Who Am I?

My photo

I like sports....lots of sports...all sports!  Follow my blog as I talk about sports....if you like sports of course

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

#BetweenTheSheets: The Road To Gold
The Players Championship runs gold rings as teams chase gold dreams


How fitting is it to have the curling rings run gold in colour this week for the Players Championship?  Not only is this event the gold standard on the annual Grand Slam of Curling schedule BUT this year there is the added element of chasing the Olympic dream for many of the teams hitting the ice in Toronto.

The Players Championship runs deep with tradition and prestige.  All curling athletes want to be competing in this event and end the week being crowned champion.  But alas only one team can pull off the feat and leave Toronto with a smile on their face.

But prestige and etching your name in the history books is not the only thing in play within the golden rings this week.  We have a few direct-entry berths for the Roar of the Rings in Ottawa, the Canadian Olympic curling trials, on the line.  We also have spots in the season-ended Champions Cup.  What about the Rogers Grand Slam Cup?  Top spot in the race to claim the overall season trophy stills hangs in the balance.  And what about the money?  All that money sitting there right for the taking.  Can do some nice post-Easter chocolate shopping with all the money being handed out this week!

Let's talk about those Roar of the Rings berths.  With the trials set to kick off in Ottawa in just over 233 days from now, the pressure is mounting on teams to punch their ticket and keep those Olympic dreams alive.  The Players Championship is the final opportunity for teams to gain Canadian Team Ranking System (CTRS) points.  This is important because CTRS point leaders, based on two-year and one year totals, are part of the qualification standard to make an Olympic run.  For the Roar, 7 teams will earn automatic entry.  These 7 spots are determined as follows:

1. 2015 Canada Cup (Homan, Koe)
2. 2016 Scotties / Brier (Carey, Koe)
3. 2016 Canada Cup (Jones, Carruthers)
4. 2017 Scotties / Brier (Homan, Gushue)
5. 2015-17 CTRS leader
6. 2016-17 CTRS leader
7. 2016-17 CTRS runner-up

Of course remember our Brier/Scotties winners must finish on the podium to earn their trials spot (see Koe, Gushue, Homan).  If they fail to medal, no trials spot will go claimed for the event autoberth and rather an added spot will go to CTRS rankings for that year (see Carey).  As you can see from above, Koe and Homan are already listed twice.  Carey failed to medal so her spot also became open.  In the case of Koe's Brier win, spot #2 became open to CTRS points.  For Carey's miss at the world championship, Jones claimed the #2 spot as the highest 2015-16 CTRS point leader.  This creates a domino effect however as Jones won the 2016 Canada Cup, now opening up spot #3 for another CTRS leader.

The final 2 spots will be determined by the pre-trials qualifier event in Summerside, PEI, which will feature the next 12 ranked teams according to CTRS.  Got all that so far?

If we eye up the current auto berths, Kevin Koe, Reid Carruthers and Brad Gushue already know they are in Ottawa.  Similar to Rachel Homan and Jennifer Jones.  If we do the basic math this leaves 4 spots open for the men and 5 spots open for the women.

On the men's side, Mike McEwen is in the driver's seat for the two-year spot, currently leading Brad Jacobs and John Epping.  Of course if either of these teams win the Players and McEwen fails to qualify, those numbers could change dramatically.  Either McEwen or Jacobs is going to grab the two-year spot though.  Jacobs is probably best suited to earn a spot regardless, sitting top spot on the one-year and second on the two-year.  Also, with Koe's 2016 Brier spot still open, Brad Gushue would claim this spot as the 2015-16 CTRS leader.  The ripple effect comes into play again though because his 2017 Brier win would now go to the next highest 2016-17 CTRS team, currently Jacobs.  Which would, in turn, default McEwen to the two-year spot...for now.

If we pencil in both Jacobs and McEwen to have strong results at the Players and book their Ottawa spots, we have 3 teams fighting for the final 2 spots.  John Epping is in the most comfortable position, having a lead on the remaining teams in both the two-year and one-year race.  Technically Epping could pass McEwen for the two-year spot but McEwen would still receive a spot based on the one-year totals.  Steve Laycock is sitting on the plus side of the bubble while John Morris is sitting on the wrong side.  You can bet both of those teams will have the corner of their eye set on one another throughout the week.  If Laycock goes one win better than Morris, Ottawa here they come!  Of course everything could get very interesting if Morris wins the Players and say Laycock reaches the SF or final and McEwen/Epping fails to qualify at all and pick up wins.

