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Friday, 14 October 2016

#BetweenTheSheets: Season Of The Dark Horse?
Casey Scheidegger becoming the giant killer


What a season already for Alberta's Casey Scheidegger!  Team Scheidegger has moved from a dark horse team to watch out for to UNDEFEATED ON TOUR!!  Yes, you are reading that correctly curling fans.  Scheidegger entered two of the strongest fields on tour in the early part of this season and has walked away with two consecutive tournament championships.  A few weeks ago Scheidegger upset Eve Muirhead in a championship final.  This past week, Scheidegger took down 2014 Olympic Champion Jennifer Jones in another championship final.  Yes, #TeamWorld has been dominating overall this season.  And yes, Team Hasselborg has been playing consistent top notch curling week in and week out BUT Scheidegger is the only team to win both events entered...and beating world class competition.  With Team Carey having the auto berth to The Scotties this year as Team Canada, everyone assumed Team Sweeting would have an easy road to the Alberta Scotties.  Not. So. Fast!  Watch out Sweeting and Alberta, Scheidegger seems to be the front runner for a Scotties berth right now.



Dark horse teams could quickly become a theme for the season as well if we continue to see more "upsets" week after week.  Scheidegger is a great example but not the only dark horse team to pull out a strong weekend result.  Kyle Smith, Tyler Tardi, Glen Hansen and Chang-Min Kim are great examples of men's tour champions this season who probably would not have been expected to hold the massive cheque at the end of an event.  Besides Scheidegger, Marla Mallett, Nadine Chyz and the return of Bingyu Wang would be strong dark horse contending women's teams who have also found the winner's circle at the end of an event.  Who will be the next big dark horse to shock the curling world with a tournament win?  We could see one or two occur this weekend...but more on that below.

Scheidegger's big win wasn't the only headline from last weekend's very busy tour schedule.  Bring on the #GunnerRunback from Week 8:

  • Team Gushue returned to the top of the podium (AGAIN!) at the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard.  Even without skipper Brad Gushue in the house, Team Gushue, being led by vice Mark Nichols, continues to be the hot team on tour.  Gushue defeated a hot shooting John Epping in the final.  Strong international results for last year's men's world's runner-up Rasmus Stjerne and "Team October" Chang-Min Kim in reaching the SF.  On the women's side, Sherry Middaugh had a little pre-birthday celebration of her own in winning back-to-back events defeating Cathy Auld in the final.  Hollie Nichol surprised many with a strong SF finish as did former Canadian and World Champion Many-Anne Arsenualt.
  • The Womens Masters Basel in Basel, SUI became the perfect rebound event for Eve Muirhead.  After failing to qualify in Stockholm, Muirhead wouldn't be disappointed two weeks in a row.  Plus, after starting the season with back-to-back runner-up finishes, the monkey is off the back for the team this season in finally picking up a tour win.  The Swedish invasion continued as well...this time with Team Sigfridsson reaching the final.  Surprise SF appearances from EunJung Kim and Hannah Fleming continue the dark horse trend of the season.  Also, welcome back two-time world champ Andrea Schoepp from Germany in reaching the QF.
  • In Edmonton, Steve Laycock put together a perfect weekend of curling action in claiming the Direct Horizontal Drilling Fall Classic.  Team Laycock went 6-0 on the weekend, including victories over Jason Gunnlaugson (QF), John Morris (SF) and Reid Carruthers (F).  A great result for Team Carruthers though who had struggled in their last event but rebounded nicely last week.  Team Morris and Team Koe did well also in reaching the SF.
  • At the St. Paul Cash Spiel in St. Paul, MN the newly formed Team Heath McCormick continues to look like the early Team USA favourite in claiming the title over Team Brown.  Team McCormick has qualified in 3 of their 4 events, previously reaching the SF and F before claiming their first title of the year last weekend.  Colin Koivula and Todd Birr reached the SF.  The young up and coming Cory Christensen defended her 2015 title on the women's side.  Christensen defeated Nina Roth in the championship final and put her fellow American women teams on notice they are the team to beat this year...and have the inside early track on the Team USA women's worlds spot.  Jessica Schultz and Jamie Sinclair are right behind the top two teams though after strong SF appearances.
  • Winnipeg's Man Curl Tour Classic was the crowning of the next wave of Manitoba men's teams when former two-time junior champion Braden Calvert picked up his first ever world curling tour championship.  The excitement around Team Calvert and what they would do on tour this season has been huge and this was a massive win for them.  Watch out Manitoba teams...this junior team is ready to take on the top men's teams.  Calvert defeated Richard Muntain in the championship final.  Daley Peters and Trevor Loreth also had strong weekend results with SF appearances.

