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Thursday, 29 October 2015

#BetweenTheSheets: The Masters Has Arrived
No green jackets here...only green rings

Rock heads and stoners rejoice, #TwineTime has returned!  Ok not that I was heavily missed but due to work commitments (and a lovely visit to Lake Louise, AB last weekend) I was unable to do the blog post last week.  My apologies to you all....deep down I know you missed me.  And I miss you (and curling) as well.  What a week to come back to though....a grand slam event!

Before we do the spin-o-rama report on The Masters (and a mention to a MASSIVE junior spiel happening this weekend as well), let's take a quick #GunnerRunback at what went down last weekend on tour:
  • Top men's and women's teams met in Red Deer, AB for the Red Deer Curling Classic.  On the men's side, Edmonton's Mick Lizmore (btw congrats Brad Chyz!) rink ended the 2-year title reign for rival province Saskatchewan beating Regina finalist Jason Ackerman's squad.  Defending champion Josh Heidt lost the SF to Lizemore.  On the women's side, #TwineTime's ROY contender Kelsey Roque made it an Edmonton sweep on top of the podium, besting current world champion Alina Paetz from Switzerland.  Paetz was the defending champion and Rocque's win ended the two-year championship reign for the Swiss (Binia Feltscher won in 2013).
  • At the Challenge Chateau Cartier de Gatineau, Brad Gushue and company continued their dominating season picking up another title defeating surprise finalist Mark Bice.  Shout out to a #TwineTime favorite Guy Hemmings in making the playoffs, falling to The Goo in the QF.
  • The women hit the ice in Portage, MB for the Canad Inns Women's Classic.  Defending Canadian champion Jennifer Jones welcomed back super lead Dawn McEwen and rediscovered their winning ways.  Unfortunately they would fall one win short, losing the final to the upstart Korean team of EunJung Kim.  The Jones rink was the two-time defending champion heading into this year's event. 
  • The Red and White hosting of Champery, Switzerland proved to be good luck for another team representing the Red and White.  New Brunswick's James "Jimmy The Kid" Grattan took the Curling Masters Champery title beating home favorite Rito Keller in the final. 
  • The Lady Monctonian Invitational Spiel in Moncton, NB saw an all-Halifax, Nova Scotia final with Mary Mattatall beating Theresa Breen. The Mattatall rink reached their second consecutive event final last weekend and skip Mary Mattatall picking up her first tour victory since 2004.  
  • At the Bernick's Miller Lite Open in Bemidji, MN, the junior rivalry between Canada's Matty Dunstone rink and USA's Korey Dropkin continued to build.  Once again the red and white reigned supreme though.  Dunstone knocked off Dropkin in the final game of the round robin en route to picking up the championship over another American rink, Pete Fenson.  The battle for the Junior #CanAmCup (or North American Cup as the teams are calling it) is becoming a heated rivalry, one #TwineTime has called to be the North American Rivalry of the Future.  Mark my words folks, these two skips are going to be battling for world championship and Olympic gold one day!
Photo courtesy of Korey Dropkin's Instagram (@koreydropkin)
    Did the results of last weekend shake up the #PowerRankings?  We must also remember, as there was no blog post last week (again, my bad..blame work!), these rankings take into consideration play of not only last weekend but the previous weekend results as well.  Which teams are on the top heading into the grand slam event and which teams are on the cusp of moving up?  Let's take a look:

MEN'S

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

Hon. Mention:  Team Bottcher, Team Howard, Team Thomas

  • Goo picked up another W last weekend, coupled with Mikey's shocking failure to qualify two weeks ago in Portage, cements the team from The Rock on top of the table...for now. 
  • Koe stays in the coveted #3 spot but almost inched past the #redpants.  The final appearance in Portage was impressive and this team could be the hottest team on tour right now, after Gushue.  Imagine if Koe wins The Masters and either Gushue or McEwen fail to make the playoffs....what would happen to the rankings then?
  • Welcome #TeamOranje to the Top 5.  After going undefeated en route to the title in Portage, knocking off top teams McEwen, Koe and Edin, the Sask foursome earned this spot.  A strong showing this week at The Masters could see these boys push the Top 3 and create a Rival 4 for the season.  Special Happy Birthday shout out to skip Steve Laycock, celebrating his birthday on Thursday October 29.
  • Welcome Charley Thomas to the honourable mention section.  Team Thomas surprised many in Portage with their semifinal appearance.  Not #TwineTime though.  Go back a few weeks and see why Team Thomas was listed as a dark horse team to watch.  These guys mean business and are looking to give the top teams a run for their money.  Don't undersell them just because they aren't playing in the grand slam events...yet!

WOMEN'S

1. Rachel Homan (LW: 1)
2. Eve Muirhead (LW: 2)
3. Alina Paetz (LW: 4)
4. Anna Sidorova (LW: 5)
5. Kelsey Rocque (LW: HM)