How about the women?  With only two spots claimed, 5 spots are still up for grabs.  The two-year spot is pretty much a given with Val Sweeting having a fairly comfortable lead heading into the Players.  Team Sweeting probably just needs to pick up a win or two to claim her plane ticket to Ottawa.  The only thing really stopping the victory dance would be if Sweeting fails to qualify and Allison Flaxey wins the grand slam.  However, even in that scenario, Sweeting should still have enough points for one of the one-year ranking spots.  So Sweeting knocks down one spot.  Flaxey is looking very comfortable for another, helped by her Masters win this season and a SF appearance at the Tour Challenge and QF spot at the Canadian Open.

Speaking of the Canadian Open, the champion Casey Scheidegger continues to be the flag bearer for #TeamUpset....vaulting themselves from a possible pre-trials spot to start the season into a pretty good chance at clinching a direct entry spot to Ottawa after this weekend.  What a story for the season!!!  Scheidegger is not even included in the two-year conversation but if Sweeting/Flaxey claims the two-year, Scheidegger is in a great spot for the one-year runner-up spot.  Need another feel good story?  How about Michelle Englot?  She started the season with almost no shot at a Roar auto berth, joined a new team in a new province and ended up reaching the final of the Scotties and the final of the Tour Challenge.  Both of those results should lock down a spot in Ottawa too.

If we move Sweeting, Flaxey, Scheidegger and Englot from the Should Be In to Auto Lock category, this would leave one final spot up for grabs.  Tracey Fleury looks to have the inside track on the final auto berth, seeing as she is competing in Toronto and Chelsea Carey is not.  If Fleury can pick up a few wins and qualify for the playoffs, the final spot should be her's for the taking.  This would also be a huge disappointment for the 2016 Scotties champions, to go from a strong Roar spot locked up to competing with 12 others teams for 2 spots in the pre-trials.

Here are the teams #TwineTime expects to earn automatic entry to the Roar of the Rings:

Men - Koe, Carruthers, Gushue, Jacobs, McEwen, Epping, Laycock

Women - Homan, Jones, Sweeting, Flaxey, Scheidegger, Englot, Fleury

Speaking on those pre-trials.  The pre-trials invites are determined based on the following: 2014 Canada Cup winner, 2014-15 CTRS team not already qualified, 4 highest ranking 2015-16 CTRS teams, 4 highest ranking 2016-17 CTRS teams and 2 highest ranking 2015-17 two-year teams.  The 2014 Canada Cup winners (Sweeting, McEwen) should have a trials spot already secured, similar to our 2014-15 CTRS teams (Jones, Jacobs).  The 2015-16 men's teams (Koe, Gushue, McEwen, Carruthers) are all in as are 3 of the 2015-16 women's teams (Homan, Jones, Sweeting).  Carey would be the highest 2015-16 team not already occupying a trials spot, thus earning her a pre-trials spot.  In the case of the already claimed spots mentioned above, replacements are named based solely on the 2016-17 CTRS rankings.  The only exception being the two-year spots as those will go to the highest remaining teams based on the two-year CTRS rankings.

If results fall as outlined above, here are the 12 teams who SHOULD be receiving invites to Summerside, PEI within the next few weeks:

Men - Morris, Bottcher, Howard, Gunnlaugson (nee Dunstone), Simmons (nee Gunnlaugson), Balsdon, Deruelle, Lyburn, Bice, Dennis Bohn, Thomspon, Menard

Women - Carey, Middaugh, Harrison, Tippin, Rocque, Einarson, McCarville, Kleibrink, Chyz, Meilleur, Robertson, Birchard

Got all that Olympic trials info down pat now?  Fully understand it all?  Of course, as mentioned above, a few results in Toronto could turn the entire rankings upside down in a matter of days.

Now what about those non-Canadian teams competing in Toronto?  Other than engraving their name on the Players Championship trophy, what do they have to play for?  Well rock heads and stoners, how about some extra prize money and being named Rogers Grand Slam Cup Champions!!

