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Thursday, 26 November 2015

#BetweenTheSheets With Kirk Muyres
#MrSmiles talks Saskatchewan, Brier, family and growing the sport


Welcome to another edition of #BetweenTheSheets my friends.  This week, I am going to forego my weekly #PowerRankings and predictions.  With the European Championships still going on and many teams taking the week off to prepare for the next two weeks of headline events, this seemed like the perfect time to shift focus.  This season I have not only wanted to up my #curling blog game through slight additions to the weekly post but also provide fans of the sport the opportunity to get to know some of the athletes we cheer for on a weekly basis.  In the past, I have been honoured to have Jamie Koe and Mark Kean join the #TwineTime family.  This week, the small blog welcomes a new member: Kirk Muyres!  This is also post #99 for #TwineTime.  Quite a remarkable feat I think.  Number #99 is tied to the Great One.  I have found my own edition of a curling "Great One" for this post.  As a born and raised Sasky boy, I am a huge supporter of all athletes who come from my home province.  As a curling fan (and as you will know if you read this blog or follow my twitter account), I am a HUGE fan of Team Laycock.  I am an even bigger fan of vice Kirk Muyres.  The opportunity to have a conversation with him during a tour event in Edmonton was an honour....and a total #fanboy moment to be honest.

Let's all go #BetweenTheSheets with #MrSmiles himself, Kirk Muyres!

TwineTime (TT): We are here with Kirk Muyres for a little #BetweenTheSheets action.  A new season is underway and building off the successes of last season, what are the goals and outcomes for @teamlaycock this season? 
Kirk Muyres (KM): We always said we can stay together and keep playing together as long as we get better every year and we have been doing that steadily.  It’s easier to do perhaps if you are 20th or 15th or even 10th (in the world rankings) but we have kind of made that jump to top 5 now.  The gains are a lot smaller.  We may not necessarily get a rise in rankings but we have some indicators on whether we have improved or not.  Ideally we want to be the best team in the world and win the worlds, get a trial spot and go from there. 


TT:  How do you go about defining the goals then if you are not going simply by rankings or points?  Some teams do use those ranking points as a goal setter.  How do you guys determine your team goals?

KM:  It’s more on closing of gaps I guess you could call it.  We identify areas where we are not good enough at to be the best in the world...and we have about 4 or 5 those right now.  At the end of the season, the coach comes with us to every event, and we tally up our indicators and we will know if we have closed those gaps.  But at the end of the day we still need to be highly ranked, we still need to be on TV for sponsors and we need to win a lot of games.  You don’t want to think of the outcome of winning games but it is what we have to do. 
TT:  That makes a lot of sense.  You brought up the fact of whether to stick together or not and we see that happening a lot, especially with the Olympic cycle.  Do you guys have that conversation on a regular basis and, if so, how does that conversation go?

KM:  It’s a yearly conversation.  It comes to whether everyone is willing to put in the work to become better.  Lots of things can happen in a person’s life: family, work, whether they are enjoying it, whether they want to be on the road, whether they want to be in the gym every morning, whether they want to be on the ice every day.  You have to make that decision and if everyone is willing to do it then we can go ahead.  We have that conversation once a year and if so, we go forward.
TT:  Going into this season, was it clear cut in committing to the four-year cycle with a hope of making the Olympics?

KM:  Yup!  It was a decision we were going to step back from work a little bit to the point where we kind of treat it as a professional job.  Every morning we are at the rink.  It is nice we all live in the same city so we can do that.  We said every day we have to find a way to practice more.  Our lives got in the way when we got home from curling.  We had to go to work, we had to wash our clothes, we had to do this and do that...we just weren’t getting good enough from just playing every weekend.  We had to practice more.  To do that, we had to put the jobs aside a little bit.  We still wanted to have time for family.  What we did was say we needed to make enough money curling where we could actually put our jobs aside.  Thanks also to the sponsors in Saskatchewan who are helping us achieve our dream and hopefully we are giving them value back through increased exposure.
TT:  I think you guys are seeing an advantage in being from Saskatchewan.  And perhaps that is something unique.  Is it a different culture maybe in Saskatchewan?  We are not seeing a bunch of teams and players in Saskatchewan jumping ship and making changes to teams as much as we see in Alberta or Ontario or Manitoba.  Is that maybe a culture we have in Saskatchewan?

KM:  Yeah, that’s a good question.  I don’t know.  I’ve never thought about it actually.  I don’t know if I have an answer for that.  We always talk about how there is not necessarily those big top guys, the Koe’s, the Stoughton’s, the Howard’s, but there is so many good teams.  These teams will play 5 or 6 weekends a year, do well, be happy with how they have done and move it forward to next year.  The depth in Saskatchewan is unbelievable.  Guys you may not know of but for two years in a row to get to the Brier we for sure had to play our best and better than we had in any other event throughout the year.  Bar none!  It’s a provincial championship and that shows you the depth involved in Saskatchewan.


