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Thursday, 8 September 2016

#BetweenTheSheets: It's Stu Sells Time
The annual curling event sees a small format change this year


Welcome back to the ice curling, we have missed you!  The 2016/17 curling season shot out of the hack a few weeks ago in Japan so technically this is Week #4 of World Curling Tour action.  However, most of the teams will be hitting the ice for the first time this weekend.  Some of the top teams (Koe, Homan, Jones) are holding off a bit longer on starting their season.

This week we will see two big events on both the men's and women's tour.  The men will all be together in Oakville competing in the annual Stu Sells Tankard, with a small difference.  This year we see the tankard event broken down into a Tier I and Tier II competition format.  I am a bit unsure how I feel about this to be honest...but more on that below.  Many top women's team will also compete in Oakville at Stu Sells while others will remain out west and compete in Edmonton at the HDF Insurance Shoot-Out.  #StayTuned below for full previews and predictions for each of these events.

We need to take a quick look back at the opening three weeks of the season.  In fast-passed #GunnerRunback style, here is what you may have missed when the season officially slid into the house back in August:

  • The opening event, Hokkaido Bank Curling Classic, took place in Hokkaido, Japan.  Canadian teams reigned supreme with Karsten Sturmay beating China's Fengchun Wang in the men's final.  On the women's side, defending Canadian champion Chelsea Carey opened her season with an event win defeating Korea's Un-Chi Gim.  Both men's and women's fields had strong Asia-Pacific representation so these were big opening season wins for two Canadian teams.
  • Peter de Cruz brought the home nation of Switzerland to it's feet in winning the Baden Masters, defeating Norway's Thomas Ulsrud in the championship final.  This was a very competitive European field, with Sweden's Nik Edin, Denmark's Rasmus Stjerne, Scotland's David Murdoch, Kyle Smith and Tom Brewster and the new Swiss team of Marc Pfister also qualifying for the playoffs.
  • Last weekend was the arrival ceremony of Team International in Canada.  At the Oakville OCT Fall Classic, international teams dominated the competition in both the men's and women's draws.  On the men's side, Scotland's Kyle Smith defeated USA's Heath McCormick (one of the #TwineTime Season Preview teams to watch).  Team Gunnlaugson and Team Gardner represented Canada in making the SF mind you.  On the women's draw, it wasn't just an all-international final, it was an all-Sweden final with Team Hasselborg defeating Team Wrana (another one of those #TwineTime teams to watch).  USA's Jamie Sinclair and Ontario's Chrissy Cadorin reached the SF.

In the season preview blog post, I mentioned this season could turn into the Year of the International Teams.  Last weekend's results in Oakville certainly support that notion.  But can the international teams continue the success rate during the opening season Canadian swing of events?  Will the Canadian teams find their footing on the ice now and reclaim the top of the podium on tour?  Time will only tell but one thing we know for sure, this is already shaping up to be an exciting season.  Now if only we could see some movement in the rankings all season too, right?

Well, it's #PowerRankings time friends!  This is the first official Power Rankings of the season.  With many top teams not yet hitting the ice, it is a bit difficult to accurately tell which teams are going to be the teams to beat this season but we will take last season into heavy consideration for the opening week.  Without further adieu, here are your #TwineTime #PowerRankings:


MEN

  1. Team Koe
  2. Team Gushue
  3. Team McEwen
  4. Team Carruthers
  5. Team Laycock

Hon. Mention:  Team Jacobs, Team Epping, Team Edin, Team Smith

Pin Draw:  Team Gunnlaugson

Heavy Draw:  Team Clark

WOMEN

  1. Team Homan
  2. Team Tirinzoni
  3. Team J. Jones
  4. Team Feltscher
  5. Team Sidorova

Hon. Mention:  Team Sweeting, Team Muirhead, Team Fujisawa, Team Carey

Pin Draw:  Team Hasselborg

Heavy Draw:  Team Harrison

As should be expected, Teams Koe and Homan sit atop the #PowerRankings mountain to begin the season.  But neither team should feel overly confident about their position either.  Teams Gushue and McEwen are nipping at the World Champions heels on the men's side.  The international teams of Tirinzoni, Feltscher, Sidorova, Muirhead and Fujisawa and looking to completely knock Canada out of the Top 5 women's rankings this season too.  Expect to see a lot of juggling and moving up and down the rankings this season.

Also, this season see's the introduction of the Pin and Heavy Draw categories.  Each week the men's and women's team making the biggest move towards the top of the #PowerRankings mountain will earn the Pin Draw title.  On the flip side, the team who see's a slide down the mountain will earn the Heavy Draw distinction.  The Pin Draw and Heavy Draw, unlike the overall Power Rankings, are based solely on the one week action and are not accumulated.  A strong top team could do winless over the weekend and earn the Heavy Draw title but maybe only slip from #4 to Hon. Mention in the rankings or vice versa with the Pin Draw.

