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Friday, 29 January 2016

#BetweenTheSheets: Rounding Out The Scotties Field
Provincial / Territorial Playdowns Continue


What. A. Week.  There was so much #curling coverage last weekend even fans didn’t know which way to turn.  Provincial playoffs dominated the agenda for most curling fans and between Sportsnet, CurlingGeek and CurlingZone fans were left channel jumping, page refreshing and internet clicking to find the results.  It was pure madness....and we loved every moment of it!  Plus we saw historical results at the Canadian Junior Curling Championship!!

This weekend should be no different as we round out the #Scotties2016 field, continue to watch the #Brier2016 field grow and crown new Canadian Junior Curling Champions.  But let’s focus on the main conversation piece from last weekend in our #GunnerRunback: What happened to Homan?

As I am sure all of you know Team Homan lost the Ontario Scotties final to Team Hanna last Sunday.  The upset caused curling message boards and twitter to go crazy.  The dominant team on tour all season will not be competing in Grande Prairie this season...what a tragedy!  Or is it?  Are we curling fans becoming a bit too fickle with our curling expectations?  Throughout the grand slam season we often hear complaints on how we always see the same teams at every event and every week on TV.  We want change.  We demand change.  We now have change!  We want Homan.  We want Sweeting.  We want Fleury.  We want Scott.  Wait...what?  We want change...we get change...we want the same teams back at the Scotties?  Ok fans, we can’t have our cake and eat it too.  I am 100% on the Change Train.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of Homan and Sweeting and others but this changing of the guard is not necessarily a bad thing.  Look at playdown numbers.  Fewer teams are entering because of the belief they cannot beat the top teams.  When we see top teams become “upset” victims, should this not give hope to more of the Tier II teams or up and coming teams around the country?  This is sports...ANYONE is beatable! 


And should we really be that upset with how this Scotties field is playing out?  The teams who “upset” the favorites are not exactly unknown names.  If anything, the theme this year truly is “Welcome Back...We Missed You”.  Look who is returning this year, familiar names such as Jenn Hanna, Chelsea Carey, Marie-France Larouche and Krista McCarville.  All four of these ladies have been on the national stage before...and all four have found the podium in their previous Scotties appearances.  And what about the new names?  Jill Brothers is a former Canadian Junior Champion.  Kerri Einarson won The Tour Challenge Tier II event earlier this season and, after back-to-back Manitoba Scotties finals losses, finally breaks through to win her first buffalo.  Before we start complaining about missing some of the top female teams on tour and the crowd favorites, why not take a look at the field we have right now and embrace and celebrate a new look to the Scotties field.  This could be the perfect opportunity for some of these teams to make a push towards the national stage and with curling fans across the country.  Let’s not take away the success and celebration of those teams who did win their provincial/territorial championship by saying “I won’t watch the Scotties now that Homan/Sweeting isn’t there”.  Celebrate the change, embrace the excitement and enjoy the anticipation.  This is the opportunity to #growthesport.

On deck this weekend is also the playoffs for the Canadian Junior Curling Championships.  I have to admit, the #TwineTime predictions from a week ago are still looking pretty decent at this stage.  For a full reminder, click HERE.  As we stand right now, on the men’s side Northern Ontario’s Tanner Horgan has a bye to the championship final on Sunday.  He currently awaits the SF winner between Manitoba’s Matt Dunstone and British Columbia’s Tyler Tardi.  On the women’s side, Nova Scotia’s Mary Fay sits comfortably in the championship while she waits to see who her opponent will be.  British Columbia’s Sarah Daniels already booked her semifinal spot but she will need to await a tiebreaker result between Manitoba’s Abby Ackland and New Brunswick’s Justine Comeau.  Manitoba and British Columbia have the opportunity to claim both championships for their province...a feat last accomplished by Alberta in 2012.  Interesting random fact for all of you....2012 was actually the 3rd consecutive year a province pulled the double championship with Saskatchewan winning both in 2011 and Ontario starting the trend in 2010.  Crazy!  Stay tuned to TSN for live coverage of the men’s and women’s semi-finals and finals on Saturday and Sunday.

Before we get into the preview and predictions for this upcoming weekend, let’s take a moment and congratulate the Nunavut men’s and women’s junior teams for their outstanding play this week at the Canadian Junior Curling Championships.  Both men’s and women’s teams recorded their first ever victories on the national stage...and in back-to-back days with the women claiming the first win and the men following suit the next day.  In fact, the women would go on to collect another victory a few days later and finish 2-7.  The Nunavut women were actually the unofficial Territories champions of the event as they defeated their fellow Territories competitors from Yukon and Northwest Territories.  How about that for a result?


