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Friday, 6 October 2017

#Curling S1718W5

#BetweenTheSheets: We Want Canada!
Brazil challenges the title holders for a world championship berth


The curling world, especially fans in Canada, received a slight surprise this week when Brazil formally challenged the powerhouse nation for a 2018 World Men's Curling Championship berth.

The best-of-five series will take place in January in London, Ontario during the 2018 Continental Cup.  Canada may be the #1 ranked nation in the world but even they are not protected from a world challenge.

How did this all happen many fans asked this week?  It is quite simple really.  The America's Zone is granted 2 spots at the world championships.  Due to USA acting as host (Las Vegas, NV) and the host nation receiving an auto berth, Canada dipped into the 2nd spot.  This opened the door for Brazil, another member association in the zone, to issue the challenge to Canada for the second spot.

From a #growthesport perspective, this is great!  But some feel this is unfair......


Ok, normally the highest placing nation in the zone would receive the first berth and the next highest the second berth.  When Canada and USA are not hosts, the first berth receives the auto berth while the second berth can be challenged by any other member association in the zone.  In the past, Brazil has challenged USA for the second berth due to Canada finishing ahead of their zone rivals each year in the final world championship standings.

Brazil has been unsuccessful in the challenge attempts, failing to even win a single game in any of the 2009, 2010, 2015 and 2017 challenges.  Last year USA's John Shuster swept Marcelo Mello to punch their world championship ticket.  But honestly what is the issue with this challenge and why are people upset over it?

Let's be honest, Canada is not in danger of losing their world championship spot because of this challenge.  We fully expect the Team Canada representative, who must be announced by December 31, 2017, to sweep our America's challenger and book their ticket to defend the world title.  The fact people are upset or find it "unfair" Canada has to even compete for their world spot is a bit ridiculous.

Are you the same fans who were upset last year when defending women's silver medal winner Japan was forced to qualify from the #PACC and missed out on the world championships due to the region being in the same predicament as the America's zone.  Both only receive 2 qualification spots.  China was the host nation last year meaning only the #PACC champion received a berth.  When Korea finished ahead of Japan in the final standings, the defending silver medal winners were left to watch the event at home and sweat out waiting to see how the results would fall and if they would receive their Olympic qualification spot (which they did!).  I didn't hear many people complain about the fairness of the system then, did you?

Just because we are Canada and considered the most dominant and successful nation in the sport does not mean we get a free pass on these rules.  If you really are upset with this process, don't blame Brazil or Korea last year for the women.  Perhaps look at the system itself.  Maybe we do need to increase the amount of teams who qualify for the world championships.  Or maybe an argument should be made that the defending world champion nation receives an auto berth to the next year's championship (ie: Brier and Scotties format with Team Canada).  Now that discussion is perhaps worth having and diving into more than a debate over whether this current system and situation is "fair" or not.

At the recent WCF summit, that was exactly the end result.  An extra team will now be added to the roster.  For this season, the extra team will come from the #PACC, which is deserving as they have continued to show the greatest growth of any region in the sport.  After this season, a qualifying tournament will be held where any member association not already qualified can enter for a chance to claim the final spot.  This will, in turn, eliminate this exact America's Zone best-of-five series as Brazil could enter the last chance qualifier every year now.

The larger discussion here is the #growthesport element attached to this challenge.  Brazil has never challenged Canada before.  In fact, it is very rare to ever see a Brazilian team face off against any Canadian team period.  If you were in Brazil, or any other developing nation in any sport, would you not want to take on the best?  The nation you know fields the best athletes and turns in the best results year after year after year.  How else can you improve if you don't hit the ice and take on the #1 nation in the world?  This is an excellent opportunity for Team Brazil to learn more about the game and see how they stack up to the world elite.  Sure they will probably be swept in three straight games once again.  Sure the games may be lopsided and a few blow outs.  But that's what happens when one nation is still in its infancy stage of international competition and the other is an elite powerhouse.

Let the challenge happen.  Be happy as Canadian curling fans we get to see our nation represented on the ice in a challenger series.  Be happy for Brazil in stepping forward and saying, "Yeah, we want to challenge Canada and see just how we do against the defending world champions."  And more importantly, stop feeling like this is unfair because we are the defending world champions.