Lots of action last weekend on ice all over the world.  But did the results cause a shake-up in the #PowerRankings? Can the Gushue win move them back to the top of the mountain?  Did the Muirhead win move them back up the rankings?  And can Laycock return to the Top 5 after falling off the mountain all together in the past few weeks?  Let's answer those questions...and probably ask a few more....


MEN

1.  Team Gushue (LW: 2)
2.  Team Edin (1)
3.  Team Koe (3)
4.  Team Jacobs (5)
5.  Team Laycock (NR)

Hon. Mention:  Team Ulsrud, Team Epping, Team Morris, Team Carruthers

WOMEN

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

Hon. Mention:  Team Tirinzoni, Team Sigfridsson, Team Sidorova, Team Sweeting

Team Gushue hits the ice and wins again....so #TwineTime cannot help but move them back to the top of the rankings after a one week drop to #2.  I guess the slight slip from the top was motivation enough for the boys from the Rock last week.  We also welcome back Team Laycock to the #PowerRankings.  After a successful win in Edmonton, #TeamOranje skyrockets up the rankings to the coveted #5 spot this week.  The push for the top is starting to get tight though as Teams Ulsrud, Epping and Morris continue to have strong starts to their seasons.  But don't get too comfortable gentlemen as Teams Bottcher, Carruthers and McCormick are also starting to make a move.

The women's top two remains the same.  Ok sure Hasselborg had a rough weekend in Basel but they have been played many events this season with amazing results, one slip up is bound to happen every now and then.  We will chalk this up to a one off...for now!  Team Muirhead's win in Basel though does move them back up the rankings to #3.  And of course we not only welcomed back Jennifer Jones to the ice last weekend but back into the Top 5 after their finals appearance in Calgary.  Here comes Team Scheidegger though..making their season debut on the rankings at #4.  #TwineTime cannot ignore the incredible run this team is on right now...and they are undefeated!  The international women's teams have still been the more consistent though so it will be interesting to see if the #TeamWorld theme can keep trending to the top of the rankings, especially as we inch closer to the start of the grand slam season.

#TwineTime continued to find success with the #TourLifePredictions last week with Team McCormick and Team Middaugh picking up predicted tournament victories.  I did call Gushue reaching the final...my bad for betting against them though.  Team Roth also reached the final in St. Paul but came up short in the end.  Outside of predicting the winners and finalists, I went a perfect 6 for 6 on the women's side in St. Paul and 5 of 8 in Calgary.  For the men's events, 7 of 8 at Stu Sells Toronto, 6 of 8 in Edmonton and 5 of 8 in Winnipeg show above average predictions.

This upcoming week will see 4 men's events and 3 women's events on tour.  ALSO, this weekend begins our path to crowning our first World Champion of the curling season...the World Mixed Curling Championships get underway in Kazan, Russia.

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP

World Mixed Curling Championship

Kazan, Russia

2015 Champion:  Norway

Format:  37 nation round robin with 2 pools of 7 nations and 3 pools of 6 nations.  Top 16 nations qualify for the playoffs.

Top Nations Entered:  Norway, Sweden, Russia, Canada, Hungary, Germany

Dark Horse:  The perfect dark horse nations are the one's competing for the very first time in the competition.  Welcome Andorra, Croatia, South Korea and Netherlands to the world mixed curling stage.  South Korea has been a consistent competitor in men's and women's curling for a few years now and Netherlands is starting to make a rise on the men's tour.  I am really excited to see non-traditional nations Andorra and Croatia compete though.  Let's hope this will become a #growthesport moment for both nations moving forward!

