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Wednesday, 17 January 2018

#CanadianOpen

#BetweenTheSheets: Bracketology is Back!
Curling's best dreaming of Red Rings, Red Rings, Red Rings

It's Bracket Busting Time Baby!  And if the brackets are out and we are talking about curling it can only mean one thing.  Welcome to the first Grand Slam of Curling event of the calendar year: The Meridian Canadian Open!

Ok I know, the idea of "bracketology" is not the same with curling as it is with the #MarchMadness NCAA basketball tournament.  And yes, I realize most tour events throughout the year employ a similar triple knockout bracket structure.  To that I say....stop killing my buzz and lets just enjoy the one slam event with a completely different format (ie: no pool play/round robin/tie breaker drama) alright?

We can do some seed projection, which can be interesting since technically there are no "seeds" and a speculated #1 might be facing a speculated #2 or #3 in the opening round.  But that can be fun as well!  We can discuss quadrant favourites.  We can identify #BracketBusters.  What's not to love here?

January has really been a crazy month for some of these teams, especially the women's teams competing in this field.  Most of the Canadian women's teams will arrive in Camrose fresh off recent provincial Scotties tournaments.  For some, they will come with momentum.  For others, sheer disappointment.  And for two, feeling like they have a second chance on life (quite the opening match up for them too but more on that later!).

The Scotties field is...mostly....complete.  Yes we are still have an unknown in the wild card team position.  Horrible team name by the way.  What is the scoreboard going to read in Penticton every time this team takes the ice?  Team WC?  Wild Card?  Team Wild Card?  WC?  Ugh....but I digress. Join me in celebrating and congratulating the following teams who punched their ticket to #STOH2018:

Yukon:  Chelsea Duncan
British Columbia:  Kesa Van Osch
Alberta:  Casey Scheidegger
Saskatchewan:  Sherry Anderson
Northwest Territories:  Kerry Galusha
Manitoba:  Jennifer Jones
Ontario:  Hollie Duncan
Northern Ontario:  Tracy Fleury
Nunavut:  Amie Shackelton
Quebec:  Emilia Gagne
Newfoundland and Labrador:  Stacie Curtis
New Brunswick:  Sylvie Robichauld
PEI:  Robyn MacPhee
Nova Scotia:  Mary-Anne Arsenault
Team Canada:  Michelle Englot
Wild Card:  Kerri Einarson or Chelsea Carey

As you can see from the list above, a few familiar faces will be joining us in Camrose this week.  Imagine the Scotties tune-up of following a provincial championship win with a grand slam victory.  For Casey Scheidegger and Jennifer Jones, it is quite possible.  Kerri Einarson and Chelsea Carey both lost tough SF games in their respected provincials but did enough to solidify their second chance opportunity.  And Michelle Englot just helped Team North America win another Continental Cup.  All of these teams have the extra opportunity to score some highly competitive curling games in as preparation for Penticton.  Early #STOH2018 advantage?  I would say so!

As for the men competing this week?  Don't feel too bad for some of them either.  They have had their opportunity to hit the ice in 2018 to get ready for this event.  Plus, for the Canadian teams at least, this event serves as great preparation for their upcoming provincial tankard championships coming at the end of the month.  Mike McEwen, John Epping and Reid Carruthers just competed in Tempe.  Super spares Steve Laycock and Matt Dunstone (more of them below) were also in Tempe finding success.  Kevin Koe, Peter de Cruz, Niklas Edin, Thomas Ulsrud and John Shuster were all in London representing Team North America or Team World at the Continental Cup.

The wild card excitement factor for the fans is getting to watch a mini pre-Olympic spiel take place before their eyes.  Both Canadian, Korean, Swedish, Swiss and USA teams are here to compete for a slam title.  Ulsrud will also be here to prep Team Norway for #PyeongChang2018.  Add 'em up and that is 11 of the 20 2018 Winter Olympic curling field teams sliding out of the hack before heading to Korea.  Not too shabby!  And you can best believe each of them is well aware of the message they can send to the Olympic field by picking up this slam title!

