Monday, 13 January 2020

#ContCup2020 Wrap + #WQE2020 Preview

#BetweenTheSheets: An S Club Party in London
Europe defends the ice PLUS World Champ spots on the line this week


S Club (there ain't no party like an S Club party)
Gonna show you how
Everybody get down tonight
S Club (there ain't no party like an S Club party)

Oh it was a party in London all right. From the opening rock to the clinching runback from Sweden's Oskar Eriksson, Team Europe was on the curling competition equivalent to a weekend bender.

Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland. Curling's version of the S Club 7 (6 teams plus credit to the dynamic coaching team). They came. They saw. They were able to #DefendTheIce. And they dominated.

Oh yes, they will show you how indeed!

Everything worked for the S Club 7 this weekend. Experience? Check! Communication? Check! Shot making? Check! Smart coaching? Check! If there was a playbook on how to successfully win the Continental Cup and do so in convincing fashion, the authors would be David Murdoch, Christopher Svae and Fredrik Lindberg.

You could almost feel the confidence in this team from the opening draw on Thursday, when Europe jumped out to the early 2-1 lead and never looked back. By the end of the opening day they were up 7-2 and it already seemed like a done deal.

Finally Friday night
Feelin' kinda good, looking alright
Gotta get moving can't be late
Gotta get grooving just can't wait
Hey, get the feeling, get the feeling
Push the ceiling, push the ceiling
Player hater (player haters)
Get ready everybody 'cause here we go

The S Club Party lyrics pretty much sum it up right? Heading into the Friday night draw, Team Europe was feeling good. They were looking alright. They increased their lead to 10.5 - 4.5. They were grooving. They got the feeling. And Canadian players and fans alike may have been hatin' a bit but hate away 'cause they were ready to go. Locked in and eyeing their prize.

This was the returning team from last year's championship, with the addition of Vicky Wright on Team Muirhead. And their trust in one another, their comradery, was evident. I have been to a European Championship. Two actually. And there is something different about seeing the European teams interact with one another vs. what you see at a Scotties or Brier.

It is a united we stand, divided we fall mentality where, regardless of the home nation on the back, the players have this unique bond with one another. They are competitors all season, sure. But they are also close friends off the ice. And you could see that watching these 6 teams compete on the ice or cheer together on the bench. The dynamic was different compared to their Team Canada opposition. And it worked!

The official final score will show Europe winning 37.5 - 22.5 but that is almost misleading to how dominant this European victory was. Plus the final 3 skins games on Sunday night were all called after 6 games and the remaining points split evenly between both sides. Had those ends been played, the scoreline could have been even more representative of the one-sided win.

Under the current scoring format we have seen some lopsided final scores in the past. Remember the 42-18 Team North America win in 2015? I am sure 2020 champs Niklas Edin, Eve Muirhead and David Murdoch do...or maybe they don't want to.

Team North America has put together two 37-23 wins in the past as well, back in 2013 and 2017. Had those final few ends played out, I really believe the final scoreline would have read 39.5 - 20.5 Team Europe. A 19-point win seems more accurate. But hey, semantics right? It doesn't really matter at the end of the day.

What might matter for fans is asking "What happened Team Canada?" There will be a mixture of ideas thrown around of course. Rookie competitors. Less familiarity. But in the end, all minor excuses really.

Europe was smart from the off-set in how they set their lineup. Swedish teams always playing the middle sheet. Scottish teams always on one side. Swiss always on the other. Even scramble lineups fell to nation alliances. And it worked. Players are more familiar with one another. Players became more familiar with the rocks and the ice. It became almost like a routine. A well-oiled European curling machine.

Out coached. Out strategized. Out played. Plain and simple. There were times where the Canadian communication hit the bumpers, namely in scramble games. There was certainly a lot of up roar on twitter over the excessive "mansplaining" by some Canadian team members in their games. Of course there was also the "dick" comment seemingly directed towards Eriksson and/or teammate Ben Hebert from Rachel Homan that irked the ears of some fans. Frustration? Perhaps. Bad sportsmanship? Perhaps?

