Wednesday, 24 February 2016

#BetweenTheSheets: It's Red Marker Time
Handing out mid-term reports on #STOH2016

The 2016 Scotties Tournament of Hearts will reach the pivotal point of the week-long event on Wednesday: Moving Day!  No, none of the teams are moving to Grande Prairie, Alberta (that I know of anyway) and I don't believe any of the teams have talked about the upcoming free agency, similar to the other Canadian sport played on ice, in the off-season.  Moving Day represents those important middle of the week games where a 2-0 day could jump you up the standings but an 0-2 day could end your Scotties dreams.

This year's Scotties was dubbed "Expect The Unexpected" based on the results during the provincial/territorial playdowns...and it has lived up to the mantra.  We had home town delight early on, struggles from the overwhelming favorites, surprise results and, overall, outstanding curling.  For those fans who were worried this year's Scotties would be a dud....boy have you missed out on the fun!

As the tournament enters the dramatic final few draws and playoffs, let's see where we stand.  What (or who) has been the stellar standout so far this week?  Who is coasting along?  And what has been the biggest disappointment?  It's time to grab big red (Sharpie marker I mean....don't get dirty on me now folks) and make some tough calls.  Remember, the teacher can't love everyone and results speak for themselves!


Prairie Pride - The three prairie provinces have come to play this week and are looking to keep the title out west.  Alberta, playing as home favorites, dominated play at the beginning of the week using big hits, clutch draws and smart strategy to get the best of their opponents.  The opening win over Canada put them in the driver's seat early but the win over Northern Ontario Monday evening made a statement that Chelsea Carey is ready to win her first Scotties.  They have hit a bit of a snag the past few days with some losses but still look to be one of the strongest teams on the ice each draw.  But hold the celebration, Saskatchewan and Manitoba are also representing #PrairiePride quite well.  Kerri Einarson's Manitoba rink was expected to make some noise this week.  They started well but could not find consistency, winning then losing.  In a round robin like the Scotties, putting together back-to-back-to-back strong games and wins is the difference between going home and playing for a title.  Well enter #MovingDay and Einarson knocks off former Buffalo rival Carey and has a two-game winning streak.  Speaking on streaking (again, not what you are you watch curling in the privacy of your own home is your business), Saskatchewan has the same issue.  Skip Jolene Campbell has been curling lights out in some games, with big runbacks and double takeouts but then in other games looks a bit out of sorts.  However, for all three skips, when you look at the percentages they are all in the Top 5, with Carey leading the pack.  The Prairie Pride is strong in Grande Prairie and we could end up seeing all 3 in the playoffs by the weekend.


Eh-History - A historical moment cannot go unnoticed in this blog.  Sure it was mentioned in the preview blog post but it is worth repeating.  Congratulations once again to Team Nunavut!!  Not only did the newest territory send their first ever team to the Scotties, they win their first ever game in their first ever draw.  That's a lot of firsts!  Sure the curling percentages were low.  Sure the game was a struggle.  Sure, perhaps the story was more on B.C. failing to execute more than Nunavut precision curling....but it really doesn't matter how it happened does it?  It happened!  Nunavut would go on to lose their next two games to their Territorial counterparts and would be denied a shot at competing on the grand stage in front of cheering fans and media but this is a step in the right direction.  Nunavut will hopefully be back next year, whether it is this team again or not remains to be seen.  But for right now, February 2016, all curling fans can join together and celebrate the historic win for the Nunavut Territory.  Congratulations Geneva Chislett, Denise Hutchings, Robyn Mackey, Jenine Bodner and alternate Sadie Pinksen (also making more history being the youngest ever Scotties competitor at 16 years old). #growthesport


Welcome Back - Ah the Welcome Back club!  Northern Ontario's Krista McCarville and Quebec's Marie-France Larouche have both taken leaves from competitive curling over the past few years but curling fans have welcomed and embraced these former Scotties stars back onto the ice this week.  As predicted in the #TwineTime Scotties Preview, McCarville really has been the story of the event so far.  Her team has been full on #stealpants so far.  Through 11 draws, Northern Ontario has stolen points in 11 ends, averaging just over one steal per game.  Need a comparison stat, defending champs Team Canada has a Scotties low 2 ends stolen.  Not impressed yet?  Ok, how about the fact those 11 ends have resulted in 16 points (including the amazing win over Nova Scotia where they stole 2 in 10 to tie and 2 in 11 to win).  Impressed now?  Yeah, I thought so!  #MooseHunting season has begun as teams are desperately fighting to stave off this offensive team.  And what about La belle province?  Larouche also finds herself in the playoff hunt (again predicted by #TwineTime).  The story on Larouche in the past was too many messy ends would cost her games.  This year she is trying to play a more wide-open style and not get bogged down in too many ends where she is facing lots of rocks in play and needing circus shots to score some points.  For the most part the strategy is working.  There are still a few games she may have let slip away but more on final execution than strategy.  If Larouche can come out in her remaining games with the strategy that has worked this week and the execution that has worked in the past, don't underestimate a playoff run over the next few days.  Unfortunately, the welcome back parade isn't all praise though.  Ontario's Jenn Hanna has struggled this week in her return to the Scotties.  Was their too much pressure and press and attention on this team after upsetting Rachel Homan in the Ontario final?  Was it too much of a distraction?  Who can really say I suppose.  Regardless, the Hanna team that looked so precise and on fire during the Ontario Scotties has yet to really show their potential in Grande Prairie.  They did hand Alberta their only loss so far this week Tuesday night though so perhaps the tides are changing for them?  The team is not out of the playoff picture by any means but cannot afford slip-up losses to teams like Newfoundland and New Brunswick in their next few games knowing they end with the daunting, media-hyped rematch with Jones and then the all-Ontario battle with McCarville.


C is for Concern?  Consistency?  Canada? - Oh Team Canada, what do we make of you,eh?  Jennifer Jones and company came to Grande Prairie as HUGE favorites to run through this field and claim another Scotties title...the record-tying sixth for skip Jones and second Jill Officer.  But those thoughts were erased very the opening draw by main challenger to the throne Chelsea Carey.  Giving up a steal of 4 and allowing a 5 ender in a game does not build confidence coming out of the hack for a long event as the defending champs.  The real question mark for the team so far was the loss to Northern Ontario on Sunday evening.  Canada seemed to be in control from the beginning of the game.  The old strategy of force 1, score 2 worked in Jones favour early on and she seemed ready for big win.  However, after being up 6-4 entering end 7, the wheels fell off a bit.  Now all credit to Northern Ontario who cranked up their game play to get the win but this is a game where, in the past, I don't think Jones would have lost.  We knew Canada would not run the table this week and, as is usually the case, would find 1 or 2 losses early on but it was more in the way they lost.  They looked out of sorts opening weekend.  C started to mean Concern and not Canada!  But, as champions always do, watch out now field.  Jones is rolling!  She looks confident and, living up to her reputation, when her back is against the wall staring at a 1-2 record on Monday she is in a take no prisoner mode.  They have reeled off 4 straight wins and look to be well positioned for a playoff spot.  The interesting point will be if Alberta and Northern Ontario can fend them off.  Remember, with Jones losing to both Carey and McCarville, she doesn't have the tiebreaker advantage and could find herself in the 3rd seed position if all three continue to win.  But hey, maybe Jones just liked the extra pressure on herself to make it interesting.  When you have won everything there is to win in the sport, sometimes you need to challenge yourself in different ways.  Maybe this is her way to challenge herself mentally?  I still wouldn't want to play her anytime soon!  As a team, they lead the way curling 86% through 11 draws with the next closest team curling 83% (Ontario).


Disappointment in the Atlantic - Another Scotties and another struggle with most of the teams coming from the Atlantic provinces.  Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Newfoundland & Labrador have not been able to find the W column this week.  Combined they have 5 wins through 11 draws.  Not exactly blowing the field away...and they all sit at or near the bottom of the standings.  I will say, having watched a few of Suzanne Birt's PEI games, she is playing better than we have seen in the past from her here.  But the great shots and better percentage numbers are not equating to wins.  Her two wins have come against her two Atlantic cohorts she shares this grade with.  Yes her game with Alberta was one of the best games of the week so far...but still a loss.  And yes she followed up that tough game with a great game vs. Northern Ontario where they had a 6-3 lead after 4...but again a loss (albeit from an unfortunate burned rock allowing a steal of 4 in end 6).  The breaks aren't coming for the Islanders, which is disappointing to see because they aren't curling that bad.  New Brunswick and Sylvie Robichaud are not necessarily curling bad but rather having a few bad ends in each game and not being able to recover.  Oddly enough, New Brunswick is curling 82% as a team, tied for third overall.  They gave up pivotal steals in losses to Northern Ontario, PEI and Alberta.  They had 1 or 2 bad ends leading to multiple points in losses to Canada and Saskatchewan.  Add in the offensive struggle of only having 1 end all week where they scored more than 1 or 2 points (a 3 vs. PEI and they still lost) and you can see why they sit at the bottom of the standings.  Newfoundland also has struggled on the ice.  The lack of competitive curling, especially against a field of this caliber, has shown in some of their games.  They are a team who are also struggling on offense.  Similar to New Brunswick, they are having problems generating the multiple point ends while also giving up more multiple ends than forces or steals.  However, when they have found those 2 or 3 enders in a game, they turned them into victories (vs Quebec and BC).  The tough spot for them is they need to generate a few wins to avoid relegation.  Having lost to New Brunswick and PEI, they can't sit on the bottom with them.  Luckily the win over BC may just save them for next year.  Worth noting, it isn't all bad out East...Nova Scotia is exceeding expectations and could make a surprise run to the playoffs.  Jill Brothers missed the team's opening draw loss to Saskatchewan due to being sick but seems quite healthy now winning 4 of their last 5.  Imagine Nova Scotia playing for the title?  How is that for #ExpectTheUnexpected?