Alright enough talk about who is competing, lets just settle in the hack, clean our rocks and slide out with the actual #Bracketology.  Now, for those unfamiliar with the #MarchMadness theme here the brief synopsis on the preview below is quite simple.  For sake of discussion, each 4 team quadrant or "pod" has been given a regional name, usually associated as close as possible to the home base of the #1 seed.  Each of the 4 teams in the "pod" are seeded as a #TwineTime projection.  Agree or disagree with the seeding?  Great!  But they are as they are...and they are just projections.  Also included is the list of #BracketBusters.  These are the teams seeded #3 or #4 is each quadrant who could pull the #TeamUpset and knock off the "higher seeds" and make a deep playoff run here.  Again....projected remember and just for discussion sake to make this event and preview a bit different.

All settled in and got it?  Perfect....slide on out and lets go for the W.

The Meridian Canadian Open

Camrose, Alberta

2017 Champions:  Brad Gushue and Casey Scheidegger

Format:  16 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers.

WOMEN

West

Seed Projection:  1. Team Jones  2. Team Scheidegger  3. Team Robertson  4. Team Flaxey

The hottest #gsoc team of the season.  The defending champion.  Two teams coming off provincial championship wins this past Sunday.  Which one will get the upper hand in what could become a Scotties playoff preview (maybe final)?  Without question Jennifer Jones is going to be considered one of the favourites to take home the title this week.  The disappointing Olympic trials result seems to be in the past as they went out and took care of business in Killarney, MB this weekend.  Did they look unstoppable?  No.  Did they look motivated to win?  Absolutely.  Jones is chasing history too remember.  She currently holds the 3 major #gsoc titles: Players Championship, Masters, National.  If she wins this weekend she will be the first team to hold all 4 major titles as once.  You may hear a reference to this being called the "Tiger Slam" after Tiger Woods pulled the feat in golf.  However, we also believe in equal opportunity here so lets dub this possible feat with a female flavour and say Jones is chasing the "Serena Slam" as Serena Williams has accomplished the feat in tennis.  A similar storyline accompanies Casey Scheidegger to Camrose.  Roar disappointing is a 2017 memory.  Scheidegger is now known as Alberta champion and defending Canadian Open champ this week.  Plus she did reach the final of the previous slam, National, losing to JJ mind you.  She is riding a momentum tidal wave right now and may be tough to stop.  Pay attention to the opening round match between Jones and Darcy Robertson.  This will be a rematch of the Manitoba final from last Sunday.  Jones got revenge this year for Robertson eliminating her at the Manitoba Scotties in the SF last year.  Is it Robertson's turn at revenge now?  Team Flaxey will be looking to just salvage a disappointing season.  Slam results have been lacking.  The Roar was disappointing.  And the recent Ontario Scotties saw them fail to make the playoffs.  If they can try to find some positives in the season, this is the time to make it happen.  Winning a slam is a pretty solid consolation prize on the year I would say.