Hon. Mention:  Team Tirinzoni, Team Kim, Team Jones, Team Sweeting

  • Homan and Muirhead stay at the top.  Sure Eve and company are not winning spiels but they are qualifying in every event and that kind of consistency says a lot.  Not too many teams are able to do this week in and week out...other than the team at the top of course!  Homan has her team looking VERY hungry for a world championship this season and is showing no signs of slowing down.
  • The World Champion moves up a spot to 3 by making the final last weekend and trying to defend her title from a year ago.  Again, consistency matters.  Not every team will pick up a spiel win every week but when you make the playoffs and have strong results, that's what carries you through.  Perhaps this is also a bit of tennis ranking-bias in me too for the strong repeat performance.
  • Welcome Kelsey Rocque!  For weeks I have been debating whether to move this team into the Top 5 but after picking up the title last weekend, no question now.  These young ladies have arrived and Rocque seems to have found her spot in the women's game now.  If I was Sweeting or Chelsea Carey, I would be a bit concerned right now.  Again, don't fault this team for not playing at The Masters, that is due to how the teams are selected by ranking cut off date.  This team deserves to be there!
  • The Honourable Mention section is getting crowded with the women's rankings as well.  Tirinzoni drops out of the Top 5 as her Tour Challenge victory is holding less and less weight, especially as we kick off a new grand slam event.  Team Kim continues to impress and is on the cusp of moving up as well.  Jones and Sweeting are also just a strong showing away from moving up.  Finding a Top 5 in the women's game right now is becoming increasingly difficult week in and week out.
The voting for Top Dawg on the #TwineTime men's Power Rankings is coming to a close this weekend.  Voting will remain open until the end of the Master's event.  The top spot vote has actually shifted over the past few weeks.  The Goo was a clear leader when voting opened but #redpants have poured it on and now lead the fan vote 36% to 34%.  Team Koe remains in third spot with 8% of the vote.  Interesting note, Jacobs has been passed in the voting as well by both Howard and Edin.  Have your say though now (FOUND HERE)!  The team with the most votes will take over top spot on next week's #PowerRankings.  Starting as well for November, we will do a similar vote to crown the women's top team.  Stay tuned....

Ok let's turn our attention to the excitement of this week: The Masters!  This year will celebrate the 15th year of the men's Masters tournament and the 4th year for the women's Masters.  Before we put on our sliders and hit the ice with predictions, here are a quick facts about the Masters:

  • This will be the first time The Masters has been hosted in Nova Scotia.  Truro will open up their upgraded facility to the best curlers in the world over the next few days.  The Masters has been held in Ontario a record 8 times.  Newfoundland and Labrador have hosted twice, including the inaugural spiel back in 2002 in Gander.  Saskatchewan has hosted twice as well, with the most recent being way back in January 2008.  British Columbia (2013) and Manitoba (2014) recently hosted their first Masters championship. 
  • The format has the Top 13 teams based on the current Order of Merit rankings automatically qualify for this event.  The Tour Challenge Tier II winners also received an invite (Jim Cotter, Kerri Einarson) as well as two sponsor exemptions for local teams (Shawn Adams, Mary-Anne Arsenault)
  • Nobody has dominated the Masters title like Glenn Howard.  Howard is a 6-time champion at this event, including winning 4 in a row.  His most recent title came in 2013.  He has also never lost a final here so should he be playing on Sunday, don't bet against him.
  • The #KoeCurse was finally lifted at this event when Kevin Koe won his first Masters title in 2012.  Prior to this victory, Koe was always the best man and never the groom.  Koe had previously made three straight finals and went 0-3...losing all three finals to Glenn Howard.
  • On the women's side, Rachel Homan won the first two Masters titles in 2012 and 2013.  She was denied the three-peat last season though, losing in the SF to eventual champion (and main tour rival) Val Sweeting.
  • The Masters has not been kind to the best international teams.  No team outside Canada has ever won a Masters title, men's or women's.  In fact, on the men's side there has never even been an international finalist!  The past two seasons have seen an international women's finalist with Eve Muirhead (2013) and Margaretha Sigfridsson (2014) coming up just short.  Can Nik Edin, David Murdoch or Thomas Ulsrud end the dreaded men's curse?  For the women, 7 of the 15 teams competing this week are international teams.  If there was ever an opportunity for an international women's champion, this could be the year.
So you know the Top 5 heading into the #gsoc event.  You received a brief history lesson on #TheMasters.  What do you say we get in the hack and make the perfect draw to the button with predictions?

The Masters Grand Slam of Curling
Truro, Nova Scotia

2014 Champions:  Brad Gushue (men) & Val Sweeting (women)

Format:  15-team round robin with 8 qualifiers

The Favorites:

Team Gushue - No surprise here.  Goo and the boys from The Rock have been the best team on tour this entire season.  I don't put a lot of weight into the rankings or order of merit, I go strictly by on ice results and how teams stack up against their competition and, this season, Gushue has proven he can beat anyone, all the time.  Five championships already this season and a runner up finish at the Tour Challenge, why would anyone bet against Brad to pick up another grand slam title?

Team Homan - Again, no surprise.  Homan and company have gone straight up #MeanGirls over the tour lately.  Similar to their #TwineTime top ranking team above, a runner up finish at the Tour Challenge seemed to only spark this team.  Three tour victories later and this team is looking like the team that dominated Canadian curling just two short years ago.  Homan wants that Canadian title back.  Last year this team lost a bit of that dominating and intimidating factor at events.  Teams aren't scared to face them....but they are starting to get concerned again.

Watch Out For:

Team Koe - The Kevin Koe of the past has resurfaced this season.  Yes he is only two years removed from a Canadian title but last season was a struggle with the newly formed team.  One year under their belts and they are looking like a serious threat to win a few grand slam titles, make a push for the number one ranking and, more importantly, reclaim that Brier championship.  The Tour Challenge win brought this team back to relevance.  The two victories that followed in Edmonton and Portage brought this team back to real contenders.  Lots of confidence on this team right now.

Team Sweeting - This is not the same dominant tour team we have seen from Val the past two seasons.  But don't sell them short either.  Remember this team has back-to-back Scotties final appearances under their sliders and are the defending champions at this event.  With only 1 tour title to their credit this season, it is easy to see why many may be underestimating this team against a stellar line-up this week.  The disappointing Tour Challenge result doesn't help either I suppose.  But I really like their chances to pick up, at minimum, 3 wins in their group.  The draw is going to help them build that confidence and momentum needed for a repeat playoff run.

The Dark Horse:

Team Cotter - The Tour Challenge Tier II champions should not be considered sideline players this week.  This team dominated the Tier II competition at the beginning of the season to earn their spot here.  Let's remember Cotter was here last year as well and is by no means new to grand slam events.  This is an experienced team.  They enter with momentum as well with back-to-back semifinal appearances at their last two events.  Everyone made the joke "Welcome back, Cotter" after the Tour Challenge event, I think Jim is ready to stay in the upper echelon group of contenders for awhile now.  Don't let the rankings fool you!


