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Tuesday, 18 September 2018

#PowerRankings W4

#BetweenTheSheets: Canada, Eh-Ok!
Canada sweeps the Curling World Cup podium in Suzhou


Heading into the 2018/19 season curling fans in Canada were feeling the pressure. The world had been catching up over the past few seasons culminating in perhaps overtaking the Great White North last season and knocking Canada off its curling perch.

Canadian curling fans can all admit the 2018 Winter Olympics were a bust, outside the mixed doubles result of course. Canada did take home the world women's title but lost the world men's (although a loss to Niklas Edin is hardly anything to hang your head on). The international teams caught up on the #wct as well.

Enter the new season with more question marks and concerns. And then welcome the Curling World Cup to set Canadian curling fans hearts at ease....for now!

The results in Suzhou could not have been scripted any better than if new coach Nolan Thiessen had drawn it up himself on his laptop on coach's row. When the last rock settled early Sunday morning back home Canada swept the competition and took home gold in all three disciplines.

#TeamCanada 3 - #TeamWorld 0.

Are the results of the #CurlingWorldCup really that big of a surprise though? And what about the love for the toughest field of all, mixed doubles?!

Team Homan was the co-favourite heading into the event, pitched next to Sweden's Team Hasselborg. Both were making their season debut. Both reached the final. Both looked great. The women's field really was a two-team race. Sure USA's Team Roth made a good run but was there really much of a doubt on what we expected in the final? Japan's Fujisawa struggled early and couldn't make up enough ground, similar to Russia's Sidorova. Korea and China were never going to be a threat and Scotland was dealing with a line-up shuffle while skipper Eve Muirhead recovers from surgery. Both Homan and Hasselborg went 5-1 in the RR finishing two games clear of their closest competition and were rocks and slides above the other teams last week.

Team Koe was in a similar boat. Yes there were making their debut and sporting a new line-up but were we really expecting anything less than a finals appearance out of the Ku-Dog? It is Kevin Koe after all! Scotland's Mouat did turn it on near the end of the competition and, baring a last draw loss to Switzerland's De Cruz, could have forced a draw to the button TB for a spot in the final. Norway's Team Walstad was the surprise of the field, going 5-1 in the RR and comfortably dominating his pool to reach the final and perhaps make a statement comeback from a disappointing second half of the season last year. Although Edin is still in minor recovery mode from off-season surgery and second Rasmus Wrana did have minor back stiffness during the competition so we did not see a 100% healthy #SwedishVikings either. USA's Team Ruohonen made a play for the first half of the week towards being a contender but I think the lack of big game international experience caught up to them by the end and they wiltered a bit under the pressure.

Now what about the mixed doubles field? Honestly most of the attention seemed to initially go towards Homan and Koe for this event. They were playing great. They were looking for the Olympic redemption story to start the season. Most eyes were fixated on their play on the ice. Meanwhile Canada's Kirk Muyres and Laura Walker were battling the toughest collective field in this entire first leg. Mixed doubles still seems to be the middle brother/sister of the curling family. You get a little bit of attention here or there but the siblings around you still are the favourites.

If we base the conversation on level of competition the mixed doubles field was heads and tails stronger than the collective men's and women's field based on results and experience. Canada's Walker/Muyres are current world bronze medal winners, drawn into a pool with current world silver medal winners from Russia and half of the current Olympic bronze medal winners. Add in the up and coming young duo from Sweden and, from top to bottom, it was the most competitive pool in the entire competition across all three disciplines. Canada, Norway, Russia are duos easily ranked within the Top 8 in the world.

Across the sheet, the other pool featured the current world champion and Olympic silver medal winners from Switzerland and one of the fastest rising and most competitive duos in the sport in USA's Sarah Anderson and Korey Dropkin. Both of these teams have world championship experience. Both are also easily considered Top 8 contenders in the world rankings. China and South Korea chose to send less experienced duo's to the first leg but had either sent their top teams this field would have arguably seen 8 of the Top 10 teams in the world competing.