Either way, this Canadian team just did not live up to the competition it saw sitting on the opposition bench. No excuses. A loss is a loss. When we look at the blog's Nation rankings, Canada is sitting #1 but who sits right behind them? Sweden, Switzerland and Scotland.

The gap is no longer closing between Canada and the world. The gap is gone. The world has caught up. Sweden. Switzerland. Scotland. Japan. Korea. China is re-emerging. Russia's women and mixed doubles are strong. Time to close the gap conversation all together and realize the curling ice landscape has changed.

Now the question remains, what happens next for this exhibition event? Keep the same format? The three-nation Europe team is formidable. Why would they change it up? Team Canada changes a bit every year due to the qualification process. Maybe the entire event should change. Anyone else notice the oddly parallel timing of the Continental Cup occurring at the same time as the new ATP Cup in tennis? Hmmm, maybe this event should become a bit more international. But hey, this blog already did a story on that when these teams were announced, remember? I will just leave that HERE for all you to ponder once again. Times are a changing....maybe this event should get with it too!?

The #ContCup2020 was not the only action on the curling ice this weekend. There were two #Tour500 events, one for each men's and women's tours, plus some mixed doubles. And we filled out a few more spaces on the Scotties and Brier player board, crowing champions in PEI and NWT.

Bring on the #GunnerRunback weekly segment.

