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Saturday, 5 March 2016

#BetweenTheSheets: A Special #Brier2016 Preview with 
Mark Kean
#TwineTime & #Keaner discuss favorites, dark horse teams and...best hair?

The curling world is still talking and congratulating the new Scotties Champions, Team Chelsea Carey, after their outstanding play in Grande Prairie just under one week ago.  But while Team Carey...now Team Canada...prep for the upcoming Women's World Curling Championships in Swift Current, SK, the attention for #curling fans shifts out East to Ottawa, ON and the 2016 Tim Horton's Brier.

Now for those familiar with this blog, you normally would find an extensive preview of the field with full on predictions.  Due to the high caliber of this year's Brier field, I just didn't think one prognosticator would do justice to the event.  So I went out and found myself a ringer....a pro....a real curler...with real on-ice Brier experience.  He just so happens to be one of the #TwineTime fav's as well.  It is with great honour I welcome back 2015 Ontario Champion skip Mark Kean to the #TwineTime blog for the Brier Preview edition.

TwineTime (TT):  Welcome back to the TwineTime blog Mark.  You are the first repeat offender so thank you for taking time to join me once again.  We are here to talk about the Brier, one of the toughest field's we have seen in recent history.  You were there last year, what is your first overall glance at what we are seeing this year?

Mark Kean (MK):  It's incredible.  I thought last year was one of the best ever.  This one has surpassed it I think.  It hasn't even really started and we already know it is going to be a great show.

TT:  It is going to be tough and exciting.

MK:  It is going to be excited to watch.  Of course I would rather be there. *laughing*

TT:  *laughing*  Well I was going to say it appears across the board all the favorites really made it out of the provinces this year, except perhaps for Ontario.  We could say we are missing John Epping but we are also missing the defending champion in yourself not being there.  It's a tough call in Ontario though.

MK:  You usually have a couple of upsets across Canada but it doesn't really look that way this year.  Even Glenn (Howard) winning wasn't really an upset.  People may be saying he was an underdog but I don't really believe that.  When you win it 15 times I don't think you are really an underdog.  *laughing*

TT:  *laughing*  Yeah, I agree.  I think when you have the history he has in the sport he can never really be considered an underdog in any event he enters.

MK:  No, exactly.

TT:  Ok, well let's just dive right into the action on the ice.  I was thinking we could talk about our favorites, who we think are teams that could cause a bit an uproar and be teams we should watch out for, who might be some of the dark horse contenders and who might be battling, unfortunately, for relegation.  And just to be clear, these are the teams we are pre-ranking for the event and does not necessarily mean the teams we will have as our #Final4 or to win the tournament...but they could be.  Being the guest I will let you start it off.  Who is your overall favorite going into this week?

MK:  I am going to have to go with (Kevin) Koe (Team Alberta).  They struggled a bit last year but they got a really good coach in John Dunn and I just feel like they are going to come out of the gates hot.  They started out rough last year but got their first win against me.  I think they have even a better team this year.  Last year they were still trying to figure out that team and everyone was just waiting to see what would happen with that team.  Clearly they have it figured out because they are in the top of the standings.  So I am going to say them right off the bat.  They are going to come out strong.

TT:  I think that's fair.  I'm going with a bit of a different route.  I am going with Brad Gushue out of Newfoundland & Labrador.  He was my pick in the #TwineTime season preview to win the Brier and I am going to stick with him.  He is ranked #1 for a reason: his winning percentage is insane, he is winning half of the tournaments he enters.  It feels like this is destiny for him.  Obviously a bit of extra pressure on him if he wins, with the Brier being in St. Johns. NL the following year.  But it seems like he has really excelled and embraced that so they would be my number one pick going into the Brier.

MK:  Ok, yeah that's fair.

TT:  Ok, so who would be your number two?

MK:  Number two I am going to have to go with (Mike) McEwen (Team Manitoba).  They have been knocking on the door for a few years and they finally got it done.  I think they are going to do a similar thing that Kevin Koe did a few years ago and they are going to find themselves in the final but come up just a bit short.  It is going to be a helluva week for them though.

TT:  Yeah, I agree and I can see that happening.  They were also near my top but my number two is your number 1.  I am going with Koe as my co-favorite.  All the same reasons you said, I think they are just a very strong team and built on last year's successes.  I think just missing out on the playoffs last year will probably fire them up pretty strong.  I can't see them being not in the playoffs for sure at least.