Team Kim -  Another team where you need to overlook the rankings and look at the results.  Korea's Kim currently sits 13th in the rankings but the results show another story.  How many teams above them are sitting with two event wins this season and a semifinal grand slam appearance?  Exactly!  Kim shocked many in the curling world with their deep playoff run at the Tour Challenge but really it shouldn't have been a huge surprise.  In September, they entered Paradise fresh off a title the previous week in Corwall and made the SF.  This week, they enter Truro fresh off a huge title in Portage last weekend and....#historyrepeating?


Projected Standings:

Men

Pool A                                 Pool B                                  Pool C

Jacobs 3-1                           McEwen 4-0                         Gushue 4-0
Cotter 3-1                            Koe 3-1                                 Edin 3-1
Bottcher 2-2                        Laycock 2-2                          Howard 2-2
Carruthers 2-2                     Simmons 1-3                         Epping 1-3
Ulsrud 0-4                           Adams 0-4                             Murdoch 0-4

Women

Pool A                                 Pool B                                  Pool C

Homan 4-0                          Jones 3-1                              Sweeting 4-0
Kim 2-2                              Paetz 3-1                               Muirhead 3-1
Tirinzoni 2-2                      Sidorova 2-2                          McDonald 1-3
Fleury 1-3                          Middaugh 1-3                        Feltscher 1-3
Sigfridsson 1-3                  Arsenault 1-3                         Einarson 1-3

Qualifiers:

Men - Team Jacobs, Team Cotter, Team McEwen, Team Koe, Team Laycock, Team Gushue, Team Edin, Team Howard

Women - Team Homan, Team Kim, Team Tirinzoni, Team Jones, Team Paetz, Team Sidorova, Team Sweeting, Team Muirhead

Men's Championship: Team Gushue over Team Koe

Women's Championship: Team Homan over Team Sweeting


BrokerLink OVC Junior SuperSpiel
Ottawa, ON

2014 Champion:  Korey Dropkin (men) and Lauren Horton (women)

Format:  32 team (16 men and 16 women) triple knockout with 8 qualifiers (4 men and 4 women).  This is a mixed event with a men's and women's draw being held simultaneously. 

What 2 Watch 4:  This is the future of curling all on the ice at one time.  Some of the best junior curling teams in Canada will be competing, including defending World Junior Men's Champion Braden Calvert.  Other top Canadian junior men's teams include:  Matt Dunstone (MB), Rene Comeau (NB), Tanner Horgan (ON) and Greg Smith (NL).  The international field will be strong as well on the men's side with defending Superspiel champion Korey Dropkin representing USA in addition to Bruce Mouat from Scotland.  The women's draw will also see some familiar junior teams on the ice, notably defending champion Lauren Horton (ON), Justine Comeau (NB), Sarah Hill (NL) and Carina McKay-Saturnino (NS).  The women will also see some strong international teams in Ottawa with Cory Christensen (USA) and Sophie Jackson (SCO) leading the way.  This field is deep with national and world championship experience.  Of these teams competing, some will become future men's and women's World Champions...and perhaps Olympic Champs!  Also worth noting, there will be one mixed team competing on the men's draw.  Tyler Tardi will be joined by former Nova Scotia junior champion (and already a winner on tour this season) Mary Fay.

Qualifiers

Men - Team Dunstone, Team Dropkin, Team Calvert, Team Comeau

Women - Team Christensen, Team Jackson, Team Horton, Team Brandwood

Champions:

Men - Team Dunstone over Team Dropkin

Women - Team Christensen over Team Brandwood

Stay glued to CurlingZone for end by end coverage of each draw at The Masters as well as check out live games on Sportsnet beginning Thursday October 29.  For the SuperSpiel, check out CurlingZone but also go to CurlingGeek for live shot by shot coverage of some of the big games taking place this weekend. 

As well, head over to NerdCurl to see how the #TwineTime vs. NerdCurl Challenge shakes out as we compare predictions.  NerdCurl has the slight lead heading into this weekend's event but stay strong #TwineTime followers..we can win this for Canada!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!

Monday, 19 October 2015

#BetweenTheSheets With Mark Kean
Family Man, Business Owner, Ontario Champion: The Life of Mark Kean


Curling is a unique sport in many ways.  Often the athletes we cheer for on the ice each season are more than just athletes.  They are spouses.  They are parents.  They have careers outside the sport.  They are hard working men and women who strive for success on and off the ice.  Mark Kean is no exception.  Or maybe he is?  How many guys do you know who are 27-years old, own their own business, are married with 2 young children....oh and happened to be the current provincial champion in their sport?  Yeah, not too many.  I have been hounding Mark, to the point of almost restraining a cross-Provincial restraining order, to sit down with me for an interview for months now and we were finally able to find a time to do so.  On a late (very late for Mr. Kean) evening, #TwineTime had the opportunity to have a Google Hangout with the 2015 Ontario Men's Provincial Champion.  Let's go #BetweenTheSheets with Mark Kean:

#TwineTime (TT):  Thank you for going #BetweenTheSheets with #TwineTime Mark.  Sorry for the lateness of doing this.

Mark Kean (MK):  No worries.  I usually stay up late to do work so it's all good.

TT:  Oh ok, so I am keeping you from work then, that has to be a good thing at least right?

MK: (laughing) Yeah exactly.

TT:  Excellent. I really appreciate you taking the time do this.

MK:  No problem.  I enjoy doing these things.  And finally...

TT: (laughing) Very true.  Well I hope to make it a fun interview and of course a few serious things to talk about as well.  So let's start with the serious stuff.  Off-season moves, new team, a whole new look for Team Kean this year.  What can you share about everything that went on over the off-season and heading into this year?