#GunnerRunback


#INturn

  • #GoldenWrench - Jason Gunnlaugson and Team Gunner took home the #Tour500 championship in Tempe, AZ over the weekend. Gunner was a perfect 8-0 over the weekend, including a 5-0 RR record, en route to the team's third #wct title of the year. Gunnlaugson defeated home ice favs Team Ruohonen in the final. Ruohonen also entered the final undefeated after similarly posting a 5-0 RR record alongside QF and SF victories. They were also seeking their third title of the season.
  • #BerneseCup - The home crowd went home happy on Sunday when rising Swiss stars Team Stern kicked off their 2020 with a #Tour500 victory. Stern took the long #CSideGrind path to the playoffs but once they made the Final 8 bracket they were unstoppable. Stern knocked off fellow rising up and coming Team Yu of China in the championship final to collect their second title of the season. Yu also took the #CSideGrind path into the championship bracket. In fact, Stern defeated Yu in an A-side SF earlier in the event. Overall both of these teams played 10 games over 3 days. Hope they got some rest over the holidays.
  • #PolarPower - Guess who's back? Back again? Kerry Galusha will be making her 17th Scotties appearance after claiming the NWT Scotties title this weekend. Galusha went undefeated in the RR (4-0) and defeated Team Stroeder in the territory final. The team outscored their opposition 53-12 over the course of the competition, including the 9-3 scoreline in the final. Talk about #DefendTheIce. This victory is the 6th straight NWT title for Galusha, her longest consecutive Scotties streak.
  • #TeamIslanders - Speaking about familiar Scotties names, what about Suzanne Birt? Birt will make her 11th appearance at #STOH2020 in Moose Jaw after also being able to #DefendTheIce this weekend in Montague, PEI. Team Birt defeated Team Smith in the first playoff game to win the title. Birt won the A and C-qualifiers, meaning they only needed one playoff win to seal the deal. Team Smith won the B-qualifier, knocking off Birt, but could not replicate the feat in the playoffs. In fact, these teams met in all 3 qualifier finals and the playoffs. Birt captured the title with an overall record of 5-1 in the 5-team Scotties field.
  • #TeamIslanders - The PEI Tankard was also held this weekend. Again, some familiar names stood tall at the end of the event. Bryan Cochrane skipped his team to the championship with a perfect 6-0 record, winning the A, B and C-qualifiers thus no playoff required. Cochrane should be a familiar name to curling fans as is a two-time Canadian Senior champ (2017, 2019) and current World Senior champ (2019). Of course Cochrane won those Canadian senior titles under the Ontario flag, including 2019. But will now represent PEI at the Brier. Two championships. Two different provinces. Yup, residency rules right? But stir that debate pot later shall we? Lets congratulate them for a decisive provincial victory. For Cochrane this will also be his second Brier appearance, previously competing as Team Ontario in 2003. Some may remember his appearance due to the use of a whistle to communicate with his team, the first time a communication device was used, which previously were banned. The whistle was used due to Cochrane having a throat disorder requiring annual surgery and affecting the use of his voice to communicate on the ice. The PEI Tankard was contested among 11 teams this year.
  • #DutchMastersMD - Sweden's Team Heldin/Lindstroem collected another mixed doubles title when they defeated Germany's Team Kapp/Muskatewitz in the championship final in Zoetermeer, NED. The Swedes qualified for the playoffs out of the B-side and finished the weekend with a 6-1 overall record to collect their first title of the season. This is only their second trip to the Final 4 of an event as well, with the first being a SF finish at the season opening China Open. The German duo also qualified out of the B-side, finishing 5-2. The Germans were looking for their second title of the season. They could be a world mixed doubles dark horse. Kapp/Muskatewitz will look to book their world spot at the upcoming German MD championship at the end of February. If they are successful, could they be #TeamUpset at #WMDCC2020?
  • #BrantfordMD - Olympic champions face off in a mixed doubles final? We came oh so close to seeing 2018 MD gold medal winners John Morris (with USA's Sarah Anderson) and Kaitlyn Lawes (with nephew Connor Lawes) face off in the championship final. Alas it wasn't meant to be as both teams suffered SF losses. Huge props to Team Martin/Griffith for taking home the title. The team headed to the 8th end of their SF trailing 5-8 and scored a huge 5 to knock off Anderson/Morris in the SF and then dominated China's Team Fan/Nan 11-1 in the final. This duo is quietly becoming a major MD threat for the upcoming Canadian championship folks.
  • #QRollCall - Shout out to those teams who reached the playoffs over the weekend. Wrapping up the weekend with SF results: Team Tardi, Team Shuster (Tempe), Team Nakajima, Team Wrana (Bern). Finishing with a QF result: Team Symonds, Team Muyres, Team C. Kim, Team Sturmay (Tempe), Team Sidorova, Team E. Kim, Team Feltscher, Team Kovaleva (Bern).


#OUTturn

  • #CanadaCrumbles - For all the reasons stated in the introduction of this post, Team Canada takes the biggest lump this week after being outplayed in London at the Continental Cup. The "team" never seemed to find their groove. They didn't look like a cohesive unit. Communication was off. Shots were missed. They were playing catch up from the opening day and never found their footing. It was just not a good weekend on the ice for our 6 Canadian reps. The struggle bus left the station and these 6 teams were all riding shotgun.

Now seeing as most of the Top 10 teams on the #PowerRankings were competing in London, which unlike the ATP Cup does not award points (thankfully), there was no change to the Top 10 this week. As such, there will be no #PowerRankings segment this week. The rankings will be updated next week of course at the conclusion of the third #GSOC major of the season, The Canadian Open, which hits the ice this week. For a recap on where teams stand heading into the slam, check out last week's rankings HERE or view the Top 50 Power Rankings.

Rather, this week we have a special start of the week #TourLifePredictions segment. While many top teams compete for grand slam glory, other teams will be chasing down world championship tickets in Finland at the World Qualification Event.

The #WQE2020 takes place in Lohja, Finland and will see 8 men's and 8 women's teams represent their nation trying to lock down the final spots at the upcoming world championships. The top two teams will earn the last tickets in the world championship field.

And remember this is the first year for nations to earn Olympic qualification points. You cannot earn points if you do not qualify for the world championship. Those who miss out will be at a HUGE disadvantage heading into next season.