MK:  Yeah, I think the key for them will be the start of the week.  They have been in the Brier.  They have played in a million big events so it's not like they haven't been on this kind of ice but the Brier is just a bit of a different feel.  From my perspective, I've been on arena ice at provincials, I've been on it at the slam, the Brier is a different feel.  But they also have Canada Cup experience so I don't think it will be as big of a factor for them.  I think as long as they are focused, which honestly those are four of the most focused guys out there.  It should be fun to watch.

TT:  Yeah, I think their draw looks really good at the beginning of the week too.  They don't take on any of the big, major favorites outside of their opening game.  Then they get the next 3 - 4 games against teams that, according to the standings and how they have played this year, they should win.  Once you get that team on a roll and with momentum, it is going to be very hard to stop them.

MK:  Yeah, exactly.

TT:  So now what about your third favorite.  Who rounds out the #Keaner Top 3 for your favorites?

MK:  It's a toss-up for me.  I think 3/4 is going to be between (Brad) Jacobs (Team Northern Ontario) and Gushue.  Those are my picks.  Gushue has had a great start to the year but have kind of tapered off a bit.  But I think they have really been putting in the work and they really want to be Team Canada in St. John's next year.  I think they are going to be near the top.  And I think Jacobs as well.  Jacobs has had a down year but I think this is really their event to bounce back.  If you watch Jacobs in the past, they always seem to peak around this time of year.  They are ready for the big events and are one of the best teams at being prepared for them.  I think Jacobs is definitely going to be near the top.

TT:  I completely agree.  In regards to my 3/4 I also have Manitoba and Mike McEwen up there and I agree with you on Northern Ontario.  I think the two of them are going to be fighting hard all week.  It is weird to see McEwen have the label "rookie" next to his name at an event, it just seems strange.  But I think he will embrace it really well and their team is going to be prepped to do really well.  And I agree with Jacobs, I think they have had a bit of a struggle over the year.  But I think the TSN Skins Game, as much as we don't put a lot of weight into winning the skins game, in talking with Brad after the win it seemed to take a bit of the monkey off their shoulder in getting into the winner's circle again this year.  I think they were able to use that really well going into Northern Ontario playdowns.

MK:  Yeah, I think one aspect that people don't think about is, when looking at the results and only the numbers, two of them have young children at home now.  I have been through that where you have little one's and maybe you aren't getting enough sleep.  We all know that is a key pillar to performance.  I think that could be a part of it and knowing, going into this, they are probably trying to get their rest and do everything they can.  It will be interesting to see how they start out at the beginning of the week.

TT:  Yeah, I totally agree.  It will be about how they start and how their schedule looks.  They open a bit tough so I think, at minimum, they need to go at least 2-2 opening weekend to ensure a really good shot.  I think they are a team that wears their emotions on their sleeve and I think if they get off to a rough start it might be difficult for them to rebound.  However, they did do it at the (2014 Winter) Olympics but who knows if they can do it again with this field.  It is going to be tough.

MK:  Yup, I totally agree.

TT:  Excellent.  Ok now outside of the main four probably getting the most press, and we seem to agree on who those main four are, who would maybe be your two teams who could really push those top 4 and even make a playoff push?

MK:  Definitely Saskatchewan (Team Laycock).  They were in the playoffs last year.  They put in a ton of work.  We have seen videos of them working out.  I think they are in the picture too.  I have a feeling there is going to be some tie-breakers.  I just have this gut feeling there will be tie-breakers.

TT:  Yeah, I can feel that too.

MK:  It's kind of what I want to see to be honest.  But I think they will be in the mix.  They might even be in that 3/4 game outright because they are a good team.  I see Ontario (Team Howard) having a bit of a shot at it.  I don't know.  We will see with Adam Spencer's first go-around.  They won't have the hair brooms so we will see how that works out.  But they have the experience on the back end and with Scott (Howard), who was there last year as my lead.  I think Ontario if they get off to a good start but I looked at their schedule and it is very tough.  If they get off to a good start, say at maybe 2-1, I think it puts them in a good spot.  Again Glenn has been there a million times and how many times has he not made the playoffs?  I'm not counting them out but I just see the other teams also having really good years and Glenn's year hasn't been up to his level that we have seen in the past.

