be a tough field and I could easily be 100% incorrect on every prediction...and that would not surprise me.  This is a strong field and there will be no easy games.  I am looking forward to being a part of the action in Calgary starting mid-week.  I am sad to miss the opening draws but still feel very blessed to be attending.  Look for the #TwineTime blog to make its presence known though next week.  And hey, if you happen to be in Calgary, hit me up on here or twitter and say hello.  Let's meet in the Patch shall we?  Drinks on you though, ok?  :)

Thursday, 19 February 2015

The Red Grading Marker is Out
#TwineTime offers up Mid-Scotties grades

The 2015 Scotties Tournament of Hearts is closing in on playoff weekend.  There are only 4 draws remaining (3 on Thursday and 1 on Friday morning).  Teams are jockeying for a playoff position and need to bring out their A game if they want to play past Friday morning (or Thursday for some).  The playoff spots are not the only thing teams should be watching out for.  With the new pre-qualification event added this year, teams also need to ensure they escape the bottom of the standings and send their province/territory into the dreaded pre-qualification next year.

After 13 draws, some amazing shots, some less than entertaining games and overall great curling action, it is time to reflect on the half-way point of the event.  I have never had an inclination to be a teacher but, in a #TwineTime first, here are some Mid-Scotties grades based on the action we have witnessed so far....

A

The Big 3 - Heading into this event, the favorites dominated the conversation.  2-time defending champions Team Canada (Homan), 4-time Scotties Champ and 2014 Olympic Gold Medalist Team Manitoba (Jones) and last year's finalist Team Alberta (Sweeting) were expected to roll through the field.  So far, I would call it a huge success.  The plus/minus stats sure support this claim.  They are the top teams in points for and points against.  They are all scoring multiple points while limiting giving up the big ends to their opponents.  They are a combines 21-3 right now.  Of course, with them having to play one another (Jones already beat Homan) there will be at least 3 losses.  Nova Scotia ran over the juggernaut teams of Jones and Homan on Wednesday to add to those losses.  Alberta leads the pack with an 8-0 record but still has to play both Homan and Jones.  These teams have been the class of the field.  They lead the field in team percentages and are topping the player percentage categories at all positions.  There is no reason to expect them not to be the final 3 standing by Saturday.  Worth noting, the only perfect game curled so far this week was by Dawn McEwen vs BC.

Northern Ontario - How can you give this team anything short of an A grade so far?  They had to compete in the pre-qualification event just to make the field.  They rolled through the Northwest Territories (Galusha) and Yukon (Koltun) to make the qualification game during the opening draw last Saturday.  In an emotional game, playing beside their future competitors who were playing their opening games, Team Horgan beat Team NWT to become the 1st team from Northern Ontario to play in the Scotties repping the Green and Gold.  Their reward?  Amazing scheduling!  They were back on the ice for draws 2, 4 and 5.  By the end of opening weekend, they had already played 6 games in 4 days.  Here they are entering Thursday action in a tie for the final playoff spot at 5-3 after a HUGE win over hometown Team Saskatchewan (Lawton) Wednesday night.  Regardless of how the rest of the week shapes up (games remain vs Ontario, Manitoba, Canada), this will be considered a huge success.  #FearTheMoose is alive and well at the Scotties!  

B

The Home Province - Team Saskatchewan (Lawton) has not been disappointing but has not been overwhelming.  They are not wowing the crowd but are still pulling out the wins.  The tough loss last night to Northern Ontario was a heartbreaker for Lawton and company as it puts their playoff hopes on the brink.  They have already underperformed in their losses to Canada and Manitoba.  Sitting at 5-3 with games remaining vs. New Brunswick, Alberta and PEI leave no room for error.  Overall, the player/team percentage numbers are strong.  Some interesting play calls and tough breaks led to those 3 losses.  Giving up the least amount of points (34) so far in the field shows the defensive game of Lawton and company is still strong.  The unfortunate side is the struggle scoring multiple points in games.  They have only put up 42 points (9th overall) and if you want to win, you have to score.  I still expect #TeamGreen to be in the playoffs but they are going to have to elevate that game against the Big 3 to stand a chance at taking home Saskatchewan's first title since Amber Holland (2011).  The question is can defense win you a championship in curling, in this day and age?

The Dark Horse - Julie Hasting's Team Ontario entered the Scotties as a dark horse team to make the playoffs.  So far, they still have a shot.  They enter today's play at 4-4.  To really solidify a playoff spot, they should aim to finish 3-0 (vs. Northern Ontario, PEI, New Brunswick).  The schedule is doable.  They have beaten the teams they should and lost to the 4 favorites (Canada, Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan).  I would say, besides Nova Scotia, they have played all 4 of the favorites the closest.  This team also came loaded with a few pairs of the #StealPants.  They lead the field in stolen ends with 15.  The next closest is Manitoba with 12.  The schedule is there, they have received the help they needed, the question is can the capitalize and get into the playoffs now?  Don't be surprised....#TwineTime told you in the preview to watch out for this team.

C

The Maritimes - When the field was announced for this year's Scotties, many expected to see the Maritime teams struggle and at the bottom of the standings.  When Heather Strong started the Scotties becoming only the 2nd player to win back-to-back Ford Hot Shots, maybe this would be the good luck needed.  PEI (Gaudet) is still in the playoff hunt at 4-4.  Their schedule is daunting however (vs. Manitoba, Ontario, Sask).  I will be the first to admit I did not give this team enough credit heading into the event.  They have been a pleasant surprise.  I have enjoyed watching Birt get back to the winning ways at the Scotties.  Nova Scotia (Arsenault) is sitting at 4-5 and probably eliminated but did pick up the 2 biggest upset wins of the week so far, beating Manitoba and Canada back-to-back yesterday.  They also came oh so close to knocking off Sask the night before.  Tough losses to Northern Ontario and PEI hurt their playoff chances though.  Strong and Team Newfoundland & Labrador started STRONG (hahaha, get it? Ok lame I know, my bad) but just have been unable to compete with the favorites.  Great shots in some ends but unable to put together a complete game of 20 great shots has made some games harder than others.  New Brunswick (Robichaud) started the event slow, losing their first 5 games but are 2-1 in their last three, including HUGE victories over struggling Quebec and BC which could save them from relegation.  Interestingly enough, PEI, NS and NF could all finish 5-6.  I would call that a success for the Atlantic region given the strong field this year.  Also worth noting, of the 4 Atlantic skips, Robichaud has the highest overall curling percentage at 77%, tied with Horgan and just below the favorite 4.

D

The Rookies - Team Quebec (Mann) and Team BC (Knezevic) have struggled this week.  Both teams sit 1-8 entering today's play.  Both teams still play NF and Nova Scotia.  Quebec beat BC back in draw 3, which might be the only thing saving them from relegation.  Unless either team can pull off the upsets over the next day and half, one of them will be relegated (and odds are against BC right now).  Both teams will leave Moose Jaw feeling disappointed in their record and how they curled but hopefully they take away a lot of learning from their first Scotties experience.  BC struggled hard at the beginning of the week but has been curling at a higher level as the week progressed.  Unfortunately giving up 73 points and only scoring 36 makes for a long week.  Quebec has been competitive in many games and has just found themselves in some tough ends that have ultimately cost them a chance at winning the game.  This team can score, putting up 49 points so far (T7) but also give up some big ends (67 points against, 11th overall).  Don't be surprised to see both of these teams back at future Scotties though.

