We have navigated the playdown pre-party. We celebrated the playdown party. Are we ready to survive the playdown after party?
The Scotties playdown party has come to a close for another season. The 2020 Scotties field has been *almost* finalized. The final slot on the bingo card is reserved for our Team Wildcard winner. But more on that party in a moment.
The Brier playdown party is still going strong however. This is where we enter after party territory. The field is closing in on being complete but we still have two provincial championships to get excited for this week.
Are you ready to keep this party going until the sun comes up?
But first lets talk about #FantasyCurling. Are you participating in Fantasy Curling on Curlingzone? Want to get involved? Want to also give back to others?
For #STOH2020 the #TwineTime blog is running a SPECIAL 50/50 Fantasy Curling contest. I am hosting a fundraising campaign for Kids Up Front (KUF) Calgary as part of my participating in their upcoming Stranded:All Stars competition this summer. KUF vision is "A world in which ALL kids have access to enriching experiences". This is done through the non-profit organization distributing tickets to sports, recreation, arts & culture and educational experiences to kids and families throughout Southern Alberta. Last year alone KUF distributed over 34,000 tickets. In the past KUF has provided tickets to Grand Slam of Curling's Champions Cup and the World Curling Tour's Curlers Corner Autumn Gold Charity Classic.
Details are simple. Simply head to the Fantasy Curling page on Curlingzone, register a team name and select your teams. When you enter your team name add the letters KUF to the end. This way everyone entered in the special side bet will know who is playing. Then connect with me directly (via social media or the comment section below) to pay your $20 entrance fee. 50% of the proceeds will go directly to Kids Up Front Calgary. The remaining 50% will be distributed among the winners (1st, 2nd, 3rd). Sounds fun, yes?
And be sure to share this exciting Fantasy Curling opportunity with your friends, family, teammates and curling club. Lets try to generate as much of a donation as possible for Kids Up Front while adding some extra excitement to the upcoming Scotties Tournament of Hearts. On behalf of KUF, I personally thank you all for your participation and support.
But before we can put our STOH Fantasy Curling team together, we must first know who will be stepping on the ice in Moose Jaw. Lets get caught up on what went down at the Playdown Party this weekend.
British Columbia - Team Corryn Brown: The #NextGen has arrived! Only 3 years out of representing B.C. at the Canadian Junior Curling Championships, Corryn Brown has guided her team to Scotties ice. She didn't make it easy though. Brown finished the RR with a 5-2 record, good enough for 2nd place. She lost the 1vs2 game vs. defending champ Team Wark and knocked off fellow #NextGen competitor Team Daniels in the SF. The final was a back-and-forth affair. Brown with the early 5-3 lead. Wark scores 3 in 8 and single #StealPants in 9 for the 7-5 lead heading to 10. Brown scores her 2 in 10 to send the championship final to an extra end where she would wear the #StealPants and dethrone the defending champ. You have to feel for the families of both teams in that final. Imagine monitoring those heart rates. A classic final resulting in a Scotties debut appearance for Team Brown.
Manitoba - Team Kerri Einarson: Speaking of classic rollercoaster finals, anyone catch that Manitoba final on Sunday? If you elected to watch the OTHER big game, you missed one heck of a final in Rivers. Similar to Team Brown above, Team Einarson wore the #StealPants when it mattered most. Einarson made a CLUTCH draw to the button with her final stone in 10, navigating a tricky port and tossing the same shot after coming up heavy on her first. In a tie game of a championship final and having last rock, odds were certainly in the favour of Jennifer Jones but her final stone picked (DRRAAMMAA!!) and Einarson picked up her second buffalo. How else could that final end after Einarson stole 3 in 5 and Jones stole 2 in 7. Why not have a steal point be the decider? Einarson lost her first game of the event (vs. Team Ackland) and never lost again reeling off 6 straight wins to capture the title. For Jones, all hope is not lost of course. But more on that below.
Northern Ontario - Team Krista McCarville: The GOAT of Northern Ontario stands tall once again. Krista McCarville will be making her 8th Scotties appearance this year after winning another Northern Ontario title. Team McCarville was able to #DefendTheIce going a perfect 6-0 in the RR before knocking off Team Burns in the championship final. Always a dangerous Scotties threat...#FearTheMoose in Moose Jaw!