Back-to-Back...Relegation? - Oh British Columbia, what has happened to your province?  The Scotties titles of Linda Moore, Julie Skinner, Kelley Law and Kelly Scott seem to be WAY in the distant past right now.  Karla Thompson's team is struggling and will be lucky to survive the relegation bestowed onto B.C. a season ago.  I am not so sure this is that big of a surprise either.  Remember this team did make history at the pre-qualification event on Day 1, losing to Nunavut.  But yet, they did survive pre-qualification and had an extra 4 games under their belts before their 1st official round robin game for the Scotties.  The little issues on curl, handle release, weight, ect should have been fixed by now.  Overall the team is curling 75%, ranking last on the percentage list.  Thompson's team have an event worst -18 in the Points For/Points Against category.  Hard to win games when, on average, you only score 5 a game but allow 8.  They are also giving up at least 2 points per game in steals.  The offense isn't there.  The defense is lacking.  The results show.  They do have the nice win over Quebec but losses to fellow struggling team Newfoundland won't help them.  They end their Scotties with games against PEI, Northern Ontario, New Brunswick and Canada.  If they cannot win at least 1 of those games (especially against New Brunswick Thursday afternoon), back to relegation they go.  British Columbia is tied for second with the most Scotties wins (9) and has the second most podium finishes in Scotties history (27).  Wow how the mighty have fallen!

There you have it folks.  A smaller blog post this week but the main focus in the curling world is on the Scotties.  I hope all of you have been enjoying the action on the ice, whether in person, on TV or online.  As always, feel free to share your feedback with me either in the comments section below or via twitter.  The end of the week is going to be fun.  Do we see the favorites start to pull away or will we get one last "Expect the Unexpected" result come Sunday?


Saturday, 20 February 2016

#BetweenTheSheets: The 2016 Scotties Preview
Should we continue to Expect the Unexpected in Grande Prairie, AB?

Here we go #curling fans....the Scotties Tournament of Hearts has finally arrived and we are ready to crown our national champion.  For the teams who have made it this far, congratulations!  But don't get too comfortable in just winning your provincial/territorial championship, there is LOTS on the line this week.  The 2016 Scotties winner will not only receive the picture perfect ending hoisting the trophy but also receive the following:

  • Represent Canada at the 2016 Ford Women's World Curling Championship in Swift Current, SK, Canada and play in front of home country fans
  • If Team Canada finds the podium at the 2016 Ford Women's World Curling Championships, the team will also receive a berth in the Roar of the Rings Canadian Curling Trials - the event deciding who will represent Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea
  • Represent Team Canada at the 2017 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in St. Catherine's, ON
  • Participate in the 2017 Continental Cup in Las Vegas, NV as a member of Team North America
Like I said, LOTS on the line for teams the awesome photo opp at the end of the event of course!

If there has been a theme to provincial/territorial playdowns this season it easily would be "Expect the Unexpected".  We have seen numerous upsets, from the nobody saw coming (Hanna over Homan in Ontario) to the shocking (Campbell over Lawton in Saskatchewan) to the surprising (Brothers over Arsenault in Nova Scotia) to the minor (Carey over Sweeting in Alberta).  Add into the mix the Welcome Back grouping (Larouche, McCarville, Hanna) from multi-year absences on tour.  This year's field is wide open for many of the teams competing.  In fact, if you look at tour results this season, the field this week has collected only 8 tour wins.  Of the 15 teams competing, only 8 tour wins combined.  Yikes!  Even a more frightful stat, of the 8 wins, 50% of them come from 1 team...and not the team many expect (more on that below).

However, as a true believer behind #growthesport, an open #STOH2016 field can actually be a win for the sport.  While many may be disappointed to not see powerhouse tour teams in the field, do not right away assume the high-level of curling will not be displayed on the ice over the next week.  Heck, Julie Hastings thinks this could be one of the most exciting fields to watch (Interview HERE) and she could be right.  Besides do you really want to argue against a seasoned tour vet and the 2015 Ontario Scotties Champion?  Didn't think so!!

In breaking down the field for this preview, I have categorized teams into one of four headlines: The Favorites, Watch Out For, The Dark Horse and Relegation Round-Up.  Now this is not to say at the end of the week a Watch Out For team could not end up in Relegation Round-Up or vice versa or even that my final predictions (found below) will follow these categories.  This is the preview portion remember and based on a number of factors (Tour events, Scotties history etc), here is how the teams stack up ENTERING the event (according to #TwineTime anyways).

The Favorites

Team Canada (Jennifer Jones) - The defending champs must be licking their chops over the past few weeks after seeing the results pour in across the country.  Originally expecting to face off against the likes of Homan, Sweeting, Lawton, Arsenault and Strong....they now find themselves looking at a field of Hanna, Carey, Campbell, Brothers and Curtis.  Not exactly the most daunting field Jones has faced.  Jones and second Jill Officer will also be chasing history this week in trying to claim their record-tying SIXTH Scotties title (Colleen Jones leads the way).  Jones has not had a stellar season though (1 tour win in November plus the TSN Skins game title in January) and has been prone to losing games many expect her to win.  Entering as the overwhelming favorite is nice but playing teams with literally nothing to lose can be wary.  Jones has all the pressure on her this week...anything less than a repeat title in Grande Prairie will be a huge upset.
Odds:  2/1

Team Alberta (Chelsea Carey) - Speaking of teams with everything to gain this week, home province favorites Team Carey have to be thanking their lucky stars for the field being handed to them.  Not only did they have to survive beating two-time Scotties runner-up Val Sweeting in the Alberta final...but now they get to have a home crowd cheering them on and face a field of teams they SHOULD beat.  Now I say SHOULD because, similar to Jones above, Carey has not had a great tour season either.  They have no tour titles to their credit and have been very hot and cold all year.  They go from struggling and missing playoffs at 3 events to qualifying at their next 3 events only to fail to qualify for the next few events and then qualify for the last few events.  Consistency comes in spurts with this team.  With a long week of round robin games, you can't afford to have 1 or 2 days of bad results.  The experience factor is tough to bet against though with Amy Nixon and Laine Peters previously hoisting the trophy and Chelsea also finding the podium in her only other appearance here.
Odds:  4/1

 Watch Out For

Team Manitoba (Kerri Einarson) - This team started the season on a tear, winning the Tour Challenge Tier II event in Paradise, NL gaining qualification to the Masters grand slam.  They would take full advantage of their grand slam experience making the SF.  However, since the beginning of the season the team has been hit and miss.  Einarson has been praised as the future of Manitoba curling (now with Chelsea Carey playing in Alberta) and this could be her break-out year at the national stage after back-to-back loses in the Manitoba final.  The team will need to keep their nerves in check and stay calm, it's a long event.  If the front of the team can ensure Einarson is not left with difficult trick shots every game, they should make a playoff push.  Don't get me wrong, Einarson can make the big shots when she has to but to do it every game could be tiresome.  The backbone to success could end with vice Selena Kaatz.  The 24-year old will be up against more experienced competition in most games but if she can hang with them, her skip could find herself in less trouble in close games.
Odds:  9/1

Team Northern Ontario (Krista McCarville) - Welcome back McCarville!  This blog has been following the welcome back trail for Krista since the start of the season and, have to be honest, is fully booked on the bandwagon train.  But the results speak for themselves.  If you went by tour results and victories alone this season, McCarville would be  the favorite.  The team has won their last 4 tour events....add in the perfection of winning the Northern Ontario Scotties...and they have not lost an event they entered since their opening season event back in October.  5 straight events....5 straight titles.  They have more success in winning this year than any team in the field.  Sure they were not beating Jones, Homan, Sweeting and the top European teams...but only Jones is in Grande Prairie for them to deal with.  Almost every other team in this field McCarville has played and beat this year.  Plus she has Scotties experience and been on the podium.  As I have said in the past on this blog, if curling teams were stocks I would be buying Team Northern Ontario now (in fact, the price might just be too high...should have bought back in December when I did).
Odds:  5/1  

Team Ontario (Jenn Hanna) - The Giant Killer!  Hanna knocking off Homan in the Ontario final was the big story across the curling world.  Now the question is can they back up the big win on the national stage?  There will be lots of media attention on Jenn this week.  Back from a three-year hiatus this year, wins Ontario, beats the top-ranked team in the world, returns to the Scotties where she was on the losing end of one of the greatest curling shots in history losing the 2005 final to Jones.  The team only qualified in 1 tour event of 4 played this season so they have had a light, slightly unsuccessful season.  However the build-up always was to be competing this week and here they are.  How they handle the pressure of the spotlight being known as the Homan Slayers will be interesting to see though.
Odds:  10/1

Team Quebec (Marie-France Larouche) - Another giant welcome back...this time to Quebec skip Marie-France Larouche.  This will be Larouche's 9th Scotties appearance, twice finding the podium.  Interesting note on Marie-France, the past 2 Scotties she competed hosted by Alberta, she made the playoffs with a runner-up finish in 2004 and losing the bronze medal game (to Jones) in 2012.  Alberta seems to be where she has found her most Scotties success, could the playoff streak continue?
Odds:  12/1

The Dark Horse

Team Nova Scotia (Jill Brothers) - The sophomore skip will be making her third Scotties appearance this week, previously playing vice for Heather Smith (2014) and skipping her own team in 2007.  Brothers has the experience playing on the national stage and winning being a past Canadian Junior Champion.  They also have a tour victory under their belt this season and have qualified in their previous 3 events.  Interesting factoid, Brothers played her first Scotties in Alberta as well (Lethbridge).  She will be hoping for a better result this time around though (3-8 in 2007).
Odds:  35/1

Team Saskatchewan (Jolene Campbell) - Ok so who called Campbell beating Lawton in the Sask final?  Anyone?  Anyone at all?  *crickets*  Yup, that's what I thought.  Don't worry, I am in the same boat as the rest of you.  I honestly did not see this coming.  I thought Campbell would make a playoff push in Sask but never thought she would win.  But again, #growthesport right?  This could be a huge opportunity for this team.  No pressure on them.  They are considered a middle of the pack contender.  Teams may not be familiar with them.  These are all advantages for Jolene and company.  Plus let's not forget they have one of the most profiled coaches of the sport in their corner, Russ Howard.  Russ will be able to provide lots of guidance and knowledge to the team...when he isn't up in the booth of course with TSN doing his actual paying gig.  I am torn on what to expect from this team.  Will they be fighting for a 5-6 record or can they provide the Saskatchewan magic we saw in 2011 where an unheralded Amber Holland came out of the dark horse category and stole a title from Jones?  Both are strong possibilities.
Odds:  20/1