Now let’s get to the fun stuff...what is going on this weekend.  We have more Scotties coverage across the province as we finalize our #RoadToGP.  The #RoadToOttawa will grow as well this weekend in crowning a few more provincial/territorial champions.  Hop in the hack, give the rock a spin and hang on tight....here come the predictions.

Scotties Tournament of Hearts Qualifying

The #RoadToGP has been a tough one for many teams, as stated above.  But the field is starting to take shape and many provinces/territories have finalized their representatives.  Here is a look at the field:

Team Canada – Jennifer Jones
P.E.I. – Suzanne Birt
Yukon – Nicole Baldwin
Nunavut – Geneva Chislett
British Columbia – Karla Thompson
Alberta – Chelsea Carey
Manitoba – Kerri Einarson
Ontario – Jenn Hanna
Northern Ontario – Krista McCarville
Quebec – Marie-France Larouche
Nova Scotia – Jill Brothers

Remember folks, the pre-qualification event takes place before the official start of the Scotties once again this year with B.C., Yukon, Nunavut and N.W.T. participating.  We still need to complete the field with representatives from Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories, Newfoundland & Labrador and New Brunswick.  All 4 will be determined by Sunday.  Let’s continue our winding #RoadToGP:

Saskatchewan

2015 Champion:  Stefanie Lawton

Format:  12-team round robin with two groups of 6.  Top two in each pool advance to the page playoff.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Lawton, Team Anderson, Team Englot

W2W4:  This may be the most competitive Saskatchewan Scotties we have seen in awhile.  Sure Lawton will be the favorite but if she slips up by the slightest inch, there are actually quite a few names ready to take the title from her.  As we saw last weekend, nothing is certain and upsets can occur at any time.  Michelle Englot is a former champ who has been curling quite well on tour this season and seems to be the best challenger for the title.  Eyes will also be on Sherry Anderson.  After leaving Team Lawton last season, Anderson returns to skipping duties this season with a new, young team behind her.  Watch out as well for Kim Schneider, former third of Amber Holland and past Canadian Champion.  Schneider has teamed up with Laura Strong, former Scotties participant with her sister Laura in Newfoundland.  And if you like the dark horse contenders watch out for Jolene Campbell and Robyn Silvernagle.  Both are no strangers to this event and both are ready to break through the wall and claim a SK title.  Overall, Lawton finds herself in the easier pool with the biggest challenge being Campbell and Schneider.  Englot will have a battle on her hands facing Anderson, Silvernagle and up and comer Kelsey Dutton.

Playoff Teams:  Team Lawton, Team Campbell, Team Englot, Team Silvernagle

Saskatchewan Champion:   Team Lawton over Team Englot

Northwest Territories

2015 Champion:  Kerry Galusha 

Format:  4-team double round robin.  If a team goes undefeated, they automatically win the championship.  If all teams have at least one loss, the top two teams advance to the championship final.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Galusha

W2W4:  Can anyone stop Galusha from claiming her 13th NWT title?  Let’s be honest, Kerry Galusha is the face of curling in NWT.  Whenever someone mentions #polarpower in curling conversation, Galusha is the name that comes to mind.  Only 4 times has a team from Northwest Territories defeated Team Canada at the Scotties...and Galusha has been the winning skip in 3 of those victories.  She has the skill and determination to do well.  Everyone remembers the heartbreak pre-qualification final when Fleury’s Northern Ontario rink defeated Galusha’s NWT team to advance to the Scotties field and eliminate Galusha.  The tears of sadness and disappointment flashed across the screens of Canadian curling fans everywhere...leading to massive outrage and, eventually, was the major starting point to the ultimate future elimination of the pre-qualification after 2018.  I cannot see Galusha really be challenged for the title this year and fully expect to see #polarpower reign supreme in the Northern Alberta City of Grande Prairie.

Playoff Teams:  Team Galusha, Team Goucher

Northwest Territories Champion:  Team Galusha over Team Goucher

Newfoundland & Labrador

2015 Champion:  Heather Strong 

Format:  3-team double round robin.  If a team goes undefeated, they automatically win the championship.  If all teams have at least one loss, the top two teams advance to the championship final.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Strong

