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Tuesday, 13 February 2018

PyeongChang2018 Men's Curling

#BetweenTheRings: Men's Curling Preview
Can Canada #DefendTheIce in Gangneung, Korea?


The first-ever mixed doubles Olympic curling competition has just finished cleaning the house at the Gangneung Curling Centre and here we are ready for 12 more days of Olympic curling competition with the upcoming start of the men's and women's team tournament.

As we are all well aware by now, curling is the only sport running the full duration of #PyeongChang2018.  In fact, since mixed doubles started the day before the Opening Ceremonies and the women's gold medal is the same day as the Closing Ceremonies, curling will actually run longer than the official competition schedule (based on days the Olympic flame is lit anyways).  Total days of curling action: 18 consecutive days!

When Canada and Switzerland stepped onto the ice for the mixed doubles final, both nations knew they would not only create history in being named the first mixed doubles Olympic champions but they would also open the door for more history to possibly be created in just over a week's time.  The winner would accomplish step one of the overall curling plan: Own the Podium!  Can one nation win all three 2018 Winter Olympic gold medals?

Well when the final rock stopped spinning Tuesday evening (early Tuesday morning for those of us in North America) only one nation was left standing:  CANADA!  Pressure now on the Canadian men's and women's teams to follow suit?  Perhaps!  Or maybe extra motivation and excitement in watching your fellow curling competitors take home the gold medal.  The mixed doubles tournament win could serve as the perfect set-up shot in the 10th end of a championship final.  The rocks have been placed perfectly, now the men's and women's teams just need to execute and create more history for the sport back home.  Remember Canada swept the podium in 2014....can they do it again on all 3 disciplines and re-write the history books once again?

But slow down a bit....lets not get ahead of ourselves here right?  There is still a lot of curling to be played....90 RR games in fact for both the men's and women's tournament.  That is 45 men's RR games and then playoffs.  And this men's field is no joke.  Similar to what we saw in mixed doubles with a strong, evenly-matched field, this Olympic men's field could be one of the strongest we have historically seen.

Before diving into the 2018 field though, how about a quick #GunnerRunback history lesson into the sport of curling on the grandest sports stage of all: The Olympic Games!!

  • At the inaugural Winter Olympic Games in 1924 (hosted by Chamonix, France) curling was part of the original slate of sporting events, for the men anyway (women's curling debuted in 1998).  In 1924 only 3 nations competed: hosts France, Great Britain and Sweden.  Great Britain would win the first Olympic gold with Sweden claiming silver and France bronze.  However the results of this event are not officially recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
  • After being a demonstration sport at the 1932, 1988 and 1992 Winter Olympics, curling officially was welcomed back to the Olympic schedule for the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan with both the men and women competing.  Since 1998, curling has been an official Olympic sport.  
  • Since 1998, six nations have qualified for every Winter Olympic men's field.  Those nations include: Canada, Great Britain, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and USA.  All six will once again field teams in PyeongChang and all six are considered to be medal contenders.
  • Host Korea will be making their Olympic debut in 2018 while fellow competitors Italy and Japan will be making only their second Olympic appearance, both last competing in a similar fashion to Korea as host nations: Japan in 1998 (6th place) and Italy in 2006 (7th place).  Worth noting however, Italy's performance in 2006 still has a result considered to be one of the greatest upsets in Olympic curling history when the home nation (skipped by 2018 skip Joel Retornaz) knocked off soon-to-be gold medal winner Canada (skipped by Brad Gushue).
  • In the six Olympic appearances for the sport (since 1998), overall 16 nations have competed in the Olympic men's field at least once.  As mentioned Italy and Japan will make their second appearance and Korea their first.  Other nations with only one current appearance are Russia and New Zealand.  Interesting to note though, New Zealand (2006 - 10th place) is the only nation to qualify for their sole Olympic appearance through actual qualification standards and not as automatic host.  Finland and China have two appearances apiece, France with 3, Denmark will make their fourth in 2018 and Germany rounds out the table with 5 (2018 is the first Olympic field with no German men's team)
  • Canada leads the way in both most gold medals won (3) and total medals won (5) since 1998.  In fact, Canada enters the 2018 Winter Olympics riding three straight gold medal wins (2006, 2010, 2014) and will be looking to re-write the record books again with a #4peat.  The other two medals won for Canada were both silver medals (1998, 2002).
  • The only other nations to find the top of the Olympic podium are Switzerland (1998) and Norway (2002).  Both nations also happen to be the only other countries, besides Canada, to win multiple Olympic curling medals with each having a total of 3.  Switzerland has two bronze medal finishes (2006, 2010) and Norway has the complete collection winning bronze in 1998 and silver in 2010.
  • Other nations to land on the podium with one Olympic men's medal include: Finland (Silver - 2006), Great Britain (Silver - 2014), Sweden (Bronze - 2014) and USA (Bronze - 2006).

