The opening long weekend of the 2017 Scotties Tournament of Hearts is in the books...and what a weekend. We saw a few upsets. We saw some tears. We saw some great shots. We saw some bad misses. We saw the provincial and territorial pride shine. And we said goodbye to the R-word (relegation that is!).
As is the case every year with the Scotties, we see some highlights and lowlights from the opening few days of action. I am confident all of you did the same throughout the long weekend, I put some more butt grooves in my couch and anxiously watched each rock thrown down the ice in St. Catharines. There have certainly been many storylines coming out of the weekend and with #MovingDay arriving quickly on Wednesday, it is time for the annual tradition of midterm report cards. The Big Red marker rolled out from under the couch, cracked its lid and starting handing out the grades.
The first half of the week-long event has come to a close and here are the #TwineTime midterm grades:
A: #StealPants - What is going on here? Even Oprah wouldn't be handing out this many free gifts in the span of 4 days. You get a steal and you get a steal and you get a steal and everyone gets a steal! It's almost out of control. But if you like unpredictable ends, high scoring and comebacks....this is your Scotties! Personally, I love it. I love the high scoring. I love the comebacks and big ends. At the conclusion of Tuesday nights draw a combined total of 91 ends have been stolen. Based on 356 ends played, that results in a 25.6% steal rate overall. CRAZY! To no surprise, the teams sitting at the top lead the way in ends stolen with Ontario the big pick pocket stealing 15 total ends. Northern Ontario and Manitoba (12 each) and Canada (10) are right behind them. On the flip side, Newfoundland and Labrador (3) and Saskatchewan (4) are on the opposite side of the spectrum. The largest single stolen end was 4 points by Quebec (W vs Nova Scotia) and B.C. (L vs NWT). Perhaps more crazy is B.C. having the largest stolen end but also in the same game giving up a steal of 3 in a shocking loss after being up 6-2. The CFL started the #NoLeadIsSafe mentality and the Pac-12 football season was dubbed #Pac12AfterDark because of the late heroics in games. Curling has a similar excitement level going on right now....and I for one welcome it. Cheryl Bernard made a great comment Sunday along the lines of stolen points often mean two things: teams without hammer are on the attack more or teams with hammer are failing to execute. I think it is a bit of both. Yes, we are seeing a lot of execution errors (more on that below) but we also seeing all teams not afraid to put rocks in play and go for the big scores. Just look at Team Homan as an example. We are used to watching Rachel call a fairly open first and second end...not here though. They are ready to go at you from opening rock, with or without hammer. Offense keeps fans excited and into the games, especially with big ends and big comebacks. Let's hope this trend continues. A+ to all the teams!
B: #TeamUpset - All the talk going into this event was focused on the Big 4 (Ontario, Northern Ontario, Manitoba, Canada) being the teams that would be fighting for those page playoff spots. Well don't punch those tickets quite yet! There are two #TeamUpset contenders looking to make a surprise playoff run. The NWT team, led by Kerry Galusha, have been a fan favourite for years but have struggled to be in the playoff hunt heading into #MovingDay. Not in 2017! The #PolarPower express has been playing great and are right in the hunt. Remember, this team had to win the pre-qualification and, as a result, have already played 4 additional games to their competition. Can they hold form and battle fatigue to make a late push is the big question? And what about the #FrenchFighters from Quebec. Eve Belisle started with 2 losses and, heading into Wednesday action, had won 5 straight games and sits 5-2 with a very real shot at the playoffs. Not too many people were talking about this team heading into the event (Ok #TwineTime did call them a dark horse to watch) yet here they are looking to shock the curling world. If you like cheering for underdogs, NWT and Quebec should be receiving all your cheers and applause over the next few days.
C: #Favourites - So, about those Big 4. Ok sure Ontario and Manitoba are sitting atop the table. Canada is right behind them and Northern Ontario is making a rise up the standings as well. But after watching many of their games (it seems TSN will be showing at least one of these teams every draw), none of these teams are looking dominant. Each of them are making uncharacteristic errors (perhaps some icing issues as well of course, more on that below). But if any of those #TeamUpset leaders come to play, any of these Big 4 teams could be taken down. There are no bingo spaces remember! Team Homan is starting to look like they have found their groove though and that could be dangerous for ALL teams, including the other 3 favourites. Manitoba has played great but has also needed to battle back hard late in games to comeback and survive. Canada has struggled with consistency but Chelsea Carey seems to be finding some confidence as the draw progresses. Northern Ontario has also seen some inconsistent results and uncharacteristic errors that they did not have last year in their run to the final. All 3 of these teams can still challenge overall favourite Ontario for the title but they will need to step up their games right now...or risk watching opportunity pass them by...and perhaps by a few #TeamUpset contenders!
D: #AtlanticTears - You have to feel for the teams coming to the Scotties from Atlantic Canada. The teams often are unable to travel to the bigger events throughout the curling season due to travel/financial constraints. The teams are usually playing their season on club ice and have little to no experience on arena ice. But, it's not impossible for any of the four Atlantic province teams to compete for a Scotties title. Nova Scotia has been the most successful of course due to Colleen Jones' dominating performance in the past. New Brunswick also has a title to their credit...back in 1963 when this event was called the Diamond D Championship. Newfoundland and Labrador have three runner-up finishes and PEI have two. But 2017 does not look to be the year we celebrate a title moving far out East. Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and PEI are a combined 5-13 record and sitting near the bottom of the standings (luckily for them BC and Saskatchewan are still winless). New Brunswick suffered the worst loss of the event back on Saturday afternoon when they fell to NWT in the pre-qualification event final and were sent home early. On the plus side, PEI have been very competitive in their games yielding a -2 in the Points For/Points Against stat. And Nova Scotia has without a question been the most smiling team on the ice. Regardless of results, every time the camera flashes to them you see smiles on their faces and laughter. This is a great lesson for kids and athletes of all ages. Win or lose, sport should be FUN! Props Nova Scotia, you have the #TwineTime vote for the Sportsmanship Award.
F: #Icing - The #StealPants may have received top of the class honours but the icing may be playing a big role in this as well....and not in the positive way. We are watching teams, all teams, really struggle with reading the ice. Teams are finding the ice to be very tricky. Reading the ice and the curl patterns are being problematic and changing quite drastically from the home side to the away side and from end to end. Now by no means am I throwing shade towards the ice makers....if anything mother nature is to blame with the above normal warm temperatures in St. Catharines. However, we cannot let the players and skips off the hook here either. Misses happen in sport and that's what can make games more exciting. At the same time, seeing back to back to back to back to back misses in one end can be frustrating, both for players and fans. We hate to see the ice be the determining factor in a close game but it just might come down to that during playoff weekend. The team that figures out the changes in the ice sooner will probably be the team to claim the Team Canada title on Sunday.
Now I am confident all of you read the #STOH2017 preview with my special guest, and newest member of the #TwimeTime family, Nadine Chyz. For those who didn't (shame on you!) or those who need a quick refresher, check it out HERE. Nadine and I offered up our predictions for the favourites, teams to watch out for, darkhorse teams and final standings. Some of our predictions are looking solid, some not so much (more Nadine's I think lol J/K). #StayTuned to the action on the ice in St. Catharines to see how both of our predictions pan out in the remaining days as we get closer to crowning Team Canada.
Special thanks to everyone who participated in and donated to the Sandra Schmirler Foundation during Sandra Schmirler Day on Sunday February 19. For those who may have missed the opportunity, or if your heart is beating to donate again, please visit the Foundation homepage to learn more about the great work going on and how you can contribute to helping the lives of others.