What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4):  This is a fairly wide open world championship to be honest.  This is also only the second year of this event so it is still a bit tough for many nations, especially developing curling nations, to make a move up the rankings for a podium push.  Traditional curling superpower nations like Canada, Norway, Sweden, USA, Germany and Switzerland should once again comfortably qualify.  The interesting note with this year's event however is the "lack" of big names representing their nations.  Last year we saw more well-known names to the curling tour compete, like Rasmus Wrana (SWE), Jolene Campbell (CAN), Andy Kapp (GER), Yannick Schwaller (SUI) and Brady Clark (USA).  This year Kapp will return to skip Team Germany, Mick Lizmore will skip Team Canada, Kristian Lindsstroem leading Team Sweden and Michelle Jaeggi and Romano Meier forming the front end for Switzerland.  For the majority of those competing, this will be their first time competing on the big ice with a major title (or world championship) up for grabs.  Don't get me wrong though, as a strong #growthesport supporter, this is also VERY exciting for curling fans.  It will be exciting to see which nation, and which players, will step up and seize this moment!

Qualifiers:  Norway, Scotland, Sweden, Hungary, Russia, Australia, Czech Republic, Canada, Latvia, Germany, Switzerland, Estonia, Turkey, Italy, Denmark, France

Championship:  Canada (Mick Lizmore) def. Russia (Alexander Krushelnitskiy)

MEN

Canad Inns Men's Classic

Portage la Prairie, MB

2015 Champion:  Steve Laycock

Format:  32 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Koe, Team Jacobs, Team Morris, Team Laycock, Team Shuster, Team Stjerne, Team McEwen, Team Bottcher, Team Carruthers

Dark Horse:  See the entire bracket!  Yes there are many top teams entered in this prestige event but don't just assume those top ranked teams will find a free pass to the playoffs.  There are numerous dark horse teams in this field that could surprise.  Braden Calvert is coming off his first career tour win last week.  Korea's Chang-Min Kim has been on fire this entire month, winning events and reaching finals and qualifying when many would not have expected him to.  Team Peters and Team Lyburn are always threats, especially playing on home province soil.  Neighbouring province Saskatchewan also fields a few dark horse teams like Team Meachem, Team Korte and Team Ackerman.  And a previous #TwineTime dark horse mention, Switzerland's Michael Brunner, could surprise as well here.  Don't overlook a #TwineTime family member either as Mark Kean and his slightly altered new team could surprise this weekend.

W2W4:  Another week on tour and another stacked men's field to pay close attention to.  All the big names are here plus many dangerous floating teams like Gunnlaugson, Thomas and Dunstone.  This is going to be a tough bracket to navigate through for any team, not just those top entered teams listed above.  Keep an eye on Team McEwen though.  This team is struggling...and hard!  For a team curling fans are used to seeing on the weekend's sporting the #redpants, those fire pants sure have been collecting some dust this season.  This team is in a slump and up against a field with many teams hitting their season stride already.  McEwen probably needs to qualify here more than anyone, if only for the mental stability of the team.  Whatever they have been planning and working on up to now has not worked at all...time to switch gears.  It's way too early to pull the pin on the season...but given the results this team has had the past few years, it is getting close!  Plus they have won this tournament 4 of the past 6 years so if there was ever an event in their favour to turn around the season, this would be the one.

Qualifiers:  Team Koe, Team Jacobs, Team Morris, Team Laycock, Team Bottcher, Team McEwen, Team Carruthers, Team Gunnlaugson

Championship:  Team Koe def. Team Jacobs

Hub International Crown of Curling

Kamloops, B.C.

2015 Champion:  Sean Geall

Format:  14 team triple knockout with 6 qualifiers.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Clark, Team Joanisse, Team Tardi

Dark Horse:  Well Team Schneider certainly is putting together quite the season aren't they?  Stephen Schneider and company have played in two events this season and reached the SF both times.  They are the epitome of a dark horse team or a fly under the radar type of team.  In both of those events there were higher ranked and perhaps more well-known teams competing yet Team Schneider went about their business and reached the Final 4.  If they can continue this streak this weekend perhaps we move them off the dark horse contender list and into the watch out for list.  Interesting side note, skip Stephen Schneider is also a 3-time Canadian Gay National Curling Champion.  This guy knows his curling and has national championship titles to show for it.

W2W4:  Brady Clark and his Seattle, Washington team will make the short trip across the border to compete this weekend and should be considered a favourite to take home the title.  Team Clark has a SF appearance to their resume already this season and will come to Kamloops fresh off a QF finish in St. Paul.  This field is stacked with strong B.C. teams but it could end up being another #TeamWorld victory come Sunday.

