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Tuesday, 10 October 2017

#PowerRankings W6

#BetweenTheSheets: Week 6 Power Rankings
Is #TourParity the new #TeamUpset this season?


Often sports fans grow tired of seeing the same names celebrating with championship wins year after year.  Perhaps call it the "Patriots Syndrome" from the NFL or, right now, the "Penguin Problem" in the NHL or the "Yankees Issue" with MLB.  These same teams seem to either win or be right there in the thick of the championship race season after season after season.

Now if you are a fan of these "dynasty" teams you are probably all for this and are asking yourself, "What's the problem with that? I don't see an issue here!"  And you are right.  But what about the fans of all the other teams in these leagues?  Don't they grow tired of watching the same teams in the playoffs year in and year out?  You better believe it!  Everyone loves an upset.  Everyone loves seeing a team with a playoff drought fight back and make a deep playoff run for a season or two....or more.  Sports is fun because of competition and the same teams coming out on top drops the interest in the sport for the casual fan.  Your diehard fan will always be there of course.

But what about smaller sports or individual sports?  What about those sports still technically classified as "amateur" sports?  Do these sports suffer a "dynasty" problem or are they seeing more parity?  What about curling?


Last season #TwineTime tooted the #TeamUpset horn all year.  We were seeing new grand slam champions crowned.  We were seeing a few new teams qualify for grand slam fields.  We saw a few first time tour winners and new teams making deep playoff runs.   Does this mean curling doesn't suffer the "dynasty syndrome"?  Maybe.....or maybe not?!

Let's do a comparison of tour event winners from last season to this season.  Now, for this comparison, I am literally going by the weeks on tour with a cutoff date of October 10.  This does throw a bit of a loop into the conversation considering last year at this time we had yet to have our season opening grand slam event, which did crown two new champions.  But, for sake of conversation, let us stick with a physical cut off date ok?!  Great!

Last year, at this point of the season, we saw 21 men's events and 17 women's events on tour.  With the men, 20 different champions were crowned with the only repeat offender being Team Gushue.  For the women, 15 different teams claimed a tour title with Team Scheidegger and Team Hasselborg being the double winners.  Not too bad right?  Certainly supported the #TeamUpset theory where we saw a few surprise wins from men's teams (Sturmay, Eskilsson, Krell, Tardi, C. Kim ect) and women's teams (Mallet, Scotland, Christensen ect).

This season there have been 22 men's and women's events with 18 different champions for the men and 19 different champions for the women.  This season we have seen more repeat winners at the early part of the season.  Team Gushue in fact has 3 wins on tour already while Teams Gunnlaugson and Mouat each have 2 wins to their credit.  Team Homan, Team Einarson and Team Tippin have each found the winner's circle twice in the early part of this season on the women's tour.  The #TeamUpset train is still moving along though.  We saw some big wins for Teams Hall, Flasch, Sluchinski and SooHyuk Kim to name a few on the men's tour.  We also saw a few #TeamUpset leaders on the women's tour with victories by Teams Birchard, Vasilyeva, Sinclair and Tippin.

So we can safely say the #TeamUpset flag is still flying high right?  But what about the idea of #TourParity?  When we look at the numbers, it would appear the early part of the 2016 and 2017 season's have been very similar.  2016 saw more unique champions crowned for both the men and women.  But have those same winners also found the winner's circle at this point of the season in 2017?  Here is where we really examine whether #TourParity is starting to play into the excitement of a sport.  Or are we just seeing the same teams win at least one event early on in the season. 

For the men, we saw 20 different champions in 2016 and 18 different champions for 2017.  But how many of those 20 champions in 2016 have claimed a crown in 2017?  The answer is 8!  Only Teams Gushue, Liu, Jacobs, Edin, McCormick, Calvert, David Bohn and Stuart Thompson can claim a title in the early part of back to back seasons.  And if we compare these 8 to early winners in 2015, only Gushue, Liu and Edin have consistently won up to this point of the season.  So while we may have a few less unique champions this season, we saw an increase in the different names picking up the winner's cheque compared to last season.

What about the women?  Homan is like Gushue right, dominating?  Well not exactly.  We see an opposite trend...but with a similar end result.  Let me explain.  2016 saw 15 unique winners on tour compared to 19 this year.  Of these champions, only 7 have pulled the back to back wins in the early part of the season.  Teams Homan, Wang, Muirhead, Tirinzoni, Englot, Scotland and McConnery can claim the double.  And, again, if we drift back into the memory bank two years ago, only Homan and Tirinzoni have been consistent with the tour wins.  On the women's tour we have seen an increase in unique winners this season and a consistent decrease in repeat champions from season to season to season.