MK:  Well it kind of came out off nowhere.  I've told a bunch of people it kind of makes sense for Dave (Mathers) what he did.  He talked about moving out East so from that perspective I couldn't blame him for doing that.  Matt (Camm) came as a surprise for sure because I thought we had good chemistry.  For whatever reason he thought John Epping's team would be a better fit for him so he made that choice.  I guess I can't blame guys for making those choices but it kind of sucks at the same time because we went all the way to the Brier.  You want to build on that.  I kind of feel like I have to restart with this new team.  But all three guys are great, we really mesh right away in the second event of the year.  Even the first event actually as well.

TT:  So how does that work?  Shed a little light if you can on what happens when you have to start from scratch basically.  How do you go about finding a new team?  Where do you begin on that process?

MK:  I got a lot of messages right away from guys who were interested.  I kind of made a list of guys I would like to play with so I immediately went to them and asked.  Some guys were already on teams.  Fraser (Reid) had approached me previously so he was on my list and he knows Dave well so it was kind of a natural fit.  I was coaching at a curling camp run by Jim Waite the week that it happened and Spencer (Nuttall) was at the camp helping out.  It was in Kitchener, he goes to (Wilfred) Laurier so naturally he was there to help out.  It just kind of worked that we started chatting.  I watched him sweep and his sweeping is unreal so I thought right there we just have to see if he can make some shots.  The work ethic was there.  He put a lot of work into getting stronger so someone who is naturally talented like that and is willing to put the work in, that's a green light for me.  And then Bowie (Abbis-Mills) and I played together in some men's leagues before so had a little bit of chemistry there and I thought that might be a good fit.

TT:  A very good call.  A little bit of a blessing in disguise perhaps then?  It is kind of nice to know that at least when your back is against the wall there were a lot of people who wanted to curl with you.  A compliment I would hope?

MK:  (laughing) Yeah well I think having that Ontario championship helped.


TT:  (laughing)  Yeah I could see how being the defending Ontario champion would help you out there.  Was there ever a thought in your mind of jumping out of the skipping position for a new team?

MK:  At the time there wasn't just because everyone had already put their teams together.  The only time I thought about it was when I mentioned it to Glenn (Howard).  When I lost Dave, I approached Glenn and said I know your team wasn't committed for the long trial run necessarily and he said they were talking right now.  It ended up that Rich (Hart) still wanted to play, Wayne (Middaugh) wanted to come back.  That kind of came out of left field for me.  I didn't think Wayne was ever going to come back.  He seemed at Provincials that he was pretty happy with retirement but when you get a chance to curl with Glenn I guess you take it right?  But that was one instance where I did tell Glenn I would like to play with you and learn from one of the best ever to play the game.  For me it doesn't matter on the position so long as you can go out and make lots of shots.  I feel like I play better as a skip but I haven't had the opportunity to play other positions at the elite level so who knows if I could play well there too.

TT:  You have only played skip, is that correct?

MK:  Yeah, in men's I have always been a skip.  A couple games at the slam last year I played vice for a few games just because I wasn't confident, wasn't playing well.  That seemed to right the ship a bit.  But other than that, in juniors I played second for a year and we tried to put together a super team...that didn't work out.  The next year I skipped again and then went back to vice with Travis (Fanset) actually, whom I played with a couple of years in men's.

TT:  So it works out for you in the end though.  In the long run you have a brand new team.  How are you guys looking for this year?  Goals for this year?   Do you set the standard high for a repeat at the Ontario provincials again?

MK:  The biggest goal...and it seems a bit of a cliche...but it's all been about process and not about the outcomes.  But definitely the goal is to win the Ontario Tankard and I said that to the guys.  I don't care how we do at the spiels.  Last year we were terrible.  We had a couple good events but at the end of the day we went into provincials as a new season and ended up winning it.  The whole season is to build for that opportunity and obviously build for next year and collecting points.  We want to try and get into those (Olympic) trials.  But as a new team it is tough because you aren't in the slams.

TT:  It is always going to be a challenge for sure.  So I am assuming then with this crew you have right now you have them all locked down for a 4 year run?

MK:  Basically I said to them let's do a year and see how it goes.  I said I don't want everyone to commit and then not be satisfied.  Let's review after a year.  Obviously if we could stay together for 3 years because of the points but I am not going to say no if Glenn happens to have a spot or someone happens to have a spot and I have a better chance at the Olympics this time around to then make that move.  But I really like the way the team has come together.  This is a really great group of guys.  If we can keep progressing and doing the little things, then I am pretty happy.  It's just if people get lazy and don't want to put the work in but so far so good.

TT:  The results have been pretty positive.  A good showing at the Tour Challenge on The Rock, you guys have to be happy with that?

MK:  Yeah, definitely.  We played really well.  I always find I play a lot better on the really good arena ice.  Even in Oakville the ice was great.  We struggled a bit in Brockville, we let the ice get to us.  We had just played at the Tour Challenge and the ice was almost perfect then we went there and it was club ice and it was humid.  There is nothing the ice makers can do at that point.  It got a little bit frustrating.   But the Tour Challenge for sure we played well and those are the kind of events we want to be in and played well because that is where the big provincials are played.

TT:  In speaking of Tour Challenge weekend, and a good segue over to your wife Mallory, wasn't she also playing in a final that weekend?

MK:  (laughing with a giant husband grin) Yeah she was.  Actually it was her first event with her new team.  She is really pumped to be playing with them.  She has a really good team that is really committed.  She has Glenn's daughter (Carly Howard) at vice and anytime you can put a Howard on your team you know they are going to be ready to go.

TT:  So it appears then the Kean family is doing pretty well.  Her first event, made a final.  Your guys' second event and you made a final.

MK:  Yeah, I mean it is early in the season so you can't take a whole lot out of it but you can take something out of it and build something from it.  The thing that was evident in both teams is the teamwork.  Whenever we got down or gave up a bad end, we came back and stormed back.  And they had a good run.  They had a ton of steals.  I think twice in the playoffs they were down without hammer in the last end and they ended up stealing in the last end and the extra.  That shows a lot of character for a team that is just coming together.

TT:  How do you run a family with both of you being very competitive and a daughter and son at home as well.  How do you guys pull that off?

