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Friday, 16 September 2016

#BetweenTheSheets: Spotlight On The Top Teams
The competition heats up the ice as top ranked teams start their seasons


Last week saw many of the top teams in the world slide onto the ice for the first time this season...and fans got excited for the upcoming season.  Well I hope all of you saved room on the excitement platter because last week is a mere appetizer compared to the full entre of action we get this week.

This week we finally see the likes of Team Koe, Team Homan, Team Jones, Team McEwen and Team Jacobs on the ice competing.  All 5 of these teams have been ranked at or near the top of the world rankings throughout the past few years and have become strong fan favourites, helping sell and promote world curling tour events around the world.  This weekend fans will get their first opportunity to see them in action this season.  PLUS, the curling world welcomes back world champion Craig Saville!  The excitement is building....fans are ready!

But first, last weekend saw some fierce and competitive action in Oakville and Edmonton.  Here is the weekly #GunnerRunback to get you caught up on the #WorldCurlingTour results:

  • The international winning streak continues as Sweden's Nik Edin captured the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard.  Edin's win makes it three straight weeks of European teams winning on tour.  Team Edin defeated the new (well returning) Team John Morris in the final.  Morris is back with his B.C. boys and what a great result for their first event together in years.  Speaking of new teams, Pat Simmons also found success last week with his new team, Team Bottcher, in making the SF.  International teams were still a force though as Scotland's Kyle Smith and Switzerland's Peter de Cruz (both winners on tour this season already) qualified for the playoffs, with Smith reaching the SF.
  • The Stu Sells Oakville Tankard Tier II was a new event welcomed by many to the tour this season.  As with the Tier I event (and the theme of the season thus far) the title went to another European team.  This time the Netherlands Jaap van Dorp claimed the winner's trophy defeating Tanner Horgan in the final.  International teams found success throughout the event as well with USA's Brady Clark and Switzerland's Michael Brunner reaching the SF's.
  • The Stu Sells Oakville Tankard women's event also wrapped up last weekend and, in sticking with the theme for the season, Switzerland's Silvana Tirinzoni made sure Stu Sells was a European sweep with her championship final victory over Allison Flaxey.  Props on a strong "upset" start to the season though for Heather Heggestad's team (reaching the SF) and Megan Balsdon (reaching the QF).  USA's Nina Roth (SF) and Sweden's Anna Hasselborg (QF) also provided strong international results.
  • A complete international sweep of the weekend was in sight but denied at the HDF Insurance Shoot-Out in Edmonton when Lethbridge's Casey Scheideggar upset Scotland's Eve Muirhead in the final.  Muirhead actually had a 5-2 lead after 4 ends but Scheideggar stole ends 5 thru 8 to seal a stunning 6-5 victory.  A nice start to the season for Kelsey Rocque as well, reaching the SF.  It was also announced Team Rocque will be skipping this year's provincial championships as skipper Rocque and second Taylor McDonald will represent Canada at the World University Games.

With the international teams owning the tour so far in the early part of the season, combined with a few top teams not yet hitting the ice, how do these results affect the weekly #PowerRankings?


MEN

1. Team Koe (LW: 1)
2. Team Gushue (2)
3. Team McEwen (3)
4. Team Edin (HM)
5. Team Smith (HM)

Hon. Mention:  Team Carruthers, Team Laycock, Team Jacobs

WOMEN

1. Team Homan (1)
2. Team Tirinzoni (2)
3. Team J. Jones (3)
4. Team Muirhead (HM)
5. Team Sweeting (HM)

Hon. Mention:  Team Sidorova, Team Feltscher, Team Carey

The Top 3 spots remain the same on both the men's and women's rankings this week.  On the men's side, Koe and McEwen have not started their seasons yet so it is a bit difficult to move them down.  Team Gushue, minus skip Brad who is nursing a groin injury and is out of the lineup for an undisclosed period of time, did qualify in Oakville but failed to win a playoff game.  Gushue will be out of the lineup as well this week and Charley Thomas will step in as vice.  As #TwineTime proposed at the beginning of the season discussing possible changes to the ranking system, these power rankings will employ a similar thought process.  Teams will be rewarded for strong results but also potentially see a minor or major dip in their ranking spot for failing to replicate the results of a season ago.  On the current world rankings, Team Gushue's result did move them up to #1, surpassing Koe.  I still expect all three of these teams to be fighting for that #1 spot all season.....but don't forget the international teams.  Team Edin and Team Smith crack the rankings with their tour wins and strong, consistent results so far this season.  Sky is the limit on where these teams go next but if I was sitting at the top of the mountain seeing these two teams rapidly climbing below me, I would be a bit fearful!