Come on Canada, rules and systems are in place for a reason.  We cannot act with an elitist mindset that we should be exempt from these rules because of our own history within the sport.  The ultimate form of respect is in other developing nations wanting to play us and learn from us because they know we are the best.  It's almost the Big Brother or Big Sister syndrome.  Sure sometimes you don't want to play your younger sibling or play with them when they want, but then you realize you can be a mentor to help them be better and grow.

I want to see curling continue to grow and succeed in Brazil and this could be the perfect way to achieve long-term future sustainability for the South American nation.  Canada will come out on top but Brazil will gain the most from the experience.  Support growth curling fans!

Alright.....lets shine up that rock now folks, time for the #GunnerRunback:
  • Swiss Cup Basel - #TheGoo wins again!  Gushue continues his strong start to the season in reclaiming the Swiss Cup title he won back in 2015, defeating Norway's Thomas Ulsrud in the final.  A new member of #TeamUpset, Netherlands Jaap Van Dorp claimed the bronze medal besting Switzerland's Peter De Cruz. (5/8 including finalist Ulsrud)
  • Stockholm Ladies Cup - #HoppSchwiiz in Sweden!  Switzerland's Alina Paetz went undefeated in claiming the title in Stockholm, defeating Korea's EunJung Kim in the fnial.  Sweden's Anna Hasselborg and upstart young American team Cory Christensen reached the SF. (6/8 including all 4 SF)
  • College Clean Restoration Curling Classic - The home province fans had plenty to cheer for in 'Toon Town as #TeamUpset flag bearer of the week Colton Flasch surprised everyone in taking home the W over Korea's Chang-Min Kim.  The red hot Jason Gunnlaugson and John Epping round out the final four. (4/8)
  • Avonair Cash Spiel (M) - Nice start to the season for Aaron Sluchinski and his new team in claiming the title in Edmonton defeating China's De Jia Zou.  China's Rui Liu and #1 ranked junior team Karsten Sturmay reached the SF. (5/8 including all 4 SF and Zou as finalist)
  • Avonair Cash Spiel (W) - Back to back baby!  Nadine Scotland celebrated an early birthday gift on Sunday in defending their title in Edmonton stealing the championship winning points in the 8th end from Jodi Marthaller.  Nicky Kaufman and Kellie Henricks were SF finishers.  (3/7 including Scotland defending the title)
  • Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic (M) - Jeff Guignard took home the title in Vernon defeating Adam Cseke in the final.  Tyler Tardi and Dean Joanisse rounded out the playoff bracket.  (3/4)
  • Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic (F) - The Champ is Back!  After a tough opening season event at the Tour Challenge, world champion Rachel Homan is back to her winning ways by taking the title over Korea's Un-Chi Gim in the final.  A pair of Alberta rivals, Shannon Kleibrink and Chelsea Carey, completed the final four. (5/8 including Homan winning the title)
  • KKP Classic -  Dennis Bohn defeated Travis Bale in the championship final.  #TeamMovingOnUp poster child for the week JT Ryan reached the SF as did Joey Witherspoon.  (4/6 including Bale in the final)
Well this certainly wasn't the follow-up to the A- rating from last week in the prediction column was it?  But there were some positive picks too.  Team Homan and Team Scotland took home titles, as predicted.  A few accurate runner-up predictions as well with Ulsrud, Zou and Bale.  And a 50% or better event prediction for all events except one....but that one I did correctly predict the champion.  Not the best week, not a horrible week either.  Overall Grade: B

We have MANY events on tour this week #curling fans.  Let's slide into those #TourLifePredictions:

MEN

Direct Horizontal Drilling Fall Classic

Edmonton, AB

2016 Champion:  Steve Laycock

Format:  24 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers.

Top Team Entered:  Team Kevin Koe, Team Morris, Team Gunnlaugson, Team Simmons, Team Laycock, Team Carruthers

Favourite:  If we go solely on this season performance, Team Gunnlaugson would be considered the favourite in Edmonton.  Gunner has 2 championship wins on the season and 2 SF appearances.  They have been the hottest and most consistent team on tour and have already shown they can hang with the perceived "big boys" of the sport every week.  Can the magical run continue?