Ontario - Team Rachel Homan: Speaking of making a return, Team Homan will be back on Scotties ice for the 7th time after collecting Ontario title number 5 this weekend. Homan was pure perfection in Cornwall, going 8-0 in the RR and knocking off former champ Team Duncan in the championship final. Scoring a big 3 spot in 8 proved to be the difference maker in a close final with the game tied after 7. Her competition in Moose Jaw should be very scared. Homan looks to be coming to this event with revenge and redemption on her mind after the shocking final loss last year.
Canada - Team Chelsea Carey
Newfoundland and Labrador - Team Erica Curtis
PEI - Team Suzanne Birt
Northwest Territories - Team Kerry Galusha
Nunavut - Team Lori Eddy
Yukon - Team Hailey Birnie
Alberta - Team Walker
New Brunswick - Team Crawford
Nova Scotia - Team Arsenault
Quebec - Team Verreault
Saskatchewan - Team Silvernagle
With the field 99% finalized, the preliminary pools in Moose Jaw have been determined. Here is the breakdown:
Pool A - Canada, Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Northern Ontario, Nunavut, Quebec, Saskatchewan
Pool B - B.C., Newfoundland and Labrador, NWT, Nova Scotia, Ontario, PEI, Yukon, Wildcard
The initial reaction from most curling fans is Pool A is STACKED. Early advantage perhaps for some of those big name contenders in Pool B (we see you Homan) and whomever emerges as the Wildcard winner.
But long-term advantage may be with those from Pool A who survive and advance to the Championship Pool.
Or maybe we will see a total surprise emerge from either pool.
As the blog says, #StayTuned for the 2020 Scotties Tournament of Hearts preview!
British Columbia - Team Jim Cotter: What makes a great champion? The ability to win and win again and win some more. Hello Jim Cotter! Lots of talk this season about #NextGen Tyler Tardi being the up and coming B.C. champ (from this blog included) but Cotter shut that conversation down quickly this weekend and showed why he is a B.C. curling legend. Cotter was perfect this weekend, advancing to the playoffs as the A-qualifier and winning the 1vs2 PPG and championship final to reach his 9th Brier. He did match up against Tardi in the final and it was a battle. Tardi actually led 6-4 after 6 but then it was all Cotter. The team scored 2 in 7 to tie and then put on the #StealPants, #StealSocks, #StealBoxers, #StealWardrobe for the rest of the game. 1 in 8, 1 in 9 and 2 in 10 resulted in a 10-6 victory for the defending champs. Worth mentioning vice Steve Laycock also won his 9th provincial championship and second straight B.C. title (his other 7 titles represented Saskatchewan).
New Brunswick - Team James Grattan: Speaking of provincial GOAT curlers, what about James Grattan? Grattan picked up his 13 provincial title this weekend when his team went 7-1 overall en route to a championship final victory over Team Roach. The final was a revenge win of sorts for Grattan who suffered their only loss of the event in Draw 3 to Roach. And remember the theme of #StealPants for titles? Add Grattan to the list this season. Roach jumped out to an early 5-3 lead after 6 and 6-4 after 8. Grattan scored 2 in 9 to tie the game and then rallied for a huge steal of 2 in 10 to collect another championship banner. What a comeback from Jimmy The Kid!
Newfoundland and Labrador - Team Brad Gushue: Oh you are talking about GOATs? Not so fast says Mr. Brad Gushue. Where am I in that conversation? Perhaps Gushue is the ultimate provincial GOAT?! Gushue won his 15th NL title over the weekend and will make his 16th Brier appearance this year. Wowzers! Team Gushue finished the provincial championship with a perfect 9-0 record but the final was not as easy as many expected. Gushue knocked off Team Skanes 3-1 in a final that saw 6 blank ends, no team scoring more than a single and the difference maker being one #StealPants end for Gushue in 4. Credit to Skanes for keeping the game close and giving the GOAT a scare. Worth noting Gushue only conceded one deuce the entire event and it came in their final RR game vs Team Noseworthy. You think this team wants their Canada title back?
Northern Ontario - Team Brad Jacobs: Oh you said Brad was the GOAT? Don't you mean Brad as in Brad Jacobs? Hmmm, maybe we should Mr. Jacobs?! Jacobs picked up his 11th Northern Ontario championship this weekend and will be making his 12th brier appearance in Kingston. Not to mention the victory also adds to the historic championship run for Jacobs, now with the #6peat. Jacobs dominated the competition this year, similar to how he has dominated the Grand Slam of Curling. The team went 8-0 on the weekend, with a 7-0 RR record and knocking off Team Badiuk in the championship final. Jacobs was never tested throughout the event, giving up no more than 4 points in a game which happened in the opening two draws. Of course Jacobs won both of those games 10-4. Maybe this is the Brad team people just put their money on for the Brier?