F

Relegation - Well I doubt I will hear any arguments against this grade!  What is left to be said that hasn't already found its way on social media and curling forums.  CCA really missed the boat on this idea.  During the pre-qualification event on Thursday/Friday, other teams were having practices, the Ford Hot Shots was going on, pre-event banquets started....there were distractions left and right as three teams (NWT, Yukon, Northern Ontario) were on the ice fighting for the Scotties lives.  It was commented on social media that the pre-event banquet began while teams were still on the ice playing.  Really?  That just isn't poor planning, it is disrespectful to teams who won the right to represent their province/territory.  In the end, fans were left with 3 Ontario teams in the field and NO teams from the North.  Take nothing against Team Horgan and Northern Ontario, this isn't their fault.  They just played the games they needed to play and won.  Congratulations to them, and look at how successful they are (see above!).  But all one had to do was watch that opening draw match-up on TSN Saturday afternoon and see the emotion on Team NWT skip Kerry Galusha's face after the tough loss to know why this is a bad idea!  The Scotties Tournament of Hearts broke in half in that one moment caught by a TSN camera.  Hopefully this will be a lesson learned and something can be done.  Fans and athletes alike have voiced their dislike of this format.  Let's see if the CCA heard?!  Congratulations to Team Yukon (Koltun) and Team NWT (Galusha) on winning their respected territorial championships and making it to Moose Jaw.  I will always consider them as part of the #2015Scotties field.  I hope we get to see both of these teams again at a future Scotties.

Agree or disagree, share your opinion with me on here or on twitter.  As has always been the case, conversation around the Scotties and the sport of curling by fans and athletes alike only benefit and help grow the sport.  If you are in the Moose Jaw area, try to get out to Mosaic Place and watch some of the action live.

Best of luck on the remainder of the event to all the teams.  And thank you for providing some memorable moments for fans of the sport.  It has been a great week so far...and we are just getting ready for an action-packed playoff weekend!!

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The Jaw Will Be Rockin'..And Freezin'...And Slidin'
2015 Scotties Tournament of Hearts is ready to hit the ice

Hello February.  You are a tricky month.  3 years you have 28 days then you throw at us this wild 29th day.  You start with a groundhog leading us to either more cold or...less more cold?  It is Canada after all, winter is always cold!  Valentine's Day...awwww!  For some, myself included, I prefer celebrating Palentine's Day.  Oh yes, lot's going on in the month of February.  But perhaps the biggest event...the most exciting...the most anticipated within the curling community is the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.  The mecca of Canadian women's curling touches down in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan this year.  You don't know where Moose Jaw is you say?  Well, being born and raised in Regina, SK, I can tell you this is just a short, yet slippery in winter, drive outside the Queen City.  This city will embrace the Scotties, hosting for the 1st time.  After watching the "Big Sibling" cities of Regina and Saskatoon host numerous Scotties between the two of them, it is time for the Jaw to shine!

Now before we get into the preview of the field, I would like to take a brief moment to talk about a special part of the Scotties.  Held each Scotties on the opening Sunday, Sandra Schmirler Day comes back to Saskatchewan.  For those not familiar, Sandra Schmirler was one of the most successful and popular female curlers in Saskatchewan...in Canada...in the world.  A three-time Scotties winner, three-time world champion and Olympic Gold Medalist, Schmirler was taken from this world far too early when she succumbed to cancer at the young age of 36.  "Schmirler the Curler" was my favorite female curler growing up.  I watched every Scotties she played in (7 total) and she really epitomized the down to Earth, friendly nature of Saskatchewan while showing a competitive side unmatched in the sport.  With Jan Betker, Joan McCusker and Marcia Gudereit, they were the team of the 90's.  I remember being at the '98 Scotties in Regina, which would unfortunately turn out to be her final Scotties appearance.  The building rocked with support for the team.  I remember going with my grandparents after the game, down to the boards as kids usually do, and just getting a high five from "Schmirler The Curler" and wishing the team luck.  I was so pleased with myself that I had the chance to meet and talk to a World Champion, even if it was just a brief encounter!  I was 17 but was as excited as if I was 7.

On opening Sunday of the Scotties, Sandra Schmirler Day telethon is hosted throughout the draws on TSN.  This year will be no different, with February 15 being telethon day.  All funds donated will go towards the Sandra Schmirler Foundation, helping families with premature and critically ill babies across Canada.  This year, through social media, we are already seeing many of the best women's teams across the country starting to donate and raise funds.  On Monday this week, I saw a great tweet for Team Quebec, Lauren Mann, challenging all other Scotties teams to beat their $200 donation.  She mentioned competing Team Ontario, Julia Hastings, in their tweet.  Sure enough, hours later, Team Ontario responded with "We love a challenge! Especially one for a great cause!" as well as matching the team Quebec donation and issuing a challenge to Team Northern Ontario, Tracey Horgan.  By Tuesday, the challenge was elevated.  Team Manitoba, Jennifer Jones, accepted the Horgan challenge and took it up a notch.  They raised their donation to $400 while challenging rivals on the ice, Team Canada, Rachel Homan.  This is what I love about the sport of curling.  These teams are preparing to battle one another in mere days for a national championship and here they are raising awareness, donating funds and challenging one another to match...all for a great and worthy cause!  My guess is, by Sunday, every team competing will accept and match the challenge.  #TwineTime would like to challenge all the curling fans and teams across the country, women and men, competitive, club or recreation, to take on the challenge of donating any amount on Sandra Schmirler Day!!!  For more information on the Sandra Schmirler Foundation, including Sandra Schmirler Day, please visit the website HERE!!

Onto the competition side (and see if you notice a history theme below)...

Pre-Qualification

The Scotties will kick-off, for the 1st time ever, with a pre-qualification tournament beginning this Thursday.  The 3 teams competing, based on previous results and/or new additions to the field, will be Yukon (Sarah Koltun), Northwest Territories (Kerry Galusha) and Northern Ontario (Tracey Horgan).  This is a bit tough to watch in all honesty.  For two of these teams, they are going to make the long trip to Moose Jaw only to be sent home a few days later.  For one, they will be sent home before the Scotties officially kick-off.  The three teams will play a round robin with the top two teams advancing to the qualification final, to be played during the opening draw of the event on Saturday.  Imagine if all these teams finish 1-1.  Draws to the button would then decide which two advance and who goes home.  A draw to the button will send a team home, possibly.  Imagine that feeling?  I won't get into the specifics on this addition to the competition but perhaps you would like to take a read at Bob Weeks' thoughts HERE.  The interesting point on this, as Weeks points out, is not only will we see the regular competition at the top of the standings, we now will see competition at the bottom.  The teams who struggle during the week still have every game being important, even if the playoffs are out of the picture.  If you finish at the bottom of the standings, the next year you have sent your provincial/territorial representative right into the pre-qualification event.  Nobody wants to finish at the bottom of the standings with this added pressure of knowing what it means for the following year.