Dark Horse:  Obviously all eyes will be on Colton Flasch in Edmonton.  Can the team continue their momentum after a huge W last weekend in Saskatoon?  They may have a bit more pressure on them now as well.  I would keep an eye on a few Alberta teams though coming off strong performances last weekend.  Aaron Sluchinski and Karsten Sturmay could surprise a few of the top teams and should make a push for the playoffs.  There are some strong Alberta teams in the field so the home province fans should have quite a few dark horse teams to rally behind as well, namely Charley Thomas, Ted Appelman and Jamie King.  Can one of these emerge as the week's #TeamUpset?

W2W4:  Hey Kevin Koe, welcome back to the tour!  We have only seen this team on the ice once this season, at the opening #gsoc Tour Challenge event....and it was an underwhelming performance as the team went 1-3 and failed to qualify.  Losses to Shuster, Gushue and Howard were frustrating for the team.  With the rest of the competition having played more games and events already, it will be interesting to see how they adapt to being back on the ice against more battle-tested teams this weekend.

Qualifiers:   Team Simmons, Team Gunnlaugson, Team Morris, Team Laycock, Team K. Koe, Team Carruthers, Team Kim, Team Bottcher

Championship:  Team Koe def. Team Morris 


Stu Sells Toronto Tankard

Toronto, ON

2016 Champion:  Team Gushue

Format:  20 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers.

Top Team Entered:  Team Gushue, Team Ulsrud, Team Epping, Team Howard

Favourite:  The defending champs roll into Toronto fresh off a title oversees and will be strong favourites to repeat here.  3 events in, 2 championship wins and an overall record of 16-3.  Yup, not a bad season thus far.  #TheGoo is running away with the #1 ranking and a strong favourite heading into the trials in a few months.

Dark Horse:  Keep an eye out for Quebec's Pierre-Luc Morissette and his team from Chicoutimi.  We don't often see many of the Quebec teams at tour events outside their home province but when we do, many are a threat for a playoff run (see Hemmings, Menard).  Morissette is having a strong season thus far too.  The team comes to Toronto fresh off a championship W a few weeks ago at the NAVY Fall Classic and sports a 9-2 record on the season.

W2W4:  This is a field of "elite" vs "non-elite" teams.  This is also a perfect opportunity for those non-grand slam teams in the field (Bice, Maus, Horgan, Kim) to prove a point on knowing they can not only hang with the big boys but knock a few of them off and make a playoff run at any event.  The "elite" teams (Gushue, Epping, Ulsrud), on the other hand, will be looking to continue their dominance.  Which side comes out on top this weekend in The 6?

Qualifiers:  Team Gushue, Team Ulsrud, Team Epping, Team Kim, Team Lyburn, Team Horgan, Team Morissette, Team Bice

Championship:  Team Gushue def. Team Epping


St. Paul Cash Spiel

St. Paul, MN

2016 Champion:  Heath McCormick

Format:  22 team RR with 2 pools of 6 and 2 pools of 5.  Top 8 qualify.

Top Team Entered:  Team McCormick, Team Clark

Favourite:  The defending champs would look to be the favourites this week but based on momentum and overall record for the season, Team Clark should actually be labelled as the favourites.  The Seattle, WA team has been playing some great curling early on this year with an overall record of 13-6.  The boys from the northwest are also coming off back to back playoff appearances with a SF appearance in Oakville and a QF appearance last weekend in Saskatoon.

Dark Horse:  We have two strong favourites and then pretty much a wide open field to try and steal those remaining qualifier spots.  With an overwhelming American field, Northern Ontario's Dylan Johnston and Colin Koivula have made the long drive from up north to St. Paul to compete this weekend and could steal the thunder from their American counterparts.

W2W4:  Expect Todd Birr and his team from Blaine, MN to receive some media attention and curling eyes watching how they do this weekend.  As most have heard by now, and discussed in last week's #TwineTime blog feature, Birr fought back against USA Curling's Olympic trials selection process after initially being denied a spot and winning their lawsuit to earn their invite now.  While many have shown support for Birr, there have been a few who are not as welcoming to the team receiving an invite.  Pressure will be on the team to perform well on the ice and put up strong results to backstop their fight for belonging within the top USA men's teams.