History lesson complete.  Wow your friends with your Olympic curling knowledge!

Shine up that curling stone Rock Heads and Stoners and slide out with the Tale of the Tape for the men's team competition:



Men's Team Curling

Gangneung Curling Centre

Gangneung, South Korea

Competition Schedule:  February 14 - 24, 2018

2014 Champion:  Canada (Skipped by Brad Jacobs)

Format:  10 team RR with Top 4 advancing to playoffs with 1 vs 4 and 2 vs 3 SF matches.  Winners advance to Gold Medal while losers advance to Bronze Medal


Favourites

Canada (Kevin Koe) - This will be the Olympic debut for the skipper and second Brent Laing while vice Marc Kennedy and lead Ben Hebert look to sweep away the competition for the their second Olympic gold medal and join previous teammate John Morris as the only men to win multiple Olympic gold in the sport. (2010 - Team Martin).  Here are the stats on #TeamCanada:

  • 39-15 (72%) YTD record
  • Qualified in 6 of 7 tour events reaching the SF or better in 5 of those 6 events
  • 1 tour championship win (Penticton, def. Edin) and 1 finals appearance (Edmonton, l. to Lui)
  • Finished 1st place with a 7-1 record in the Roar of the Rings Olympic Trials RR, defeating Mike McEwen in the final
  • 5-3 H2H record vs. fellow #PyeongChang2018 competitors this season
  • Koe is a three-time World Champion (2010, 2014, 2016) and has 4 career #gsoc titles (most recent 2015 Tour Challenge Tier I)

Sweden (Niklas Edin) - 2018 marks Niklas Edin's third straight Olympics appearance and, if the trend continues, look for him to be playing in the gold medal match.  Edin finished 4th in 2010 and won bronze in 2014....meaning a silver or better should be expected if recent history holds form.  However he will bring a completely different team to the field compared to 2010/2014 with 2014 alternate Oskar Eriksson being the only other player with Olympic experience.  Remember Edin was the flag bearer for Sweden at the Opening Ceremonies last Friday so expectations are high from his home nation heading into this competition.  Edin also happens to be a #TwineTime fam member!  Get to know the #SwedishVikings:

  • 56-19 (75%) YTD record
  • Qualified in 9 of 10 events reaching the SF or better in 8 of those events
  • Claimed 3 tour championships (Baden, Champery, Perth) and 3 finals appearances (Masters, Penticton, Canadian Open)
  • Edin won a record 4th straight (6th overall) European Championship, finishing with an overall event record of 10-1
  • Have reached the championship final in their past 6 straight events leading into PyeongChang
  • 19-8 H2H record vs. fellow #PyeongChang2018 competitors this season
  • Edin and company won 3 #gsoc titles last season (Tour Challenge, Masers, Players) becoming the first non-Canadian men's team to win a Grand Slam of Curling title (Masters)
  • Edin is a two-time World Champion (2013, 2015) and this team won the world silver medal last year in Edmonton (l. to Canada's Brad Gushue)


Watch Out For

Norway (Thomas Ulsrud) - The most experienced international team in the field, Thomas Ulsrud and squad will be making their 3rd straight Olympics appearance (2010 - Silver, 2014 - 5th) but also comes with 12 World Championship appearances and 16 European Championship appearances.  The extra advantage for this team is all 4 members have been playing together since the 2007/08 season, including both of those previous Olympic appearances.  Get to know #TeamPants:

  • 43-28 (61%) YTD record
  • Qualified in 6 of 10 events this season reaching the SF or better in all 6 qualified events
  • Have played in 3 tour championship finals (Baden, Basel, Qinghai) but lost the final each time
  • Finished in 4th place at the 2017 European Championships (l. to De Cruz), the first time they have not landed on the podium since they started curling together in 2007 (2 Gold, 6 Silver, 3 Bronze)
  • Won the World Championship in 2014 as well as silver in 2015
  • Last season reached the SF of the #gsoc Tour Challenge Tier I, their first #gsoc SF since the 2010 Players Championship
  • 8-13 H2H record vs. fellow #PyeongChang2018 competitors this season, including 1-6 vs. rival Edin
  • Which player has the most Olympic experience in this field? Norway vice Torger Nergaard will make his 5th Winter Olympics appearance when he takes the ice in South Korea!!

