Curling has not been a sport where we see as many upsets. Sure there are mild upsets every once and awhile at the Scotties or the Brier but in general I think we can all agree, for the most part, the rich get richer. Ok maybe a Mark Dacey or Jean-Michel Menard Brier win gets us all excited for some upsets and finally seeing a few fresh faces in the victory circle. But let's be honest, in comparison to other competitive sports the major upsets are not on par on the ice. Until now perhaps?
The talk of the season, from a #TwineTime perspective anyway, has been the on-going rivalry between #TeamWorld and #TeamCanada. Which side is the most dominant in the sport? Which side can win more grand slams? Which side will emerge at the world championships to end the season? But now let's enter a new team into the equation: #TeamUpset! We have seen a few upsets on tour this season, Casey Scheidegger winning three straight tournaments against fairly strong fields would rank right up there. But the slams have, for the most part, been same old the past few seasons. Enter Allison Flaxey and the balance of power is slightly shifting.
When Team Flaxey took home The Masters title in Okotoks a few weeks ago, a chain reaction was set in motion. You could feel it in the arena...I was there, trust me fans felt it! A new face. A new team. A different champion. There was an extra sense of excitement in seeing a team very few thought had a chance (#TwineTime did list them as the dark horse remember) emerge victorious. Fast forward a few weeks to Cranbrook and #TeamUpset continued to leave their mark on the sport. Michelle Englot, similar to Team Flaxey, rode the TB route to upset conquests over heavily favoured Team Homan and Team Hasselborg. Sure Englot lost the final but the upset train was still rolling. What about Scotland's Kyle Smith? Who would have thought they would make the Tour Challenge final? I certainly did not. Even our Tier II champions, Team Harrison and Team Balsdon, were upsets given their opposition in the final, Team Howard and Team McCarville.
Sidenote: Check out #TwineTime's Tour Challenge wrap-up blog HERE where the curlers discuss the crazy ice conditions at Tier I, the #growthesport mentality behind Tier II and shed some light on what they think of the current #Movember look.
The sport of curling has been dying for a bit more parity. Week in and week out we generally see the same "elite" teams take home the championship titles. And nothing against the Gushue's, Epping's, Jacobs' and Koe's of the world. We love these teams! We cheer for these teams! We enjoy watching them! But every so often you want to see that #16 seed rise above the middle to bottom of the pack and pull the major upset. Flaxey, Smith, Englot, Harrison, Balsdon....these are all great teams who have led the #TeamUpset charge this season. The question is whether it will continue or whether those dominant #TeamCanada (Gushue, Jacobs, Homan etc) and #TeamWorld (Edin, Hasselborg, Tirinzoni etc) teams can fight them off and continue their stranglehold on tour victories and world rankings. Either way, I have said it before and I will say it again, the 2016/17 curling season is shaping up to be quite different and more exciting than what we perhaps have seen in the past! #growthesport
The Tour Challenge grabbed the major headlines last week on tour, as a grand slam usually does, but more was going on around the world too. Here is this week's #GunnerRunback:
- Cranbrook was another stop on the victory train for #TeamViking and Niklas Edin. The Swede's continued their winning streak in claiming their second grand slam title....in a row! Edin, who started the event 0-2, went on a winning streak and would not be stopped en route to picking up the Tour Challenge Tier I title. Edin overpowered the young Scottish team led by Kyle Smith in the final. Props to Team Smith though in reaching their first grand slam final and setting up the very first all-European grand slam men's final! Fellow #TeamWorld member Thomas Ulsrud from Norway and #TeamCanada leader Mark Nichols (leading Team Gushue) reached the SF. It was a welcome back party for Team Sweeting on the women's side as they claimed their second career grand slam title as well defeating #TeamUpset member Michelle Englot in the final. Strong results once again though for Masters champ and #TeamUpset founding member Allison Flaxey and #TeamWorld perennial threat Anna Hasselborg on reaching the SF.