So does this mean we are seeing more #TourParity?  Yes and no.  Team Homan and Team Gushue are still dominating their respective tours in the win column.  Many of the other top teams, like Edin, Jacobs, Tirinzoni and Muirhead, are still proving they are some of the best teams on tour year in and year out.  But now we are also seeing more teams rise up and make the deep playoff and/or championship runs.  The teams who win on tour one season are, for the most part, not the same teams picking up the tour titles the following season.  The competition is heating up and maybe the gap between the so-called "Elite" and so-called "B-level" teams is not as wide as some may believe.

Ok, I know there are many factors in play here.  Teams have swapped players and line-ups have changed.  This year is an Olympic year and many of the top teams have restructured their schedules based on whether they have an Olympic spot already or a trials spot lined up and when those national trials competitions take place.  I get the comparison is not as black and white as the numbers presented above.  But there is still some validity to the argument of an increase in parity on tour.

The women's tour especially has seen this increase.  While two years ago Homan dominated the early part of the season picking up 3 victories, they only picked up 1 last year to this point and, just last weekend, increased that number to 2 for this year.  Other than Homan though, no team have been as consistent over the past few years....and I don't think this is a surprise.  If we remove Homan from the conversation though, it is quite an obvious assessment in saying we have seen a steady increase in unique or new or first-time tour winners over the past two seasons.  The same case can be made for the men.  If we remove Team Gushue from the conversation we clearly see a more diverse and unique champions circle being formed over the past two seasons.

And is this not what we want for the sport?  Don't get me wrong, I love watching teams like Gushue, Homan and Edin succeed and win.  They are outstanding athletes and teams and fun to watch.  But we want to see more teams pick up the tour wins and close the gap.  We want to see teams have an actual shot at moving up (or down) the rankings with better performances.  Is it not more exciting to watch on TV or, even better, live in person knowing you could see a nice upset like Nina Roth over Jennifer Jones or Jaap van Dorp over Reid Carruthers?  This is what is best for the future of the sport!  Remember #growthesport here folks!!

Of course, this also leads into the discussion of the rankings system....and you all know how I feel about those right?  HERE is a little memory refresher for some of you.  Hmmmm, but if the argument is being made we are seeing more unique winners each season on tour and different champions crowned from one year to the next, maybe the weighted rankings system in place actually does need a revamp based on solid factual results and not just some blogger ranting and raving on about them.  And I just might have the suggestion......but you have to #StayTuned for the next part of that discussion coming soon.......

Until then, let's look at the teams burning up the ice and the teams sliding and crashing into the back bumpers this week:

#IceWarmers

1.  Team China - Last week in this very spot #TwineTime discussed the growth of Korea becoming a future curling dominant nation.  Perhaps I upset our curling friends in China as they made their statement last weekend when both their #PyeongChang2018 representatives claimed big tour wins....in very impressive fields might I add!  Rui Liu won the Direct Horizontal Drilling Fall Classic in Edmonton (knocking off Kevin Koe in the final) while Bingyu Wang took the title in Basel, Switzerland defeating home crowd fav Binia Feltscher to win the Women's Masters Basel.  Liu is sporting a 16-6 record on the season and in 4 events has qualified in 3, reaching the QF, SF and now a title victory.  Wang has a very similar record in qualifying in 3 of 4 events also with a QF, SF and now title win and an overall record of 12-7 on the season.  In this all-important Olympic year, China is following suit with #PACC rivals Korea and showcasing their talents and putting the world on notice they should be considered medal threats in Korea as well in February!

2.  USA Women - It was only a few short weeks ago this very blog was critical of USA Curling and their Olympic trials selection process.  Well the women who are competing for the Olympic berth sure showed why they are the best bets to help move USA back into medal contention on the international stage this past weekend in Calgary.  Nina Roth made a strong run to the championship final (l. to Homan) while Jamie Sinclair qualified for the QF (l. to Carey) and Christensen reached the C-final (l. to Sinclair).  Roth had a great run especially, qualifying out of the B-side and knocking off Jennifer Jones in the B-final.  All 3 of these teams really impressed this weekend and looked strong on the ice.  Things are certainly looking up for the future of women's curling in America if these results can continue the rest of the season and into the Olympics.

3.  Codey Maus - Well hello Codey Maus....I must admit I didn't expect to see you here!  What a weekend for Team Maus at the Stu Sells event in Toronto.  Heading into the event the team had mixed results in their previous two events, sporting a 3-2 QF appearance record at the Biosteel event in Oakville and a 2-3 record at the Shorty Jenkins Classic.  Did anyone expect this team to make an undefeated run to the championship final in Toronto?  Be honest....you didn't either!  The team qualified out of the A-side, knocking off higher ranked teams Deruelle, Epping and Ulsrud.  They knocked off a past #IceWarmer team in Team Hall (skipped by Mike Harris) in the QF and upset Ulsrud again in the SF.  They ran into the red hot Brad Gushue in the final and came up short in a respectable 4-2 loss.  This was a magical run to the final for the boys.....lets see what they do next and whether this weekend serves as a launching pad for more success over the remainder of the season.