MK:  We have a ton of support.  My family, Mallory's family...they are always there to watch the kids.  They want to want the kids so it kind of works out well for us.  They are always fighting over time.  If we say we need someone to watch them this weekend, grandma will say she wants to watch them..the other grandma will say she wants to watch them.  It's good to have options.  My family, we moved to Woodstock recently so I have a lot of family around here, that is definitely going to help.  Basically our extended family is around to help us, it's the only way it would be possible.  It is hard enough to schedule events where Mallory plays one week and I play the next.  You want to be in the top events so both of us have to get the family together.  It's tough on the kids but we are there all summer so it works out.

TT:  Speaking of the kids, what do they think of seeing you on TV or coming to events?  I think both your kids were at the Brier in Calgary, were they not?

MK:  Yup, my daughter and my son were both there.   My daughter just loved the Brier, she loved Brier Bear.  That was her favorite part of it.  Anytime she sees I am going curling or I say I am going curling she asks if Brier Bear is going to be there (laughing).  It's kind of funny.  They think it's pretty cool when I am on TV.  They are kind of at that age where they don't think anything of it.  It's been the norm I guess.  Less than a month before my daughter was born I was in the slam semifinal.   She has known it since she was born.  Our son has known it for as long as he has been around too.  It's just the norm, which is kind of cool.


TT:  That is pretty cool.  You guys have quite a little curling family then.

MK:  (laughing)  Yeah the idea is to have a mixed team in 20....2030 I guess.

TT:  (laughing)  You might as well right?  In speaking of mixed curling, with mixed doubles being in the Olympics now, is there a possibility we see a Kean run?

MK:  We really wanted to play an event in Portage and another one in Oshawa.  We really wanted to play in those mixed doubles tournaments.  We have fun in mixed doubles.  We have gone to nationals twice.  I think it is going to be tougher to get into it now that it is in the Olympics.  Our 4-man teams are definitely at the top of our minds right now though.  I can't say we got along all that well at mixed doubles.  It wasn't a lot of fun.  But it would be amazing to go to the Olympics with my wife...that would be a dream come true.  We will see what we can do but there is no training regiment right now.  If we see our 4-man teams aren't working out and we need to make a run for the Olympics maybe we can put something together.  It's tough with work.  Mallory just got a new job so she cannot take extra time off to do the mixed doubles so we are just focusing on our 4-man teams.

TT:  Does this mean you guys are giving the McEwen's and Jones/Lainger a run for curling #CoupleOfTheYear right now?

Photo credit:  zekarphotography.com
MK:  (laughing) Well we will see how it goes.  I mean it's still early.  I guess if Mike doesn't qualify in a few events and we have a good run, maybe.

TT:  Perhaps it's an added post-season award we need to look at giving out now it seems.

MK:  Yeah, it would be pretty cool to see us both at provincials and both on the national stage one day.  The Middaugh's have done it so there is no reason we can't.

TT:  Keep it in Ontario then right?

MK:  Exactly!

TT:  Another big topic is social media.  I know when things got a little tough there you had a notorious facebook post about your feelings during the off-season and with the team changes.  Lots of curlers use twitter and facebook for sponsors and interaction with fans.  What is your policy on this?  We don't see in curling a strict policy, like we see in other sports, on how to use social media.  What is your feeling on this?

MK:   You definitely have to be careful.  Obviously I have made some posts on CurlingZone that I am not necessarily proud of.  But honestly I also like speaking your mind.  You have to be careful though because sponsors are involved and stuff like that.  I have always loved the athletes who say what they want to say, like Richard Sherman.  Some people may say he comes off like an ass but I like the guys who speak their minds.   I enjoy watching that so I have always tried to be like that.  Be truthful.

TT:  Well I think from a fan's perspective, we like that.  We like to see honesty.  It humanizes you as an athlete.  As a fan, I love it, whether positive or negative.  But what happens with you guys on your side of it?  Do you feel the backlash?  Do you get backlash if you have controversial comments?

MK:  Some people don't really like it.  I had one guy message me and say to take the high road and don't worry.  He is a good curler.  He was at a high level and he said he let it bother him for like 2 or 3 years.  He never played the same again and now he is completely out of competitive curling.  He had been through a similar situation.  He said don't let it bother you and just move on.  The only backlash I have had is when you post on CurlingZone and someone calls you out on it.  There was one time where I was an unregistered poster but I had actually thought I logged in and someone called me out for it on my IP number.  I thought I did log in so I responded immediately saying that was me, I wasn't trying to hide.  Things get said.  But I just like being myself.  If I'm sitting at the table, I am going to tell you what I think about something.

TT:  Do you also get a lot of positive reaction though too?  Do you get positive feedback from social media and the chance to engage and interact with fans as well?

MK:  When I won to go to the Brier, I got tones of emails and facebook messages.  I tried to respond to everything but it was unbelievable how many messages I got.  Obviously that time of year is also incredibly busy for my business so I was trying to do that.  Plus people wanted to do interviews and appearances...it was all kind of crazy and happened at once.  Next time it happens I'll be more prepared.  When they say when you go your first time you don't know what to expect, it's really true because you don't.  It didn't bother me but it was a lot to take it.  Next time around, I know how it goes so it will be a piece of cake.

TT:  So I take it you are happy to have lost your Brier virginity then?

MK:  (laughing)  Yeah exactly.  I mean I talk like I am going to get back and I know a lot of guys go and don't get back but I'm going to work really hard to make sure I do get to go again.  I'm going to talk a big game and hopefully it works.

TT:  (laughing)  Well you have to talk a big game..but hopefully you can back it up as well.  In speaking of the Brier, and perhaps I already know the answer to this question but perhaps not, what would be your curling career highlight?

MK:  Definitely winning that provincial.  Not even necessarily going to the Brier but winning the provincial with those guys was pretty sweet.  Winning something significant...in juniors I didn't have a great career, I didn't win anything.  I won a mixed and a B level Colts championship but those were the highlights up to that point.  I wanted to win the provincial.  Winning that was huge for me.  And obviously the Brier, it still seems like a blur.  It was so cool.  It will be a memory forever.  But winning that provincial championship...that moment where we knew we won...it was so cool.  No words for it.