Northwest Territories - Team Jamie Koe: Provincial GOAT? How about a Territorial GOAT? Jamie Koe certainly made his claim for GOAT status as well this weekend when he collected his 14th NWT title and his 12th straight. 12 straight championships! Very impressive!! Koe was also perfect over the weekend with a 4-0 RR record and winning the championship final over Team Hudy 11-5. The #PolarPower is strong in the Koe household. Can Koe power his team back into a playoff contender at the Brier though? He did lead the NWT into the playoffs back in 2012, when he finished with a 7-4 record and 4th overall.
Ontario - Team John Epping: All this talk about GOAT, what about the guy who knocked off a GOAT? John Epping defeated 17-time Ontario champion Glenn Howard in the Ontario Tankard final on Sunday to claim his second provincial title. Epping, the Canada Cup champion earlier this season, was the class of the field all week. The team went undefeated in the RR, posting an 8-0 record. The 1st place finish allowed a direct spot into the championship final where they would once again defeat Team Howard for the title in a rematch of the 2018 final. For Epping this was redemption after losing the Ontario final last season to Team McDonald and losing the Wildcard play-in game at the Brier to Team Bottcher. Epping will be a playoff threat on home ice in Kingston.
Saskatchewan - Team Matt Dunstone: The newest #GSOC Sasky champ vs. The Midas Touch. A budding rivalry in Saskatchewan added yet another chapter on Sunday when Team Dunstone defeated Team Muyres for the Saskatchewan Tankard title. These teams took very different paths to the final however. Muyres defeated Dunstone in the A-qualifier to be the top playoff team. Dunstone would then lose the B-qualifier to Team Hartung before winning a C-qualifier vs. Team Meachem to reach the playoff bracket. What does the blog always say though? Be weary of those #CSideGrind qualifiers come playoff time! Dunstone would knock off Team Jacobson in the 3vs4 PPG, before scoring revenge on Team Hartung in the SF and ultimate revenge on Team Muyres in the final. This was also a rematch of last year's final, won by Muyres. And remember Muyres and Dunstone once played together and represented Saskatchewan at a Brier (2018, Regina). Dunstone will make his 2bd Brier appearance, as will front end combo Catlin Schneider and Dustin Kidby (2017). For vice Braeden Moskowy, this will be his 4th appearance but only his second reppin' his home province. His other two appearances came as Team Manitoba (with Team Carruthers). ICYMI listen HERE to the blog interview with two-time Sasky champ (and #TwineTimeFam member) Catlin Schneider as we discuss the #SaskTelTankard title, the rollercoaster season, the team trying to end the Sask Brier curse and so much more.
Canada - Team Kevin Koe
PEI - Team Bryan Cochrane
Nunavut - Team Jake Higgs
Nova Scotia - Team Murphy
Quebec - Team Bedard
Yukon - Team Scoffin
Congratulations to all the teams who have been crowned provincial/territorial champions. The fields in Moose Jaw and Kingston are looking strong, buoyed by some VERY experienced teams. Both Canadian championship events are going to be a fight to the finish.
And we don't even know the full field yet. We still have the wildcard play-in game for the Scotties, although at least we know who will be competing now. Plus we have a few more men's provincial championships to observe.
The party rages on into the wee morning hours now folks. But do not give up. DJ play my song....
2019 Representative: Team Casey Scheidegger
Format: Top two teams who did not win their provincial/territorial championship based on CTRS advance to wild card play-in game held Friday February 14 before the start of the event
The Match Up: Team Fleury (#1 CTRS) vs. Team J. Jones (#3 CTRS)
We know our participating teams. Kerri Einarson's clutch draw in the 10th coupled with Jennifer Jones' final stone picking sent Team Jones to the wildcard game against provincial rival Team Fleury.
This is going to be a fun game to watch. Both teams are having great seasons and both are considered Scotties contenders...but only one will get there. The wildcard factor in the wildcard game could come down to experience. And not the experience you may think.
For Tracy Fleury, she has been in this type of similar situation before. Remember the 2015 Scotties? Remember the big "R-word" of "Relegation"? Well back in 2015 Fleury represented Northern Ontario and had to survive the relegation qualifier just to make the Scotties field. She played with her back against the wall in the mini-tournament and won the qualifier game (vs. NWT Team Galusha) to reach the field. She can draw on that experience for this game. Those feelings and emotions could actually help her. Worth noting, where was that 2015 Scotties held? Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan of course. Almost eerie isn't it?!
