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Wednesday, 9 November 2016

#BetweenTheSheets: Who Will Survive Cranbrook?
60 teams set their sights on the #TourChallenge championship


The biggest grand slam event of the season hits the ice in Cranbook, B.C. this week as 60 teams (60!!!) vie for the #TourChallenge title.  This event is in it's sophomore season after proving to be a huge success last year in Paradise, NFLD.  The idea of hosting a Tier I and Tier II event at the same time is not only an excellent opportunity for the teams invited to participate but also for #curling fans.

While the Tier I winner will collect a #gsoc title, an automatic berth in the season ending Champions Cup and HUGE rankings points, the Tier II winner also has much, if not more, to play for.  The Tier II champion will also be recognized as a #gsoc champion but will also earn an automatic invite to the next grand slam event, The Canadian Open, in January.  To say there will be lots on the line and high intensity would be an understatement!


Take a look at last season's Tour Challenge winners though.  Kevin Koe ended up winning the World Championship.  Silvana Tirinzoni had a break through season after their "upset" of Rachel Homan in the final.  Jim Cotter and Kerri Einarson used their Tier II wins to propel them into the upper elite status of the sport and now both teams find themselves competing in Tier I one year later.

#ButFirst let's take a quick check in with the results of last weekend's action.  Here is the quick and dirty #GunnerRunback of last week's World Curling Tour results:
  • At the Cookstown Cash event in Cookstown, ON, John Epping continued his Ontario winning streak in defeating Switzerland's Peter de Cruz in the championship final.  Strong showing by Dayna Deruelle and Scott Bailey in reaching the SF.  On the women's side, Heather Heggestad defeated Mallory Kean in the final.  Susan Froud and Kelly Cochrane had SF appearances.
  • In Edinburgh, Scotland, a surprise champion emerged when Czech Republic's Karel Kubeska upset home nation favourite Bruce Mouat to take home the Edinburgh International.  Fellow Scottish team Grant Hardie and last year's world champion runner-up's Rasmus Stjerne from Denmark reached the SF.
  • The Royal LePage OVCA Women's Fall Classic also produced an upset champion...and a huge victory for #TeamCanada.  PEI's Robyn MacPhee defeated Japan's Ayumi Ogasawara in the final.  Hollie Nicol and Danielle Inglis reached the SF round in Kemptville, ON.
  • At the Ken Kubris Galaxy Bonspiel in Winnipeg, Trevor Loreth defeated up and coming junior team Braden Calvert in the championship final.  Dennis Bohn and Daley Peters made SF appearances as well.
Last week was the semi-awkward week in between the opening two grand slam events of the season.  But we did still have some great events taking place, as noted above, and crowned a few surprise champions.  How did the weekend's results affect the #PowerRankings?  Let's find out...


MEN

1.  Team Edin (LW: 1)
2.  Team Jacobs (2)
3.  Team Gushue (3)
4.  Team Laycock (4)
T5.  Team Carruthers (5)
T5.  Team Epping (HM)

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

WOMEN

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

Hon. Mention:  Team Tirinzoni, Team Kim, Team Muirhead, Team Ogasawara, Team MacPhee

A relatively quiet #wct weekend results in little change among the rankings mountain.  The most notable change is the addition of Team Epping in the Top 5.  Their championship win in Cookstown cannot be ignored but it also created an enigma as I could not "punish" a previous Top 5 team and drop them down because on inactivity.  The net result?  For one week only, #TwineTime is allowing a tie for the #5 spot.  This blog has tried very hard to never be a fence sitter with ties in the rankings system but this is one week where I will make an exception.  But make note Teams Laycock, Carruthers and Epping (and those in the Hon. Mention category or unranked), to claim a Top 5 spot moving forward, results will speak louder than words and the freebie pass will not be offered again!  Also, welcome back to the contender category Team Mouat!  They built some great momentum heading into Cranbrook.

On the women's side of the mountain, no changes in the Top 5.  We do welcome a few teams to the Hon. Mention section though.  Team MacPhee's upset championship win cannot be ignored so #TwineTime welcomes them into the contender category.  As well, the team they beat in the final, Team Ogasawara, also returns to the contender category after a brief absence.