TT:  No, for sure.  I was lucky enough to be in Calgary for the Brier and I am pretty sure you guys had the second largest fan base, outside of the host province.  You guys had a lot of people cheering for you.

MK:  Yeah, we had a good following.  We had an awesome crowd in the stands.  But we also had people come up to us and just say we were awesome or we really like you guys and we are cheering for you.  I have got emails from kids who curl in Ontario who say we are really big fans of your team.  That is really cool for me.  I know growing up I was a fan of John Morris and guys like that so it's cool to see I can be their idol.  You never anticipate yourself to be like that.  You don't necessarily want it.  It just kind of happens and it's very cool.  You just sort of soak it in and hopefully you can be a good role model.


TT:  With becoming a role model comes great responsibility of course Mark.

MK:  (laughing)  Yes exactly.

TT:  That is very cool though.  Now what about on the flip side.  I asked this of Jamie Koe and he is similar to you in that his other sport passion is golf, which I believe is yours as well.  What would be your curling mulligan you would pull if you could?

MK:  Ok...hmmm.....that is a tough one.  There is a shot back in high school curling I would like to have back.  Ummm there are a couple shots at the Brier definitely.  I can't honestly think of one off the top of my head.  For the longest time there was one where I threw a shot in this high school championship we were in.  There was a shot to win the championship.  I thought I had made it.  It turns out the angles weren't right and there was really no way to make the shot.  I would like to have that one back and throw a different shot perhaps.  Or even set up the end differently because I think we threw a bunch of guards trying to guard our shot rock.  I can't think of one recently though that I would like back.  I'm sure there are a bunch.  I made the one's that counted in the provincial final though so I am pretty happy with that.

TT:  Wow, all the way back to high school.  Either you are your harshest critic or you have a crazy weird memory on remembering negative things like that.

MK:  I have a crazy weird memory for remembering shots.  But that's the only one I can even really remember losing a championship on.  Those are the kind of moments I try to think back to.  Those are the moments that you try to be in and remember what you are feeling so you can be better when you are in that moment again.  During the provincial final I didn't feel any nerves until that last end.  The first shot I threw was just absolutely horrendous.  It was a stupid call too.  I think it showed for all us though.  We were lucky not to have to throw too many difficult shots.  When I called the guard for Matt's rocks, I had it in the back of mind knowing that John (Epping) was going to throw the freeze on his first because he wanted to get there first but also at the last possible moment where he could.  We threw that guard knowing that if we played any other shot we were just making it easier for them.  We wanted to make it harder.  But yes, I remember a lot of shots.  It definitely helps though with calling the game and knowing the angles and stuff like that.

TT:  Having that memory can only help you in the long run though, like you said.  It has to be a plus to have that ability, especially as a skip.

MK:  (laughing) Well yeah and now I know that if I have that shot again, not to make that call.

TT:  (laughing)  Well then as long as you are also learning from the mistakes you remember, that is a plus too.  So let's shift focus and do a quick little lightning round with you so we can get to know who is Mark Kean, not just the curling technical side of you but you as a person as well.  So your pick to win the World Series?

<ed. note: this interview took place prior to the start of the MLB playoffs and start of the NHL season>

MK:  Blue Jays!



TT:  Of course.  And who do you think they play in the final?

MK:  The NL (National League) is so tough.  My NL team has always been the Cardinals so I would love to see a Jays - Cardinals match up.  But I know you are cheering for Pittsburgh.

TT:  I just happen to be wearing and cheering for Pittsburgh all the time (proudly showing off my McCutchen Pirates shirt).

MK:  They are in tough though.  It is going to be an amazing game, I can't wait to watch it.  I would love to see any of those three teams.  Cubs would be pretty cool to see in the World Series.  Cardinals because they have been my NL team.  And I mean Pittsburgh has a great pitching staff.  They are kind of the underdog team because they don't have the high payroll but they have a ton of stars on their team so it would be cool to watch them.  Any one from that division really.  The Mets are kind of boring and the Dodgers....I just don't really like them.  I feel like I hate them more than the Yankees now.

TT:    (laughing) That is very fair.  My preseason pick was Jays - Pirates so not too bad right now.  But I guess I will find out tomorrow, it could go up in flames very quickly for me.

MK:  Exactly.

TT:  Your pick to win the Stanley Cup?

MK:  I'm going to have to go with the Ducks.  I like what they did in the off season.  They were really close last year.  My brother is a huge Ducks fan.  Perry and Getzlaf, those guys are really good.  I think Chicago is going to have an off season.  L.A. I don't know what is going to happen there, they could be really good or they could be really terrible.  They may just slip into the playoffs and win it all again, seems to be what they do.  I don't think it will be anyone from the East.  I think the West is so strong.  Minnesota also has a really good team.

TT:  What about the East?  Who is your East pick?

MK:  Pittsburgh is really good.

TT:  Good choice Mark!

MK:  Kessel is going to be dynamic.  I think the Rangers are going to fall down a bit.  It is pretty even.  Tampa Bay and Montreal, good goaltending there.  Tampa Bay has a good solid team.  I feel like the East is wide open this year, even more than last year.  It's going to be a good season.  And with the West, you never know what is going to happen over there.  There is so much parity right now, it is actually fun to watch and predict.  Even Chicago, with all their wins, there still seems to be a lot of parity.  It is good for fans.

TT:  Exactly.  What about your pick for the Super Bowl?

MK:  Super Bowl?  Patriots!

TT:  (laughing) Yeah I already knew the answer to that one.  We will have to agree to disagree on that one Mark.

MK:  (laughing)  Yup.  And I guess if I have to pick a team from the other league it would be Seattle.

TT:  Ugh ok then.  Enjoy your bandwagon you are jumping on then Mark.  I will try not to judge you too hard on this one.