4.  Adam Casey - The defending Saskatchewan champions have had a less than stellar start to their season.  A disappointing 1-3 record at the season opening Tour Challenge Tier II on home ice had the team frustrated.  A 2-3 result missing the playoffs again in Saskatoon at their next event was also a disappointment.  When the team arrived in Edmonton last weekend for the Direct Horizontal Drilling Fall Classic, expectations were perhaps on the low side for what to expect from #TeamGreen.  And then they found their groove!  The boys ran through the A-side to earn a quick 3-0 record (including defeating Kevin Koe) to pick up the quick qualification result.  In the QF, they knocked off last week's #IceWarmer team of the week Colton Flasch before coming up short in the SF to eventual Champion Liu.  The strong weekend improved the team's overall season record to 7-7 but, more importantly, gave them some confidence heading into the important Fall portion of the season.  Remember this is a pre-trials team as well.

#BambiBumble

1.  Glenn Howard - Who saw this coming?  In 3 events on tour this season, including a grand slam, Howard has picked up a grand total of 4 wins.  4!!  The team sports a very underwhelming 4-9 record for the year and comes off the Thanksgiving weekend with a quick 0-3 record at the Stu Sells event in Toronto.  With no disrespect to Murphy (who did reach the SF), Roy or Tuck Jr., Howard should be winning a few games at least along the way.  The defending Ontario champions are struggling and struggling hard!  We are only 27 days away from the start of the pre-trials and this team is not looking close to being in the discussion.

2.  Val Sweeting - Perhaps #TwineTime is being too hard on the first grand slam champ of the season but am I the only one who thinks the team is struggling a bit right now?  They followed up their slam win with back-to-back QF appearances so the results are there; however, they went 3-2 and needed two TB W's to reach the QF in Edmonton at the HDF Insurance Shoot-Out and took a tough loss to Korea's Gim last weekend in Vernon.  When they arrived in Calgary this weekend for the Curler's Corner Autumn Gold Classic, fans were expecting to see the #gsoc Team Sweeting ready to roll on the ice.  Instead they saw a team with a hit or miss style of game play.  They had some great shots and great games....but then stumbled in other games and looked out of sorts.  Its the consistency game in and game out, week in and week out perhaps we expect from this elite team.  The loss to Christensen in A and the quick loss to Ramsay in B sent them to the C-side and the grind just wasn't in them as they got revenge on Gim eliminating her but followed it up with a lacklustre loss to Sinclair.  We know this is a good team, let's just hope they find the consistency in their game sooner rather than later.

3.  Allison Flaxey - Ok, what is going on with Team Flaxey?  Team Flaxey becomes the first team to make a repeat appearance in the #BambiBumble after previously falling into this category back in the Week 3 #PowerRankings.  We thought we maybe saw the resurrection of the #gsoc champion team from last season at the Colonial Square Ladies Classic in Saskatoon when they reached the SF but everything came crashing down once again this past weekend in Calgary.  A 3-3 overall record and failing to even advance to a qualifer game is not the result many expect to see from this team.  Overall they sport a sub-.500 record of 11-14 on the season and have only qualified in 1 of 5 events.  In a season where they already have a spot in the Olympic trials, there could not be a worse start to the year for them.  #TwineTime really likes this team and skipper Allison Flaxey is one of the nicest people to meet and chat with on tour, which maybe is why I am being extra critical of this team this season.  There were high expectations heading into the year....can they turn this season around in the next few weeks before the Olympic trials in early December?

Here are the Week 6 #PowerRankings:

MEN

1.  Team Gushue (LW: 1) - #TheGoo plays another tournament and wins another championship at Stu Sells Toronto, going undefeated in the process.  They are now 3 for 4 in championship wins on the season....not just qualifying here folks, I mean picking up the winner's cheque.  Without question the #1 team in all the land this season!  Gushue sports a 20-3 record on the year so far btw and have now won 13 straight games.  Yikes!

2.  Team Jacobs (2) - We are still waiting their return to the ice after a few weeks off.  We will get that wish granted this upcoming weekend in Portage.  Let's see how they do....

3.  Team Ulsrud (HM) - A final appearance two weeks ago followed up with a SF appearance last weekend, the boys with the pants are certainly proving to be one of the most consistent teams on tour right now.  They sport a 19-5 record overall and have qualified in 3 of 4 events, including two championship final appearances.  And the one event they didn't qualify for they finished 3-2 and missed out on a crazy TB procedure only.  Early favourite for the European title next month?

