The season preview blog has been said and done. The warm-ups, training and practice ice times have been completed. The talk of what your team is going to do to prepare and how your team is going to make this "Your" season has been said, quoted and discussed. Now.....It's time!
The Golden Season is now here and it's time for teams to not only talk the talk but walk the walk....or slide the slide? Is that a saying or a thing in curling? No? Ok never mind. You get what I am saying here. Curling athletes and fans have been waiting for this season since the conclusion of the 2013/14 season....otherwise known as the end of the last Olympic cycle. And judging by the votes on the #TwineTime homepage (just to your right on the sidebar ----->) fans are overwhelmingly in agreement PyeongChang is on the top of our curling minds this year.
But before we try to start a time warp and jump ahead to February 2018, let's remember we have a full season of curling still on tap and ready to rock out house week in and week out.
So technically the season has "officially" already begun. We have already seen a few teams get in some competitive ice time and a select few can already call themselves 2017 Champions. In the fine #TwineTime tradition, here is the quick #GunnerRunback on the first few events of the season:
- The inaugural Arctic Cup was held in far north Russia, Dubinka to be exact. This event was held in May, which seems like it almost is closer to the end of last season than the beginning of this one. Alas, it is counted as this season so here we are. The home nation had plenty to celebrate (to try and keep warm of course) as Anna Sidorova defeated Jennifer Jones in the final. The podium added more Russian excitement when Victoria Moiseeva defeated Alina Paetz for bronze.
- In Hokkaido, Japan, the Hokkaido Bank Curling Classic was held at the beginning of August. Again, home nation fans had reason to celebrate on the women's side when Satsuki Fujisawa beat Korea's Min Ji Kim for gold. And, similar to the results in Russia, the home nation also nabbed bronze with Ayumi Ogasawara beat Germany's Daniela Jentsch for bronze. On the men's side Korea's SooHyuk Kim prevented the home nation sweep when he defeated Yusuke Morozumi in an extra end finale. Japan would sweep the bronze medals though with Shinya Abe defeating Gaku Suzuki.
- Last weekend in Winnipeg, MB the Spider Performance Icebreaker took place at The Granite. The men's event gave us our first #TeamUpset win of the season with home province pride when Braden Calvert defeated USA's John Shuster in the final. Fellow Buffalo teams Jason Gunnlaugson and William Lyburn reached the SF. For the women, chalk up another home win as Kerri Einarson knocked off fellow Buffalo contenders Darcy Robertson to take home the title. Shannon Birchard and Rhonda Varnes rounded out the Top 4.
Now normally we would settle in the hack to discuss the new #PowerRankings right? Wrong! At least right now wrong. To start the season, this blog decided to turn over the opening Power Rankings decision to you...the loyal rock heads and stoners. I trust you have all been voting (multiple votes are allowed) for your selections on which Men's and Women's teams are deserving of the Top 5 ranking. If not, visit the links above and get voting. I am going to keep voting open until Monday September 4 at Noon (MST)! so time is slowly slipping away on having YOUR voice heard and seeing YOUR favourite team climb the top of the mountain to start the season.
As a quick update on the voting, thank you to everyone who has been voting and sharing the vote page on social media. To date there have been 770 votes cast on the men's selection and 432 for the women! I was quite surprised and excited to see such high voting numbers.
For the men, Teams Gushue, Jacobs, Edin and McEwen have pulled ahead with Koe, Carruthers and Smith fighting for the final spot. On the women's vote, Teams Homan, Haaselborg and Tirinzoni have pulled away with Jones, Muirhead and Sidorova trying to keep pace. Agree with the current vote leaders? Or disagree and have your own favourites? Either way, keep voting!
Alright, enough talking #TwineTime, the time has arrived....let's kick off the 2017/18 curling season with #TourLifePredictions. And how exciting....we know get to discuss Men, Women and Mixed Doubles tour events:
Stu Sells Oakville Tankard
2016 Champion: Niklas Edin
Format: 24 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers
Top Teams Entered: Team Smith, Team McCormick, Team Balsdon, Team Gunnlaugson
Favourite: Scotland's Kyle Smith was the Surprise Team of the Year last season (even picking up a #GoldenGranite Award!!). With the boys already selected to represent Team GB in Pyeongchang this February, the team has the opportunity to really focus on the results on the ice without the extra burden/pressure of an Olympic qualification system hanging over them. They are the highest ranked team competing in Oakville and did make the SF last year.
Dark Horse: Team Kim from South Korea. Which Team Kim though? How about both? SooHyuk Kim already has a championship win this season from the event in Hokkaido, Japan and will be looking to continue the winning streak against a strong field. Chang-Min Kim also competed in Hokkaido but finished a disappointing 7th (of 8). With both teams representing the home nation of the 2018 Winter Olympics, high expectations will be placed on these teams to produce strong results all season. Plus, they do have the advantage of already playing on competitive ice this season. Don't underestimate a playoff push from both South Korean entries.