It should be worth noting many top Pacific-Asia teams from Japan, China, South Korea are in the middle of competing at the Pacific-Asia Curling Championships.  But #TwineTime is paying close attention to the results and those results could affect the #PowerRankings next week....in addition to the #TourChallenge results.  Looking for a preview of #pacc2016?  #TwineTime has you covered!!

Now for this week's #TourLifePredictions, we are going to try something a bit different.  I have been enjoying a relaxing weekend of watching old school WWF pay-per-views and, if you are a secret wrestling fan like I am, you would also know November is Survivor Series month!  The Survivor Series used to be my favourite PPV as a kid.  I loved the idea of a group of wrestlers coming together in an elimination-style match.  The #TourChallenge in Cranbrook certainly has a Survivor Series feel to it with 15 men's and women's teams in the Tier I event and 15 men's and women's teams in the Tier II event.  For this special preview, let's take a #SurvivorSeries approach in looking at all 4 event fields and analyze it in an elimination-style prediction blog post!  #growthesport....#growtheblog right?  Here we go....

TOUR CHALLENGE

Cranbrook, B.C.

Tier I

Men

2015 Champion:  Kevin Koe

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

15.  Team Smith - So the youngest team in the field gets the honour of first elimination...how unfair does that sound?  Nothing against the boys from Scotland, this blog has been big fans all year.  The blog has even had Team Smith in and out of the Top 5 Power Rankings earlier in the season.  However, the top teams are starting to elevate their game and get into mid-season form and that spells trouble for the youngsters.  Can they compete with any of the teams in the field?  Of course.  They did beat Team Carruthers at The Masters...and do draw them again this week.  A surprise playoff push is not out of the question either but Pool A is tough with 3 of the 5 teams ranked near the top of the world rankings.  They need to curl almost perfect every game to have a shot here.

14.  Team Bottcher - How is the Bottcher/Simmons plan going?  Well the season started strong with the team qualifying in their first 3 events, including back-to-back SF finishes to open the season.  However they have failed to qualify in their previous 2 events, including a struggle at The Masters.  Expectations are high on this team entering the season, with many predicting them to be the favourites for the Alberta title now that Team Koe won't be there.  At this point though, I wouldn't be so sure.  Another team from Alberta may have overtaken that favourite role..but more on them in a moment.

13.  Team Shuster - The boys from Duluth will be looking for quite a different grand slam experience compared to the one they had a few weeks ago in Okotoks.  After struggling throughout the event and failing to qualify, Team Shuster will have a bit of revenge on their mind in Cranbrook.  The current Team USA boys find themselves in Pool C and could pick up a win or two along the way.  The question is whether two wins would even be enough to reach the playoffs and avoid a long line of TB's in this field.  Always a fan favourite for their fun loving attitude and good nature on the ice, fans will want to see this team play well...but the wins and results could be tough to find.

12.  Team Thomas - The Superman Skip continues to play on.  We saw Charley Thomas at The Masters with Team Gushue two weeks ago.  Last week Thomas was in Seattle competing in a mixed doubles event (reaching the SF).  Now we find him back in the house skipping his team.  And he has a new team...well new team member.  Welcome back Craig Savill!!  Curling fans across the world are excited to see the two-time world champion lead back on the ice given his diagnosis of Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2015.  The sentimental favourite this week will be Team Thomas...we want to see them do well and for Savs to get right back to fine form.  They find themselves in a very tough Pool A though...where Thomas will draw his Masters teammates Team Gushue on Wednesday night.

11.  Team McEwen - Ok if you would have told me one year ago I would listing Team McEwen as one of the initial eliminated teams from a grand slam event I would have told you you were crazy.  Alas, here we are.  The #redpants are gone this season and the team just doesn't look like their same old self's.  Crazy considering most thought after finally reaching their first Brier last season, the momentum would carry over into this season.  Not the case...not yet anyways.  The QF appearance at The Masters was great to see but that was only their second of five qualified event of the season.  The boys from Manitoba need to regroup and regroup quick or this season is going to get away from them fast!  They find themselves in Pool C with two teams previously eliminated in this blog and two teams near the top of the rankings.  If chalk holds, they finish 2-2 and maybe have a TB spot?

