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Thursday, 8 December 2016

#BetweenTheSheets: Purple Reign In The Soo
The grand slam of curling season continues with The National


What a week of curling we just experienced rock heads and stoners!  The Canada Cup brought together the top men's and women's teams in our nation to battle it out for a spot at the Olympic trials next December in Ottawa (as well as the trip to Vegas for the Continental Cup and some money).  Curling fans barely have time to discuss the excitement of last week's action however as the next stop on the Grand Slam of Curling tour is already here.  The National returns home to Sault Ste. Marie, site of the very first event back in 2002.

We cannot just jump into the excitement of another #gsoc event without taking time to acknowledge the amazing accomplishments of last weekend's #wct action....oh and congratulate our newest Canada Cup champions.  Here is the #GunnerRunback for Week 16:


  • Reid Carruthers has been saying for over a season now how his team belongs in the upper echelon of the sport...and this past weekend may have finally cemented the claim.  Team Carruthers surprised a few fans of the sport with their comprehensive and consistent play in Brandon, taking home the 2016 Canada Cup title over Mark Nichols-led Team Gushue.  Carruthers locks up his spot in Ottawa and becomes the final member of Team North America in Vegas.  John Epping almost stole the show though with his storybook run going from 0-2 to a SF finish (losing to Carruthers).
  • Jennifer Jones made sure the home province fans went home happy when she claimed the Canada Cup championship over Rachel Homan.  Both Jones and Homan had already locked up a spot in Ottawa so the final result was a bit anti-climatic.  The result does breath new life into the Olympic qualification though for one team as an extra spot was now made available.  Kerri Einarson almost made it an all-Manitoba final when she battled back from a 2-0 start, lost her next 3, won her final and survived a TB just to reach the SF (losing to Homan).
  • In St. John, NB Quebec's Jean-Michel Menard is starting to look in regular Brier-form claiming the WFG Jim Sullivan Curling Classic defeating another past Brier participant (and home province favourite) James Grattan in the final.  Stuart Thompson continued his strong season in reaching the SF alongside Mike Kennedy.  On the women's side, the home province did have a champion to celebrate when former NB Scotties winner Sylvie Robichaud defeated Nova Scotia's Christie Gamble to claim the title.  Another former NB Scotties winner, Heidi Hanlon, made a strong run reaching the SF as did Denise Nowlan.
  • At the Black Diamond / High River Cash event, Calgary's Kevin Yablonski picked up their first win of the season beating Rob Johnson in the final.  Jeremy Harty and Mike Sali reached the SF.  
  • The Thistle Integrity Stakes saw Winnipeg's own Trevor Loreth excite the home city fans when he claimed the championship over former Canadian and World Junior Champion Braden Calvert. Dennis Bohn and Taylor McIntyre were SF finishers.

Even though the action on tour was a bit light, in terms of events and amount of teams playing anyways, the action on the ice was intense.  The Canada Cup brought out some tremendous curling for fans to watch and the results speak volumes towards the future of the sport in our country.  However, how do the results stack up against the #TwineTime Power Rankings mountain?  You know there has to be some movement right?  Show me the #PowerRankings....


MEN

1. Team Edin (LW: 1)
2. Team Carruthers (HM)
3. Team Gushue (2)
4. Team Epping (NR)
5. Team Ulsrud (3)

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

WOMEN

1. Team Homan (LW: 1)
2. Team Jones (HM)
3. Team Hasselborg (2)
4. Team Flaxey (3)
5. Team Moiseeva (5)

Hon. Mention:  Team Einarson, Team Sweeting, Team Muirhead, Team Englot

The top of the mountain remains firmly planted with Team #SwedishViking and Team Homan.  Sure Homan lost the Canada Cup final to Jones (and lost to her in the RR) but consistency still speaks volumes here and Homan has been the more consistent and stronger team on tour this entire season.  Jones did gain some valuable ground in the race up the mountain though going from the HM category to slotting herself right behind Homan.  If Jones can win The National this weekend, who knows what would happen next week?  Hasselborg and Flaxey are bumped down a spot to make room for Jones but both were also inactive last week.  All four of the top teams will be on the ice at The National this week though so another rankings move could occur.  Team Moiseeva is a tough one to call.  I still cannot move them from the Top 5 just because they did not compete and teams like Einarson and Sweeting did.  Moiseeva did win a European Championship remember, the equivalent to Canada's Scotties.  The result cannot be ignored....but the Top 5 placing may be tough to hold onto after a grand slam event.