East

Seed Projection:  1.  Team Homan  2. Team Roth  3. Team Paetz  4. Team Sinclair

Team Canada...I mean Team Homan will be the front runner in this group.  But the gap may not be as large as some think.  Sure Homan is off to Korea in a few weeks for the Olympics and sure they will be considered a favourite when they get there.  But they have not looked like the dominant team of last year.  The Roar win showed flashes of brilliance we saw all last season but hit or miss this season.  The slam results have been disappointing, by Homan standards.  And the recent struggles at the Continental Cup were a bit concerning.  Read much into the London performance?  No probably not.  Not make the playoffs here and people may start talking.  The Olympics are a different arena and the mental game is just as important as the technical.  Team Homan would love to arrive in Korea with some momentum and confidence built off a solid performance here.  When the draw came out, how many of you were disappointed in not seeing an all-USA opening round battle between Nina Roth and Jamie Sinclair?  These two teams faced on in the US Olympic trials final, won by Roth.  The possibility of seeing two American teams open up this event would have been exciting.  Alas it didn't happen...but maybe round two?!  Roth will battle Swiss Alina Paetz.  Paetz is an interesting one.  Sometimes they come to slams and out of nowhere go undefeated in a RR and reach the QF or SF.  Sometimes they go 2-2 or 1-3 and fail to make the playoffs.  Last week they were competing in Bern and failed to qualify for the championship round.  Roth, on the flip side, competed at the Continental Cup and held her own quite nicely against her upcoming Olympic competitors.  She may have been one of the surprises (alongside Japan's Satsuki Fujisawa of course).  Roth has got to be coming here feeling confident.  Her compatriot Sinclair also had a successful last week on tour.  She was also in Bern and reached the championship final, succumbing to another Olympic qualifer Bingyu Wang of China.  Both US teams could be teams to watch out for this week.

North

Seed Projection:  1.  Team Tirinzoni  2. Team Sweeting  3. Team Englot  4. Team Crocker/Rocque

Speaking of Olympic teams, #HoppSchwiiz Silvana Tirinzoni leads the North pod.  Tirinzoni joined her fellow Olympians as Team World in London and played a solid event.  They didn't win and Tirinzoni had some strong and not so showings but overall positive momentum moving forward.  One thing we can count on from Silvana is she shows up for slam events.  She is a past slam champion.  She has reached slam finals.  She is usually always in the playoffs or in the playoff hunt come the weekend.  The team gets excited and steps up their game for each slam they play....and that is always a dangerous factor to consider when you draw her in your quadrant.  Team Englot could be the surprise here.  They also competed in London but had some tough results as a team.  However competing as a member of the winning squad and being around all the teams could provide extra motivation for the Team Canada rep at the Scotties.  There were certainly flashes of greatness in London, similar to what we saw last year at the Scotties in the championship final run.  This is the opportunity for them to find that magic before going to Penticton.  The other teams will be making the shortest trek here as home province representatives....but both will be coming here with their broom heads hanging a little low.  Team Sweeting lost a tough playoff game to Shannon Kleibrink last weekend, ending their Scotties dreams early once again.  Team Crocker was sent home even earlier in the event, failing to make the playoffs.  We know Team Sweeting has the goods to win, heck they won the season opening slam right?  You just have to wonder if the Roar and mixed doubles trials disappointments are causing a curling hangover for the skipper.  With Crocker, how is the line-up switch going?  The team arrived in Medicine Hat for the Alberta Scotties with a new look having Crocker go to skip and Rocque drop to vice.  Smart move before provincials?  Tough to call.  Had they won, brilliant move.  Fail to make the playoffs, too risky failed move?  Lets see what they can make happen with the new line-up here.

Atlantic

Seed Projection:  1. Team Hasselborg  2. Team Carey  3. Team Einarson  4. Team Kim

The female #SwedishVikings and Olympic-bound Team Hasselborg are rewarded with the top seed in the Atlantic pod.  We know the recent successes and resume of this team over the past 18 months.  European finals.  Grand slam finals.  Tour victories.  This team will always be a playoff threat.  However, the end of game struggles have also dogged this team.  Again....Euros.  Grand slam finals.  Tour events.  World championships.  The biggest question will not be the skill but the psychology.  Winning their first slam as a pre-Olympic tune-up sure would help kill those ghosts and kick that monkey off their back.  But don't underestimate their opening game opponent, Team Kim.  Kim will also be in PyeongChang representing the home nation.  Imagine the build-up excitement for the sport and for Team Kim at the Olympics if there were able to win this slam?  Could be the perfect #growthesport opportunity for Korea moving forward.  Kim is a perfect definition of a #BracketBuster here.  And the final two teams in the event happen to be facing off in the opening round and happen to be coming here off disappointing provincial results AND just so happen to be the two teams who will fight it out in the second chance Scotties wild card game.  Both teams could really send a message to the other with an opening game victory here.  Oh and don't forget Kerri Einarson and Chelsea Carey just happen to be past Manitoba rivals.  Throw another Manitoban, Team Carey vice Cathy Overton-Clapham into the mix, and the rivalries among these teams speaks for itself.  Think these two skips send one another Christmas cards every year and text like best friends?  I wouldn't count on it.  Talk about hype over one game.