10.  Team Murdoch - The first team to make the elimination list from Pool B....our "Group of Death".  Crazy to think Team Murdoch is the first to make the cut list too considering they are fresh off the TB win over Koe and QF appearance at The Masters.  The Scottish boys have qualified in 3 of 5 events this year, including their last two.  This ranking is more to do with a VERY TOUGH pool draw they have been given.  They could finish anywhere from 4-0 to 2-2 to 0-4 and it wouldn't be a surprise.  But the same could be said for any of the teams in this pool....speaking of....

9.  Team Morris - The next "Group of Death" team...and defending Tour Challenge Tier II champions Team Cotter...now Team Morris.  Last season Team Cotter turned the Tier II title run into a successful season overall, including The Masters final in their next grand slam event.  The team has been able to hold on to their Tier I status and now welcome back John Morris for this season.  Overall the season has been a success, qualifying in their first 4 events but failing to win a title.  They did miss the playoffs in Okotoks however so they will enter this event looking for a bit of redemption.  They will also be the home province favourites so that crowd support could help.  The draw gods certainly didn't help them mind you.

8.  Team Ulsrud - Of the teams we did not see in Okotoks, Norway's Team Ulsrud is probably the best bet to knock off those "Masters" teams and make a playoff push in Cranbrook.  The "pants" are back at a slam and looking to contend once again.  They have qualified in 3 of 4 events this season; however, at their last event in Champery, Switzerland they did miss qualification...barely!  Oddly enough Ulsrud has only won one title since the 2014/15 season yet is one of the most consistent teams on tour to qualify in events entered.  They find themselves in the "Group of Death" Pool B so the ice rust will need to wear off quick if they want to have a shot at the playoffs.  Don't underestimate this group finishing with all 5 teams having a 2-2 record!

7.  Team Carruthers - I know, I know...how can I possibly have this team at the #7 position.  Honestly, it is more on circumstance of how the pools aligned then a slight against how this team is playing.  They draw a very tough Pool A where all of those teams could shock the other...remember Team Smith did defeat Carruthers in Okotoks.  But this team is playing great right now and fresh off a SF appearance at The Masters.  A playoff push is very possible but they will need to be on top of their game early.

6.  Team Koe - What is happening with the World Champs?  Should curling fans start getting concerned?  They are playing a reduced schedule this season compared to last, given they have the auto berth in the Brier as Team Canada.  They have qualified in all their events....except the last one...The Masters.  Losing the TB to Team Murdoch was a bit of a setback for the team but I wouldn't pull the pin and raise the concern level to orange quite yet.  They are the defending champions at this event too remember.  However, they are in the "Group of Death" with 5 VERY STRONG teams...they cannot afford any slip ups in pool play or they could quickly find themselves with a 2-2 or 1-3 finish and missing the playoffs for the second slam in a row.

5.  Team Epping - Pool A just continues to get tough with Team Epping joining the fray....plus Team Gushue (more to come on them).  They have qualified in 6 of 8 events this season, with two titles.  Prior to The Masters they won an event in Gatineau....propelling them to a QF finish in Okotoks.  Prior to arriving at The Tour Challenge they won an event in Cookstown...propelling them???  Hmmm, a trend perhaps?

4.  Team Gushue - Always a threat in every event they enter, Team Gushue (nee Nichols) is almost a safe bet to reach the playoff stage in Cranbrook.  However, with only one title to their credit this season, they seem to be struggling a bit in advancing beyond the QF stage.  A QF finish at The Masters was their 3rd QF this season.  Of course we cut the team a bit of slack as week in and week out they do have minor line-up changes, which can be tough as a skip to call given each player does have a bit of a different throwing technique.  This week the team welcomes the return of Adam Spencer.