Team Prince Edward Island (Suzanne Birt) - Birt will also be making her 9th Scotties appearance this week and looking to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2007.  This has actually been one of the most successful seasons on tour for the Islanders.  The team has qualified in all 6 events entered (including the Tour Challenge Tier II grand slam) and has collected a tour title as well.  In a wide open field, experience is key and Birt brings a ton to the ice being a two-time Canadian Junior Champion (2001, 2002) and a World Junior Champion (2001).  Last year Birt struggled to a 4-7 record but given the wide-open field this year, improving the win total by at least 2 games to be in the playoff picture is not out of the question.
Odds:  25/1

Relegation Round-Up

Team New Brunswick (Sylvie Robichaud) - Robichaud will be making her first back-to-back Scotties appearance after last year's 4-7 record.  The team will want to try and, at least, replicate the result to avoid any relegation conversation.  The team does have Scotties appearance to help though as vice Rebecca Atkinson will make her 5th straight Scotties.  A playoff push may be too long of a reach for the New Brunswick foursome but winning enough games to avoid relegation should be considered possible.
Odds:  75/1

Team Newfoundland & Labrador (Stacey Curtis) - This team dominated the Newfoundland & Labrador Scotties Championship and made quick work of Scotties regular Heather Strong, denying the 12-time NL rep a shot at going for the #3peat at the Ford Hot Shots.  In all serious though, Curtis is a great skip and perhaps all of us (myself included) are underestimating her, she is a former Canadian Junior Champion.  Unfortunately her Scotties record speaks for itself.  In her previous appearances she has posted 1-10 (2011) and 2-9 (2013) records.  If she cannot improve on those results, she may just find herself sending next year's NL rep to the pre-qualification event.
Odds:  100/1

Team Northwest Territories (Kerry Galusha) - #PolarPower returns and once again will need to fight itself out of pre-qualification.  Last year, the heartbreak of the entire event happened in Draw 1 watching the tears of sorrow from Galusha after the heart-breaking pre-qualification final loss to Northern Ontario (Team Horgan).  This will be Galusha's 13th Scotties appearance and, experience alone, this team has to be considered the favorite to advance from pre-qualification.  The team from NWT is always a fan favorite and seeing them not compete at the Scotties all week just seems wrong.  Remember, Galusha is no slouch at this event either.  Galusha has been kryptonite for Team Canada teams in the past, besting them on 3 occasions:  2009 (Jones), 2012 (Holland) and 2013 (Nedohin).  If Galusha can survive the pre-qualification, there is no reason to think she could not turn some heads over the week.  Remember, the theme for this week is Expect the Unexpected after all.
Odds:  125/1 

Team British Columbia (Karla Thompson) - Crazy to see B.C. sitting in pre-qualification isn't it?  A province that has produced Scotties and World Champions in Kelley Scott and Kelley Law finds itself in a battle to just compete over the coming week.  This team will be the co-favorite though to come from pre-qualification but could be in tough to stay with the teams above them during the week.  They already made history this week....becoming the first team to lose to Nunavut at the Scotties.  They battled back though and find themselves in the pre-qualification final vs. #PolarPower.  This is a toss-up as both teams are capable of getting the win and staying alive.  The head says Thompson pulls through and can keep B.C. out of relegation next year.  The heart however....
Odds:  125/1

Team Yukon (Nicole Baldwin) - Great opportunity and experience for Team Baldwin this week.  With Sarah Koltun and team taking time away from the game to focus on academics, this team was able to take advantage and win the Yukon championship.  Advancing from pre-qualification was a bit of a lofty goal but remember this only the second year Yukon competed and fielded their own team.  Previously combined as a NWT/YK team at this event, the separation can truly help #growthesport up North.
Odds:  500/1

Team Nunavut (Geneva Chislett) - Welcome Nunavut to the Scotties, we are happy to see you this year!  What a great season of curling it has been for the youngest territory in our country.  First the junior women and men pick up their first ever competitive wins at the Canadian Junior Curling Championships.  Then Chislett and team arrive in Grande Prairie and make history in the very first game they ever play on the national stage, picking up a victory over heavily favored British Columbia.  Sure they would lose their remaining two games but these victories are HUGE, again #growthesport right?!  Also, Team Nunavut lays claim to having the youngest ever competitor on the ice for a Scotties when alternate Sadie Pinksen played in a pre-qualification game this week at the age of 16 years old.  More history for Nunavut!  Success and championships will not come overnight but to already taste victory in the first ever event competing, this has to feel like a Scotties championship for Nunavut.  I am excited to see the progression this territory makes in the sport over the next few years.  Congrats on the history-making victory Team Chislett.  Welcome to the Scotties!
Odds:  1000/1

Games To Watch

Draw 1 (Sat. 1:30 p.m.):  Canada vs. Manitoba - Could the event start and end the same?

Draw 1 (Sat. 1:30 p.m.):  Pre-qualification Final (#TwineTime projected NWT vs. BC) - Who advances?

Draw 3 (Sun. 8:30 a.m.):  Saskatchewan vs. Ontario - Two teams looking to capitalize on an open field.

Draw 4 (Sun 1:30 p.m.):  New Brunswick vs. Newfoundland and Labrador - Huge opportunity early in the event for one of these teams to pick up a victory.  The winner could build momentum towards another 1 or 2 wins to avoid relegation and a 4-7 finish at best.  The loser...relegation may be coming for them!

Draw 5 (Sun. 6:30 p.m.):  Canada vs. Northern Ontario - The first big test for McCarville's Welcome Back Tour!

Draw 6 (Mon. 8:30 a.m.):  Alberta vs. Northern Ontario - HUGE two-game stretch for McCarville in a playoff push needing to go 1-1 in these back-to-back games against the contenders.

Draw 8 (Tues. 8:30 a.m.):  Manitoba vs. Quebec - Tuesday could be movement day and both of these teams should be in the playoff hunt when they hit the ice to face one another.  The winner will see their playoff odds increase drastically.

Draw 10 (Tues 6:30 p.m.):  Alberta vs. Ontario - If Hanna can continue the upset streak she started in besting Homan with a win over Carey, a shot at the final is not out of the question.  Carey should be well into the playoff picture at this point and will not want to have a slip up against a dangerous team.

Draw 11 (Wed. 8:30 a.m.):  Qualifier vs. Newfoundland & Labrador - Possible relegation for the loser?

Draw 12 (Wed. 1:30 p.m.):  Alberta vs. Manitoba - Carey knows Einarson well, defeating her in the Manitoba final back in 2014 to earn her first Scotties trip.  Could she end Einarson's Scotties dreams once again?  A loss for Manitoba here could eliminate them from the playoff picture.

Draw 15 (Thurs. 1:30 p.m.):  New Brunswick vs. Qualifier - Possible relegation for the loser (Part II)?

Draw 15 (Thurs. 1:30 p.m.):  Northern Ontario vs. Quebec - Loser of this game risks missing the playoffs and even possible tiebreakers.  The winner could have a shot at the 1vs2 game though, depending how the rest of the results.  Big stakes for two skips rejoining the Scotties stage.

Draw 15 (Thurs. 1:30 p.m.):  Canada vs. Manitoba - Einarson again draws a familiar Manitoba foe.  If Manitoba is to make a playoff push, Einarson needs to beat at least one of her past Manitoba nemesis skips.  If she enters this game already with a loss to Carey, she will need this one to stay alive.  Jones should have her place in the 1vs2 Page Playoff locked down...could she be ripe for an upset?

Draw 16 (Thurs. 6:30 p.m.):  Ontario vs. Canada - Again, if Jones has locked down a top spot by now, she may be open for a defeat against a team possibly needing a win to stay alive.  Oh yeah, and don't forget the MASSIVE history between the skips.  Imagine if Jones doesn't make the miracle shot to win the 2005 Scotties, what a different curling landscape we would see today.  Hanna would have at least 1 Scotties title, perhaps McEwen stays in Ontario curling with her...oh so many what if's.  This game is going to be fun!

Draw 16 (Thurs. 6:30 p.m.):  Alberta vs. Saskatchewan - See above.  Carey could have her playoff spot nailed down and find a mental lapse against a Saskatchewan team with their backs against the wall clawing for a tiebreaker.

Draw 17 (Fri. 8:30 a.m):  Ontario vs. Northern Ontario - Winner probably has a playoff spot, loser at best hoping for a tiebreaker.  This could be a de facto tiebreaker game as well with winner moving on and loser going home.  High stakes all-Ontario match to end the round robin.

Projected Standings

Canada: 10 - 1
Quebec:  8 - 3
Northern Ontario:  8 - 3
Alberta:  8 - 3
Manitoba:  7 - 4
PEI:  7 - 4
Ontario:  7 - 4
Saskatchewan:  5 - 6
Nova Scotia:  2 - 9
New Brunswick:  2 - 9
NWT (Qualifier Winner):  1 - 10
Newfoundland & Labrador:  1 - 10 (Relegation)

Qualifiers:  Team Canada (Jones), Team Quebec (Larouche), Team Northern Ontario (McCarville), Team Alberta (Carey)

2016 Scotties Tournament of Hearts Champion:  Team Canada (Jones) over Team Northern Ontario (McCarville) - Jones is the overwhelming favorite and she should be.  There is no reason to bet against her.  Sure she is prone to random mind blips in games but on the big stage when games matter most, she always comes through in the clutch.  She will also be aiming to get back to the World championships, where she had struggled mightily over the years with only 1 World Championship title (2008) in her 5 previous appearances.  Those appearances include missing the podium all together in 2005 and 2009.  McCarville will be the story of this event though.  The confidence and momentum they bring to Grande Prairie is going to be tough to beat.  Not many people are really predicting them to make lots of noise against the likes of Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec but I firmly stand by my McCarville stocks.  In a season of Expect the Unexpected, why should we not see a Scotties finalist who is just returning to competitive curling after taking a few years off?  McCarville has the game to match Jones but the difference will be at third with Lawes outcurling Lilly.  McCarville will be left with too many difficult shots and when Jones puts the squeeze on she is tough to beat.