From a competitive standpoint, this is going to be a tough one to call.  Interesting to note that all three competing provinces/territories (Nunavut was invited but declined an entry this year, requesting they need more time to fully prepare to compete) will be the first team to represent their home.  Sure YK/NWT has been in past Scotties but always as a combined Territorial representative.  Not this year.  Galusha will be the first full NWT rep, as will Koltun from Yukon.  Northern Ontario has never even been invited, having to compete within Ontario in the past.  Not this year.  Similar to the men, they will have their own representative for the first time as well.  Kerry Galusha's #PolarPower team is the most well-known and is always a fan favorite whenever they compete, this should be no different in Moose Jaw.  This will be Galusha's 12th Scotties appearance.  Fellow Northerner Sarah Koltun returns after her debut last year (finishing 2-9).  And Northern Ontario's Tracey Horgan isn't new to the Scotties scene, having previously represented Ontario in 2012.  I can realistically see all three teams finishing 1-1, all three have been competitive on tour this season and will enter this event wanting to be the first to survive the mini-elimination tournament.  My heart says #PolarPower will prevail, my head says Horgan will make a nice debut for Northern Ontario.  Head over heart here...Horgan will get to play on.  Let's also note, Horgan would not be a surprise team here.  They are currently ranked 10th on the CTRS rankings.  And her reward will be the big teams, such as:

The Favorites

Team Canada (Rachel Homan) - Nobody can doubt Team Canada heading into this event.  Homan is the two-time defending champion.  They haven't found a win on tour yet this season but have finished runner-up in 4 of their past 5 events.  Could not having a provincial playdown be a factor?  Well, they didn't play playdowns last year and that sure didn't stop them.  They looked stronger than ever.  They also did participate in the Continental Cup, helping Team Canada dominate Team Europe.  They will not come to Moose Jaw with any lack of competitive ice time, that's for sure.  The off-season line-up change of adding Joanne Courtney (from Team Sweeting) after the move of Ali Kreviazuk to Sweden seems to be working just fine.  Another change made was the addition of Richard Hart as coach.  Longtime coach Earl Morris is no longer with the team.  I cannot see the coaching change having too large of an impact though.  They are the champs and until you beat the champs, you must respect the champs.  Plus I think the disappointment on the world stage with a bronze two years ago and the silver last year will be a HUGE motivating factor for Homan to hold on to the maple leaf jacket. They are going to be tough to beat!

Team Manitoba (Jennifer Jones) - But if anyone can take on and defeat the defending champs, it's 4-time champion and current Olympic Gold medalist Team Jones.  Jones was not at the Scotties last year, busy representing Canada at the Sochi Winter Olympics.  And we all know how that went!  This team is always consistent on the national scene.  Expect them to be there at the end of the week.  They have the resume.  They have the experience.  They have the drive and determination.  The question is can they get it done?  The last time Jones won a Scotties was 2010, entering a five-year drought for the top team in the world.  Shocking I know!  Worth noting, the last time the Scotties was held in Saskatchewan (Regina, 2008), guess who started their 3-year reign?  Can this be a case of history repeating?

Watch Out For

Team Alberta (Val Sweeting) - Last year's Scotties runners-up are back!  And back with revenge on their mind.  The tumultuous off-season story of Team Sweeting has been well document, losing Courtney to main competitor Team Homan.  Then they pick up perennial New Brunswick power house Andrea Crawford as vice, only to lose her right before the opening slam.  Of course, in Hollywood movie fashion, they pick up spare Cathy Overton-Clapham and win the grand slam.  They announce the addition of Lori Olson-Johns to the team and people wondered how the new team would gel mid-way through the season.  Well that was quickly silenced when they won the Canada Cup of Curling.  People said last year Sweeting was the future of women's curling....little did they know the future was only 1 year away.  This team could knock off the co-favorites.  I noted the history for team Jones playing in Saskatchewan for the Scotties, how about this piece of history for Alberta?  The past two Scotties held in Saskatchewan (Regina, 2008 and 1998) featured Alberta teams in the championship, with Cathy Borst winning in 1998.  Plus, Val Sweeting is a born and raised Saskatchewan girl herself.  She will have fan support, combine with the luck of past history, and this could be a career-defining week for Val and company.

Team Saskatchewan (Stef Lawton) - The question heading into provincial playdowns in Saskatchewan was how Stef Lawton would curl, having missed basically the entire tour season welcoming her new baby.  Well, Lawton seemed right at home on the ice.  Sure they lost to rival Michele Englot in the 1vs1 game but rebounded in the semi-final and knocked off Englot for the green jacket.  Lawton enters being the home province team and will have HUGE fan support behind her.  In Lawton's three previous Scotties appearances, she has always qualified for the playoffs and has lost the 3vs4 game each time.  How is that for consistency?  This will also be the first time she will be wearing the home province jacket.  Given her past history at the Scotties, add in the home province support, I would bet on Lawton being a lock for the playoffs.

Dark Horse

Team Ontario (Julie Hastings) - What a story for Team Ontario!  On paper, this is a rookie team at the Scotties, making their debut in Moose Jaw.  However, take a look at the resume of this team and they are far from rookies.  They have been curling together for 20 years....20 years!!  In a time when teams are jumping from team to team, even province to province, every season due to the added focus of a 4 year Olympic cycle, this team has stayed dedicated to one another the entire time.  They believed in one another and focused on their dream of winning an Ontario championship and competing at the Scotties.  Well here they are...and we should take notice.  They are not going to be fearful of any of their competition, having played most of them on tour throughout the years.  Sure there may be some nerves at first stepping onto the Scotties ice for the first time but the experience factor will take over and this team will come out ready to show the rookie team label is not for them.  Watch out, if the teams above are not careful, Team Ontario could sneak into a tiebreaker or playoff spot.

The Field

Team British Columbia (Patti Knezevic) - Talk in B.C. has always been on the potential of Knezevic.  She has the game to compete with the big teams but just could never get over the hump.  She suffered two losses in B.C. finals, to Kelley Law in 2007 and Kelly Scott in 2013.  Well, the monkey is off her back now!  Technically this will be Knezevic's second Scotties appearance, having appeared as a fifth last year for Kesa Van Osch's team.  She did see game time though when Van Osch went down sick and impressed many with her game play.  How the team responds at their first Scotties is to be seen.  I expect very competitive games from them.

Team Quebec (Lauren Mann) - Quebec will be lead by a young, up and coming team skipped by Lauren Mann.  Many people may be unfamiliar with this team but don't let the rookie label fool you.  This team may just turn some heads.  And it's not like the entire team is new to the Scotties.  Brittany O'Rourke will be making her 3rd consecutive Scotties (competing the last 2 years with Alison Ross).  Her experience will be highly beneficial to this team.  Team Mann has had some success on tour as well, most notably finishing runner-up at Stu Sells Toronto.  Want to know an interesting factoid on how Mann and Team Canada lead Lisa Weagle are linked?  Mann once curled with Jenn Hanna in Ontario.  Mann left the Hanna team and who did Hanna pick up?  Yup, Lisa Weagle.  Just a little tidbit of information for you (Ooops this is the Scotties, not Tim Hortons Brier...bad reference there).

Team Newfoundland & Labrador (Heather Strong) - Welcome back Heather Strong.  Strong will be making her 12th...12th...Scotties appearance this year.  Strong's overall record at the Scotties may not seem as impressive but history could be on her side.  At the 2008 Scotties, Strong had one of her most successful showings.  She finished 7-4, losing in a tie-breaker to fellow 2015 Scotties competitor Jennifer Jones.  I noted the history successes above, should we expect a similar showing from the Rock?  Never underestimate experience.

Team Nova Scotia (Mary-Anne Arsenault) - Anyone familiar with curling knows Mary-Anne Arsenault.  Long-time second for the Colleen Jones power house rink that won 5 Scotties (1999, 2001-2004) and 2 World Championships (2001, 2004).  Arsenault will also be making her 12th...again with the 12...Scotties appearance this year.  Going with the history theme yet again, any guess what year Arsenault made her skipping debut representing Nova Scotia?  You guessed it, Regina in 2008, where she finished 6-5 just missing out on a tie-breaker.  I think if Arsenault can repeat history with a 6-5 record that would be a success this year.  She does have a young team with her but again, history and experience can never be discounted.