3.  Team Laycock - It's only a matter of time before the boys from Saskatchewan win a grand slam title right?  They have come oh so close the past two years but fall just short, usually in the SF game unfortunately.  They did go undefeated in Okotoks before being defeated in the SF by Team Jacobs.  Team Edin finally won their first slam...perhaps we are starting a trend?  They were blessed with arguably the better draw in Pool C and could once again go undefeated in Pool play heading into the playoffs.  Can they erase the monkey of their backs once there though?

2.  Team Jacobs - What a difference a season can make right Team Jacobs?  Last season this team struggled, by their own standards, to compete week in and week out.  They failed to win a single event on tour.  Fast forward one year and the team already has a victory under their belts and is fresh off a finalist appearance at the opening slam event.  Lots of momentum for the Northern Ontario beasts...and they could be hard to stop with all this confidence now.  They do find themselves in that Pool B "Group of Death" though...so who knows what will happen?

1.  Team Edin - The ultimate Sole Survivor favourite heading into the event has to be Sweden's Team Edin.  They are riding the hot momentum of their first grand slam win only two weeks ago at The Masters in Okotoks.  The team was smart and stayed in Calgary for the week between the two slams to get in practice time and avoid long distance travel that could, potentially, wear a team out.  If you are picking a favourite from the start, Team Viking is as good a bet as anyone.

Championship (Sole Survivor):  Team Laycock def. Team Edin

Women

2015 Champion:  Silvana Tirinzoni

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

15.  Team Paetz -  The 2015 World Champions have never been the same since their "upset" championship win over Canada's Team JJ in the final.  Perhaps expectations have got the better of this team.  While their fellow Swiss competitors Team Feltscher and Team Tirinzoni continue to shine, Team Paetz is starting to fall back not only on tour but in their native Switzerland as well.  This is still a good team, don't get me wrong.  But as a recent world champion, you almost expect more consistent results.  They do draw Team Jones in a Pool B game though...maybe they can recreate that past magic and play the role of upset this week?

14.  Team Carey - This may be a bit unfair to have the current Team Canada as one of the early eliminations in Cranbrook but hear me out.  Yes they reached the QF at The Masters a few weeks ago and that was a great result.  But honestly, overall, this season has not been a strong one for this team.  Considering you are the current Canadian champions, you expect to see this team challenging for titles week in and week out on tour and, for most of the season, they are barely challenging for a C-side qualification spot.  Consistency and momentum once again is a theme here....this team needs to find it.  They draw a very tough Pool C group and could be in tough to grab the mandatory 2 wins for a TB or outside qualification spot.

13.  Team Englot -  A team Team Carey will be fighting with in Pool C in the quest for 2 wins, Manitoba's Team Englot is a true dark horse team to watch.  Former Saskatchewan champion Michelle Englot made the move one province over in the off-season to captain the former Team McDonald.  The change has been a success as they do have a title win to their credit earlier in the season and now find themselves competing in the Tier I grand slam event.  If they can somehow play upset in one of their other pool games, assuming they get the best of Team Carey, perhaps they can play the role of spoiler all the way into the playoffs?

12.  Team Einarson -  The defending Tier II champions from Manitoba saw a similar rise to fame as fellow 2015 Tier II champions, Team Cotter.  Team Einarson was able to take their grand slam win and turn it into a season of success, including a Scotties berth and 4th place finish.  Unfortunately their follow-up season has been a tough one and the results are not flowing like they did last season.  The team struggled a bit in Okotoks but did regroup enough to land in the TB game...losing to eventual champion Team Flaxey.  The theme continues....momentum, momentum, momentum!!  Pool A is wide open for a 2-2 or 3-1 record for a number of teams, it's just about who seizes the opportunity.  If not them, perhaps....

11.  Team Rocque -  Another up and down team to keep an eye on...and fellow Pool A competitor.  Similar to Team Einarson, last season was a break out year for this team.  Strong results on tour, including grand slam events, had everyone talking about this team being the next big thing out of Alberta.  However they struggled at the Alberta Scotties, being eliminated early.  They have also now made the decision to skip Alberta Scotties this season, and thus their shot at the national title, so half the team can compete for Team Canada at Universiade.  The grand slams are the pinnacle of the season in a way for this team, they need to have strong results here and so far it has been a struggle.