- The Tour Challenge Tier II event also took place in Cranbrook. Ontario's Jacqueline Harrison notched a W for #TeamUpset when she defeated Scotties finalist Krista McCarville in the women's all-Ontario final. A strong event for past Alberta Scotties champion Shannon Kleibrink and defending B.C. Scotties champion Karla Thompson as they reached the SF. On the men's side, #TeamUpset added another member when Greg Balsdon knocked off 4-time World Champion Glenn Howard in another all-Ontario final. #TeamWorld was represented in the SF with USA's Craig Brown and home province favourite Dean Joanisse had a strong event with a SF finish as well.
- At the Original 16 WCT Bonspiel in Calgary, perhaps another #TeamUpset contender emerged when Saskatchewan's Carl deConinck Smith defeated #TeamWorld member Steffen Walstad's team from Norway. deConinck Smith get revenge for the earlier loss to Walstad in the round robin. Kurt Balderston continued his strong play this season in reaching the SF as did Thomas Usselman.
- In Wetzikon, Switzerland, we saw a #TeamWorld member also join the #TeamUpset camp when the home nation celebrated a Melanie Barbezat victory over two-time World Champion Andrea Schoepp from Germany to claim the International ZO Women's Tournament title. Worth noting, Team Schoepp played this entire event with only 3 players! Switzerland's Lisa Gisler and Czech Republic's Anna Kubeskova showed a true #growthesport #TeamWorld mentality in reaching the SF. Remember this event also featured World Champions Eve Muirhead (QF) and Binia Feltscher (DNQ). Speaking of Feltscher, did you read the #TwineTime interview with her yet? You should!
- The Crestwood Ladies Fall Classic in Edmonton brought another tour victory for Nadine Chyz. Team Chyz claimed their second title of the season defeating Kalynn Virtue (nee Park) in the championship final. Nicky Kaufman and former Saskatchewan junior champion Kristen Streifel reached the SF. Hmmmm two finals in a row, two titles overall....Team Chyz might be ready to become a member of #TeamUpset by the time Alberta Scotties roll around?
Of course when a grand slam event comes to a close the first question on my mind is: what will these results do to the #PowerRankings? Well, let's find out shall we.
1. Team Edin (LW: 1)
2. Team Gushue/Nicols (3)
3. Team Smith (NR)
4. Team Laycock (4)
5. Team Jacobs (2)
Hon. Mention: Team Carruthers, Team Ulsrud, Team Epping, Team Balsdon
1. Team Homan (LW: 1)
2. Team Flaxey (3)
3. Team Sweeting (NR)
4. Team Hasselborg (2)
5. Team Englot (NR)
Hon. Mention: Team Jones, Team Tirinzoni, Team Ogasawara, Team Harrison
No surprise should come from Team Edin holding onto the top spot in the rankings. They have been the hottest team on tour and the distance they are creating right now between them and the other teams is growing exponentially week in and week out. Welcome Team Smith in their return to Top 5, now occupying that always hard to hold onto #3 spot. After a brief drop from the Top 2, Team Gushue/Nichols climbs back to #2 after their strong SF result. Team Jacobs failing to qualify in Cranbrook gives them the big drop to #5. Team Ulsrud returns to the Hon. Mention section and welcome the debut of Team Balsdon.
Team Homan may have been upset in the QF by eventual finalist Team Englot but they dominated the round robin and once again qualified at a slam. Consistency is key and this team has that. The only concern, which is slowly growing, is the question of when they will return to their dominant ways? If ever? Team Flaxey jumps up a spot with their SF appearance to follow-up on their Masters title while Tour Challenge champion Team Sweeting sits right behind them as the biggest jumper of the week on the women's side. Team Hasselborg sees a slight drop even with their SF showing in Cranbrook while #TeamUpset member Team Englot makes their Top 5 season debut. Welcome Team Harrison to the Hon. Mention category as well.
