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Tuesday, 23 January 2018

#PowerRankings W24

#BetweenTheSheets:  Hopp Schwiiz Rules The House
Switzerland teams collect tour wins all over the globe this week


As January 2018 becomes nothing more than a failed lead stone that sailed through the house, the curling world is getting ready for the big events of the 2017/18 season.  The 2018 Winter Olympics are right around the corner.  The 2018 Scotties Tournament of Hearts hits the ice this upcoming weekend.  Provincial tankard events are about to get under way as well and the 2018 Tim Hortons Brier field will soon be finalized.  Sooooooo much curling!!

But ask yourself this, which nation did you think would enter February 2018 looking like the strongest curling nation on the planet?  Most of you would probably say Canada right?  A few would say Sweden.  Both would be great guesses.

How many of you expected Switzerland?  #HoppSchwiiz certainly made a claim to cover the pin with their results on the ice this weekend.

Now we all know the history lesson on how dominant the Swiss women can be.  Two world titles from Binia Feltscher and one from Alina Paetz in the past 4 years are a testament to the strength of women's curling in the small European country.  Plus we can never forget Mirjam Ott, a world champion in 2012 and two-time Olympic silver medal winner (2002, 2006).  But now we are not only seeing the women excel on the big stage but the men are putting the world on notice.

Peter de Cruz's big win this past weekend at the Grand Slam of Curling certainly opened the eyes of many curling fans and put up a giant "We Are Here Too" sign for their competitors.  The Swiss men have won a total of 3 world championships.  3!  The same number Feltscher and Paetz put together from 2014 - 2016.  The last Swiss men's world champion was Markus Eggler in 1992.  De Cruz has been slowly rising to the top of the competitive world leader board over the past few years, winning bronze at the world championships in 2014 and again last year.  In fact his bronze medal win in 2014 was the first time Switzerland had been on the podium since a silver medal finish in 2003 (Ralph Stockli).  To be fair the Swiss men have hit the podium in 3 of the past 5 Winter Olympics and we all remember the gold medal win by Patrick Hurlimann in 1998 right?  And the Swiss women have the two silvers from Ott and back-to-back 4th place finishes the past two Olympics.

But how many of you often think Switzerland when you are asked to name the top contenders every year at a world championship or every four years at the Olympic Games?  A few would say they are a dark horse or team to maybe make a push for the playoffs and/or TB but not a consistent podium threat.  Until 2018?

This past weekend showcased the talent of the Swiss Confederation on the curling ice when they picked up not only a grand slam win but two other tour wins.  Overall there were four tour events played this weekend and the Swiss captured the title in three of them.  And de Cruz is the Olympic rep for Switzerland while Silvana Tirinzoni, who competed in the only non-Swiss win this weekend, did qualify for the playoffs and has won a slam in the past.  The Swiss are storming down off the Alps are appear to be coming for World Curling Domination! 

With the strong results from Team de Cruz and Team Tirinzoni over the past few years perhaps we should start considering Switzerland as less of an Olympic podium dark horse and more of a gold medal contender?!!?

Now with the mention of only four tour events this week you may think there were less options available for our regular #IceWarmers and #BambiBumble nominees.  Oh but you would be mistaken my little rock head.  There were still quite a few options for both categories, including showing some love for our new(-est?) Canadian junior champs.  You should already be able to guess who the Top #IceWarmers were though right?

#IceWarmers

1.  #HoppSchwiiz - What a weekend for Switzerland curling folks.  Swiss Olympian Peter de Cruz steals, literally, his maiden grand slam title from Niklas Edin to capture the #CanadianOpen in Camrose.  Binia Feltscher collects a #wct win in Glasgow, Scotland by defeating up and coming Swiss stars Team Stern to claim the Glynhill Ladies International.  And the weekend is capped with Marc Pfister knocking off PyeongChang-bound Kyle Smith in the championship final to claim the German Masters title in Hamburg.  Seriously, what a weekend for the country of just over 8.4 million people!  The national motto states "Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno" meaning "One for all, all for one".  Apparently the curling teams took this to heart this weekend when they all went out and pushed for championship wins.  Worth noting as well, Silvana Tirinzoni, who will also be in PyeongChang, qualified for the QF in Camrose (eliminating fellow Olympic Anna Hasselborg in the C-qualifier too).

