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Friday, 29 January 2016

#BetweenTheSheets: Rounding Out The Scotties Field
Provincial / Territorial Playdowns Continue


What. A. Week.  There was so much #curling coverage last weekend even fans didn’t know which way to turn.  Provincial playoffs dominated the agenda for most curling fans and between Sportsnet, CurlingGeek and CurlingZone fans were left channel jumping, page refreshing and internet clicking to find the results.  It was pure madness....and we loved every moment of it!  Plus we saw historical results at the Canadian Junior Curling Championship!!

This weekend should be no different as we round out the #Scotties2016 field, continue to watch the #Brier2016 field grow and crown new Canadian Junior Curling Champions.  But let’s focus on the main conversation piece from last weekend in our #GunnerRunback: What happened to Homan?

As I am sure all of you know Team Homan lost the Ontario Scotties final to Team Hanna last Sunday.  The upset caused curling message boards and twitter to go crazy.  The dominant team on tour all season will not be competing in Grande Prairie this season...what a tragedy!  Or is it?  Are we curling fans becoming a bit too fickle with our curling expectations?  Throughout the grand slam season we often hear complaints on how we always see the same teams at every event and every week on TV.  We want change.  We demand change.  We now have change!  We want Homan.  We want Sweeting.  We want Fleury.  We want Scott.  Wait...what?  We want change...we get change...we want the same teams back at the Scotties?  Ok fans, we can’t have our cake and eat it too.  I am 100% on the Change Train.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of Homan and Sweeting and others but this changing of the guard is not necessarily a bad thing.  Look at playdown numbers.  Fewer teams are entering because of the belief they cannot beat the top teams.  When we see top teams become “upset” victims, should this not give hope to more of the Tier II teams or up and coming teams around the country?  This is sports...ANYONE is beatable! 


And should we really be that upset with how this Scotties field is playing out?  The teams who “upset” the favorites are not exactly unknown names.  If anything, the theme this year truly is “Welcome Back...We Missed You”.  Look who is returning this year, familiar names such as Jenn Hanna, Chelsea Carey, Marie-France Larouche and Krista McCarville.  All four of these ladies have been on the national stage before...and all four have found the podium in their previous Scotties appearances.  And what about the new names?  Jill Brothers is a former Canadian Junior Champion.  Kerri Einarson won The Tour Challenge Tier II event earlier this season and, after back-to-back Manitoba Scotties finals losses, finally breaks through to win her first buffalo.  Before we start complaining about missing some of the top female teams on tour and the crowd favorites, why not take a look at the field we have right now and embrace and celebrate a new look to the Scotties field.  This could be the perfect opportunity for some of these teams to make a push towards the national stage and with curling fans across the country.  Let’s not take away the success and celebration of those teams who did win their provincial/territorial championship by saying “I won’t watch the Scotties now that Homan/Sweeting isn’t there”.  Celebrate the change, embrace the excitement and enjoy the anticipation.  This is the opportunity to #growthesport.

On deck this weekend is also the playoffs for the Canadian Junior Curling Championships.  I have to admit, the #TwineTime predictions from a week ago are still looking pretty decent at this stage.  For a full reminder, click HERE.  As we stand right now, on the men’s side Northern Ontario’s Tanner Horgan has a bye to the championship final on Sunday.  He currently awaits the SF winner between Manitoba’s Matt Dunstone and British Columbia’s Tyler Tardi.  On the women’s side, Nova Scotia’s Mary Fay sits comfortably in the championship while she waits to see who her opponent will be.  British Columbia’s Sarah Daniels already booked her semifinal spot but she will need to await a tiebreaker result between Manitoba’s Abby Ackland and New Brunswick’s Justine Comeau.  Manitoba and British Columbia have the opportunity to claim both championships for their province...a feat last accomplished by Alberta in 2012.  Interesting random fact for all of you....2012 was actually the 3rd consecutive year a province pulled the double championship with Saskatchewan winning both in 2011 and Ontario starting the trend in 2010.  Crazy!  Stay tuned to TSN for live coverage of the men’s and women’s semi-finals and finals on Saturday and Sunday.

Before we get into the preview and predictions for this upcoming weekend, let’s take a moment and congratulate the Nunavut men’s and women’s junior teams for their outstanding play this week at the Canadian Junior Curling Championships.  Both men’s and women’s teams recorded their first ever victories on the national stage...and in back-to-back days with the women claiming the first win and the men following suit the next day.  In fact, the women would go on to collect another victory a few days later and finish 2-7.  The Nunavut women were actually the unofficial Territories champions of the event as they defeated their fellow Territories competitors from Yukon and Northwest Territories.  How about that for a result?


Now let’s get to the fun stuff...what is going on this weekend.  We have more Scotties coverage across the province as we finalize our #RoadToGP.  The #RoadToOttawa will grow as well this weekend in crowning a few more provincial/territorial champions.  Hop in the hack, give the rock a spin and hang on tight....here come the predictions.