MK:  There is a lot of people on that bandwagon.

TT:  Yeah I don't even know how you are still able to stay on it.  Ok so now if I asked you to form an all-star curling team and you could pick athletes from any sport, who would you ask to be on the team?

MK:  Athletes from any sport?  Hmmm.  I always love Roy Halladay.  Just seems so steady, a great team guy so he would be on the team for sure.  He might have to be the skip though, I don't know.  He seems like he is just that clutch.  And I want to win him a championship, he never got that chance with the Jays.  Roger Federer.  I'd like to say Tiger Woods because he was so unreal.  I always like following the top guys just to see what they are doing to be so much better than everyone else.  There are always guys who have the talent to be at the top level so I like following those guys.  I know lot's of people also like following the top guys but I know for me, for being an athlete, being in that position myself, it's of personal interest for me to see what they are doing to get there.  Ok I know that is a long answer...

TT:  No it's all good.  That's fair.  So you don't put yourself on the team?  Are you coaching?

MK:  Oh no, I'm on the team too.  So Tiger, Halliday and Federer.

TT:  All good choices.  I tried to give you an out there to not look so egotistical but you pounded right in there.

MK:  (laughing)  No no, I am definitely on the team.

TT:  (laughing) Fair enough then.  If you could pick a walk-up song to enter the Brier or wherever, what is your walk-up song?

MK:  (laughing)  It's funny because my brother, we were sitting at dinner tonight and he was playing some song.  I can't even name it, I've never heard it before but it was something to do with "I'm Awesome!" or something like that.  But I can't think of who it is by.  Hmmm, I don't know.  I always get pretty pumped up to "Remember The Name" by Fort Minor.  I'll have to go with that one.

TT:  That's a pretty good choice, good call.  Who is your curling idol or mentor?

MK:  Last year, definitely my mentor was Bryan Cochrane.  He was amazing for the team and for me personally.  He is such a brain!  I think he got to a lot of the provincial events that he did simply on his strategy alone.  He could have maybe played terrible but still won games because his strategy is amazing.  I kind of looked up to him in the sense that he didn't necessarily have the greatest teams, they didn't play a lot but they were always at the provincials.  It was cool to hear his way to look at the game because it was so difference from other people.  Growing up, my parents for sure.  My grandpa was a huge mentor for me.  He had been to a few provincials so he was kind of my idol, a guy I looked up to.  In terms of a curling celebrity, I would have to go with Glenn.  He is so classy and amazing touch.


TT:  Nice, all great choices as well.  Ok so what about nicknames.  Does Mark Kean have a nickname on tour?

MK:  Keaner would be the closest thing.  It's kind of been my nickname since elementary school.  It's funny because I never told anyone in the curling world that was my nickname but it just came naturally because of my last name I guess.  When I played with Tim March, he always came up with some things.  For awhile it was El Fuego.  He would come up with things all the time.  But nothing has really stuck other than Keaner.

TT:  It's the stereotypical sports, go with your last name right?

MK:  Yeah exactly, its boring.

TT:  But it is classic and it works though.  What about your tour rival?

MK:  Well it used to be Howard just because of the provincial but it definitely is going to have to be John Epping.  I said a few years ago that I felt like I was going to be battling him for the provincial for a few years, as long as we are both curling, and obviously that came true last year.  We will see how many times it happens but they are the rival and team to beat in Ontario.  If we can measure us against them, I think that's great.

TT:  I think, as fans, we are looking forward to seeing how that rivalry plays out over the next couple of years and excited to see how it plays out at provincials this year.  The next question comes from John Cullen and I also asked this of Jamie Koe when we were talking.  So I am going to ask you as well, who do you think is the smelliest guy on tour?

MK:  Smelliest guy on tour?  Well I'm sorry Bowie but I am going to have to say Bowie.

TT:  Oh, keeping it internal.  Any reason behind that one?

MK:  (laughing)  Yep.  Well he is the only one I am in close quarters with and the only one I notice.  But probably Bowie also because I have to room with him.

TT:  (laughing)  That is very fair.  And that is a safe answer as well.  It shouldn't get you in too much trouble.

MK:  No, exactly.

TT:  And one last question for our lightning round, favorite curling apparel to wear on the ice?

MK:  (laughing)  Runback!


TT:  What a shocking answer.  And would there be any specific reason why you pick Runback Mark?

MK:  No, I am not sure.  It's just really great stuff.  It look awesome.  It fits amazing.  The price is right.

TT:  (laughing)  Oh ok...and any other selling feature we should know about Mark?

MK:  They have really good customer service and the CEO is a really nice guy.

TT:  Ok, we will need to keep that in mind #TwineTime fans.  Good to know!  So if we head into the #AskACurler section.  If you read the interview with Jamie Koe, you would already know what your question is.  What was it like to play against Team Koe (Team N.W.T.) at the 2015 Brier in Calgary, playing on the Friday morning draw?

MK:  Yeah, see I thought it would be a shoo-in thinking that they would be tired and hungover.  But in fact they were not hungover because they were still drinking.  It was an interesting game for sure.  It was actually a little delayed because they were in the locker room having a couple beverages extra.  But that's part of a Brier so it was pretty fun.  I was invited for a couple brews after the game.  But that was cool.  The game didn't mean anything to either of us.  They had already been sent down to relegation, which sucks but that is how it goes nowadays for the next couple of years anyways.  Those guys have a good time and that is what the Brier used to always be about.  We are kind of going away from that.  I don't know what the future is but those guys have a great time, they are a lot of fun and they are really good for the fans.

TT:  Excellent.  Well Jamie mentioned he was interested to see if you would mention anything on beverage intake and you went right there right away.

MK:  (laughing)  Well he posed the question.

TT:  That is what he said.  If you brought it up, it is fair game.  I just couldn't lead you into it.  Now the final question is the time to turn the tables and have you #AskACurler.  The next #BetweenTheSheets interview will be with Kirk Muyers, vice of Team Laycock.  What would be your question for Kirk?

