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Wednesday, 30 November 2016

#BetweenTheSheets: Pressure On For PyeongChang
Olympic trials spot on the line at Canada Cup of Curling


The realization the 2018 Winter Olympics are just over a year away will set in quick this weekend in Brandon, MB.  Seven of the top men's and women's curling teams in our nation will hit the ice at the Keystone Centre and compete for a coveted Roar of the Rings invite.  The Roar of the Rings will take place next year in Ottawa, with the winning men's and women's teams earning the right to don the Maple Leaf and represent Canada in PyeongChang, South Korea.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves quite yet.  There is still A LOT of curling to take place over the next year.  Let's just consider this week's Canada Cup of Curling event as the official "kick in the ass" start on the Olympic road.  Ok, yes I realize Team Homan, Team Jones and Team Koe already have their hotel reservations set in Ottawa.  One year out from the trials though, the realization for all teams should sink in quick now....the struggle is real and qualifying for Ottawa is no easy feat!

Of course the Roar of the Rings spot is not the only thing on the line this week.  The men's and women's champions also earn their spot on Team North America at the 2017 Continental Cup in Las Vegas this January.  Who doesn't want a trip to Vegas right after New Year's to have some fun and win some money? #TeamCanada  Speaking of money, the Canada Cup of Curling also has lots of that to go around with a total purse of $140K!!

As you may have noticed (or didn't notice at all which would burn my stones just a bit) the #TwineTime blog took last week off.  The work load has been intense as of late and hey, a dude has to eat right?  If only this blog could pay the bills....

In the past two weeks we have crowned a few champions on tour....including crowning (or re-crowning in one case) our European Champions.  Here is the quick #GunnerRunback on a few of the results on tour over the past two week (for a full summary check out World Curling Tour):

  • This is King Niklas' world and we are just happy to live in it! #TeamViking completed the Euro #3peat and continued to steamroll the competition this season, defeating Norway's Thomas Ulsrud in the European Curling Championship final.  A quick sidenote Niklas Edin fans, stay tuned to the #TwineTime blog for a special interview with King Niklas himself heading your way within the upcoming week!!!  Switzerland's Peter de Cruz picked up the bronze over #TeamUpset Russia's Alexey Timofeev.  A few other notable props go to Austria's Sebastian Wunderer for keeping Austria in Group A for another season and Netherlands Jaap van Dorp for defeating Austria and "stealing" the men's world championship berth.  Also the Netherlands and Slovakia were promoted to Group A.  Disappointing to see Denmark and Finland relegated to Group B next year though....both a shocker to be honest!
  • Speaking of #TeamUpset...Welcome Russia's Victoria Moiseeva to the conversation.  After upsetting defending Euro and Russian champ Anna Sidorova to earn her spot in Scotland, Moiseeva upset the pack in defeating Sweden's Anna Hasselborg in the final earning Russia back-to-back European Curling Championship titles.  Tough loss for Hasselborg who had a fairly easy draw for the championship but hit a guard and gave up a steal in the final end.  Scotland had something to cheer for though when Eve Muirhead took home the bronze defeating another #TeamUpset contender Czech Republic's Anna Kubeskova (hmmm did #TwineTime call them as the perfect upset team?!!).  Props as well to Hungary and Turkey for Group A qualification.  And disappointment again for Finnish curling as Finland joins Norway in being relegated to Group B.
  • At the Dekalb Superspiel in Morris, MB we welcomed back Mike McEwen to the winner's circle, defeating William Lyburn in the final.  Reid Carruthers and Sweden's Gustav Eskilsson reached the SF.  On the women's side, Jennifer Jones repeated her 2015 title when she defeated the red hot Michelle Englot in the final.  Julie Tippin and Jamie Sinclair (clinching her spot on Team North America for the Continental Cup) reached the SF.
  • Kevin Koe also returned to his winning ways in Red Deer, claiming the Red Deer Curling Classic by defeating Tom Appelman in the final. Brendan Bottcher and Kyle Smith were SF finishers.  On the women's side, Nadine Chyz continued her hot streak picking up another title when she beat Scotland's Hannah Fleming in the final.  Kelsey Rocque and Switzerland's Ursi Hegner (a #TwineTime dark horse pick remember) reached the SF.
  • In Halifax, Jamie Murphy continued to show why he is a threat for the Nova Scotia tankard in picking up the Dave Jones Mayflower Cash Spiel with a finals win over Stuart Thompson.  Paul Dexter and Michael Fornier reached the SF.  Jill Brothers defended her women's championship besting rival Theresa Breen in the final.  Colleen Pinkney and Mary Mattatal made the SF.
  •  Nova Scotia's Stuart Thompson erased his loss to Murphy last weekend in picking up the Challenge Casino de Charlevoix title over Chad Stevens.  Greg Balsdon and Sebastien Robillard round out the SF.
  • As the Coors Light Cash Spiel in Duluth, MN, Heath McCormick's team not only took home the championship when they defeated John Shuster in a blockbuster USA final but they also clinched their spot on Team North America for the Continental Cup in Las Vegas.  Mike Farbelow and Craig Brown reached the SF.  On the women's side, Nina Roth defeated Jamie Sinclair for the title with Cory Christensen and Krista McCarville rounding out the playoff spots.
  • #DunnyIsMoney once again curling fans as Matt Dunstone picked up a tournament win this weekend, claiming The Sunova Spiel title over David Bohn.  David defeated twin brother Dennis Bohn in the SF while Dunstone defeated Daley Peters.  On the women's side, Tracey Fleury gained some momentum heading into the Canada Cup when she defeated Michelle Englot in the championship final.  Barb Spencer and Colleen Kilgallen reached the SF.
  • At the Boundary Ford Curling Classic in Lloydminster, AB Sherry Anderson was welcomed back into the championship club when claimed the title over Chantelle Eberle in an all-Saskatchewan final.  We haven't seen too many Saskatchewan titles on tour this season so this was a great result for the prairie province.  Saskatchewan's Nancy Martin and defending champion Alberta's Casey Scheidegger reached the SF.
  • Chalk up another #wct victory for #TeamWorld this weekend as well as China's Bingyu Wang continues her comeback tour in claiming the Driving Force Abbotsford Cashspiel.  Wang defeated Karla Thompson in the final.  Marla Mallett and Kesa Van Osch made the SF.  On the men's side John Morris picked up a championship title defeating Team Dangerfield in the final.  Dean Joanisse and Sean Geall picked up SF results.