Team New Brunswick (Sylvie Robichaud) - The above two skips are entering their 12th Scotties...while New Brunswick skip Sylvie Robichaud will be playing in only her second.  Can anyone guess when she made her Scotties debut?  Well wouldn't you know it...2008 in Regina!  Seriously, I cannot even make this stuff up.  Crazy coincidence right?  This is not an inexperienced team though.  Vice Rebecca Atkinson has played in the past 3 Scotties, as vice for Andrea Crawford.  Second Marie Richard was with Atkinson in Regina when they made their debut.  With Crawford out of the scene in New Brunswick, this was the perfect opportunity for Robichaud to make her move and she capitalized on the opportunity.  She sure made it tight though, needing a deuce in 10 to win the New Brunswick final but she came through and here they are.  2008 was not kind to Robichauld in her debut, where she finished at the bottom of the standings at 1-10.  I am sure she is looking for a better showing this year...while ensuring she doesn't send New Brunswick to relegation for next year.

Team Prince Edward Island (Suzanne Birt) - Has anyone noticed that this will be Birt's 8th Scotties appearance?  8!!  She has been the class of PEI curling since winning back to back Canadian Junior Championships (2001, 2002) and the World Junior Championship in 2001.  Birt is probably most remembered as making one of the biggest debut's the Scotties has ever seen back in 2003.  She finished the round robin 10-1 but unfortunately lost both playoff games...still not bad for a rookie I would say.  She has been unable to come close to duplicating that success since unfortunately with her best result being a 6-5 record in 2007, losing in a tie-breaker to Jennifer Jones.  Ok, so we need a piece of history here again right?  Well, guess who was also in Regina in 2008?  Yup...Suzanne Birt (at the time Gaudet).  I am sure she would like to better her 3-8 record that year mind you.

Projected Final Standings

Team Canada (Homan) 10 - 1
Team Alberta (Sweeting) 9 -2
Team Manitoba (Jones)  9-2
Team Saskatchewan (Lawton) 9 - 2
Team Ontario (Hastings) 8 -3
Team Newfoundland & Labrador (Strong) 5 - 6
Team Northern Ontario (Horgan)  4 - 7
Team British Columbia (Knezevic) 3 - 8
Team Nova Scotia (Arsenault) 3 - 8
Team Quebec (Mann) 3 -8
Team New Brunswick (Robichauld) 2 - 9
Team Prince Edward Island (Birt) 1 - 10

Page Playoffs

1 vs 2:  Team Alberta over Team Canada
3 vs 4:  Team Saskatchewan over Team Manitoba

Semi-final:  Team Canada over Team Saskatchewan

SCOTTIES TOURNAMENT OF HEARTS CHAMPIONSHIP: Team Alberta (Val Sweeting) over Team Canada (Team Homan) - We all want to see the rematch don't we?  With the off-season team jumping to struggling to find a replacement to up's and down's throughout the season, the story lines are just too plenty here.  Plus, in the history of the Scotties, there has never been a championship rematch of the same skips from the previous year.  Time to re-write the history books...and this time I think we see a different result.  Sweeting is on fire this entire season and, with all the drama off the ice she has faced, I think it has only made her stronger, more focused and more determined.  This would be the perfect story book ending.  And I am a sucker for a fairy tale happy ending.  Don't get me wrong, Homan will not go down easy.  She is the two-time defending champ for a reason and doesn't look ready to give up her crown quite yet.  If we do see this dream final, expect one of the best finals in the history of the Scotties.  You will not want to miss this...set the PVR even...this could be a classic you will want to watch again.

So there you have it.  The #TwineTime Scotties preview edition.  As always, please share your thoughts and comments, whether you agree or think I am completely out to lunch.  In the end, we can all agree on two things:

1) We are in for an outstanding week of curling action
2) Challenge your friends, family, curling teammates, whomever to donate to the Sandra Schmirler Foundation on Sandra Schmirler Day (Sunday February 15).  I already challenge each of you who have read this entire blog!  I appreciate your support...now pay it forward towards a great cause.  Need the website info again?  Sure...HERE it is!

Enjoy the action everyone!

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

It's Tankard-Sipping Time
#Brier2015 Dreams will Become Reality for Some

How fitting is it that Tim Horton's Roll Up The Rim contest starts this week?  Well curling fans across the country will hope to make the perfect out turn on their Tim Horton's cup hoping for a win, some of the finest curling athletes will be hitting the ice looking for a few perfect out turns of their own.  The Road to #Brier2015 will be in full force across the country this week with provincial championships.  The coveted provincial tankard jackets will be up for grabs over the next few days in NWT, BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Northern Ontario, PEI, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland & Labrador.  Some of the boys will be lucky enough to take a sip not from a Timmy's cup but from a much bigger prize...a provincial tankard trophy!

For some provinces, their Brier representative in Calgary has already been determined.  Based on results over the past few weeks, here is who we know will be in #YYC from Feb. 28 - March 8:

Team Canada:  John Morris
Quebec:  Jean-Michel Menard
Yukon:  Robert Smallwood
New Brunswick:  Jeremy Mallais

On quick view, already a few questions arise looking at this list.  For one, the Brier will welcome a Team Canada representative for the first time.  And what a perfect year for this with Calgary being the host, resulting in two Alberta entries this year.  John Morris has taken over the skipping duties for last year's national champions, joining Pat Simmons, Carter Rycroft and Nolan Thiessen.  As many know, last year's winning skip Kevin Koe has a new team this year and is back into the Alberta provincial territory dog yard (more on that below).  Also, Yukon will have it's own representative this year....as well as Northwest Territories and Nunavut.  Unfortunately, Nunavut has declined their invite this year but hopefully we will see them in future Brier events.

This is a similar format to the Scotties.  A Team Canada representative returning every year, a Northern Ontario rep (which was always included for the men but a first this year for the women) and separate entries for all Territorial representatives.  As well, the Brier will also feature a pre-qualification tournament.  Based on previous years' results, this year will see reps from Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Yukon and Nunavut (had they participated) compete.  I will leave my thoughts on this for future Scotties/Brier preview blog posts though.  Let's get to the provincial previews.

For the Scotties provincial blog post (found HERE for anyone interested), I started out west.  For the Brier, I will start my preview out east.

PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND

The top 6 teams on the island will convey in Alberton to crown their Brier representative.  The PEI Tankard follows a similar format to the PEI Scotties, with a triple knockout.  If one team can win the A, B and C events, the tankard is theirs.  Win two of the three, and you need to be knocked off twice in the championship round.  If we see three separate winners, B plays C in a semi-final with the winner playing the A winner.  Got it?  Good!

Without a doubt the favorite is the Adam Casey rink.  They enter the event almost as a lock to win.  Very few people are giving any of the other teams a realistic chance.  Casey should enter as the favorite though after the outstanding season on tour this year.  Casey has had a few runner-up finishes, notably at Shorty Jenkins and Cookstown.  They have participated in two Grand Slams (National, Canadian Open) and even though they failed to qualify, they were still competitive with the best teams.  Let's also remember, Casey himself has been to the past 3 Brier's as second for Brad Gushue's Newfoundland champions.

Casey may not just cake walk through the competition and could be challenged by last year's PEI tankard finalist Jamie Newson and previous champion Robert Campbell.  As well, Tyler MacKenzie, second on last year's PEI representative Eddie MacKenzie team, moves to skip this year and is joined with last year's teammate Sean Ledgerwood at lead.

PEI Championship:  Team Casey over Team Newson

NEWFOUNDLAND & LABRADOR

So does anyone really expect Brad Gushue to lose in Labrador City this week?  Gushue has represented the Rock at the past 8 Brier events and 11 overall.  Yes, often this has been with a new team and this year will be no exception.  Gushue is back with vice Mark Nichols and have nothing short of success.  Other than red hot McEwen (whom Gushue has beaten a few times this year) "The Goo" has been on fire this season picking up 2 Grand Slam titles.  Let's just give this one to Gushue now!  I think the bigger news on this front is how only 1 team entered the event to challenge Team Gushue....1 TEAM!!  Much respect to Gary Wensman for at least attempting to knock off the champ.  They will compete in a best-of-5 format to determine The Rock Champ.  I think Gushue still steamrolls to this but the bigger concern is what does this mean for the future of curling in this province?  This is a HUGE concern...