TT:  Do you guys also think the success you guys are having on tour is helping to elevate the level of play in Saskatchewan?  Other teams are starting to say “Look how well Laycock is doing”.  We haven’t had a Saskatchewan champion since 1980.  It has been a struggle to be competitive at the Brier, up until your bronze medal finish last year.  Are you guys hoping to be the team to help push that success up?

KM:  I hope so!  There are a lot of young guys in the province who are very good curlers and starting to come on.  We are very strong believers in the fact that we need other teams pushing us.  I have told a lot of young guys I hang around with in the province, should they want any information or knowledge on how we do things, we are more than happy to share.  Even Martin and Ferby over the years, they just pushed each other.  Look at Burtnyk and Stoughton.  Or Stoughton and McEwen.  They were constantly pushing each other.  Now look at Carruthers and McEwen.  I think you need that.  We are certainly starting to get that out of the guys in Saskatchewan.  We will encourage that until the day we die.  Maybe we are encouraging it in a bit of a selfish means because we want other teams pushing us. 
TT:  Exactly and you guys only get better in the long run as well. 

KM:  Absolutely!
TT:  Another thing you guys do very successfully is live stream all your games.  I believe you are the only team on tour to do this, or at least the first.  What brought that decision around?  Why did you guys decide to do that?

KM:  For one, we wanted a way in which we could watch film and objectively talk about things.  Everyone sees things a little bit different out on the ice and then you have the conversation after and someone says “no, that’s not what happened!”  But now we know.  We said what we need to do is just record it.  Dallan (Muyres) said, “Why don’t we just stream it online and our family can watch it?”  Then we took it another level and said we can let everyone watch.  We now have a few sponsors on board who are supporting it.  I think we got over 25,000 hits last year.  It’s been really good for us.  Plus we still have the video.  People can now watch us.  We have our quality up this year again thanks to some sponsors helping us out.  I think it’s a winner and we will see more teams start to do it.  It might be the way of the future with some of the events.
TT:  Especially for the events that are not grand slams or televised, it really is the only way to watch and an opportunity to interact with the fans.  I know many fans on twitter and social media talk about it and love that you do it.  Props to you guys!

KM:  It really is good for everyone.
TT:  And I am assuming sponsors love it!

KM:  Oh absolutely.  *laughing* That is what it’s all about.
TT:  That’s right!  Let’s shift a bit and talk about what it’s like to come from a curling family.  Both your dad and your uncle went to the Brier.  What is it like having them in your ear, there to help.  Is it sometimes too much?  Not enough?  How do you balance the support?

KM:  I don’t know any different I suppose.  It is what it is.  I think it is good.  It’s always nice to talk about your passion.  This is all I do.  This is all we do.  It is nice to have that common interest with your family.  It is pretty neat I get to travel around with my dad and my brother all winter and we get to spend just about every day together.  That is pretty cool!  You go home for Christmas and the uncle’s are talking the same thing.  You learn lots.  Growing up, I used to play with my dad and my two uncles.  You just learn so much.  We have been progressing together.
TT:  That is very cool.  Now one question I have been asking everyone who sits down with me is what is your one favourite curling moment of your career so far?

KM:  Hmmm, it has to be winning that first provincials.  We never knew if it was going to happen.  I remember when I was 19 saying how I would try to get on a good team, play the Sask tour and see if I can get up to a Brier.  That is kind of the progression.  I was lucky enough to go at 23.  And now twice at 24.  It is pretty cool.  The one thing about curling, in the curling circles, there is a lot of people who care.  But outside it, nobody really knows a whole bunch about it unless it is the Brier.  Everyone knows the Brier.  Now when you talk about curling and say “I’m a curler” people ask “Did you go to the Brier?”  Now I can say I have.  That is probably the proudest moment.  Winning the bronze medal last year as well.  You know lots of people have a sour taste about that bronze medal but a 24 year old kid wins a bronze medal at the Brier, it helped elevate our team and when you get to say you won a bronze medal at the Brier it holds a bit of weight.  Those are probably the two proudest moments.


TT:  Very true and great moments.  One thing you mentioned was expanding the sport outside of the Brier and getting an increase in fans or even having regular Canadians recognize curling as a big sport.  It is lacking against some of the other sports.  If you could change one thing about the sport right now, what would it be?

KM:  Hmmm.  I always joke around with things in terms of fan engagement and player engagement.  There is a fine balance between maybe golf etiquette and hockey.  What is the right way for curling to go?  Golf has a different appeal, being on the course, a nice summer day in America with lots of people watching.  I often wonder if maybe is it the right thing to do to get the crowds booing and into it.  Some heckling of the curlers.  Maybe even a bit of the curlers heckling back.  Curlers yelling at each other on the ice.  I don’t know for sure.  Look at the Jays season.  That was awesome...it was cool.  Look at Ben (Hebert) and Rich Hart at the 2009 trials.  You never forget those things.  Those are what fans want to see.  They want to see that experience.  A little more fan engagement, really encourage that and that kind of atmosphere.  When you go to any other professional sport, you want to make noise and you want to do things.  You want to act like you played a part in the outcome.  Curling doesn’t have that and I wonder if it should.  I honestly just don’t know.  But that is what I would lean towards.