Bring. It. On.

#TourLifePredictions


World Qualification Event

Lohja, Finland

2019 Qualifiers: South Korea, Netherlands (men) and China, Finland (women)

Format: 8 team RR with Top 3 advancing to playoffs. 1 vs 2 with winner earning one world championship spot. 1 vs 2 loser to play 3rd place team for final spot.

MEN

China (Team Zou): Skipper Zou Qiang is looking to make his 4th straight world championship appearance but will need to take the long road to get there. After back-to-back silver medal wins at the #PACC, the team took a step back this season when they lost in the SF and had to settle for a bronze medal. The result shipped them to Finland rather than the direct path to Scotland. Zou does have a tour title under their belt this season, winning in High River back in November. And they are ranked in the Top 50 on the #PowerRankings. Consider them a playoff contender here.

Czech Republic (Team Klima): Welcome the #TeamUpset of the competition. The Czech Republic's Team Klima may not garner a bunch of attention heading into this qualification event but undersell them at your peril. This is a good team. They won the Euro B-division last November to earn promotion to A-division. They are coached by a well-known Craig Savill. And they recently reached the QF round in Perth to kick off 2020. Do not be surprised to see them in playoff consideration by the end of the week. Czech Republic have not competed at the world championship since 2015. Is this the year they make their return?

England (Team Reed): How can they rebound from #ECC2019? Team Reed championed England's Euro A-division debut in Sweden but failed to keep the magic going, collecting only one victory (the broom issue vs. Norway). The result left them relegated to B-division next year but, because they were in A-division, they did earn a spot in this competition. Probably not a threat to make the playoff bracket but then again who thought they would reach the Euro A-division last year either?

Finland (Team Pollanen): The home team could be a dark horse contender here. Team Pollanen won a tour title earlier in the season in Tallinn, EST, reached the SF at a tour event in Latvia and finnished (get it!?) with a silver medal at the #ECC2019 B-division. The result earned the nation promotion back to A-division after slipping to B-division this year. Watch out for the Flyin' Finns on home ice.

Japan (Team Matsumura): No this is not a mistake folks. Yes Japan is competing here even after winning a silver medal at #PACC2019. When South Korea finished last at the world championships in 2019, they cost the PACC region an auto-berth for 2020. As a result, only the #PACC2019 champion (oddly enough South Korea) earned a direct spot for 2020. Now Japan, led by Team Matsumura, will need to take the long route to Scotland. On paper Matsumura is the clear favourite to finish first here. They currently sit #9 on the #PowerRankings. They own a season-leading 4 #wct titles, including as recent as the title win in Karuizawa. And they represented Japan at last year's world championship, where they lost the bronze medal game to Switzerland. Weird to see them here though considering the nation who cost them a spot is already planning their Scotland travel. Failing to qualify out of this event would perhaps be considered the biggest upset of the year.

Mexico (Team Tompkins): Speaking of upsets, hello Mexico! Not much is known about Diego Tompkins and his team outside of them making their WQE debut. Mexico qualified for this event after finishing second at the America's Challenger in November. The nation, led by a different team, finished 2-2 with victories over Brazil and losses to USA. It would be a huge surprise to see them chase down a playoff spot here but this is a great #growthesport story. Who knows, maybe they can surprise a few teams and pick up a win?

Poland (Team Jasiecki): A bronze medal win in the #ECC2019 B-division earned Poland a spot in this event, coupled with the silver win by Finland who already booked a spot as hosts. But just because this was the final team to qualify does not mean they should be underestimated. We may have only seen them twice on tour this season but they did reach a final (Prague) and a QF (Latvia). Plus they competed in the Euro A-division in 2018 so they have some experience against some of the best teams in the world. They should pick up a few wins here and be in the playoff discussion heading into the final few draws. Poland has never qualified for the world championship.