NEWFOUNDLAND & LABRADOR Championship:  Team Gushue over Team Wensman

NOVA SCOTIA

Oh our bluenose friends from Nova Scotia.  This is an interesting year for, what has normally been, a successful and competitive province on the national level.  We only need to look back to 2004 when Mark Dacey pulled off the HUGE win in the final over the heavily favored Ferby Foursome from Alberta.  The next year, 2005, Shawn Adams made the final, losing oddly enough to the same Ferby team.  This province has more Brier wins (3) than Quebec (2), Newfoundland & Labrador (1) and the still winless provinces/territories of New Brunswick, PEI, Yukon and NWT.  Unfortunately, after the debacle of 2014 when Jamie Murphy's foursome went 0-11, this year's Nova Scotia team finds itself in the pre-qualification event. 

Murphy will be back in Halifax to defend his provincial title, albeit with a different front end.  Mark Dacey also returns looking for revenge perhaps for losing last year's final to Murphy.  Dacey has assembled the same team as last year and should be considered the favorite.  There are also a few other familiar names looking for stake claim on the Molson Coors Tankard: Ian Fitzner-Leblanc, Chad Stevens and Tommy Sullivan.  Interesting to note, Sullivan added former 6-time Nova Scotia Champ, the tree-standing-esque vice Paul Flemming to his team this year.  This addition could be a huge plus for this team and I would consider Sullivan the dark horse pick to knock off the favorites.  The 8 teams in Halifax will play a round robin format with the top 4 advancing to a page playoff to determine the Nova Scotia Champion.

NOVA SCOTIA Championship:  Team Dacey over Team Sullivan

NORTHERN ONTARIO

Hmmm, we may be seeing a theme here so far with this blog post.  Similar to the 1st two picks above, can we just hand this one over to Team Brad Jacobs.  The 2014 Olympic Champions enter playdowns after missing last year....you know only to compete on the grandest sports stage of them all, the Olympic Games!  And we saw how well that worked out for them...GOLDEN!  We could go on and on about the Jacobs resume but I think you all know it by now.

Can they face some challenges this week though?  Defending champ Jeff Currie returns.  And what abou the Ice Man himself Al Hackner returning to take a run at a Brier berth.  The regular's of Mike Jakubo and Bryan Burgess could also present small roadblocks on the Road to Calgary for Team Jacobs.  8 teams will enter the round robin-style event.  The top three teams advance to the championship round, with top place getting a bye into the finals (Jacobs) and 2nd playing 3rd for a chance to claim runner-up rights....I mean play in the championship.

NORTHERN ONTARIO Championship:  Team Jacobs over Team Hackner (I like an upset)

ONTARIO

Well now we hit some upsets...most notably Glenn Howard not participating in this event.  The 15-time provincial champion, 4-time world champion failed to qualify.  This leaves this event wide open.  Defending champion Greg Balsdon returns.  His path to a back-to-back championship will not be any easier even without Glenn.  John Epping and team head into this event as, I would say, huge favorites to grab his 1st provincial tankard.  Epping has had an outstanding year on tour, currently sitting number 10 on the Order of Merit standings.

While Glenn may not be in Thames Centre, Ontario, the Howard family name will still be represented.  Scott Howard, Glenn's son, has joined forces with Mark Kean this year and will be looking to return to the Brier, this time as a player and not an alternate.  Howard played 5th man for Glenn's winning team in 2012.

And what about Peter Corner?  Corner partnered up with former Howard vice and world champion Wayne Middaugh to qualify out of the challenger round.  They enter wearing the dark horse role.  Middaugh may be absent for the event but Corner will still have experience on his side being joined by Graeme McCarrel.  Don't overlook Rob Rumfeldt or Joe Frans either.  And looking for a young up and coming dark horse to watch?  Pay attention to Aaron Squires team at this event.

The Ontario Tankard event is a long and grueling one.  The 11 teams competing have to survive a round robin format just to make the playoffs.  Taking on the other 10 teams in the field can get tiring.  Not to mention the risk of getting sick, as we have often seen at Brier and Scotties events with a long round robin.  A team can really only afford 3, maybe 4, losses at most to have a realistic shot at the playoffs.  Unlike the Brier, there is no page playoff.  The first place team receives the bye to the final while second and third place battle in a semi-final.  This event started on Monday and wraps up on Championship Sunday.  If you want to get into Brier mode though, this format will send its champion ready.

ONTARIO Championship:  Team Epping over Team Kean

MANITOBA

If Ontario is considered a grueling format, the Safeway Championship taking place in Brandon, Manitoba this week has to be considered a Gauntlet Match right out of American Gladiators...and just as confusing to some.  32 teams....yes 32...in comparison to 2 in Newfoundland...will make the trip to Brandon for the Safeway Select.  Interesting name considering it appears Manitoba will select almost everyone to compete for a Buffalo.  On top of a large field, the format is equally as interesting.  They use an A and B qualification format.  4 teams will advance from the A side.  Think of this in a similar fashion to the NCAA March Madness bracket where teams are placed into pods with the top 4 overall seeds potentially winning their pod and qualifying for the next round.  Once you lose in A, you drop down to a B pod, again where 4 teams will qualify.  From here, we see our Final 8 Championship round.  Previous records are wiped clean as this round is a double knockout, again with an A and B side.  Your two A qualifiers advance to play one another in the AvsA page playoff game while the two B qualifiers advance to play one another.  Once we have our Final 4 (A1, A2, B1, B2), it is a simple page playoff system to determine the champion.  Got all that?  Good!!  If not, simply head over to CurlingZone and check out the bracket (probably easier than understanding my explanation).

Similar to most of the provincial tankard events mentioned above, this one also has a HUGE favorite: Team Mike McEwen.  They are the top ranked team in the world and on tour.  No team has looked as determined as them this year (except maybe Gushue).  This is the big one for Mikey and the boys though.  Having lost 4 provincial finals (2010-2012, 2014) and a semi-final in 2013, you cannot help but want to see these guys finally win a Buffalo.  They are without a doubt the best team in the world to never play in a Brier, let alone win one.  This seems like their season; however, we have seen this script before.  McEwen enters playdowns as the top seed, looking like this is his year only to run into Stoughton and suffer another loss (2011).  Will the red pants make a lucky appearance come championship weekend in Brandon and help these boys find that elusive title?  They have won basically everything else there is to win on tour.

Of course, it won't be easy as 31 other teams are waiting to knock them off.  The thorn in Mike's side, Jeff Stoughton, will return for another run.  Yes, he has a new team.  Yes, he hasn't looked like the Jeff of old throughout the season.  But NEVER count out a past national and world champion.  Jeff elevates his game like no other at provincials and I would expect nothing less this year.  Besides, how great of a motivator would it be for Stoughton to enter with a new team and bring home the same result over heavily favored McEwen?  How is that for motivation?  But wait...what about Team Reid Carruthers?  Ah the Rama Rollercoaster as I affectionately called them during the season.  Don't get me wrong, I really like Reid.  I think he has been curling the best he ever has.  I like vice Braeden Moskowy as well.  I was a huge fan of his when he curled out of Saskatchewan.  In fact, at the Brier in Edmonton, Moskowy was kind enough to give me tickets to a draw and a playoff game.  How can you not love the guy?  This Carruthers team is too good to be a dark horse but too new to be a favorite, if that makes sense?  They have excelled on tour and in the slams but have also had some head scratching results.  I think those are in the past now.  This team seems dialed in to make a run at the top dogs.  Many would argue, myself included, that Reid should have been given the #2 seed at this event, given how they have played this season.  If you combine the Brier experience of Reidarama, Moskowy and second Derek Samagalski, this team is the most experienced team in the field.  All three of these men have been there before so nothing will surprise them.  They will be prepared and focused...all you need to do is follow Samagalski on Twitter to know that: see #BuffaloHunting