The #wct action doesn't take a break the week after a grand slam either rock heads. We have three big events on tour taking place in Alberta, Manitoba and Nova Scotia. Oh yeah, we also have this minor (VERY MAJOR) event called the European Curling Championships beginning in Scotland! Worth noting, the European Championships will be our second continental championship after the Pacific-Asia wrapped up a few weeks ago. If you remember, #TwineTime did go 2-for-2 in predicting the #pacc2016 champions...let's see if the trend continues at #ecc2016?! Quite a lot of action on the ice to keep an eye on #curling fans....let's hurry hard into #TourLifePredictions
European Curling Championships
2015 Champion: Sweden (Niklas Edin)
Format: 10 team round robin with top 4 advancing to playoffs (1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3 format)
Top Teams Entered: Team Edin (Sweden), Team Ulsrud (Norway), Team de Cruz (Switzerland), Team Brewster (Scotland), Team Stjerne (Denmark)
Dark Horse Candidate: Who will be this year's Team Finland? Last year Aku Kauste surprised many with his 2nd place finish in the round robin, avoiding the TB and ultimately finishing 4th at the event. Who could surprise this year? Hmmm...maybe Aku Kauste and Team Finland again? They are back and looking to prove last season was no fluke. But if you want the ultimate #TeamUpset to cheer for keep an eye on Austria, skipped by Sebastian Wunderer. A title here is probably too much of an upset to expect but the team qualified for the A division as the B division runner-up last season and it will be interesting to see how they perform on the big stage. Last season we said the same thing for the Netherlands and they ended up being relegated. Can Austria avoid the same fate?
What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4): There are many subplots brewing heading into this event. Can Team Edin continue the hot streak they are on from the grand slams in Canada and pull the #3peat? Edin has won the European Championship 4 times in the past 7 years and will look to become only the second ever #3peat champion (Scotland's Hammy McMillan 1994-96). But also look out for Rasmus Stjerne and his Denmark foursome. Last year Stjerne's Team Denmark were not even competing in the A division. They qualified for this event via their B division championship victory. And look what they did with that win. They ended up being the top European team (only Euro team to make the playoffs) at the World Championships when they finished runner-up. Of course Norway's Thomas Ulsrud will be a threat as always in looking to win his 3rd European title and first since going back-to-back in 2010 and 2011. Remember as well, besides the continental championship, the top 7 teams also qualify for the 2017 Ford World Men's Curling Championships in Edmonton. The 8th and final spot will go to the winner of the World Challenge between the 8th place A division team and the B division winner. Last year Denmark rallied, I think we see the same happen this year with another surprise team.
World Championship Qualifiers: Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Denmark, Scotland, Finland, Germany, Czech Republic
B Division Relegation: Italy, Austria
Qualifiers: Sweden (Edin), Norway (Ulsrud), Switzerland (de Cruz), Denmark (Stjerne)
Championship: Sweden (Edin) def. Switzerland (de Cruz)
B Division Qualifiers: Czech Republic (Kubeska), Israel (Freilich), Latvia (Gulbis), Netherlands (Van Dorp)
B Division Championship: Czech Republic (Kubeska) def. Netherlands (Van Dorp)
2015 Champion: Reid Carruthers
Format: 32 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers.
Top Teams Entered: Team Carruthers, Team McEwen, Team Gunnlaugson, Team McCormick, Team Dunstone
Dark Horse Candidate: #TeamWorld could steal a win at this event. While most of the top "elite" European teams are competing in Scotland at the European Championships, this event does see a strong contingent of international flavour. USA has Team McCormick and Team Fenson as dark horse title contenders. Sweden's Gustav Eskilsson has qualified in all 3 events entered this year and has a title to their credit already. Norway's Steffen Walstad has qualified in 3 of 4 events and has steadily improved each event going from DNQ to QF to SF to F. Last weekend they reached the final in Calgary. Switzerland's Yannick Schwaller could also be a dark horse team to make the playoffs here.
What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4): This event is Team Manitoba FTW! A team from Winnipeg has won this event the past 4 years yet we have never seen a repeat champion. In addition, Mike McEwen has surprisingly only won this event once, way back in 2010! McEwen and Carruthers will be the overwhelming favourites to reach the championship final here. Gunnlaugson, fresh off a mildly disappointing Tour Challenge Tier II result, should be considered a team to watch out for as well. And Matt Dunstone is a former champion (2014) albeit with a different team (Gunnlaugson's team to be exact). Interesting to note, Carruthers vice Braeden Moskowy could technically be considered the only multiple champion here as he skipped his Saskatchewan team to the title back in 2011.