As for the men, Edin's Swedish powerhouse team cannot be knocked off the top even with a high stakes Canada Cup competition coming to a close and Team Edin having the week off.  This team has won the past two grand slam events and the European title.  Honestly they could probably go 0-4 this week at The National and it would still be a tough argument for anyone to make in saying this is not the #1 team in the world right now!  #JustSayin  However, welcome back to the Top 5 Reidarama!  Team Carruthers reaches a career-high ranking (#TwineTime rankings that is) in moving from HM to #2 (hmmm similar to their Winnipeg female counterparts oddly enough!).  Carruthers' win was impressive and they did beat Gushue in the final so they rightly deserve to move ahead of them...this week.  Team Epping returns to the Top 5 after slipping a bit down the mountain the past few weeks.  Their playoff run, especially after the tough start, was great to watch and that kind of tenacity and resiliency cannot be ignored.

All bets are off now though as we return to the grand slam schedule in The Soo with The National.  We will have strong representation from #TeamCanada and #TeamWorld.  Could we see the #TeamUpset trend continue though in a surprise finalist (or two!) or even an upset grand slam champion (see Allison Flaxey!)?

Before we slide out of the hack with the #TwineTime predictions, here is a brief history lesson on The National:

  • 2016 will be the 16th edition of the event.  One would think 16 years, it's 2016...this event must have started in 2000 right?  Wrong curling fan!  The first event took place in 2002 in Sault Ste. Marie with Ontario's Glenn Howard defeating B.C.'s Gerg McAuley in the final.
  • The reason the numbers are a bit off is because this event was held twice in the same year 4 times: 2004, 2007, 2010 and 2014.  The event would be held at the beginning of the calendar year, usually in January (except 2007 when it was held in March).  The event would then occur again at the end of the calendar year, usually in December (except 2014 when it was held in November).  Kevin Martin is the only skip to not only win the event back-to-back but also win both events in one calendar year (2007).  Interestingly enough he also defeated Blake McDonald's team (with Kevin Koe, Carter Rycroft and Nolan Thiessen) in both finals.
  • Kevin Martin and Glenn Howard lead the way as skips with championship victories, each collecting 4.  Wayne Middaugh also has 4 National titles to his credit, 2 as a skip and 2 playing vice for Glenn Howard.  Defending champion Brad Gushue is next on the list with 2 titles.
  • The 2015 National was the first time women competed for the grand slam title.  Last season Rachel Homan defeated Tracy Fleury in the final.  Can you believe it took 15 years for the women to receive an equal invite to this event?  Glad to see the sport finally moved forward on gender equality last season! 
History lesson completed...let's get to the fun!  Each grand slam I have tried to present the preview in a slightly different format.  For The Masters I went with a #TeamCanada vs. #TeamWorld theme.  For The Tour Challenge I went with a Survivor Series theme.  Interesting note here btw, speaking of curling and WWE.  I enjoyed social media referring to the men's TB situation at the Canada Cup as a battle royal....Royal Rumble-esque if you will.

For The National, I am going to channel my inner soccer prognosticating skills and use the pool preview format.  With 3 pools of 5 teams this seems like a simple and easy way to preview the action on the ice.  Plus, it seems to be very successful every four years for the FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championship...why not use it more often in curling?

#TwineTime proudly presents starring in this week's #TourLifePredictions, The National!

Boost National

Sault Ste. Marie, ON

2015 Champions:  Brad Gushue (men) & Rachel Homan (women)

Format:  15 teams divided into 3 pools of 5 teams, round robin style.  The Top 8 qualify.

MEN

Pool A


Pool A should really be called Pool B...as in Pool Brad!  All eyes will be on the welcome back celebration for Brad Gushue.  The Goo has been sitting on the IR all season and this weekend we finally welcome him back to the ice.  Not that the team has been struggling by any means.  But what a tournament to come back to, a grand slam event right after your team just misses winning the Canada Cup.  We know Gushue will be motivated to play well, the question will be does he have any ice rust at the beginning?  And if this Brad struggles another Brad could seize the advantage...Brad Jacobs that is.  This is the homecoming event for Jacobs.  He will want to erase the disappointing TB loss last weekend and come out all cylinders firing in front of his hometown friends and family.  Speaking of the TB last weekend, the Jacobs slayer is here too...Steve Laycock.  Laycock and his Saskatchewan rink have been very consistent all season and will be looking to finally get over the hump and make a deep run once again to a grand slam final.  #TeamUpset could make some noise here as well with Team Bottcher and Team Horgan.  Tanner Horgan is the defending Northern Ontario junior champion and Canadian Junior runner-up (losing to Manitoba's Matt Dunstone) and will be making their grand slam debut.  A run to the title is probably out of the question but surprising a few of the favourites and picking up a win or two would be great to see.  Expect the Brad's to duke it out for top spot with Laycock and Bottcher in the playoff mix deep into the week.