2016 Scotties Tournament of Hearts Bronze Medal:  Team Alberta (Carey) over Team Quebec (Larouche) - A second Scotties for Chelsea Carey and a second bronze medal finish.  The Alberta fans will go home a bit happy at the close of the tournament seeing their representative on the podium but I think Carey and company will be a bit disappointed in not playing in the final.  On the flip side, I think Larouche will be thrilled to be playing for a spot on the podium given their lack of competitive curling tour action this season.  To still be in the running for the title come playoff weekend will be a nice welcome back gift for Marie-France and hopefully bring enough encouragement, confidence and momentum into next season for her.

What an event we are in for rock heads and stoners.  Stay tuned for live coverage on TSN all week as well as additional coverage at the official Curling Canada Scotties Tournament of Hearts websiteCurlingZone and CurlingGeek for additional coverage if you cannot tune in on TV.  As always, feel free to share your thoughts with me via a comment below or on twitter.  I always welcome a friendly conversation/debate on the predictions you read above.
I would be amiss to not discuss the other big part of the Scotties: The Annual Sandra Schmirler Day.  The annual telethon day will take place on the opening Sunday, February 21.  As a proud Sasky boy, Sandra is one of my all-time favorite curlers.  Even watching the highlight reels of some of her historic shots in the sport gives me goose bumps today.  I cannot believe it will be 16 years this March since we lost one of the best in the game.  The telethon will raise funds for the Sandra Schmirler Foundation, assisting families with premature and critically-ill babies across Canada.  Since the Foundation began in 2001, over $3.2 million to 40 Canadian hospital intensive-care units have been contributed.  I challenge each of you who are reading this blog to support this tremendous Foundation on Sandra Schmirler Day this year.  Any amount, regardless how big or how small, can benefit the lives of others.  I donated last year and will be doing the same this year.  Remember, 100% of every dollar donated directly goes to giving the most critically ill babies a chance at survival!!  Help all of us continue the legacy of "Schmirler the Curler" on Sunday, February 21.  To donate, please visit the Sandra Schmirler Foundation website or call toll-free 1-866-210-6011.

Most importantly, support your fellow Canadians and enjoy the action!!!

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

#BetweenTheSheets with Julie Hastings
We discuss team dynamics, #growthesport and #2016Scotties

What a treat I have in store for you #TwineTime fans this week.  While many celebrated the past long weekend, I was fortunate enough to sit down (virtually) and talk curling with a champion skip.  I am also excited to welcome the first female skip to the #TwineTime family: Julie Hastings!  Julie represented Ontario at the 2015 Scotties Tournament of Hearts and has, remarkably, curled with the same team for over 20 years.  If you don't find that to be an accomplishment in and of itself, just take a look at how other top curling teams and players have changed during the same timespan.

We had a great conversation on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.....ok well beautiful for those of us in Calgary, unfortunately not the same weather conditions in Ontario.  We discussed the serious topics of curling dynamics and #BroomGate.  We discussed growing the sport through grassroots marketing and sports psychology.  I got to know more about the fun and rock side of Julie through some rapid fire questions.  And, of course, a little preview for the upcoming Scotties in Grande Prairie.  Let's go #BetweenTheSheets with Julie Hastings:

TwineTime (TT):  Welcome Julie to the #TwineTime family.  And thank you for joining me on a long weekend for this interview.

Julie Hastings (JH):  That's ok.  We got a lot of stuff done this morning.

TT:  Ok excellent.  Well I thought we could start off in talking about your team being a little unique in your team dynamic, being together for over 20 years.  I thought it would be great if you could perhaps share what is the secret to that success?  We aren't seeing this anymore, especially more recent.  What is your secret to success for staying together this long?

JH:  You know what, we have a great friendship and at the core that's how we stay together.  When we started, the four of us, it just happened.  When we got Stacey (Smith), she was the last ingredient to the puzzle.  We had a great year with her in our first year and have had great year's ever after.  Really there has been no reason for us to move on and find someone else.  We have just had a great time together.

TT:  Excellent.  Do you guys ever have that conversation anymore, on a regular basis?  We have seen a lot of teams say they have it every year, do you guys do the same?

JH:  Yeah, absolutely.  *laughing*  We are on a one-year plan.  I know all of the teams are on a four-year plan because of the Olympics but we are on a one-year plan, year to year.  We know everybody's life can change for whatever reason.  Stacey is pregnant.   My sister had a baby three years ago.  I've had two kids.  There are times when we cannot curl and I took two years off, one for each of my kids.  My sister took a year off.  But nobody has ever left the team to go somewhere else though.  It's usually just I need some time off, we need to find someone in the interim and we do.  Then we come back together once everyone is back ready to play.

TT:  You raise a great point in perhaps a major difference in the dynamic between a men's team and a women's team is the fact of having children.

JH:  Yeah, it's tough to plan.

TT:  *laughing* Can you plan it?

JH:  *laughing*  You can't plan it.  When you want one you kind of take it when they come.

TT:  Very fair.  Now I heard through your team twitter account you have added another member to the team for this upcoming season.  Would you like to share some details on this?

JH:  Yeah.  Because Stacey is pregnant she is going to cut back for part of the year and my sister is also going to cut back.  At the same time we said "Why don't you two share a position" and they were happy with that.  And we are bringing Katie Cottrill to the team at vice for this year.  It might be a two-year plan.  We will see what happens.

TT:  Would you guys then potentially be looking at bringing her on as you push for the Olympic trial berth too?

JH:  Sure.  I mean the Olympic trials are long, long away in our minds.  We are looking at the pre-trials.  That is what we think is a realistic goal.

TT:  Ah, excellent.  Now, in talking about teams jumping around, do you think the Olympics are the reason why we are seeing so many players jumping around and teams shifting?  It almost seems as soon as the off-season comes and teams are eliminated from provincial playdowns, rumors start flying right away.  Do you think there is an Olympic reason to this or is there more at play?

JH:  I don't know, I think it plays a part of it.  Curling can be looked at as a business for some people.  If this is your livelihood and what you are doing professionally, which many are trying to do, then you have to look at it from a business standpoint.  I think we have always seen it but I think the Olympics is just pushing it into the limelight because there is that four-year planning and doing.  I think when you know something is going wrong, you just know it and you need to make a change.  I think ultimately that is why teams change, there is probably a dynamic on the team that isn't working.  That is not to say there can't be four people who can't be friends but on the ice the dynamic is so different and if things aren't working it is really hard to keep pushing towards a four-year plan in a situation where everybody knows it's not working.  Even if it is just one person who has to leave the team, that one person does not want to stay on a team and not be given the opportunity to go find success elsewhere.  I would hope there are not too many hard feelings if everyone knows things are not going well.

TT;  That makes complete sense.

JH:  We are lucky though and we are happy.

TT:  For sure and you guys are the unique exception, but a positive unique exception I would say.

JH:  Yeah but that's not also to say we haven't had our disagreements.  We have had our arguments.  Never about anyone leaving the team but about things that just are not working.  We have worked through the difficult challenges and have become stronger in the end.  But, at the core, we are four really good friends.

TT:  Last season and after the last Olympic cycle, we saw a lot more jumping on the men's side than the women's.  Why do you think that is?  Is that just a difference in dynamics between men vs. women?  Or are the women's teams a bit more collected right now?  Why do you think that is?

JH:  Honestly, I don't really know because the concept really is so foreign to us.  We have never been involved in those kind of changes.  When the change came in where you could take a player from another province that brought a lot of changes.  You saw a lot of teams experimenting with players from outside of the province to see if they could get that extra player to add a certain skill level to the team.  Whether that is working for a team, I think some teams struggled but worked through it and it is working for them.  For other teams it didn't quite work and they have gone back to finding someone in their province.

TT:  Well, what do you think about that new rule?  Obviously it is a bit different since you guys are staying together but, in the grand scheme of the tour, do you like that rule in being allowed that one out of province player?

JH:  I'm a little bit indifferent to it.  I want everybody to be able to find the best combination regardless of where you are living, I do kind of get that.  But I do like that there is only allowed one person to be from out of province.  If you are going to go and represent your province in a Brier or Scotties, the core of your team should be from that province.  If there is only one person, I don't have a problem with it if people want to jump and do that.  My team has always really enjoyed practicing together.  But if teams want to try it and bring someone over from another province, I have no problem with that.

TT:  Ok, now obviously I have to ask this and in a way I hate having to bring it up but #BroomGate is sweeping across the country and the curling world.  I don't want to spend a lot of time on it as I think there is already a lot out there on it but what is your personal feeling about how it is all going on?

JH:  It is one of the most confusing things my team has ever gone through to be honest.  We entered a competition and at the beginning of the week we had our brooms approved.  Half way through the competition they weren't approved anymore because of the broom fabrics.  It is just the most confusing thing.  And now hair brooms being under the gun, I don't even know if our team really knows where to go with it.  We are trying to figure out what equipment we are using next year and we are so confused.  We didn't have any hair brooms this year.  We were told by a lot of different people, our coach, everybody has to have a hair broom on their team this year and now it's the flipside.  I think we are going to give it a pause, our team personally, and see where the chips fall over the summer and try to figure things out in the fall.  It is one of the most confusing things we have ever been through.  And if we are confused, I am sure many are.

TT:  Yeah it certainly feels that way.  I think you are also seeing it with the fans.  The fans are starting to get a little bit frustrated.  Do you think this is one of those negatives that will hopefully turn into a long-term positive for the sport?