W2W4:  Similar to Team Galusha above, can anyone step up and knock off Heather Strong?  Also similar to Galusha, Strong will be aiming to claim her 13th NL title.  The disappointing reality of this event is having only three teams competing.  Whichever team does survive the weekend will still not have a ton of experience and ice time under their belt heading into the Scotties.  As mentioned in the opening comments, here is a perfect example of the struggles to #growthesport.  A provincial championship with only three teams is just not acceptable.  Hopefully the NL Curling Association can figure out a plan to generate more interest and buzz in the sport moving forward.  Having said that, this is still actually a top notch field...even if it is only three teams.  We all know Heather Strong’s resume but look at who she is battling this weekend.  Stacey Curtis (nee Devereaux) was the first female skip from NL to win a Canadian Junior Championship (2007).  She is also a two-time NL champion, having been to the Scotties in 2011 and 2013.  Shelley Hardy (nee Nichols) also boasts an impressive resume chalk full of experience.  Hardy owns a Canadian Mixed Championship (won with brother Mark from Team Gushue) in 2006.  Hardy also previously competed at the Scotties (2006, 2007) with Heather Strong and skipped her own team to a Scotties appearance in 2010.  I smell an upset occurring this weekend in St. John’s.

Playoff Teams:  Team Strong, Team Curtis

Newfoundland & Labrador Champion:  Team Curtis over Team Strong

New Brunswick

2015 Champion:  Sylvie Robichaud 

Format:  5-team round robin with top 3 teams advancing to playoff round.  First place receiving a bye to the championship final with other two playoff teams advancing to the semifinal.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Robichaud, Team Tatlock

W2W4:  Could we see a changing of the guard in New Brunswick?  If last weekend taught us anything it is to perhaps expect the unexpected in provincial finals this year.  This could be another province to produce an “upset” champion.  Sylvie Robichaud enters as the returning champ but she will find some tough competition.  The biggest challenger should come from Shannon Tatlock.  Team Tatlock is only in their second year together but has really grown as a team.  They have competed in more events on tour and have had strong results, including a 5th place finish at the New Scotland Clothing Ladies Cashspiel.  Last year’s NB Scotties finalist Melissa Adams also returns hoping to finally break through after having lost the final in two of the past three years.

Playoff Teams:  Team Tatlock, Team Robichaud, Team Adams

New Brunswick Champion:  Team Tatlock over Team Robichaud

Tim Hortons Brier Qualifying


Last weekend we added two more names to the Tim Hortons Brier slate in Ottawa, crowing champions in Quebec and Nova Scotia.  As we head into this weekend’s action, here is the current lineup for Ottawa:

Team Canada – Pat Simmons
Nunavut – Wade Kingdon
Yukon – Bob Smallwood
Nova Scotia – Jamie Murphy
Quebec – Jean-Michel Menard

The #RoadToOttawa is going to continue to grow in the coming weeks.  This weekend starts the journey for teams in NWT, Newfoundland & Labrador and PEI.  Here is a preview and prediction for each of these championships:

Northwest Territories

2015 Champion:  Jamie Koe 

Format:  7-team round robin with top two teams advancing to the championship final.  If a team goes through the round robin undefeated, they must be defeated twice in the playoffs. 

Top Teams Entered:  Team Koe 

W2W4:  Can Jamie Koe claim his 10th Brier appearance or will someone step up to knock him off?  Koe has competed at the Brier for the past 7 years and 9 of the past 10 (only missing 2008).  Koe has dominated the men’s curling scene in the North for the past decade and will look to continue this trend.  Koe has surrounded himself with a slightly different team, adding Chris Schille as vice this year.  Many may be familiar with Schille, having previously lost a Brier final playing under the NL crest with Brad Gushue (2007) and as recent as 2013 played in the Brier with Brock Virtue representing SK.  Schille also has the notorious distinction of being the first player to be ejected from a competitive curling match, occurring during the 2013 SK provincial championship due to foul language.  Schille could end up at the Brier though with his 3rd different jacket and provincial/territorial crest on his back.  Koe could find his biggest threat coming from a former teammate, Tom Naugler.  Naugler is now the vice for former NWT champion (2010) Greg Skauge.  As well, former champ Steve Moss returns to try and knock off his rival and make a Brier appearance.  Remember, the NWT champion also has to contest the pre-qualification event this year in Ottawa...and we all know how Koe feels about that!