10.  Team Sweeting -  Ok Team Sweeting, what is going on here?  Similar to Team McEwen above, all the talent and all the expectations are falling to the wayside with this team this season.  After back-to-back Scotties finals, are they still reeling a bit from the "upset" Alberta Scotties loss to Chelsea Carey?  Perhaps the sting still hurts even more considering Team Carey went on to win the Scotties?  Whatever is going on, technique, strategy, sports psychology....a fix is needed and quick.  They will be in tough once again at this grand slam event and a playoff spot, once considered a given for this team, is looking like a long shot.

9.  Team Fleury -  Team Fleury you are an enigma to me.  So much talent.  So much expectation.  So close to breaking through to the true elite status of the sport.  So much heartbreak at times in games.  The Masters was a disappointing results for the team from Northern Ontario and they will want to turn that result around in Cranbrook.  Luckily for them, they are in Pool A....a wide open pool behind Team Homan.  Consistency has plagued them this season...not only in events but in games and ends.  If they can put together a full 8 ends, 16 rocks of strong play...in back-to-back games...they could finish 2-2 or 3-1 and return the grand slam playoff picture.

8.  Team Middaugh -  The former Ontario champions Team Middaugh are never to be underestimated in an event.  Remember this is a team that was a mere win away from representing Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics.  They already have a tour win to their credit this season as well.  Drawing Pool B could be tough, going against favourites Hasselborg and Jones.  However, if they can start out strong in their opening two games, a playoff spot could be their's for the taking.

7.  Team Sigfridsson -  The new-look Team Sigfridsson certainly has to be enjoying this season more than last season.  The addition of Cissi Ostlund has been a positive one for this team and they are right back into the world championship contender most curling fans expect from them.  Of course in Sweden they will have Team Hasselborg to deal with....but one thing at a time right?  This team finds themselves in Pool C with a favourable draw to, at least, a 2-2 record perhaps?  They are a on the cusp of playoffs team in Cranbrook but if they can find a way to be playing over the weekend, watch out!

6.  Team J. Jones -  If we know anything it is to never count out Jennifer Jones!  Last season the team struggled at the grand slam events and on tour.  They picked up one tour title; however, they translated that over into a Champions Cup slam title to end the season.  The experience factor alone on this team makes them a formidable choice as a playoff contender.  They find themselves in Pool B, relatively wide open for them to have a strong pool record and a nice shot at the playoff round.

5.  Team Ogasawara -  A strong #TeamWorld contender in Okotoks will be Japan's Team Ogasawara.  While their compatriots are off competing at the Pacific-Asia Championship representing Japan, Ogasawara and company find themselves competing in a grand slam event as a title contender.  Ogasawara is no stranger to big time events, she is a three-time Olympian remember...and a mother to boot!  She can do it all and should not be overlooked in Cranbrook.  They are fresh off their finalist appearance last weekend in Kemptville.  They also find themselves in Pool A, a  wide open draw (minus Team Homan) where a 3-1 record is not out of the question.

4.  Team Flaxey -  Your 2016 Masters champions will look to continue the magical roller coaster ride of a season....a ride they may never want to get off of.  In claiming their first ever grand slam title, Team Flaxey can no longer be considered as a team "flying under the radar" and expectations will be huge entering every event they play this season.  Can they continue the winning ways and outstanding play?  You bet!  The real question here is the sports psychology side of the house.  How do they handle the pressure of being a grand slam champion and the extra attention that goes with the title?

3.  Team Tirinzoni -  The defending Tour Challenge champions!  Who can forget the "Fog Game" last season when the Swiss ladies started the season with a major upset in defeating heavy favourites Team Homan in the final?  Team Tirinzoni turned that win into a full season of strong results, including two additional titles later in the year.  This season they already have one title to their credit and a SF appearance at The Masters.  Interesting though, you have to wonder if the mental side of the game gets to them at times in seeing the success of fellow Swiss competitors Team Paetz and Team Feltscher winning World Championships over the past few seasons while they continue to excel only on tour?  Can they replicate last season's magic in Cranbrook?