As for the women's rankings, similar to the men, the Top 3 remain unchanged.  Yes, Tirinzoni did win in Oakville last week but we haven't seen Homan on the ice yet and their outstanding results from last season still keep them as the #1 team on the rankings.  Tirinzoni has closed the gap a bit though and will continue to put the pressure on Homan all season I think.  Muirhead and Sweeting join the Top 5 after their results in Edmonton and we are still awaiting Team JJ to hit the ice this weekend.

Based on the #TwineTime predictions from a week ago and the actual results on the ice, it was a pretty good week for the blog.  #TwineTime correctly predicted 6 of 8 qualifiers for the men's Stu Sells Tankard Tier I and Tier II events.  A modest 4 for 8 at the women's Stu Sells Tankard; however, accurately predicting the winner so bonus points there!  A bit better 5 for 8 prediction in Edmonton; however, accurately predicting Team Muirhead's runner-up finish.  Overall, grade the predictions as a B+?

Let's get to this week's #TourLifePredictions and try to raise that grade to an A- at least!

MEN

AMJ Campbell Shorty Jenkins Classic

Cornwall, ON

2015 Champion:  Brad Gushue

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

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

Dark Horse Candidate:  Be weary of the curling super nation: the Netherlands?  No this is not a joke nor a trick curling friends.  Jaap van Dorp has been moving up the ladder of success for a few years now.  He skipped his team into the European Championships last year.  This Dutch team made two finals last season and, last week in Oakville, finally broke through and took home their first title.  With all the big names competing this weekend, van Dorp and the boys may be the perfect "fly under the radar" team to watch out for.  Last weekend people considered the #TeamOranje win to be a mild upset.  If they can qualify and replicate the result this weekend, in this field, it may be the upset of the year.  Anything is possible and this team has the talent, momentum and confidence to make it happen!

What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4):  Koe. McEwen. Jacobs.  First time on the ice this season.  Edin, fresh off a win.  Gushue, top team in the world.  What's not to watch?  But, the big story all week will be the welcoming return of Craig Savill.  Savill was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma late 2015.  Fast forward less than 12 months later and Savill is back in the hack and ready to compete.  Saville will be a super spare this weekend, subbing for Wayne Tuck as vice with Chad Allen assuming skipping duties.  The entire sports world, not just curling, will be thrilled and excited to show some love to the two-time world champion.  While I have never met Mr. Savill in person, I remember being at Rexall Place in 2007 watching him and Team Howard win their first world championship.  Welcome back Craig Savill!

Qualifiers:  Team Koe, Team Edin, Team Gushue, Team McEwen, Team Jacobs, Team de Cruz, Team Brewster, Team Epping

Championship:  Team McEwen def. Team Edin

Cloverdale Cash Spiel

Surrey, B.C.

2015 Champion:  Dean Joanisse

Format:  17 team round robin.  Top 6 overall qualify.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Joanisse, Team Geall, Team Liu

Dark Horse Candidate:  Get ready for a minty #TardiParty!  Team Tardi blew up social media last year during the Canadian Junior Curling Championships when the young B.C. team began introducing a whole new set of curling lingo into the sport.  Minty?  What exactly does minty mean in respect to curling?  Well you may not know, but Team Tardi understands their lingo and have found great success.  Don't underestimate the Tardi Party crew at this event.  The field is relatively wide open and we know from past experiences junior teams can start strong and are more than capable of pulling off a few major upsets along the way.

What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4):  This is a wide open event.  Most of these teams will be taking the ice for the first time this season.  As we have seen in previous weeks, and as is the norm to start every season, even the best teams can slip up a bit the first few games.  On the flip side, some of the dark horse or teams can get hot early and pull off some upsets.  This event is strongly fielded by B.C. teams so this will give us a very early quick look at which teams could be primed to give heavy favourite Team Cotter a run at the B.C. provincials.

Qualifiers:  Team Joanisse, Team Geall, Team Liu, Team Tardi, Team Shen, Team Bilesky

Championship:  Team Joanisse def. Team Tardi

WOMEN

Colonial Square Ladies Classic

Saskatoon, SK.

2015 Champion:  Krista McCarville

Format:  24 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers.