Playoff Teams:  Team Koe, Team Skauge

NWT Champion:  Team Koe over Team Skauge

Newfoundland & Labrador

2015 Champion:  Brad Gushue 

Format:  6-team round robin with top two teams advancing to the championship final.  If a team goes through the round robin undefeated, they must be defeated twice in the playoffs.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Gushue

W2W4:  Yay for competition!!  Last year saw almost laughable, if not for the sake of ultimate sadness, when only 2 teams competed for the NL title.  This year the number triples....to 6!  Ok, only 6 but still...the competition TRIPLED!!  Doesn’t that sound a bit more positive at least?  All joking aside, all eyes will be on Brad Gushue this weekend.  After watching the dominant Team Homan crash and burn in a provincial final last weekend, can Gushue avoid the same fate?  The Goo has been rolling through the men’s tour this season and this seems to be his year to make a strong Brier run.  With the Brier coming to St. John’s, NL is 2017, perhaps this is also the best thing for NL curling.  If Gushue can win this weekend, take the title in Ottawa in March, NL would have 2 teams represented at home in 2017.  Recognizing this opportunity, do the teams competing this week almost hope for a Gushue win and Brier win maximizing their opportunity for next year?  No, I am not suggesting we delve down into the match fixing scandal tennis is dealing with right now...but it still is worth thinking about.  If you are, say Colin Thomas, are you really that disappointed to lose this weekend?  Thomas should be the biggest challenge to Gushue again this weekend.  Thomas has been knocking on the Brier door for many years now, losing the final to Gushue in 2013 and 2014 (Thomas did not compete last season).  Perhaps a Thomas loss in the final this weekend could be the best thing for him? 

Playoff Teams:  Team Gushue, Team Thomas

Newfoundland & Labrador Champion:  Team Gushue over Team Thomas 

PEI

2015 Champion:  Adam Casey

Format:  6-team triple knockout.  If a team wins the A, B and C qualifier, no playoffs needed and team automatically wins the championship.  If a team wins two of the three qualifiers, they earn a spot in the semi-final and final and must be defeated twice in the playoffs.  If A, B and C produce different winners, A winner automatically advances to the championship while B and C qualifiers play in the semi-final.  Got all that?

Top Teams Entered:  Team Casey 

W2W4:  Yay...no relegation this season looming over the PEI Tankard!  Last season, PEI knew they would be starting the road towards a Brier championship in the pre-qualification event.  Thanks to Team Casey’s performance of winning the pre-qualification and strong play at the Brier, this year’s champion does not have the added stress and pressure Team Casey faced last season (in their first season together and as PEI champs no less).  Casey will be the favorite to win this event and return to the Brier in Ottawa.  While they have not had the strong results on tour this season as compared to last, they have still been playing the best teams in the world all season and competing strong.  This alone should give them the advantage over their opposition who have not had the same schedule.  Plus, for fans, I think many want to see lead Robbie Doherty back recording vids in the Brier Patch (YouTube them if you haven’t seen them yet...quite hilarious).  But it won’t be easy for Casey.  Last year’s PEI Tankard finalist Jamie Newson returns to the field this year.  Three-time champion (2011, 2013, 2014) Eddie MacKenzie is also back after taking last season off and will be looking to make it 3 titles in 4 years.  Also back in the fold is 8-time PEI Tankard champ Robert Campbell.  Add in the 3 Tyler’s competing (MacKenzie, Harris, Smith) and this is a good field.  The biggest challenge could come from Tyler MacKenzie though, who added Campbell as vice for a lineup change this season.  In fact, Casey is the only full returning team from a year ago.  Even last year’s finalist Newson has a new team behind him.  While perhaps not a contender for the title, keep an eye out for Tyler Smith.  Smith was the 2013 and 2015 PEI junior champion and is making his first big move to men’s curling this season.  It will be interesting to see if he can challenge the more experienced top teams in his first season and first PEI Tankard. 

Playoff Teams:  Team Casey, Team T. MacKenzie

PEI Champion:  Team Casey over Team T. MacKenzie

Alright rock heads and stoners, time to get excited for more high-drama curling action this weekend.  After spending last weekend at the North Hill Curling Club watching the Alberta Scotties, it will be a bit of a change to follow along with all the curling action sitting on my couch in sweatpants with a beer in my hand.  Thank you once again to CurlingGeek for letting me geek away at the AB Scotties last weekend.  I had a great time covering the games, talking to a few of the curlers and engaging with fans of the sport both in person and online.  It is worth pointing out, CurlingGeek truly does #growthesport and unite people.  At one point on Friday night, I was chatting with curling fans from across North America, Europe, Asia and even Brazil.  I also had numerous fans watching the action alongside me in person come up and just say thank you for the coverage CurlingGeek brings them on a regular basis.  Even Val Sweeting’s mom came up to me and said she needed to shake my hand and say thank you for the volunteer time all the geeks put in during the curling season.  While there may still be lots of areas of growth for curling and some issues the sport needs to sort out, curling fans around the globe continue to be some of the most passionate, knowledgeable and friendly sports fans I have ever encountered in my life!

Rock on #curling nation!!