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Thursday, 22 September 2016

#BetweenTheSheets:  Team World Domination Continues!
International teams riding a hot start to the 2016/17 curling season
If you have been following along with the #TwineTime blog #curling coverage since the start of the season, you should notice a prominent theme.  From the Season Preview blog post to last week's post, #TwineTime has consistently stated The World Is Coming!  Well, here we are five weeks into the season and the world has arrived!  I had a sneaking feeling this season would be dominated by international teams and, thus far, can anyone really disagree with me?

Over the past four weeks on tour, we have seen three different international women's teams claim titles (Team Hasselborg, Team Tirinzoni, Team Wang).  We have also seen Team Muirhead compete in the championship final the past two weeks.  We have even seen two event finals on tour be contested between two international teams (Oakville OCT Fall Classic, Colonial Square Ladies Classic).  On the men's side, we see similar statistics.  Over the past four weeks, international teams have claimed 6 titles.  In fact, up until last weekend, Canadian men hadn't claimed a title since the opening event win by Team Sturmay in Hokkaido, Japan.  Of course last weekend Canadian men broke the streak and picked up one of the two tour titles.  Team World is taking names and moving up the world rankings at a rapid pace this season.  Whether they can continue their winning ways and tour domination is left to be seen but I wouldn't bet against them right now.

Speaking of results from last weekend, time to take a quick seat in the house, take a deep breath and let loose a #GunnerRunback:

  • The AMJ Campbell Shorty Jenkins Classic could not have gone any better for the two best teams on tour last season.  Both Team Koe and Team Homan opened their seasons with dominating wins.  Koe went 8-0 in claiming the title, including victories over top ranked teams John Shuster, David Murdoch, Tom Brewster (QF), Nik Edin (SF) and Brad Gushue/Mark Nichols (F).  Props to Team Gushue though on reaching the final minus their skipper and with super spare Charley Thomas.  Team Homan went a perfect 6-0 in claiming the women's title, including victories over Marie-France Larouche (SF) and Allison Flaxey (F).  If this is how both of these dominant teams START their seasons, sky is the limit for success this season.
  • In Surrey, B.C. we saw another international champion crowned when China's Rui Liu defeated B.C.'s Cseke in the final.  Liu ended up going 7-0 over the weekend in claiming his first title of the season (fresh off a finalist appearance in his previous event in Harbin, China).  On the women's draw we see our first title defence of the season as Diane Gushulak became the first female back-to-back Cloverdale Cash Spiel champion besting Lindsay Hudyma in the final.  Similar to Liu, Gushulak was perfect all weekend going 6-0 in claiming the title.
  • At the Colonial Square Ladies Classic in Saskatoon, SK, we welcomed back a former world champion to the tour winning circle.  China's 2009 world champion Bingyu Wang claimed her first title on tour since January 2014 (Glynhill Ladies International) when she defeated Eve Muirhead in the final.  Wang lost her opening game to defending SK champ Jolene Campbell and then never lost another game, reaching the playoffs through the B-side and running the table.  Wang went 7-1 over the weekend, including victories over top ranked teams Stef Lawton, Val Sweeting, Anna Hasselborg (SF) and Eve Muirhead (F).  Props to Team Muirhead on reaching another championship final though and doing so the hard way, advancing out of the C-side.
With last week's results in the books, and top teams Koe and Homan opening the season with tour wins and Team World continuing to put up strong results, do we see a change in the #PowerRankings?


MEN

1. Team Koe (LW: 1)
2. Team Gushue (2)
3. Team Edin (4)
4. Team McEwen (3)
5. Team Brewster (NR)

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

WOMEN

1. Team Homan (LW: 1)
2. Team Muirhead (4)
3. Team Tirinzoni (2)
4. Team J. Jones (3)
5. Team Hasselborg (NR)

Hon. Mention:  Team Sweeting, Team Sidorova, Team Flaxey

As probably expected by many, we see little to no movement in the rankings after the results from last week's tour events.  The top four teams in both the men's and women's rankings remain unchanged.  But why would they to be honest?  Koe beat Gushue in a final.  McEwen and Edin both qualified for the playoffs; however, with Edin reaching the SF he does swap rankings spots with McEwen.  Although Koe and Gushue are already starting to separate from the pack.  We do welcome Team Brewster to the Top 5 though.  Brewster has reached the QF in two of three events this season and is looking like the early favourite in Scotland.