TT:  We have had a few conversations with curling fans who have said the very same thing.  The comparison is always the rivalries aren’t as strong as other sports, like the Jays-Yankees.  We don’t see that in curling.  On the plus side though, and perhaps the benefit of the sport, is the camaraderie of all of you guys as athletes and your interaction with the fans on a friendly level.  How do you get that balance?

KM:  I know, I know.  It is a tough one.  There is a bit of that.  Everyone can hear what you say on the ice when you are on TV.  You always have to play the TV crowd which will then pull them into the arena.  People like that.  Maybe Kirk Muyres and Braeden Moskowy will give a little back and forth and a little chat.  People will maybe think that is pretty cool because you don’t see that as often.  I don’t know what the right way is but I think there has to be some way to get the players and the atmosphere in the building to be a little more electric.
TT: Yeah, I agree.  It would be awesome to see and hopefully we can get there. 

KM:  It’s a work in progress.  But look at the TV ratings curling is starting to get and we are starting to fill those arena’s at slam events.  Rogers has done an amazing job!  For them, the TV numbers are good.  I think we are going in the right direction.
TT:  Yeah, it does seem that way.  Now in bringing up your reference on golf, you obviously golf?

KM:  Not well!
TT: Ok, not well. *laughing*

KM: *laughing* On occasion though.
TT:  You hit the green on occasion at least.  What if we gave you a curling mulligan?  Either a shot or a specific game where you just want a re-do.

KM:  The 3vs4 game at the (2015) Brier.  Bar none! 
TT:  Yeah I kind of thought that might be your answer.

KM:  It is one of those games where you just wish you could re-do it.  At the same time, you hope you get back.  You may never get back but you hope you do.  That is why you really want a re-do, you might never be back.  The big one is I learned so much over the summer from that one game.  I have implemented things I need to change so it doesn’t happen again.  It’s a learning experience.  Everyone goes through it.  As long as you learn something from it, next time you are going to be better off.  But I want that 3vs4 game back!
TT:  For sure.  But a strong point as well, always a learning experience.

KM:  Exactly!
TT:  Ok let’s play a little rapid fire with you.

KM:  Ok!
TT:  Stanley Cup prediction?

KM:  I don’t have a clue. 
TT:  Do you have a favourite hockey team?

KM:  Naw.  When I was little I loved the Avalanche but I haven’t watched a hockey game in 10 years.
TT:  Wow!  Good to know.  Super Bowl prediction?

KM:   Yeah, I don’t have a clue. 
TT:  Ok, not a sports guy at all?

KM:  Nope not at all.


TT:  Ok, also good to know.  It’s good to get a glimpse into who you are here.  What about hidden talent?

KM:  Ummm....hidden talent?  Do I have a hidden talent?  Hidden talent...hmmm.  No, nothing.
TT:  Ok you cannot be 0 for on every question here.

KM:  Oh man I am 0 for.  Ok hidden talent.  I don’t do much of anything.
TT:  Ok you are not selling us Saskatchewan boys very well here either.

KM:  I have a real knack for business.  A strong knack for business.  We will call that my hidden talent.
TT:  Ok that is fair...and a good thing to have.  That works.  Tattoos or piercings?

KM:  Oh tattoos.
TT:  Nice.  You have a tattoo?

KM:  No.  I am talking tattoo’s on women.
TT:  Ok, also a good call.  Tattoo’s are hotter than piercings.

KM:  Oh for sure.
TT:  Walk up song, if you could have any song to play for curling.  What would it be?  And I mean just you...not Team Laycock.

KM:  I’m going to go with Colby Rasmus and “Boys Round Here” (Blake Shelton).  We watched a Jays game and he walked out to that, it was pretty sick! 
TT:  Oh nice, very good call there.  Biggest rival in curling?

KM:  Braeden Moskowy


TT:  Fair enough.  Smelliest guy on tour?

KM:  (Colton) Flasch might be getting up there when he starts sweating and hasn’t showered...I mean...washed his stuff.
TT:  *laughing* Ok.  Loudest guy on tour?

KM:  Flasch!  *laughing*
TT:  *laughing* Whoa the double dip response.  Curling mentor or idol?

KM:  My dad for sure.  100%.
TT:  Very good answer.  If you could assemble an All-Star team, past or present, any sport, who would be your perfect curling team?

KM:  I’d go with: Skip – Kevin Martin; 3rd – I got to be on the team?
TT:  You can or cannot.  Up to you?

KM:  Ok, then I have to go with myself of course.  I have to play.
TT:  Gotta go with the ego a bit right?

KM:  Exactly.  Marc Kennedy would be 2nd.  And...hmmm....I’m thinking Steve Gould lead.
TT:  Nice.  That is a good team.  So the last thing we do is an #AskTheCurler section where we have our previous interviewee become the interviewer.  The last person I interviewed was Mark Kean and he was able to ask you any question.  He wanted to know:  “What is it really like curling with your brother?  And you cannot just say it’s a lot of fun because we are brothers.  We want the truth!”