Scotties Tournament of Hearts Qualifying

The #RoadToGP has been a tough one for many teams, as stated above.  But the field is starting to take shape and many provinces/territories have finalized their representatives.  Here is a look at the field:

Team Canada – Jennifer Jones
P.E.I. – Suzanne Birt
Yukon – Nicole Baldwin
Nunavut – Geneva Chislett
British Columbia – Karla Thompson
Alberta – Chelsea Carey
Manitoba – Kerri Einarson
Ontario – Jenn Hanna
Northern Ontario – Krista McCarville
Quebec – Marie-France Larouche
Nova Scotia – Jill Brothers

Remember folks, the pre-qualification event takes place before the official start of the Scotties once again this year with B.C., Yukon, Nunavut and N.W.T. participating.  We still need to complete the field with representatives from Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories, Newfoundland & Labrador and New Brunswick.  All 4 will be determined by Sunday.  Let’s continue our winding #RoadToGP:

Saskatchewan

2015 Champion:  Stefanie Lawton

Format:  12-team round robin with two groups of 6.  Top two in each pool advance to the page playoff.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Lawton, Team Anderson, Team Englot

W2W4:  This may be the most competitive Saskatchewan Scotties we have seen in awhile.  Sure Lawton will be the favorite but if she slips up by the slightest inch, there are actually quite a few names ready to take the title from her.  As we saw last weekend, nothing is certain and upsets can occur at any time.  Michelle Englot is a former champ who has been curling quite well on tour this season and seems to be the best challenger for the title.  Eyes will also be on Sherry Anderson.  After leaving Team Lawton last season, Anderson returns to skipping duties this season with a new, young team behind her.  Watch out as well for Kim Schneider, former third of Amber Holland and past Canadian Champion.  Schneider has teamed up with Laura Strong, former Scotties participant with her sister Laura in Newfoundland.  And if you like the dark horse contenders watch out for Jolene Campbell and Robyn Silvernagle.  Both are no strangers to this event and both are ready to break through the wall and claim a SK title.  Overall, Lawton finds herself in the easier pool with the biggest challenge being Campbell and Schneider.  Englot will have a battle on her hands facing Anderson, Silvernagle and up and comer Kelsey Dutton.

Playoff Teams:  Team Lawton, Team Campbell, Team Englot, Team Silvernagle

Saskatchewan Champion:   Team Lawton over Team Englot

Northwest Territories

2015 Champion:  Kerry Galusha 

Format:  4-team double round robin.  If a team goes undefeated, they automatically win the championship.  If all teams have at least one loss, the top two teams advance to the championship final.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Galusha

W2W4:  Can anyone stop Galusha from claiming her 13th NWT title?  Let’s be honest, Kerry Galusha is the face of curling in NWT.  Whenever someone mentions #polarpower in curling conversation, Galusha is the name that comes to mind.  Only 4 times has a team from Northwest Territories defeated Team Canada at the Scotties...and Galusha has been the winning skip in 3 of those victories.  She has the skill and determination to do well.  Everyone remembers the heartbreak pre-qualification final when Fleury’s Northern Ontario rink defeated Galusha’s NWT team to advance to the Scotties field and eliminate Galusha.  The tears of sadness and disappointment flashed across the screens of Canadian curling fans everywhere...leading to massive outrage and, eventually, was the major starting point to the ultimate future elimination of the pre-qualification after 2018.  I cannot see Galusha really be challenged for the title this year and fully expect to see #polarpower reign supreme in the Northern Alberta City of Grande Prairie.

Playoff Teams:  Team Galusha, Team Goucher

Northwest Territories Champion:  Team Galusha over Team Goucher

Newfoundland & Labrador

2015 Champion:  Heather Strong 

Format:  3-team double round robin.  If a team goes undefeated, they automatically win the championship.  If all teams have at least one loss, the top two teams advance to the championship final.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Strong

W2W4:  Similar to Team Galusha above, can anyone step up and knock off Heather Strong?  Also similar to Galusha, Strong will be aiming to claim her 13th NL title.  The disappointing reality of this event is having only three teams competing.  Whichever team does survive the weekend will still not have a ton of experience and ice time under their belt heading into the Scotties.  As mentioned in the opening comments, here is a perfect example of the struggles to #growthesport.  A provincial championship with only three teams is just not acceptable.  Hopefully the NL Curling Association can figure out a plan to generate more interest and buzz in the sport moving forward.  Having said that, this is still actually a top notch field...even if it is only three teams.  We all know Heather Strong’s resume but look at who she is battling this weekend.  Stacey Curtis (nee Devereaux) was the first female skip from NL to win a Canadian Junior Championship (2007).  She is also a two-time NL champion, having been to the Scotties in 2011 and 2013.  Shelley Hardy (nee Nichols) also boasts an impressive resume chalk full of experience.  Hardy owns a Canadian Mixed Championship (won with brother Mark from Team Gushue) in 2006.  Hardy also previously competed at the Scotties (2006, 2007) with Heather Strong and skipped her own team to a Scotties appearance in 2010.  I smell an upset occurring this weekend in St. John’s.

Playoff Teams:  Team Strong, Team Curtis

Newfoundland & Labrador Champion:  Team Curtis over Team Strong

New Brunswick

2015 Champion:  Sylvie Robichaud 

Format:  5-team round robin with top 3 teams advancing to playoff round.  First place receiving a bye to the championship final with other two playoff teams advancing to the semifinal.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Robichaud, Team Tatlock

W2W4:  Could we see a changing of the guard in New Brunswick?  If last weekend taught us anything it is to perhaps expect the unexpected in provincial finals this year.  This could be another province to produce an “upset” champion.  Sylvie Robichaud enters as the returning champ but she will find some tough competition.  The biggest challenger should come from Shannon Tatlock.  Team Tatlock is only in their second year together but has really grown as a team.  They have competed in more events on tour and have had strong results, including a 5th place finish at the New Scotland Clothing Ladies Cashspiel.  Last year’s NB Scotties finalist Melissa Adams also returns hoping to finally break through after having lost the final in two of the past three years.