Besides the top three, who else can perhaps be a dark horse?  Well I would be looking at current 2-time Canadian Junior Champion Team Braden Calvert.  Calvert and company are coming off a repeat performing win in Corner Brook to keep their Cdn Jr. title.  They enter on a hot streak and will not be shy playing the big boys.  Plus Calvert finds himself in the pod with #4 seed William Lyburn, a easier draw to the playoffs for sure.  Lyburn cannot be completing dismissed though as they have put together a solid year on the Manitoba tour and are always a threat come provincials.  I'd would keep on eye on Daley Peters, Jared Kolomaya and Richard Muntain.  Team Dunstone, being skipped by the speedy and hard throwing Jason Gunnlaugson, could surprise as well.  Dunstone is over in Spain representing Canada in the World University Games but Gunnlaugson is no slouch to skipping.  Just Youtube his name and see how fast and how hard he can throw (4 second peel)!  We haven't seen him in awhile since the infamous move to Russia but he is back in Manitoba and I would guess ready to make a statement!  Brandon is really in for a full week of action.

MANITOBA Championship:  Team McEwen over Team Carruthers

SASKATCHEWAN

Ah the home province.  I may not live in Saskatchewan but I was born and raised and this is the province where I truly started my love for the sport of curling.  Once considered a regular threat to win the Brier every year, Saskatchewan is suffering through a huge drought.  #TeamGreen has not seen a Brier champ since Rick Folk in 1980.  Oddly enough the year I was born...maybe I brought a curse to this province?  In fact, the last time Saskatchewan was even a finalist was in 1995 with Brad Heidt (who had Mark Dacey as his vice).  Rick Folk won another Brier in 1994 with BC and, as mentioned above, Dacey found success in 2004.  So the province is still turning out champions, they just happen to wear other provincial colors apparently.

This year, Team Laycock enters the event in Melville as a huge favorite.  Team Laycock just missed out on a playoff spot at last year's Brier in Kamloops, finishing with a 6-5 record.  The boys have found success on tour this season and are coming off an amazing run at the Canadian Open Grand Slam in hometown Yorkton (losing the final to Gushue) and, more recently, won the US Open of Curling in Blaine, MN to start 2015 (beating Carruthers in the final).  But don't just hand over the SaskTel Tankard to the boys quite yet.  Yes, last year finalist Brock Virtue left for Alberta after his team disbanded but there will still be many threats to Laycock.  Most notably in the name of Heidt.  Nope not dad Brad but son Josh.  Josh Heidt has had a very successful run on the SK Tour this season and enters the tankard with a serious shot at making his first Brier.  Josh isn't the only Heidt trying to continue the success of the family name.  Drew and Mitch Heidt will also be in Melville playing with Shaun Meachem.  Not a favorite but perhaps a dark horse.  Other big name challengers should come from last year's playoff teams Jeff Hartung and Kevin Marsh.  A few past champions are also in the field with Randy Bryden, Joel Jordison, Scott Bitz and Jamie Schneider looking to turn back the clock and land another Green Jacket.

The SaskTel Tankard will see 16 teams compete in a triple knockout format.  The four qualifiers (A, B, C1, C2) will advance to a page playoff format to determine the 2015 #TeamGreen.  Expect to see Laycock in that A position but there are at least 6 or 7 teams who have a realistic shot at nabbing the remaining 3 playoff spots.

SASKATCHEWAN Championship:  Team Laycock over Team J. Heidt

ALBERTA

Oh Waiwright, AB will be rocking this week with the Boston Pizza Cup taking place.  It is an interesting time to be in Alberta as well.  There have been numerous changes to the top teams, with Kevin Martin retiring, Kevin Koe leaving his 2014 Brier-winning team and joining up with past Martin players Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert and the return of Brock Virtue.  The remainder of the previous edition of the Koe Clan will still be going to Calgary as Team Canada though, skipped by past champ John Morris.

Koe will enter the event as a favorite to repeat.  Yes, he has a new team and perhaps they have struggled a bit on tour this season, but this is a very experienced line-up.  The addition of Brent Laing at second only gives this team added championship experience.  They will be tough to beat.  But they can be beat....

Enter Brendan Bottcher!  The past CIS and World Junior Champion Bottcher has been on a tear this season on tour and is ready to step up and play with the big boys.  Bottcher is coming off back-to-back semifinal appearances at the most Grand Slam events (The National, Canadian Open) as well as a huge international victory at the German Masters.  Bottcher was disappointed with how his team played in Lacombe last year but, with a small line-up shake over the off season, this team is ready to roll.

Welcome back to Alberta Brock Virtue.  The former Alberta-based skip, turned Saskatchewan Brier representative is now back home in Calgary.  And what a foursome he has assembled.  He is joined by vice Charley Thomas, himself a two-time Canadian and World Junior champion.  Thomas skipped his own team to a 4th place finish last year in Lacombe.  The addition of Brandon Klassen and D.J. Kidby at front end should help make this team a formidable one this week. 

A few other keys names to watch out for include Matthew Blandford's team.  Blandford surprised many in Lacombe last year winning the B-event and finishing 3rd overall.  This team will not catch anyone by surprise this year though and should be a playoff threat once again.  Interesting fact on skip Blandford (besides being a Patriots fan and hoping to ride Patriots luck this week), he is the last man to beat Gushue at the Newfoundland & Labrador Championships, oddly enough on this exact day Feb. 4 back in 2010.  Gushue hasn't lost since!  Team Jamie King should also be considered a threat at this event.  Disappointed with the result last year, a slight line-up shake and this team appears ready to challenge for the BP Cup once again.  Looking for a dark horse?  Perhaps look no further than Aaron Sluchinski.  Although, if you ask Jessi Wilkinson, he may offer up a much DIFFERENT opinion.

The Boston Pizza Cup uses a similar triple knockout format we see in other provincial championships.  The 4 qualifiers advance to a page playoff system to crown the new Alberta Champ.  For a look back at the 2014 Boston Pizza Cup, from my own personal fan/volunteer experience with CurlingZone, visit my blog post HERE.

ALBERTA CHAMPIONSHIP:  Team Bottcher over Team Koe

BRITISH COLUMBIA 

Vernon, B.C. will welcome 16 of the top curling teams within the province looking to lay claim to the CDI BC Mens Championship.  Defending champion Jim Cotter is back, without John Morris though of course.  Cotter will have his regular line-up though with the addition of Ryan Kuhn at vice.  Cotter rolled through this competition last year and, even without Morris, should be a good bet to qualify for the page playoffs.  This is still the core team who finished runner-up at the Roar of the Rings and Tim Horton's Brier last year.  The experience factor coupled with being so close to winning the biggest events of the year should only help propel this team this week.

Unlike last year however, I expect Cotter to run into numerous challenges in his effort to reclaim the title.  Last year's finalist Jason Montgomery returns to the field as well as fellow page playoff team Brent Pierce and Tom Buchy, both with new line-ups though.  Sean Geall split from Pierce and joined forces with Andrew Bilesky and seems to have found a winning combination on the BC Tour this season.  The Geall-Bilesky back end combo could be dangerous for their opponents.  Remember, Bilesky participated in the 2013 Brier and I am sure he would like to get back to big stage and reverse his record (1-10).  Grant Dezura also returns after a disappointing finish in last year's event.  They have also found success on the BC Tour and should be considered a team to possibly knock off the defending champs.