KM:  It’s challenging!  It is easy to not care.  I find you are continually watching what you say to other teammates and wanting to say things to make them better but when you are playing with a brother you don’t necessarily consider that the same way.  You feel like you can just say what you need.  To censor what you say sometimes is the toughest part.  It can be challenging. 

TT:  For sure, that makes sense.  But you wouldn’t change it?  You love it?
KM:  Nope.  I would change it if he wasn’t good!  *laughing*  But as long as he is the best lead out there, we will be ok. 

TT:  Well then that would bring back your hidden talent and your business side taking over.
KM:  *laughing*  There ya go!

TT:  Now this also means it is your turn to ask a question.  My next interview will be with Matthew Blandford.  What question would you like to ask him?
KM:  Why did he move to Alberta from The Rock (Newfoundland and Labrador)?  Isn’t he from The Rock?

TT:  *laughing*  He is originally from The Rock.
KM:  We were out there in Paradise, NL (for the Tour Challenge) and it was beautiful.  And then he blew it and moved out here.  He must work in the patch.

TT:  He is also the last man to beat Brad Gushue at a provincial championship.
KM:  Ohhhh yeah?  Ok...wow!  He could have went to the Brier with Newfoundland year’s and year’s over.

TT:  Who knows?  But that will be my question I will ask him.
KM:  Right on man. 

TT:  Thank you so much for taking time and doing this Kirk.  All the best on the rest of the season.
KM:  You bet, anytime.  Thank you!  You are doing a helluva job.

TT:  Well thank you.  I appreciate that.

There you have it rock heads and stoners.  I hope you enjoyed getting to know the man behind the smile, Kirk Muyres, as much as I did.  Toss him and Team Laycock a follow on twitter as well if you are not following them already.  Be sure to check #TeamOranje out on tour next week at the Home Hardware Canada Cup of Curling in Camrose, AB.  

Special thank you goes out once again to Kirk Muyres for taking the time to chat with me, mid-event.  Best of luck to him and Team Laycock for the remainder of this season and in the future.

Friday, 20 November 2015

#BetweenTheSheets:  Euro, Euro, Euro....Oi Oi Oi!!
European Championships and *surprise* #BroomGate capture headlines
We are in the thick of the curling season now people.  No more curling in off shots from the boards....we are full on runback crotch shot doubles!  Given the recent announcement from the World Curling Federation in regards to #BroomGate, I think the crotch shot reference is very poignant.  But more on that later in this blog post.
Last weekend we said farewell to another grand slam event for the season, The National.  As is tradition, here is the #GunnerRunback on what went down in Oshawa:

·         The Goo continues to dominate the tour.  It was only a few weeks ago skip Brad Gushue took the worst fall on ice on national TV since watching Canadian women's figure skating at the Olympics.  There was talk about concussions.  There was concern over long-term potential health issues.  Well perhaps put those concerns to bed my friends.  Brad shrugged off all this talk and went back to doing what he has done all season: WIN!  Finishing the RR with a 3-1 record, Gushue defeated Thomas Ulsrud, John Epping and Reid Carruthers en route to another #gsoc title. 


·         Interesting note on the men’s qualifiers: all 8 teams finished the RR with a 3-1 record.  I cannot remember the last time I saw 8 qualifiers at an event all with the same record.  Nobody went undefeated.  Usually a 2-2 finish in the RR can snag you a tiebreaker or even direct spot in the QF.  Not in Oshawa.  This just proves the point, every game matters.  One loss and you can find yourself sitting in the 8th seed position!

·         #MeanGirls!  Have you heard the song “Mean Girls” by Sugarland?  If not, maybe give it a listen while watching Rachel Homan and company on the ice.  I think this should be their walk out music actually.  They are completely dominating the competition this season.  Another event, another slam, another championship.  Homan did go undefeated in Oshawa with a 4-0 RR record and besting Kelsey Rocque, Stef Lawton and Tracey Fleury in the final.  Can anyone stop this team?


