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Friday, 15 September 2017

#Curling S1718W2

#BetweenTheSheets: The Tour Challenge Rock Star
#TwineTime Bro steals the spotlight in Regina

The #TwineTime blog is always feeling very fortunate, humbled and thankful for the opportunities provided from organizations like Curling Canada, Sportsnet, World Curling Federation and Grand Slam of Curling.  I know my role at events.  I stay in the background.  I try to linger more around the concourse level of arenas to talk to fans and feel the environment as best as possible.  I try to make sure if I do request an interview with an athlete after a game, it is after the rest of the media have had their chance.  And I try to be as respectful with their time as possible.  When one is provided an opportunity to be part of something bigger than oneself, you soak in the moment, enjoy the ride and say thank you.

But this past week in my hometown of Regina a slightly different side of the #TwineTime blog came through.  I watched games from the stands and in a regular seat.  I did not venture backstage after games and talk to players and conduct interviews.  I did not even try to hide behind the bigger scenes.  Nope, at the #TourChallenge I made my presence known.  And for a great reason....

This past week's grand slam event was not about me.  It was not about the #TwineTime blog.  It was not about trying to get my blog name out there with athletes and hopefully get a few more people interested in what I write about on a weekly basis trying to support curling and #growthesport.  Nope, my time in Regina was better spent on the ultimate reason: family!

As some of my loyal readers know my brother has cerebral palsy and is a huge part of my life.  I love him dearly and am always trying to find new ways to add excitement to his life.  Most of us get to travel and go on vacations....or work....or drive....or have some sort of true independence from the world around us.  For some, having "independence" is never in the true definition of the word.  My brother, Nick, lives in a rehabilitation center with a variety of people ranging from physical to mental disabilities or both.  He has his own place....his own room I should say.  He gets up when the nurses get him up.  He eats when the nurses feed him.  He goes to bed usually when he wants but still within a mild time frame.  Independence they say?  Perhaps....with parameters.

When the Tour Challenge was announced to be heading to my home town last year I knew this would be the perfect surprise for Nick.  He has never been to a curling event live before.  He has watched some curling on TV (more on that in a minute).  In fact, he rarely gets out to any big events because, honestly, it really can be very tiring and difficult for him.  But not last week.  I told him I was coming to town and taking him to watch some curling for a few days and he was excited.

Let's back up a bit here though.  This entire experience would not have been made possible without the support of Sportsnet and the Grand Slam of Curling team.  Back at the Champions Cup in Calgary last season, I pitched the idea to the media contacts and pleaded my case.  Turns out, I didn't need to plead very hard.  They loved the idea and were instantly supportive.  The comment right away was, "Of course we will.  We would love to help give your brother a great experience, just let us know what you need."  Perfect!  The plan is in place.

Nick had known for months about the curling event and knowing he would be joining me.  He knew I would have a media pass for the blog but was under the assumption I just bought him some tickets.  Imagine his surprise day one when he rolls in (literally!) and finds me waiting with a media pass for him.  His face lit up.  He felt like he was part of the blog.  Part of this extended curling media family.  And he felt special.  He wore his media pass with pride and in between shots or draws, I would occasionally catch him looking down at it and just enjoying seeing the lanyard around his neck.  The little things right?

But the surprises were not over.  The #TwineTime blog family is without question comprised of some of the most caring, generous and kind people I have ever met....in and out of curling and/or sport in general.  I touched base with those who would be competing in Regina and let them know the plan.  I wasn't asking for anything specific but perhaps maybe a chance to say hi to Nick and maybe a quick picture in between games or when the schedule allowed.  Of course everyone instantly was on board.

Nick doesn't read the blog.  He doesn't know the players in the family.  But imagine his surprise when players are coming up to him and saying hi and telling him how excited they are to meet him.  HIM!  These are the athletes on the ice.  Some of these athletes are Olympians.  And they are excited to meet him?!  He was in a bit of shock.

