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Friday, 4 November 2016

#BetweenTheSheets: Grand Slam History!
The Masters crowns first-time champs & stirs up the power rankings


In a season of unexpected results, dark horse tour winners and the resurgence of #TeamWorld, the results of the #2016WFGmasters should not have come as a surprise to any curling fan.  Sweden's Niklas Edin erased the monkey off his back in collecting his first, of hopefully many, grand slam title.  It has been noted in this blog over the past weeks how strong #TeamWorld has been this season and Edin has been leading the pack.

Edin played a game of consistency throughout the week.  While suffering an early loss to Brad Jacobs during pool play, Edin extracted his revenge in the championship final with an extra end steal to seal his maiden title.  #TwineTime called it in the event preview and Team Edin delivered on championship Sunday!

On the women's side, we saw a David vs. Goliath final with multiple grand slam champion Team Homan battle the up and coming dark horse Team Flaxey.  These two teams met in the Shorty Jenkins championship earlier in the season with Homan claiming victory.  Revenge was on the mind of Allison Flaxey though as the underdogs would slide into the history books claiming their first grand slam title.  #TwineTime mentioned Team Flaxey as the dark horse team to watch for #TeamCanada and they swept that title right to the button in dominating fashion, including a huge one-sided win over Team Tirinzoni in the SF.  Oh and not to mention the fact they needed an early Saturday morning TB victory over Team Einarson just to make the playoffs!

While the grand slam event in Okotoks nabbed most of the curling headlines last weekend, it was not the only event on tour taking place (view the #TwineTime Sights & Sounds of the Masters HERE).  Let's take a quick #GunnerRunback at last week's results.
  • Nik Edin took home the Masters title in Okotoks over Brad Jacobs but props also go out to a few other teams.  Steve Laycock and Reid Carruthers continued their solid mid-season form in reaching the SF while David Murdoch survived a TB over world champion Kevin Koe to reach the QF along with Brad Gushue (Mark Nichols), John Epping and Mike McEwen.
  • Allison Flaxey defeating Rachel Homan for the Masters title in Okotoks sent shockwaves across the curling community.  But strong results from #TeamWorld was also a big story with Anna Hasselborg and Silvana Tirinzoni reaching the SF and world champion Binia Feltscher and Korea's EunJung Kim qualified for the QF.  Props to #TeamCanada though also with Jennifer Jones and Chelsea Carey reaching the QF. 
  • At the Huron ReproGraphics Oil Heritage Classic in Sarnia, ON another #TeamWorld victory would be added to the list when USA's Heath McCormick defeated Jake Higgs in the final.  Brent Ross and Todd Birr had strong showings in reaching the SF. 
  • The Riga International Challenge in Riga, Latvia saw the German team of Daniela Jentsch defeat Switzerland's Isabelle Maillard for the title.  Estonia's Maile Molder and Belarusian Alina Pavlyuchik reached the SF.  How's that for #growthesport?  Estonia and Belarus represented in the SF of an international tournament.  This is great to see!!
  • In Grand Prairie, AB home rink favourites Kurt Balderston defeated Tyler Pfeiffer to win the inaugural Grand Prairie Cash Spiel.  Graham Powell and Brett Vavrek reached the SF.  On the Grand Prairie Cash Spiel - Challenge side, it was another home town champion crowned when Delia DeJong bested Serge Martin in an exciting inter-gender final.
The week following a grand slam event is always exciting when you sit down to evaluate the #PowerRankings mountain.  Did teams at or near the top of the mountain live up to expectations?  Did those teams in the honourable mention category topple some of the teams ahead of them to make their own statement rise up the mountain?  Or did teams completely come out of nowhere make some noise and now find themselves in the rankings discussion?  Based on all the results of last week, here are the updated Power Rankings:


MEN

1.  Team Edin (LW: 1)
2.  Team Jacobs (HM)
3.  Team Gushue (2)
4.  Team Laycock (4)
5.  Team Carruthers (5)

Hon. Mention:  Team Koe, Team Murdoch, Team Epping, Team McCormick

WOMEN

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

Hon. Mention:  Team Tirinzoni, Team Kim, Team Muirhead, Team Feltscher

We continue to see a Sweden vs. Canada battle at the top of the men's and women's Power Ranking mountain.  Team Edin sits firmly at the top of the men's rankings now after their grand slam win while Team Jacobs sees a rise from the Hon. Mention category into that coveted #2 spot on the mountain.  It is hard to knock Gushue down a position after another strong result in reaching the QF but how can you not credit Jacobs for their results.  Not only did they reach the grand slam final but they did defeat Gushue in the QF AND did have an earlier pool play win over Edin.  Those are pretty strong arguments for why Jacobs takes a VERY SLIGHT lead over Gushue behind Masters champ Edin.  Laycock and Carruthers both showed consistent results with their SF finishes to stay in the Top 5.  It is just hard to move both up when they were defeated by Jacobs and Edin respectfully and Gushue has been one of the most consistent teams on tour all season.  The big move is seeing defending world champion Team Koe displaced by Jacobs.  I wouldn't be too concerned for the world champs though, they didn't exactly blow everyone away at the start of last season and look how that ended up?!

Team Homan's run to the final in Okotoks cements them at the top of the women's rankings, including a huge victory over Hasselborg in the SF.  A Hasselborg SF result though does keep them right up there with Homan as the two best teams on tour so far.  Hard to knock them for a SF loss to Homan.  #TwineTime cannot ignore the magical run of Team Flaxey though...welcome to the Top 5!!  A move from not ranked to #3 is one of the fastest rising teams the #TwineTime blog has ever seen, especially after a grand slam.  Jones reaching the QF causes a slight bump up their rankings while Scheidegger sees a slight dip to #5 only due to inactivity.  Scheidegger will be in Cranbrook next weekend though for The Tour Challenge Tier II event...can their winning streak continue? Once again though, look at those Hon. Mention teams....#TeamWorld is on the hunt!!

If you read the Masters preview post you would have been astonished with the precise accuracy of the predictions.  Heck, even I myself almost had to pinch myself in amazement over the correct predictions.  Sure enough #TwineTime was 100% correct in predicting Team Edin to defeat Team Jacobs in the championship final.  In fact, I went 7/8 in predicting the men's qualifiers.  And the one I missed, Koe, lost in a TB.  For the women, I did have Homan defending her Masters title but she came up just short in finishing runner-up.  A mediocre 5/8 on predicting the qualifiers however.

This is an interesting week on tour.  A grand slam event has just wrapped up and another grand slam event is slated to run next week.  Many of the top teams on tour, including most of the 60 teams scheduled to compete in the Tour Challenge Tier I and Tier II event in Cranbrook, are taking the week off to prepare.  But that doesn't mean the #wct action comes to a dead halt like a burnt stone failing to find the momentum to cross the hog line.  We continue on with Week 12 action.  One highlight for the week is the Asia-Pacific Curling Championships are set to take place in Uiseong, Korea from November 5 - 12.  Here are the #TourLifePredictions:

MEN

Pacific - Asia Curling Championship


Uiseong, Korea

2015 Champion:  South Korea (Kim Soo-hyuk)

Format:  9 team round robin with Top 4 making the playoffs (1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 format)

Top Teams Entered:  South Korea (Kim Soo-hyuk), Japan (Yusuke Morozumi), China (Liu Rui)

Dark Horse Contender:  Welcome Qatar!  The perfect #growthesport moment will happen in Uiseong when Qatar fields their first-ever curling team at #2016PACC.  With the recent addition of Hong Kong and Kazakhstan in the past, Qatar brings the total competing nations to 9 (with Australia, New Zealand, Chinese Taipei rounding out the field).  Considering in 2011 only 6 nations competed, the addition of these 3 nations in the past 5 years is a huge win for the sport in the continent.  Sure all 3 are not expected to contend for a playoff spot, let along a World Championship spot, but the fact all 3 nations are now competing can only mean good things for the future!

What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4):  Last season South Korea ended the magical 8-year continental championship run for China in claiming only their second win (first in 2002).  Meanwhile Japan once again finished runner-up for the 4th straight year and 6th time in the past 8 years.  The top two teams will earn automatic qualification for the 2017 Ford World Men's Curling Championship in Edmonton and the winner will earn a spot at the season ending Champions Cup in Calgary.