MK:  Oh, this is tough.  This will be a good one.  What's it like playing with your brother?  I've heard his answer.  They had a little Q&A at the Brier.  It was me, Matt and the two Muyers brothers.  They talked a little bit about it but it would be good to have it in this interview.  I think it is an answer everyone wants to hear.  I know playing with my brother is tough.

TT:  (laughing)  Well I met your brother, he is a really nice guy.

MK:  He is a nice guy until he curls with me on the ice.  He is a really nice guy and curls great with everyone but the second he curls with me, we just don't mesh for whatever reason.  I can tell him he missed it a little bit wide and he gets really upset.   I can't really win but I still really enjoy playing with him.

TT:  Well then that brings me to one last question.  You mentioned earlier curling with your wife, you guys had a little bit of issues.  Is it maybe you are the common denominator here Mark?

MK:  (laughing)  No, no I don't think so.

TT:  (laughing)  No, it could never be that.

MK:  I think it's possible that it's because I think I am right all the time.  But I do like to think I am right most of the time.  But it's possible.  I'm a competitive person.  Mallory is competitive.  My brother is competitive.  It's something that is common around our household.  Actually just before we had this chat my brother and I were playing some baseball on the Xbox.  It's something that I miss from my childhood so it's kind of nice to get to do that again with him.  But we are competitive even at that or a simple game of cards.  I think what happens on the ice is we all want to win so bad that we forget we are friends and family.

TT:  Well as long as you can separate on ice and off ice, that's what matters.

MK:  Exactly.  As soon as we get off the ice, it's like nothing happened.

TT:  Well, that is all I have got for you man.  Hopefully it was good for you.

MK:  Yeah it was fun.  Your blog is pretty sweet.  Plus it is always good to have a fan on my side.  But you have to be unbiased so if you want to say anything against my team go at it.

TT:  Well I appreciate the support.  But should I get to see you more at the slams, maybe then I could actually talk about your team more.  Just sayin'

MK:  (laughing)  Fair enough, fair enough.

TT:   Best of luck on the rest of the season Mark.  Thank you once again for taking some time to do this.  Hopefully we will get to chat again soon as well.

MK:  Yeah, thank you.  And thanks for hunting me down.  It's been a crazy two months.  Thanks for pestering me.  It was definitely worth it.

TT:  (laughing)  No problem at all.  It was definitely worth the wait.  Now go get some sleep...it's past 1 a.m.

MK:  (laughing)  Ok, sounds good.


Since the interview with Keaner, the curling world has been rocked by the recent #BroomGate debate.  Team Kean recently competed at the Canad Inns Men's Classic in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba.  Before stepping on the ice for their opening round game, Mark was able to have a quick messenger chat with me to provide his thoughts on the swirling controversy.

TT:  With #BroomGate sweeping the curling nation right now, what is your take on everything? Is this a step backwards for the sport or can this be a long term blessing in disguise?

MK:  I think something like this was bound to happen in curling. It's actually crazy it's taken this long for someone to use a material that basically makes hits extremely tough to miss. When we saw the capabilities of the brooms, we actually couldn't believe what we were seeing. All this talk just gets the gears in motion for official equipment rules to be discussed. Who knows when anything will be put in place. The big sports obviously have extensive testing, but they also have big time cash flow, something curling has against it. It will be interesting to see what happens from here, but it's really impressive to see all the top teams recognize that these broom heads are not good for the game.

TT:  I think you are right, and this is not new to sport. Many other sports have gone done a similar path in the past. So do you endorse a equipment regulation standard for the sport?

MK:  Yes, I do

TT:  Do you think equipment regulation could be in place this season or is it best to play out the season and address these concerns during the off season? I guess I'm asking if this debate detracts too much from the sport mid-season?

 
MK:  I think something needs to be done as soon as possible.  Obviously this is tough because there are suppliers who would need to make adjustments, but if they don't do something it could get really bad.  I think if there isn't something done now then those BalancePlus teams ,including myself, will have no choice but to use the fabric against other teams using it.
 
TT:  Has this caused a divide amongst teams on tour? An us vs. them mentality?
 
MK:  I haven't talked to many teams yet, since it all happened.  Really it's a matter of the curling bodies deciding what material is acceptable.  So this is where it gets interesting, where do you draw the line?  How do you determine which material is acceptable or not? You can't just say no you can't use Hardline material. That could end a company or cause a lawsuit.
 
TT:  Very true. I think the sport should be looking to the successes and fails of other sports who have encountered this issue with equipment, manufacturers and athletes. Tennis, golf, hockey, soccer...these sports have all been through this, some a few times.
 
MK:  100% true
 
TT:  I appreciate your comments and insight on this man.
 
MK:  Thanks.
 
As a fan of the sport, this was a total fan-boy moment in a way.  I have been a strong Keaner supporter for the past few seasons.  Being fortunate enough to be in Calgary for the Brier this year and getting to meet Mark was one of the highlights of the event.  A little fun story, when I went to get my picture taken with Mark, his first question to me was "Aren't you #TwineTime?"  It was a surreal moment having an elite curling athlete like him know who I was from this blog.  After the shock wore off and I said "Yes I was" his next question was "What is your actual name?"  There was no ego in meeting Mark.  He was a down to Earth, one of the guys type of characters.  These are the kind of athletes I rally behind and support.  The athletes who do not put themselves on a pedestal and truly enjoy the moment and enjoy meeting and talking with fans of the sport they love to play and we love to watch.  If you aren't familiar with Mark and Team Kean, I hope now you are.  Follow them on twitter (@TeamKean).  Follow Mark (@MarkKean22) as well, although he doesn't follow me...what gives Mr. Kean?  But do give Mark some positive comments...and maybe a few good rips when needed.  Trust me, he can take it!  Oh, and you are welcome Mark for not posting the random Keaner crotch pic my friend took of you.  LOL  #Yikes
 
Fan boy moment at #2015Brier: #TwineTime meets Keaner