Qualifiers:   Team Brown, Team Birr, Team McCormick, Team Clark, Team Fenson, Team Johnston, Team Leichter, Team Stopera

Championship:  Team Clark def. Team McCormick


Man Curl Tour Classic 

Winnipeg, MB

2016 Champion:  Braden Calvert

Format:  14 team triple knockout with 6 qualifiers.

Top Team Entered:  Team Calvert, Team Ryan, Team De. Bohn

Favourite:  Could we possibly move #TeamMovingOnUp contender JT Ryan into possible favourite status?  Ok maybe not yet for the young team but #TwineTime is still insisting you buy hard on this team and start paying attention to them.  3 events on tour, back to back SF appearances.  Not too bad of a result right?  And they have defeated most of the teams in this field....watch out!

Dark Horse:  2002 Manitoba men's curling champion Mark Lukowich is still strapping on the slider and ready to compete with the best of the best in Manitoba.  We haven't seen Lukowich on tour as much in the past few years with his last big appearance being at the 2016 Viterra Championship to crown the Manitoba champion.  Lukowich is a former provincial champ and previous champions always deserve respect in this blog....he may not win this weekend but seeing him and the team back on the ice is great.

W2W4:  This is another Manitoba tour event and, similar to last weekend, is scattered with opportunity for many of the next level Manitoba teams to get some momentum on their season.  Dennis Bohn took advantage last weekend in claiming a title, can he keep the winning ways rolling this week or is somebody new ready to overtake the lead on the Manitoba tour standings?

Qualifiers:   Team Ryan, Team De. Bohn, Team Calvert, Team Da. Bohn, Team Grassie, Team Muntain

Championship:  Team De. Bohn def. Team Da. Bohn


Bud Light Men's Cashspiel

Halifax, NS

2016 Champion:  Chad Stevens

Format:  14 team RR with 2 pools of 7.  Top 6 qualify.

Top Team Entered:  Team Stevens

Favourite:  Chad Stevens will have the home crowd on his side and the added pressure of being the defending champion here.  He should be considered a favourite to make another playoff run at this event and will have a good shot at a repeat title.

Dark Horse:  Kendal Thompson surprised a few Nova Scotia curling fans with his season opening win in Lower Sackville a few weeks ago.  He lost his opening game of the season and then rebounded for 4 straight wins to claim the title.  He has momentum on his side coming to Halifax and could surprise teams once again.  Could Thompson become the early season front runner in Nova Scotia?

W2W4:  Welcome back Mark Dacey.  The 2004 Canadian champion returns to the ice for the first time this season and will be a crowd favourite in Halifax.  Dacey has not been to the Brier since 2009 so the opportunities to get back there become a little more slim every season for the now 51-year old.  Keep an eye on the team though and see if they can pull off a few wins and start their season on a positive footing.

Qualifiers:   Team Stevens, Team Thompson, Team Manuel, Team MacDougall, Team Dacey, Team Dexter

Championship:  Team Dexter def. Team Stevens



WOMEN

Curlers Corner Autumn Gold Curling Classic

Calgary, AB

2016 Champion:  Casey Sheidegger

Format:  32 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers.

Top Team Entered:  Team Homan, Team Jones, Team Sweeting, Team Englot, Team Scheidegger, Team Flaxey, Team Einarson, Team Carey

Favourite:  After their victory last weekend in Vernon is there any doubt here?  Team Homan of course!

Dark Horse:  Last season Team Scheidegger rode the #TeamUpset flag in winning this event, kick starting a tremendous season on tour.  Who in this field can replicate that result this season?  There are certainly a few teams those top teams mentioned above should be wary of.  Team Scotland, fresh off a spiel win last weekend, and Team Robertson are playing great curling so far.  As are all 3 USA teams competing this weekend: Team Sinclair, Team Roth, Team Christensen.  But perhaps the perfect dark horse teams to cheer for could be Korea's Un-Chi Gim and Germany's Daniella Jentsch.  #TeamCanada as the favourites but #TeamWorld for the upset win?

