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Thursday, 11 February 2016

#BetweenTheSheets: The #RoadToOttawa 
Enters the Home Stretch
Filling gaps on your #Brier2016 scorecard & USA Wheelchair Curling


Ok #curling fans, let's be honest with one another....how exciting is the month of February for this sport?  I mean honestly.  We have provincial/territorial championships for both men and women.  We have the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Grande Prairie.  We have preparation for the upcoming Tim Hortons Brier in Ottawa.  We see national championships south of the border with our friends in USA and across the pond throughout Europe.  In essence, the big picture path to the World Championships starts sinking in this month for most teams.  And the curling fans?  We are treated to top notch curling action online and on television every weekend.  Stoners and rock heads rejoice!!

The #2016Scotties field has been finalized and teams are putting in their final practice times on the ice, starting to think about what to pack and beginning to ask themselves exactly what they want to be eating during those wonderful 5th end break picnics while the camera is rolling.  For some teams, the Scotties dream may be over but there is still a few upcoming Grand Slam events to prepare for.  And for many teams, the off-season has arrived a bit too early.  Time to start thinking about the 2016/17 season.

While we take a break from women's curling for a moment, our attention shifts towards the final lap on the #RoadToOttawa.  Four spots remain on the start list and will be decided this weekend.  All four provincial championships have previous champions looking for repeats and teams dreaming of continuing the upset trend we saw with Scotties provincial playdowns.  However, before we get to the on-ice competition this week, let's bring in the first surprise guest to this week's blog.


Through the #TwineTime blog, my motto all season has been #growthesport.  For curling to succeed, we need to continue being creative, innovative and open minded to new ways to grow the sport for future generations.  Now, you may think I am going to go into a rant about #BroomGate (or whatever we are calling it now) but alas friendly follower you would be mistaken.  I would rather focus on the positives and a area of the sport we don't often see much coverage or mention: Wheelchair Curling.  

Did you know wheelchair curling has been a paralympic sport since 2006 (with Canada claiming all 3 gold medals thus far)?  Did you also know the World Wheelchair Curling Championships began in 2002 with 9 teams (Switzerland claiming the inaugural championship over Canada)?  Now, the world championships are held every year (with exception to Paralympic Years).  In fact, in 2015, there were 12 teams competing annually with an 11-team qualification event.  The sport began with 9 nations fielding teams and 13 years later we see 23 nations fielding a team.

Guest blogger and #TwineTime supporter Rebecca recently had the opportunity to surround herself with the USA Wheelchair Curling Team.  Welcome back Rebecca:



Curling is a sport that is constantly growing within the US.  We now have the partnership between ESPN and TSN for the Season of Champions.  More and more teams are starting to stream their games online.  Let’s not forget NBC’s Curling Night in America.  Beyond coverage of the game, the growth and push for dedicated ice in the western part of the US is in full force.  Out in Tempe, AZ, the Coyotes Curling Club has now been open around 2 years.  We have 4 sheets of dedicated ice that is proudly maintained by volunteers on Ice Crew led by Edmonton born, Level 2 Ice Technician Shawn Tait.  Our bonspiels are popular and fill up 32 team events within 45 minutes.  Teams from across the US and Canada have come to curl out here.  In a couple weeks we are excited to welcome Team Abe from Japan.  It is becoming busier and busier around the club.  The word is spreading and people are coming.  I’ve heard people even talking about choosing Phoenix as their place of retirement specifically because we have dedicated ice.  One thing that our club would benefit from is a curler development program.

Going into practice on Monday to see Patrick McDonald behind the bar was a good surprise.  He came to town a couple days early for the Team USA Wheelchair Curling Performance Camp.  Pat became my glimmer of hope to help me tweak my delivery.  I had the time to be down at the club with Pat while he is in town early practicing.  So he and I practiced together on Tuesday and Wednesday.  I greatly benefited from it because I was able to be evaluated, directed, and then corrected after practice.  I play in leagues twice a week, but I don’t have anyone that I play with regularly.  I want to become more consistent and competitive within my own club.  I was getting pretty good at dropping that ping pong ball into the red solo cups.  I wonder if that’s why Brad Jacob uses the Twitter handle @curlercups?

As we were practicing, we were also determining when each team member’s flight is coming in.  I was available for the week so I just offered to help where I was needed.  Quickly in a blink of the eye, it’s Thursday morning and I’m meeting the team and coaches at the hotel for breakfast and to go over to the club.  The team came here to practice last year before heading to Worlds.  I’ve been excited for them to come this year.  Last year only the 5 team members who were going to worlds, but this year all 8 team members were here for the team selection.