Switzerland (Peter de Cruz) - This team may be a rookie Olympic team (Benoit Schwarz was the Swiss alternate in 2014) but do not underestimate what this team can do.  Rookie label or not, the Swiss will be strong medal contenders and could give the top two favourites a run for gold.  Interesting to note Switzerland has landed on the podium with bronze medal wins every 8 years since 2002 (2002 - Bronze, 2006 - 6th, 2010 - Bronze, 2014 - 9th).  Can de Cruz and company continue the every second Olympic podium finish and erase the disappointing 2014 result for Swiss curling?  Time to yell #HoppSchwiiz:

  • 53-22 (71%) YTD record
  • Qualified in 10 of 11 events this season reaching the SF or better in 6 of those 10 events
  • Won their first #gsoc title (Canadian Open, def. Edin) at the last event prior to competing here and have reached 3 other finals this season (Basel, Gatineau, Perth)
  • Collected their second straight European Championships bronze medal in 2017 following a silver medal finish in 2015
  • 16-11 H2H record vs. fellow #PyeongChang2018 competitors this season
  • De Cruz led this team to a bronze medal finish at the 2017 World Championships (def. Shuster)


#TeamUpset

Korea (Chang-Min Kim) - Korea may be the only rookie nation to compete at the Olympics in 2018 and may have only qualified because they are the home team but don't assume the lack of international experience will automatically make this team a "bingo square" in the field.  Kim has played in 5 Pacific-Asia Championships, including winning gold in 2017.  This will be the team's first true international competition so nerves may play a factor but the home nation fans could also help motivate the team during the week.  Get to know the home nation:

  • 48-25 (66%) YTD record
  • Qualified in 8 of 11 events reaching the SF or better in all 8 events
  • Have played in 6 championship finals this season, claiming the title once (Pacific-Asia Championship)
  • Made their #gsoc debut at The National in November and reached their first grand slam final (l. to Scotland's Bruce Mouat).  They also played in the Canadian Open (failed to qualify) and have already qualified for the season-ending Champions Cup (as #PACC Champions)
  • 6-4 H2H record vs. fellow #PyeongChang2018 competitors this season

Denmark (Rasmus Stjerne) - They may have been the final team to qualify for the Olympic field, taking the super long #CSideGrind (literally) path to PyeongChang but that doesn't mean one should underestimate this team either.  Skip Rasmus Stjerne will make his second straight Olympic appearance after skipping Denmark to a 6th place finish in 2014.  As well, teammates Johnny Frederikson and Mikkel Poulson will be making their 3rd Olympic appearance (competing also in 2010 - 9th place).  It has been an up and down few years for Denmark curling, going from a silver medal at the World Championships (2016) to dropping down to C Group at the European Championships this past season.  Stjerne will be looking to turn around Danish curling with a strong result in Korea.  Here is Team Denmark:

  • 39-18 (68%) YTD record
  • Qualified in 5 of 8 events this season reaching the SF or better 3 times (including Olympic qualifier)
  • Have played in and won 1 championship tour event this season (Latvian International Challenger)
  • Stjerne skipped the Danish team to a silver medal performance at the 2016 World Championship in his fourth appearance (2012, 2013, 2014, 2016).  His previous best result was 4th in 2013.
  • Stjerne has also skipped Denmark at 7 European Championships with best results being a silver medal (2010) and bronze medal (2011) podium finish
  • 2-3 H2H record vs. fellow #PyeongChang2018 competitors this season


The Field

Great Britain (Kyle Smith) - The youngest skip in the field, 25yo Kyle Smith will lead Team Great Britain into this curling field looking to better (or at least replicate) the silver medal finish from fellow Scot David Murdoch in 2014 (l. to Canada's Brad Jacobs).  After a successful junior career, including a world championship win in 2013, Smith really had his breakout season on the men's tour last year, reaching their first #gsoc final (Tour Challenge Tier I) in their rookie grand slam event.  Since the start of last season, Smith and company have been a team to watch out for.  This season has been a bit of a struggle, trying to replicate the success of 2016 and dealing perhaps with the pressure of being named to the Olympic team but if they curl like we have seen over the past 18 months they should be a podium contender here.  Welcome #TeamGB:

  • 37-28 (57%) YTD record
  • Qualified in 6 of 10 events this season reaching the championship final 3 times but have failed to win a tour title
  • Recorded a career-best result at the 2017 European Championships, winning the silver medal (l. to Edin), in only their 2nd European Championship appearance (previous 2015, l. TB to Edin)
  • 2016/17 was a breakout #gsoc season, reaching Tour Challenge Tier I final and Players Championship SF.  They have played in two grand slam events this season (Tour Challenge Tier I, Masters) failing to qualify in both
  • 7-11 H2H record vs. fellow #PyeongChang2018 competitors this season

Italy (Joel Retornaz) - Retornaz and his Italian foursome took the long road to get to Korea, having to make a stressful detour stop in Czech Republic for the last-chance Qualifier Event in December.  The extra event, packed with the high stress of competing and being successful, may work to their advantage.  Sure Italy is not known as a curling powerhouse but don't underestimate an experienced team who have competed well at recent European and World Championships.  Remember Italy only has one previous Olympic appearance in men's curling, 2006 when they were the host nation.  That was a breakout year for the sport in a football-frenzy country and Retornaz was the skip back then too!  What does he have up his sleeve for his sophomore appearance?