JH:  Actually I think this has brought a lot of light to the sport, being on national news.  Overall, I think it is going to be a positive.  Maybe it started out as a negative and there was a lot of tension over the controversy but I think over time we are going to see a lot of positive press for the sport.  This is going to change our sport for the better for the future.  There is going to be more testing, more research done on what sweeping does.  There is all this speculation and all these theories out there but no concrete way to back them up at this point.  And if there is, I haven't seen it.  *laughing*

TT:  *laughing*  Yeah I haven't either.  And I love your answer on taking the positive and focusing on what this is going to do for growing the sport ideally for the future, which I think is what we all want.

JH:  Right.  I mean if people are talking about our sport, from curlers to non-curlers, there is nothing wrong with that.  People are finding it amusing, it doesn't matter.  People are talking about it and that's what's great.

TT:  That's right.  Now drifting off of #BroomGate, or maybe back to it depending on your answer I suppose, but let's say I had some massive power to put you in charge of curling for one day, what one change would you implement today to help #growthesport?

JH:  A change that would help grow the sport?  I don't know if a change is really what we need.  I kind of like the sport the way it is.  I think to grow the sport it is about getting the message out there curling is accessible to every single person.  I feel it doesn't matter where you are, the message should be you can go to your local club, doesn't matter where you live, and walk in the door and ask questions.  Maybe the problem is people just are not aware of where they can go.  Where can they get information?  What website to go to?  Where is my nearest club?  How much will it cost?  Some people may think the sport will cost a lot of money.  What they are seeing on TV is the professional stuff but not seeing what is really happening at the grassroots level in the clubs.  A kid can even come to my club at the Bayview Golf & Country Club and sign up to play for $200 for an entire season.  That is pretty accessible to me.  When a kid can go and do a sport for 20 weeks for that amount of money.  There are not a lot of sports you can do that and with very little equipment needs.  You don't have to go and buy everything up front but you can still go and try it.  I think getting that message out for our young curlers and young people out there, people in their 20's and 30's, getting that message out there is what's needed.  I don't think the sport itself needs to change.

TT:  I love the answer.  I totally agree.  I think the grassroots marketing side of things is an opportunity to see growth.  I think it's a great answer.  Very cool.  Now let's talk a little more directly about you.  What is your big curling highlight?  You have years of experience, lots of great things on the curling resume,  what is the one highlight that stands out the most for you?

JH:  It has to be the Scotties.

TT:  I kind of assumed that would be your answer.

JH:  That has to be number one on the bucket list.  To go and experience that at least once in my lifetime, it was so cool.  It met all of my expectations, far and beyond.  It was amazing.  Number 1!

TT:  Definitely.  Now when you got to be at that Scotties and stepped on the ice for the first time with that Ontario jacket on, what was going through your head?  What was the feeling and emotion?

JH:  I almost don't even remember.  I think I was in just awe.  I was so thankful to be there.  So thankful to be with the team I was with.  I tried not to cry, I don't think I cried.  I was crying inside for sure.  It was pretty special.  To be honest, more than that, it was when we got our banner.  I think it was three-quarters through the week.  Every team gets their banner on a different night.  When we got our banner, I lost it and died thinking this is the coolest thing.

TT:  That is so cool.  The Scotties will always be that one memory.

JH:  Yup.

TT:  Now, on the flipside of it, we talk about the positives and now not necessarily the negatives but if you were given one chance to do a curling mulligan, whether a game or a shot or whatever, what would be yours?

JH:  Ok so it would be the 10th end of the 1995 Ontario Junior Women's Provincial Championship. It would be my sister's last rock.  This rock was coming down perfect.  If she makes this shot, we probably go on to win the Ontario Junior Women's Provincial Championship.  I got the sweepers off because the rock was coming in so well.  It started to curl, I got them back on but it was too late.  We chipped off the guard.  If they had swept it the whole way and got it to curl behind the guard, we were probably winning and playing at Canadian Juniors.  My whole team, it is probably the one shot we all want back.  It was heartbreaking.

TT:  Oh for sure.  It is interesting with the people I have been fortunate enough to interview, a lot of them have junior memories as their number one mulligan shot, which is interesting.

JH:  *laughing*  Yeah, there is a lot at stake when you are a junior.  Your emotions are higher.  When you get to be our age, there is so much behind us.  There is perspective.  When you are a teen, perspective is so, so hard.  You cannot teach it.  You need to experience life to get that.  When you are a junior, this is the biggest moment of your life up to this point in playing a provincial final.  But, you know what?  Our team stuck through that and we learned a lot.  It's one of those experiences we talk about and has made us better.  Now in losing that provincial final we had won the TC Junior Swiss Bonspiel so, in that year, we were either going to the Canadian Junior Championships or to Switzerland to curl.  So we had a back-up plan.  When we lost the junior provincial, we ended up going to Switzerland to curl so that was ok.

TT:  Oh wow.  I would say that is a pretty good consolation.  This actually leads nicely into another question I have for you on sports psychology.  We are seeing this really pick up, probably more so in the last two Olympic cycles.  Are sports psychologists something you guys have used with your team or something you believe in?

JH:  Yes, we have used two different resources.  We had a family friend, Kyle Paradis in the Toronto area.  He helped us during one our seasons.  He helped us off-ice but also came to a couple tournaments.  We kind of turned a corner when we worked with Kyle.  We had one of our more successful years up to that point in working with him.  We have also done an online course with Lisa Brown.  It was a lot of material we could work on ourselves because we had already worked with Kyle.  We had the framework and background to kind of do our own work with this other program.  We have done a lot.  It has helped us for sure.  It has helped us with perspective.  It helps you focus on where you need to make changes and how you think.   I don't think a lot of people realize when you look at a shot, what should you be thinking about and what shouldn't you be thinking about.

TT:  Totally makes sense.  So based on those experiences you have had and using them successfully, if you could give one sports psychologist quote or point you could give the grassroots curlers, what would be your one point to share with them?

JH:  Oh you should have told me you were going to ask me that, I would have brought my notes.  I actually have a cheat sheet somewhere, I carry it in my purse.  But I haven't looked at it in awhile but it is one of those things I will pull out.  You have caught me off guard here.  One of the more important things, and drawing on my experience of last year in winning provincials, is not putting the pressure on yourself to not miss, you know what I mean?

TT:  Oh yes.

JH:  When you look at the shot and say, "If I miss, this is what is going to happen.  I'm going to lose a provincial championship if I miss this shot."  Taking that pressure off yourself.  Just being in the moment is the most important thing.  Not worrying about the outcome of what your shot is going to be but being in the moment, throwing your shot and thinking, "I'm going to hit the broom, throw the right shot and throw the right weight."  Putting those things in your mind rather than the outcome of the shot.  At provincials last year, I let it all go.  I let the worry about the outcome let it all go.  I became really, really excited about finding out if I was going to make my shots or not.  I thought, "this is going to be really exciting, I can't wait to see if I make this next shot" versus "what will happen if I don't make this next shot?"  It's just a shift in your focus.  It meant the world to me.  It took the pressure off, even though there was still pressure.  Just being in the moment, shot by shot.  It was just a simple change in focus that changed everything for me.

TT:  Kind of eliminating all those what-if scenario's you almost don't really have control over.

JH:  Exactly!  Vanquishing the what-if scenario's is key.

TT:  Excellent, a very cool message as well.  Now let's talk about the Scotties this year.  How did they go for you?  Obviously not the end result you would have wanted but how did you feel this year?

JH:  Yeah, you know it was a different feel for us because we didn't have the playdowns to get into it.  We didn't have that moment where we qualified.  We didn't have that moment really all year where we won a tournament and we struggled a bit.  The last six weeks leading up to provincials we didn't have anything.  We had no competition so we had to practice.  We put together a tournament at our club at Bayview with five teams to practice.  It was really hard for us to jump into that moment where you are provincials.  To be honest, it didn't work well for our team *laughing*.  Our team will admit it.  We kind of need that prep work of playdowns.  Next year we are hopeful we will get to do all that regional playdown competition.  Obviously it was nice getting a bye to the next year's provincials but if you can get there and get there through competition, it's so much better.  But we had a great time at provincials.  I won't lie it wasn't the result we wanted but we had a great time.  The Brampton Curling Club did a great job in hosting.

TT:  Excellent.  I guess it is that double-edged sword of winning.  You get that bye into the next year but, like you were saying, you don't get that playing time leading up which can be detrimental.

JH:  Yeah and all the others teams get it.  You are right, it is a double-edged sword.

TT:  Now of course the other thing coming out of Ontario is the biggest upset we have seen at provincials, men's or women's, in Jenn Hanna winning provincials and beating Rachel Homan.  Do you feel that is really as big of an upset as people really have blown it up to be?  Jenn does have a great resume, been to a Scotties and been to a final before.

JH:  Jenn played a great, great provincial.  When we played her I just thought her team was on fire.  If there was any team out there who could beat Rachel in the final, Jenn's team certainly was the one.  She had a fantastic week.  Her team played great and not just in the final against Rachel.  She seemed to have confidence.  She just came off of three years of maternity leave and has not curled for three years competitively.  I think there really wasn't a lot of pressure and she probably wasn't putting pressure on herself.  This is that team's first year together and I think that helps them.  Of course when you get to a final against Rachel, you have to work hard.  When playing against Rachel you know you have the number one team in the world in your province and they brought it.  They played a great game.  For whatever reason it wasn't meant to happen for Rachel.  But for sure for a team like that to do what they did, yeah I would call it an upset.  We were prepared to be the one to upset her *laughing*

TT:  *laughing*  I would hope you would think that way.

JH:  *laughing*  I think everyone in the field was.  It would be a huge feather in your cap.  When you are that big in the world, everyone is gunning for you.  It's hard to stay on top.  But how many losses did she have this year?  5 or 6?  I mean when you come in with that kind of record.  She already had a loss in the round robin so you are thinking she got her one loss out of the way when it didn't matter.  But, you know, love the sport and anything can happen.

TT:  Exactly and that is why we play the games.

JH:  That's right!

