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Friday, 2 March 2018

#Brier2018 Preview

#BetweenTheSheets: The Rumble In Regina
#TwineTime welcomes special guest Matthew Hall to preview the Brier field

The Rumble in Regina.  The Smackdown in Saskatchewan.  Call it what you want but the theme is the same.  A battle is brewing and ready to hit the ice at the Brandt Centre in Regina starting Friday night and concluding with the crowning of Team Canada 10 days later.  17 teams enter the arena.  1 survives.  Who writes their own Sweet Saskatchewan Story?  Or their own Regina Riches theme song?

The 2018 Winter Olympics are barely in our rear view mirror but who has time for post-Olympic hangover?  Canadian curling fans are already looking ahead and getting ready for another incredible week of curling action with the start of the 2018 Tim Hortons Brier.

And this year will be an interesting one.  We have experienced skips and past champions returning.  We have rookie skips and teams ready to show they belong with the big boys.  We have a new format.  We have a new team designation.  Like I said, it will be a Rumble in Regina....but are you ready for it?

Similar to what we saw in Penticton with the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the Tim Hortons Brier will operate under the same new format.  For those who need the quick refresher course, here you go:
  • The field will now consist of 16 teams, with each territory receiving a full-time place in the field as well as the continuation of the Team Canada and Northern Ontario representation.
  • A new team will be added to round out the even number teams of 16.  A Wild Card team will be the final entry into the field.  The wild card team will be determined via a play-in game held the night before the opening draw of the Brier.  The two teams (Mike McEwen and Jason Gunnlaugson) were determined based on the having the highest CTRS points of non-qualifying Scotties teams.
  • The format will now be divided into 2 round robin pools of 8 teams.  Each team will play the other teams within their pool during the round robin stage.  The top four teams from each pool at the conclusion of the stage will advance to the Championship Pool where they will play four additional games against the advancing teams from the other pool.  The round robin record will carry over into the championship pool stage.
  • The four teams who fail to advance to the Championship Pool will participate in a Placement Draw.  These final results will help formulate the pool positions for the 2019 Scotties.
  • At the conclusion of the championship pool round robin stage, the top four teams will advance to the Page Playoff, using the same Page Playoff format previously seen at championship events.  As with the Placement Draw, the final standings in the Championship Pool will help determine the pool placement for each province/territory next year.
The pools will be comprised as follows:

Pool A

Now remember teams are seeded based on CTRS point standings.  Thus, for Pool A, Canada of course would be seeded #1 overall being the defending champions.  Our Wildcard team automatically was pre-seeded #4 regardless of the team who emerged from the play-in game.  The remainder of the seeds were:  Alberta #5, Nova Scotia #8, BC #9, Yukon #12, Newfoundland #13 and NWT #16.

Interesting to see Yukon seeded so high right?  Remember last year they did advance to the pre-qualification final, losing to Nova Scotia's Jamie Murphy.  Newfoundland's lower ranking is due to Greg Smith having very little CTRS ranking points.  It is interesting though to point out Smith and Koe actually have the same points (4.725) and ranking (156) AND both have more points and ranking than PEI and Nunavut (who both have no points and a NR ranking).  Yet Koe's NWT is ranking 16th?  The seeding, to my understanding, are based on CTRS points as of December 31, 2017.  But shouldn't they be ranked higher than the teams who failed to even play in the Brier RR and not advance out of pre-qualification (Yukon, PEI, Nunavut)?  Nunanvut had a higher ranking than NWT at the end of last year?  Is that possible?

Pool B

Similar to Pool A, Manitoba is the top seed in Pool B with the #2 seed due to the combination of McEwen's bronze medal at the 2017 Brier and Carruthers having the highest ranking and most points out of the qualified teams here.  The remaining seeds were distributed as:  Northern Ontario #3, Ontario #6, Saskatchewan #7, Quebec #10, New Brunswick #11, PEI #14 and Nunavut #15.