And welcome back Dean Joanisse.  Joanisse is a former Canadian Junior Champion and two-time Brier participant (2001, 2007).  We have not seen him back on the BC stage for a few years though so he is a welcome addition to the field.  With a young team, experience could be a factor working against them.  However, Dean has the skipping experience on the big stage to lead this team.  They should be considered a dark horse to win this provincial title.  The win at the Vancouver Island Shoutout in November showed this team can run the table and pull out the victory.

BRITISH COLUMBIA Championship:  Team Geall over Team Cotter

NORTHWEST TERRITORIES

Polar Power is in full force this week in Inuvik, NWT.  For the first time ever, we have a NWT Championship where the winner advances straight to the Brier.  In the past the NWT Championship would send two teams to the Yukon/NWT Territorial Championship to find the Territories rep.  Not this year!  And not only will NWT have their inaugural Brier representative, they also avoided participating in the pre-qualification event due to the outstanding results of Jamie Koe over the past few years.

Koe will of course be back and ready to lay claim to the inaugural NWT Champ title.  He will be very hard to beat.  In the past, his stiffest competition has generally come from a Yukon representative.  On the positive side of things, the new format actually sees 6 teams competing for this title.  That is more than a few other provinces (*cough* Newfoundland *cough*).  Stephen Moss has been to the Brier before and should be the biggest challenge to Koe.  Nick Saturnino could be a dark horse as well. 

NORTHWEST TERRITORIES Championship:  Team Koe over Team Saturnino

So there you have it.  10 provincial/territorial championship events taking place this week, 10 champions soon to be crowned to complete the Tim Horton's Brier field in Calgary.  As usual, please feel free to share your comments, whether you agree or disagree.

If you live in or around any of the venues, try to head down and cheer on all these teams.  Remember, many of these guys have given up a lot to pursue this dream, from family time to career aspirations to friendships/relationships.  They have devoted a lot of time towards the sport they love and are passionate about.  I am sure they would love nothing more than to curl in front of motivated fans.  Cheer on the teams, pick your favorites and, if given the chance, meet up with them after the draws for a nice beverage and let them know you enjoyed watching them curl.  They are just guys after all...we all enjoy a good drink, good conversation and meeting people who all share the same love for the sport.

Remember:  Today Is Going To Rock!!
My new coffee mug from my parents this Christmas


Monday, 2 February 2015

#2014BPCup...#TwineTime Trip Down Memory Lane
The #RoadToLacombe was full of memories



As men's provincial championships get under way in most provinces/territories (selfish plug, stay tuned for my preview on Wed!), it got me remembering my time at a provincial championship.  Ok, obviously I am no athlete and did not participate on the ice but I think I still played a vital role while in Lacombe last year for the 2014 Boston Pizza Cup, the Alberta men's provincial curling championship.

Last February I was given the opportunity to attend the entire week of festivities as a representative of Curling Zone.  My job was simple yet important: attend every draw, sign into the site and update the scores of all games end by end.  Now this may seem like a minimalistic task but, what I discovered, many people were refreshing the site throughout the week following their family members, friends and favorite teams.  You have to get those scores updated fast and accurately.  There is no room for error!  Yup, I felt a bit like the Superman of Curling Updates.  Update faster than a speeding bullet, be stronger than a freight train to withstand the cold sitting so close to the ice.

Let me take a quick step back.  Normally this all important role is played by curling zone legend I discovered Colin Hodgson, or C_hodgy to his friends, fans and those familiar with the site.  For this event however, Colin would be competing.  At the time, Hodgson was the vice skip for Team Charley Thomas.  Team Thomas qualified through the Southern Alberta playdowns.  This presented a double opportunity.  Colin, a native of Lacombe, would get to curl at men's provincials on his home ice, in front of many of his family and friends.  This also meant an opening was at the table for curling zone.  At the time, I was fortunate enough to have met Colin and he was kind enough to put in a good word for me with Gerry Geurts and vouch that I would do a great job.  I would come to learn quickly how important it was for Colin to curl on his home turf.  He was a local superstar all week.  Fans, young and old, always coming up and saying hello and congratulating him.  Telling him how proud they were of him and sharing stories of him growing up.  The town just lit up it seemed having a local guy competing.  Media constantly wanting to interview him.  Watching him spend some rocks and rings time with the kids, including his niece and nephew.  He was a superstar that week...and I was about to be the small speck on the outskirts of that star.  I would like to mention here as well, Colin's teammate second Matthew Ng also is from Lacombe and I noticed the same acts of kindness and respect for him all week as well.  I imagine this the similar treatment all curlers get when they have the opportunity to step on the home ice to compete.  It is a special moment for the athlete, family, friends and the community  Once I got the acceptance email, I quickly booked off the week from work and headed down the QEII to Lacombe, AB.

In the middle of competition, Hodgson took time for some Rocks & Rings



I had never been to Lacombe, located just north of Red Deer in Central Alberta.  I didn't really know what to expect.  What did the arena look like?  What was there to do?  What were the people like?  How do I even find the arena?  Would I get lost?  Millions of tiny questions raced in my head.  All those were erased when I arrived.  Colin pulled the double act of kindness in speaking with his family and asking them if I could stay with them for the week.  With hotels hard to come by during a provincial event, this was a life saver.  Not only financially but also helping me feel at home and comfortable.  People who knew the town, knew the sport, knew the arena, knew where I could get something to eat!  All important factors when you are volunteering for an important role.  Mr. and Mrs. Hodgson were nothing short of friendly, hospitable and respectful.  They opened their home to me and treated me like a member of the family.  They made me breakfast on the go for the times where I was a bit slow getting up in the morning.  They provided me with water and snacks to keep my energy up when I was sitting in the players box for three straight draws right at ice level.  They drove me to the arena and back to my home for the week and provided a perfectly comfortable room and bed to sleep on.  As a first time visitor, and first time meeting these people, I could not have had a better experience.  I cannot thank them enough for all they did for me.  If this was the type of hospitality I was in for from the people of Lacombe, I was in for an unforgettable week.

As a huge fan of the sport, the opportunity to sit at ice level and watch four sheets of competitive curling action at the same time was a dream come true.  Ok, it may not seem like much to many of you, but I loved every second of it.  Every draw had intrigue.  These were not just guys on the ice playing a sport they enjoy for fun.  These were guys on the ice pouring every ounce of blood, sweat and tears into chasing the dream of wearing the Alberta colors at a national championship.  These were guys who had sacrificed careers, time with family, experiences with friends to chase a dream of becoming a national and, perhaps, a world champion in the sport they love!  And I had the front row seat for all of it.



Sitting up close and updating the scores was fun....but only half of the real excitement.  The opportunity to be so close to the real athletes on the ice was a highlight.  Watching World and Olympic Champion Kevin Martin and World Champion Kevin Koe walk by before a match and just give a friendly "Hello" to me was something.  They didn't have to say anything.  They could have just walked right by and ignored me but they didn't.  In fact, all the athletes on the ice were friendly.  Some said hello almost every draw.  Some asked if I was freezing cold or keeping warm enough.  Others asked if I was remembering to eat in between draws.  While they may have had 1 or 2, sometimes 3, bye's in a row...not me!  I was there for every draw.  Sitting on the bench with my borrowed laptop, signed in and ready to report the scores from all their games.  As I said, none of them had to say anything to me.  They were focused on their games and trying to win.  Yet, they still took time to engage in a conversation with some guy bundled up in a few layers of jackets, donning his 2010 Winter Olympic Red Mitts.  It was surreal.  I was a fan boy in a world of male athletes.