·         The women’s draw saw 10 teams still have championship aspirations at the end of the RR.  A 2-2 record landed Sherry Middaugh a direct spot in the QF while 4 other 2-2 finishing teams battled it out in 2 tiebreakers.  These results really show a strong parity in the women’s game (behind Homan of course).  Teams are matching up quite evenly against one another and it has become a world where anyone can beat anyone (minus Homan!). 
Now coming off a successful grand slam event, one would hope the drama off the ice would subside and focus can be placed back on the sport.  Enter #BroomGate once again.  The World Curling Federation released a statement this week in response to the growing issue of equipment regulation.  If you have not had the chance to read the statement, it can be found HERE.  Basically fabric which has been textured and any plastic inserts have now been banned, effective immediately.  Note this ban is only at high events such as the European Championships, WCT events etc.  This notice does not affect club curling and funspiels.  Now when I first read the WCF statement, the use of words “hardening” and “stiffening” confused me as to what REALLY is the problem here.  And then it all made sense....this is a “hardening” and “stiffening” problem.  Excuse my language here but it is a pissing match.  I don’t need to go into the specifics of human biology but combine some of the key words of “hardening”, “stiffening” and “pissing match” and you can see how difficult of a situation this really is.  Let’s call this what it really is.  This is a manufacturer fight with curlers at the front of the line.  Hardline vs Goldline vs Balance Plus vs whomever....frankly I do not care anymore.  I am tired of the manufacturers whining and complaining about how this is a witch hunt and will destroy their business.  Simmer down on the overdramatic performance here everyone.  Curling manufacturers are not going to go out of business because of regulation.  If anyone thinks this, you are crazy!  These companies are fighting over market share and increased profits...that’s all this is about.  Each want to make more money and have more curlers around the world use their product.  Brooms are still going to be sold.  Sliders are still being bought.  The sport will continue.  The problem I have is all this complaining and whining.  Shouldn’t the greater good of the sport be to ensure the most fair and equal playing field is established before athletes step onto the ice?  Now if a team has an increased skillset, a strong strategic game, an ability to make the big shots when it matters....shouldn’t the physical and mental strengths of the athletes prove the difference in a match?  Not the broom they use to sweep a stone.  Why are athletes getting involved in this “pissing match” between competitors?  Because they are sponsored by them and need the financial support?  Hmmm, let’s take a look at the big picture here.  What if the teams refrained from saying anything?  Would an equipment manufacturer pull their sponsorship of this team?  Of course not.  While the manufacturers started #BroomGate, the athletes are allowing it and accepting it.  As a fan, I am tired of it.  I would almost prefer to see every team at the next tour event place tape over their sponsor names in solidarity saying we are not putting up with this off the ice distraction anymore.  We want to compete in a sport we love and the action on the ice should outweigh the drama off of it.  Equipment regulation standards are being set.  Big deal.  Follow the new guidelines.  Adjust the equipment you make so there are no issues.  If you truly believe your broom is what helps make a champion, the results will support your claim.  Look at Nike and Under Armour and Reebok in other professional sports.  Again, equipment regulation standards change as the sport evolves and the equipment manufacturers can choose to adjust with the standards or bitch and moan about it.  Nike, UA, Reebok...they make the changes and equip their teams/players accordingly.  They stand by and support the athletes.  The manufacturers need the sport, the athletes and the fans more than the sport/athlete/fan needs the manufacturer.  If you don’t like the heat, get out of the kitchen.  Everyone will go cook in a kitchen that can handle it.  Nobody is winning in this situation.  Sure, how we got to this point and how everything in unfolding could have been handled in a different way but it wasn't...and pointing the finger at only one team/manufacturer/governing body is not going to bring a solution to the issue.  The manufacturers complaining makes them look childish.  The athletes getting verbally involved and causing tensions in the locker room makes them look unprofessional.  The sport is no longer being praised for athleticism and sportsmanship but rather scoffed at for ridiculous banter and behaviour.  As a fan, I am done with all of it.  Everyone should take a hard look at themselves and what the sport truly means to them.  It is time to put on the “big boy” pants, grow up and move forward.  Athletes are becoming divided and relationships are being affected.  Fans are out on message boards taking sides, supporting one team over another or one broom over the other.  The domino effect of reaction still is equating to one winner: the manufacturer.  As Sports Marketing 101 teaches you, no press is bad press.  Is this the sport we want?  Fans are starting to grow tired of all this cattiness and complaining.  Fix it before you find yourselves playing the game you love in front of an empty arena!  Don’t think it could happen?  Test the waters and find out.  The second a company or athlete or team starts thinking they are bigger than the sport itself, that is when you see the floor cave out from under you.  Sports fans are fickle beasts and can quickly turn on you, curling is no exception!  Let's all come together and save the sport we love before more harm and damage is done.

Here is a crazy idea....let’s talk about the sport of curling.  I mean the actual outstanding shots, decision making and athleticism of the athletes we all deep down love and cheer for week in and week out.  After the success of The National, did we see a change in the #PowerRankings?

MEN

1.       Brad Gushue (LW: 1)

2.       Kevin Koe (3)

3.       Mike McEwen (2)

4.       Brad Jacobs (HM)

5.       Reid Carruthers (HM)

Hon. Mention:  Team Laycock, Team Cotter, Team Thomas, Team Edin, Team Howard

·         Goo wins The National...Goo stays on top.  No surprise or debate there.  But look what happened next.  The shocking 1-3 finish of #redpants combined with the 3-1 QF result of Kevin Koe brings a swap in the Top 3.  Again, all 3 of these teams are on an equal playing field and have been the class of the season.  I expect a few ups and downs amongst these 3 this year.

·         Welcome back Brad Jacobs.  Ok, so Jacobs finished 3-1 and made the QF in Oshawa.  He didn’t win but did produce another strong slam performance.  This team is in a championship drought right now but they continue to have strong results and, coupled with a few misses from other teams, they are back in the Top 5.