4.  Team Edin (4) - This is the lull part of the season for Edin fans as the team spends a few weeks back home resting and training for the grind part of their season.  With The Masters approaching in a few weeks followed closely by the all-important European Championships, this is the time for the #SwedishVikings to prepare themselves.  As is the case with the #PowerRankings, we don't punish inactivity....however teams below are starting to play more events and could start passing Edin soon.

5.  Team Gunnlaugson (3) - #TwineTime is a big fan of Team Gunner but perhaps all the time on the ice the past few weeks just caught up with the boys this weekend in Edmonton.  Two straight championship wins and a SF performance the next weekend could have put a little bit of wear and tear on the legs for the team and could explain their 1-3 early exit record this past weekend.  We can't ignore the result and need to knock the team down the rankings a bit here....but they still sport an impressive 24-11 record on the year and have been one of the hottest teams on tour this season.

Hon. Mention:  Team Simmons, Team Koe, Team De Cruz, Team Flasch, Team McCormick

WOMEN

1.  Team Hasselborg (LW: 1) - The top team took a much deserved weekend off to relax after playing a competitive first quarter of the season.  Hasselborg is sporting a remarkable 24-7 overall record for the year and has 3 SF and 2 CF appearances to show for it.  They return to the ice in 2 weeks in Portage against a very strong field once again.

2.  Team Homan (3) - Can you hear the rocks crashing behind you Hasselborg?  Yup, that would be the world champions quickly closing in on regaining the spot at the top of the mountain.  The title W this weekend in Calgary makes it two straight tournament wins and a 16-1 record overall since their shocking 1-3 record at the opening slam in Regina to start the season.  We all knew the opening result was perhaps more of a hangover from the incredible run to end last season and the team would find their footing once again.  Consider the footing found and the rocks running!  The next time we see this team will be at The Masters....opposition better be ready.

3.  Team Paetz (2) - The Swiss team took the weekend off after their championship run the previous weekend.  Again we do not punish inactivity here and their drop in the rankings is more a testament to the team who overtook them.  Paetz owns a 17-6 record on the season and has qualified in all 4 events entered.  They are looking sharp and the early favourite for the Swiss Olympic berth.

4.  Team Wang (NR) - As mentioned above, Bingyu Wang is putting together an outstanding #IceWarmers type of season so far.  The win in Basel was huge picking up quality W's over #PACC rival Fujisawa in the SF and two-time world champ Feltscher in the final.  Wang has always been considered unpredictable with her game-style and results but since returning to the competitive ice last season this team has been on the rise and once again moving China into medal contention on the world stage.  Wang had a disappointing world championship last season finishing 2-9 but she looks to have righted that ship this season.

5.  Team Jones (HM) - Another event, another playoff appearance for the defending Olympic champions.  Jones had a strong weekend in Calgary going 5-3 overall and losing a tough QF to Homan.  The team suffered tough losses to Robertson (A-side) and Roth (B-final) but in typical Jones fashion always regrouped nicely from the loss and found their groove when they stepped back on the ice.  They also sport a very strong 18-8 record for the season and have two CF appearances to their credit.  Homan is running away as the dominant team in Canada (and the world) right now but Jones may be the best bet to catch Homan come the Olympic trials.  You can never count her out...

Hon. Mention:  Team Sweeting, Team Feltscher, Team Carey, Team Muirhead, Team Roth

While the men's rankings have stayed relatively consistent over the past few weeks, once again we see big moves on the women's side.  Homan's impressive run over the past weeks has her team running up the #PowerRankings mountain while other teams and just struggling to find their footing on the mountain, as seen in the consistent changeover of the #4 and #5 spots over the past few weeks.  The men's rankings, other than Gushue running away and basically forming an entirely new rankings mountain just for himself, have seen little activity due to two factors: 1. many of the highly ranked teams have played a light schedule so far this season and 2. those teams who have played have been inconsistent in their results.  Expect movement though over the next few weeks with Portage up this weekend, The Masters in a few weeks and the European Championships to follow.

Don't forget, we are moving closer to crowing our first world champion of the 2017/18 season in Switzerland at the World Mixed Curling Championships.  For a reminder and preview of those teams competing for the #1 spot, check out the #TwineTime preview HERE and stay up to date on all the action with live scores and updated standings HERE.  And don't forget to #VOTEToday on the new poll on the #TwineTime home page!

#StayTuned for the preview and predictions of all this upcoming weekend's curling action sliding into your house later in the week.  With this being a short week due to the Thanksgiving holiday in Canada and #TwineTime taking the upcoming weekend to return to Regina to spend time with my brother, the preview post may be a bit shorter than normal...just an advanced warning rock heads and stoners.