Thursday, 4 February 2016

#BetweenTheSheets: Tankard Times!
The #RoadToOttawa heats up and time to celebrate new Canadian Junior Champions

This is a week of celebration for many curlers across the country.  We have new Canadian Junior Curling Champions.  We have our full roster of teams for the Scotties as the #RoadToGP wrapped up last Sunday evening in Saskatchewan (with...of course...another upset).  And we celebrate a few more teams completing their #RoadToOttawa with provincial/territorial championships.  Yup, welcome to February...time to celebrate indeed.

First off, HUGE congrats to our new Canadian Junior Curling Champions:  Team Matt Dunstone (Manitoba) and Team Mary Fay (Nova Scotia).  Both teams truly put on a clinic over the past week with dominating performances proving Canada is once again set up as a favorite heading into the World Junior Curling Championships in Denmark at the beginning of March.  Team Dunstone got revenge for their only blemish over the week, knocking off Team Horgan's Northern Ontario rink in a dominating fashion Sunday afternoon.  Dunstone was the clear top dog all week, as shown with his 1st Team All Star title and highest overall curling percentage of any player at the event, male or female (90%).  By Sunday evening, the entire country truly was saying #DunnyIsMoney!  I have been saying it for the past two seasons on this blog, Matt Dunstone is the future of Canadian curling.  Team Dunstone is not done yet though as they have the upcoming Manitoba provincials to play in before departing for Denmark.  If I was Team McEwen or defending champion Team Carruthers, I would not be too excited about facing this team.  It is not out of the question to see the unthinkable happen where Dunstone captures the Canadian Junior and Manitoba men's titles back to back.  Watch out #redpants and #Reidarama!

Props also to Mary Fay and her Nova Scotia rink who, similar to Team Dunstone, were clearly the top team all week.  After locking up first place in the round robin and the bye to the final, they were able to sit back and watch Team B.C. (Sarah Daniels) and Team New Brunswick (Justine Comeau) battle it out in the semifinal.  While Daniels and her team looked calm, cool and collected in the would be almost a comedy of errors in the final with both Team B.C. and Team Nova Scotia trading back and forth errors with neither team either to take advantage of the other's mistakes.  However, as a championship team does, Team Fay was able to seize the moment at the perfect time and claim the victory.  Fay has been here before and has tasted the podium but was still looking to stand at the top.  This was her seemed destined in the stars for most of the season.  Fay will also be pulling some double duty wearing the maple leaf as she heads to the Winter Youth Olympics in Norway to compete in mixed doubles (joining teammate Karlee Burgess and Team B.C. boys bronze medalist Tyler Tardi) beginning February 12.

Sidenote: #TwineTime came through with some excellent predictions for the Canadian Junior Curling Championship going 12/16 on championship pool qualifiers (only because I only predicted 12..oops!), 3/4 on finalists and a perfect 2/2 on championship outcome.  Not too bad I would say!

Our next moment of congratulations goes to the 15 teams who navigated the tricky, and often bumpy, #RoadToGP and will now proudly wear their provincial/territorial colors at the 2016 Scotties Tournament of Hearts.  We saw a number of upsets along the way; however, is this not something we have been asking for most of the season?  In Grande Prairie we will finally get to see some fresh new faces, welcome back some past provincial champions and perhaps see the upset train continue?  Could this be 2011 all over again when everyone laid witness to Amber Holland's Saskatchewan rink claiming the Canadian title?  Holland entered the event being considered a long shot for the title but wound up dethroning defending champion Jennifer Jones in the final.  Hmmm....look who is the defending champion in Grande Prairie too?  #HistoryRepeating will happen...whether Team Canada claims another title or an upset team rides the hot streak to a Canadian championship.  Look for a preview of the Scotties coming up soon in this blog.  Until the competition gets under way on the ice, let's congratulate the following teams who have made it to Grande Prairie:

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
Saskatchewan - Jolene Campbell
Northwest Territories - Kerry Galusha
Newfoundland & Labrador - Stacey Curtis
New Brunswick - Sylvie Robichaud   

Tim Hortons Brier Qualifying

The #RoadToOttawa continues this week as we drive through the plains of Saskatchewan, the ocean view of New Brunswick and the upset-minded path in Ontario.  Last weekend we added 3 more Brier representatives to the slate (all accurately predicted by #TwineTime I might add).  As we venture off on the road once again, here is the confirmed list of attendees in 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

Let's get to our #TourLifePredictions in my home province of Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Ontario.


2015 Champion:  Steve Laycock

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

Top Teams Entered:  Team Laycock, Team Meachem

W2W4:  The obvious story line will be whether Team Laycock can 3peat their title.  After a podium finish at last year's Brier in Calgary, #TeamOranje will be hungry to get back to the big stage and try to improve the color of that medal.  The trifecta will not be easy though.  Since the inaugural Tankard in 1927, only 4 men have done so: Ernie Richardson (1962-64), Bob Pickering (1968-71), Rick Folk (1978-80) and Pat Simmons (2005-08).  Notice the 25 year gap at the end.  Team Laycock has the skills to add their name to this Hall of Fame list and will be strong favorites.  However, another story line to watch is the B and C draws.  Let's assume Laycock grabs the A qualifier, the remaining 3 playoff spots are really up for grabs.  This is a very strong field.  We have previous champions (Scott Bitz, Randy Bryden, Brad Heidt, Bruce Korte, Scott Manners).  We have up and coming teams (Shaun Meachem, Josh Heidt, Kody Hartung).  We have teams capable of pulling the upset (Sean Joyce, William Coutts, Jason Ackerman).  There has been a lot of team jumping in Saskatchewan over the past few seasons but these teams are all quite capable of making a strong run to the playoffs.  If Laycock nabs the A qualifier, could this be a blessing or a curse?  With so many strong teams in a dog fight through the B and C, a team could get hot at the right time and the upset train we saw during provincial Scotties could carry over.  Pay attention to the B and C draws folks....the games should be close and exciting in the race to become #TeamGreen.