TT:  Now let's talk about the upcoming Scotties in Grande Prairie.  The field has been set and we know who will be there.  Based on the field, who do you think is the favorite or should be labelled as the favorite?

JH:  It is hard not to put Jenn Jones (Team Canada) as the favorite.  I think it is a wonderful field this year.  I think, personally, it is going to be a wonderful competition.  I think there is a lot of young, up and coming teams that made it through and it is going to be great to see.  I would put Chelsea Carey's team (Team Alberta) in the mix.  Marie-France (Larouche) out of Quebec should have a good chance.  And Jenn Hanna.  I think I could predict a Hanna - Jones final.

TT:  That would be quite the story line.  I think secretly everyone in the media world would like to see that happen as well.  What about a dark horse team?  A team perhaps many are not familiar with in the curling world but a team that could turn some heads?

JH:  Hmmm, let me think.  You know what?  I'll go with Krista (McCarville, Team Northern Ontario).  Krista has had a great, great year.  She is coming back from some time off from having her kids as well.  I would give Krista a good chance at making a good run as well.

TT:  I think that is a great pick.  They are also one of my teams to make some noise.  If you include their provincials, they have won their last five tournaments.

JH:  They are strong.  They are on a hot streak.  I spoke to Rick Lang at a national event in Oshawa and they are having a really great year.  I think they could be there as well.

TT:  I agree.  So your playoff final four would be...

JH:  Team Canada (Jones).  Team Alberta (Carey).  Team Ontario (Hanna).  Team Northern Ontario (McCarville).

TT:  And you are sticking with the Jones - Hanna final?

JH:  Yup, that is just what I would like to see.  I think it would be cool.

TT:  I agree.  I think it would be great to see them both go at in a final once again.

JH:  Jones is one of those teams where she will probably take a couple losses during the round robin, she won't go undefeated.  But you see it time and again with her team where she is on the cusp of being eliminated and she just sneaks into the playoffs and then runs the table in the playoffs.  She will be there at the end.  She is obviously the most experienced in the field.  I don't think anyone else in the field can touch her experience.  But sometimes, as we have seen, experience doesn't mean you are going to win everything.

TT:  *laughing*  That is very true.  And really seems to be the theme of this year's Scotties field.

JH:  *laughing*  Maybe.  Maybe all four of the teams I picked won't even be there at the end.

TT:  *laughing*  We never know.  I think it is one of those years where we are seeing many people saying they may not watch or be as into the Scotties because of the field but I think this is going to create a lot of great growth for the sport.

JH:  I do too.  It's exciting to me to see new teams.

TT:  Cool.  Well how about we do a little bit of rapid fire to get your thoughts on a few random questions.

JH:  Are they curling related?

TT:  Yup, most are curling related.  The first is not oddly enough.  Your Stanley Cup pick for the season?  Are you a hockey fan?

JH:  *laughing*  Not at all.  I have no clue.  Well I know the Leafs aren't out of it so I'll pick the Leafs.  There ya go.  They aren't out of it are they?

TT:  Well they are last place in the league right now.

JH:  But I thought there was a chance they could get a playoff spot?

TT:  For February, there is always a chance.  *laughing*

JH:  *laughing*  See I know nothing.  I don't follow hockey.

TT:  *laughing*  No worries.

JH:  Oh wow, my sister would kill me.  Her husband is a hockey player.

TT:  Oh wow.  Ok well what about your curling walk-up song?

JH:  Oh I had that picked.  It would be Sabotage by the Beastie Boys.

TT:  Very nice.

JH:  It's a perfect walk-up song.  Works totally well for our team too.

TT:  It's a great choice.  Who is your biggest rival on tour right now?

JH:  Oh..hmmm....biggest rival?  You know I am going to go with Sherry Middaugh.  We play one another a lot.  Probably almost 30 games.  Over the years I would say she is our biggest rival.

TT:  Nice.  Who has the winning record right now?

JH:  Oh, I think we have one game on her.  She may have tied it up at the provincials this year actually.  It might be tied right now.  Might be quite even.

TT:  Very cool.  Who is the loudest female curler on tour?

JH:  Oh, I am going to say Chelsea Carey.  She can scream pretty loud out there.

TT:  And now she has Amy Nixon with her so those two together....

JH:  Oh yeah, those two for sure.  *laughing*  They are very loud, louder than us by a lot.

TT:  *laughing*  Yup, they are very loud together.  If you could form an All-Star curling team, whether curlers or anyone in the world, who would you put together as a team?

JH:  Alright, I have answered this once before so I will try to remember who I said.  I'm going to go with Ellen DeGeneres.  I'm going to go with Dave Grohl.  And Jimmy Fallon.

TT:  Oh, very nice.  I assume you would be the forth player?

JH:  Oh yeah I would be the forth obviously.

TT:  *laughing*  And you would be skipping I would assume?

JH:  Of course.

TT:  Who would be your vice skip from those three?

JH:  Ummm...Jimmy.

TT:  That would be quite the mixed team.

JH:  Yup, I think I would have a lot of fun with them.

TT:  Yeah, I agree, I think you would have lots of fun.  That's awesome.  And having fun is what matters on the ice too right?

JH:  Absolutely, number 1!!

TT:  Now it is time for your #AskTheCurler question.  My previous interview was Matthew Blandford.  I have a very interesting question for you from him.  Now he said one of the things when playing with men, guys seem to be more on the smelly side of life and seem to leave, as he called it, "fart bombs" in the hack when they play.  He wanted to know if women do this as well and, if so, have you ever done it?

JH:  *laughing*  That is hilarious!  No, it does not happen in ladies.  When we play mix, we experience that phenomenom definitely.  But no I do not get it very much in the ladies at all.  Thankfully!  I would say if it does happen in the ladies, we would walk away and stand somewhere so nobody would know.

TT:  *laughing*  So it's not part of a strategy move like Matt was trying to sell me on?

JH:  Right,, no.  We are probably more polite about it.

TT:  He was curious to see if women have the same problems or advantages, depending on what side of it you are on.

JH:  Yeah, no.  You probably have to strategize where you stand too.  And it is probably the same culprit every time too.

TT:  Yeah, that's what I'm hearing too.  *laughing*  And now, to be fair, it is your turn to do an #AskTheCurler.  My next interview is going to be with Nolan Thiessen.  If you could ask Nolan anything you want, any question you think would be interesting, what would you like to ask Nolan?

JH:  Oh my gosh.

TT:  This is hard right?

JH:  It really is.  Do I go with the serious question or the dropping bombs kind of question?  Ummm...this is interesting.  I do read Nolan's blog.  He is a really good writer.

TT:  Yes he is.

JH:  I almost feel like I need to ask him a serious question.  Hmmm...give me a minute.  I will come up with something.  Ok here is my question.  If you were to name each of your teammates (including yourself) after the seven dwarfs, who would they (and you) be?  You can choose from Sleepy, Happy, Grumpy, Dopey, Sneezy, Bashful and Doc.

TT:  What an excellent question.  I love it!!  Might have to use this in a few future interviews.  Well thank you Julie for joining me and talking curling and #growthesport today.  I greatly appreciate it.

JH:  Thanks James.

TT:  All the best for the future and hopefully we can touch base again.

JH:  Sounds good.  Take care!

Great insight and wisdom on the sport from a proven champion.  Again, I want to thank Julie for taking time over a long weekend to talk with me on a variety of topics.  I hope all of you enjoyed the interview as much as I did.  Welcome to the #TwineTime family will always be the First Lady of #TwineTime now :)

The curling coverage keeps coming this week rock heads and stoners.  Stay tuned for my 2016 Scotties Tournament of Hearts full preview and predictions.  Will #TwineTime and Julie Hastings have the same prediction for how the field will play out?  Or will we see a differing of opinions?  Stay tuned to find out....

Thursday, 11 February 2016

#BetweenTheSheets: The #RoadToOttawa 
Enters the Home Stretch
Filling gaps on your #Brier2016 scorecard & USA Wheelchair Curling

Ok #curling fans, let's be honest with one exciting is the month of February for this sport?  I mean honestly.  We have provincial/territorial championships for both men and women.  We have the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Grande Prairie.  We have preparation for the upcoming Tim Hortons Brier in Ottawa.  We see national championships south of the border with our friends in USA and across the pond throughout Europe.  In essence, the big picture path to the World Championships starts sinking in this month for most teams.  And the curling fans?  We are treated to top notch curling action online and on television every weekend.  Stoners and rock heads rejoice!!

The #2016Scotties field has been finalized and teams are putting in their final practice times on the ice, starting to think about what to pack and beginning to ask themselves exactly what they want to be eating during those wonderful 5th end break picnics while the camera is rolling.  For some teams, the Scotties dream may be over but there is still a few upcoming Grand Slam events to prepare for.  And for many teams, the off-season has arrived a bit too early.  Time to start thinking about the 2016/17 season.

While we take a break from women's curling for a moment, our attention shifts towards the final lap on the #RoadToOttawa.  Four spots remain on the start list and will be decided this weekend.  All four provincial championships have previous champions looking for repeats and teams dreaming of continuing the upset trend we saw with Scotties provincial playdowns.  However, before we get to the on-ice competition this week, let's bring in the first surprise guest to this week's blog.

Through the #TwineTime blog, my motto all season has been #growthesport.  For curling to succeed, we need to continue being creative, innovative and open minded to new ways to grow the sport for future generations.  Now, you may think I am going to go into a rant about #BroomGate (or whatever we are calling it now) but alas friendly follower you would be mistaken.  I would rather focus on the positives and a area of the sport we don't often see much coverage or mention: Wheelchair Curling.  

Did you know wheelchair curling has been a paralympic sport since 2006 (with Canada claiming all 3 gold medals thus far)?  Did you also know the World Wheelchair Curling Championships began in 2002 with 9 teams (Switzerland claiming the inaugural championship over Canada)?  Now, the world championships are held every year (with exception to Paralympic Years).  In fact, in 2015, there were 12 teams competing annually with an 11-team qualification event.  The sport began with 9 nations fielding teams and 13 years later we see 23 nations fielding a team.