The women's rankings see no change with the top four but a similar slight swap in positions.  Team Homan started the season with a victory and remains at the top.  Tirinzoni still qualified this weekend even if they were upset in the QF stage but do see a slight dip in rankings spot because of the stronger results from their European rivals.  Muirhead reached the final in Saskatoon while Jones reached the SF.  As Muirhead does have back-to-back final appearances, it is hard not to move her up to the #2 spot.  Tirinzoni and Jones take a small step down the mountain but still look very comfortable in the top four.  Similar to the men, we welcome a new team to the Top 5 with Sweden's Team Hasselborg.  Hasselborg has been the most consistent team on tour so far in the early part of the season.  They have played three events and qualified each time.  They have a championship title, SF and QF appearance to their credit already and have quickly established themselves as a team to watch out for all season long.

Last week's #TwineTime predictions saw mediocre results.  At the #ShortyJenkins, 7 of 8 men's qualifiers and 4 of 6 women's qualifiers were correct.  While I missed both finalists on the men's side, I did correctly predict Team Homan starting their season off with a W.  Saskatoon saw mixed results with 5 correct qualifiers and predicting Team Muirhead in the final.  I actually called for them winning the title though.  As for the action out west on the ice in Surrey, B.C., only 3 men's teams were correct and 4 women's teams.  I did have Team Gushulak reaching the final but missed out on calling them to repeat their title.

We have a full calendar of spiels this upcoming weekend with action heating up the ice across the country.  Let's get to this week's #TourLifePredictions:

MEN

College Clean Restoration Curling Classic

Saskatoon, SK.

2015 Champion:  Mike McEwen

Format:  31 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers.

Top Teams Entered:  Team McEwen, Team Edin, Team Jacobs, Team Epping, Team Carruthers, Team Ulsrud, Team Laycock, Team Bottcher

Dark Horse Candidate:  Going back to the #TwineTime preview, I am interested to see how Team Meachem comes out this season.  Last year they surprised many on tour with their strong results all year, pushing Laycock at the Saskatchewan provincial tankard and qualifying for the season ending Champions Cup.  In the off-season, there was a slight line-up change with Adam Casey joining the team from P.E.I.  This will be the first opportunity to see this new team on the ice this season.  Can they continue building on the momentum from last season?  #TwineTime sure likes their odds as being a strong up and comer this year.  And what about former second Brady Scharback?  Maybe keep an eye on him as well, he has moved to the skip position with a new team (including former Sask Junior champ Jake Hersikorn) and will be competing in Saskatoon as well.  Could we see a Meachem vs. Scharback face-off this weekend?  I hope so!

What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4):  Yikes, the competition is going to be INTENSE in Saskatoon this weekend.  So many top teams entered into the spiel means BIG ranking points on the line.  Can teams like Edin, McEwen, Jacobs and Bottcher continue a strong start to the season?  Can Team Laycock turn around a tough start to their season in their home province?  And what about some of these watch out for teams like Team Thomas, Team Shuster, Team Morozumi and Team Lizmore?  This will be the perfect opportunity to see if those "elite" teams continue to dominate the rankings or if the "B-level" teams can finally gain some ground.  This could get interesting....

Qualifiers:  Team McEwen, Team Laycock, Team Edin, Team Jacobs, Team Epping, Team Bottcher, Team Carruthers, Team Thomas

Championship:  Team Edin def. Team Jacobs

Mother Club Fall Curling Classic

Winnipeg, MB.

2015 Champion:  David Bohn

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

Top Teams Entered:  Team Gunnlaugson, Team Dunstone,

Dark Horse Candidate:  The junior teams in Manitoba are proving to be the real deal!  We have known for the past few years the junior competition in the province has been above and beyond the competition in other provinces, as proven by the repeated national championships, but now we are seeing these teams compete on the men's level....and they are a dangerous threat against many of the more experienced teams.  Former Canadian and World Champion Team Calvert leads the way in this event as a dark horse team to keep an eye on.  As well, JT Ryan turned some heads last season and he will be looking to continue seeing his stock rise this year.