Yet where was the hype and excitement around the mixed doubles competition in comparison to the men's and women's field? I do think the Curling World Cup media people did a fair job of trying to cover all three disciplines equally. But was the live coverage as equal? Just look at the final. We had a North American battle between Canada and USA. The top two teams during the competition. USA entered the final undefeated and without question proved to be the strongest team in the field heading into the championship match. Was TSN providing coverage? No. Not even on the TSN Go app. You could stream the final through Curling World Cup...until the 4th end that is. Right after Canada scored a single to trail 2-3 at the break, the coverage was cut off and Canada was geoblocked from the end of the final. An international event. A championship final. Imagine if this had happened for the women's and/or men's finals later in the evening? Nobody would have stood for it. Yet, because it was mixed doubles, it sure didn't seem like enough people raised a concern. Perhaps the most talked about and circulated picture from the entire first leg was the picture of Canada's Kirk Muyres on the ice. This photo was circulated across CBC and social media throughout the weekend. Everyone was talking about it...and it really is just a simple action shot (with perhaps a little backstory of course from #MrSmiles himself). The point being, we need to step up the (coverage) game to support the game (of curling).
Photo Credit: CBC
Mixed doubles is here to stay folks. It is exciting, fast-paced and lives under the motto #NoLeadIsSafe. You get scoring. You get rocks in play. You get to see new faces competing on the ice. You get to see new nations take up the sport. You get to see #growthesport come to life. The discipline is attracting new fans and new athletes onto the curling ice. But where is the coverage and support on the international level? For an event of this magnitude and with large sponsorship, how could there be an excuse for lack of equal coverage? Where was the media agreement? And how do you geoblock Canada from watching a curling final? Canada? Really?!? What message does this say to current and future mixed doubles curling athletes?

Perhaps this is just the result of a new event and working out the kinks in the schedule and media coverage. Perhaps we will see mixed doubles play a larger role during the second and third legs of this tournament. Perhaps?! I think curling fans need to ask for it...no demand it. Again, look at the level of competition for this first leg. Sure some of the names on the ice may not be the big name "elite" athletes the casual curling fan is aware of but why can't we help make these names gain big "elite" status? You should know the name Kristin Skaslien from Norway. You should know Jenny Perret and Martin Rios from Switzerland. You should know the duo of Maria Komarova and Danill Goryachev from Russia. These are prime mixed doubles specialists, similar to Rachel Homan, Jennifer Jones, Brad Gushue and Kevin Koe for the traditional four-person team discipline. The athletes competing in mixed doubles are just as skilled, competitive, strong and a part of the curling family as those competing in the four-team field. We just need to open our eyes a bit more, extend our coverage and remove our blinders. There are some excellent games to see in the mixed doubles discipline once we open ourselves up more to welcoming the competition into our houses.

Now, outside of the Curling World Cup event, the #wct was quite busy during this mid-September weekend. We welcomed the first #Tour1000 men's event at the Shorty Jenkins, two #Tour500 events on the women's tour and another three #Tour250 events on both sides of the stone. Still confused on these new #TwineTime event classifications? Take the quick slide in time HERE for the summary.