Playoff Teams:  Team Tatlock, Team Robichaud, Team Adams

New Brunswick Champion:  Team Tatlock over Team Robichaud

Tim Hortons Brier Qualifying


Last weekend we added two more names to the Tim Hortons Brier slate in Ottawa, crowing champions in Quebec and Nova Scotia.  As we head into this weekend’s action, here is the current lineup for Ottawa:

Team Canada – Pat Simmons
Nunavut – Wade Kingdon
Yukon – Bob Smallwood
Nova Scotia – Jamie Murphy
Quebec – Jean-Michel Menard

The #RoadToOttawa is going to continue to grow in the coming weeks.  This weekend starts the journey for teams in NWT, Newfoundland & Labrador and PEI.  Here is a preview and prediction for each of these championships:

Northwest Territories

2015 Champion:  Jamie Koe 

Format:  7-team round robin with top two teams advancing to the championship final.  If a team goes through the round robin undefeated, they must be defeated twice in the playoffs. 

Top Teams Entered:  Team Koe 

W2W4:  Can Jamie Koe claim his 10th Brier appearance or will someone step up to knock him off?  Koe has competed at the Brier for the past 7 years and 9 of the past 10 (only missing 2008).  Koe has dominated the men’s curling scene in the North for the past decade and will look to continue this trend.  Koe has surrounded himself with a slightly different team, adding Chris Schille as vice this year.  Many may be familiar with Schille, having previously lost a Brier final playing under the NL crest with Brad Gushue (2007) and as recent as 2013 played in the Brier with Brock Virtue representing SK.  Schille also has the notorious distinction of being the first player to be ejected from a competitive curling match, occurring during the 2013 SK provincial championship due to foul language.  Schille could end up at the Brier though with his 3rd different jacket and provincial/territorial crest on his back.  Koe could find his biggest threat coming from a former teammate, Tom Naugler.  Naugler is now the vice for former NWT champion (2010) Greg Skauge.  As well, former champ Steve Moss returns to try and knock off his rival and make a Brier appearance.  Remember, the NWT champion also has to contest the pre-qualification event this year in Ottawa...and we all know how Koe feels about that!

Playoff Teams:  Team Koe, Team Skauge

NWT Champion:  Team Koe over Team Skauge

Newfoundland & Labrador

2015 Champion:  Brad Gushue 

Format:  6-team round robin with top two teams advancing to the championship final.  If a team goes through the round robin undefeated, they must be defeated twice in the playoffs.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Gushue

W2W4:  Yay for competition!!  Last year saw almost laughable, if not for the sake of ultimate sadness, when only 2 teams competed for the NL title.  This year the number triples....to 6!  Ok, only 6 but still...the competition TRIPLED!!  Doesn’t that sound a bit more positive at least?  All joking aside, all eyes will be on Brad Gushue this weekend.  After watching the dominant Team Homan crash and burn in a provincial final last weekend, can Gushue avoid the same fate?  The Goo has been rolling through the men’s tour this season and this seems to be his year to make a strong Brier run.  With the Brier coming to St. John’s, NL is 2017, perhaps this is also the best thing for NL curling.  If Gushue can win this weekend, take the title in Ottawa in March, NL would have 2 teams represented at home in 2017.  Recognizing this opportunity, do the teams competing this week almost hope for a Gushue win and Brier win maximizing their opportunity for next year?  No, I am not suggesting we delve down into the match fixing scandal tennis is dealing with right now...but it still is worth thinking about.  If you are, say Colin Thomas, are you really that disappointed to lose this weekend?  Thomas should be the biggest challenge to Gushue again this weekend.  Thomas has been knocking on the Brier door for many years now, losing the final to Gushue in 2013 and 2014 (Thomas did not compete last season).  Perhaps a Thomas loss in the final this weekend could be the best thing for him? 

Playoff Teams:  Team Gushue, Team Thomas

Newfoundland & Labrador Champion:  Team Gushue over Team Thomas 

PEI

2015 Champion:  Adam Casey

Format:  6-team triple knockout.  If a team wins the A, B and C qualifier, no playoffs needed and team automatically wins the championship.  If a team wins two of the three qualifiers, they earn a spot in the semi-final and final and must be defeated twice in the playoffs.  If A, B and C produce different winners, A winner automatically advances to the championship while B and C qualifiers play in the semi-final.  Got all that?

Top Teams Entered:  Team Casey 

W2W4:  Yay...no relegation this season looming over the PEI Tankard!  Last season, PEI knew they would be starting the road towards a Brier championship in the pre-qualification event.  Thanks to Team Casey’s performance of winning the pre-qualification and strong play at the Brier, this year’s champion does not have the added stress and pressure Team Casey faced last season (in their first season together and as PEI champs no less).  Casey will be the favorite to win this event and return to the Brier in Ottawa.  While they have not had the strong results on tour this season as compared to last, they have still been playing the best teams in the world all season and competing strong.  This alone should give them the advantage over their opposition who have not had the same schedule.  Plus, for fans, I think many want to see lead Robbie Doherty back recording vids in the Brier Patch (YouTube them if you haven’t seen them yet...quite hilarious).  But it won’t be easy for Casey.  Last year’s PEI Tankard finalist Jamie Newson returns to the field this year.  Three-time champion (2011, 2013, 2014) Eddie MacKenzie is also back after taking last season off and will be looking to make it 3 titles in 4 years.  Also back in the fold is 8-time PEI Tankard champ Robert Campbell.  Add in the 3 Tyler’s competing (MacKenzie, Harris, Smith) and this is a good field.  The biggest challenge could come from Tyler MacKenzie though, who added Campbell as vice for a lineup change this season.  In fact, Casey is the only full returning team from a year ago.  Even last year’s finalist Newson has a new team behind him.  While perhaps not a contender for the title, keep an eye out for Tyler Smith.  Smith was the 2013 and 2015 PEI junior champion and is making his first big move to men’s curling this season.  It will be interesting to see if he can challenge the more experienced top teams in his first season and first PEI Tankard. 