Now curling is not a foreign sport to Nick.  In fact, Nick has a strong connection to one of the greatest teams to ever hit the ice, Team Sandra Schmirler!  Schmirler's regular second and now female voice of curling on Sportsnet, Joan McCusker, used to teach Nick in elementary school....at the same time she was winning Canadian and World titles.  Nick used to watch the team play while at school during their world championship and Olympic runs.  When I told Nick Joan would be at the event, he was really excited to see her....it had been so long!  When Joan and I first met at the Champions Cup a few seasons ago in Edmonton, we talked about her connection to my brother and she right away remembered him and his name.  Well, as we sat upstairs at the arena awaiting the next draw, Joan was on her way to the announce booth, saw Nick and instantly gave him a big hug and said hello.  I'm not going to lie here folks, I think there may have been a small tear in each of their eye's when they reconnected.  The two of them talked and Joan shared her stories about teaching Nick and having fun with him, racing around the school and just being relaxed.  Nick was laughing the entire time and later would tell me he was so surprised by how much Joan remembered him.  Nick admitted, after telling me never to tell Joan of course, she was always his favourite teacher!  So of course I told Joan the next day LOL  This reunion was not about curling or Joan being a Canadian, World and Olympic champion.  This was a teacher and student meeting up again after years and years of not seeing one another and right away talking like no time had past.  It was probably Nick's ultimate highlight of the week.  Thanks Joan!

Team Nadine Scotland talking to him after their game and asking to take a picture with him was the perfect beginning.  They won their game after a tough 0-2 start....and would win again with Nick in the building to reach the playoffs.  #GoodLuckCharm perhaps?

Team Anna Hasselborg walked in after one of their games and we said hello and they right away gave Nick a high 5.  The team was generous to provide me a signed broom head in Calgary at the Champions Cup last season, which I was able to give to Nick over the summer.  Back in Calgary, I mentioned Nick attending the Tour Challenge and, even back then, the team was on board to meet him....and they did not disappoint.  They asked him questions about how he was enjoying the games and if he was coming all weekend for the playoffs to cheer them on.  Team Hasselborg.....my brother may have a small crush on you now.  He was so sad after the finals loss....but then said "Well I'm still going to cheer for them and watch them at the Olympics.  Maybe I can bring them luck then."

The Swedish love continued to pour in when Nick met Nic.  Nicholas meet #KingNiklas, Niklas Edin.  #KingNiklas won Nick over instantly.....perhaps based on name alone to start.  Nick even looked at Niklas and said, "I have to cheer for you.  We have the same name."  During the QF games, Nick would give me the end by end rundown of the score in Edin's game....and give out a few cheers when the boys would make a great shot or score some points.  And once again, Nick looked at me after their SF loss and said, "It's ok.  They can still win the Olympics right?"

And the curling love continued to roll in as the event went on.  Michelle Englot's team took some time out after a tough QF loss to chat with Nick.  As did Anna Sidorova's Russian brigade.  #TwineTime fam member Binia Feltscher and her Swiss teammates welcomed Nick into the traditional Swiss high 5 club with a few high 5's following their QF win.  Nick promised them he would cheer for them right until they won the championship.  Ok so they lost in the SF but still.  Plus Nick's pink curling rock he had the teams sign did match the Team Flims uniform.....it was a friendship match made in pink heaven!  The #TwineTime fam love continued at a later draw when fam member Chris Plys and his skipper Heath McCormick made their way over to wheelchair seating to watch a few ends of curling with Nick.  Of course, after Team McCormick suffered a lopsided loss earlier in the RR, Nick had to ask, "What happened?"  We all even made jokes blaming Plys for the loss....which Chris took in great stride and laughed about it with Nick.  It was a #broment.  Even during the final Nick asked, "What's Chris up to?  Are they getting ready to go to the Olympics?  I hope so, I really like him"

Even Reid Carruthers took some time for a quick chat.  Following a tough game eliminating the team from the playoff contention, Reid saw Nick in the hallway and came over to say hello.  It was also one of Nick's funniest memories when he asked Reid how he was doing after the game, Reid replied, "I'm just going to go bang my head against the wall for a few minutes and then I'll be alright."  Nick had a great laugh.....we even texted Reid the next day because Nick wanted to know how his head was feeling.  LOL

And I would be remiss to not mention the Canadian #TwineTime fam boys on the ice.  Matt Dunstone and Kirk Muyres from Team Laycock were enjoying a beverage in the social house after a tough QF loss and when Nick and I wheeled up, they instantly came over to get a handshake and say how excited they were to meet him.  Nick had just finished watching their game against Team Gushue and right away knew who they were.  He was excited to meet two guys he just watched on the ice moments before talking to him and thanking him for coming to the event.  I have to admit, Nick was a bit shy....or maybe he, like his brother and many others, was just lost in the #MrSmiles charm?