The Rogers Grand Slam Cup will celebrate a milestone birthday this season, year number five!  Past champions include: Glenn Howard, Kevin Martin, Brad Jacobs, Brad Gushue, Eve Muirhead, Jennifer Jones and Rachel Homan.  In fact Eve Muirhead is the only player to win this exclusive title twice (2012-13, 2014-15).  Team accumulate Grand Slam Cup points throughout the season based on their results at the grand slam events.  For the Players Championship, point breakdown becomes doubled so the winning team will receive 25 points, compared to 12 for previous slam wins.  Also worth noting, each win the team collects in the RR will add two points to their total (compared to one point at previous slams).

Here are the Top 5 standings heading into the Players Championship:

Men - Niklas Edin (41 points), Brad Jacobs (39), Brad Gushue (33), John Morris (30), Reid Carruthers (29)

Women - Silvana Tirinzoni (27), Allison Flaxey (25), Val Sweeting (24), Anna Hasselborg (23), Rachel Homan (21)

With so many points on the line, both the men's and women's Grand Slam Cup titles are up for grabs.  Each win will be huge for teams competing.  The Top 5 on the men's side all can still take home the title.  On the women's side, almost every team competing still have a mathematical shot at claiming the title.  Oh and besides the bragging rights for winning, how does an extra $75,000 sound?  The Grand Slam Cup winner pockets $75K while the runner-up will take home $40K, $25K for third place and an extra $10K for the fourth place finisher.  The extra cash sure sounds like a nice incentive for all the teams competing this week.

The #TwineTime Power Rankings have taken a slight hiatus during the world championship portion of the season.  However, as we head into the final two #gsoc events of the 2016-17 year, it is time to resurrect the #PowerRankings.


MEN

1. Team Gushue (LR: 2)
2. Team Edin (1)
3. Team Morris (HM)
4. Team Jacobs (3)
5. Team de Cruz (NR)

Hon. Mention:  Team Walstad, Team McEwen, Team Shuster

WOMEN

1. Team Homan (1)
2. Team Muirhead (HM)
3. Team Sidorova (NR)
4. Team Hasselborg (2)
5. Team Flaxey (HM)

Hon. Mention:  Team Jones, Team Tirinzoni, Team Scheidegger

Not too many surprises in the Power Rankings.  The updated rankings are strongly based on the recent world championship results, hence the Gushue/Homan top of the mountain.  How can you deny either of these teams top spot right now?  Both went undefeated in claiming world titles, equating to a historic result in #TeamCanada going perfect at both events combined.  Homan and Gushue not only won but they did so in a very dominating factor.  Neither were really pushed in most RR games and the playoffs were business as usual in many ways.  These two teams are World Champions for a reason...and deserve the prestige of sitting on top of the #TwineTime mountain!

Team Edin drops from the top spot due to their world championship finals loss to Gushue but let's not undersell the outstanding season the #SwedishVikings are having.  Chalk up a few grand slam wins, a few more finals appearances, this team is still one of the hottest teams on tour.  Team de Cruz moves into the Top 5 due to their great world championship appearance as well, claiming the bronze medal over Team Shuster/Team USA.  As for Johnny Mo, his win at the Elite 10 moves their team into the Top 5 at that coveted #3 spot often reserved for grand slam champs.  Props of course to Team Walstad representing Norway quite well in Edmonton and earning the Norwegians an Olympic spot.  Similar for Team Shuster, reaching the Final 4 for the second year in a row.

Team Muirhead has had a tremendous past few months.  They won a #wct event in Glasgow, took home a bronze medal from the world championships and claimed the winner's cheque at the most recent event in Perth.  Those strong results cannot be ignored and are reasons why they have skyrocketed up the rankings to #2.  Team Sidorova rode a historic result as well, reaching the world championship final for the first time in Russia's curling history.  Sure they lost to Homan but the result, after three straight bronze medal finishes and a tough season thus far, pull the Russians into the #3 spot.  Hasselborg will be disappointed by once again having a tough final game, this time losing the bronze to Muirhead at the world championships.  This final collapse was very reminiscent of the tough Euro final loss to Russia (Moiseeva) earlier this season.  No team has suffered worst end of game results than this Swedish team this year.