Playoff Teams:  Team Casey, Team T. MacKenzie

PEI Champion:  Team Casey over Team T. MacKenzie

Alright rock heads and stoners, time to get excited for more high-drama curling action this weekend.  After spending last weekend at the North Hill Curling Club watching the Alberta Scotties, it will be a bit of a change to follow along with all the curling action sitting on my couch in sweatpants with a beer in my hand.  Thank you once again to CurlingGeek for letting me geek away at the AB Scotties last weekend.  I had a great time covering the games, talking to a few of the curlers and engaging with fans of the sport both in person and online.  It is worth pointing out, CurlingGeek truly does #growthesport and unite people.  At one point on Friday night, I was chatting with curling fans from across North America, Europe, Asia and even Brazil.  I also had numerous fans watching the action alongside me in person come up and just say thank you for the coverage CurlingGeek brings them on a regular basis.  Even Val Sweeting’s mom came up to me and said she needed to shake my hand and say thank you for the volunteer time all the geeks put in during the curling season.  While there may still be lots of areas of growth for curling and some issues the sport needs to sort out, curling fans around the globe continue to be some of the most passionate, knowledgeable and friendly sports fans I have ever encountered in my life!

Rock on #curling nation!!

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

#BetweenTheSheets: Playdowns Season Arrives
Time to crown provincial/territorial Scotties & Tankard champions


Can you believe we have reached the playdown championship time of the curling year already?  It seems like not to so long ago we were celebrating the new curling season in Paradise, NL at the Tour Challenge.  The season really has flown by.  But as the calendar year turns over, the goals of curling for money and winning big on tour are put to the wayside as teams pursue the ultimate dream: a provincial or territorial championship.

The Scotties Tournament of Hearts begins exactly one month from today (Feb. 20-28) at Revolution Place in Grande Prairie, Alberta.  The Tim Hortons Brier starts two weeks later (March 5 – 13) at TD Place Arena in Ottawa, Ontario.  The #RoadtoGP and #RoadToOttawa are underway as we speak.  This week’s blog post will preview the provincial championships taking place, crowning new Canadian junior champions...and discuss curling in Phoenix, Arizona?

Before we do so, let’s take a quick look at the #PowerRankings heading into championship week.  With the TSN Pinty’s All-Star Skins Game and Continental Cup grabbing most of the headlines, coupled with many teams taking the first few weeks off to prepare for provincial championships, we see only some small changes to the rankings based on early 2016 results.

MEN

(1) Brad Gushue (LW: 1)
(2) Kevin Koe (2)
(3) John Epping (5)
(4) BradJacobs (HM)
(5) Mike McEwen (4)

Hon. Mention:  Team Edin, Team Carruthers, Team Thomas

WOMEN

(1) Rachel Homan (LW: 1)
(2) Jennifer Jones (4)
(3) Val Sweeting (5)
(4) SilvanaTirinzoni (HM)
(5) Anna Sidorova (3)

Hon. Mention:  Team Muirhead, Team McCarville, Team Paetz, Team Sigfridsson
  • Team Jacobs rejoins the Top 5 after his repeat victory at the TSN Pinty’s All-Star Skins Game in Banff, AB.  Yes, I realize the skins is a bit different and not an official event on tour; however, he did beat McEwen (SF) and Gushue (F) to claim the title and played some outstanding curling along the way.  They collected their first W of the season...these facts cannot be ignored.
  • Similar to Jacobs, Sweeting jumps two spot in the rankings due to making the final in Banff before losing to Jones.  She beat Homan in the SF, something teams have struggled to do this season.  Again, it was only the skins but at this point of the season all victories provide great motivation and momentum for teams when they need it the most.
  • Team Epping and Team McCarville celebrated huge victories in Blaine, MN to start the 2016 year at the US Open Cup of Curling.  For Epping, it is still hard to move above Gushue and Koe but his win does plant him in the conversation for one of the top teams on tour this season.  For McCarville: Welcome to the power rankings!  It is hard to ignore the fact this team has won their past 4 events.  This team is firing on all cylinders heading into the Northern Ontario Scotties, taking place this week.  More on that below though.  Worth noting, #TwineTime accurately predicted both of these championship victories.
  • Speaking of the Tour Challenge earlier, women’s champion Silvana Tirinzoni is on a run of her own.  This team is coming off back-to-back tour victories in Bern, SUI (International Bernese Ladies Cup) and Glasgow, SCO (Glynhill Ladies International).  Interesting to note, both championship finals came at the expense of Team Sigfridsson.  While Tirinzoni climbs back into the Top 5, recognition also provided to Team Sigfridsson for their outstanding results in 2016.  In Bern, Sidorova eliminated Muirhead in the QF only to be beaten in the SF by Sigfridsson.  In Glasgow, Sidorova once again would come up short in the SF losing to eventual champion Tirinzoni.  The top European women’s teams are really starting to peak at the right time.