Heck even Regina fan favourite, Catlin Schneider pulled the ultimate surprise on Nick in the social house Saturday night.  While players and fans are enjoying the party environment, Catlin right away came up and sat down beside Nick and introduced himself.  Again, imagine being in Nick's position and having a dude you saw on the ice earlier in the week competing come up to you and introduce themselves and ask how you are enjoying the event?  This is not what Nick is used to.  People coming up to him and wanting to talk to him.  Nick and Catlin even had a little cheers moment to celebrate the event and enjoy a nice cold beverage.

But it wasn't just about meeting the athletes on the ice that made the event special either.  The volunteers were friendly.  Other curling fans and attendees were polite and asked Nick if he was enjoying the action.  Nick also loved just watching the games.  The first draw was the most difficult, "There are so many games I don't know which one to watch."  By his third draw, he caught the hang of it and was used to watching multiple sheets at once and checking out one end of the sheet for the rocks in play only to look at the other end of the next sheet over to see what was going on.  Heck, he even started yelling out "Nice shot!" and "That was a great shot".  I even caught him a few times say "Oh that was not a good shot at all".  LOL  He was right into it....and remember this is the first time he has ever been to a live curling event.  I may have created a small curling fan monster folks!  And guess what....he already is asking me about the Brier (which as we know is being hosted by Regina in March).  Hmmmm, Christmas present perhaps?

This is what I love about curling folks.  Not just the competition on the ice.  Not just the excitement of events.  Its the entire environment surrounding the sport.  Athletes brought Nick into their world and made him part of the family.  It wasn't about Nick being in a wheelchair.  Nobody talked to Nick because they had to.  These players talked to Nick and took pictures with Nick because they wanted to.  They wanted to say hi and ask him how he was enjoying the event.  They wanted to make him feel part of the curling family.  Was it perfect?  No, it never is when Nick goes to a public venue.  Some people walk in front of him or block him or just don't see him.  There were moments of frustration, I won't lie.  And there were a very very small select few who did things to upset Nick or make him unhappy for a brief moment.  But those moments were few and far between...and luckily Nick is resilient in not letting them get to him.  I think I held the negative emotions and grudge more than he did.  I can never truly show my appreciation and thanks to those athletes who stopped to talk to Nick and for Sportsnet on helping make this experience a memorable one.  He has been calling me this week just to recount memories of his overall experience.  He even tells people he lives with about the "cool curlers" he met.  I know it may not be much to many, especially for those who are going to compete for the ultimate prize of Olympic gold this year, but this experience was an Olympic gold medal win for my brother!

Ok, hopefully you all have a little smile on your face right now......and are still reading!  As you know, the #TwineTime blog is changing things up a bit this season.  The #PowerRankings usually reserved for this spot of the weekly blog have been upgraded to their own post.  The attempt will be to update the Power Rankings after the conclusion of the weekend's tour event, hopefully Monday!  To get caught up on the new Power Rankings and check out the new format, click HERE.

Now we return to our regularly scheduled program.  We have a few big events headlining the World Curling Tour action this weekend, including 2 events on the men's tour and 3 events for the women.  Let's slide into the traditional #TourLifePredictions:


AMJ Campbell Shorty Jenkins Classic

Cornwall, ON

2016 Champion:  Team Kevin Koe

Format:  24 team round robin with 4 pools of 6.  Top 8 qualify.

Top Team Entered:  Team Gushue, Team Edin, Team Jacobs, Team Walstad, Team Ulsrud, Team McEwen, Team Epping, Team Smith, Team Shuster, Team de Cruz, Team Morozumi, Team Carruthers

Favourite:  You already know right?  #TheGoo

Dark Horse:  There are a few interesting dark horse contenders scattered throughout this field.  While most eyes will be glued to those top contending teams who just competed at the Tour Challenge, don't be surprised if a few #TeamUpset results emerge as well.  A team like Swizterland's Yannick Schwaller could surprise for a few W's in their pool and have a shot at the playoffs.  They have played two events this season, have qualified in both and recently reached the SF in Oakville last weekend.  The advantage of a short travel from Oakville to Cornwall could play in their favour, especially early on against teams who did have to travel from Regina to compete this weekend.

W2W4:  Welcome to the 2017/18 season Team Mike McEwen!  We sure missed you boys in Regina last weekend at the Tour Challenge.  Now of course personal commitments prevented the Manitoba champs from competing last weekend so it will be interesting to see how they do on the ice for the first time against teams fresh off a slam appearance and/or teams who have been competing on tour for a few weeks already.  With there be any ice-rust on the sliders or will they be in 100% competition mode right from opening stone throw?  The draw gods certainly did them no favours mind you, drawing Team Jacobs and Team Shuster in their pool (both playoff teams last weekend) and Team Brown (another playoff team from the Tier II).