I am so impressed by the precision and accuracy that these curlers have achieved.  It was a long 3 days of drills. Complex shots including drawing behind corner guard, takeouts on the edges of the house, runbacks, and the all-important draw to the button.  What adds to the elegance and grace of wheelchair curling is that they don’t use sweepers during the game.  The players need to deliver the stone with the right line and weight right from the start.  In able-bodied curling, sweepers definitely influence the outcomes of the shot. 


All week I was itching to sweep the shots coming down the sheets to the houses.  On top of that, each night there would be curlers who would ask about subs in leagues for that night.  Our club was booked throughout the week, but I found a great compromise so that Pat did have a chance to play in a league game.  During my Friday night game, he delivered lead stones and I swept the other stones with the rest of the team.  Each end was started so well with Pat delivering a guard then a draw behind into the house.  It was a fun game to play and an easy W for the team. 

A great thing about curling is that you instantly know if you made the shot or you didn’t.  The challenge of curling is to identify those small tweaks that you have to do to add to consistency of your own game.  Like the saying goes, “Practice until you can’t miss the shot, not until you make the shot.”  During practice with Pat on Tuesday and Wednesday, we decided on some adjustments that I applied in my following games.  I’ll be darned, they worked!! Duh.


Spending my week at the club with the team has benefited me in so many ways.  I was able to see different techniques and drills to evaluate the players.  I joined the team during the sports psych day and gained new knowledge and inspiration from Lanny Bassham.  He is an American sports shooter who won a gold medal in the 1976 Summer Olympics, and a silver medal in the 1972 Summer Olympics.  If Coach Steve Brown has invited him to speak, then it’s smart to listen.


It became time for the coaches to decide which curlers made the team.  Even I was nervous waiting for their decision.  I had formed my own judgments, but I didn’t add them into the mix.  After the wait was over, everyone reacted differently, but the team came together to support each other.  They are still Team USA, but 3 of them will be on the alternate list instead of going to Worlds.  Each athlete is admiral keeping their composure after the results and supporting each other.  I was definitely inspired by their bond as a team.  Check out the press release naming all of the members going to Worlds.


The biggest take away that I got from the week is that there are so many different ways to be involved with curling without actually being on the ice.  I was lucky enough to find an article by Team USA talking about the WCF Coach Mentorprogram.  I am fortunate enough to have all of the right ducks lined up in a row so that I can go to Jacksonville to learn more about the coaching side of curling.  Not only do I get to dive into my new interest of coaching and leadership within a team, I will get to see some of the games at the USA Nationals competition.  Going to Jacksonville is definitely a great step in the right direction towards growing the players in our club.


Who knows what my future holds, but so far I’m working on certifications for Instructor, Wheelchair Instructor, Officiating, and now a coaching program.  That reminds me, I need to go figure out paperwork. 



Thank you Rebecca for providing some great insight into #WheelchairCurling and continuing to help #growthesport.  Need another reason to get excited for curling in February?  The 2016 World Wheelchair Curling Championships take place February 21 - 28 in Lucerne, Switzerland.  Can Russia repeat their 2015 championship and claim their 3rd title in 4 years?  Can China continue their steady climb up the podium, seeing bronze medal finishes in 2013 and 2014 jumping to runner-up last year?  Can Canada add to their record 3 World Championship victories?  And can Team USA, as mentioned above, find the podium for the first time since a bronze medal finish in 2008?  For more information, check out WheelchairCurling.com.  

Let's shift our focus to the intense competitions hitting the ice this week.  We have the remaining #2016Brier slate to fill out, USA Curling is going to crown their men's and women's national champions and Scotland will do the same in determining their representatives at the upcoming World Championships.

Tim Hortons Brier Qualifying




Last weekend we added three more names to the competition list.  And what a trifecta is was.  All three have loads of Brier experience, further shaping the 2016 Tim Hortons Brier to be one of the most competitive and star-studded events we have seen.  As we venture down the final turn towards completing qualification, here are the representatives who have already punched their ticket to Ottawa:


Team Canada – Pat Simmons
Nunavut – Wade Kingdon
Yukon – Bob Smallwood
Nova Scotia – Jamie Murphy
Quebec – Jean-Michel Menard
Northwest Territories - Jamie Koe
Newfoundland & Labrador - Brad Gushue
P.E.I. - Adam Casey
Saskatchewan - Steve Laycock
Ontario - Glenn Howard
New Brunswick - Mike Kennedy

Get ready though folks, this week brings some of the most anticipated provincial playdowns of the season, namely Alberta and Manitoba.  Let's dive into the preview and predictions for the 4 remaining champions:

British Columbia

2015 Champion:  Jim Cotter

Format:  16-team triple knockout with 4 qualifiers advancing to the page playoff.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Cotter, Team Joanisse

W2W4: Jim Cotter will try to follow in the footsteps of his Saskatchewan counterpart Steve Laycock last weekend and complete the #3peat.  In fact, Cotter will be aiming for his 5th title in the past 6 years...a dynasty almost you could call it.  Cotter will see some familiar names trying to knock him off the championship perch with previous champion (2007) and last year runner-up Dean Joanisse and 2009 Champion Sean Gaell (buoyed by 2013 champ Andrew Bilesky at vice) competing.  Joanisse should be the biggest challenger though, feeding off last year's championship final run and seeming to be the strongest team outside of Cotter in the competition.  Looking for a darkhorse though (as we always are here at #TwineTime)?  I would place my odds on Chase Martyn.  This is Martyn's first year calling the shots in the house but does have a runner-up finish on tour this season in one of their three events.  Big picture though, Cotter will be difficult to take down this week.

Playoff Teams:  Team Cotter, Team Joanisse, Team Martyn, Team Geall

British Columbia Champion:  Team Cotter over Team Joanisse

Alberta

2015 Champion:  Kevin Koe  

Format:  12-team triple knockout with 4 qualifiers advancing to the page playoff.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Koe, Team Thomas, Team Bottcher

W2W4: We have a theme developing folks...Kevin Koe will also be gunning for the #3peat this week at the Boston Pizza Cup.  In fact, Koo-Dawg will be aiming for title number 5 in 7 years.  Team Koe will be the overwhelming favourite to punch the Alberta ticket to Ottawa.  These boys have been hot this season, winning 4 events including the opening slam Tour Challenge and the Canada Cup.  They have also qualified in all 9 events they have played in.  Last year's runner-up Team Bottcher and bronze medallist Mick Lizemore also return to make another run at Koe's title.  Both should provide stiff competition once again.  However, the biggest threat should come from Charley Thomas and his new team.  Team Thomas has played 10 events this season, qualified in 8 and collected one title.  Also, they are fresh off a SF finish at the Golden Wrench event in Arizona last month.  Koe should win...but in a one-game final, Thomas could pull the Jenn Hanna of men's qualifying this weekend.

Playoff Teams:  Team Koe, Team Thomas, Team Bottcher, Team Lizemore

Alberta Champion:  Team Koe over Team Thomas

Manitoba

2015 Champion:  Reid Carruthers  

Format:  32-team double knockout with 8 qualifiers advancing to Championship Knockout.  The Championship Knockout is a double elimination with a Final 4 advancing to the page playoff.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Carruthers, Team McEwen, Team Dunstone, Team Lyburn, Team Forrest, Team Peters

W2W4:  Ready for the most confusing and crazy provincial championship ever?  Bring on Manitoba!  Basically a 32-team double double knockout with a page playoff at the end.  Win 7 games in a row, you claim the Buffalo.  Lose just one game and the path gets longer.  Lose two and see ya later.  The storylines for this championship are endless.  Will this FINALLY be the year Mike McEwen and #redpants make the Brier?  Can Reiarama show last year's title wasn't a fluke and they are indeed the present and future of men's curling in Manitoba?  What about current Canadian Junior champion Team Dunstone?  Could #DunnyIsMoney continue and become the first team to claim a Canadian Junior and Brier appearance in the same season?  And what would happen in this instance considering the Brier and World Junior Curling Championships are held at the same time?  I spoke with skip Matt Dunstone before play began and even he admitted he wasn't too sure what would be the end result (although I think he wanted to remain humble and not look too far ahead with a huge competition staring him in the face).  Imagine if Dunstone beats, say, McEwen in the final?  And let's say Dunstone stays committed to wearing the Maple Leaf in Denmark.  Would McEwen nab his first Brier appearance as the Manitoba runner-up?  What a story that would make!  Don't get too excited on the trifecta above though.  Watch out for Willie Lyburn and his team, streaking towards the end of the season themselves, qualifying in 3 of the previous 4 events after failing to qualify in their first 5.  And what about Alex Forrest and Daley Peters?  Both of these teams have experience at this level and on tour and will also be a threat.  Many may talk about all eyes being on Manitoba because of the McEwen and Carruthers teams but don't overlook just how many contending teams are in this field.  If either of the top 2 slip up just an inch in any game, they can be beaten.  And if Scotties playdowns taught us anything, expect the unexpected this season perhaps?  Weird sidenote about this crazy draw...the competition starts Wednesday and by the end of the day 4 teams will already be eliminated.  4 teams invest the time and money to compete at a provincial championship only to be eliminated in 1 day.  The draw also uses a "pod" mentality meaning the draw is broken up into 4 quadrants.  Each quadrant will result in an A and B qualifier.  The teams do not play teams in other quadrants unless the qualify.  The result?  The same 8 teams play one another in a mini RR of sorts, only playing another.  Personally, I don't like it.  No tour event uses this "pod" system nor does any grand slam.  The knockout draw alone is a bit crazy but then to add this layer on top seems a bit stupid.  How does it even seem fair?  And yet we sit here and wonder why playdown participation numbers overall are low across the country?  #TheGreatDivide continues....