Rocking the Red Mitts to stay warm
One of my biggest take away's from the experience was forming some great twitter relationships with some of the guys.  Anyone who follows me on twitter (selfish plug: @twinetime14) knows I am always tweeting about sports.  I have no shame in mentioning the twitter handles of athletes I am talking about.  If they want to like or RT or respond to a tweet I mention them in, great.  I know they don't have to and I always expect no response.  But I still mention them.  Curlers are no different.  I mention them all the time if I am tweeting about them directly.  And why not?  I am a fan.  I think the team I connected with the most was Team Blandford.  I discovered Colin was great friends with lead Brad Chyz while at the event.  Enjoying a few relaxing beverages upstairs after a few daily draws, I stood next to Colin while him and Brad had a conversation.  I will never forget the moment when Brad asked "Hey, who is that @dspcanada (my old twitter handle) guy you talk to on twitter? He is hilarious!"  Colin, pointing to me, says "This guy right here."  Thus, ice broken and Brad and I had a great conversation.  From there on out, every day, no matter the draw or the importance, Brad would stop by where I was sitting and say hi and ask how I was doing.  Team skip Matthew Blandford was the same way.  Before hitting the ice for warm-ups, many times Matt would be found just standing against the boards having a random conversation with me.  Sometimes asking for updates on other games going on across the country or Scotties updates (the Scotties took place the same week).  And other times we would just talk about the game.  We had an on-going joke of me asking for quick games since I could barely feel my toes in the cold every day.  He would always promise to do his best.  Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.  Either way, Matt would still stop before and after games just to say hi and have a quick conversation.  From a fan's perspective, it was much appreciated.  I really did expect to attend the event and be ignored by the players.  Not ignored in the negative sense but just not someone they needed to focus any energy on for a conversation.  They had been playing all season to be there, for most their season would end that weekend.  They had drive, focus and determination.

Team Blandford supporting one another getting ready for another end

Sometimes it was fun to just catch some of the guys in awkward or weird positions while standing around in between shots or ends.  I would grab my phone and just snap a quick pic and tweet it out to them during the games.  Usually, after the games when the guys would be checking their phones, I would receive some witty comments back.  Guys like Team Jamie King lead (at that time) Jeff Erickson was probably my favorite target.  I think I caught him in a few weird stances or facial expressions that I could tweet out.  He was always a good sport about it though, laughing it off or coming up with a funny response.  To this day, I still engage in the random twitter conversation with him.  And then there was the big guy, Nolan Thiessen.  For many draws, I was lucky enough to have Colin's sister Amber join me on the bench.  Having someone to converse with during the games and an extra set of (often better) eyes watching the games was a huge help.  Every time we had Team Koe in front of us, whom Thiessen was lead for, we often found ourselves shadowed by Nolan standing against the bench.  He would be standing either right in front of us or right beside us and we could not see around this guy.  He is huge.  I don't mean wide, I mean length.  The dude is tall.  You can always tell watching on tv that he is not a short guy, but he towers over most of the other guys on the ice.  I mean, I am 6'3 and I felt like a leprechaun standing anywhere near the guy.  Amber and I would sit behind him trying to talk one another into just poking the tree Thiessen and see if he would move.  We never would do it though.  We would never even say anything.  When you have a giant oak tree standing in front of you, the smart thing to do is not cut it down but just move to the side.  Now, to be fair, I doubt Nolan was doing this on purpose.  He was usually just catching his breath from all the hard sweeping he was doing and leaning against the boards is the perfect way to do so.  Many of the players would do it.  But many of the players don't block out the light when standing in front of you like Thiessen did.  Finally we had to just take a picture of him and tweet out "The Tree is blocking our light again".  Of course, I directly mentioned Nolan in the tweet, unsure how he would maybe react.  Being called a giant tree is not exactly a huge compliment...not an insult either...but not a compliment.  As with everyone else, he took it with a sense of humor and just laughed it off.

Jeff Erickson was one of my favorite targets during the week
Caught Carter Rycroft stretching his back perhaps?
These were just some of the small experiences you normally do not see or have when attending events.  They enhanced the entire experience for me and made the week long tournament a memory I will never forget.  To some, it was just another event.  To the curlers, some will remember some of their time there and some will just forget most of it as just another event they participated in perhaps.  For a fan like me, it will always be a highlight.  It will remain a highlight of my sporting event experience resume.  I have attended Winter Olympics, Grey Cups, NCAA football games, NCAA bowl games, an NHL draft, numerous NHL games, World Junior Hockey Championships, WHL championship games, the Memorial Cup, MLB games, NBA games, Scotties Tournament of Hearts, Tim Horton's Brier, World Curling Championships....all have special memories for me.

Being lucky enough to not only attend but, in a small way, participate in the 2014 Boston Pizza Cup will have a special place in my heart.  The kindness of Mr. and Mrs. Hodgson.  The conversations we shared.  The curling games we watched.  Seeing Mrs. Hodgson get a bit teary-eyed watching her son curl so great that week and see his success (they finished 4th, qualifying for the playoffs and losing to eventual winner and eventual Brier champ Team Koe) was something I will never forget.  The family bond the Hodgson family shared with me was unforgettable and I will always be thankful for them letting me in and sharing their experience watching their son curling at home with me.

Hometown boy Hodgson vs Team Kevin Koe


The fans were great.  The volunteers were kind and friendly.  In fact, some volunteers even would bring me coffee and/or hot chocolate in between ends.  One was even kind enough to bring me blankets from home I could sit on and wrap myself in to stay warm.  How is that for volunteer hospitality?  Everyone just had a sense of community.  Everyone was family.  The volunteers, the athletes, the sponsors, the organizers, the fans....it was something you rarely see at sporting events.  This was special!  This was unique!  This was something I am so proud I had the opportunity to be a part of.  If you live in a city or town where a provincial or national championship is being hosted, I cannot encourage you enough to try and get involved in some way.  Volunteer some time, in some way.  The experience, the memories, the relationships will last a life time I promise you!

The BEST volunteer I met that week!


Thank you once again Gerry and curlingzone.com for providing me, a boy from Saskatchewan who grew up loving the sport of curling while watching and playing with his grandparents, the opportunity to experience this event from a different perspective.  I hope I made very few errors and did not disappoint you and all the curling fans who tuned in during the event.

Thank you to the athletes for your kindness.  It is often said curlers are some of the most down to Earth and friendly athletes you can ever find.  I can 100% say, based on first-hand experience, this is completely true.  They all brought out the little fan boy in me for the week...and I loved every second of it.

The Boston Pizza Cup
Thank you for the volunteers who helped take care of me.  The fans who cheered on the teams and supported the event.  The town of Lacombe for opening your doors not just to me but to so many others from around the province and possibly beyond.  You served as an excellent host!  Every time I drive by Lacombe on my way to Calgary or back home to Edmonton, I always smile and remember the memories of the BPCup!

And, the only proper way to end this blog entry, huge thank you to the entire Hodgson family.  You did not have to take me in and treat me as a member of your family but you did.  You were not only completely hospitable but you went above and beyond.  I can only hope I was able to convey even half of the appreciation I felt in comparison to the welcoming, friendly open arms you all showed.  My biggest regret is not getting a picture with you all before I left.  I suppose the memories in my mind will have to do.  Thank you Colin as well for providing me with this experience.  You saw a fan in me, had faith in putting your name behind endorsing me for this volunteer role and gave me memories I will never forget.  You were the rock star all week and it was a honor to be associated with you, on even the smallest of scales.  As many of you know, Colin now lives in Winnipeg curling as lead for Team Reid Carruthers.  All the best of luck to him and Team Reid in their quest for the Manitoba Buffalo this week in Brandon as well as on his future curling career (plus I hear he is a really great chef).

Media man getting to feel like a rock star with Fan Favorite Colin Hodgson