There are so many big events going on this weekend, let’s jump right into #TourLifePredictions.  We have a Canadian championship on the line.  We will crown new (or perhaps reigning) Scotties champions in a few provinces.  A few men’s teams will lock up their spot in the Brier as well.  And we cannot forget about the new #wct event taking place in sunny Tempe, Arizona.

Canadian Junior Curling Championship
Stratford, Ontario
Jan. 23 – 31

2015 Champions:  Manitoba – Braden Calvert (men) & Alberta – Kelsey Rocque (women)

Format:  Round Robin with Provinces/Territories divided into two pools of seven.  Top 3 in each pool advance to Championship Round Robin, where Top 3 advance to playoffs.  #1 seed earning a bye to the championship final while #2 vs #3 play in the semi-final.



The Favorites:

Men – Manitoba is the strong favorite to claim this title, skipped by Matt Dunstone.  Dunstone has been on fire this season not just amongst the junior level but playing on the tour level.  Dunstone made the final of their opening event in Winnipeg, claimed their first title on tour in Bemidji, MN and qualified in Morris, MB.  Add in the experience Dunstone has as a previous Canadian champion (2013) and playing in his first grand slam this season after being called up by defending Brier Champions Team Simmons at the Canadian Open....it is hard to bet against him right now.  He has been placed in the more experienced opening pool but against teams he should have no problem defeating.  Sometimes it is easier to play teams/players you know then battle the unknown (as we will see in the other pool).

Women – Mary Fay’s Nova Scotia team could bring home their first junior title since 2004 (Jill Mouzer).  This is a very wide open field with most of the teams relatively new to the national scene.  Fay easily has the most experience at this level and should have no problem with the added pressure of a national championship, media and bigger arena ice.  Fay is only 17 years old but has the feeling of a seasoned vet on the ice this week.  Last year she stumbled in the championship round and in 2014 she lost in the SF.  This year she seems very determined to finally add that Canadian Junior title to her resume.  She has successfully made a stronger shift to tour life this season as well, picking up her first #wct title in Halifax, knocking off All-Star Colleen Jones in the SF and Mary Mattatall in the F. 

The Challengers:

Men – There are a few teams who could challenge Dunstone’s Manitoba fearsome.  Last year’s runner-up Saskatchewan rink (Jacob Hersikorn) would be the biggest challenge.  The experience of last year, coupled with a repeat title win in Saskatchewan, could drive this team towards another successful run here.  Quebec (Felix Asselin) and Alberta (Karsten Sturmay) were here last year as well and lost out to SK on tie-breakers after the championship round.  Quebec and Alberta find themselves playing Manitoba early though, which could be a benefit.  Northern Ontario (Tanner Horgan) could surprise as well as he returns after a disappointing finish last year missing the championship round.

Women – As previously mentioned, this year sees almost a changing of the guard on the junior women’s ranks.  Most of the teams competing will be relatively new to the national championship stage.  The biggest challenge should come from New Brunswick (Justine Comeau) if we go on experience alone.  Comeau was here last year, just missing the playoffs.  Also, expect to see British Columbia (Sara Daniels) challenge for the title.  Last year Daniels went undefeated in the B.C. provincials only to lose the final to Corryn Brown (who would end up finishing runner-up at this event).  This season Daniels reversed the result and dominated Brown in the B.C. final.  The loss last year was a learning lesson for the team and they seem very hungry this year.

The Dark Horse:

Men – British Columbia (Tyler Tardi) could be the surprise team during the week-long event.  The B.C. teams have struggled at this event the past few years come the pressure-packed Championship Round.  This year could see a change.  B.C. is playing in the wide open Pool B for the opening round robin where anything could happen due to the teams having less experience (besides Team SK).  If Tardi can rally his boys to a strong opening round robin result, they could shock the big boys down the road.

Women – Alberta (Selena Sturmay) should not be taken lightly either.  With brother Kartsen also here competing for the men and with the experience of being here last year, sister Selena could lean on him for support and encouragement.  Sturmay went undefeated in AB provincials, including a victory over previous SK junior champion Kristen Streifel.  The question will be how the nerves hold up.  Alberta draws the easier of the two pools I think and Sturmay should have a good shot at making the championship round.

What To Watch For (W2W4):  This year we will crown new champions for the first time in three years.  Both Calvert and Rocque won the previous two Canadian junior titles.  With Rocque moving on to women’s play this season and Calvert losing in the Manitoba Junior Provincial semi-final, we will see new champions.  However, we may not necessarily see new provinces at the top of the podium.  Both Manitoba and Alberta field strong teams (on both sides of the draw) and could continue their recent domination.  Note Manitoba has won the past 3 Canadian Junior men’s titles and Alberta has claimed 3 of the past 4 Canadian Junior ladies titles.

Championship Round Qualifiers:

Men – Manitoba (Dunstone), Quebec (Asselin), Alberta (Surmay), Saskatchewan (Hersikorn), British Columbia (Tardi), Northern Ontario (Horgan)

Women – New Brunswick (Comeau), Alberta (Sturmay), Quebec (St-Georges), Nova Scotia (Fay), British Columbia (Daniels), Ontario (Auld)

Championship:

Men – Manitoba (Dunstone) over Saskatchewan (Hersikorn)  Unfortunately make it back-to-back championship final losses for the young Saskatchewan team but it is just too hard to bet against Dunstone and how they are curling this season.  This really is their championship for the taking.