Qualifiers:  South Korea, Japan, China, Chinese Taipei

Championship:  Japan (Morozumi) def. South Korea (Kim)

Cookstown Cash

Cookstown, ON

2015 Champion:  Peter De Cruz

Format:  30 team round robin with 6 pools of 5 teams.  Top 12 qualify.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Epping, Team Howard, Team De Cruz, Team Smith

Dark Horse Contender:  #TeamWorld is well represented with strong contenders at this event with the likes of Team De Cruz and Team Smith competing.  But it could be another Swiss team that could steal the show.  Team Pfister has quietly put together a strong start to the curling season, qualifying in 4 of 5 events including a runner-up showing at the Curling Masters Champery event.  Last season Mark and Enrico Pfister, along with lead Simon Gempeler, curled with Sven Michel.  This season the boys have broke away, picked up second Raphael Maerki, and are looking to make a name for themselves on the world stage.  Pfister has competed in European and World Championships in the past and while most curling fans may not be familiar with him compared to many other European and Swiss power house teams, they are not to be undervalued as a championship threat this week.

W2W4:  There are quite a few teams competing in this event that will also be competing in Cranbrook next weekend at the Tour Challenge.  Can any of the Tier I (ie: Epping, Smith) or Tier II (ie: Howard, Balsdon, Maus etc) gain some momentum heading into the second grand slam event or will they get caught looking ahead a bit and have their confidence shaken by choosing to compete this week?

Qualifiers:  Team Epping, Team Dow, Team De Cruz, Team Heggestad, Team Howard, Team Maus, Team Smith, Team Ross, Team Pfister, Team Dereulle, Team Krell, Team Balsdon

Championship:  Team Epping def. Team Pfister

Edinburgh International

Edinburgh, Scotland

2015 Champion:  Kyle Smith

Format:  18 team round robin with 3 pools of 6 teams.  Top 8 qualify.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Stjerne, Team Mouat

Dark Horse Contender:  The Czech Republic is not usually considered a traditional curling power house nation in Europe.  Sure the nation has fielded a few teams at the World Championship level and has been able to stay within the European Championships A pool for most years but crossing over from also-ran to title contender has been a bit of a slow process.  David Sik has been around for most of those championship events and is largely the main point of success for the sport in Czech Republic.  The Prague team could make a break through this weekend though.  The field is manageable for them and they are coming off a QF appearance at their last event in Champery.  The Edinburgh International is the one consistent event on the Team Sik calendar and has been their most successful in terms of qualifying.  A championship title might be a bit out of a reach but a playoff run certainly is not.

W2W4:  This is a perfect lead-up event for some of the teams that we could see competing at the upcoming European Championship.  A bit different from tour events we see throughout Canada, the international events in Europe are not only the opportunity for teams to pick up valuable points, money and tour wins but also an opportunity to display national pride against European rivals.  As we saw last week in Latvia with Estonia and Belarus teams reaching the SF, this event can provide huge momentum for a team (and a nation) heading into the big European Championship.

Qualifiers:  Team Mouat, Team Team Rantamaki, Team Stjerne, Team Sik, Team Kauste, Team Attinger, Team Baumann, Team MacDonald

Championship:  Team Stjerne def. Team Kauste

Ken Kurbis Galaxy Bonspiel

Winnipeg, MB

2006 Champion (last time event was competed):  Vic Peters

Format:  30 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Calvert, Team Lyburn, Team Peters

Dark Horse Contender:  62 year old two-time Labatt Brier and World Champion (1982, 1985) Northern Ontario skip Al Hackner continues to shine on the competitive curling stage.  Hackner won the 2006 Canadian Senior Curling Championships and as recent as 2015 lost the Northern Ontario provincial final to Brad Jacobs.  Hackner competed against Vic Peters at the 1992 Brier in Regina, when Peters won his only national title.  What a great story it would be if Hackner could turn back the clock and win this title to honour his past competitor.

W2W4:  This will be a tough event for the competitors this year.  The last champion at this event was famed three-time Manitoba champion and 1992 Labatt Brier Champion Vic Peters.  Peters passed away on March 27, 2016 from lymphoma cancer and the effects of his passing are still felt around the curling community, especially within Manitoba, to this day.  Heavy hearts will be with son Daley Peters as he looks to continue the winning Peters tradition and keep this title in the Peters name.