What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4): Olympic preparations will be the focus each week on tour. How are teams doing? Which are surging? Which are struggling? This field is littered with 2018 potential. Team Smith we already know will be in Korea. Team C. Kim and Team S. Kim are in contention to compete for the home nation. Team McCormick could be considered one of the co-favourites (with Team Shuster) to don the Red, White & Blue. Team Stjerne will try to punch an Olympic ticket for Denmark in December. Similar situation for Team Liu as Team China and Team Baumann for Germany. And of course we have a strong Canadian contingent with Team Gunnlaugson, Team Balsdon and Team Simmons preparing for the Roar of the Rings Pre-Trials. All of these teams will want to start the season on a winning note and build momentum towards the Olympic dream.
Qualifiers: Team Smith, Team McCormick, Team Gunnlaugson, Team S. Kim, Team Balsdon, Team C. Kim, Team Stjerne, Team Simmons
Championship: Team Smith def. Team Gunnlaugson
2016 Champion: Peter De Cruz
Format: 20 team round robin with 4 pools of 5 teams. Top 8 qualify.
Top Teams Entered: Team Edin, Team Ulsrud, Team De Cruz, Team Walstad
Favourite: Do you want to bet against the #SwedishVikings? Team Edin makes their debut to the Olympic season in Switzerland and the 3-time slam champions from last season will be considered strong favourites to take home the title. #KingNiklas had successful surgery in the off-season and if you follow him and the team on instagram you are well aware the surgery was successful and the skipper is keen to get back to competitive curling. Team Edin also has a slight advantage in knowing they are already representing Team Sweden in PyeongChang. As was the theme last year, when will this team peak and how to they plan their season accordingly to ensure they peak at the right time?
Dark Horse: This entire field is scattered with dark horse potential....and Olympic intrigue. Netherlands' Jaap van Dorp will want to build on his success last season guiding #TeamOranje back to the world championships and into the Olympic final qualification event. Or what about Italy's Joel Retornaz? Or the huge #HoppSchwiiz contingent led perhaps by young Yannick Schwaller, a team #TwineTime expects big things from this season and in the future. But the ultimate #TeamUpset may be the return of Sweden's Kristian Lindstroem. Remember Lindstroem previous competed with Niklas Edin, winning a Euro title (2014) and world title (2015). An injury and surgery last year caused the change in the Edin line-up and Lindstroem was the odd man out due to the Olympic cycle (a mutual decision from him and the team of course). Lindstroem is back on the ice competing and ready to make a push once again towards championship glory. He did skip Team Sweden to a silver medal at the 2016 World Mixed Curling Championships.
What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4): See previous W2W4 comment....and I think this will be the trend for much of the first half of the season. Which teams can get on a roll? Which will struggle? Which can peak at the right time and make an Olympic push? Pay particular attention to the Norway battle though. Both Team Ulsrud and Team Walstad are competing this week. As you remember, Walstad ended the Ulsrud Norway domination last season, upending them and competing at the world championships. With Norway already qualifying for the Olympic field, these two teams will be battling for that coveted Olympic spot. And you may want to keep an eye on the Swiss teams. Sure De Cruz is the overwhelming favourite to represent the nation in Korea but a few of his countrymen would sure like to knock him off, especially Schwaller and Marc Pfister.
Qualifiers: Team De Cruz, Team Ulsrud, Team Edin, Team Schwaller, Team Walstad, Team Pfister, Team Attinger, Team Lindstroem
Championship: Team Edin def. Team Ulsrud
Stu Sells Oakville Tankard
2016 Champion: Silvana Tirinzoni
Format: 24 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers
Top Teams Entered: Team Hasselborg, Team Tirinzoni, Team Flaxey, Team Feltscher, Team Sidorova, Team Harrison
Favourite: Pretty hard to go against the defending champions from Switzerland right? Team Tirinzoni has established themselves as a title contender each week on tour and has catapulted themselves into the Top 5 conversation. Of course you would be forgiven if you argued this event may have co-favourites. Sweden's Team Hasselborg, in only their second year together, reached European finals, grand slam finals, world championship playoffs and won a whole butt load of cash last season. They also won the right to be Team Sweden in Korea based on their results last year. Can they follow it up now though?
Dark Horse: There are a few dark horse international teams us North American curling fans may want to keep an eye on this weekend. The Czech Republic's Anna Kubeskova would be a top contender on my #TeamUpset list, especially after strong performances at last year's European and World Championships. Speaking of the Euro's, last year's champ Russia's Victoria Moiseeva will have many people watching her and seeing if last year was the start of something special or just a "lucky" run....plus she has her compatriot / competitor Anna Sidorova on the ice this weekend. Both are competing for the Russian Olympic berth remember. And the #TwineTime dark horse contender from last season, Sweden's Isabella Wrana. Wrana won the world junior title and competed at her first grand slam (Champions Cup). They could surprise a few of the more experienced teams this weekend and make a playoff push. Oh, and what about a two-time world champion? Yup, never underestimate Switzerland's Binia Feltscher (also a #TwineTime fam member of course). She turns on the jets when it matters most and, given the importance of this Olympic year and the fact she seems to excel every two years, this could just be the perfect Welcome Back party for her. Plus she doesn't want to see rivals Tirinzoni and Paetz pull too far away from her does she?!