Guest blogger and #TwineTime supporter Rebecca recently had the opportunity to surround herself with the USA Wheelchair Curling Team.  Welcome back Rebecca:

Curling is a sport that is constantly growing within the US.  We now have the partnership between ESPN and TSN for the Season of Champions.  More and more teams are starting to stream their games online.  Let’s not forget NBC’s Curling Night in America.  Beyond coverage of the game, the growth and push for dedicated ice in the western part of the US is in full force.  Out in Tempe, AZ, the Coyotes Curling Club has now been open around 2 years.  We have 4 sheets of dedicated ice that is proudly maintained by volunteers on Ice Crew led by Edmonton born, Level 2 Ice Technician Shawn Tait.  Our bonspiels are popular and fill up 32 team events within 45 minutes.  Teams from across the US and Canada have come to curl out here.  In a couple weeks we are excited to welcome Team Abe from Japan.  It is becoming busier and busier around the club.  The word is spreading and people are coming.  I’ve heard people even talking about choosing Phoenix as their place of retirement specifically because we have dedicated ice.  One thing that our club would benefit from is a curler development program.

Going into practice on Monday to see Patrick McDonald behind the bar was a good surprise.  He came to town a couple days early for the Team USA Wheelchair Curling Performance Camp.  Pat became my glimmer of hope to help me tweak my delivery.  I had the time to be down at the club with Pat while he is in town early practicing.  So he and I practiced together on Tuesday and Wednesday.  I greatly benefited from it because I was able to be evaluated, directed, and then corrected after practice.  I play in leagues twice a week, but I don’t have anyone that I play with regularly.  I want to become more consistent and competitive within my own club.  I was getting pretty good at dropping that ping pong ball into the red solo cups.  I wonder if that’s why Brad Jacob uses the Twitter handle @curlercups?

As we were practicing, we were also determining when each team member’s flight is coming in.  I was available for the week so I just offered to help where I was needed.  Quickly in a blink of the eye, it’s Thursday morning and I’m meeting the team and coaches at the hotel for breakfast and to go over to the club.  The team came here to practice last year before heading to Worlds.  I’ve been excited for them to come this year.  Last year only the 5 team members who were going to worlds, but this year all 8 team members were here for the team selection.

I am so impressed by the precision and accuracy that these curlers have achieved.  It was a long 3 days of drills. Complex shots including drawing behind corner guard, takeouts on the edges of the house, runbacks, and the all-important draw to the button.  What adds to the elegance and grace of wheelchair curling is that they don’t use sweepers during the game.  The players need to deliver the stone with the right line and weight right from the start.  In able-bodied curling, sweepers definitely influence the outcomes of the shot. 

All week I was itching to sweep the shots coming down the sheets to the houses.  On top of that, each night there would be curlers who would ask about subs in leagues for that night.  Our club was booked throughout the week, but I found a great compromise so that Pat did have a chance to play in a league game.  During my Friday night game, he delivered lead stones and I swept the other stones with the rest of the team.  Each end was started so well with Pat delivering a guard then a draw behind into the house.  It was a fun game to play and an easy W for the team. 

A great thing about curling is that you instantly know if you made the shot or you didn’t.  The challenge of curling is to identify those small tweaks that you have to do to add to consistency of your own game.  Like the saying goes, “Practice until you can’t miss the shot, not until you make the shot.”  During practice with Pat on Tuesday and Wednesday, we decided on some adjustments that I applied in my following games.  I’ll be darned, they worked!! Duh.

Spending my week at the club with the team has benefited me in so many ways.  I was able to see different techniques and drills to evaluate the players.  I joined the team during the sports psych day and gained new knowledge and inspiration from Lanny Bassham.  He is an American sports shooter who won a gold medal in the 1976 Summer Olympics, and a silver medal in the 1972 Summer Olympics.  If Coach Steve Brown has invited him to speak, then it’s smart to listen.

It became time for the coaches to decide which curlers made the team.  Even I was nervous waiting for their decision.  I had formed my own judgments, but I didn’t add them into the mix.  After the wait was over, everyone reacted differently, but the team came together to support each other.  They are still Team USA, but 3 of them will be on the alternate list instead of going to Worlds.  Each athlete is admiral keeping their composure after the results and supporting each other.  I was definitely inspired by their bond as a team.  Check out the press release naming all of the members going to Worlds.

The biggest take away that I got from the week is that there are so many different ways to be involved with curling without actually being on the ice.  I was lucky enough to find an article by Team USA talking about the WCF Coach Mentorprogram.  I am fortunate enough to have all of the right ducks lined up in a row so that I can go to Jacksonville to learn more about the coaching side of curling.  Not only do I get to dive into my new interest of coaching and leadership within a team, I will get to see some of the games at the USA Nationals competition.  Going to Jacksonville is definitely a great step in the right direction towards growing the players in our club.

Who knows what my future holds, but so far I’m working on certifications for Instructor, Wheelchair Instructor, Officiating, and now a coaching program.  That reminds me, I need to go figure out paperwork. 

Thank you Rebecca for providing some great insight into #WheelchairCurling and continuing to help #growthesport.  Need another reason to get excited for curling in February?  The 2016 World Wheelchair Curling Championships take place February 21 - 28 in Lucerne, Switzerland.  Can Russia repeat their 2015 championship and claim their 3rd title in 4 years?  Can China continue their steady climb up the podium, seeing bronze medal finishes in 2013 and 2014 jumping to runner-up last year?  Can Canada add to their record 3 World Championship victories?  And can Team USA, as mentioned above, find the podium for the first time since a bronze medal finish in 2008?  For more information, check out  

Let's shift our focus to the intense competitions hitting the ice this week.  We have the remaining #2016Brier slate to fill out, USA Curling is going to crown their men's and women's national champions and Scotland will do the same in determining their representatives at the upcoming World Championships.

Tim Hortons Brier Qualifying

Last weekend we added three more names to the competition list.  And what a trifecta is was.  All three have loads of Brier experience, further shaping the 2016 Tim Hortons Brier to be one of the most competitive and star-studded events we have seen.  As we venture down the final turn towards completing qualification, here are the representatives who have already punched their ticket to Ottawa:

Team Canada – Pat Simmons
Nunavut – Wade Kingdon
Yukon – Bob Smallwood
Nova Scotia – Jamie Murphy
Quebec – Jean-Michel Menard
Northwest Territories - Jamie Koe
Newfoundland & Labrador - Brad Gushue
P.E.I. - Adam Casey
Saskatchewan - Steve Laycock
Ontario - Glenn Howard
New Brunswick - Mike Kennedy

Get ready though folks, this week brings some of the most anticipated provincial playdowns of the season, namely Alberta and Manitoba.  Let's dive into the preview and predictions for the 4 remaining champions:

British Columbia

2015 Champion:  Jim Cotter

Format:  16-team triple knockout with 4 qualifiers advancing to the page playoff.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Cotter, Team Joanisse

W2W4: Jim Cotter will try to follow in the footsteps of his Saskatchewan counterpart Steve Laycock last weekend and complete the #3peat.  In fact, Cotter will be aiming for his 5th title in the past 6 years...a dynasty almost you could call it.  Cotter will see some familiar names trying to knock him off the championship perch with previous champion (2007) and last year runner-up Dean Joanisse and 2009 Champion Sean Gaell (buoyed by 2013 champ Andrew Bilesky at vice) competing.  Joanisse should be the biggest challenger though, feeding off last year's championship final run and seeming to be the strongest team outside of Cotter in the competition.  Looking for a darkhorse though (as we always are here at #TwineTime)?  I would place my odds on Chase Martyn.  This is Martyn's first year calling the shots in the house but does have a runner-up finish on tour this season in one of their three events.  Big picture though, Cotter will be difficult to take down this week.

Playoff Teams:  Team Cotter, Team Joanisse, Team Martyn, Team Geall

British Columbia Champion:  Team Cotter over Team Joanisse


2015 Champion:  Kevin Koe  

Format:  12-team triple knockout with 4 qualifiers advancing to the page playoff.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Koe, Team Thomas, Team Bottcher

W2W4: We have a theme developing folks...Kevin Koe will also be gunning for the #3peat this week at the Boston Pizza Cup.  In fact, Koo-Dawg will be aiming for title number 5 in 7 years.  Team Koe will be the overwhelming favourite to punch the Alberta ticket to Ottawa.  These boys have been hot this season, winning 4 events including the opening slam Tour Challenge and the Canada Cup.  They have also qualified in all 9 events they have played in.  Last year's runner-up Team Bottcher and bronze medallist Mick Lizemore also return to make another run at Koe's title.  Both should provide stiff competition once again.  However, the biggest threat should come from Charley Thomas and his new team.  Team Thomas has played 10 events this season, qualified in 8 and collected one title.  Also, they are fresh off a SF finish at the Golden Wrench event in Arizona last month.  Koe should win...but in a one-game final, Thomas could pull the Jenn Hanna of men's qualifying this weekend.