Russia (Team Glukhov): Japan being here is one surprise, Russia being here in another. The Russians have qualified for the world championship for 7 straight years, making their debut back in 2013. Unlike their female counterparts however, it has not been considered a success. Their best finish is 9th place, earned twice (2018, 2019). However those are the past two years so Russian curling was trending upwards heading into this season. And then the wheels came off in Sweden when Russia finished 9th, was relegated to B-division for next year and forced to qualify out of this event. Do not underestimate Glukhov though. The team currently sits #21 on the Power Rankings, reached a wct final in Airdrie and the QF in Basel. Failing to qualify for the world championships would be a disastrous blow to Russian curling, especially with Olympic qualification points on the line. Pressure will be on this team.


Projected Final Standings:  1. Japan  2. Russia  3. Czech Republic  4. China  5. Finland  6. Poland  7. England  8 .Mexico

Playoff Qualifiers: Japan, Russia, Czech Republic

#WQE World Championship Qualifiers:  Japan (Team Matsumura), Czech Republic (Team Klima)


WOMEN

Australia (Team Wagner): Lauren Wagner received the ultimate Christmas gift this past year. After a disappointing 6th place finish at #PACC2019, many would have thought their season to be over. However when 4th place finisher Hong Kong and 5th place finisher Chinese Taipei turned down their invite to compete here as the second PACC rep, Australia was handed the spot and Team Wagner's season continues. They will be a long shot to reach the playoffs for sure but great opportunity to gain more experience against some strong European teams.

Estonia (Team Turmann): The past two seasons have been huge breakout seasons for Estonia and Marie Turmann. After 3 previous Euro appearances, Turmann finally guided Estonia to the Euro A-division after winning silver on home ice in the 2018 B-division. Last November she also led Estonia to an 8th place finish, good enough to remain in the A-division for 2020 and earning them a spot in this field. Can Turmann continue making #HERstory for Estonia curling by earning the tiny Baltic nation their first world championship appearance? She competed at this event last year, missing the playoffs with a 3-4 record. Experience matters though and Turmann has been gaining it over the past few seasons. Could this be her year? Lets also remember Turmann is only 24 years old. They could be waving the #TeamUpset flag come playoff time.

Finland (Team Virtaala): What to expect out of the hosts? Honestly, unsure right now. Finland was one of the nations who successfully navigated this event last year but that team was skipped by long-time face of Finnish women's curling, Oona Kauste. Now Elina Virtaala is skipping the nation team and tasked with replicating the finnish of a season ago. Virtaala competed at the Euro B-division, finishing outside the playoffs with a 4-5 record. We have not seen this team compete on the #wct either so there is a question on preparation against strong teams. But home ice advantage could help them out.

Italy (Team Zappone): The Euro B-division champs of 2019 will be looking to keep the momentum trending upwards in Finland. After being relegated at the 2018 Euro's, Italy only stayed down for one year and quickly earned their spot back among the Euro elite for 2020. Now they need to reclaim their spot at the world championship. Italy's last world championship appearance was a last place finish in 2018. The last place finish at Euro 2018 not only relegated the team to B-division this past year but, due to the qualification process, also eliminated from contention at last year's World Qualification Event. This team, and nation, has a lot to prove this season. They accomplished the first step, earning A-division promotion and spot in this field, now time to accomplish the next step. Consider them a strong playoff contender.

South Korea (Team Gim): Speaking of favourites, Korea's Team Gim have to be considered the favourite to earn the first ticket out of Finland and straight to Canada for the world championship. When Gim lost the #PACC2019 SF to China, it was a huge disappointment for South Korean curling as the nation is trending upwards on the international scene. Just last year the nation collected their first-ever podium finish at the world championship, winning a bronze. Team Gim is responsible for not earning the nation a direct berth to Canada; however, they also get the opportunity for redemption here. Currently ranked #22 on the Power Rankings, this is a solid team. They finished 2019 with a tour title at the Jim Sullivan event, which followed up a final appearance at the Boundary Ford and a QF finish at Mesabi. Not to mention they have a tour title from earlier in the season at the KW Classic. Some may be surprised to see them competing here considering Team Min-ji Kim is higher ranked (#14 Power Rankings) but remember Kim is competing at the Canadian Open this week due to her Tour Challenge Tier II victory. Regardless, Gim is a strong contender and should find success this week in Finland.