What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4):  New Team Dunstone vs. Old Team Dunstone!  Without a doubt this is the main story line everyone will be watching.  Skipper Matt Dunstone won last season's Canadian Junior Curling Championship with the "old" Team Dunstone.  In the offseason, Dunstone moved to a new team, formally skipped by now vice Alex Forrest.  Meanwhile, the previous Dunstone team picked up a power skip of their own in Jason Gunnlaugson.  Team Gunnlaugson has found great success so far in the early going's on their new team alliance, playing three events and qualifying in all three (including a SF appearance at their opening event in Oakville).  This will be the first time this season we see Matt Dunstone and his former team playing in the same event.  While they are drawn into different pools, the chances are high we see them face off in the playoffs....and we all want to see that!

Qualifiers:  Team Gunnlaugson, Team Grassie, Team Dunstone, Team Ryan, Team Calvert, Team David Bohn, Team Peters, Team Sigurdson

Championship:  Team Gunnlaugson def. Team Dunstone

KW Fall Classic

Kitchener-Waterloo, ON.

2015 Champion:  Rui Liu

Format:  18 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers.

Top Teams Entered:  N/A

Dark Horse Candidate:  Could this be the season for Ryan LeDrew?  LeDrew, a former lead for Brad Gushue, has played in three provinces now trying to find his place on tour.  After leaving Gushue and playing with a few other teams in Newfoundland, he moved from one coast to another and competed out of B.C. for two seasons.  After taking a few years off, LeDrew moved to Ontario, started a new team last year and is in year two of skipping his own team.  Last season they played a very limited schedule, officially entering only two events, but they did qualify in one of them.  LeDrew has the experience to succeed on tour and, with a wide open field, could turn a few heads this week.

What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4):  Wide open field!  This is a tough one to call.  We will see many "B-level" Ontario teams competing and this will be the perfect opportunity for a few of these teams to earn some world ranking points.  Some of these teams have already been competing the past few weeks at other spiels within Ontario while others will be sliding out of the hack for the first time this season.  With Ontario being considered a two horse race between Epping and Howard with a few other teams being considered outside challengers, the teams competing at this event have a great shot at moving from an also-ran position to dark horse Ontario Tankard challenger.

Qualifiers:  Team Higgs, Team Heggestad, Team Krell, Team Duhaime, Team Retchless, Team LeDrew, Team Sakrete, Team St. Denis

Championship:  Team Heggestad def. Team Sakrete

Lakeshore Curling Club Cashspiel

Lower Sackville, NS.

2015 Champion:  New Event

Format: 12 team round robin with 2 pools of 6 teams.  Top 6 qualify.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Murphy

Dark Horse Candidate:  All eyes in Lower Sackville will be on the 11 Nova Scotia teams competing on the ice.  However, it could be a team from fellow Atlantic province P.E.I. who shocks the home province fans and takes home the inaugural title.  Keep an eye on Team Newson this weekend.  Newson does not play a full tour schedule but when the team does enter into a spiel, they usually have strong results.  Last year the team competed in only two tour events but qualified in both.  With Team Casey no longer together and competing in P.E.I. the provincial tankard is wide open and this is a perfect opportunity for Newson to put themselves in the driver seat moving forward this season.

What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4):  While more local spiels like this new event out in Nova Scotia may not generate all the buzz and media attention, keep your eyes peeled on these events all season curling fans.  This week will be the first opportunity to see most of the top Nova Scotia men's teams compete this season.  Jamie Murphy will be the early favourite to win the Nova Scotia tankard (and this event to be honest) but anything could happen.  Many of the teams competing have the perfect opportunity to start their season's off on the right foot and prove themselves to be threats in the province.  Teams Stevens, S. Thompson and MacDougall will be strong teams to keep an eye on.

Qualifiers:  Team Murphy, Team MacDougall, Team Newson, Team Stevens, Team S. Thompson, Team Dexter

Championship:  Team Murphy def. Team Stevens


WOMEN

Mother Club Fall Curling Classic

Winnipeg, MB.

2015 Champion:  Michelle Montford

Format:  15 team round robin with 3 pools of 5 teams.  Top 8 qualify.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Englot, Team Overton-Clapham

Dark Horse Candidate:  Beth Peterson and company could be a surprise team to keep an eye out for this weekend.  Peterson reached the final here last year and will be looking for a similar deep run this year.  While many may be looking at more experienced teams like Englot, Overton-Clapham, Spencer, and Peterson, this could be the perfect under the radar team to pull off an upset or two of the top teams.  Peterson does find herself in the same pool as Englot.  They play each other in the final round of pool play, perhaps for a shot at 1st place?

