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Thursday, 12 October 2017

#Curling S1718W6

#BetweenTheSheets:  Rankings Revamp Required!
2017/18 season has taught us the current system is not working

In this week's updated #PowerRankings blog post, the featured topic of discussion was asking the question of whether or not parity has hit the curling house.  Are we seeing more teams compete for tour championship wins on an annual basis or are the same teams continuing to dominate?

The results fielded a mixed response bag but, when looked at over a two year period, it would appear we are seeing the needle move forward on the parity issue.  As mentioned in the blog post, parity is good for sport in general.  More competitive teams means more competitive events meaning more competitive action on the ice resulting in an increase in fan excitement and ultimately an increase in game play from the athletes themselves.

But if parity is truly hitting the hack nowadays, does this finally mean a warranted review or even revamp of the current Order of Merit (OOM) points structure needs to be brought to the forefront?

It is no secret the distaste #TwineTime has for the current OOM structure.  The convoluted equations and lack of transparency on what each event received for a Strength of Field (STF) multiplier week in and week out is frustrating for teams and confusing for fans.  Besides, math is hard right Mr. President?  If you want a detailed review of the current system, check out the full document HERE.

I won't waste my breath rehashing the thought process proposed by this very blog in the past suggesting perhaps a ranking points structure similar to tennis would be more acceptable by all parties involved: players, event organizers, coaches and fans.  For this blog post let us actually see if the current rankings system is accurately depicting the results on the ice this season.

Now remember the current OOM ranking system is used to determine qualification in the coveted Grand Slam of Curling events.  If the ranking system does truly reflect the results on the ice over the season, the teams who are succeeding this year will be the same teams invited to the next #gsoc event, The Masters.

First we need to view the current world rankings for both the men and women.  Now, for sake of argument, I am only looking at the Top 15 teams in these rankings as this would be considered a cut off point for a #gsoc event.  Here are the current Top 15 men's ranking

Pretty standard like and what you would expect right?  Based on this ranking, these are the 15 teams invited to The Masters.  Now Team Walstad turned down their invite and were replaced with, at the time of the cutoff, the #16 ranked Team Shuster.  Of course now Team Lui and Team McCormick have passed Shuster in the rankings but grand slam events do need a cutoff date so this is acceptable.  But are these the Top 15 teams on tour THIS season?  Are these the best teams on the ice competing right now and most deserving of a grand slam invite?  Let's look at the current Year To Date (YTD) standings:

Boy how that Masters field has changed now right?  The regular top teams are still there of course (Gushue, Jacobs, Edin, Ulsrud, Epping, De Cruz) and the teams who have played their way into the top still find themselves in the Top 15 (Gunnlaugson, Walstad, Simmons).  But what about these other teams who have showcased outstanding curling on the ice for the first few months of the season but are nowhere in site when it comes to #gsoc consideration due to the current rankings system (Liu, C. Kim, Lyburn, Drummond)?

Let us add another layer into the conversation.  How many of the current Top 15 OOM teams invited to The Masters have won an event on tour this season?  Well Gushue of course and Gunner because of the Tour Challenge Tier II (and others).  Edin and Jacobs have picked up big wins as well.  But the winners on tour this season sure don't seem to be listed in the first image above do they?  Scotland's Bruce Mouat has won 2 events on tour but he isn't close to a grand slam invite.  Colton Flasch won one of the biggest events on tour so far this season yet no slam invite in the works for him anytime soon.  And what about Chang-Min Kim?  The Korean team has been the most consistent on tour this season yet, again, don't hold your breath waiting for that slam invite.  Meanwhile, Carruthers what you done for us lately?  Still holding on to that #4 spot on the OOM but the YTD rankings would list you #23.  Kyle Smith has had a rough season but sits #10 in the world yet #21 in the YTD.  John Morris ranking difference is #12 OOM yet #28 YTD.  And none of these three teams are in danger of missing a slam anytime soon folks.

What about the women's rankings?  Do we see the same confusion and inconsistency in those rankings?  Here are the current OOM rankings:

Again, no real surprise.  Homan and Hasselborg at the top.  Sweeting won the season opening slam so she is ranked high as well.  In comparing The Masters field, well for the most part this is your #gsoc women's field.  The only difference is Kerri Einarson played her way into the field winning the Tour Challenge Tier II and, at the time, Sherry Middaugh was ranked in the Top 15 (similar to Shuster for the men).  Bingyu Wang and Chelsea Carey are the current odd teams out based on this week's rankings.

But now let us look at the season YTD rankings and see if we notice any changes:

Hmmm we have a slight change don't we.  For the most part the field is relatively the same with just the ranking number next to the skip name changing.  However, look how high Chelsea Carey is this season?  No way she would have been bumped by Einarson's win now.  And the biggest argument here would be #TeamUpset ring leader for the year Darcy Robertson.  They are ranked #8 in the YTD yet get to enjoy a modest #27 in the OOM and sit nowhere close to being invited into a slam anytime soon.  And, similar to the men and with no disrespect, what you done for us lately Allison Flaxey and Michelle Englot?  Neither of you have performed consistently well over the season (Ok Team Englot I should give you a bit of a pass here, at least you won an event!) yet sit in comfortable #7 and #9 OOM positions.  If we looked solely at YTD, Englot would be at #17 and Flaxey would be at #33.  Sherry Middaugh squeaked in this time but if the YTD rankings were weighted more, she would be sitting in #24 behind Korea's Kim and Ontario rival Chrissy Cadorin.  By the way, where is Julie Tippin you may be asking?  She has been consistent on tour this season and did play in the Tour Challenge.  Well, according to the OOM she is ranked #19 and for YTD sitting in at #20.  Hmmm maybe the rankings get one right every now and again?