For the opening week, Teams Gunnlaugson and Team Hasselborg have opened the season on a strong note and have made the biggest move up the #TwineTime rankings.  On the opposite side, Teams Clark and Harrison saw great opportunities to earn ranking points slip through their fingers last weekend with both failing to qualify.

Let's get to the excitement on the ice this weekend.  The men's teams are still battling on the ice in Oakville for the annual Stu Sells Tankard...with a twist this season.  This year the Stu Sells Tankard Tier II event has been added to the calendar.  This is tricky to judge on how to view this event.  While it is an excellent opportunity for some teams to earn rankings points and pick up a few wins to start the season, is it also only encouraging the category divide we are seeing in the sport between "Elite" and "B-Level" teams?  The additional money winning opportunity is nice, that's a plus.  But, with the strength of schedule qualifier for the world rankings points, will a team that finishes at or near the top of the Tier II really make up some ground on those "top" teams competing in the Tier I who perhaps go 0-3?  It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

The women will see double action on tour as well this weekend, with big events happening in the West and East parts of the country.  Both fields are loaded with talent and we should see some outstanding curling across all sheets of ice at both events.

Let's go to #TourLifePredictions....

MEN

Stu Sells Oakville Tankard

Oakville, ON

2015 Champion:  Brad Gushue

Format:  20 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers

Top Teams Entered:  Team Gushue, Team Carruthers, Team Epping, Team Laycock, Team Murdoch, Team Edin

Dark Horse Candidate:  Welcome to the big leagues Matt Dunstone!  After a successful junior curling career, two-time Canadian Junior Champion and two-time World Junior bronze medal winner Matt Dunstone is now a full-time skip on the men's tour.  Many, #TwineTime included, are eyeing Dunstone as the future of Canadian curling.  But high praise comes with high expectations and high pressure.  We know Dunstone can handle the spotlight but what about the heavy expectations of a curling career weighing on his shoulders?  With a new team backing him up (and seeing his former team finding success last week on tour), this is the first opportunity for the curling world to see what Dunstone can do on a full-time men's tour schedule.  Watch out other teams, remember #DunnyIsMoney after all!

What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4):  You get a new team and you get a new team and you get a new team....excitement for everyone!  This event marks the first time we will see many new teams hit the ice together.  And there are MANY new teams to watch this weekend.  John Morris is back with former teammates Team Cotter.  Pat Simmons will hit the ice with Team Bottcher.  Team Howard sports a new line-up this season.  The above-mentioned Team Dunstone.  Team Edin welcomes new second Rasmus Wrana.  Team Lyburn welcomes former rival Jared Kolomaya as vice.  And Team Kean will be on the ice for the second time this season with the addition of Jake Walker as vice.  With this many new teams competing this weekend, new dynamics and the "feeling out" process is bound to take over.  Can one of the newly formed teams rival the top teams for the title?  Don't underestimate some of them!  Don't forget as well, Team de Cruz and Team Smith are also competing in this event with both teams already finding victories in events this season.  Team de Cruz won the Baden Masters and Team Smith won last weekend's Oakville Fall Classic.  This field is STACKED!

Qualifiers:  Team Gushue, Team Edin, Team Epping, Team Laycock, Team Morris, Team Smith, Team Carruthers, Team de Cruz

Championship:  Team Gushue def. Team Laycock

Stu Sells Oakville Tankard Tier II

Oakville, ON

2015 Champion:  New Event

Format:  20 team round robin with 4 pools of 5 teams.  Top 8 overall qualify.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Gunnlaugson, Team Horgan, Team Clark, Team Mouat

Dark Horse Candidate:  Most of the field?  Honestly, this field is wide open for the new event.  While the Tier I event is a stacked field with experience, the Tier II field is anyone's for the taking....which is just as, if not more, exciting in a way.  The dark horse teams may just be the junior teams competing: Team Horgan and Team Mouat.  Team Mouat are the current World Junior Curling champions and Team Horgan lost a tough Canadian final to Team Dunstone last season.  Both of these teams are very strong and capable of pulling off many "upsets" against their more experienced opponents.  Don't underestimate either of them in making a deep run into the weekend and having a legit shot at capturing this title.

What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4):  This is a great opportunity to watch teams you may not see at some of the bigger events (or grand slams) this season but are still very strong teams.  Team Gunnlaugson has been in Oakville for over a week, competing last weekend and winning the mid-week classic.  Team Clark are the defending USA National Champions.  Team Horgan and Team Mouat lead the upcoming junior revolution.  And watch out for some strong Ontario teams, namely Team Bice and Team Maus as both showed strong results last season and will be looking to start the season on a winning note.  Switzerland's Team Brunner could be a team to watch as well, after their QF finish last weekend here in Oakville.  And watch out for the new line-up from Quebec's Michael Fournier.  Fournier has added Felix Asselin at vice and William Dion at second.  If you are familiar with the Canadian Junior scene, Asselin and Dion should be familiar names having representing Quebec at numerous national championships, with Dion winning the 2008 Canadian Junior Championship.