W2W4:  This field is stacked folks.  And props to the tournament organizers for drawing attention to the fact 7 of the Road of the Rings Olympic trials teams are here competing as are the Big 3 competing for the USA Olympic bid.  Team Jentsch still has Olympic aspirations as well as they prepare for the last-chance qualifier later this year.  And of course the countless amount of teams competing in Calgary who will be fighting for the final Canadian Olympic trials spots in PEI next month.  This is also the 40th anniversary of this event....Happy Anniversary!  #TwineTime will be at the Calgary Curling Club most of the weekend to take in the action and do some live tweeting for all of you!  #StayTuned

Qualifiers:   Team Homan, Team Jones, Team Sweeting, Team Englot, Team Scheidegger, Team Einarson, Team Gim, Team Scotland

Championship:  Team Homan def. Team Englot


Women's Masters Basel

Basel, SUI

2016 Champion:  Eve Muirhead

Format:  24 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers.

Top Team Entered:  Team Muirhead, Team Sidorova, Team Feltscher, Team Kim, Team Wang

Favourite:  Eve Muirhead will be a strong favourite to have another good run in Basel this week while looking to repeat her title win from last season.  Muirhead, #TeamResilient, owns an 11-4 record for the season.  They have qualified in both events played, reaching the SF at the Tour Challenge and the final at the HDF Insurance Shoot-Out.  The team is playing with confidence now though and that always makes Eve a dangerous opponent.

Dark Horse:  There are a few up and coming teams to keep an eye on in Basel.  Hungary's Dorottya Palancsa comes to the top of mind.  Palancsa brought her Hungary team to the Euro A division in 2015 only to be relegated back to B division in 2016.  Last season she won the B division and will be back up in A division at next month's European Championships once again.  Also watch to see how Switzerland's Selina Witschonke performs.  She is the defending Swiss junior champ and lost a TB at last year's world junior championships.  She may not qualify here but let's see how she adapts to playing some of the top European women's teams.

W2W4:  #TeamEuro vs #TeamPACC headline this star-studded event in Basel.  Some of the best European teams are here competing (Muirhead, Sidorova, Feltscher, Moiseeva) as are the top PACC teams (Wang, Kim, Fujisawa, Ogasawara).  Both continents want to show they are the dominant curling continent in the world right now and produce the top nations heading into the 2018 Winter Olympics.  Plus, with the recent WCF announcements on increasing the world championship field and the process behind it, PACC nations want to prove they deserve the extra spot while European nations want to continue to show they have the depth to support having more teams compete at the world championship level.

Qualifiers:  Team Muirhead, Team Kim, Team Felstcher, Team Wang, Team Sidorova, Team Fujisawa, Team Fleming, Team Moiseeva

Championship:  Team Sidorova def. Team Wang


Stu Sells Toronto Tankard

Toronto, ON

2016 Champion:  Sherry Middaugh

Format:  18 team RR with 3 pools of 6.  Top 8 qualify.

Top Team Entered:  Team Middaugh, Team Harrison, Team McCarville, Team Fleury, Team Tippin

Favourite:  Jacqueline Harrison continues to be the best team in Ontario, not named Homan of course.  The team is still going through some early season ups and downs though after a SF showing at Stu Sells Oakville, a QF result at the Tour Challenge and another QF a few weeks back at the KW Fall Classic.  The team is playing well to qualify but stumbling in the playoffs, which is not exactly what you are hoping to accomplish.  Expect them to qualify this weekend....but then what happens?

Dark Horse:  In a heavy Ontario field, two non-Ontario teams could be the dark horse teams to steal the spotlight.  Quebec's Eve Belisle already proved their dark horse status when they surprised many with a SF performance at their season opening event (Shorty Jenkins) and could surprise again, although they were drawn into a very tough pool with Fleury and Tippin.  Remember Belisle came 1 game away from a playoff spot at last year's Scotties folks!  PEI's Robyn MacPhee will be making her season debut this weekend. The two-time defending PEI champ will be looking to get the season off on the right foot as they prepare to #3peat back home later in the season.

W2W4:  Speaking of Scotties teams, can we please get excited to welcome #PolarPower back on the ice this season?  Kerry Galusha's NWT team will make the long journey to Toronto and make their season debut.  Always a crowd favourite, expect the fans in Toronto to show their #PolarPower support cheering this team on.  They were drawn into the toughest pool unfortunately with Belisle, Fleury, Tippin and Arsenault but this team is capable of pulling off some W's and could give their fans something to cheer for!