#BracketBusters:  Team Robertson, Team Englot, Team Kim, Team Sinclair

Qualifiers:  Team Jones, Team Homan, Team Scheidegger, Team Hasselborg, Team Carey, Team Roth, Team Tirinzoni, Team Englot

WOMEN'S CHAMPIONSHIP:  Team Hasselborg def. Team Jones 


MEN

West

Seed Projection:  1. Team Koe  2. Team Carruthers  3. Team Mouat  4. Team Gunnlaugson

Hello #TeamCanada!  Kevin Koe and the gang will be looking to continue to ride from the #ROTR2017 victory as well as build momentum towards PyeongChang with a playoff push in Camrose.  The resume of this team does not need to be recounted.  World champs.  Olympic champs.  Grand slam champs (including past Canadian Open's).  All four of these guys are without question some of the best curlers in the world and are full of confidence right now.  What a message to send to the Olympic field than to win a grand slam event as your final tune-up?  But don't hand over the hardware quite yet.  Koe opens against the newest addition to the #gsoc winner's club: Scotland's Bruce Mouat.  Mouat has been having himself a season folks.  Winning tour events.  Winning his first #gsoc.  And knowing all season he wasn't even fighting for an Olympic possibility.  Quite the message he is sending back home with his results hey?  Mouat surprised many with his National win, can he continue the magical ride in Camrose?  The other half of this quad is an all-buffalo battle between Team Carruthers and Team Gunnlaugson.  Carruthers competed in Tempe last week and, shockingly, failed to qualify for the playoffs.  Are they still reeling a bit from the #ROTR2017 letdown when they lost their final RR game to Bottcher when a win would have handed them a TB spot?  Time to regroup though and focus on 2018!  Gunner also will be looking to send a message in preparation for the upcoming Manitoba provincials.  Gunner won the Tour Challenge Tier II to kick off the season and has looked like a dark horse contender to steal the Brier berth from Manitoba.  Both teams will be looking to send a message to one another here.  But really, the question out west is: Can anyone stop #KooDog? 

East

Seed Projection:  1. Team Edin  2. Team Shuster  3. Team Epping  4. Team Morris

Here is a perfect example where the #TwineTime projected top two seeds are actually drawn to face one another in the opening round.  Watch out for the #SwedishVikings!  Nik Edin and the boys are always a threat in a slam and this should be no exception.  Sure they lost at the Continental Cup but did you see the game vs. Gushue they won?  Yikes!  They are looking in prime peaking mode for the Olympics and will want to send a message to their fellow Olympic competitors with a deep run here.  Oddly enough they open against a fellow Olympic competitor too: USA's John Shuster.  Shuster is coming in red hot this week too.  He may just have been the unheralded Team of the Week at the Continental Cup, looking strong in every match played and picking up the valuable points to help ensure another North American victory.  Shuster has slimmed down this season and it was very noticeable in London.  The dude is looking good and the team is confident.  Dangerous combination in a triple knockout!  The other side of this quadrant are two teams looking for some positives to take going into provincial playdowns.  Both Team Epping and Team Morris know their Olympic dreams are complete (ok other than Johnny Mo himself who will go to PyeongChang in mixed doubles).  Epping competed in Tempe last week and lost in the SF to Team Laycock (after surviving a TB too).  They will have some confidence heading into the slam.  As for Team Morris, they will see a line-up change with Team Laycock vice (and #TwineTime fam) Matt Dunstone coming in at vice for Jim Cotter and John Morris stepping into the house as skip.  It is no secret Team Morris has struggled at the slams this season so a strong showing here would be nice for the boys.  But the two Olympic-qualified teams have to be considered the favourites.