TT:  Yeah, it's interesting you say that.  I also agree.  I have Saskatchewan and Ontario as next in line.  I think Laycock's team is destined after having the third place finish last year and having a taste of the podium.  I think they are going to be very hard to beat.  I think they are also going to fly under the radar really well given the strength of the top four teams, which I think works to their advantage.  I don't think they are a big media darling team so this could work to their advantage.  Being originally from Saskatchewan of course I am always going to have a bit of a homer-based pick but I would love to see them push.  I think if Northern Ontario especially or Manitoba do slip-up at the beginning, Saskatchewan can be the one to push them out of the playoffs.  And I also agree it is hard to bet against Glenn at the Brier.  His record speaks for itself.  And like you said, missing playoffs just doesn't seem to happen for him.  This field is just so strong.  It's weird we say it's been an off-season for him yet they are ranked ninth in the world and that is a bad season.  *laughing*  I mean sucks to be you when you are ranked ninth in the world and that is considered a tough season.  That's rough.  But I agree, it will be all in their start.  Like we said with Northern Ontario and others, that start is going to be tough for them.  If they cannot pick up a few W's right away, it is going to be very hard to make the full week last for them.

MK:  Yeah, that's true.

TT:  And now what about the dark horse teams.  Are there teams you maybe have an eye out for that could surprise some other teams and be teams nobody is really talking about right now?

MK:  Yeah, I think (Jean-Michel) Menard (Team Quebec) will be in the running.  They got off to a slow start last year but they have had a good year, like normal.  They always have a good year.  They don't play a lot but everything they play in they are always right there in the playoffs or very close.  Plus he will have a bit of a home town crowd on his side.  I am also going to say P.E.I. (Team Casey) is going to give some teams some really great games.  They have had a bit of an off year too.  But those are two teams that I think could be in the playoff picture mid-week.  We will see how it goes.  And then I think if Nova Scotia can get through the relegation, I think they could have some good games as well.  I don't see Northwest Territories or New Brunswick being in the playoff picture but who knows?  It is such a good field and it is hard to put them in there because they haven't played a lot but who knows.  That is kind of how I see the field playing out though.

TT:  I would definitely agree with you on Quebec.  I think it is always hard to ever count out a former champion.  Menard won in 2006, not that long ago.  He is still curling at a high caliber, as you saw when you curled against him at last year's Brier.  He has all the characteristics needed to make a good run and could really turn some heads.  I am actually also going with B.C. (Team Cotter) as another dark horse pick.

MK:  Oh sh*t yeah I totally forgot about B.C.

TT:  Yeah, I think Cotter has great potential to make some noise.  He has been here a few times now, lost a final.  Cotter seems like a nice, quiet guy too so I think that kind of helps.  He can keep his team a bit relaxed, especially if they get off to a rough start.  His demeanor on the ice can help the team if they get a bit shaken up or have 1 or 2 bad ends.  He seems to be able to bring them back home and calm the play down.  I'd say B.C. could really make a surprise run too.

MK:  Yeah, I would agree with you.

TT:  Now, going into relegation, I would think Nova Scotia (Team Murphy) is probably the favorite to come out of it.  Jamie Murphy is having a pretty good season.  I think it might be very tough for any of the three territories teams to come out of relegation.  So we both kind of agree on Nova Scotia being the expected team to survive?

MK:  Yeah.  I think it is going to come down to the Northwest Territories (Team Jamie Koe) and Nova Scotia.  I do think Jamie Murphy has had a good year and is playing well.  They came out of Nova Scotia which has some pretty decent teams there.  I like them but it is going to come down to one game and you can never count out a Koe.  It could be the year the Territories get back in.  We will have to see what happens.  But it would be nice to see Nova Scotia again for sure.

TT:  I think it is just weird to see Nova Scotia AND Northwest Territories not be in the field.  We know one of them won't be there but it would be kind of weird to not see Jamie Koe there, similar to what we saw at the Scotties with Kerry (Galusha).  It just doesn't feel like the same event without having them there.  Jamie does have a new team this year, adding to it and changing the line-up a bit.  This could end up being an advantage to them adding experience (with Chris Schille as vice).

MK:  I completely agree.  I mean it's not the same team that was there competing last year.  I know one of the guys competing last year barely played and they were left to scramble a bit.  But this year they have a new team and have played a few more events.  I think they are there to get into the Brier.  We will see what happens.

TT:  What do you think of Nunavut (Team Kingdon)?  The territory seems to be on a bit of a role to be honest with you.  We saw their junior men and women pick up first wins earlier this year.  The women picked up their first-ever win at the Scotties.  Do you think the men can duplicate some of that success?

MK:  I think it is possible.  I'm not really sure though.  I mean there is a ton of nerves when you get into those kind of games for the other team.  They are the underdogs and they are getting to play with nothing really to lose.  They probably don't expect themselves to qualify, similar to how nobody else does.  I can see them maybe having a few close games.  I don't really know the team at all though so I can't really say with any knowledge but it will be interesting to see if they can give some close games to those teams.

TT:  Yeah, it is interesting when you look at the Order of Merit Year-to-Date rankings, they are actually ranked ahead of Yukon and Team Smallwood.