Top Teams Entered:  Team J. Jones, Team Sweeting, Team Muirhead, Team Paetz, Team Einarson, Team Fujisawa, Team Rocque

Dark Horse Candidate:  Michelle Englot seems to have a new home in her new province of Manitoba...and recent success as well.  Last week Englot and her new team from Winnipeg crashed the season opening party of many teams and made a slight surprise QF run in Edmonton.  If there were any questions on how the team would gel with their new skipper, they sure gave you the answer!  Englot will make her return to former home province Saskatchewan this week.  It will be interesting to see how the crowd reacts to her return.  She is a former provincial champ...but will the fans turn on her now that she made the trek one province over to rival Manitoba?  Plus, can this team continue the strong start to the season against a very strong field in Saskatoon?

What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4):  Let's be honest, all eyes will be on Team Jennifer Jones in Saskatoon.  The 2014 Olympic champions make their season debut and fans are craving to see if this team can continue to be a force on tour.  The last time we saw them on the ice they were hoisting the Champions Cup trophy in Sherwood Park.  This field is going to be very competitive and the team may have a little ice rust to them early on...which spells ample opportunity for a few of their opponents who have hit the ice already this season.  Plus, remember skip Jennifer is on maternity leave to begin the season.  I believe 2010 Olympian Cheryl Bernard will be stepping in as the super sub this week for the team.  They may not qualify A side but fully expect to watch them curling well into the weekend.

Qualifiers:  Team Rocque, Team Muirhead, Team Jones, Team Sweeting, Team Einarson, Team Hasselborg, Team Paetz, Team Lawton

Championship:  Team Muirhead def. Team Einarson

AMJ Campbell Shorty Jenkins Classic

Cornwall, ON

2015 Champion:  EunJung Kim

Format: 15 team round robin with 3 pools of 5 teams.  Top 6 qualify.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Homan, Team Tirinzoni, Team Middaugh, Team Flaxey

Dark Horse Candidate:  Chrissy Cadorin's North York team could just be the surprise of the event.  They reached the SF in their season opening event in Oakville a few weeks ago and will come to Cornwall full of confidence.  The biggest advantage for them as a dark horse is they avoided drawing Homan and Tirinzoni in pool play.  Sure they get Flaxey, Sinclair, Middaugh and Larouche, but given how they have started the season their pool play schedule is manageable.  If they can surprise two of the more experienced skipped teams early on and pick up a few wins, they may have a shot at qualifying here.  This could be the perfect "under the radar" team all weekend!

What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4):  Homan!  Homan!  Homan!  EVERYONE wants to welcome last season's top women's team back to the ice.  Ok well maybe not everyone...their competition might have enjoyed another week at least of the Homan break.  This team dominated last season and there is no reason not to expect the same this season.  However, the end of last season did not exactly end on a high for them.  Plus, they could draw a new rival in Team Tirinzoni in the playoffs.  The Homan - Tirinzoni rivalry could become the talk of the season and this weekend could be our first opportunity to see them pitted against one another.  Tirinzoni won last weekend.  This is Homan's first event of the season.  How can you not get excited about the possibilities here?

Qualifiers:  Team Homan, Team Tirinzoni, Team Flaxey, Team Sinclair, Team Arsenault, Team Fleming

Championship:  Team Tirinzoni def. Team Homan

Cloverdale Cash Spiel

Surrey, B.C.

2015 Champion:  Diane Gushulak

Format:  10 team round robin.  Top 6 qualify.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Gushulak, Team Van Osch

Dark Horse Candidate:  Welcome back Sarah Koltun!  You may remember the Yukon team grabbing the heart's and attention of curling fans across the country at the 2015 Scotties where they competed in the relegation round against Northern Ontario (Team Fleury) and Northwest Territories (Team Koe).  They may have lost both games but they were competitive and gave both a strong run for their money.  At the end of the 2014/15 season, Koltun decided to step away from the sport to focus on her education (sound familiar? see Mary Fay).  Well, after one year off, Koltun and company are back on the ice and ready to compete once again.  They may have a bit of rust on them to start off but it will be exciting to see them compete once again.  I wouldn't underestimate them though.  They could surprise a few of the more experienced and favoured teams in the draw and a qualification spot is not out of the question here.

What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4):  Similar to the men's Cloverdale Cash Spiel, this will be a wide open event and the first opportunity to see many of the B.C. women's teams on the ice.  B.C. is going through a tough slough of it lately on the women's side with back-to-back relegation positions at the Scotties.  This province needs one of these teams to step up to the plate and start the season strong and carry momentum throughout the season.  Many of these teams are going to be battling throughout the season at B.C. -hosted events so this is a perfect opportunity for one of them to gain an early upper hand and confidence booster.

Qualifiers:  Team Gushulak, Team Van Osch, Team Wark, Team Thompson, Team Koltun, Team Gyles

Championship:  Team Wark over Team Gushulak