Qualifiers:  Team Edin, Team Ulsrud, Team Gushue, Team Smith, Team Jacobs, Team McEwen, Team Epping, Team Schwaller

Championship:  Team Jacobs def. Team Gushue

King Cash Spiel

Maple Ridge, BC

2016 Champion:  Team Dean Joanisse

Format:  14 team round robin with Top 6 qualifiers.

Top Team Entered:  Team Joanisse

Favourite:  The defending champions will be the odds on favourites in Maple Ridge.  Team Joanisse has been the front running contender for the BC Tankard the past seasons, failing short against perennial "elite" Team Morris/Cotter.  You have to think this team is going to break through eventually and reach the big show....but when?  And how much time do they have left?  This is a great event to start their season off on a winning streak.

Dark Horse:  Can we still consider Tyler Tardi and his boys a dark horse contender?  I suppose given they are ready for a full season of men's play on tour they are....for now!  We all know the success #TardiParty has had in the junior ranks and this team did come through last season with some strong results on the men's tour (including a title victory).  But this is a different season and the boys are now competing with the men on a regular basis.  No question the future of BC curling lies in the hands of Tyler Tardi, but can the future come sooner than many expected in their rookie full season?

W2W4:  This is a sort of welcome back to the show for the King Cash Spiel.  This event has been on the tour schedule only 4 times: 1994, 2013, 2014 and 2017.  Last season the event returned with a small field of 5 teams competing.  This year feels more like a welcome back to tour celebration though with 14 teams registered to compete.  This is what we need on tour.  The curling tour cannot be comprised of only huge events and slams.  We need smaller events across the country to continue to #growthesport and build for the future.  How else are teams going to compete, especially when they may be tied to smaller travel radius and tighter financial dollars?  Let's hope this event is a success again this season and can survive longer than a back-to-back run, a la 2013 and 2014.

Qualifiers:  Team Joanisse, Team Tardi, Team Geall, Team Pierce, Team Tanaka, Team Guignard

Championship:  Team Joanisse def. Team Tardi


HDF Insurance Shoot-Out

Edmonton, AB

2016 Champion:  Team Casey Scheidegger

Format:  24 team round robin with 4 pools of 6 teams.  Top 8 qualify.

Top Team Entered:  Team Hasselborg, Team Sweeting, Team Muirhead, Team Sidorova, Team Paetz

Favourite:  Without question the co-favourites in Edmonton will be the two teams who just competed in a grand slam final, Val Sweeting and Anna Hasselborg.  Both of these teams have momentum heading into the event after a strong showing at the Tour Challenge in Regina and both should qualify out of their respected pool.  There will be challenges in the RR, don't get me wrong but if both continue to play like they did in Regina, we could see a finals rematch in Edmonton.  Plus Sweeting did win this event in 2015.

Dark Horse:  Manitoba dominated the Tier II men's and women's championship finals last week in Regina and there are a handful of Manitoba women's teams competing at this event looking to continue the Buffalo Pride in Edmonton.  Winnipeg's Darcy Robertson opened her season with a finals appearance at the Spider Performance Icebreaker and, even though she failed to qualify last week in Oakville, still looked strong going 3-3.  Shannon Birchard also had a strong opening weekend at the Spider Performance reaching the SF (l. to Robertson) and will be playing her second event of the season.  And the new team skipped by Rhonda Varnes also lost a SF at the Spider Performance and finished a respectable 3-3 at Stu Sells Oakville, although the 3 straight losses to end the event are a concern.  All 3 of these teams have a shot at qualifying and winning a few games within their pool, with Robertson probably being the front runner.

W2W4:  There are a few story lines to keep an eye on in Edmonton.  How will the Tier II teams from last weekend perform?  The week following a grand slam event can be tough as you go from the high of a #gsoc event right into a tour level event with a bit less glitz and excitement.  Teams like Chelsea Carey (coming off the Tier II finals appearance), Kelsey Rocque and Nadine Scotland will be looking to help carry the Alberta flag on home province ice.  A few international (any Olympic contending) teams could also steal the show with Russia's Anna Sidorova, Scotland's Eve Muirhead, Switzerland's Alina Paetz, China's Bingyu Wang and Korea's EunJung Kim....and all of these teams also competed at the Tour Challenge.  And don't be surprised if the biggest smiles in curling, Japan's Satsuki Fujisawa, show up with even wider grins this week after securing their #Roadto2018 ticket last weekend in the Japanese Olympic qualifier, defeating Team Matsumura 3 games to 1 in a best-of-5 format.