2.  #CareyCurls - What a two-month stretch it has been for Team Carey!  The amazing run in Ottawa at the Olympic trials, culminating in a tough loss in the final vs Homan.  Chelsea and Jocelyn Peterman venture to Portage for the mixed doubles trials and again find strong results with disappointing endings.  Carey wins a TB but fails to advance out of the playoffs while Peterman goes undefeated in her pool but then loses in the SF to eventual champs John Morris and Kaitlyn Lawes.  They don't stop there though.  As soon as the both Carey and Peterman leave Portage they join the rest of the team in Medicine Hat for the Alberta Scotties.  And once again, strong play throughout the week only to suffer a disappointing finish, this time a loss in the SF to then-defending champ Shannon Kleibrink.  But patience and consistent curling will always pay off eventually right?  Carey finally chased the monkey off her back when she defeated Michelle Englot to win the Canadian Open grand slam title last Sunday.  They aren't done curling yet either.  The team heads to Penticton this week for the wild card play-in game Friday night against past Manitoba rival Kerri Einarson, who just happened to have defeated Carey in the opening game in Camrose.  Their team twitter handle is @TeamCareyCurls and they are certainly curling alot over the past two months!  Talk about the momentum and confidence boost right now.  Could they be the ultimate dark horse to win the Scotties?

3.  #TeamCanada - Congratulations to our new Team Canada members!  This weekend in Quebec we crowned the 2018 Canadian Junior champions.  Ok so maybe at the end of the day "new" isn't exactly the best word to describe our men's and women's reps heading to Scotland for the upcoming World Junior Curling Championships.  For the women, Nova Scotia's Kaitlyn Jones brought the title back out east when she defeated host province Quebec in the final.  Remember now half of this championship winning team also claimed a Canadian title a few years back with Mary Fay.  On the men's side, once again we saw a repeat champ as the #TardiParty rocked its way through the draw to defend their titles.  It was quite a story for Tyler Tardi too.  They were one 10th end shot away from being eliminated.  They fought through a TB.  The team rallied behind a sick skipper.  And in the end they proved too much for Northern Ontario and claimed another Canadian title....and to think Tardi isn't close to ageing out of the junior ranks yet.  The dynasty is underway in B.C folks...

#TwineTime Fam Mention:  #STOH2018 - This week's special #TwineTime fam mention goes to the members who will be in Penticton competing to become the next #TeamCanada.  Casey Scheidegger will begin her rookie Scotties campaign skipping Team Alberta.  On the flip side, Kerry Galusha will be attending her 15th Scotties, skipping the #PolarPower of Team NWT.  And we will have a third member of the family in B.C. as Danielle Inglis will join Team Ontario (skipped by Hollie Duncan) as their fifth player.  The blog wishes all three players the best of luck chasing their Scotties championship dreams.

#BambiBumble

1. #GooGone - Well the streak has to end eventually right?  Brad Gushue was looking to play in his 5th straight Canadian Open final this year when the triple knockout #gsoc event got underway in Camrose.  Unfortunately for the current Canadian and World champs, they not only did not reach the final they didn't come close.  Gushue was shockingly eliminated in the C-event.  Ok the loss to Koe to eliminate them is not considered a huge shock given how well Koe is playing but the fact they dropped to the C-side so easily and looked a little out of it all week was a tad shocking.  Now lets not jump down the team too hard here either.  This was a minor slip on the ice this season and is probably more a testament to how much curling all four of the guys have been playing lately.  The trials in Ottawa.  The mixed doubles trials in Portage.  The guys were competitive and playoff bound in both events.  Now the slam event in Camrose.  Chalk this blip to being a bit tired perhaps.  They get a few weeks off now to rest up and prepare to defend their Brier title in Regina early March.

2.  #SwedishSlip - Well that certainly wasn't the plan for Anna Hasselborg as the final tune-up event for the Winter Olympics.  The Swedish reps certainly looked far from the superior team we have been seeing over the past two seasons now.  Hasselborg lost early in the A-side to Einarson and suffered disappointing B and C-side qualifier losses as well to miss the playoffs.  Hasselborg missing the slam playoffs is almost unheard of.  In fact, this season the team has qualified in each of their 9 previous events heading into Camrose.  This will not be the confidence and momentum boost the team was hoping for as a lead in to Korea.  It will be interesting to see how they regroup.  They have a few weeks still to prepare but the spotlight of Team Hasselborg over two seasons has been more the mental psychology of the game rather than the physical technique.  Will this setback affect their mental preparation more or be a blessing in disguise and leave them more hungry for success?