Qualifiers: Team McEwen, Team Carruthers, Team Gunnlaugson, Team McCormick, Team Dunstone, Team Eskilsson, Team Walstad, Team Korte
Championship: Team McEwen def. Team Carruthers
Red Deer Curling Classic
Red Deer, AB
2015 Champion: Mick Lizmore
Format: 32 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers
Top Teams Entered: Team Koe, Team Murdoch, Team Bottcher, Team Kim, Team Smith, Team Thomas
Dark Horse Candidate: There are some strong Alberta men's teams entered in this event that could be worthy of dark horse candidate consideration. Bottcher and Thomas are the early favourites for the Alberta title with Lizmore sneaking up as a team to watch but what about a few of the other Alberta teams entered this weekend? Thomas Usselman's team reached the SF last weekend and has qualified in their last two events. Glen Hansen is undefeated so far this season having played two events and winning both. Ted and Tom Appelman are back curling together as well and they have qualified in 2 of 3 events this season, including reaching the final in Medicine Hat a few weeks ago. These three Alberta teams could surprise a few of the "elite" this weekend.
What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4): This event is very top heavy with "elite" teams. In fact 5 of them just competed at the Tier I Tour Challenge event. The interesting thing to watch however is whether the next group of teams can narrow the gap between these "elite" teams and themselves. Sure we know Koe, Murdoch, Bottcher and Thomas are outstanding teams. And Tour Challenge finalist Smith has quickly established themselves as a team not to overlook. But can one or more of those teams just below them, the Lizmore, Meachem, Jacobson teams of the world, gain some ground and pull off a few upsets here? This event truly has representation from all three camps: #TeamCanada, #TeamWorld and #TeamUpset. Which comes away with a victory though?
Qualifiers: Team Smith, Team Murdoch, Team Koe, Team Kim, Team Bottcher, Team Thomas, Team Lizmore, Team Meachem
Championship: Team Koe def. Team Kim
Dave Jones Mayflower Cash Spiel
2015 Champion: Brad Gushue
Format: 18 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers.
Top Teams Entered: Team Pfister, Team Murphy
Dark Horse Candidate: This event is layered with strong teams from Nova Scotia but the dark horse teams could come from neighbouring rival province New Brunswick. Jason Roach, Wayne Tallon and Rene Comeau are teams that could ruin the home province celebration. This is the first time we will see Roach and Tallon on the competitive ice this season and only the second time we will see Comeau. Of course this could hurt all three of them playing against teams who have been playing competitive WCT events already on the year. In the three-year history of this event, Nova Scotia claimed the first two titles and Newfoundland and Labrador took home the title last year. Could we see a third Maritime province take home the trophy this weekend?
What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4): 18 teams mostly coming from the Maritime provinces yet it is the team from Switzerland that could steal the show this weekend. Marc Pfister's team has played the most events this season compared to the field and has had consistent results. The team has qualified in 4 of 6 events; however, they have had mixed results in Canada. They reached the QF in Sarnia but failed to qualify in Cookstown. The question is whether they can put together the same consistency we see from them when they curl at European events here in Canada. They have a great opportunity to pick up their first-ever WCT title this weekend.
Qualifiers: Team Pfister, Team Murphy, Team Stevens, Team Thompson, Team Roach, Team Adams, Team Fournier, Team Comeau
Championship: Team Pfister def. Team Murphy
European Curling Championships
Braehead, Renfrewshire, Scotland
2015 Champion: Russia (Anna Sidorova)
Format: 10 team round robin with top 4 advancing to playoffs (1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3 format)
Top Teams Entered: Team Muirhead (Scotland), Team Hasselborg (Sweden), Team Feltscher (Switzerland)
Dark Horse Candidate: There are many dark horse teams to keep an eye on this week. Obviously Russia's Victoria Moiseeva is the leader of the pack after dismantling perennial Russian powerhouse and defending champion Anna Sidorova to qualify here. Germany's Daniela Jentsch is another team to keep an eye on. They have been slowly climbing up the rankings the past few years and do have a tournament win to their credit this season. Of course past champion Andrea Schoepp of Germany is not here...nor will she ever return again it appears according to the German Curling Federation. But one of the unheralded and relatively unknown teams to really watch out for would be the Czech Republic's Anna Kubeskova. They have played two events on tour, qualified in both and come to Scotland fresh off a SF appearance last weekend in Switzerland. They could be the Oona Kauste/Team Finland team of 2016.