Similar to the Scotties, it feels a bit strange to see Nunavut seeded #15 and not #16, which is where I think most people would have them seeded.  And, as pointed out above, PEI to be seeded above NWT seems strange.  With PEI and Nunavut having 0.00 ranking points and a NR official ranking, how are they both in the same pool?  Shouldn't they be the bottom two ranked teams with PEI as #15 staying in Pool B and Nunavut being #16 and moving to Pool A, thus moving NWT to the #14 seed and into Pool B.  Am I the only one who thinks this is a bit strange?  Regardless of the rankings and how they are determined, they are what they are and the pools have been finalized.

Looking at the names competing this year we can already tell it is going to be a tough competition.  And of course there is no way one single lone blogger can tackle all these big names by himself right?  I needed to call in a heavy hitter in his own right to help me preview this field.  Welcome Matthew Hall to the #TwineTime fam rock heads and stoners!

If you are familiar with Canadian junior curling and bright futures in the sport the name Matt Hall should ring a bell instantly.  Matt has won back-to-back Ontario junior curling championships.  He has competed at the past two Canadian Junior Curling Championships, reaching the championship pool both times and played for the Canadian junior title only two short seasons ago (lost to B.C.'s Tyler Tardi....sorry Matt had to point this out here).

All of you loyal readers are familiar with the #growthesport perspective this blog tries to discuss and incorporate into the curling discussion on a regular basis.  What better way to analyze the present than by discussing it with the future.  Plus Matt has two years of playing under this "new" format.  He has felt the pressure of competing and winning provincial titles....and defending them.  And he has competed under the big lights of a national final.  Oh and Matt was a proud recipient of one of the 2017 For the Love of Curling scholarships funded by the Curling Canada Foundation.

With all the debate surrounding the future of the sport and the current changes being implemented, I needed to go outside my own head and perspectives and talk to someone who will be directly impacted in the future.  We live in a world of now folks.  How does this action affect ME NOW?!  How does this make ME FEEL NOW?!  What if we started thinking more about how decisions impact the next generation of curlers?  What if they like the changes?  What if they don't?  If we are going to discuss the new format, I want to hear what a potential future Brier participant (and maybe champion) feels about the subject.  Plus lets put him on the spot a bit and make him offer up some predictions!

Ok. The brush heads are cleaned.  The ice is pebbled.  Sliders are warm.  Rock are...rocked?  Welcome the newest member of the #TwineTime fam Matt Hall for the #Brier2018 Preview:

There you have it rock heads and stoners.  What do you think of Matt's analysis of the field?  What are your thoughts on the #TwineTime break down?  Agree with one?  Disagree with the other?  Ok that might be a bit hard considering we mostly agreed.  I promise you though neither of us discussed our predictions and thoughts beforehand.  But maybe you disagree with us both?  Either way, hit us up on twitter (Matt can be found HERE) and share your thoughts.

Matt also let us in on the underlying topic heading into the Brier this year, team shakeups.  We have already seen numerous announcements from women's teams post-Scotties.  We know we will expect the same post-Brier.  Matt himself will see some changes with who he throws stones with next season with an announcement coming in the near future.  Any guesses folks?  And no, even outside of recording Matt would not break his code of silence.

This is a developing/on-going story with all the teams across the country.  Expect to see announcements made during the Brier from teams not participating and surely we can assume some of the teams competing this week in Regina will be making disbandment (or long-term planned) announcements shortly.  #StayTuned.....