Playoff Teams:  Team Laycock, Team Meachem, Team Hartung, Team J. Heidt

Saskatchewan Champion:   Team Laycock over Team Meachem

New Brunswick

2015 Champion:   Jeremy Mallais

Format:  8-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 Grattan, Team Mallais

W2W4:  Last year Jeremy Mallais shocked many in the curling world by defeating Jimmy The Kid (James Grattan) in the New Brunswick Tankard final.  Could we see history repeating this season?  Jimmy the Kid (now 41 years old mind you) will be the strong favorite to nab his 12th NB Tankard.  Grattan has a new team this year, adding tons of championship experience with Tom Sullivan at vice and Olympic champion Jamie Korab at lead.  However, he will face some strong challengers.  Jeremy Mallais returns to the field as defending champion.  Previous champions Terry Odishaw and Mike Kennedy will also be looking to reclaim another NB purple heart.  The bigger story could be the surprise teams.  Similar to Team Mallais last year, a few up and coming teams could claim their first Brier appearance.  At the top of this list has to be Rene Comeau.  Those who follow junior curling will be very familiar with this name.  Comeau is a two-time New Brunswick junior champion (2014, 2015).  In 2014, Comeau lost the Canadian Junior final and in 2015 suffered a loss in the semifinal.  This will be Comeau's first season competing at the NB Tankard and what better way to announce yourself as the future of NB curling then going out and claiming the title on your rookie appearance.  I would also keep an eye on Jason Roach.  Similar to Comeau, Roach should be a familiar name with fans who follow junior curling as he is a two-time New Brunswick champ (2004, 2005), winning the Canadian Junior Championship in 2004.  The past few season Roach has been playing with James Grattan and was part of the 2013 and 2014 Brier teams.  After last season's upset loss in the final, the Grattan team disbanded and Roach formed his own team.  Joining Jason is his brother Darren at second....these two have been curling together since juniors and the family bond will be beneficial for the team.  The addition of Andy McCann at vice will help as McCann has played in the past 6 NB Tankard events (with various lineups) and has a NB Tankard title under his belt (2012 with Terry Odishaw).

Playoff Teams:  Team Grattan, Team Comeau, Team Roach

New Brunswick Champion:  Team Grattan over Team Comeau


2015 Champion:  Mark Kean

Format:  11-team round robin with Top 4 advancing to the page playoff.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Epping, Team Howard, Team Balsdon

W2W4:  Let's be honest here...all eyes are on Howard vs. Epping.  After Howard's shocking absence from this event last year (losing in qualifying), he is back and hungry for another Brier run.  Mixed results this season have many wondering if the seasoned vets of Glenn and Rich Hart still have the game to be competitive in a rapidly evolving sport.  However, this team is still in the Top 10 in the world and never underestimate former Canadian and World Champions.  The bigger question mark will be on how the team plays having to use the spare pool each draw.  With the injury to Wayne Middaugh (broken leg from a skiing accident) only weeks before the Tankard, Team Howard is left to draw on the spare pool.  This means before each draw they need to make a request for a player from the pool and hope they are available.  If not, they keep going down the line until they find a spare.  This could create some inconsistent line ups during the week and unfamiliarity with how different players throw the rock.  However, luckily for Team Howard, their regular 5th during the season, Adam Spencer, will be in the spare pool and should be available for each game.  Now, bring on the favorite John Epping.  After suffering the loss in last year's Ontario final to Mark Kean, Epping has been determined this would be the year he makes his first Brier.  Besides Mike McEwen in Manitoba, Epping is considered the next best player on tour without a Brier appearance.  This team ended 2015 red hot and will look to ride that momentum into this week.  However, they have been off the ice for quite some time now and whether they can keep that red hot streak going will be left to be seen.  Don't get too comfortable in assuming we will have a Howard vs. Epping final over the weekend either.  Watch out for previous champion Greg Balsdon.  Balsdon did put an end to Howard's 8-year Ontario champion run in 2014 and is the last man to defeat Howard at this event.  Another former champ and Olympian, Mike Harris, will be back in the field this year as well and looks to have his strongest team in years.  But what about the dark horse and upset picks you ask?  Well, there will be no shortage of teams looking to replicate the upset train we have seen in Ontario for the past 2 years.  Keep an eye on Dayna Deruelle and Jake Higgs.  Both of these teams have been playing great this season and could step up to the dark horse challenge.  But if you want a great upset story to watch, rally behind Mark Bice.  Bice is a two-time provincial junior champion (2003, 2005) and provincial mixed champion (2009).  But, most recently, Bice was a member of the Balsdon team that upset Howard and went to the Brier in 2014.  Now Mark, along with his lead and brother Steve, have assembled their own team and are looking to duplicate the upset from a few years ago.  Steve also has some story to bring to the table, he was the alternate for Team Howard from 2007-2010 during the Brier runs, including the Brier and World Championship wins in 2007.  Add in vice Aaaron Squires, who eliminated Howard in playdowns last year when skipping his own team, and the drama unfolding on the ice this week could be intense.

Playoff Teams:  Team Epping, Team Howard, Team Balsdon, Team Bice

Ontario Champion:  Team Howard over Team Epping  

There you have it #curling fans....we have lots of exciting curling on deck as we prepare for more Championship Sunday action.  We will crown provincial champions on the ice while the NFL crowns their champion on the gridiron.  Join #TwineTime again next week as we preview more Tankard championships and the upcoming US Curling Championships.

Rock on friends.... 

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