With only the Players Championship and Champions Cup events remaining on the tour calendar, can any team move up the #PowerRankings mountain and make one last push for top spot?

Alright, we threw a few rocks at the Olympic house.  We swept the ice looking for some bonus cash and the Rogers Grand Slam Cup.  How about we settle into the hack for the actual event on the ice?  Let's get to the Players Championship preview:

The Players Championship


Toronto, ON

2016 Champions:  Brad Gushue (men) & Eve Muirhead (women)

Format:  12 team RR with two pools of 6. Top 8 qualify for the playoffs.

MEN

Pool A

Welcome to the pool of death in this competition.  We see the current world champions Team Gushue, fresh off their title last weekend in Edmonton.  We welcome 2016 world champion Kevin Koe, fresh off the runner-up finish to Gushue at the Brier.  Hello Mike McEwen, the Brier 2017 bronze medal winner and six-time grand slam champion.  Oh we see you too Reid Carruthers, competing here right after claiming a Canadian Mixed Doubles Championship with Joanne Courtney.  What about John Morris?  Only the 2010 Olympic champion.  Up and coming Brandon Bottcher, fresh off his rookie Brier campaign, rounds out the pool.  Ummm....#Yikes!  This is going to be tough.

Numerous story lines to watch in this pool as well.  Gushue, Koe, McEwen are the Brier 2017 podium teams, grouped here to compete against one another once again.  Does Gushue suffer a bit of a world championship hangover, similar to what we saw at the Elite 10 after the Brier win?  Koe will be fired up to gain some revenge, losing the Brier final and watching Gushue take home the world title on Alberta ice.  McEwen will be gunning for the career grand slam here.  But, with all of that, the biggest pressure will fall on the shoulders of Team Morris.  They are currently the odd man out of the auto spot in Ottawa for the Olympic trials.  And they come here with a new line-up, adding Brier 2017 All-Star vice from Saskatchewan (and #TwineTime fam member of course) Catlin Schneider at second position.  Morris needs a strong finish here, perhaps even a championship run, coupled with some help in Pool B to book his direct flight to Ottawa.

Pool B

This pool will be highlighted by the #TeamWorld vs. #TeamCanada story line.  In the blue corner, representing #TeamWorld, we have your 2017 world champion silver medal winner Niklas Edin (also a #TwineTime fam member).  The #SwedishVikings will be joined by 2017 world champion bronze medal winner Peter de Cruz and his #HoppSchwiiz teammates.  And rounding out the team of three will be Scotland's Kyle Smith, a grand slam finalist earlier this season.  And in the red corner, representing #TeamCanada, will be 2014 Olympic champion Brad Jacobs, six-time Saskatchewan champion Steve Laycock (with #TwineTime fam Kirk Muyres at vice of course) and 2012 Player Championship winner John Epping.  Worth noting, Jacobs has played in the past three Players Championship finals, winning in 2015.

The big question here will be similar to Gushue in Pool A.  How will Edin and de Cruz recover from the world championship experience?  Edin will come to Toronto fresh off the tough loss while de Cruz comes off a win in their last game...but for bronze.  And all eyes will be on Team Laycock and Team Epping.  Both are sitting in those final two auto spots for the Olympic trials.  Epping's spot in Ottawa looks almost a lock but Laycock has Morris breathing down his neck right now.  The new Laycock line-up has an event under their belts now, with junior stud Matt Dunstone (#TwineTime fam again) joining the team and looking to help solidify the Olympic trials spot.  For Laycock it is simple, just outperform Team Morris and the spot it yours!

Qualifiers:  Team Koe, Team Gushue, Team Carruthers, Team Morris, Team Jacobs, Team Edin, Team Laycock, Team de Cruz

Players Championship Men's Final:  Team Brad Jacobs def. Team Nik Edin

WOMEN

Pool A

This pool will be led by 2017 World Women's Champion Rachel Homan.  Team Homan's victory may have come a few weeks ago but members of the team were on the ice competing for another Canadian championship last weekend in Saskatoon.  In fact we saw the skipper lose the final (with partner John Morris) to her second Joanne Courtney (with Reid Carruthers).  This is a lot of curling for this team though and the Players Championship is the one event title missing from completing the career grand slam for Homan.  A championship win is being predicted by many, and for good reason, but the wins won't come easy within this pool.