Qualifiers:  Team Lyburn, Team Peters, Team Calvert, Team David Bohn, Team Dennis Bohn, Team Forrester, Team Muntain, Team Hackner

Championship:  Team Lyburn def. Team Calvert

WOMEN

Pacific - Asia Curling Championship

Uiseong, Korea

2015 Champion:  Japan (Satsuki Fujisawa)

Format:  8 team round robin with Top 4 advancing to playoffs ( 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 format)

Top Teams Entered:  China (Wang Bingyu), Japan (Satsuki Fujisawa), South Korea (Eun-jung Kim)

Dark Horse Contender:  Last year only 5 nations entered this event.  This year the number has increased to 8.  Welcome Qatar!  Welcome Hong Kong!  Welcome back Australia!  Similar to the men's field, this is exciting growth for the continent in seeing Qatar and Hong Kong field teams.  And after taking last year off from competition, Australia returns to the ice to compete once again.  The big story could be Kazakhstan though.  They were a surprise 4th place finisher last year and will be looking to build on that result this year.  It could be tough mind you, but anything is possible!  #growthesport remember....

What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4):  Japan has dominated the continent, winning their 14th championship last season.  However, last year was their first win in 9 years.  China has claimed 7 of the past 10 titles with South Korea claiming 2.  Outside of New Zealand's surprise 3rd place finish in 2011, China, South Korea and Japan have finished on the podium each year since 2003.  All 3 nations should continue to lead the way this year and the fight for 2 World Championship spots (and 1 Champions Cup spot) will be quite competitive and fierce.

Qualifiers:  Japan, South Korea, China, New Zealand

Championship:  South Korea (Kim) def. Japan (Fujisawa)

Royal LePage OVCA Women's Fall Classic

Kemptville, ON

2015 Champion: Jacqueline Harrison

Format:  24 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Ogasawara, Team Middaugh, Team Arsenault

Dark Horse Contender:  Danielle Inglis could be a player to watch this weekend.  The team has been THIS CLOSE to qualifying for the playoffs in their previous two events this season, falling one win short both times.  Both of those events were round robin formats though and this is a triple knockout....it could work more to Team Inglis' advantage.  The team has played competitive curling in both events and will be familiar with the teams opposing them.  A dark horse run to the playoffs is not out of the question.

W2W4:  This is another field with a few teams choosing to compete this week before flying across the country to B.C. for the Tour Challenge grand slam event next week.  Teams Middaugh and Ogasawara will be competing in the Tier I event so this is a great opportunity for them to get some more ice time under their sliders.  Meanwhile, Team Tippin will look to gather some momentum before competing in their first grand slam at the Tier II event.

Qualifiers:  Team Middaugh, Team Ogasawara, Team Inglis, Team Tippin, Team Auld, Team Arsenault, Team Nicol, Team Larouche

Championship:  Team Middaugh def. Team Ogasawara

Cookstown Cash

Cookstown, ON

2015 Champion:  Julie Tippin

Format:  10 team round robin with Top 4 qualifying.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Kean, Team Heggestad

Dark Horse Contender:  Most of the field to be honest.  For most teams competing this week, this could be only their first or second event of the season.  Even the teams who have played a few more events on tour this year, most have failed to qualify for the playoff round.  Huge opportunity for all 10 of these teams to make some noise for themselves moving forward in the season.

W2W4:  This is a very small event, only seeing 10 teams entered.  But don't kid yourself on the importance here.  For these 10 teams, this is a great opportunity to pick up a tour victory, perhaps a first in their career on tour, some valuable cash and a few rankings points.  Momentum and confidence will also play a key advantage for the team who does come away with the championship on Sunday.

Qualifiers:  Team Kean, Team Waye, Team Heggestad, Team Froud

Championship:  Team Kean def. Team Heggestad

Before signing off for the week, as a proud Regina born curling fan I would remiss not to quickly mention the exciting news made by Curling Canada this week.  The 2018 Tim Hortons Brier will be coming to Regina, SK curling fans!!!!  The very first curling event I ever attended was the 1998 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, cheering on Team Schmirler as Team Canada and Cathy Trowell as Team Saskatchewan.  I attended the event with my grandparents and instantly became hooked to attending events live.  I am excited for the curling community within Saskatchewan to host another Curling Canada event.  Special thanks to Steve Samchyk for sending me pictures during the live announcement Thursday morning.  :)

Head over to the #TwineTime blog main page now for the NEW POLL!!  I still want to hear from you on which side of the rivalry theme you are cheering for this season.  Are you #TeamWorld or are you #TeamCanada?  Have your voice be heard NOW curling fans.