What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4): The big storyline here is the absence of the defending champion. Anna Sidorova lost the Russian qualification competition to Victoria Moiseeva. You have to think powerhouse teams like Muirhead, Hasselborg and Feltscher were not too disappointed in seeing Sidorova loss mind you, given how strong her team has been in recent years. But still, the lack of a defending champion does hurt a bit. HUGE pressure on Moiseeva here. If she can even come close to replicating Sidorova's results of last year and at least reach the playoffs here, they could quickly become the #1 team for the Russian Federation and steal that World Championship and (perhaps) Olympic spot. Speaking of teams missing, last year's podium darling Oona Kauste from Finland will also not be here. Kauste guided Finland to their first ever women's podium finish in taking home a bronze medal. She will not be competing as Finland will be represented by Anne Malmi. And what about Denmark's Lene Nielson? Will this FINALLY be the year she makes the podium? Nielson has finished 4th at this event the past 5 years....5 YEARS IN A ROW!! How crazy is that? Also remember, similar to the men, the Top 7 teams will automatically qualify for the 2017 Ford World Women's Curling Championship in Beijing. The 8th place team will face off with the B division winner in the World Challenge to determine the final spot. Last season, again similar to the men, the women's B division champion (Italy) defeated the #8 A division team (Norway) to "steal" the world championship berth. Can it happen again?
World Championship Qualifiers: Sweden, Scotland, Switzerland, Denmark, Germany, Czech Republic, Russia, Estonia
B Division Relegation: Italy, Finland
Qualifiers: Sweden (Hasselborg), Scotland (Muirhead), Switzerland (Feltscher), Denmark (Nielson)
Championship: Sweden (Hasselborg) def. Denmark (Nielson)
B Division Qualifiers: Estonia, Hungary, Belarus, Turkey
B Division Championship: Estonia (Molder) def. Belarus (Pavlyuchik)
2015 Champion: Jennifer Jones
Format: 24 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers
Top Teams Entered: Team J. Jones, Team Flaxey, Team Sigridsson, Team Englot, Team Einarson, Team Harrison
Dark Horse Candidate: We have a four-pack of young Manitoba teams to keep an eye on this weekend. Teams Birchard, Burtnyk, Meilleur and Peterson are the future of Manitoba women's curling. All four teams have had an ok season to date, qualifying at some events and missing out at others. They are all familiar with one another as they tend to have the same schedule of events entered. With the "elite" Manitoba women's teams expected to dominate the landscape for a few more years, the question will be which of these four young skips is ready to step up their game, join #TeamUpset and start making a move up the contender ladder?
What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4): How do the teams who just finished competing in Cranbrook at the Tour Challenge rebound one week later? Tier I teams like Jones, Flaxey, Sigfridsson, Englot and Einarson should be expected as the favourites to qualify. However, Sigfidsson and Einarson had disappointing results in Cranbrook. Jones looked great one game and struggled in the next. Flaxey reached the SF but then was completely destroyed by Sweeting and has Englot erased the disappointment of coming up short in a grand slam final? Also remember Einarson will not be in Morris as she is competing at the Canadian Mixed Curling Championships representing Team Manitoba with Braden Calvert. Tier II teams will also be well represented, especially from current champion Team Harrison. Can they carry over the grand slam win momentum into another event or will they suffer a slight emotional let down?
Qualifiers: Team Flaxey, Team J. Jones, Team Harrison, Team Sigfridsson, Team Brown, Team Tippin, Team Englot, Team Meilleur
Championship: Team Flaxey def. Team Harrison
Red Deer Curling Classic
Red Deer, AB
2015 Champion: Kelsey Rocque
Format: 22 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers.
