Now before I dive into the full Masters preview, you and I have some catching up to do. My apologies for the lack of coverage last week. As most of you know this is a side project I work on for fun...my real job had my quite busy last week, including a trip to Jasper, AB for a work conference. Yes, I know...tough life when you have to go to Jasper for 5 days....you can save your sympathy for me LOL But while I was learning, networking and running a scavenger hunt, the world curling tour action continued. Let's take a quick look at how the results over the past two weeks have impacted the #TwineTime Power Rankings:
1. Team Edin (LW: 2)
2. Team Gushue (1)
3. Team Koe (3)
4. Team Laycock (5)
5. Team Carruthers (HM)
Hon. Mention: Team Jacobs, Team Epping, Team Thomas, Team Morris
1. Team Homan (LW: 2)
2. Team Hasselborg (1)
3. Team Scheidegger (4)
4. Team Muirhead (3)
5. Team J. Jones (5)
Hon. Mention: Team Gim, Team Wang, Team Sigfridsson, Team Tirinzoni
We see a similar shakeup on both the men's and women's mountain top over the past two weeks...and both involving a Canada vs. Sweden theme! After the results of the past two weeks, both rankings find a new, yet not unfamiliar, team sitting alone at the top.
For the men, Nik Edin and his Swedish foursome recapture the coveted top spot heading into the season's opening grand slam. Team Edin captured the Curling Masters Champery event in Switzerland last weekend, claiming his third title of the year (leading the pack in event wins as well). Team Gushue continues to put up strong results though even with their skipper still on the IR list. Let's hope we can see an Edin/Gushue/Koe trifecta of match ups in Okotoks this weekend. Watch out for Team Laycock and Team Carruthers though. Laycock took home the Direct Horizontal Drilling Fall Classic in Edmonton a few weeks ago (defeating Carruthers in the final) and Carruthers responded by winning the Canad Inn's Men's Classic the following week in Portage (beating Team Thomas in the final). Both teams are looking very strong after a less than stellar start to the season. And look at the opening match for The Masters: Koe vs. Laycock! Teams Jacobs, Epping (including his win last weekend in Gatineau), Thomas and Morris are also putting together a string of fine results the past few weeks with all but Thomas competing at The Masters.
On the women's mountain, similar result to the men except this time it is the Canadian team overtaking their Swedish opponents. Team Homan took home the Canad Inn's Women's Classic last weekend in Portage to reclaim her spot at the top, defeating Hasselborg in the SF even! Both teams will be in Okotoks as well...perhaps we see another playoff match up? Perhaps the bigger news on the women's rankings is the success of Team Scheidegger. This team has entered 3 events and picked up 3 championships, most recently winning the Medicine Hat Charity Classic last weekend. She also has conquered Team Muirhead and Team Jones in championship finals this season. They are the hottest team on tour....too bad they weren't invited to play in The Masters (the rankings argument once again needs to be explored here!!!). Team Muirhead and Team Jones round out the Top 5 and keep their spots on the mountain...for now. Look at those honourable mention teams though. Notice a trend? Yup they are all international teams. Teams Gin and Wang had success last weekend with SF appearances in Medicine Hat and Portage. Team Sigfridsson has also been a hot team the past couple weeks and while Team Tirinzoni's heat has lost a few degrees on the thermometer, never underestimate them in a grand slam!
Ok, we are caught up on the recent tour results. We have updated the Power Rankings. Let's dive into the fun stuff...the preview of The Masters! Let #TwineTime take you back in time for a quick history lesson on the first grand slam event:
- The Masters has gone through the naming reboot phase quite a few times. In fact, there have been 8 different names attached to this event. Most of the name changes are a result of sponsorship changes however, such as M&M Meat Shops Masters of Curling or Home Hardware Masters of Curling. For 2016, the official name is WFG Masters.
- The event became an amalgamation of the World Cup of Curling/Masters of Curling and the Sun Life Classic. The Sun Life Classic was contested from 2005 - 2011 (men) and 2007 - 2011 (women). The World Cup of Curling was held from 2009 - 2011. Beginning in 2012, The Masters became the prestigious event it is today with men's and women's tournament play running together.
- The Masters event has always carried a purse of $100,000 for the men. The women's event in 2012 had only a $50,000 purse but this was upgraded to the equal purse for men and women in 2013. The top purse for the now defunct Sun Life Classic was $50,000 for both the men and women from 2009 - 2011.