Qualifiers:  Team Gunnlaugson, Team Horgan, Team Bice, Team Mouat, Team Brunner, Team Maus, Team Clark, Team Fournier

Championship:  Team Gunnlaugson def. Team Brunner

WOMEN

Stu Sells Oakville Tankard

Oakville, ON

2015 Champion:  Rachel Homan

Format:  24 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers

Top Teams Entered:  Team Feltscher, Team Tirinzoni, Team Paetz, Team Sigfridsson, Team Fleury, Team Middaugh

Dark Horse Candidate:  I will stick by my dark horse candidate Team of the Year: Team Wrana!  They made the Oakville final last weekend, losing the all-Swedish battle vs. Team Hasselborg.  This team could surprise many all season long...and I expect them to do so.  Hasselborg has started the season strong and Sigfridsson has added Ostlund so Sweden is going to be quite competitive this season.  But watch out for Wrana folks.  They could make another surprise QF run this weekend and upset a few of those higher ranked teams in the field.

What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4):  Team International!  It has been noted above, the international teams are on a mission this year.  They swept the Final Four spots in Oakville last weekend, both men and women.  They are looking to pull the double double this weekend.  The international contingent is STRONG at this event.  Led by the three-packed punch from Switzerland (Feltscher, Tirinzoni, Paetz), don't underestimate the strong trifecta from Sweden either (Sigfridsson, Hasselborg, Wrana).  Why not make it a perfect 3 for 3...bring on the triple threat from USA (Christensen, Sinclair, Roth).  If the top Canadian teams (Middaugh, Fleury, Flaxey, Hastings, Harrison) are not ready and up to the challenge, we could see a clean sweep of all international teams qualifying for the playoffs.  Worth noting Team Paetz has lost the final the past two years.  It's Canada vs. The World this weekend...who comes out on top?

Qualifiers:  Team Tirinzoni, Team Wrana, Team Feltscher, Team Paetz, Team Sigfridsson, Team Flaxey, Team Hasselborg, Team Middaugh

Championship:  Team Tirinzoni def. Team Feltscher

HDF Insurance Shoot-Out

Edmonton, AB

2015 Champion:  Val Sweeting

Format:  24 team round robin with 4 pools of 6 teams.  Top 8 overall qualify.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Sweeting, Team Carey, Team Muirhead, Team Fujisawa, Team Lawton, Team Rocque

Dark Horse Candidate:  This is a super tough field for a dark horse contender to navigate through.  However, the Green Pool could be the best shot for an underdog to qualify.  Team Carey should go undefeated and win the pool but if another team in the pool can win at least 3 or 4 games they would have a great opportunity to qualify.  This is also an all-Alberta pool meaning the fans in Edmonton should rally behind these teams.  The competition will be tough though.  Team Kleibrink, Team Chyz, Team Kaufman, Team Sauder and Team Virtue have to love the draw they were given.  These teams are all familiar with one another.  While the other pools are a bit more stacked with experience, this pool is wide open for a QF spot.  Team Chyz had a strong run at last year's Alberta Scotties.  Team Kaufman will see the sister act back on the ice.  Kleibrink is always a threat given her experience.  Look for one of these three teams to make a surprise QF run...and once you make the playoffs, anything can happen.

What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4):  The Green Pool is all-Alberta and wide open...but what about that Orange Pool?  The Orange Pool is loaded with international talent, headlined by Scotland's Team Muirhead and Japan's Team Fujisawa.  Team Driendl from Germany also find themselves in this pool along with Scotland's Team Aitken.  The Orange Pool will be an international feeding frenzy!  We also get the opportunity to see new teams in action, namely Team Lawton, Team Englot and Team Anderson.  Yes, Team Lawton did compete at last season's Champions Cup so they should be a bit more "gelled" than some of their new team competition.  Oh and we can't forget the defending Canadian champions Team Carey and their Alberta rivals Team Sweeting.  Imagine an all-Alberta final between those two teams...an Alberta Scotties final rematch in Edmonton?

Qualifiers:  Team Sweeting, Team Lawton, Team Scheidegger, Team Carey, Team Kaufman, Team Fujisawa, Team Muirhead, Team Rocque

Championship:  Team Sweeting def. Team Muirhead

Keep up to date with all the scores at these events and throughout the season at CurlingZone.  Connect with #TwineTime on twitter to discuss any and all matters related to the sport of #curling.

AND...are you an NFL fan?  The season kicks off this weekend.  We are looking for curling fans who want to participate in a fantasy football pool.  If you are interested, send me a message in the comments below or on twitter and come join the fun!