MK:  Oh really?

TT:  Yeah, so it is interesting to see if the rankings hold true, in theory, Nunavut could pick up their first win at the Brier.  It could be a history making year for the entire territory.

MK:  Well, that does make sense.

TT:  Now I should ask you for relegation, heading into 2017, who do you think is the team that is going to be in some trouble?

MK:  I hate to say it but I think it is going to be New Brunswick (Team Kennedy).

TT:  Yup, I agree with you.

MK:  They haven't really played that much and every team in the field has done well this year.  I think it could be between them and the team that does come out of relegation unfortunately.  I mean I think they can give some teams a good run and have some good games but it will be interesting at the end of the week to see what happens.

TT:  Yeah I agree with you.  I think they are going to be in tough.  Mike (Kennedy) is a World Senior's Champion and has the experience playing on the big stage, which is going to be nice, but I think you are right.  They are going to be up against too high of caliber teams they just have not seen or played before.  I honestly think they will struggle to pick up a win, which is unfortunate.  It's always sad to see a team go 0-11 and you never want to see that at an event.  But they are in for a tough road.

MK:  Yup, definitely.

TT:  Ok so what are your playoff predictions and your top four?  How do you see those final standings look?

MK:  I am going to say (Kevin) Koe, McEwen right at the top.  I think everyone is going to be separated by just a game.  I can see Koe, McEwen, Gushue and....*laughing* who else did I have in there?  Jacobs.  But you have Laycock, Howard, Simmons....we didn't even talk about them.  I think if they get on a bit of a role, they could be one of the most dangerous teams in the world.  It just depends on which team shows up.  They haven't played a lot compared to other teams.  They have played a lot in big events but they haven't really done anything else outside of that.  It will be interesting to see what they bring.  If you see Pat Simmons of last year, every team is going to be looking out because he was on fire.  But I also think the teams that have had the best year this year are also going to have the best week at the Brier.  I think that's how it is going to end up.  I think it will also be on whichever skip gets hot and it just seems a few certain one's have been consistent throughout the year at bringing the top level.  It is really hard to pick off the top but I am going to pick Koe, McEwen, Gushue and Jacobs as the top four.

TT:  Wow, you know it's interesting when you talk about Simmons and Team Canada.  Again, it is a team that is the two-time defending champions yet flying under the radar a bit.  It just seems so strange to think about.  But that could be their plan, just like last year.  You know from being there, they weren't really talked about being one of the favorites and they ended up winning the whole thing.  It could be the same going into this year though, who knows?  I would also agree with you on the top four though.  I think it will be Gushue and Koe in the top two.  I think in the 3/4 will be Manitoba and I agree with you in that we will see some tiebreakers with Northern Ontario taking out Saskatchewan and advancing to the 3/4 game.  So based on all that, what does your final podium picture look like?  Let's start with the bronze medal.

MK:  Hmmm, bronze medal?  I'm going to go with Jacobs.

TT:  Yeah, I would agree with you.  I also am picking Brad Jacobs to win the bronze.  What do you think about the bronze medal by the way?  Having been there last year, would you have been happy playing in that game?

MK:  Not really *laughing*

TT:  *laughing*  Fair enough.

MK:  I've played in a similar game before back in school curling and we just really had no interest in even being in that game.  I think from the Brier aspect there is a bit more importance so you may put a bit more into it.  But, in the situation I was in, you are basically just winning a medal.  Which incidentally was nicer than the bronze medal so I was ok to lose that game.  *laughing*  But it was kind of weird to play a game like that.  You just don't care.  You just lost a semi to be in the game you want to be in and that you have worked for all week.  But it's also weird at the Brier because you lose the 3/4 game and you still have another game to play.  You should almost just give the loser of the semi-final bronze.  But I understand why they do the game.  My pick though is Jacobs.  For the silver medal, I am going to have to say McEwen.  And gold goes to Koe.

TT:  Wow, so you really think Gushue is back to another fourth place finish like last year?

MK:  I don't know...

TT:  Just not buying into the Goo this year?

MK:  I don't know.  Well I would but I just have a feeling about Koe so I am going with those guys.

TT:  That's very fair.  I also do agree Koe will be up there.  He is going to be my silver pick.  But I am holding strong for Newfoundland and Brad Gushue.  I think he has what it takes to win the gold medal.

MK:  Well I went with Gushue to win it all last year and he let me down so....*laughing*

TT:  *laughing*  Well I was looking back at my picks from last year and I also went with Gushue so now I feel really ridiculous in picking him two years in a row.  If he lets me down again this year I may just have to sever all ties with The Rock province all together.