Mexico (Team Osorno): Similar to the men, Mexico's women will be making their debut at this event after a successful America's Challenge result. Team Osorno led Mexico to a 2-2 record in Eveleth, MN after defeating Brazil twice but falling to USA twice. It was a monumental victory to knock off Brazil as the South American nation was making great strides in the sport, including a 3-4 record at this event last year. Can the Central America nation replicate the feat? Little is known about this team, which could play to their advantage. Probably not a playoff threat here but another great #growthesport story, especially for a growing America's region.

Norway (Team Rorvik): Marianne Rorvik may not be a familiar name with some curling fans but she should be. DYK she has competed at 4 world championships, winning silver (2004) and bronze (2005)? She also competed at the 2006 Winter Olympics, finishing 4th. Back then she played second for legendary Norwegian skip Dordi Nordby. Since Norby's retirement from the sport in 2008, she has moved to skip. Rorvik is now the skip of the national team and will look to guide Norway back into the world championship field for the first time since 2015. The team qualified for this event via their 9th place finish in the Euro A-division. The result however did relegate them to the B-division for next year. Plus the team joining Rorvik in Finland will be a bit different than the team she skipped in Sweden, as Kristin Skaslien will not be with the team. The experience factor is there and this team should contend early on but a playoff spot might just be out of reach against this field.

Turkey (Team Yildiz): Estonia is my top #TeamUpset contender but if they falter, Turkey's Team Yildiz could be ready to make #HERstory themselves. Turkey has never qualified for the world championships but what a story it would be if they can do it now...and start earning their first-ever Olympic qualification points. It has been a banner season for Yildiz. After winning Euro B-division bronze in 2018, Yildiz went a step further in 2019 winning a silver medal and earning Turkey promotion back into the Euro A-division for 2020. Yildiz also skipped Turkey in A-division in 2017, finishing 2-7. Why not keep the momentum going here in Finland? Lohja also may hold a special place in the skipper's heart after she won a world junior B-division bronze here in 2018. Remember Yildiz is only 23 years old and has already represented Turkey at 8 European Championships and 4 World Mixed Doubles Championships. She is the face of Turkish female curling and earning her country a ticket to their first world championship would be a contender for top curling story of the year.


Projected Final Standings:  1. South Korea  2. Italy  3. Estonia  4. Turkey  5. Norway  6. Finland  7. Australia  8. Mexico

Playoff Qualifiers: South Korea, Italy, Estonia

#WQE World Championship Qualifiers: South Korea (Team Gim), Italy (Team Zappone)


You can keep up to date on all the action in Lohja at the World Curling Federation event page HERE.

What say you rock heads? Who do you think will punch those final world championship tickets? Could we see a few surprises this week?

#StayTuned


The blog will return mid-week for the #CanadianOpen preview. And, later in the week, a special preview for the Canadian Junior Curling Championships, which hit the ice this upcoming weekend.

Get ready folks, LOTS of curling hitting the ice in the upcoming weeks. Cold weather outside just gives you a reason to stay inside and watch all the action on TV and/or online.

Don't forget the Newfoundland and Labrador Scotties are currently underway in St. John, NL. Six teams are currently competing for the right to represent The Rock in Moose Jaw. 2019 champ Kelli Sharpe is back to #DefendTheIce but will be in tough against past champ Heather Strong, former junior champ Mackenzie Glynn and 3 other teams. The format is a RR with Top 3 advancing to the playoffs. You can follow all the results HERE.

Stay warm friends....seriously!

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