What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4):  Consider this an early season pre-Manitoba women's championship (minus co-favourites Team Jones and Team Einarson).  This field has many of the top teams in the province competing this weekend and some will be stepping on the ice for the first time this year as well.  This is a great opportunity for one of these teams to really step up and show themselves to be a strong contender to the co-favourites in Manitoba this season.  We already have seen Team Englot and Team Overton-Clapham step into the hack with good results this season but can anyone else in this field also make a case for themselves as a real threat in the province?

Qualifiers:  Team Englot, Team Peterson, Team Robertson, Team Kilgallen, Team Overton-Clapham, Team Spencer

Championship:  Team Englot def. Team Overton-Clapham

KW Fall Classic

Kitchener-Waterloo, ON.

2015 Champion:  Allison Flaxey

Format:  16 team round robin with 4 pools of 4 teams.  Top 8 qualify.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Fleury, Team Flaxey, Team Middaugh

Dark Horse Candidate:  USA's Team Christensen is going to a fun team to watch over the season.  Fresh out of the junior ranks, this will be the first full season on tour for the team.  After a runner-up finish at last year's World Junior Curling Championships, Christensen is pegged by many (#TwineTime included) to be a potential world champion and the future for USA women's curling.  They may experience the freshmen growth on tour this season but, being members of the HPP south of the border, this team has the potential to grow and contend in many events in the future.  I said this last season and I will say it again now, this team will represent USA at the 2018 Winter Olympics!

What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4):  This event is Ontario vs. Team World.  We will see 13 of the top Ontario women's teams competing this weekend, providing an early insight into which teams could challenge Team Homan for the Ontario provincial title.  Of course we also see Team Fleury from Northern Ontario in the field as they look to get on a winning streak as well.  The international field is led by Korea's Team Gim and two "newish" USA teams to the tour, Team Schultz and Team Christensen.  All three international teams have a great shot at qualifying this week.  The Ontario teams better come prepared to defend their home ice!

Qualifiers:  Team Fleury, Team Hastings, Team Flaxey, Team Gim, Team Balsdon, Team Middaugh, Team Auld, Team Shultz

Championship:  Team Gim def. Team Fleury

Lakeshore Curling Club Cashspiel

Lower Sackville, NS.

2015 Champion:  New Event

Format:  13 team round robin with one pool of 6 teams and one pool of 7 teams.  Top 6 qualify.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Brothers, Team Breen, Team Clarke, Team Mattatall

Dark Horse Candidate:  Team Clarke without a doubt is the dark horse team in the field.  Well as much of a dark horse as you can be when you enter the season as the current World Junior Curling Champions!  This will be the first event of the season for the adjusted team, losing their world champion skip Mary Fay to her wanting to pursue her education (great decision by the way!!).  We did see this team compete at the season ending Champions Cup last year though and, even in their first event together as a team, proved they can and will be very competitive this season.  The draw is not too daunting for them and this will be a good test to see how they stack up against the top Nova Scotia women's teams, teams they will be competing against for that coveted Scotties berth later in the season.

What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4):  New event means an excellent season opening weekend for the top Nova Scotia women's teams.  Team Brothers, the defending provincial champions, will be looking to start their season off on a winning way.  The team surprised a few curling fans with their strong result at last year's Scotties and expectations are high heading into the year.  Team Breen, Team Mattatall, Team Clarke, Team McConnery and the rest of the field will be looking to take down the provincial champs and state their early claim to Nova Scotia favourite heading into the season.

Qualifiers:  Team Clarke, Team McConnery, Team Brothers, Team Breen, Team Mattatall, Team MacPhee

Championship:  Team Brothers def. Team Clarke

With the start of the grand slam of curling season only a few weeks away, #TwineTime wants to know which #gsoc event you look forward to the most?  Are you a fan of The Masters or The National?  Perhaps you love The Canadian Open or Players Championship the most?  Maybe you like a little change-up in the season and love the Elite 10 format?  Or perhaps the new Champions Cup to close out the season is the event you love to watch?  Either way, have your say now!  Check out the #TwineTime Home Page and vote for YOUR favourite grand slam event.