MK:  *laughing*  Well he has to win one eventually right?

TT:  Exactly, he has to.  This is lucky number 13 for him too.  It just seems like the stars have aligned way to well for him this year.  It is weird to think that I actually have McEwen finishing fourth, which just seems strange to me.  But there is something about Jacobs who just seems to find his way onto the podium at big events and his experience being there before is probably going to be enough to just propel him over McEwen in a bronze medal game.

MK:  Ok, that makes sense.  I like that answer.

TT:  Now I have one last question for you, something you and I talked about a couple of days ago.  Your game from last year was on TSN the other night and I was giving you a bit of a hard time about your hair and the amount of time the boys seem to be spending on their hair lately when we look at games on TV and at grand slams.  In looking at the Brier field this year, who is your run for best hair?

MK:  Oh...hmmm...let's take a look at the team pictures here.  It's definitely not going to be Jamie Koe.

TT:  *laughing*  Well maybe I should be asking you about the lack of hair in the field.  I kind of briefly went through the pictures as well and found roughly 14 or 15 guys who don't exactly have a lot of hair, if any.

MK:  *laughing*  So we should be asking who looks best as a bald guy?  Is that what we are looking for now?

TT:  *laughing* It could be the opposite this year.  Maybe this year's theme is not only the most competitive Brier but also the lack of hair Brier.

MK:  Well even Brad Jacobs is looking a little short up there.  Umm...you know I can't say Cotter either because he is always wearing a hat.  I am going to have to go with McEwen.

TT:  Yup, I have to agree.  I think he will put the most time and effort into his hair.

MK:  McEwen or maybe even Scott Howard.

TT:  Oh that's a good one.  Well you would know how much time he puts into his hair having played with him.

MK:  *laughing*  Yeah, two seconds!

TT:  *laughing*  Well I would say the only other option would be Team Casey and P.E.I.  Those boys seem to have a lot of hair.

MK:  *laughing*  Yeah, there ya go.  The most hair at the Brier.

TT:  *laughing*  The most hair at the Brier goes to them for sure.  Well this is awesome Mark.  I know you have to head out to go curl now.  I really appreciate you taking the time to sit down and co-host a Brier preview with me.  I also hope that I am right and you are wrong...I just think that is a better deal for me.  But if not I will agree to give you props on having better predictions.

MK:  You should be running a pool or something with everyone that has done an interview.

TT:  Ahhh...I think that is a great call.  I think that should be my plan for next year.  I've always wanted to do a loser pool or a suicide pool.  For this year's Brier I entered a loser pool and two winner's pools.  I think that is a great idea though.  I would love to do one next year, could be a lot of fun.

MK:  Awesome!

TT:  Well thank you again Mark.  All the best to you and we will be in touch.

MK:  Thanks.  Have a good one.

TT:  You as well, thanks man.

Always great to have some insight from a guy who has been there, played against the best and know's the in's and out's of the game...both on and off the ice.  For a quick summary, here are the predictions for both Mark Kean and TwineTime:

                 #Keaner                                                                           #TwineTime

G:  Team Alberta (K. Koe)                                           G: Team Newfoundland & Labrador (Gushue)
S:  Team Manitoba (McEwen)                                      S:  Team Alberta (K. Koe)
B:  Team Northern Ontario (Jacobs)                             B:  Team Northern Ontario (Jacobs)
4th:  Team Newfoundland & Labrador (Gushue)         4th:  Team Manitoba (McEwen)

Do you agree with the #Keaner?  What about #TwineTime?  Agree or disagree with one or both of us by sharing your thoughts below or on twitter.  As well, we want to hear from YOU.  Who do you think will win the 2016 Tim Hortons Brier?  Vote NOW on the TwineTime homepage and let your favorite team know you support them.  Vote now, vote daily, vote often!  The poll will remain live until the Monday after Championship Sunday!

Stay up to date on the all the action with TSN once-again bringing two sheets of live coverage for each draw (a great success at the Scotties I thought).  If you don't get TSN or can't see the games on TV for whatever reason, check out updates on CurlingZone and CurlingGeek for end-by-end, rock-by-rock coverage.

And finally, as Mark and I discussed above, the interest in Brier pools is growing.  If you are interested in playing in a future pool, please hit me up on here or on twitter and I will be sure to connect you with those who are running successful pools this year.  Sure it might be too late to enter for 2016, but never too early to start getting your fantasy sports excitement on for 2017!

Seriously....we need more fantasy curling games, don't you agree?  Hmmmm perhaps a #growthesport idea for 2017 too?  Man, that Mark Kean sure is one smart guy....not a bad hair game either!

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