·         Hello Reidarama.  Carruthers used a strong 3-1 RR finish and a nice run to the final in Oshawa to debut in the Top 5 this week.  Reid and his defending MB champion team have qualified in every event they have played in this season and finally overcame the QF hump last weekend.  Can they continue the hot streak and make a push towards the top of the rankings?

WOMEN

1.       Rachel Homan (LW: 1)

2.       Val Sweeting (3)

3.       Anna Sidorova (2)

4.       Silvana Tirinzoni (4)

5.       Kelsey Rocque (HM)

Hon. Mention:  Team Muirhead, Team Jones, Team Paetz, Team Lawton, Team Fleury

·         Homan win...Homan stays.  I am not sure if anyone will catch her at the top of the rankings this season.  They are unbeatable right now and the confidence they have in their game is second to none.

·         Sweet Sweeting had a solid 3-1 RR record and made the SF in Oshawa.  Couple that result with Sidorova skipping the event to prepare for the European Championships equals a flip flop in the rankings spot.  This may only be a one week flip though depending what happens this weekend.

·         Rocque Chalk!  Kelsey Rocque cracks the Top 5 with their performance in Oshawa.  Sure they finished with a 2-2 RR record and lost a QF to Homan but still a solid event for the rookie team.  Think of it this way, they suffered 3 losses all weekend and 2 of them were to Homan.  Nothing to hold your head down about there...everyone loses to Homan!  Plus Muirhead also was inactive last week preparing for the European Championships.  Perfect time to reward Kelsey Rocque for her outstanding play all season.

VOTING REMINDER TIME!!!  The ladies need your votes.  On the main page (HERE) have your voice heard on who you think should top the women's #PowerRankings.  As with the men, we will keep this vote open for 2 months and the team who garnishes the largest support will begin 2016 at the top of the rankings.  Homan is DOMINATING the vote, taking 86% of the votes.  But do not just concede the top spot to her fans if you think otherwise.  Have your vote heard!

This week is one of the biggest week’s on tour.  We have strong men’s and women’s events in Manitoba and Nova Scotia.  Oh and that huge continental championship taking place in Denmark...cannot forget about that.  Let’s jump the pond and focus #TourLifePredictions solely on the biggest event of the season so far: The 2015 European Championships.

2015 European Curling Championships
Esbjerg, Denmark

2014 Champions: 
Group A – Sweden  - Nik Edin (Men) & Switzerland – Binia Feltscher (Women)

Group B – Finland – Aku Kauste (Men) & Norway - Kristin Skaslien (Women)
Format: 

Group A - 10 nation round robin with 4 qualifiers.  Worth noting, the top 8 women’s teams and top 7 men’s teams earn direct berth into the 2015 World Championships.  The bottom two nations are relegated to Group B next year.
Group B – 16 team double pool round robin (men) and 10 team round robin (women) with 4 qualifiers.  The two nations competing in the final are promoted to Group A next year.  As well, the Group B winner advances to the World Challenge to compete in a best-of-3 against the lowest World Championship qualifying team in Group A (8th place women, 7th place men) for a spot in the World Championships.

The Favorites
Group A

Sweden (Team Edin) – The defending European and World Champions should easily be considered a favourite in Denmark.  Nik Edin is a three-time European Champion (2009, 2012, 2014) but has failed to repeat each time.  Even more troubling is his results the following year after winning the European title.  In 2010 and 2013, Edin failed to even make the playoffs.  Will we see history repeating once again for fan favourite Nik Edin in Denmark?  Well, let’s not get too excited.  The team has had some strong results this season, most recently reaching the QF at The Masters.  However, it is the consistency that raises some eyebrows.  Before the qualification at The Masters, Edin and company failed to qualify at their two previous events.  They need a strong start this weekend to gain the momentum and confidence in their bid for a repeat.  Let’s also remember last year this team went undefeated en route to the claiming European gold.  They can turn it on when they need to.

Russia (Team Sidorova) – Last year’s silver medalist, Sidorova seems poised to find the top of the podium once again.  A former European champion (2012), Russia has quickly become one of the top curling nations in Europe under the guidance of Anna Sidorova.  Always a fan favourite, perhaps in part to her stunning good looks on and off the ice, don’t fool yourself into getting lost in the looks.  This team has the athleticism and talent to challenge for European and World championships.  Already capturing a title this season in Basel coupled with a QF appearance at The Masters equates to Sidorova being one of the most consistent and dangerous teams in this field.