Women – Nova Scotia (Fay) over British Columbia (Daniels)  This could be a tough one to call as both teams look really good heading into this event.  I really think experience takes over here though.  I actually expect Daniels to win the championship pool and receive the bye to the finals but Fay will come through the SF and that momentum will guide her to the coveted Canadian title she has been fighting for.

Scotties Tournament of Hearts Qualifying 



As of press time, we already know 4 teams joining the field in Grande Prairie.  Congratulations to the following teams:

Team Canada – Jennifer Jones
P.E.I. – Suzanne Birt
Yukon – Nicole Baldwin
Nunavut – Geneva Chislett

A few notes here.  Huge congrats to Team Chislett being crowned the first ever Scotties women’s champions from Nunavut.  It is exciting to see Nunavut send a team to the national championship this year.  Nicole Baldwin claims her first Yukon title, after defending champion Sarah Koltun decided to take the year off to pursue her education.  Prior to the official start of the Scotties, a pre-qualification playoff will take place.  This year, based on results from last year, the teams competing will be:  Northwest Territories, Yukon, Nunavut and British Columbia.

By Sunday, we will crown another 8 provincial champions and start rounding out what this year’s national championship will look like.  Let’s jump right into the provincial previews and predictions as we travel the #RoadToGP:

British Columbia

2015 Champion: Team Patti Knezevic

Format: 9-team round robin with Top 4 advancing to page playoff

Top Teams Entered:  Team Kelly Scott, Team Patti Knezevic, Team Kesa Van Osch

W2W4:  B.C. faces the daunting task of knowing they have to play the pre-qualification tournament due to Knezevic’s last place finish last year.  There are some strong teams competing this week though and this should be a close contest.  Former Canadian and World Champion Kelly Scott is always in the consideration conversation as a threat.  Past champions Van Osch should also contend.  Knezevic would love to return to the Scotties and make up for last year’s performance.  But if you really want a dark horse to cheer for, how about Diane Gushulak.  Gushulak has been to the Scotties before, playing with Ontario’s Alison Goring (1995) and as an alternate for Kelly Scott (2009).  Gushulak formed her own team last season and struggled but have been playing quite well on tour this season, winning two titles.  They may not grab the headlines this week against the more well-known teams, but their results this season should make them a contender.

Playoff Teams:  Team Scott, Team Van Osch, Team Gushulak, Team Wark

B.C. Championship:  Team Scott over Team Gushulak

Alberta

2015 Champion:  Team Val Sweeting

Format:  12-team triple knockout with 4 qualifiers.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Sweeting, Team Rocque, Team Carey

W2W4:  Can Team Sweeting make it 3 in a row?  This will be the biggest storyline throughout this event.  Can anyone dethrone the champs?  Sweeting has not only won back-to-back Alberta titles but has also made back-to-back Scotties tournament finals.  They own this province right now.  But the future could be now with up and coming Team Rocque.  Fresh off her own back-to-back Alberta and Canadian championships (in juniors of course) Kelsey Rocque could be the biggest hurdle to Val’s three-peat.  Team Carey and the resurgence of Team Shannon Kleibrink could pose a threat as well.  But given the results this season, this is Val’s title for the taking once again.

Playoff Teams:  Team Sweeting, Team Rocque, Team Kleibrink, Team Carey

Alberta Champion:  Team Sweeting over Team Rocque

Manitoba

2015 Champion:  Team Jennifer Jones

Format:  16-team round robin with two groups of 8.  Top two in each pool advance to the page playoff.

Top Teams Entered:  Team McDonald, Team Einarson

W2W4:  With Team Jones winning the Scotties last year, this year’s Manitoba Scotties is wide open and ready for the taking.  Last time we saw this, Chelsea Carey was able to finally claim her first buffalo (with Kristy McDonald as vice).  Could we see another first-time champion crowned this weekend?  Team Einarson and Team McDonald would be the co-favorites based on how they have played this season.  Einarson winning the Tour Challenge Tier II event excelled their season and helped push them to the next level.  Plus Einarson did lose the final last year to Jones.  It won’t be easy though.  We should see a battle for the playoffs between a few teams, such as Team Barb Spencer (last year’s 3rd place team) or previous champion Team Cathy Overton-Clapham (who came out of retirement talk to continue playing).  We could also see two dark horse picks challenge the bigger names in Team Michelle Wiens (Montford) and Team Shannon Birchard.  Wiens has a tour title under her belt this season (Mother Club Fall Classic) and Birchard is fresh out of juniors and looking ready to compete with the top dogs.