Top Teams Entered: Team Carey, Team Rocque, Team Ogasawara, Team Fleming, Team Chyz
Dark Horse Candidate: Could we finally be seeing the emergence of Kalynn Virtue? Virtue has been a main fix on the mixed doubles curling stage for years now, winning national championships and world medals with partner Charley Thomas. However her success has not carried over to the women's game. Last weekend she reached her first final as a skip and momentum could be swinging her way heading into another Alberta event. And if you want a complete way out in left field team to watch, keep an eye on Switzerland's Ursi Hegner. Hegner has added former Andrea Schoepp vice Imogen Oona Lehmann as her vice and that experience could begin to pay off soon. As well, Switzerland women seem to love this event having won 3 of the past 5 years here (Paetz 2014, Feltscher 2013 and Tirinzoni 2011).
What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4): Chelsea Carey and Kelsey Rocque will be the main focus at this event. Carey had a disappointing result in Cranbrook and the team has not looked like the defending Canadian champions all season. Rocque had a disappointing result in Okotoks but turned it around, slightly, in Cranbrook in reaching the QF. However, with Carey receiving the Team Canada bye to the Scotties and Rocque skipping the Alberta Scotties this year, you may want to keep an eye on some of the other Alberta teams entered this weekend, namely Nadine Chyz, Shannon Kleibrink and Nicky Kaufman. Val Sweeting may be considered the early favourite for the Alberta title but these three teams could present a big challenge. All three are having strong seasons with Chyz riding a winning streak right now and Kleibrink coming into Red Deer off a SF finish at the Tour Challenge.
Qualifiers: Team Carey, Team Ogasawara, Team Rocque, Team Kleibrink, Team Chyz, Team Fleming, Team Kaufman, Team Kim
Championship: Team Ogasawara def. Team Rocque
Dave Jones Mayflower Cash Spiel
2015 Champion: Jill Brothers
Format: 15 team round robin with 3 pools of 5 teams. Top 6 qualify.
Top Teams Entered: Team Arsenault, Team C. Jones, Team Brothers, Team MacPhee, Team Breen, Team Clarke
Dark Horse Candidate: Cheering for a home province win is always exciting but watching the one non-home province team come away with a title is more fun. PEI's Robyn MacPhee seems to be leading the PEI charge on tour this season and the early favourite for the PEI Scotties berth. MacPhee has qualified in 3 of 5 events, including an upset championship win in their last event in Kemptville. Traditionally Nova Scotia teams have been considered the stronger teams compared to PEI; however, MacPhee has been coming on strong lately on tour and could be ready to reverse the trend and end the Halifax championship stranglehold on this title.
What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4): This event feels a bit like the preview for the Nova Scotia Scotties. All the top Nova Scotia women's teams are here competing so this is a great opportunity for curling fans to see which teams should be considered the early favourites, which teams could surprise and which teams have some work to do before February. Home city Halifax has cheered on a home team to victory for each of the 3 years this tournament has operated. If history is to hold true, teams like Arsenault, Breen, Jones, Brothers and Mattatal should be considered early favourites. Arsenault won this title in 2014 and Brothers is the defending champion.
Qualifiers: Team Arsenault, Team MacDiarmid, Team MacPhee, Team Breen, Team Brothers, Team C. Jones
Championship: Team Brothers def. Team MacPhee
One additional sidenote curling fans. ICYMI, #TwineTime published a great interview with Olympic champion Joan McCusker during the Tour Challenge. I had the opportunity to chat with the 3-time Scotties and World Champion while in Okotoks at The Masters. McCusker shared her thoughts on shifting from the ice to the broadcasting booth, the #growthesport movement and gender equality in sports. If you haven't done so, please check out the interview HERE.
Finally, the #TwineTime poll has been updated curling fans. Before I asked which team you were on this season: #TeamCanada or #TeamWorld. #TeamWorld took an early lead but time to shake things up a bit. Head over to the #TwineTime main page and vote in the updated poll. Which team are you on now: #TeamCanada, #TeamWorld or #TeamUpset? Have YOUR say now!