Lets not forget the other members of Team Fleury have also been here before. Remember the 2018 Scotties? The introduction of Team Wildcard into the field. Who played in that very first play-in game? Team Einarson, consisting of the now Team Fleury. They won the play-in game (vs. Team Carey) to reach the Scotties field. They can also draw on that experience.
Of course nobody can discredit the resume and big game experience of Jennifer Jones and company. A 6-time Scotties, 2-time World and Olympic champion can never be counted out. Jones rises to the challenge of the big games and seems to play her best with her back against the wall. This will be a new experience for her and the team though. A win and in, lose and go home one-game, winner takes all can rattle the nerves of even the best of champions.
The real winner here? The fans in Moose Jaw who get to see Team Fleury vs. Team Jones for FREE!!
Team Wildcard Play-In Game: Team J. Jones def. Team Fleury
2019 Champion: Team Kevin Koe
Format: 12 team RR with 2 pools of 6. Top 2 in each pool advance to Page Playoff bracket.
With main rival Team Koe earning the auto berth as Team Canada, the path is wide open for Team Bottcher to reclaim the provincial title before seeking Brier redemption. Bottcher was upset in the provincial SF last year before winning the wildcard play-in game and advancing to the Brier final. Bottcher is a two-time champion here, winning the Alberta title in 2017 and 2018. Can the team make it 3 wins in 4 seasons? They team has had a solid season under the sliders, winning a tour title in Penticton and the SF at the Canada Cup. They also have solid slam results, qualifying in 3 of 4. However the one slam they didn't qualify in, The Canadian Open, also happens to be their last event played. Perhaps not the best result for building momentum but this is still the strongest team in the field and should be considered the overwhelming favourite.
If you have followed the blog this season the #TeamUpset pick should not be a huge surprise. I think Team Harty could surprise a few people this week and make a playoff push. Last year at this exact event the team had a bit of a breakout performance, reaching the B and C qualifier games. Sure they came up short in both games, failing to reach the playoffs in the former triple knockout format, but they gained some great experience and was a slide in the right direction improving on the 2-3 finish the year prior. Also remember last year they knocked off Team Koe in the A QF game. Some could argue Team Harty should be considered a favourite or contender, not just a Team Upset flag bearer. And the results speak for themselves. They have won 4 titles this season. They also have a runner-up and SF finish as well. 6 Final Four or better results from 8 events played equates to one heck of a strong season. And 7 of those 8 events were Alberta events meaning they are familiar with their competition and have beaten them before. The draw gods were also on their side as they avoided Bottcher and Team Appleman, last years finalist. They have a balanced pool where they could emerge as the top finisher.
Lets see how the new format works for these teams. Could it be an advantage to some? A disadvantage to others? Only the top two in each pool will advance to the playoff bracket. If you are sitting in Pool A, you may feel like you were handed a disadvantage being drawn against Bottcher/Appelman.
Pool B on the other hand is wide open. We already mentioned Harty above being a dark horse contender. But there are many dark horse contenders in this pool. Watch out for Team Sluchinski. Sluchinski has Boston Pizza Cup experience and has reached the playoffs before under the old format. Also take note of who is with his at vice, #TwineTimeFam member J.D. Lind! Lind is back competing on the ice rather than just coaching from the sidelines. Lind adds a ton of experience to this team. The question will be if he has any ice rust on that slider. Team Sturmay is also a trendy pick to emerge from this pool. Sturmay has been here before, reaching the playoffs last year and looks to be a good bet for another deep run. Also keep your eye on Team Vavrek. Vavrek is a past playoff performer and has also had a solid season, consistently qualifying in events. Plus Vavrek talked #TwineTimeFam member and former teammate Brad Chyz into joining the team as the 5th man. Chyz's sister already found success on AB provincial ice, winning the AB title as lead for Team Walker a few weeks ago. Can Nadine give some luck to her bro?
Qualifiers: Team Bottcher, Team Harty, Team Appelman, Team Sluchinski
Alberta Championship: Team Bottcher def. Team Harty
2019 Champion: Team Mike McEwen
Format: 32 team double knockout with 8 teams advancing the playoff round. The playoff round is an 8 team double knockout with 4 teams advancing to the championship round. The championship round is a page playoff format.