North

Seed Projection:  1. Team Jacobs  2. Team McEwen  3. Team Bottcher  4. Team Liu

Look up, way up....and find a few teams feeling the sharp sting of Olympic near misses and looking to the sky trying to refocus on the rest of the season.  Mike McEwen suffered one of the toughest losses in sport, losing an Olympic trials final.  Yes they curled great all week.  Yes they are already considered Brier favourites before even winning a spot there.  And yes, the sting has to still be there a bit.  On the flip side, they started 2018 by defending their title last week in Tempe knocking off Team Laycock in the Golden Wrench Classic final.  They still are looking strong and if they remain focused on the possibilities still within grasp, a deep slam playoff run is not out of the question.  Team Bottcher could be feeling a bit of the same.  Ok they didn't make the trials playoffs but they did finish only one game out of a potential playoff spot.  Are they playing the game of "What could have been?"  Plus Bottcher will have a line-up change with Steve Laycock coming in to skip the team.  The other opening North quad match up will feature the current Olympic champ vs the team who everyone thought would be in the Olympic field this year.  Brad Jacobs had a tough trials run, looking great one game and struggling the next.  They sat on the sidelines and watched their Olympic dreams slide by.  However, I loved them stepping up and saying they are going to stay together and start planning now for the 2022 Olympics.  Erase the past and look to the future is their motto?  They might want to share their motto with their opening draw opponents, China's Rui Liu.  Heading into the final Olympic qualification event Liu was easily considered the favourite to nab one of the remaining two berths in the field.  They were the top ranked team, had played in a few slams, won a few events, qualified in many events on tour....everything was in place.  And then disaster struck and they failed to reach the playoffs.  Liu has to be thinking redemption right now.

Atlantic

Seed Projection:  1. Team Gushue  2. Team de Cruz  3. Team Ulsrud  4. Team Kim

Without question Brad Gushue highlights this quadrant of the draw.  The defending Canadian and World champ just happens to be the defending champ at this event AND has reached the championship final of the past 4 Canadian Open's.  Can he pull the repeat and #5peat?  The interesting part of this grouping is name the one team NOT going to the Olympics?  Yup, that would also be Mr. Gushue.  Thomas Ulsrud will be in PyeongChang to represent Norway, Peter de Cruz for Switzerland and Chang-min Kim for the host nation.  Weird to think Gushue is the odd man out right?  Ulsrud and de Cruz were in London last week competing (and losing once again) at the Continental Cup.  Ulsrud looked especially frustrated with the play of himself and his team and has stated he doesn't feel his team is where they need to be this close to the Olympics.  Kim could be the wild card here.  He reached the final of the previous slam (The National, losing to Mouat) and won the Asia-Pacific Championship earlier in the season.  His opening game vs. Gushue should be exciting....and also will be opening draw of the event.  Do you go with Olympic qualifiers or World Champion here?


#BracketBusters:  Team Kim, Team Epping, Team Gunnlaugson, Team Mouat

Qualifiers:  Team Gushue, Team McEwen, Team Koe, Team Edin, Team Jacobs, Team Shuster, Team de Cruz, Team Gunnlaugson

MEN'S CHAMPIONSHIP:  Team McEwen def. Team Koe


Get ready for another championship filled weekend folks.  Could we see an Olympic finals preview in the Canadian Open final?  Don't bet against it with 11 PyeongChang-bound teams competing in Camrose.  And don't forget the Canadian Junior Curling Championships will crown our next young #TeamCanada champions this weekend in Shawinigan, Quebec.  How are your predictions looking thus far?  Compare the actual results and your picks to the #TwineTime predictions HERE.  Lots of curling to keep you covered once again.

And #StayTuned curling fans, #TwineTime has a special announcement concerning the upcoming Winter Olympics next week.

Enjoy......