Playoff Teams:  Team Koe, Team Thomas, Team Bottcher, Team Lizemore

Alberta Champion:  Team Koe over Team Thomas


2015 Champion:  Reid Carruthers  

Format:  32-team double knockout with 8 qualifiers advancing to Championship Knockout.  The Championship Knockout is a double elimination with a Final 4 advancing to the page playoff.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Carruthers, Team McEwen, Team Dunstone, Team Lyburn, Team Forrest, Team Peters

W2W4:  Ready for the most confusing and crazy provincial championship ever?  Bring on Manitoba!  Basically a 32-team double double knockout with a page playoff at the end.  Win 7 games in a row, you claim the Buffalo.  Lose just one game and the path gets longer.  Lose two and see ya later.  The storylines for this championship are endless.  Will this FINALLY be the year Mike McEwen and #redpants make the Brier?  Can Reiarama show last year's title wasn't a fluke and they are indeed the present and future of men's curling in Manitoba?  What about current Canadian Junior champion Team Dunstone?  Could #DunnyIsMoney continue and become the first team to claim a Canadian Junior and Brier appearance in the same season?  And what would happen in this instance considering the Brier and World Junior Curling Championships are held at the same time?  I spoke with skip Matt Dunstone before play began and even he admitted he wasn't too sure what would be the end result (although I think he wanted to remain humble and not look too far ahead with a huge competition staring him in the face).  Imagine if Dunstone beats, say, McEwen in the final?  And let's say Dunstone stays committed to wearing the Maple Leaf in Denmark.  Would McEwen nab his first Brier appearance as the Manitoba runner-up?  What a story that would make!  Don't get too excited on the trifecta above though.  Watch out for Willie Lyburn and his team, streaking towards the end of the season themselves, qualifying in 3 of the previous 4 events after failing to qualify in their first 5.  And what about Alex Forrest and Daley Peters?  Both of these teams have experience at this level and on tour and will also be a threat.  Many may talk about all eyes being on Manitoba because of the McEwen and Carruthers teams but don't overlook just how many contending teams are in this field.  If either of the top 2 slip up just an inch in any game, they can be beaten.  And if Scotties playdowns taught us anything, expect the unexpected this season perhaps?  Weird sidenote about this crazy draw...the competition starts Wednesday and by the end of the day 4 teams will already be eliminated.  4 teams invest the time and money to compete at a provincial championship only to be eliminated in 1 day.  The draw also uses a "pod" mentality meaning the draw is broken up into 4 quadrants.  Each quadrant will result in an A and B qualifier.  The teams do not play teams in other quadrants unless the qualify.  The result?  The same 8 teams play one another in a mini RR of sorts, only playing another.  Personally, I don't like it.  No tour event uses this "pod" system nor does any grand slam.  The knockout draw alone is a bit crazy but then to add this layer on top seems a bit stupid.  How does it even seem fair?  And yet we sit here and wonder why playdown participation numbers overall are low across the country?  #TheGreatDivide continues....

Qualified Teams:  Team McEwen, Team Dennis Bohn, Team Dunstone, Team Lyburn, Team Peters, Team Forrest, Team Carruthers, Team Kolomaya

Championship Teams:  Team McEwen, Team Dunstone, Team Carruthers, Team Lyburn

Manitoba Champion:  Team McEwen over Team Dunstone

Northern Ontario

2015 Champion:  Brad Jacobs

Format:  8-team round robin with Top 3 advancing to the championship playoff.

Top Team Entered:  Team Jacobs

W2W4:  Can the Jacobs train be stopped in Northern Ontario?  Brad Jacobs will aim for his 6th title in 7 years, missing 2014 because he was just winning an Olympic Gold biggie!  With no disrespect to the other 7 teams competing this week, I find it very hard to see anyone mounting much of a challenge to Team Jacobs.  This team struggled (by their standards) to hoist a title in 2015 but opened 2016 with a win at the TSN Skins Game.  This victory was just the confidence this team needed to really make them dangerous.  Sure, let's give the field a chance and say perhaps they MAYBE drop 1 game in the round robin, they should lock up the bye to the final and in a one-game playoff, I take Jacobs over the field anyday.  Pay close attention though to current Northern Ontario Junior Champion Team Horgan, fresh off the Canadian Junior final.  They open the event playing Team Jacobs, which could be a huge blessing for them.  If they can stay close and competitive with the Olympic champs, it could provide the motivation and confidence they need right now after a tough national championship loss to make a deep run here.  I wouldn't underestimate this young team...they have eerily similar hitting ability to the favourites. 

Playoff Teams:  Team Jacobs, Team Koivula, Team Assad

Northern Ontario Champion:  Team Jacobs over Team Koivula

USA National Curling Championships

While most of the attention within the curling world seems focused on the playdowns in Canada, curling fans south of the border flocked to Jacksonville, Florida this week for the USA National Curling Championships.  Yup, this is not a misprint my friends.  As we speak (or as you read I should say) curling is taking place...on the Florida?  Now talk about #growthesport?!?


2015 Champion: John Shuster

Format:  10-team round robin with Top 4 advancing to the page playoff.

Top Team Entered:  Team Shuster, Team Brown, Team Clark, Team McCormick, Team Dropkin, Team Fenson

W2W4:   Let's be honest, this is Shuster's title to win (or lose depending how you want to look at it).  Shuster has easily been the strongest men's team in the US this season.  Three titles to his credit.  Three grand slams played in, including making the SF at the season opening Tour Challenge.  They enter this event fresh off a QF finish at the Golden Wrench in Arizona, the only host nation team to qualify for the playoffs.  The field is strong, littered with former champions like Brown, Clark, McCormick, Fenson, Birr.  Add in the top two junior teams, fresh off battling one another for the USA Junior Championship, Dropkin and Clawson and two up and coming teams in Corbett and Leichter and you have a fairly competitive field actually.  I don't see any team sliding through the house undefeated this week.  And while Shuster will be the one who should take home the title over the weekend, the final three teams joining him in the playoffs is almost a coin flip between the other 9 teams.  Will experience reign supreme?  Can the youth movement make their mark?  Will we see upset fever move south of the border?  This should be an entertaining event to keep an eye on curling fans.

Playoff Teams:  Team Shuster, Team Brown, Team Clark, Team Dropkin 

USA Men's National Curling Champion:  Team Shuster over Team Brown


2015 Champion:  Erika Brown   

Format:  7-team round robin with Top 4 advancing to the page playoff.

Top Team Entered:  Team Brown, Team Sinclair, Team Roth, Team Christensen  

W2W4:  Unlike the men, I think we will see a quick divide in the standings as this round robin plays out.  The top 3 women's teams in the US are quite clear above the pack: Brown, Sinclair and Roth.  Similar to the men however, I do not see any of these teams going undefeated this week.  The first team to slip up and suffer that dreaded second loss could find themselves in the 3vs4 page playoff game with no second chance opportunity at the title.  Remember last year when the top 3 teams after the round robin all had identical 8-1 records?  An 8-1 Team Christensen found themselves in the 3vs4 game....with only 1 loss!  Also similar to the men's competition, we will see a continued trend in junior curling success with current USA Junior Champions Team Christensen competing for the title again this year.  Last year's amazing run through the round robin ended with a tough loss in the 3vs4 game against a very experienced Patti Lank squad.  Christensen can feed off the experience last year and the momentum of the junior title to make a competitive run at the title here.  In the end though, as Shuster is the overwhelming choice on the men's side of the draw, expect Brown to play a similar role on the women's side.  Besides Madison, WI has claimed the past three champions of this event (Brown x 2, Nina Spatola), why bet against Badger Nation now?  Even though the projected other 3 playoff teams all come from Blaine, MN.  What a Big 10 battle we have going here.

Playoff Teams:  Team Brown, Team Sinclain, Team Roth, Team Christensen 

USA Women's National Curling Champion:  Team Brown over Team Sinclair

Scottish Curling Championships

Oh we are not done yet my friends...I told you at the beginning of this blog post we had a lot of exciting curling coverage to get to.  We travelled through Canada.  Took a detour in sunny Florida.  And we end our weekly journey in the birthplace of the sport: Scotland!


2015 Champion:  Ewan MacDonald

Format:  10-team round robin with Top 4 advancing to the page playoff.

Top Team Entered:  Team Murdoch, Team Brewster, Team MacDonald, Team Mouat, Team Smith  

W2W4:  Can David Murdoch ever win another Scottish championship?  Murdoch is without a doubt the most well-known Scottish male curling on the planet over the past 10 years....yet his last win here came in 2009.  And who was his vice back then?  Current two-time defending champion Ewan MacDonald!  How is that for irony?  Ok, perhaps I am being a bit unfair to David, he did win the title in 2013 as vice for Tom Brewster.  Speaking of Brewster, he is back vying for another title as well after completing the #3peat of his own from 2011-2013.  Of course his team back then is now Mr. Murdoch's current team.  Quite the drama across the pond isn't there?  And what about those darkhorse picks?  Well pay attention to Team Mouat and Team Smith.  Team Mouat is the two-time Scottish junior champ, who will be in Denmark looking to improve on his bronze medal finish from a year ago.  The Mouat team also has a tour victory under their belts this season at the Dumfries Challenger Series.  And Kyle Smith...well he just happened to win the World Junior title in 2013 and was a runner-up in 2014.  Similar to his young compatriot, Smith also has a tour title this season (Edinburgh International)  Both of these teams are ready to make the leap towards the men's championship.   

Playoff Teams:  Team Murdoch, Team Brewster, Team MacDonald, Team Mouat

Scottish Men's National Curling Champion:  Team Brewster over Team Murdoch


2015 Champion:  Eve Muirhead

Format:  8-team round robin with Top 4 advancing to the page playoff.

Top Team Entered:  Team Muirhead

W2W4:  The 5-time champion Muirhead will be the team to watch all week.  She should see little resistance from the other 7 teams trying to sweep her out of the house and claim the title for themselves.  Muirhead is one of the best in the world, fresh off the Continental Cup appearance and runner-up finish at the European Championships.  The only question mark surrounding this team is the fact they have yet to pick up a tour title this season.  But what better place to start the victory party?  The biggest challengers should come from two other young skips: Hannah Flemming and Lauren Gray.  Strange to think the top 3 on the podium at this event could be skips all born in the 1990's.  Feel old yet?   

Playoff Teams:  Team Muirhead, Team Flemming, Team Gray, Team Aitken

Scottish Women's National Curling Champion:  Team Muirhead over Team Flemming

Alright friends, what a blog we had this week.  Thank you for reading through it!  Thank you to Rebecca for re-joining the #TwineTime family as a guest blogger.  As always, pay attention to CurlingZone and CurlingGeek for up to date scores, draws and playoff standings all week and weekend.

Oh right....I promised another surprise announcement this week didn't I?  Well, here it is friends.  Stay tuned for next week's big Scotties preview blog post when #TwineTime adds another member to the family...this time 2015 Ontario Champion skip Julie Hastings!!!  Julie will join me for a player profile and offer her insight into what to expect in Grande Prairie.