2.  Team Hasselborg -  Still one of the strongest teams on tour.  Still one of the most consistent.  Still a bit underrated by fans?  The support for Sweden's Team Hasselborg is slowly starting to gain traction..and it should be.  This is a very good team.  As skipper Anna Hasselborg shared with #TwineTime in Okotoks, this is only the second year this team has been together and they are now starting to click as a full team.  A dangerous outcome for any team they step on the ice against.  The Pool B schedule is manageable to navigate a playoff spot but it would be wise for them to keep on top of their game early.

1.  Team Homan -  No surprise here.  Team Homan continues to be the most consistent team on tour in not only qualifying at events but reaching championship finals and (usually) winning.  Sure they were "upset" in The Masters final against a red hot Team Flaxey but they still made the final, including that SF win over another red hot team, Team Hasselborg.  They were blessed by the draw gods being placed in Pool A and avoiding most of the events heavy hitters until the playoffs.  This is always a dangerous team and they are VERY hungry for another grand slam title.  Last season they were upset in the opening slam final, The Tour Challenge oddly enough, by Team Tirinzoni and ended up winning almost every event they played on tour the rest of the season.  Deja vu?

Championship (Sole Survivor):  Team Homan def. Team Flaxey

Tier II


Men

2015 Champion:  Jim Cotter

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

15.  Team Bilesky - No surprise here.  The team has struggled to put together wins on tour in events, let alone be a threat to win titles.  Nothing against this team but you have to feel for a team like Dunstone, Meachem, McCormick who are having stronger seasons overall but are sitting at home missing this event.

14.  Team Geall - Again, see above to be honest.  If this was the Survivor Series, Bilesky and Geall would have been counted out at the beginning of the match.

13.  Team Schneider - Ok this team has surprised me this season with their results, given 2 SF appearances earlier in the season.  However, once again, the home province delegation is a bit too high here to make this feel like a serious grand slam given the teams sitting at home.

12.  Team Balsdon -  It's been a struggle for this team and the line-up changes appear to be continuing for them.  Last weekend Mark Kean joined the team and may just become a regular on the team post-Tour Challenge.  The team has failed to qualify 5 of their 6 events.  They are in a tough pool with teams who have been strong and consistent this season (Gunnlaugson, Mouat, Clark) so winning 2 or more games could cause an early elimination.

11.  Team Brown - It's going to be a tough go for the Americans in Cranbrook.  They have not had consistent results on tour, qualifying in 2 of 5 events although they did reach the QF in their last event.  Their draw is going to be tough though.  They will need to upset one of the expected top three teams in their pool (Howard, Mendard, Tardi) to have a shot at qualifying.  That could be tough....

10.  Team Lyburn - I am a bit surprised to have this team be eliminated early in this match.  This team has a new line-up this season and struggled early on, failing to qualify in their first 5 events of the year.  They do have some momentum in reaching the QF in Winnipeg last week.  Whether they can build on it is the question.  They are drawn into Pool B, the wide-open pool in all 3.  The opportunity is there but it could be tough.

9.  Team Bice - I will be the first to admit I may be underselling skipper Mark Bice and his boys entering this event.  They have put together a strong season, qualifying in 3 of their 4 events....albeit all in Ontario.  The one event they left their home province they went to Quebec and failed to qualify.  How will they do in their first grand slam on ice across the country?  They are a young team and if they tackle the draw fearless and go for it, they could pull the upset.  They are also in Pool B...meaning anything is possible.

8.  Team Clark - The team from Washington are the current USA Champions remember, even though Team Shuster represented the US at the World Championship.  This is a strong team having played a very busy first part of the season schedule.  The team has qualified 3 of 6 events.  They competed at the Stu Sells Tier II event earlier in the season and reached the SF.  They will be familiar with most of the teams they will face in the draw as well.  They do draw two of the toughest teams in their pool (Gunnlaugson, Mouat) but if they can finish 2-2 a TB or perhaps direct spot in the QF is still in play here.

7.  Team Tardi - The B.C. junior champs will bring their "minty fresh" vocab to the grand slam ice for the first time and should be considered a strong dark horse contender to rock the house.  They have only played 3 events on tour but have a championship win and QF appearance to their credit.  Don't sleep on the middle of the pack in this event.