Wowzers....a crazy past two weeks of tour results.  And I only included a few of the events above!  With all the results sweeping in across the country...and from Europe....you know there must be some updates to the #PowerRankings right?  Well let's take a look and see how the past two weeks shake up the mountain:


MEN

1.  Team Edin (LW: 1)
2.  Team Gushue/Nichols (2)
3.  Team Ulsrud (HM)
4.  Team McEwen (NR)
5.  Team Koe (NR)

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

WOMEN

1.  Team Homan (LW: 1)
2.  Team Hasselborg (4)
3.  Team Flaxey (2)
4.  Team Sweeting (3)
5.  Team Moiseeva (NR)

Hon. Mention:  Team Englot, Team Muirhead, Team Jones, Team Chyz

It would appear the #TwineTime mountain was rocked to its core over the past two weeks as we see shakeup's all over the place.  But regardless of landslides, avalanches and earthquakes, one thing remains constant: Team Edin and Team Homan have a firm grip at the top.  Edin's run through the European Championship, coupled with his back-to-back grand slam wins, makes the gap between him and the field as wide as the Grand Canyon right now.  Homan, while taking some time off to prepare for the Canada Cup, may have been inactivebut she still remains at the top.

Norway's Thomas Ulsrud moves up to the precarious #3 spot after his run to the Euro final while McEwen and Koe use impressive recent victories to reclaim their spots in the Power Rankings...spots they relinquished earlier in the season.  But with the Canada Cup coming up, Teams Laycock, Jacobs and Carruthers are all chomping at their heels in trying to make a rise back up the mountain.

Anna Hasselborg may have had a crushing loss in the Euro final but reaching the championship is enough to move her Swedish team back to the #2 ranking, knocking Flaxey and Sweeting down a spot.  We certainly cannot ignore Russia's Moiseeva her first #TwineTime ranking spot after claiming the Euro title.  Welcome to the #PowerRankings!  Moiseeva holds the difficult #5 spot...for this week anyway.  Muirhead stays in the conversation after her outstanding Euro play.  Sure a bronze medal was disappointing given how they dominated the round robin but a podium position is better than missing a medal all together.  Team Englot continues to be red hot, now having reached three straight championship finals.  Team Chyz is also heating up as we approach the Christmas break.  And never underestimate Jennifer Jones....especially going into a huge event like the Canada Cup in her home province of Manitoba!