Qualifiers:  Team S. Kim, Team Clark, Team Joanisse, Team Schneider, Team Tardi, Team Bilesky

Championship:  Team Clark def. Team Joanisse

Stroud Sleeman Cash Spiel

Stroud, ON

2015 Champion:  Codey Maus

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

Top Teams Entered:  Team Horgan

Dark Horse:  See below?  Ok being serious, Team Horgan has to still be considered a bit of a dark horse team when entering men's tour events.  This is their first real season on tour so competing against the so-called big boys on tour can still be a bit daunting.  Having said that, their results certainly speak for themselves early on in the season.  They have qualified in two of their three events, including reaching the final of the Tier II event at the Stu Sells Oakville.  The Northern Ontario team could start channeling similar strong results from fellow junior-esque teams like Manitoba's Team Calvert and B.C.'s Team Tardi and claim their first career tour victory this weekend.  Like I said at the beginning of this blog post, could this become the Season of the Dark Horse?

W2W4:  This is a wide open event but not in the same way the women's field is wide open (more on that below).  Many of the higher ranked Ontario men's teams are not competing at this event, choosing to compete elsewhere on tour this weekend or taking the weekend off.  While this creates a bit of a disadvantage for the teams who will compete in Stroud because their rankings points will suffer a bit due to Strength of Schedule (ugh...holding back from my rant again on this factor for world ranking), this could create an opportunity for the teams competing as well.  Many of these teams would be considered dark horse contenders for Ontario Tankard berths so a strong weekend could help build some momentum and confidence heading into the winter portion of the season.  This is a tough field to call as there are many teams who could pull out this title.  Which team can jump through an open door first here?

Qualifiers:  Team Deruelle, Team Corbett, Team Heggestad, Team Horgan, Team Gardner, Team Duhaime, Team Dow, Team Ross

Championship:  Team Horgan def. Team Heggestad

McKee Homes Fall Curling Classic

Airdrie, AB

2015 Champion:  Aaron Sluchinski

Format:16 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Sluchinski, Team Hansen

Dark Horse:  This event has a few up and coming young teams entered who will be looking to get their sliders wet competing with some of the more experienced teams.  Jeremy Harty and Kyler Kleibrink will both be skipping their teams with the hope of pulling a few upsets along the bracket and playing into the weekend.  Team Harty has only played one event so far but they did reach the QF in Edmonton and they did reach the QF here last season.  Team Kleibrink also reached the QF here last season and did start their season with a respectable 2-3 finish in Saskatoon at the end of September.  Both teams are very capable of qualifying here once again.

W2W4:  Can Aaron Sluchinski pull of the #3peat?  This year's event will be the 4th edition and Sluchinski has won the past two.  Sluchinski struggled last weekend in Edmonton going 0-3 to start off their season.  However Airdrie is the home city and this is their home ice so you have to think they will turn things around quick and forget all about last weekend.  Interestingly enough, the only other player to win this event is Matthew Blandford, who took home the inaugural event back in 2013.  And Blandford just happens to be entered into the event this weekend to start the season with his newly formed team.  As you may remember Blandford had an up and down season last year curling with Brock Virtue then returning to skip his own team for a bit and then joining forced with Team Smallwood in Yukon to try and make a Brier run.  Blandford is back in the house though, reconnecting with former teammates Darren Moulding and Brent Hamilton and adding Bert Martin at lead.  The talent is there for a good run this weekend but will the lack of on ice competition so far this year hurt them early on against teams playing their second or third event already?  Of course, #TwineTime is always a proud supporter of Matt, a mamber of the #TwineTime family remember!

Qualifiers:  Team Sluchinski, Team Hansen, Team Blandford, Team Yablonski, Team White, Team Harty, Team Jantzen, Team Usselman

Championship:  Team Hansen def. Team Blandford

WOMEN

Hub International Crown of Curling

Kamloops, B.C.

2015 Champion:  Un-Chi Gim

Format:  20 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Sigfridsson, Team Fujisawa, Team Gim, Team Mallett, Team Gushulak

Dark Horse:  B.C.'s Karla Thompson could surprise many of the top international teams competing this weekend.  Team Thompson is having a great season already, reaching the SF in both of their events.  Thompson is the defending B.C. Scotties champion as well remember and would love nothing more than to get back to the national championship.  With the resurgence of Team Mallett and Team Gushulak already this season, Team Thompson will need to continue putting up strong, consistent results if she does want to keep that provincial title.