6.  Team Joanisse - A home province team who could wow the B.C. crowd this week and make a deep run into the weekend.  Unlike many of the teams competing this weekend, they actually have a tour title to their credit this season, in fact it was the last time we saw this team on the ice.  They have a winning streak going.  They are in a wide open Pool B and qualification for the playoffs should be expected.

5.  Team Menard - The dominant Quebec champions leave their home province and head out West...not something we are used to seeing from this team.  They are a tricky team to judge as most curling teams, and fans, very rarely see them during the season....then BOOM...they make it to the Brier and are always a playoff contender.  They are in the same pool as Team Howard (more on them coming) and should be the co-favourites to advance from their pool and, again, be a playoff contender.

4.  Team Howard - Crazy to see Glenn Howard competing in the Tier II event but alas here they are.  The team struggled at the Masters event in Okotoks so perhaps this event could be a confidence boost for the team.  The draw is relatively easy for them, on paper, and a spot in the playoffs should be a given.  Whether they can survive a tough playoff round though is another question.

3.  Team Brewster - The Scottish invasion begins to take over when down the the Final 3...can #TeamWorld continue their winning ways?  Well Team Brewster is a strong team to place some bets on for emerging victorious.  Consistency has plagued the team a bit this season with qualifying one event and failing to qualify the next.  Their draw isn't the most difficult, nor the easiest path to the playoffs.  However a playoff run should be expected.

2.  Team Mouat - The "stronger" Scottish team is the younger team?  Well it just might be.  Team Mouat can feed off the experience of playing in last season's Champions Cup at the end of the year and are the current World Junior Champions remember.  They do come to Cranbrook fresh off a finalist appearance in Edinburgh last weekend too....momentum is on their side.  However, they are in the same pool as the Tier II favourites and expected Sole Survivors....

1.  Team Gunnlaugson - Ok so the past two events have been tough on the team, failing to qualify.  But overall this team has qualified in 4 events this season, including a SF finish at the season opening event.  They come into Cranbrook as the Team Captain of the Tour II teams and the early favourite to be the Sole Survivor and Canadian Open berth recipient.

Championship (Sole Survivor):  Team Gunnlaugson def. Team Brewster

Women

2015 Champion:  Kerri Einarson

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

15.  Team Galusha - This is a tough call for me to make as Team Galusha is without a doubt the crowd favourite at every event they step onto the ice.  However, this is their first event of the season going up against teams who have been playing for weeks and/or months already.  Based on season results alone, they are the bet for first elimination.  But I do expect some good close games from them.

14.  Team J. Brown - Must admit, a bit surprised the Winnipeg, MB team qualified for this event.  They have only played two events but do have a SF finish to their credit in their season opening event at the end of September.  However, again, lack of playing and looking at who they draw in their pool, Team J. Brown and Team Galusha luckily draw one another and that should be the best opportunity for either team to pick up their first grand slam win.

13.  Team C. Brown
12.  Team Gushulak
11.  Team Thompson  -  This is an unheard of triple elimination with all 3 B.C. teams going out together.  All 3 of these teams have had strong results, qualifying in most of their events this season (Thompson 3 for 3, Gushulak 2 for 3 with a title, Brown 2 for 2).  While the results are strong, all three of these teams have mostly been competing against fellow B.C. teams (usually one another) and have not really seen the higher level of competition they will see from non-B.C. teams in this competition.  Thompson and Gushulak even draw one another in Pool A, perhaps a pre-elimination game.  Could one of these teams upset the other teams in the field?  Perhaps.  Is it likely?  Not sure.

10.  Team Mallett - A welcome back season for Marla Mallett and team of sorts.  In their opening event of the season they surprised many in the curling world with taking home the Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic championship.  Since then they have only played one event and they failed to qualify.  It's tough to read this team but they get the nod over their fellow B.C. teams because of their early championship and potential.  A tough draw though, opening with the red hot Team Scheidegger, means early losses could eliminate this team before they get rolling.