Playoff Teams:  Team McDonald, Team Wiens, Team Einarson, Team Spencer

Manitoba Champion:  Team Einarson over Team McDonald

Ontario

2015 Champion:  Team Julie Hastings

Format:  10-team round robin with Top 4 advancing to the page playoff.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Homan, Team Hastings, Team Middaugh, Team Flaxey

W2W4:  Guess who’s back?  For the first time in 3 years, Team Homan is back playing for an Ontario championship.  And that cannot be good news to her fellow 9-teams.  Homan has dominated the tour this season and is a HUGE favorite to win the Ontario crown once again.  There has been talk about the team looking a bit vulnerable lately, losing the SF of the skins and not looking as dominant at the Continental Cup.  However, they lost the skins by a draw to the button and the Continental Cup they lost their opening game and never looked back.  This team has a drive to succeed and will not be distracted by the rumors of their recent play.  However, this field is still very strong and it will not be easy for Homan.  Previous champions Team Hastings, Team Middaugh and Team Flaxey will put up a challenge.  Even past champion Jenn Hanna returns to the mix this season and could be a surprise dark horse.  Add in seasoned vet teams like Team Auld and Team Harrison with up and coming teams like Team Morrissey and Team Kean....this will be a dog fight of a round robin.  Sure Homan is a lock for the playoffs but who will join her could be a toss-up between any of the remaining 9 teams.  If you want some drama and intensity, the Ontario Scotties is the one to watch this weekend....even with a strong favorite.

Playoff Teams:  Team Homan, Team Middaugh, Team Hastings, Team Harrison

Ontario Champion:  Team Homan over Team Hastings

Northern Ontario

2015 Champion:  Team Tracey Fleury

Format:  4-team round robin with Top 2 advancing to the championship final

Top Teams Entered:  Team Fleury, Team McCarville

W2W4:  With no disrespect to Team Payne and Team Wiseman, this is a two-horse race coming down the wire.  Defending champion Team Fleury has been a team on a roll since last season.  They survived the pre-qualification at last year’s Scotties and rode that to a 5th place finish in their first (both team and provincial designation) Scotties.  They have grand slam experience under their belts and seem poised for a repeat run this season.  Enter the return of Krista McCarville.  And what a comeback!  She may have cemented herself as the Comeback Player of the Year with how her team is playing.  5 events, 4 wins.  In fact, 4 wins IN A ROW!!  This team is rolling and peaking at the perfect time.  Sure there may only be 4 teams competing this week in Timmons but the race for the championship is going to be a hot one to follow.  This should get exciting!

Playoff Teams:  Team Fleury, Team McCarville

Northern Ontario Champion:  Team McCarville over Team Fleury

Quebec

2015 Champion:  Team Lauren Mann

Format:  5-team round robin with Top 3 advancing to playoffs.  Top seed earning a bye to the championship final.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Mann, Team Larouche

W2W4:  Another welcome back....we have a theme going rock heads!  Marie-France Larouche returns in her bid for another Quebec Scotties title.  A 6-time champion, Larouche has not been competing for a Quebec title since 2013.  Coming off back-to-back titles, 2013 was a low point as she failed to even make the Quebec playoffs.  After taking 2014 and 2015 off, Larouche is back and ready to return to the national championship.  Bad news perhaps for defending champion Lauren Mann.  Mann won her first title last year and finished with a 3-8 record at the Scotties.  However they showed a lot of future promise last season and, with Larouche out of the picture, seemed to be the future of Quebec women’s curling.  This will be a big challenge for Mann and her team.  Do we see history repeating with Larouche’s return or does the future become the present and Mann show she is where Quebec curling is going?  Worth noting, Roxane Perron and her team have been biting at the heels of this championship for the past few seasons and have just come up short every time.  With all the focus on Larouche and Mann, what a story it would be to see Perron fly under the radar and steal this championship.

Playoff Teams:  Team Mann, Team Larouche, Team Perron

Quebec Champion:  Team Larouche over Team Mann

Nova Scotia

2015 Champion:  Team Mary-Anne Arsenault

Format: 8-team round robin with Top 3 advancing to playoffs.  Top seed earning a bye to the championship final.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Arsenault, Team Jones, Team Breen

W2W4:  You know the theme here folks....welcome back Colleen Jones!  Colleen is joined with previous teammates Kim Kelly and Nancy Delahunt while adding Mary Sue Radford to the mix in an attempt to take back the Nova Scotia title from her previous teammate Mary-Anne Arsenault.  Arsenault has skipped Team Nova Scotia at two of the past three Scotties; however, last year was her first year without Jones and company.  She is finally finding success on her own, with her own team.  Could a previous teammate derail her hopes though this week?  Jones, fresh off a new book and book tour this summer/fall, looks ready to recapture the title and head back to the Scotties.  It will be interesting to watch these two battle it out as competitors rather than teammates this week.  But hold up, this is not a two-team race friends.  Arsenault and Jones may attract the most attention but watch out of Team Theresa Breen.  Breen has followed the blueprint of Arsenault in surrounding herself with a younger line-up and has found success on tour this season picking up a title and two runner-up finishes.  Do not undersell the potential of this team.  Add in previous Canadian Junior women’s champ Jill Brothers (Mouzar) and up and coming Team Emily Dwyer and this race could be a lot more competitive than people think.

Playoff Teams:  Team Arsenault, Team Jones, Team Breen

Nova Scotia Champion:  Team Jones over Team Arsenault

Tim Hortons Brier Qualifying



The 2016 Tim Hortons Brier will take place March 5 – 13 in Ottawa.  While this might seem a bit far away, provinces and territories are already crowning their champions to prepare for the event.  As of press time, congratulations to the following teams for booking their spot in Ottawa:

Team Canada – Pat Simmons
Nunavut – Wade Kingdon
Yukon – Bob Smallwood

Special congratulations to Team Kingdon on becoming the first Nunavut men’s champion.  Similar to the women, it is great to see Nunavut crown a territorial champion this year and send a team to the national championship.  We continue to #growthesport! 