Projected Standings:  1. Jacobs  2. Gushue  3. Laycock  4. Bottcher  5. Horgan

Pool B

Here we find the most wide-open pool on the men's side with all 5 of these teams having a legit shot to make the playoffs but also completely fall apart and disappoint.  John Epping comes to the Soo fresh off the "surprise" SF run at the Canada Cup.  Kevin Koe is the defending world champion but the team has looked anything but golden this season, finishing a disappointing last at the Canada Cup (as defending champs too!).  John Morris and company have put up some solid results but have also been plagued by consistency issues.  The team could still be figuring out how to rekindle the magic of the last time they all played together and that "re-gelling" period could be taking a bit longer than some expected.  As for #TeamWorld, Scotland's David Murdoch and Switzerland's Peter De Cruz will be looking to represent and follow in the footsteps of fellow European grand slam winners Team Edin.  Murdoch has qualified in 4 of 7 events this season, reaching one final and making the QF at The Masters...but failed to qualify for the European Championships as Team Scotland.  De Cruz was at the European Championships representing Switzerland but suffered a tough SF loss before claiming the bronze medal.  This pool is the equivalent to blindly throwing darts at a dart board.  Whichever team can get hot early and string together a few wins should comfortably qualify....but this may also be where we find some TB potential.

Projected Standings:  1. Koe  2. Epping  3. Morris  4. De Cruz  5. Murdoch

Pool C

The men's Pool of Death...Pool C!  Of course this could also stand for Pool Carruthers?!  This Carruthers team is on an all-time high right now coming off the Canada Cup win.  They have all the momentum on their side and are a great bet to make another deep run at a slam.  The only question will be whether the short turn around between the Canada Cup and The National hurts or helps them?  Either way, you have to imagine they are going to come into this event a bit more calm and relaxed knowing their trials spot is locked up and they just won the biggest event as a team.  Enter Team Edin!  The #1 team in the world.  The Euro Champions.  The back-to-back grand slam winners.  If Carruthers has momentum, what does Edin have coming into this event?  More momentum?  Is that even a thing or possible?  BTW did you have a chance to check out the #TwineTime interview with Niklas Edin?  No?  Well check it out HERE!!  And yes, that was a big preview selfish plug...so?  What about Mike McEwen?  His team has been completely overshadowed by their Manitoba counterparts this season and everyone is still waiting for the Real Mikey to please stand up!  We know this team is due for a breakout again this season, they are too talented not to make a deep slam playoff run.  But can it be here and now, against this pool?  Don't underestimate Charley Thomas.  Thomas may be the #TeamUpset for the pool but remember he just wrapped up a Canada Cup final loss with Team Gushue and has been playing A LOT of curling this season.  The man never takes a break it seems and the experience of playing week in and week out seems to have only made him more hungry and a better player.  USA's John Shuster doesn't lack any experience either.  Shuster has struggled a bit on tour this season, especially at the slams, but does come here fresh off a finals appearance at his last event.  Expect tight games but also a few big ends when these teams battle it out this week.

Projected Standings:  1. Edin  2. Carruthers  3. McEwen  4. Thomas  5. Shuster

WOMEN

Pool A

It's #TeamHoman vs #TeamUpset in Pool A action.  Homan should be the overwhelming favourite to win the pool.  Sure they are coming off the Canada Cup loss and yes they have failed to win a grand slam title this season but look at their results in the RR portion of those events.  Consistency, consistency, consistency.  It's interesting that the trouble we are seeing with this team is closing it out in the crunch time, as in playoffs and championship finals.  This is not something we are used to seeing from this team, especially after last year's historic season.  Dominate in the RR?  Yup.  Repeat the title of last season?  Hmm...not so fast?  The big challenger could come from Masters champion, and Homan slayer, Allison Flaxey.  Flaxey is enjoying a breakout season on tour and followed up the Masters title with a SF finish at the Tour Challenge.  They have also qualified in every event entered this season.  The defending Scotties champs, Team Carey, also are here although with a minor line-up shift in Susan O'Conner joining the team in Amy Nixon's absence.  Carey has struggled all season on tour and the magical run to the Canadian title last season is quickly fading away.  They need to re-find that magic quick...but I'm not sure that's possible here.  The big #TeamUpset teams to watch are the two Northern Ontario teams: Team Fleury and Team McCarville.  In a way it is disappointing to see both of these teams bundled into the same pool.  It would have been great to see them both qualify here.  But being against one another here, plus drawing Homan, it could be tough to see both advance.  Their match-up Friday night in the final draw could be a pseudo-TB game...and preview of the Northern Ontario Scotties final!