- No international team has ever won the The Masters, men's or women's draw. On the men's side, no team outside Canada has ever made the final. On the women's side, Team Muirhead (2013) and Team Sigfridsson (2014) reached the championship final. However, if including the Sun Life Classic results into the conversation, Nik Edin did take home the men's title in 2011 (defeated Switzerland's Sven Michel).
- Glen Howard has the most Masters titles with 6. If we include the Sun Life titles, his number jumps to 8. The next closest would be Mike McEwen with 4 titles, including last year's win in Truro, Nova Scotia.
- Rachel Homan is the most successful women's skip with 3 titles (all in the past 4 years). Team Homan took home the title last year as well, defeating 2014 champion Val Sweeting.
- The winner of the 2016 WFG Masters will receive an automatic berth in the season ending Humpty's Champions Cup, taking place in Calgary at the famous Canada Olympic Park at the end of April.
History lesson complete! Now when you watch the action on the ice from your couch at home or at your club with your teammates you can wow them with all your trivia knowledge. Bet a few choice beverages as well and walk away a winner. #YourWelcome
The whole Canada vs. The World theme will be very relevant at the 2016 WFG Masters. 7 of the 15 teams competing for the women's championship represent Team World. 5 of the 15 men's teams add in a strong Team World delegation. Add it up and 12 of 30 teams will attempt to bring home the first Masters championship win for Team World and stop the Canada domination. But of these 12 Team World representatives, who has the best chance to rise to the top and who could surprise a few teams? And what about that strong Team Canada delegation. With 18 fierce teams competing, which are the teams to watch out for and which should be considered the favourites to keep the title in "our home and native land"? No worries friends, #TwineTime brings you the #TaleOfTheTape for this heavyweight battle in Okotoks:
The Favourite: Team Nik Edin - What can I say about the Swedish Viking Nik Edin that hasn't already been said? The guy is on fire this season, as noted above. The 31 year old skip is already a two-time World Champion (2013, 2015) and four-time European Champion (2009, 2012, 2014, 2015) and the theme for 2017 could be the number 3, as in #3peat European Champion and World Champion title #3. Edin has struggled at slams in the past though, only reaching 2 finals (2014/15 Elite 10 and 2010/11 Players) in 27 appearances. He has the game, the skill, the good looks and the personality to be the poster child for the sport though. Fans from all over the world love him and a break through slam performance this week would be great to see.
Watch Out For: Team de Cruz - When one is asked to name the top international men's curling teams often names like Edin, Ulsrud and Murdoch are the first to be mentioned. However, Peter de Cruz has a strong case to make on why he should be included as well. The 26 year old Swiss skip is leading his team to a great start of the season, winning their season opening Baden Masters event and qualifying in 4 of 5 events entered. In 8 previous slam appearances, de Cruz has failed to qualify for the playoffs however this could be the perfect event for him to turn the corner on that record.
The Dark Horse: Team Smith - The 2013 World Junior Curling Champion from Scotland may be the least experienced grand slam team in the field but don't associate that with lack of talent. This team has been one of the strongest, and underestimated, teams of the season. 4 events played, 4 qualifications and 1 title. Not a bad resume I would say. Expecting a title win this weekend might be too much to ask right now but don't be surprised to see this young team turn some heads and knock off a few of the "more experienced" teams.
The Favourite: Team Gushue - Team Gushue (currently Team Nichols) sure hasn't slowed down the pace of success from last season with their skipper sitting on the bench. Pulling in numerous super spares throughout the season has seen success with 4 events qualified and 1 title. Not bad considering you are playing a man down and with a slightly different line up most weeks. This week in Okotoks the team welcomes back Charley Thomas to the line up at vice. This will be Thomas' third event with the team, reaching the final at Shorty Jenkins and the SF last weekend in Gatineau. This team won 3 slam titles last season but the Masters was their worst result (QF). They will look to change that in Okotoks.