Qualified Teams:  Team McEwen, Team Dennis Bohn, Team Dunstone, Team Lyburn, Team Peters, Team Forrest, Team Carruthers, Team Kolomaya

Championship Teams:  Team McEwen, Team Dunstone, Team Carruthers, Team Lyburn

Manitoba Champion:  Team McEwen over Team Dunstone

Northern Ontario

2015 Champion:  Brad Jacobs

Format:  8-team round robin with Top 3 advancing to the championship playoff.

Top Team Entered:  Team Jacobs

W2W4:  Can the Jacobs train be stopped in Northern Ontario?  Brad Jacobs will aim for his 6th title in 7 years, missing 2014 because he was just winning an Olympic Gold Medal...no biggie!  With no disrespect to the other 7 teams competing this week, I find it very hard to see anyone mounting much of a challenge to Team Jacobs.  This team struggled (by their standards) to hoist a title in 2015 but opened 2016 with a win at the TSN Skins Game.  This victory was just the confidence this team needed to really make them dangerous.  Sure, let's give the field a chance and say perhaps they MAYBE drop 1 game in the round robin, they should lock up the bye to the final and in a one-game playoff, I take Jacobs over the field anyday.  Pay close attention though to current Northern Ontario Junior Champion Team Horgan, fresh off the Canadian Junior final.  They open the event playing Team Jacobs, which could be a huge blessing for them.  If they can stay close and competitive with the Olympic champs, it could provide the motivation and confidence they need right now after a tough national championship loss to make a deep run here.  I wouldn't underestimate this young team...they have eerily similar hitting ability to the favourites. 

Playoff Teams:  Team Jacobs, Team Koivula, Team Assad

Northern Ontario Champion:  Team Jacobs over Team Koivula

USA National Curling Championships


While most of the attention within the curling world seems focused on the playdowns in Canada, curling fans south of the border flocked to Jacksonville, Florida this week for the USA National Curling Championships.  Yup, this is not a misprint my friends.  As we speak (or as you read I should say) curling is taking place...on ice....in the cold....in Florida?  Now talk about #growthesport?!?

MEN

2015 Champion: John Shuster

Format:  10-team round robin with Top 4 advancing to the page playoff.

Top Team Entered:  Team Shuster, Team Brown, Team Clark, Team McCormick, Team Dropkin, Team Fenson

W2W4:   Let's be honest, this is Shuster's title to win (or lose depending how you want to look at it).  Shuster has easily been the strongest men's team in the US this season.  Three titles to his credit.  Three grand slams played in, including making the SF at the season opening Tour Challenge.  They enter this event fresh off a QF finish at the Golden Wrench in Arizona, the only host nation team to qualify for the playoffs.  The field is strong, littered with former champions like Brown, Clark, McCormick, Fenson, Birr.  Add in the top two junior teams, fresh off battling one another for the USA Junior Championship, Dropkin and Clawson and two up and coming teams in Corbett and Leichter and you have a fairly competitive field actually.  I don't see any team sliding through the house undefeated this week.  And while Shuster will be the one who should take home the title over the weekend, the final three teams joining him in the playoffs is almost a coin flip between the other 9 teams.  Will experience reign supreme?  Can the youth movement make their mark?  Will we see upset fever move south of the border?  This should be an entertaining event to keep an eye on curling fans.

Playoff Teams:  Team Shuster, Team Brown, Team Clark, Team Dropkin 


USA Men's National Curling Champion:  Team Shuster over Team Brown

WOMEN


2015 Champion:  Erika Brown   

Format:  7-team round robin with Top 4 advancing to the page playoff.