What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4): What a perfect opening weekend where we will have #TeamCanada vs. #TeamWorld from the get go. We have strong international teams (Hasselborg, Tirinzoni, Sidorova, Ogasawara, Feltscher etc) and strong Canadian teams (Flaxey, Middaugh, Harrison, Tippin ect). Which side can take the early advantage? Many of the Canadian teams are still in the hunt for the Olympic berth, whether through the pre-trials or direct-entry. Outside of Hasselborg, the international teams are also still fighting for Olympic berths. A few still need to fight for their nation's Olympic ticket even (Germany, Czech Republic). All these teams want to make a statement early in the season and this is a perfect field to put all teams on notice!
Qualifiers: Team Hasselborg, Team Tirinzoni, Team Flaxey, Team Sidorova, Team Ogasawara, Team Robertson, Team Feltscher, Team Harrison
Championship: Team Hasselborg def. Team Tirinzoni
Canad Inns Mixed Doubles Championship
2016 Champion: Rachel Homan / John Morris
Format: 32 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers.
Top Teams Entered: Homan/Morris, Wang/Ba, Park/Thomas, Courtney/Carruthers, Bryzgalova/Krushelnitskiy, Perret/Rios, Jones/Laing, McEwen/McEwen, Hamilton/Hamilton
Favourite: Tough to bet against the two-time defending champions Homan/Morris. They seem to own this event in the past few years and oh they just happen to be two of the best curlers on the planet. But don't underestimate current world champions Perret/Rios from Switzerland, who knocked off Canadian champions Courtney/Carruthers in the world final. Wang/Ba are world silver medal winners (2016) and bronze medal winners (2017) too. Plus Canada's Park/Thomas just wrapped up competition in New Zealand where they brought home a silver medal. This field is stacked anyway you look at it!
Dark Horse: Tough to pick a dark horse in mixed doubles because really any team can beat any other team on any given day. There are a few teams in this field though who could make a championship run though. A team like Sweeting/Gushue will always be a team to watch. Similar to Weagle/Epping or Peterman/Gallant or Crocker/Walker. But if you want some true dark horse teams to cheer for, I would be hedging some bets on teams like Martin/Schneider, Kasner/Kalthoff, Just/Deis and the always dangerous Tuck/Tuck Jr. Remember many of these players could be well-known and great on their foursome team but that does not always equate over to instance mixed doubles success.
What 2 Watch 4 (W2W4): This is the first event of the newly formed Curling Champions Tour Masters Series for mixed doubles. Welcome to #growthesport right? Mixed doubles now has a designated tour, with dedicated events and prize money. And as it should....it is an Olympic discipline now right? So if we want to the sport to continue to grow and the discipline to flourish we need to put dedicated resources towards this and elevate mixed doubles competition to the same level as the men's and women's tour. The fun part of this event will also be the Olympic element. A few of these teams are going to be in PyeongChang (Wang/Ba, Bryzgalova/Krushelnitskiy, Perret/Rios). The Canadian teams competing still have an Olympic trials to get through, with an added twist element in knowing that any of these "strong" teams could be dissolved should either the male or female team member end up winning the Canadian trials with their regular foursome. You want to gel as a mixed doubles team now in hopes of peaking at the right time for the trials in January; however, what if your teammate wins the Olympic Roar of the Rings in December and you don't? The dynamics and possibilities, especially for the Canadian teams competing, is quite compelling when you really think about it. Sure you don't want to get caught thinking ahead....but let's be honest here, all of these teams are thinking ahead to Olympic qualification!
Qualifiers: Homan/Morris, Wang/Ba, Jones/Laing, Bryzgalova/Krushelnitskiy, Park/Thomas, Courtney/Carruthers, Hamilton/Hamilton, Martin/Schneider
Championship: Homan/Morris def. Bryzgalova/Krushelnitskiy
Before we bid adieu to one another for the upcoming long weekend, some of you have noticed a slight change in the look of the #TwineTime site. I am working on making some adjustments with the look and feel. If you are for or against any changes or have suggestions, please let me know. I want this blog to be enjoyable for all of you, including content and visual look.
And yes I have heard those of you who have made suggestions already. I am working on a few things so #StayTuned. A new format and content shift will be coming your way shortly I promise!
Until then, enjoy your long weekend rock heads and stoners. Stay safe in your end of summer celebrations and keep your eyes on the house!
Sidenote: If you have never played Mario curling on Wii, you are missing out on some good times!