The Buffalo roams in the homes of Mike McEwen and Reid Carruthers. Over the past five years, these two top skips have won the Manitoba championship culminating in them joining forces last year to win as a unit. McEwen has won 3 Manitoba titles. Carruthers has won 6, dating back to his days playing with Jeff Stoughton. Those titles result in one (or both in the case of last year) of these two hoisting the Manitoba Tankard 8 of the past 9 years. Not a dynasty given the different teams but certainly a monopoly on the title. The team had a rough start to the season, qualifying in only 1 of their first 3 events. But then they left Canada and won an event in South Korea and things started to click. Since they have reached 3 tour finals, although have come up short all 3 times. They have also reached a GSOC SF (Canadian Open) and 2 QF (Tour Challenge, The National). They are the kings of Manitoba until someone finally knocks them off the throne.
Could #NextGen pull the double? Jacques Gauthier is fresh off a Canadian junior title a few weeks ago. His team is competing in this field looking to win a Manitoba title. Oddly enough it would his first Manitoba title of the season seeing as the team actually lost the Manitoba junior final but received an invite to the Canadian junior championships due to Yukon not fielding a team. You almost think there is extra motivation for this young team to actually win a Manitoba Buffalo jacket now. This team played lights out winning the Canadian junior title. If they can draw on that experience and keep that level of play they could surprise a few of the bigger names in the field. They find themselves in the Team Lyburn/Team Calvert pod. Lyburn was a finalist here last year. Calvert is a contender but has underperformed at this event in the past. Do not sleep on young Gauthier.
There are a handful of strong teams who could be ready to make the leap and take down the kings this year. Braden Calvert. Jason Gunnlaugson. Tanner Horgan. JT Ryan. For Calvert, Horgan and Ryan, this is the trifecta of future Manitoba men's champions. All have Canadian junior experience. All have found success on the men's tour. All are becoming threats to take down McCarruthers.
Gunner has been a player many have been waiting to see on the big Brier ice. He has the talent to be there. Two years ago he was a trendy pick at this event only to be eliminated after only 3 games. Last year, with a different team, he reached the SF before falling to Team Lyburn. This year, again with a slightly altered squad, can he go one round better?
Don't forget, some of these top contending teams may still be in the Team Wildcard conversation as well. McEwen knows, should they lose this weekend, they still punch a ticket into the play-in game. Gunnlaugson has a shot. Horgan, should they reach at least the SF, also is in consideration.
And, in fine #TwineTime tradition, keep your eyes on this bloated format. A double double knockout into a page playoff where teams can reach the playoff pool by continuously knocking off only the other teams placed in their pod. You have 4 pods and each pod will advance 2 teams. Why? Why not mix it up a bit like a true knockout format? In a way the preliminary double knockout feels like a mini-RR with the top two teams advancing.
From a #growthesport perspective, I get wanting to have more teams competing on the provincial championship ice. But does it really grow the sport when 8 teams are gone within 24 hours of the event starting and another 8 follow suite a few hours later? Half the teams are gone by the end of Day 2. Gotta feel for those teams who take time off work or from their personal lives to compete and only play Wednesday? 4 teams will be eliminated on Day 1.
Qualifiers: Team McEwen, Team Gunnlaugson, Team Horgan, Team Calvert
Manitoba Championship: Team Gunnlaugson def. Team McEwen
Format: Top two teams who did not win their provincial/territorial championship based on CTRS advance to wild card play-in game held Friday February 14 before the start of the event
Teams In Contention: Team Bottcher, Team McEwen, Team Gunnlaugson, Team Howard, Team Horgan
The Alberta and Manitoba championships will tell all. If Bottcher win, odds are we get two Manitoba teams in the play-in game. If McEwen or Gunnlaugson wins, the other will advance and could possibly draw a provincial rival. If you are Team Howard, you are paying VERY close attention to the results and cheering hard for Bottcher/McEwen/Gunnlaugson. As well as cheering against Horgan. Should Horgan fail to reach the championship pool in Winnipeg, Howard's odds increase tremendously for the final spot in this game.
Team Wildcard Play-In Game: Team Howard def. Team McEwen
There you have it rock heads. Our playdown party is officially closed down for another year. No major party fouls. No drinks spilled. No food on the white carpet. I would call this a successful party once again. Oh curling fans, so polite even in a party environment. You are all welcome over anytime. Same time, same place next year?
Of course the playdown party may be over but there is A LOT of curling still to come. There are a few major national championships coming up as well: Japan, Scotland, Switzerland, USA. Keep your eyes on all four championships as the winners will represent their nation at the upcoming world championships. And, for USA, the winners also secure a berth in the year-end Champions Cup in Olds, AB.
The blog will return next week with a special 2020 Scotties Tournament of Hearts preview.
Good luck and good curling!