Speaking of the Canada Cup, let's slide into that conversation shall we?  The Canada Cup of Curling has a rich history within the sport in our country.  The event began in 2003 with a total purse of $220K...a much larger amount then we see nowadays.  However, the Canada Cup was also one of the first major curling events to offer both a men's and women's competition from the beginning with equal prize money.  Do you remember when there were qualification events for the Canada Cup?  I sure do!  Starting back in 2004 and running until 2010, teams would win specific events to earn their spot in the event.  This system was abolished in 2011 for the current format of using the CTRS rankings as the qualification system.  I don't think it would come as much of a surprise to any loyal #TwineTime reader to hear my support for the old system.

While I agree reserving a berth for the Tim Hortons Brier and Scotties Tournament of Hearts winner makes sense, opening the remaining 6 spots based solely on CTRS rankings is a bit....ummm....boring or, dare I say it again, elitist?  The rankings already make it very difficult for a team to crack into the grand slam field....this qualification system makes it next to impossible to reach this event.  Why not offer the Top 4 CTRS spots an auto berth and leave the remaining 2 spots open to an East and West qualification event?  Yes, I realize this has been done before.  So?  I like that concept and I like the idea of a team "winning" their spot into this event.  It's similar to the Tier II grand slam idea...and fans seem to like that concept.  Considering what is at stake for the Canada Cup, perhaps it is time to rethink the qualification system just a tad bit?!

Now speaking of history and tradition, some of the best and most successful curlers have hoisted this trophy in the past.  Kevin Martin holds the record for Canada Cup titles with 4 (2005, 2006, 2009, 2011) with Randy Ferbey close behind with 3 (2003, 2004, 2007).  As you can see already, this event has been dominated by Alberta teams on the men's side.  Alberta has picked up 9 of the previous 12 championships.  Manitoba has two winners with Jeff Stoughton (2012) and Mike McEwen (2014).  Ontario rounds out the winner's field with Glenn Howard taking home the title in 2010.  Interesting to note, Kevin Martin and Glenn Howard have three runner-up appearances as well.

On the women's side, guess which skip has won the most titles?  Jennifer Jones?  Nope!  Colleen Jones?  Nope!  The record currently belongs to Saskatchewan's Stef Lawton with 3 (2008, 2010, 2012).  Jennifer Jones and Shannon Kleibrink both have two titles.  The prairie provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba seem to dominate the women's event, claiming 9 of the 12 titles.  In fact, Rachel Homan's victory last season ended the 9 year winning streak for the prairie trio.

Ok soap box and history lesson complete.  Let's get to the fun stuff.  Bring on the #TourLifePredictions for the 2016 Canada Cup of Curling:

Home Hardware Canada Cup of Curling

Brandon, MB

2015 Champions:  Kevin Koe (men) & Rachel Homan (women)

Format:  7 team round robin with Top 3 qualifying.  First place team earns direct bye into the final.

The Favourites

Team Gushue - The big news leading into this event was the possible return of skip Brad Gushue.  Unfortunately last week it was announced Gushue is still recovering from the hip/groin injury sidelining his all season and the team will once again be skipped by Mark Nichols and welcome Charley Thomas back as vice.  As a fan of Gushue's, this is still tough to see and you want to see him on the ice because he is a competitor.  Having spoke with him in Okotoks, you can tell this is killing him inside to not be out there.  But, bigger picture story line here right?  He wants to ensure he is ready to go for provincial playdowns and the hope of competing in front of a home crowd at the Brier this season.  And rumor has it we might only have to wait another week as The Goo could be back in the house for the Boost National grand slam next week in Sault Ste. Marie.  How exciting...The Goo in The Soo!!  On the flip side, the team is still succeeding even with Gushue's absence.  Thomas has fit in quite nicely at numerous events over the season as well and this team, outside of #TeamViking, has been the most consistent team all season.  Sure only 1 title to their credit bu the QF spot at the Masters and SF spot at the Tour Challenge are strong results and keep this team as the favourite.  Expect to see this team fighting for their Roar of the Rings spot into the weekend.