Qualifiers:  Team Sweeting, Team Ogasawara, Team Hasselborg, Team Carey, Team Fujisawa, Team Sidorova, Team Muirhead, Team Robertson

Championship:  Team Sweeting def. Team Muirhead

AMJ Campbell Shorty Jenkins Classic

Cornwall, ON

2016 Champion:  Team Rachel Homan

Format:  16 team round robin with 4 pools of 4 teams.  Top 8 qualify.

Top Team Entered:  Team Tirinzoni, Team Flaxey

Favourite:  With Team Homan not defending their title and many of the other top ranked teams competing in Edmonton, Switzerland's Silvana Tirinzoni could be primed to pick up her 2nd title of the season (and another W in Ontario!).  Tirinzoni is coming off a tough QF loss at the Tour Challenge and will be looking to rebound with another deep playoff run at a tour event.  The Swiss Olympic push is a tightly contested battle between Tirinzoni, Paetz and Feltscher so whichever of these teams can get on a roll and start to peak at the right time will gain the advantage.  So far, Tirinzoni looks to be the front runner and she will not want to slow down the momentum against this field.

Dark Horse:  Former USA junior champ Cory Christensen looks ready for the big stage and this could be the perfect event and field for her to make her mark on this season.  Christensen struggled at the opening Stu Sells Oakville event but rebounded nicely last week at the BioSteel Fall Classic (also in Oakville) in reaching the SF.  Christensen will be a dark horse contender heading into a wide-open USA Olympic trials event in November and, looking to the future, is already considered by some (#TwineTime included) as the 2022 USA Olympic team!  The tough spot this weekend will be she is drawn in arguably the toughest pool with compatriot Jamie Sinclair and Ontario contender (and #TwineTime fam member) Danielle Inglis.

W2W4:  This weekend will mark the first event of the season for a few big names, including Krista McCarville, Eve Belisle and Mary-Anne Arsenault.  McCarville should be considered a strong contender for this title this weekend as she draws the most wide-open pool and, as proven in the past, once she gets on a roll she can be quite difficult to slow down.  Belisle and Arsenault will be in tough not only against one another in Pool A but also drawing championship fav Tirinzoni.  This will be a big test for all 3 Scotties favs as they start their season against a field who have mostly been curling for 1-3 weeks already.

Qualifiers:  Team Tirinzoni, Team Flaxey, Team Sinclair, Team McCarville, Team Christensen, Team Fleming, Team Cadorin, Team Inglis

Championship:  Team Tirinzoni def. Team Flaxey

King Cash Spiel

Maple Ridge, BC

2016 Champion:  Team Karla Thompson

Format:  11 team round robin.  Top 4 qualify.

Top Team Entered:  Team Thompson, Team Gushulak

Favourite:  Karla Thompson is the defending champion and will be considered the early favourite against a mostly BC field.  2015 champion Diane Gushulak is also a strong contender for the title.

Dark Horse:  A few teams moving from juniors to women's could surprise and contend for the title here.  Corryn Brown is a previous champion (2014) and has been slowly knocking on the BC Scotties door now, with this year being a wide open year in the province she could make a deep run towards a Scotties berth with a strong showing here.  But also look out for Sarah Daniels.  She may be young but she does have the game to not only compete with but defeat her more experienced BC counterparts.

W2W4:  This is almost a mini-BC Scotties preview to kick start the season.  These teams have not competed this year so it will be the first chance to see them on the ice and how they do against their provincial counterparts.  All of the BC teams will be looking to gain the quick one up advantage heading into the season with a victory in Maple Ridge.  But don't count the odd one out, Saskatchewan's Mandy Selzer could come and steal the show.

Qualifiers:  Team Daniels, Team Brown, Team Pewarchuk, Team Gushulak

Championship:  Team Pewarchuk def. Team Brown

5 events on tour this week should give all of you rock heads and stoners lots of curling action to keep your eyes on.  The #TwineTime blog will be taking a brief detour from the rink this weekend as I head up to Edmonton to cheer on Team Canada in Davis Cup tennis action vs. Team India.  #GoCanada