Group B
Denmark (Rasmus Stjerne) – No this is not a misprint...Denmark is competing in Group B.  After a disaster of a performance last year in Switzerland, Denmark finds itself as the host country battling its way back to the upper echelon of men’s European curling supremacy.  This is unfamiliar territory for Stjerne especially.  Rewind the clock back to 2010, Stjerne was a runner-up at the European Championships (l. to Norway’s Ulsrud).  In 2011, Stjerne again found the podium at the European Championship with a bronze medal performance.  2012 saw a 4th place finish at Europeans and 2013 saw a duplicate 4th place finish at both Europeans and the World Championships.  Stjerne even skipped Denmark to a 6th place finish at the 2014 Winter Olympics.  The resume is too impressive for this team to be playing in Group B to be honest.  But that is what makes sports amazing....the favourites do not always win.  Stjerne could not find any consistency in his game last year, finishing with a 1-8 record and being relegated.  I do not think the relegation will last long though...especially with a home nation cheering you on.


Latvia (Evita Regza) – Latvia has to be considered the elevator team of the women’s European championships.  One year they are competing with the best in Group A.  The next year they find themselves relegated and battling back for a spot in the top in Group B.  Up and down...up and down.  But it does speak volumes to the tiny Baltic nation when they are able to consistently make it back up to Group A.  In fact, Latvia has spent the past two seasons in Group A before last year stumbling back down to Group B.  Regza has been here before and knows the routine.  It’s quite simple...just win!  It won’t be easy but there is also no team in Group B Regza cannot compete with and defeat. 
Watch Out For

Group A
Norway (Team Ulsrud) – Nipping at the heels of Sweden is their Scandinavian rivals Team Norway.  Thomas Ulsrud is a two-time European Champion of his own (2010, 2011).  Last year at this event in Switzerland, Ulsrud lost the final.  This result would be duplicated at the world championship with Edin claiming the title over his rival.  Ulsrud is dangerous when he is hungry...and he is hungry...for revenge.  Team Norway has not played a bunch this season, having qualified in only 2 of their 4 events.  However, they enter this event on the heels of a strong QF finish at The National.  They could be finding their groove at the perfect time to strike an open field.  In the past 5 years, Ulsrud has 2 titles (2010, 2011) and 3 straight runner-up finishes (2012, 2013, 2014).  Could 2015 be the year he finally finds his way back to the top of the podium?

Switzerland (Team Paetz) – The defending World Champion will be making her skipping European Championships skipping debut.  Paetz previously played at the Europeans with Mirjam Ott in 2012 and 2013, including a bronze medal win (2013).  Switzerland is the defending champions mind you, winning last year’s title with Binia Feltscher as skip.  Over the past few years Switzerland has been the leading nation of women’s curling champions, claiming world championships but struggling at the European Championship, outside the titles in 2008 and 2014.  The question remains on whether Paetz can continue the strong performance from last year’s world championship.  They have had an up and down season and they seem to be in a bit of a slump right now.  If they can find their groove at the beginning of the event, they can be a dangerous team.  If they struggle early, it may be a long week.

Group B

Austria (Sebastian Wunderer) - A strong winter sport nation where we have struggled to see curling truly excel as a national sport.  Perhaps this can be the year of change in Austria.  Wunderer returns to Group B action this year after a strong rookie campaign last year.  Competing in his 1st European Championship, Wunderer led the Austrians to a 5-2 RR record and a tiebreaker, eventually falling to Hungary.  They have not played major events on tour, other than the Swiss Cup Basel where they failed to qualify.  However, given the extra year of experience and looking at their pool, a similar 5-2 record is not out of the realm of possibility.  Wunderer is also no stranger to European championships either.  He was on the 4th place Austria team at the 2012 European Mixed Curling Championships.  They should be competing for a playoff spot at the end of the week and could be a surprise contender for promotion.


Turkey (Oznur Polat) – Turkey has been slowly moving up the curling rankings in Europe and this could be the year they make the big jump.  Back in 2012, Polat and Turkey were competing in Group C trying to just fight for a spot in Group B.  When they defeated the Netherlands (a fellow Group B contender now), they advanced to Group B and finished 1 game out of a playoff spot.  In 2013 and 2014, Turkey lost out on a tiebreaker to make the playoffs.  This team has been consistent and competitive within Group B competition.  Do not underestimate this team because they do not come from a traditional curling/winter sport hot spot.
The Dark Horse

Group A
Netherlands (Team van Dorp) – There are many dark horse teams which could surprise the field over the next week but I would pay very close eye on Jaap van Dorp and his Dutch team.  Jaap and the boys may be an unknown team to you and many curling fans but this team has been steadily making the rise up the European curling rankings for years.  This will be van Dorp’s 5th consecutive European championship skipping Team Netherlands.  In the past four years, look at the steady results: 23rd (2011), 13th (2012), 14th (2013) and 12th (2014).  In 2014 the team would make the B division final, losing to Finland but still gaining promotion to A division.  They may be the newest team to the “big boys” division, but don’t expect this team to be a one and done. #TeamOranje


Germany (Team Driendl) – Is it a bit odd seeing Germany listed as a dark horse nation at the European Championships?  Germany was once a power nation led by all-star skip Andrea Schopp.  Schopp skipped her way to 27 European Championship appearances and 7 titles (most recent in 2009).  The German Curling Federation has shifted their focus towards growing the sport with other athletes though and Daniela Driendl appears to be the future of the sport.  Driendl started the season with a strong QF appearance in Oakville but has since struggled a bit on tour.  They have been competing at smaller events throughout Europe with success however.  Driendl has previous skipping experience at the European Championships as well, skipping the German team in 2002 (7th place) and 2004 (9th place).  They have the ability to surprise a few teams in Denmark though.