Qualifiers:   Team Harrison, Team Inglis, Team McCarville, Team Middaugh, Team Tippin, Team Belisle, Team Fleury, Team Auld

Championship:  Team McCarville def. Team Harrison


Man Curl Tour Classic 

Winnipeg, MB

2016 Champion:  New Event

Format:  8 team triple knockout with 4 qualifiers.

Top Team Entered:  N/A

Favourite:  Shannon Birchard is back on the ice and ready to keep the momentum rolling folks.  Birchard should still be celebrating her hard fought, and widely surprising, victory at the Colonial Square a few weeks ago.  The team has a strong 12-5 record for the season after 3 events and should be a favourite to qualify here.

Dark Horse:  This may be a Manitoba Tour event but my dark horse pick comes from neighbouring rival province Saskatchewan.  Brett Barber and her team from Biggar will come to Winnipeg hoping to turn their season around.  It has been a rough start in the two events this team has played, failing to qualify in both and owning a sub-.500 4-5 record overall.  This is a good team and they have proven themselves in the past to contend and beat many teams on tour on a regular basis.  Look for them to rebound this weekend.

W2W4:  This is a small event with only 8 teams competing, meaning whichever team can gain momentum quick and get on a winning roll could be the team to take home the title.  Birchard will be the overwhelming favourite but with big wins on tour and the favourite label also comes big responsibility and stress.  Let's see how they handle the pressure.

Qualifiers:   Team Birchard, Team Brown, Team Barber, Team Clark-Rouire

Championship:  Team Birchard def. Team Barber


New Scotland Clothing Ladies Cashspiel

Halifax, NS

2016 Champion:  Kristen MacDiarmid

Format:  10 team RR with 2 pools of 5.  Top 4 qualify.

Top Team Entered:  Team Brothers, Team Breen

Favourite:  Julie McEvoy enters this event sporting a perfect 5-0 record on the season.  Not too many teams can say that heading into Thanksgiving weekend.  Ok sure they have only competed in one event but they went undefeated in claiming the title.  Against a similar field of Nova Scotia rivals, McEvoy has the early advantage in the pre-Scotties favourite race....for now.....

Dark Horse:  Emily Dwyer was a surprise SF at the season opening event in Lower Sackville.  The team went 1-2 in the RR but the tiebreaker procedure (and a few results) swung her way giving her the final playoff spot.  Sure they lost the SF but you have to think there is some positive momentum coming their way from that result.  Lets see if they can surprise us once again in Halifax.

W2W4:  This is another all-province field with the top Nova Scotia teams competing.  Again, these teams will get to see one another on tour quite often building towards the Nova Scotia Scotties.  Any small advantage you can get on your opposition watching how they play to just being on the right side of the W-L column is a positive.

Qualifiers:   Team McEvoy, Team Brothers, Team Breen, Team Jones

Championship:  Team Breen def. Team McEvoy

Yikes that is a lot of curling events for a Thanksgiving holiday!  PLUS don't forget the World Mixed Curling Championships get underway in Switzerland Friday morning with a record 37 nations (Italy withdrew Friday morning) competing for the season opening world championship.  Check out the full preview and predictions HERE.

A busy long weekend like this sure puts things into perspective on what it means to be an athlete.  Consider this, all the teams competing this week are, for the most part, travelling away from their home meaning they will miss spending a holiday weekend with their family, friends and loved ones.  The life of an athlete is not always glitz and glam folks!  When you sit down to carve some turkey with your loved ones, give an extra special carve for those, athletes or not, who are unable to spend time with their family and friends and give thanks for all you have!


On behalf of #TwineTime, I want to wish all of you loyal rock heads and stoners as well as all those athletes competing on tour this weekend a very Happy Thanksgiving!  I continue to be thankful every year, month, week and day I am able to contribute a small opinion to the sports world, especially to curling, and have fans and athletes continue to support this blog.  Thank you!

Enjoy some turkey....and get out to your local club to watch some curling action if you live in a city hosting a #wct event.