Top Team Entered:  Team Brown, Team Sinclair, Team Roth, Team Christensen  

W2W4:  Unlike the men, I think we will see a quick divide in the standings as this round robin plays out.  The top 3 women's teams in the US are quite clear above the pack: Brown, Sinclair and Roth.  Similar to the men however, I do not see any of these teams going undefeated this week.  The first team to slip up and suffer that dreaded second loss could find themselves in the 3vs4 page playoff game with no second chance opportunity at the title.  Remember last year when the top 3 teams after the round robin all had identical 8-1 records?  An 8-1 Team Christensen found themselves in the 3vs4 game....with only 1 loss!  Also similar to the men's competition, we will see a continued trend in junior curling success with current USA Junior Champions Team Christensen competing for the title again this year.  Last year's amazing run through the round robin ended with a tough loss in the 3vs4 game against a very experienced Patti Lank squad.  Christensen can feed off the experience last year and the momentum of the junior title to make a competitive run at the title here.  In the end though, as Shuster is the overwhelming choice on the men's side of the draw, expect Brown to play a similar role on the women's side.  Besides Madison, WI has claimed the past three champions of this event (Brown x 2, Nina Spatola), why bet against Badger Nation now?  Even though the projected other 3 playoff teams all come from Blaine, MN.  What a Big 10 battle we have going here.

Playoff Teams:  Team Brown, Team Sinclain, Team Roth, Team Christensen 

USA Women's National Curling Champion:  Team Brown over Team Sinclair

Scottish Curling Championships

Oh we are not done yet my friends...I told you at the beginning of this blog post we had a lot of exciting curling coverage to get to.  We travelled through Canada.  Took a detour in sunny Florida.  And we end our weekly journey in the birthplace of the sport: Scotland!

MEN

2015 Champion:  Ewan MacDonald

Format:  10-team round robin with Top 4 advancing to the page playoff.

Top Team Entered:  Team Murdoch, Team Brewster, Team MacDonald, Team Mouat, Team Smith  

W2W4:  Can David Murdoch ever win another Scottish championship?  Murdoch is without a doubt the most well-known Scottish male curling on the planet over the past 10 years....yet his last win here came in 2009.  And who was his vice back then?  Current two-time defending champion Ewan MacDonald!  How is that for irony?  Ok, perhaps I am being a bit unfair to David, he did win the title in 2013 as vice for Tom Brewster.  Speaking of Brewster, he is back vying for another title as well after completing the #3peat of his own from 2011-2013.  Of course his team back then is now Mr. Murdoch's current team.  Quite the drama across the pond isn't there?  And what about those darkhorse picks?  Well pay attention to Team Mouat and Team Smith.  Team Mouat is the two-time Scottish junior champ, who will be in Denmark looking to improve on his bronze medal finish from a year ago.  The Mouat team also has a tour victory under their belts this season at the Dumfries Challenger Series.  And Kyle Smith...well he just happened to win the World Junior title in 2013 and was a runner-up in 2014.  Similar to his young compatriot, Smith also has a tour title this season (Edinburgh International)  Both of these teams are ready to make the leap towards the men's championship.   

Playoff Teams:  Team Murdoch, Team Brewster, Team MacDonald, Team Mouat


Scottish Men's National Curling Champion:  Team Brewster over Team Murdoch

WOMEN


2015 Champion:  Eve Muirhead

Format:  8-team round robin with Top 4 advancing to the page playoff.

Top Team Entered:  Team Muirhead

W2W4:  The 5-time champion Muirhead will be the team to watch all week.  She should see little resistance from the other 7 teams trying to sweep her out of the house and claim the title for themselves.  Muirhead is one of the best in the world, fresh off the Continental Cup appearance and runner-up finish at the European Championships.  The only question mark surrounding this team is the fact they have yet to pick up a tour title this season.  But what better place to start the victory party?  The biggest challengers should come from two other young skips: Hannah Flemming and Lauren Gray.  Strange to think the top 3 on the podium at this event could be skips all born in the 1990's.  Feel old yet?   

Playoff Teams:  Team Muirhead, Team Flemming, Team Gray, Team Aitken

Scottish Women's National Curling Champion:  Team Muirhead over Team Flemming

Alright friends, what a blog we had this week.  Thank you for reading through it!  Thank you to Rebecca for re-joining the #TwineTime family as a guest blogger.  As always, pay attention to CurlingZone and CurlingGeek for up to date scores, draws and playoff standings all week and weekend.

Oh right....I promised another surprise announcement this week didn't I?  Well, here it is friends.  Stay tuned for next week's big Scotties preview blog post when #TwineTime adds another member to the family...this time 2015 Ontario Champion skip Julie Hastings!!!  Julie will join me for a player profile and offer her insight into what to expect in Grande Prairie.

#RockOn