To summarize, here are the predictions made by our newest fam member Matt Hall and #TwineTime:


Favourites:  Canada (Gushue), Wildcard (McEwen)

Watch Out For:  Northern Ontario (Jacobs), Saskatchewan (Laycock), Alberta (Bottcher)

#TeamUpset:  Nova Scotia (Murphy), Quebec (Fournier), Newfoundland (Smith)

Projected Pool A Standings:  1. Canada  2. Wildcard  3. Alberta  4. Nova Scotia  5. British Columbia  6. Newfoundland and Labrador  7. NWT  8. Yukon

Projected Pool B Standings:  1. Northern Ontario  2. Manitoba  3. Saskatchewan  4. Ontario  5. Quebec  6. New Brunswick  7. PEI  8. Nunavut

Championship Pool Qualifiers:  Canada, Northern Ontario, Wildcard, Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Ontario

Playoff Qualifiers:  Canada, Wildcard, Northern Ontario, Saskatchewan

Bronze Medal:  Saskatchewan (Team Laycock)

BRIER FINAL:  Team Wildcard (Team McEwen) def. Team Canada (Team Gushue)

Matt Hall

Favourites:  Canada (Gushue), Wildcard (McEwen)

Watch Out For:  Saskatchewan (Laycock), Manitoba (Carruthers), Alberta (Bottcher)

#TeamUpset:  BC (Geall), NWT (Koe), Ontario (Epping), Quebec (Fournier)

Championship Pool Qualifiers:  Canada, Manitoba, Wildcard, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Northern Ontario, BC, Ontario

Playoff Qualifiers: Canada, Wildcard, Manitoba, Saskatchewan

Bronze Medal:  Saskatchewan (Team Laycock)

BRIER FINAL:  Team Wildcard (Team McEwen) def. Team Canada (Team Gushue)

Photo's courtesy of Curling Canada
I want to thank Matt once again for taking time out of his busy school studies to sit down and chat curling with me.  As I am sure you gathered from the interview, Matt is a very smart, well-spoken young man.  I am sure we will see a lot of him on the national and international curling arena as his career progresses.  He is the next generation of curlers in not only Ontario but Canada folks.  Keep your eyes on him....and he did say expect perhaps an announcement soon as to who he will be curling with next season!!  Also, props once again to him for taking a sport he loves and bridging the gap to a personal topic close to home raising funds for Cystic Fibrosis.  If you have not participated in a Matt #PoolMaster Hall pool yet, stay tuned for your chance in the future!  Plus, didn't you just listen to him speak and instantly think what a nice dude he sounds like?  You want to buy him a beer and sit down and chat with him now right?  Well get in line....I owe him one first!

Also I will be in Regina for the duration of the Brier (Thank You Curling Canada!!) so #StayTuned to this blog for live updates, maybe some interviews and who knows what else.  As well, some of you may remember my brother Nick from his time at the Tour Challenge to kick off this season.  Well he will be back to join the #TwineTime blog as a special assistant for a few days throughout the week.  Check out twitter for more info and pics of his first-ever Brier experience!

Don't forget to VOTE in the Brier-themed #TwineTime blog poll as well.  Have your say on who YOU think will take home the Brier title this year.  Can Gushue and Team Canada #DefendTheIce?  Can the home province #TeamGreen finally give Sasky curling fans a championship?  Or will we see a #TeamUpset emerge?  Head over to the #TwineTime blog HOME PAGE and cast your vote NOW!  The poll will remain open for the duration of the Brier event.

The Olympic-themed poll asked whether one nation could pull the elusive triple threat in winning the mixed doubles, women's and men's gold medals.  Heading into the competition only four nations had a shot at the historical feat: Canada, Korea, Switzerland, USA.  52% of the responses went with "NO! Not happening in 2018" while 42% went with "YES! Oh Canada!!"  Of course those 52% would end be being correct with no nation even claiming a double gold as Canada won mixed doubles, Sweden won the women's team and USA won the men's team.  Interesting to note though 4% went with with "YES! Korea home nation pride."  I did not see that coming folks....you surprised me there you 4% of the population.

Finally, don't forget the World Junior Curling Championships hit the ice this weekend in Scotland.  #StayTuned....you know #TwineTime will have a preview for you (I hope!!).

17 teams. 10 days. 1 Brier Champion!  Enjoy the curling everyone....

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