Team Homan - Last year Team Homan extracted revenge on Team Sweeting for the Canada Cup loss in 2014.  This year Team Homan will enter the event as defending champions.  Sure the team is familiar with playing the role of favourite and defending champion often on tour but this is quite a different event.  There is A LOT at stake here.  Yes the team already has their trials spot locked up but this season has not exactly gone according to Team Homan plan.  Sure they won their opening two events of the season but the past two slams have not produced the results we are used to seeing, being upset in the Masters final and Tour Challenge QF.  They are still the strongest team on tour, nobody is doubting that.  But they need to get back to their winning ways and this is the perfect event to re-claim their dominance.

Watch Out For

Team Jacobs - Well last season is a far off distant memory now isn't it?  The struggle was real last season in watching the defending Olympic champions not pick up a tour win and reach only one final.  Sure the team qualified in almost every event but could not get over the QF or SF hump all season.  Fast forward to this year and the team really has their swagger and confidence back.  When they picked up their tour victory in Saskatoon earlier in the season, in only their second event of the year, everyone could tell this team was back!  And welcome back indeed.  Now they are on the hunt to do something that has never been done before in men's curling....defend an Olympic gold medal.  The road starts here and a victory in Brandon would secure them a spot in the trials and a chance to defend their Team Canada jackets.  They know what is at stake and they are hungry to recapture their Olympic spot.  Reaching the Masters final helped fuel the fire but, honestly, I think failing to reach the playoffs at the Tour Challenge is what makes this team even more dangerous.

Team Sweeting - No surprise here...ok well maybe a little surprise? Until their Tour Challenge victory a few weeks ago in Cranbrook Team Sweeting had been struggling on tour.  Qualifying in only 2 of their opening 5 events, including failing to qualify at the Masters, left many fans wondering what is going on with this team?  Cranbrook was the perfect time to right the ship though and they seem to have rediscovered their confidence and swagger.  Of course whether that carries over to Brandon is another story but I wouldn't bet against it.  Sweeting seems to thrive at this event, winning in 2014 and reaching the final last year.  Could we see Sweeting vs Homan Round 3?

Dark Horse

Team Laycock - I have said it before and I will say it again.  I don't think any top men's team in Canada is more overlooked or undervalued than Saskatchewan's Team Laycock!  Heading into grand slam events and Canada Cup events in the past, the focus of attention is always on other big name teams.  Now not to take anything away from successful teams like Koe, Jacobs and Gushue of course....these teams have all won Brier's and/or Olympic gold.  But when you look at a team that consistently battles the best and has strong results, Team Laycock should be a team in the conversation to make some noise in Brandon.  They have a tour title to their credit and have qualified in their past 5 events, including a SF result at the Masters and a QF finish at the Tour Challenge.  Fans and media can continue to sleep on this team if they want, but their bronze medal finish at the 2015 Brier shows this team can fly under the radar and right onto the podium at any time.

Team Fleury - We have been saying this for years, Team Fleury is a team on the cusp of greatness in this sport.  But the clock is ticking and your time to excel can be taken from you just as fast as it is given to you.  This team truly is an enigma in a way.  The talent is there but the results are mixed.  They have qualified in 5 of 7 events this season so there is a sense of consistency; however, until last weekend, they have failed to advance past the QF.  Again, until last weekend when they won their first event of the season in Winnipeg.  They will make the short drive to Brandon with a ton of confidence and a bit of a monkey off their back one would think.  While the Homan's, Sweeting's, Jones' of the world will probably garner more media and fan attention, I would keep my eye on Tracy Fleury.  Having watched this team at the Masters and Tour Challenge, they could be ready for their breakout major event....and what a perfect time to do so!

Projected Standings

Men

Gushue      4 - 2
Jacobs        4 - 2
Laycock     3 - 3
McEwen    3 - 3
Koe            3 - 3
Carruthers  2 - 4
Epping       2 - 4

Women

Homan      5 - 1
Sweeting   4 - 2
Jones         4 - 2
Fleury       3 - 3
Rocque     2 - 4
Einarson   2 - 4
Carey        1 - 5

Men's Championship:  Team Jacobs def. Team Gushue

Women's Championship:  Team Homan def. Team Jones

Enjoy the action rock heads and stoners and, as always, feel free to share your thoughts with me on twitter or in the comments section below.  Who are your picks for the Canada Cup title?  Agree or disagree with #TwineTime?

HAVE YOUR VOICE HEARD NOW!!  The #TwineTime poll has been updated curling fans.  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!