Watch Out For: Team Laycock - #TeamOranje is hitting their stride at the perfect time entering the grand slam season. The boys from Saskatchewan had a rough start to the season, failing to qualify in their first two events. However, when the team returned to their friendly home province for the College Clean Restoration Classic in Saskatoon...BOOM!...new team! They reached the SF in Saskatoon and followed it up with a championship win in Edmonton and a SF appearance in Portage. Team Laycock has never been a team receiving tons of praise or media build up heading into grand slam events as a champion contender yet the team has the pedigree and experience to compete with anyone in the field. Last season marked the first time the team qualified for all grand slam events, reaching the SF at The Masters and Elite 10. They may fly a bit under the radar here...but that seems to be when they are at their most dangerous.
The Dark Horse: Team Cotter - Last season Jim Cotter had to win his Masters invite, taking home the Tour Challenge Tier II title 6 weeks earlier in Newfoundland. He made the most of his experience however in playing light's out curling throughout the event and reaching the championship final (losing to Team McEwen). Fast forward one year and Cotter will be back, looking to up the ante of last season's result by winning one more match. Of course this is a much different Team Cotter than a year ago. Jim has reunited with past teammate John Morris and this season they are looking to replicate the magic they had back in 2013/14 when they reached the finals of the Canadian Olympic Curling Trials in Winnipeg and the Tim Hortons Brier in Kamloops. The team has qualified in all 4 events entered this season, including a runner-up finish at their opening event in Oakville. The field is stacked with talent and they may fly a bit under the radar....but I think this works perfect for them...just like last year?!
The Favourite: Team Hasselborg - Hasselborg may be a bit of an unfamiliar with curling fans but she is quickly winning over fans from around the world with her steady play this season. The quick rise in popularity will happen though when you play 6 events to start the season and collect 2 championship wins and 2 additional SF appearances (including their last event in Portage). Hasselborg is a former world junior champion (2010) remember so the rise to curling supremacy should not be a huge shock for fans. Internationally she also lead Team Sweden to a 5th place finish at the 2014 European Championships. Random fact of the day for you: Anna Hasselborg's first ever international competition was winning a bronze medal at the 2008 European Mixed Curling Championship...skipped by? Of course...Nik Edin!! #SvenskDominans
Watch Out For: Team Sidorova - The Russian's have been a tough team to call this season. Not because of results but because of their limited schedule to start the year. They have only played 2 events leading into the opening slam. They did qualify in both though but failed to advance beyond the QF. The team also suffered a major shock when they lost the best-of-7 Russian European playdown competition...meaning skip Anna Sidorova will be representing Russia as an alternate only. This team has all the potential in the world to be a top world contender yet the results can be hit or miss. Last season they did qualify for all 4 major grand slam events, won the European Championship and continued the streak of bronze medal wins at the world championships (third in a row). The expectations are high heading into this season...time to deliver!
The Dark Horse: Team Kim - South Korea's EunJung Kim is the perfect dark horse team to go deep in this tournament. Kim has qualified in 3 of her 4 events this season, reaching the SF in each of them. Sure she struggled a bit in Portage leading into this event but I wouldn't underestimate them here, even against this high calibre field. Kim won 3 titles a year ago and, up until last week's result in Portage, they had successfully qualified in 6 straight events dating back to the end of last season. They can hang with any of the "big names" they will compete against and have really become the leaders of the South Korean revolution we are seeing in the sport this year (more on that in a future blog post, #StayTuned). With the 2018 Winter Olympics taking place in their home nation, the 2016/17 season is the perfect time for this team to stake their claim on being a possible podium threat.
The Favourite: Team Homan - Ok so no surprise here...sorry everyone. But come on, we all know Team Homan is the clear cut favourite to defend her title here. They are undefeated on the season...well based on tournament wins of course. They have played in only two events but have two titles to show for it. Last season they won 7 titles, including 3 slam championships. Anything short of a finals appearance, at the least, would be a disappointment for this team. They look very hungry to dominate the competition all season and erase the disappointment of missing out on the Scotties. To be the best, you have to beat the best! If anyone has plans to surpass them on the top of the rankings mountain, now might be the best time....but don't hold your breath on it happening.
Watch Out For: Team Fleury - Team Fleury was the poster child for newcomer slam success in 2015/16. The team qualified for all 5 slam events, reaching the final at The National (playing almost a perfect game vs. Team Homan) and making the SF at the season opening Tour Challenge. The team failed to qualify out of pool play at last season's Masters event but will come to Okotoks with way more slam experience than a year ago. The loss to Team McCarville in the Northern Ontario championship was also a tough one to put behind them...especially watching McCarville reach the Scotties final. However, this season the team has qualified in 4 of 5 events but have failed to advance past the QF round. With the unpredictability we have seen already this season, there is no reason not to expect a strong result from Team Fleury in Okotoks and a push towards a playoff run.