W2W4:  #TeamWorld vs. #TeamCanada will be front and centre this weekend in Kamloops.  Of the 20 teams entered, 9 of them are international.  Led by defending champion Un-Chi Gim of Korea and Japan's Team Fujisawa, the opportunity for another Team World win on tour could happen.  However, perhaps the biggest international threat will once again come from Sweden and Team Sigfidsson.  Last season was disappointing for this team but the off-season shake up and addition of Cissi Ostlund throwing 4th stones seems to be working really well.  Team Sigfridsson comes ready to compete after reaching the finals in Basel too.  Don't cross out Team Canada yet though as Team Mallett and Team Gushulak will look to both win their second tour events of the season on home province ice.

Qualifiers:  Team Sigfridsson, Team Fujisawa, Team Thompson, Team Gim, Team Mallett, Team Gushulak, Team Brown, Team Barbezat

Championship:  Team Sigfridsson def. Team Fujisawa

Stroud Sleeman Cash Spiel

Stroud, ON

2015 Champion:  Julie Tippin

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

Top Teams Entered:  Team Auld, Team Tippin, Team Hastings, Team Harrison

Dark Horse:  There is something about Heather Heggestad and her team that makes me think this could be their big breakthrough event.  They do already have a SF finish at the Stu Sells event in Oakville but this weekend could see them go one round further...perhaps even take home the title.  Heggestad did win this event back in 2013 so she has had previous success on this ice.  Also, looking at the draw, her pool is more manageable for her to make a deep run than if she was in the other, more competitive pool vs. the likes of Auld, Tippin, Cadorin and Hastings.

W2W4:  Another Ontario event and another opportunity for top Ontario women's teams to stake their claim to the becoming the Homan challenger for the season.  Ontario women's curling should not be considered a one-trick pony right now by any means.  Just look at the teams competing in Stroud and look at the results they have put up already this season in previous tour events.  Team Auld and Team Tippin have looked strong week in and week out.  Team Cadorin started the season strong and will be looking to build more momentum.  And we already know how strong Team Hastings (skipper Julie Hastings is also a proud member of the #TwineTime family) and Team Harrison are.  Oh and here comes Team Balsdon as well.  This should be fun to see where the rocks stop by Sunday.

Qualifiers:  Team Balsdon, Team Harrison, Team Heggestad, Team Auld, Team Tippin, Team Hastings

Championship:  Team Tippin def. Team Auld

Atkins Curling Supplies Classic 

Winnipeg, MB

2015 Champion:  Darcy Robertson

Format:  21 team round robin with 3 pools of 4 teams and 1 pool of 5 teams.  Top 8 qualify.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Sinclair, Team Meilleur, Team Brown

Dark Horse:  Lisa Menard's team currently sits just within the Top 60 of the world rankings and is a team that has struggled to qualify for events in the past.  However, they did reach the final of their last event of the season last year and they did reach the SF of their first event of the season this year.  Both are positive results and steps in the right direction.  Menard could surprise a few teams ranked above her but also has a favourable draw playing a few teams ranked many spots below her.  If she can win the games she should win in the round robin, that alone should carry them into the playoffs.  Once there, anything can happen!

W2W4:  This event may feel like an all Manitoba affair but it just could be a team south of the border who takes home the title.  USA's Jamie Sinclair has been touted the past few years as the future of USA women's curling.  Last season started strong with many qualification results but, as the season played on, Team Sinclair's high level of play dropped off.  This season, Sinclair once again started strong reaching the SF in her first event but then saw back-to-back disappointing finishes before the SF appearance last weekend in St. Paul.  Consistency and momentum are two issues plaguing this team.  They already saw Team Christensen and Team Roth pass them.  If they want to keep pace, a strong result here is needed!

Qualifiers:  Team Brown, Team Smith, Team Robertson, Team Kilgallen, Team Menard, Team Spencer, Team Sinclair, Team Meilleur

Championship:  Team Meilleur def. Team Menard

Time is slipping...slipping....almost going right through the house like a rock on fire....for YOUR chance to have YOUR say on which Grand Slam of Curling event YOU like best.  Head over to the #TwineTime Home Page and vote NOW!!  I want to crown the #GSOC Fan Choice Award!