  • 26-27 (49%) YTD record 
  • Qualified in 2 of 9 events, including the Olympic Qualifier and German Masters (QF)
  • Have played in the European Championship A Group since 2014, with the best result being 4th place in 2014 (2015 - 8th, 2016 - 7th, 2017 - 8th)
  • Competed at the 2017 World Championship, finished in 9th place with a 4-7 record
  • 2-11 H2H record vs. fellow #PyeongChang2018 competitors this season

Japan (Yusuke Morozumi) - If team bonding and longevity were a deciding factor in the Olympics, this team would win the gold medal.  Team Japan have been competing together since the 2008/09 season but will be making their Olympic debut in neighbouring #PACC nation South Korea.  Japan last competed at the Olympics in 1998, where they finished 6th (Skipped by Makoto Tsuruga).  Olympic rookies? Yes!  Lacking international experience?  Not one bit!  This team has competed in 6 World Championships, including the past five, and 9 #PACC including the past six.  They will also be coached by #TwineTime fam member and Canadian J.D. Lind.  Kon'nichiwa #TeamJapan:

  • 45-30 (64%) YTD record 
  • Qualified in 6 of 12 events reaching the SF or better 3 times
  • Have 2 tour championship final appearances this season, including 1 title (Karuizawa International)
  • Qualified for the playoffs at the 2017 #PACC but lost SF (l. to Kim) and won bronze (def. Australia)
  • Have a strong #PACC record, including winning gold in 2016 and silver six times (2008, 2009, 2012-2015)
  • Best result at the World Championships was qualifying for the playoffs in 2016 and losing the bronze medal match (l. to Shuster).  Other results include: 10th (2009), 11th (2013), 5th (2014), 6th (2015) and 7th (2017)
  • 5-9 H2H record vs. fellow #PyeongChang2018 competitors this season

USA (John Shuster) - Quick name the skip who has the most Olympic experience in the field?  If you said USA's John Shuster you would be correct.  While Norway's Nergaard will be making his 5th appearance, 2018 will be Shuster's 4th consecutive appearance and 3rd straight as a skip (tied with Edin and Ulsrud).  Shuster's best Olympic result was a bronze medal finish in 2006 as lead (Skip Pete Fenson) and was also the only time USA landed on the podium.  Shuster will be looking to improve on his previous two Olympic results when he skipped USA to 10th place (2010) and 9th place (2014).  They can only go up from here right?  And remember second Matt Hamilton has already been competing on this Olympic ice during the mixed doubles competitor with sister Becca.
  • 29-25 (54%) YTD record
  • Qualified in 4 of 9 events reaching the SF or better once (Winnipeg)
  • Reached 1 championship final on tour at the Spider Performance Icebreaker (Winnipeg) losing to Manitoba's Braden Calvert
  • Have reached the World Championship playoff round the past two seasons, winning bronze in 2016 and losing the bronze medal game (vs. De Cruz) last season
  • Won the 2017 US Olympic Curling Trials with an 8-3 overall record, defeating rival Heath McCormick in the best of three championship final 2-1
  • This team has been together since the 2014/15 season, winning two US Championships (2015, 2017) and 1 US silver medal (2016)
  • Reached the QF of the Tour Challenge Tier I this season, one of only 3 #gsoc qualifications in their past 13 #gsoc events together as a team (SF - Tour Challenge 2015, QF - Canadian Open 2016)
  • 7-2 H2H record vs. fellow #PyeongChang2018 competitors this season



Projected Final RR Standings:  1. Canada  2. Sweden  3. Switzerland  4. Norway  5. Great Britain  6. USA  7. Korea  8. Japan  9. Denmark  10. Italy


Qualifiers:  Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway


Semifinals

Canada def. Norway
Sweden def. Switzerland


Bronze Medal

Switzerland (de Cruz) def. Norway (Ulsrud)


#PyeongChang2018 GOLD MEDAL

Sweden (Edin) def. Canada (Koe)


#TwineTime Medal Picks

Gold - Sweden
Silver - Canada
Bronze - Switzerland


What say you curling fans?  Agree?  Disagree?  If you disagree, why didn't you put your money where your mouth was and enter the #TwineTime Winter Olympic 50/50 Curling Pool, raising funds for Canadian Cerebral Palsy Sports Association?  If you are going to come at me for my medal predictions, you better back it up somehow!!  And if you did enter, THANK YOU and best of luck.

#StayTuned for those who are entered in the pool as a special blog post will be created to update the standings and keep you in the house for all the rock-hitting action throughout the run of the men's and women's tournament.

As they say in Korean, 즐겨