Homan will be joined by two #TeamUpset flag bearer's from the 2016/17 season and fellow grand slam champions Allison Flaxey (Masters) and Casey Scheidegger (Canadian Open).  Both of these teams will be joining Homan in Ottawa for the trials so there should be a bit less stress on them this week....which could make them just as dangerous as they were when they won their slams this year.  Not to be outdone though, we have a strong #TeamWorld contingent in Pool A, led by a strong candidate for Comeback Player of the Year and 2009 World Champion Bingyu Wang from China.  4-time world silver medal winner Margaretha Sigfridsson from Sweden could be a dark horse pick to watch out for.  Oh...and let's not forget one of the strongest grand slam players over the past few years Silvana Tirinzoni from Switzerland.  Tirinzoni won the 2015 Tour Challenge and just happened to have played in back-to-back #gsoc finals this season at The National and Canadian Open.

Pool B

We can just refer to Pool B as the Champions Pool.  8 of the past 11 champions come from this pool....and all centred around two skips!  5-time champion Jennifer Jones and 3-time champion Eve Muirhead will be heavy favourites to qualify from this wide-open pool.  Muirhead has won 3 of the past 4 Players Championships and will try for the #3peat this year!  Last year Jones was denied title #6 losing the final to Muirhead.  This event has been played in Toronto three times...and all three times the title went across the pond to Scotland with Muirhead being the last woman standing.  Could we see #HistoryRepeating?

Two major teams who could stand in the way of our past champions are champions in their own right.  Val Sweeting has been in the winner's circle already this season, taking home the Tour Challenge title in Okotoks.  Sweden's Anna Hasselborg may not have a grand slam title to her name (YET!) but she does have 3 SF appearances at slams this season (Masters, Tour Challenge, Canadian Open).  This could be the perfect time to take her slam record one round further and add her name to the list of first-time slam winners this season.  It has been the trend of the season after all!

And what about those Olympic trial spots?  Well Michelle Englot looks to have her spot sewed up quite nicely heading to Toronto.  A Scotties final appearance and reaching the Tour Challenge championship certainly helps!  The big wild card in play is held in the hands of Tracy Fleury.  She has everything to gain this week.  Currently on the cusp of the final spot, she is battling it out with 2016 Scotties champ Chelsea Carey.  With Carey failing to qualify for the Players Championship, Fleury can gain the points needed to #StealPants the final ticket to Ottawa.  It won't be easy and the pressure will be high on their team but they did reach The National final last season and have 2 QF slam appearances this season (Tour Challenge, Canadian Open).  It is going to take a deep playoff run here to keep those golden hopes alive.

Qualifiers:  Team Homan, Team Flaxey, Team Tirinzoni, Team Scheidegger, Team Jones, Team Sweeting, Team Fleury, Team Muirhead

Players Championship Women's Final:  Team Silvana Tirinzoni def. Team Rachel Homan

Stay up to date on all the draws and end-by-end scores at CurlingZone rock heads and stoners.  As always, toss your comment rocks into my house via the comment section below or on twitter.

Before closing out this week's blog post I would like to give a special Thank You mention to Curling Canada and World Curling Federation for designating the #TwineTime blog a spot on the media bench during the Ford World Men's Curling Championships in Edmonton.  This was a truly wonderful honour and opportunity.  I had the chance to talk with many of the athletes competing and proudly representing their countries.  The #growthesport idea became a great topic of discussion.  ICYMI visit the blog post on the topic HERE with great quotes from representatives from Italy, Netherlands and Norway.

Also, as announced via twitter, the #TwineTime blog will be heading to Lethbridge, AB for the upcoming World Mixed Doubles Curling Championships.  This will be exciting as it is the final opportunity for nations to qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics....plus there are 30 teams competing!!  I can already see the #growthesport theme ringing true again.

AND #StayTuned....the #TwineTime family grew during my time in Edmonton folks.

Enjoy the action on the ice!

HAPPY EASTER!!!!!