Projected Standings:  1. Homan  2. McCarville  3. Flaxey  4. Fleury  5. Carey

Pool B

Need a group of death for the women?  Here it is!  Group B will see Canada Cup champion Jennifer Jones battle it out with current World Champion Binia Feltscher from Switzerland, current Euro silver medal winner Anna Hasselborg from Sweden, Tour Challenge grand slam champ Val Sweeting and South Korea's EunJung Kim, the current Pacific-Asia champ.  Yikes!  Whichever team survives this pool and comes out on top will be battle tested for the playoffs that's for sure and could be a favourite to win it all.  On the flip side, one of these teams is going to finish at the bottom of the pool.  These are 5 VERY good teams all capable of making a run towards the title.  Jones has the momentum of the recent Canada Cup win.  The big question is whether Jones has a Canada Cup hangover after the big win and can muster up the same intensity for a grand slam with a quick turn around.  I'm not so sure she can against this strong of a pool.  Sweeting won the previous slam.  Kim took home a continent title to clinch a berth at world's.  Hasselborg has been dominating on tour all season...but this will be the first time we see her on the ice since the shocking loss in the Euro final.  Feltscher has perhaps struggled a bit this season but is the current world champ and seems to step up her game for the big events.  Expect the unexpected and a true #TeamCanada vs #TeamWorld battle in Pool B (and some TB's from here too)!

Projected Standings:  1. Hasselborg  2. Sweeting  3. Feltscher  4. Jones  5. Kim

Pool C

Welcome #TeamWorld....Pool C is your's for the taking.  Scotland's Eve Muirhead should be the favourite to take this pool though.  Muirhead looked dominating at the European Championship, breezing through the RR competition with an unblemished record.  While I imagine the slip-up disappointment in the SF loss will still sting a bit, they did walk away with a bronze medal and finished strong.  You have to imagine Muirhead will still come out a bit angry with how the event ended though and an Angry Eve is a scary Eve for her competition.  Speaking about a team looking to prove a point, how do you think Russia's Anna Sidorova feels?  Not only did she not get the chance to defend her 2015 Euro title, she had to sit home and watch the team who beat her go on to win the Euro title themselves.  Sidorova has A LOT on the line heading into the remainder of the season now...and a deep grand slam run (or win) would certainly help turn the corner on the tough past few months.  And what about Switzerland's Silvana Tirinzoni?  This team has a grand slam title to their credit from last season but, similar to Sidorova in a way, missed out on reaching the World Championships and watched her compatriot bring home another title.  Tirinzoni has been one of the most consistent and strongest European teams on tour the past few seasons and is always a threat at a slam to make a playoff run.  #TeamCanada does have a chance here though, especially with Kerri Einarson.  Einarson has the experience of the roller-coaster Canada Cup to help fuel her fire.  The missing piece of course is the consistency in playing a full event.  Winning 2, losing 3, winning 1, losing 1.  The up's and down's in play does not a grand slam champion make.  If Einarson can play how she started at the Canada Cup, she has a chance.  On the opposite side, we have Kelsey Rocque who started very slow at the Canada Cup and then finished strong...unfortunately hitting their groove only after they were eliminated.  This is a team who tends to start slow and finish strong...but sometimes the strong finish comes one game too late.  Can they hit the ice running from the start or be left playing catch up against some of the #TeamWorld big hitters?

Projected Standings:  1. Muirhead  2. Sidorova  3. Tirinzoni  4. Einarson  5. Rocque

Men's Qualifiers:  Team Jacobs, Team Koe, Team Edin, Team Carruthers, Team Gushue, Team Epping, Team McEwen, Team Laycock

Women's Qualifiers:  Team Homan, Team Hasselborg, Team Muirhead, Team Sidorova, Team McCarville, Team Sweeting, Team Flaxey, Team Feltscher

MEN'S CHAMPIONSHIP:  Team Jacobs def. Team Edin

WOMEN'S CHAMPIONSHIP:  Team Muirhead def. Team McCarville

Enjoy the action on the ice rock heads and stoners.  Keep up to date on all the stats from the games on CurlingZone and be sure to tune in to Sportsnet for the live coverage beginning Thursday!

Don't forget to have your say in the #TwineTime poll.  Head over to the blog homepage HERE and vote for which team you are cheering for this week.  Are you #TeamCanada?  #TeamWorld?  Or #TeamUpset?  YOUR opinion counts and your voice matters!