Group B

Hungary (Gyorgy Nagy) - If you follow mixed curling, Gyorgy Nagy may not be an unfamiliar name.  Nagy has been leading the charge of Hungary curling for the past few seasons on the mixed curling scene.  In 2013, Nagy skipped Hungary to a European mixed curling bronze medal, the first medal for the nation.  Last season, Nagy again skipped a Hungary team to an undefeated RR before losing in the QF to eventual finalist Norway.  Hungary employs the "Ferby" strategy where Nagy calls the games but throws third stones while vice Zsolt Kiss throws skip stones.  Kiss has the combination of finesse and big weight shots needed to score multiple points or get the team out of trouble.  Kiss is also a two-time World Mixed Doubles Curling champion (2013, 2015).  This team has the international experience needed to move up the European curling chain.

Netherlands (Marianne Neeleman) – Can you tell my favorite color is orange?  Seems to be a bit of a theme in the dark horse category this year with one nation taking the title as Dark Horse Nation!  In 2014, Neeleman began her European Championship campaign sitting in Group C.  After winning the group, Neeleman found herself promoted to Group B.  This was a first for Netherlands.  Back in 2012, Netherlands did not even have a curling team competing at the European Championships.  Three years later, they are competing in Group B and could surprise a few teams/nations.  Sure they will be competing against teams with more experience and who have been around Group B (and Group A) in the past but Neeleman has fought hard to make curling relevant in the small soccer-crazed nation of Netherlands.  This would be a huge win for her and the Dutch to follow the footsteps of their male counterparts and qualify for Group A next year. #TeamOranje

Projected Standings

Group A
Men                                                                          Women

Norway (Ulsrud)                                                     Russia (Sidorova)

Sweden (Edin)                                                         Switzerland (Paetz)

Switzerland (De Cruz)                                            Scotland (Muirhead)

Finland (Kauste)                                                      Denmark (Nielson)

Scotland (Smith)                                                      Sweden (Ostlund)

Netherlands (van Dorp)                                          Germany (Driendl)

Russia (Arkhipov)                                                      Finland (Kauste)

Italy (Retornaz)                                                         Hungary (Palancsa)

Germany (Baumann)                                                Norway (Skaslien)

Czech Republic (Sik)                                                 Estonia (Molder)

Group B
Men                                                                             Women

Pool A                         Pool B                              Latvia
                                                                             Turkey
Denmark                     Latvia                               Czech Republic
Hungary                      Austria                             England
Wales                          England                            Netherlands
Turkey                        Israel                                 Italy
Belgium                     Croatia                              Poland
Poland                        Estonia                             Austria
Slovenia                     Slovakia                            France
Lithuania                    Spain                                 Slovakia

Qualifiers
Group A – Men:  Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Finland

Group A – Women:  Russia, Scotland, Switzerland, Denmark
Group B – Men:  Denmark, Hungary, Latvia, Austria

Group B – Women:  Latvia, Czech Republic, Turkey, England

Championships

MEN’S EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP:  Norway (Team Ulsrud) over Sweden (Team Edin)

MEN'S EUROPEAN BRONZE MEDAL:  Switzerland (De Cruz) over Finland (Kauste)

WOMEN’S EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP:  Russia (Team Sidorova) over Scotland (Team Muirhead)

WOMEN'S EUROPEAN BRONZE MEDAL:  Switzerland (Paetz) over Denmark (Nielson)

MEN’S B DIVISION CHAMPIONSHIP:  Denmark (Team Stjerne) over Latvia (Team Gulbis)

WOMEN’S B DIVISION CHAMPIONSHIP:  Latvia (Team Regza) over Turkey (Team Polat)

The European Championships are always one of the best events to follow on the annual curling calendar #SeasonofChampions.  The added bonus this year is the men's and women's champion will receive a berth in the season ending Champion's Cup.  With the European teams struggling at the grand slam events on tour this season, minus Switzerland's Silvana Tirinzoni winning the Tour Challenge, the opportunity to guarantee your spot at this massive end of year event is huge.

Back on North American soil, the #TwineTime vs @NerdCurl challenge is heating up.  NerdCurl won The National event to maintain a slim lead heading into the European Championships.  The point structure will be different for this event mind you as points will be collected for correctly predicting Final 4 and final placement (hence the bronze medal predictions above).  Have faith Canadian curling fans, #TwineTime can still win this competition....there is lots of curling still to come.

Following along with draw by draw results on CurlingZone or the official event website HERE.  Best of luck to all the teams also competing in Manitoba and Nova Scotia.  My apologies for not covering these two events this week but I think our European teams deserve the main focus given they are competing for a continental championship.

Enjoy rock heads and stoners....