3.  #AlbertaBlues - You may be wondering how #AlbertaBlues can be a header here considering Chelsea Carey just won her first slam title this weekend.  This Alberta Blues blunder belongs specifically to one team: Team Sweeting!  This was a tough slam event for a team usually in the hunt for slam titles.  When was the last time Sweeting and company made a quick 0-3 exit at an event?  The slams have not been kind to Sweeting this season since her season opening Tour Challenge victory.  Sure defending the slam title to kick off the year was great but the team could be asking the #gsoc gods "What have you done for me lately?"  If we look solely at the past three slams (Masters, National, Canadian Open), Team Sweeting owns a collective record of 5-7 with 1 playoff appearance (QF loss at The National).  Adding insult to injury was the disappointment of the page playoff loss to Kleibrink at the Alberta Scotties, meaning once again Sweeting will be sitting at home watching the Scotties.  Sweeting was once considered the best team in Alberta but with Carey winning a Scotties a few years ago, Scheidegger winning the Alberta Scotties this season, both Carey and Scheidegger winnings slams now and the re-emergence of Team Rocque/Crocker, the Sweeting era could be coming to a close in Alberta.  It will be interesting to see how the team closes out the season.  They already know they will be playing the season-ending Champions Cup in Calgary and should qualify for the Players Championship in Toronto at the beginning of April.

I still am in awe over the domination of Swiss curling this week.  From a Canadian perspective sure it is not uncommon to see our nation sweep a weekend of events on both the men's and women's tour but we also have a monopoly on the number of teams competing.  Statistics alone state Canada should be producing more tour winners each week, regardless of skill level.  But seeing another nation own the podium on tour, even if just for a week, is always great to see.  Welcome to the continued #growthesport global movement right?

You know #gsoc results can cause some shakeup among the #PowerRankings mountain.  Here are the UPDATED rankings:


MEN

1.  Team Edin (LR: 2) - The #SwedishVikings took the hard way to get there but they did reach another slam final in Camrose.  The bitter pill to swallow for Edin may just be they had control of the final from the opening end and, as it turned out, really was their game to lose.  A tough final shot not finishing as hoped resulted in the #StealPants and a tough finals loss.  Edin and the boys head to PyeongChang now and the biggest question will be how the up's and down's of this past week help or hinder them.  Lots of competitive game play is welcoming.  Disappointing finish is not.

2.  Team Koe (1) - Pretty solid result in Camrose, reaching the SF after qualifying for the playoffs from the C-side (including that victory over Gushue).  Winning your tune-up event before the Olympics is always ideal but losing in the SF is not crushing for the psyche nor labelled a disappointment.  The big point of interest was the SF loss came to fellow Olympic contender Edin!

3.  Team de Cruz (NR) - Welcome our newest Grand Slam of Curling champion!  De Cruz picked the pocket of Edin in the final end to steal his maiden slam title....in his first slam final nonetheless.  Similar points to the two teams above him in the rankings right now, this is a great tune-up for PyeongChang and should give the Swiss a lot of confidence going forward.  Remember this team also won a bronze medal at the world championships last season.  Many people are already pencilling in a Canada - Sweden Olympic final but I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the potential of Switzerland playing for gold either right now.

4.  Team Jacobs (HM) - Ok so Brad Jacobs leaves Camrose without a slam title, which will be disappointing of course.  However, the team did qualify for the playoffs out of the A-side and reached the SF before running into a red-hot shooting Benoit Schwarz and Team de Cruz.  Nothing to hang your head about losing to the eventual champion either.  Jacobs has certainly done this to many teams in the past.  Plus it was a bit of revenge for the Swiss as Jacobs defeated them in the A-qualifier.  The event was the perfect tune-up for their upcoming Northern Ontario Tankard, where they will be overwhelming favourites to return to the Brier in Regina.