Here is the always rapid, super fast and awesome to witness #GunnerRunback of the #wct action this past weekend:
  • In Cornwall, ON the men's #ShortyJenkins field competed for the first #Tour1000 title of the season. A newly formed team would emerge with the title but a team chalked full of winning pedigree. Team Epping took home the title knocking off defending champion Team Jacobs in the final. Great to see front-end duo Brent Laing and Craig Savill collect another tour win together. Props to former Laing/Savill teammate Glenn Howard on reaching the SF with his new team after having a tough go in their season opener event a few weeks back. Scotland's Ross Paterson continues his strong start to the season with a SF appearance as well.
  • For the women's #ShortyJenkins field, we saw a young international team make history in capturing their 1st ever #wct title when Sweden's Team Wrana defeated defending ON Scotties champ Team Duncan in the final. Didn't #TwineTime tell you to start buying stock on this young Swedish team last season? And the beginning of this season? And in last week's preview blog for this event? Believe me now?!? Props to Switzerland's Team Tirinzoni and #TeamUpset flag bearer, and local Cornwall fav, Team Harvey on reaching the SF.
  • In Saskatoon, the women competed in the #ColonialSquareClassic. This #Tour500 event concluded Monday afternoon with Team Robertson picking up their second title of the season, knocking off Japan's Team Yoshimura in the final. While the Saskatchewan winning drought continued at the event, Team Streifel and Team Howard led a great charge towards the title in reaching the SF in their first event of the season, both losing the SF in an extra end I should add.
  • The #KingCashSpiel welcomed B.C. teams to the ice for the first time this season. For the men, defending Canadian and World junior champion Team Tardi debuted their new men's lineup for the season picking up the title over another new team, Team Barry, in the final. Defending B.C. champ Team Geall and Team Wenzek reached the SF. On the women's draw, the #TwineTime team to watch Team Brown backed up last year's Adult Team of the Year award debuting their season with a win over Team Gushulak. Defending B.C. Scotties champ Team Van Osch and defending champion Team Wark reached the SF.
  • In Morris, MB at the #MorrisSunSpiel, a spot in the Manitoba Scotties was on the line for 10 Manitoba women's teams competing, plus #Tour250 ranking points of course. Team Einarson continued their winning ways claiming back-to-back tour titles when they took home the victory over Team Watling. With the win, the newly formed Team Einarson confirms their spot in the Manitoba Scotties event early 2019. Team Clark-Rouire (the beset team initials on tour btw Team JCR) and Morris-based fan favourite Team Ursel reached the SF.
With so many points on the ice this past weekend, including our opening #Tour1000 event, you know we saw an avalanche effect on the #PowerRankings mountain. Also, remember rock heads and stoners, results from the #CurlingWorldCup DO NOT count towards the #TwineTime rankings (sorry Team Koe and Team Homan). Without further adieu, here are YOUR updated #PowerRankings:

MEN
  1. Team Epping - 1180 (LW: NR)
  2. Team Schwaller - 680 (1)
  3. Team Jacobs - 600 (NR)
  4. Team Ulsrud - 500 (2)
  5. Team Paterson - 405 (NR)
Hon. Mention: Team Howard, Team Matsumura, Team Shuster, Team McDonald, Team Edin, Team De Cruz

WOMEN

  1. Team Einarson - 760 (1)
  2. Team Robertson - 760 (HM)
  3. Team Yoshimura - 730 (3)
  4. Team Wrana - 680 (HM)
  5. Team Scheidegger - 500 (2)

Hon. Mention: Team Tirinzoni, Team Kovaleva, Team Duncan, Team Kim, Team Brown

As expected with the new formula, strong consistent results yield Top 5 rankings. Epping has a QF and W under his belt already to land atop the rankings. A nice debut for Jacobs catapultes him into the Top 5 as well. For the women, we have a tie atop the mountain although we are allocating the top spot to Einarson given she was the #1 the previous week. A tour win from Einarson leaves her at the top of the mountain while Sweden's Wrana's maiden title jumps her from the "maybe next week" category right into the Top 5 as well. Robertson has been matching her provincial rival thus far this season. Both have picked up #Tour500 and #Tour250 titles already and we are only through Week 4 of the season. This is going to be a fun battle watching them fight it out for Manitoba supremacy this season I think. And what can we say about Japan's Yoshimura. She surrendered the top spot to Einarson last week and here she is once again clawing her way back up the mountain wanting to regain the #1 spot. What a start to the season for Team Yoshimura!

#StayTuned for the preview post later in the week for the predictions of this upcoming weekend's tour action, including a #Tour500 event for the men and five combined #Tour250 events. Plus we tackle the Continental Cup announcement from earlier in the week.

Enjoy the week rock heads and stoners!