Once again, this year we will see a pre-qualification event take place.  This year, based on the results of a year ago, the teams competing will be:  Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Yukon and Northwest Territories.  By the end of the weekend, we will know 3 of the 4 pre-qualification teams competing.  The #RoadToOttawa begins for two more provinces this week:

Quebec

2015 Champion:  Jean-Michel Menard

Format:  14-team round robin with teams split into two pools of 7.  Top 2 in each pool advance to the page playoff.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Menard, Team Hemmings

W2W4:  Will Team Menard domination continue?  They are the 3-time defending champions and have won 7 of the past 11 championships.  The last man to beat Menard and win the title was Robert Desjardins back in 2012, who is in the competition this year playing with skip Pierre-Luc Morissette and throwing forth stones.  Main rival the past few seasons, Michael Fournier, is also back to try and finally win a WFG Tankard.  Most fans eyes will be on the return...again welcome back...of Guy Hemmings.  Hemmings has always been a crowd favorite and will no doubt be crowd favorite again this week.  Hemmings is a 4-time Tankard champion and two-time Brier runner-up (1998, 1999).  While I am a fan of Hemmings, it may be tough to make a run to this championship given the field.  Would it be a great story?  Absolutely.  Will it happen?  Probably not.

Playoff Teams:  Team Menard, Team Dion, Team Fournier, Team Munroe

Quebec Champion:  Team Menard over Team Fournier

Nova Scotia

2015 Champion:  Glen MacLeod

Format: 8-team round robin with Top 3 advancing to the playoffs.  Top seed earning a bye to the championship final.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Adams, Team Murphy

W2W4:  Can Nova Scotia return to the Brier?  Last year Nova Scotia competed in the pre-qualification playoff and, surprisingly to many, found themselves eliminated during the round robin (although due to a horrible draw to the button rule mind you).  For a province with a Brier victory as recent as 2004, this is a bit of shock and disappointment for curling fans.  There are some outstanding teams competing this week though in hopes of returning Nova Scotia to curling glory once again.  The biggest story will be Team Shawn Adams.  Adams put together an All-Star rink with Mark Dacey, Craig Savill and Andrew Gibson.   With the recent announcement of Savill’s battle with cancer (#FUCancer, #GoSavill), all eyes will be on Adams team to try and win this for Savs.  And they should be considered the favorite with adding Ian Fitzner-Leblanc to the team.  On paper, this team should dominate this event and have no trouble joining the “elite” once again.  Plus, as a fan of the sport, how cool would it be to see this team in Ottawa competing with (hopefully) Savs listed as their 5th man.  Savill is from Ottawa and the opportunity to compete at the Brier in your home city, during this difficult time, would be amazing to see happen.  Team Jamie Murphy and Team Chad Stevens could present a roadblock on the way mind you.  And, if you like a dark horse to keep an eye on, watch out for Team Stuart Thompson and Team Jamie Danbrook.  If you have followed along with this blog this season, you will be familiar with both of these names.  They may not nab the title this weekend but both could be the future of Nova Scotia curling.  

Playoff Teams:  Team Adams, Team Murphy, Team Stevens

Nova Scotia Champion:  Team Adams over Team Murphy

World Curling Tour

Ed Werenich Golden Wrench Classic
Tempe, Arizona

2015 Champion:  New Event

Format:  20-team round robin with 5 teams in 4 pools.  The top 8 teams qualify for the playoffs.

Top Teams Entered:  Team McEwen, Team Simmons, Team Thomas, Team Lyburn, Team Shuster, Team Cotter

W2W4:  Get ready for #CurlingInTheDesert friends.  Could there be any better event to truly embrace the #growthesport mantra this season than this event?  And what a line up!  Congrats to Coyotes Curling Club for hosting this event and attracting many top teams from North America and Japan.  Many of the top Canadian teams will be using this event as a warm-up for their upcoming provincial championships.  Team Simmons (as Team Canada) will need to find success at this event as they want to get as much competitive curling ice time in as possible since they bypass provincials again this year and have the direct entry to the Brier.  Also worth noting, this is the final opportunity for teams to accumulate grand slam qualifying points for the upcoming Elite 10 in Victoria, B.C.  For more information on this event, check out the Coyotes Curling Club website HERE where they will also be live streaming games all weekend.

Playoff Teams:  Team McEwen, Team Lyburn, Team Bottcher, Team Lizmore, Team Simmons, Team Thomas, Team Shuster, Team Cotter

Champion:  Team Thomas over Team McEwen – Yup, going with a bit of an upset here.  Team Thomas is a hot team right now and will want to build some momentum heading into the BP Cup this year, knowing they will have to be at the top of their game to knock off Team Koe.  Plus Team Thomas is on the cusp of qualifying for the Elite 10.  A strong run in Arizona would help the climb and qualify them for their first grand slam.  Don’t get me wrong though, #redpants will come out firing this weekend as well.  They also want to build momentum and confidence heading into the much-anticipated (or dreaded depending who you ask) Manitoba provincial championship.  Mikey and the boys looked good in Banff but not great.  They will find their stride though and I think it happens in the desert.


There ya have it stoners and rock heads.  A bit long of a post this week but we had a lot to cover right?  I hope you follow along with all the provincial championship action either in person at your local curling club or through CurlingZone.  I will be at the Alberta Scotties event, beginning Friday afternoon covering games live for CurlingGeek.  Feel free to join in on the conversation and the fun online all weekend with me.