9.  Team Kleibrink - Again, a bit of a surprise to see this team qualify for this event but perhaps the running of the Pacific-Asia Championship could be opportunity gained for this Alberta team.  The team has reached one QF appearance this season out of 4 events.  The drawing of J. Brown and Galusha in Pool C puts them in strong contention for a 2-2 record and perhaps a TB or direct QF spot.  It will be interesting to see how this team does.

8.  Team Harrison - Last season there was a lot of buzz around this team, claiming two titles and reaching the season ending Champions Cup.  It has been a tough follow-up season though for the team.  They have failed to win a title yet, having qualified in 2 of 5 events.  They do have a SF appearance mind you but expectations are high and results need to start pouring into the house.  They join two B.C. teams and 2 favourites in Pool B so wins are possible and an outside playoff push is within their grasp.

7.  Team Roth - The US team has been up and down this season.  A SF finish one week, fail to qualify the next.  A finalist position the following week and then missing the playoffs all together once again.  Which Team Roth shows up this week?  The team that can make a playoff push or the team that underperforms and is eliminated in the pool stage?  They have an open Pool B so qualification should be within their grasp.  A deep playoff run to the title might be a bit tough...but anything short of a Final 8 appearance would be a big disappointment.

6.  Team Lawton - A perennial grand slam power house, similar to Team Howard above, it is a bit shocking to find this team in the Tier II event.  However, this is only their first season on tour together after adding Beth Iskew to the team as vice late last season (competing in the Champions Cup at the end of the season as their first event!).  The team has only reached the QF in 1 of 5 events this season, failing to qualify in their past 3 events.  Experience gives this team the edge...but it is only a slight one in a competitive playoff push.

5.  Team Christensen - The young American team is the perfect dark horse team to watch this week.  The World Junior silver medals from one year ago have had a great season already on tour.  They have a championship win to their credit and have qualified in 2 of their 5 events.  Last season gave them some much needed experience points and lessons learned.  This season is about building confidence and I think they have found that.  Pool A will be tough, especially against McCarville and Lawton, but a 2-2 record gives them a legit playoff shot.

4.  Team Tippin - Welcome to the grand slam Team Tippin!  This could turn into a regular invite.  The team has qualified in 3 of 5 events, including a championship win the last time they were on the ice.  They have momentum and confidence and, sometimes, that can trump experience playing in major events like a grand slam.  They sat back and watched fellow Ontario competitor Team Flaxey pull the upset in winning The Masters two weeks ago, could another Ontario upset be on the horizon?  Expect a playoff run for this team.

3.  Team Flemming - The young Scottish team will enter this event representing #TeamWorld and the best shot at claiming another victory from the grasp of #TeamCanada.  The team failed to qualify in their opening two events but have reached the F and SF in their last two events on tour.  They are in a tough Pool C with more experienced skips; however, this team also plays fearless and should not be underestimated.

2.  Team McCarville - Ok going out on a limb with this one but I still really like this team.  The Scotties runner-up's from a year ago have only played one tour event this season and failed to qualify.  Although last season they failed to qualify in their season opening event and then went on to win their next 5 events, including the Northern Ontario Scotties title.  Maybe they start slow and finish strong?  This would be the ideal event for them to start a similar run....plus elevate them into the top tier of the sport.  Everyone is wondering how this team follows-up last year's amazing run....lots of eyes on this team this week.

1.  Team Scheidegger - Officially the only undefeated team on tour.  3 events entered.  3 tournament wins claimed.  How do you not rank this team as the Sole Survivor favourite?  They also find themselves in Pool B, debatable as the easier of the three pools given the competition.  This is a big opportunity for this team to move into elite status, see Team Einarson last season.

CHAMPIONSHIP (Sole Survivor):  Team McCarville def. Team Lawton

#TwineTime will be in Cranbrook this weekend celebrating the #TourChallenge event...and perhaps a personal happy day?!  Stay tuned to twitter for behind the scenes coverage of the action on the ice.  I hope to offer more sights and sounds of the Tier II event as well, recognizing TV coverage and most media coverage will be focused on the Tier I event.

Enjoy the action stoners and rock heads....and #StayTuned.....