5.  Team McEwen (3) - Solid results this weekend for Team McEwen.  An A-side SF loss to Jacobs turned into a B-qualifier victory (including B-side W's over Team Gushue and the most recent #gsoc champ Bruce Mouat).  Sure McEwen suffered a QF loss but it was to Edin, who just happens to be the top team in the world and reached the final here.  The QF result here followed up the repeat title win in Tempe the previous week resulting in a pretty solid 2018 thus far for the Manitoba boys.  Even more important perhaps was qualifying alongside fellow Manitoba Tankard contenders Team Carruthers and Team Gunnlaugson.  McEwen still appears to be the favourite heading into the upcoming Manitoba championship...but is the gap closing a bit?

Hon. Mention:  Team Smith, Team Gushue, Team Pfister, Team Retornaz, Team Mouat


WOMEN

1.  Team Homan (LR: 1) - So the slam drought continues for the defending world champs.  Almost hard to believe isn't it?  The 2018 calendar year has not exactly been a blazing start for Team Homan either.  They struggled at the Continental Cup.  They struggled at the Canadian Open.  But yet this is Team Homan and we still all believe they are the top team in the world and the favourite to win gold in PyeongChang.  What does that tell you about them?  Even when they have a few off weeks and look, shall we say average, they are still deemed to be the best in the world.  Lets see what they do with Olympic eyes watching.

2.  Team Jones (2) - The "Serena Slam" was not meant to be this week for JJ but what a run they have had.  The fact they even had the opportunity to be the first team to hold all 4 major championships at the same time is a feat in of itself.  And it's not like they left Camrose hanging their heads with disappointment.  A SF finish is nothing to slouch at and still leaves great build-up and positive momentum heading into the Scotties this weekend.  Are they the favs in Penticton?  Without question!

3.  Team Carey (5) - See above for the thoughts on Team Carey.  They have been on the move up the #PowerRankings mountain for quite some time and are now within grasp of the top spot.  Ok so they aren't Alberta champs but they still can make the Scotties field with a win over rival Einarson and, should they pull off the W, they would be seeded #4....but also draw JJ in the RR.  The question is which team comes to play?  Consistency has been an issue in the past but this grand slam win should have them floating on cloud nine right into Penticton.

4.  Team Englot (NR) - Quick how many of you tabbed Englot to reach the Canadian Open final?  How many of you even thought she would knock off JJ in the SF?  Yeah not a lot of hands up I see.  And that is quite fine and dandy with Michelle Englot and her team.  Did any of you expect her to make the Scotties final last season either?  Look how that turned out!  For all the jokes and comments about the validity of the Continental Cup, I actually think Team Englot took a lot out of the experience.  Being part of Team North America's win, playing some great teams, learning from their fellow team members, there was a lot of team wins for them.  Anyone expecting them to reach the Scotties final this year as Team Canada?  Hmmm same amount of hands as last year....as Michelle Englot sits back laughing....

5.  Team Muirhead (3) - Many may not have noticed but just because Eve and her #TeamGB girls were not in Camrose competing for a slam didn't mean they were taking the week off.  In fact, Team Muirhead were competing at the #wct event in Scotland.  A smart move on their behalf really.  They played closer to home.  The field was still pretty strong actually with a few fellow Olympians taking part (Moiseeva, Wang, Dupont).  Plus Muirhead was the defending champion.  Gotta give props to a team who wants to compete and defend the ice the following year.  Alas it was not meant to be for Muirhead this year as they would lose in the SF to eventual winner Binia Feltscher.  Overall a 4-0 RR record and QF W still provides momentum heading to Korea as Muirhead looks to better the bronze medal result from 2014.

Hon. Mention:  Team Feltscher, Team Wang, Team Kim, Team Tirinzoni, Team Hasselborg


Agree?  Disagree?  What are your thoughts on the new #PowerRankings?  Share your opinions in the comment section below or on twitter.

This is going to be a busy week with #TwineTime blog posts.  ICYMI, the announcement was recently made for the 1st Winter Olympics 50/50 Curling Pool hosted by this very blog.  Full details of the pool can be found HERE.  The quick and dirty on the pool is 50% of participant fees go towards the Canadian Cerebral Palsy Sports Association.  What more motivation is needed?  Sign up, share the blog post link with friends, family, sports fans and curling fans alike.  Lets try to come together and cheer on our Olympic athletes AND raise funds for a great cause!

And #StayTuned rock heads and stoners.  The Scotties Tournament of Hearts hits the ice in Penticton starting Friday night with the wild card play-in game.  A full preview will be sliding into your house soon!!