The Dark Horse: Team Flaxey - To be honest, this spot would have belonged to Team Scheidegger had they been invited/qualified for the event (3 events, 3 wins, not here? Yup, about that world ranking and qualification system we have...really working well??!?!). But don't fret people, Team Flaxey is also a perfect dark horse team to hitch your wagon too if you like cheering on upsets. Last season was a bit of the break out year for the team with Flaxey collecting her first tour title win (KW Fall Classic). The championship title also qualified them for the season ending Champions Cup, the only slam event they played last year. Flaxey has qualified for 6 slam events but has failed to advance to the playoff round each time. This season could see a change in futility. Team Flaxey has already played 5 events on tour this year and has qualified in each of them, including reaching back to back finals at Stu Sells Oakville and Shorty Jenkins. This team could surprise a few of the bigger names in their pool early on. Random aside note: Flaxey once curled with Casey Scheidegger as vice (2011) when she lived in Alberta.
Pool A Pool B Pool C
Team Gushue 3 - 1 Team Koe 3 - 1 Team Carruthers 3 - 1
Team Edin 3 - 1 Team Laycock 3 - 1 Team McEwen 2 - 2
Team Jacobs 3 - 1 Team Epping 2 - 2 Team Murdoch 2 - 2
Team Bottcher 1 - 3 Team de Cruz 2 - 2 Team Morris 2 - 2
Team Howard 0 - 4 Team Shuster 0 - 4 Team Smith 1 - 3
Pool A Pool B Pool C
Team Homan 3 - 1 Team Jones 3 - 1 Team Hasselborg 3 - 1
Team Muirhead 2 - 2 Team Sidorova 2 - 2 Team Tirinzoni 3 - 1
Team Kim 2 - 2 Team Flaxey 2 - 2 Team Fleury 2 - 2
Team Rocque 2 - 2 Team Feltscher 2 - 2 Team Sweeting 1 - 3
Team Paetz 1 - 3 Team Carey 1 - 3 Team Einarson 1 - 3
Men: Team Koe, Team Gushue, Team Carruthers, Team Edin, Team Jacobs, Team Epping, Team Laycock, Team Murdoch
Women: Team Homan, Team Hasselborg, Team Jones, Team Tirinzoni, Team Sidorova, Team Muirhead, Team Kim, Team Fleury
Men: Team Edin def. Team Jacobs
Women: Team Homan def. Team Hasselborg
This was a tough field to predict and call stoners and rock heads. I could be 100% correct here or 10% correct here...neither would surprise me. Although that is what we kind of hope for right? We want some upsets, we want to see top teams do well too....we want good curling!! And I think we are in for it this week in Okotoks. I am proud and humbled to say I will be in Okotoks taking in the grand slam action beginning Thursday afternoon. Follow my twitter account for some live curling action pics, vids, tweets and who knows what else?
Also, thank you to all the fans who voted in the recent #TwineTime poll on the homepage. The results are in and you the fans have spoke. The Grand Slam of Curling Fan Choice Award goes to.....IT'S A TIE!!! The Grand Slam of Curling Co-Fan Choice Awards go to The Players Championship and The Champions Cup, each receiving 31% of the vote. The Masters finished in 4th with 3%, just behind The Canadian Open. In a tie for last, and a bit of a surprise for the tie here actually, were The National and Elite 10 with 2%. I am more surprised people actually selected the Elite 10 as their favourite...who did that? You need to hit me up on twitter and explain yourself....maybe even try (I doubt it) to convince me why that event is so amazing in your book.
Head over to the #TwineTime blog main page now for an updated NEW POLL!! This time I want to hear from you on which side of rivalry theme you are cheering for this season. Are you #TeamWorld or are you #TeamCanada? Have your voice be heard NOW curling fans.
Enjoy The 2016 WFG Masters....
AND #StayTuned friends.....a surprise guest will be added to the #TwineTime family during The Masters (perhaps even 2!!), I won't ruin the surprise but can entice you with a hint? Think World Champion!!