At the end of the day, when you sit down and watch the next grand slam event on TV or in the stands, ask yourself, "Are we really comfortable with rewarding teams for results on the ice last year or the year before?"  So if you want to make The Canadian Open in January 2019, you better start winning tour events in October 2017....otherwise give up hope now!

This is what our current system is doing rock heads and stoners.  And again, let me remind you before fans of teams named above or sometimes the teams themselves start freaking out on me, this is not a knock on the teams who did receive a grand slam invite.  They are only playing with the cards dealt to them based on the system in place.  Do I think some of these top teams are quite happy with the current OOM system?  Of course they are....they are the one's benefiting....right now anyways.  Should any of them finally drop after 2 or 3 years, would they start singing a different tune?  Of course!  We live in a world of "me" and "now" when we should live in a world of "we" and "best for all".  This system is not working and only creates a larger divide among the teams and irritates fans of the sport.

Do we dump the whole system?  No, not at all.  We just need to revamp it a bit to recognize the truth of where the sport is going.  We are seeing more parity.  We are seeing more unique winners on tour each season.  We are seeing the competition level go up.  We need a rankings system that is fair and accurate to ALL teams competing on the ice.  And maybe we have a system where it is a combined ranking taking points from last season and this season...but maybe it is only points earned after the date of the next updated rankings.  On September 14, 2018 your rankings points are all the points earned from September 14, 2017 to September 13, 2018.  Or maybe you go one step further since we seem to love math so much and go with the adding in both full seasons rather than a weekly or monthly cut off.  But instead, for the start of the 2018/19 season, the points accumulated in 2016/17 are removed and the points from 2017/18 are now only worth 50%.  It's the depreciation factor folks....your new truck depreciates as soon as you drive it off the lot right?  Why should the points you earned a year ago have the same weight now?  You aren't the same team.  You may have the same players but you aren't curling the same.  Or, in the case of Brad Gushue or Rachel Homan, maybe you are....which would continue to add to your point total anyway and keep you at the top regardless.  Consistency wins out.  Just ask Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Serena Williams and Andy Murray.

What are your thoughts on the argument made above?  Share your views in the comment section below or hit me up on twitter and lets talk about it.  Agree?  Disagree?  Conversation and debate is what makes sports fun so Bring. It. On!!

Back to the actual results on the ice now.  In the fine #GunnerRunback tradition, let us celebrate those who found success on tour last weekend:
  • Curlers Corner Autumn Gold Curling Classic - #TwineTime was in attendance to help celebrate the 40th Anniversary of this tour event and had a great time taking in the action on the ice.  In the end, Rachel Homan continued her winning ways claiming the title over USA's Nina Roth.  #TeamUpset Darcy Robertson and Chelsea Carey reached the SF. (3/8 including champion)
  • Women's Masters Basel - China's Bingyu Wang picked up a huge W over a strong European and Pacific-Asia field.  She defeated two-time world champ Binia Feltscher in the final.  #TeamUpset Hannah Fleming continued a strong start to the season with a SF appearance as did Japan's Satsuki Fujisawa.  Worth noting, 4 Asian teams qualified for the playoffs in Basel supporting the increase to have more #PACC nations competing at the world championships. (6/8 including finalist)
  • Direct Horizontal Drilling Fall Classic - Chalk up another W for China as Rui Liu knocked off Kevin Koe to claim the title in Edmonton.  Pat Simmons continues to be one of the most consistent teams on tour in reaching another SF round while Adam Casey surprised a few with his SF run.  (5/8 including finalist)
  • Stu Sells Toronto Tankard (W) - Julie Tippin continues to ride a hot streak leading into next month's Olympic pre-trials event.  Tippin won the title in Toronto defeating Chrissy Cadrin in the final.  Hollie Duncan and Krista McCarville were SF finishers.  (4/8)
  • Stu Sells Toronto Tankard (M) - Another event, another W for #TheGoo.  Gushue is leading a burning trail of ice melt behind him on tour this season, this time knocking off surprise finalist Codey Maus to pick up another title.  Thomas Ulsrud and another #TeamUpset contender Jamie Murphy round out the Top 4.  (4/8 including champion)
  • New Scotland Clothing Ladies Cashspiel - Kaitlyn Jones took home the title in Halifax defeating Jill Brothers in the championship final.  Julie McEvoy and Mary Myketyn-Driscoll round out the qualifiers.  (3/4)
  • Bud Light Men's Cashspiel - Robert Mayhew gave the home town fans something to cheer for when he defeated Owen Purcell to claim the championship W.  Chad Stevens and Kendal Thompson had strong weekends as well reaching the SF stage.  (2/6)
  • St. Paul Cash Spiel (W) - Jessica Shultz picked up her first win of the season knocking off Cora Farrell for the title in Minnesota.  Madison Bear and Kim Rhyme completed the Final Four.  (No picks recorded)
  • St. Paul Cash Spiel (M) -  We have another repeat champion on tour this season folks.  Heath McCormick defended his title in St. Paul defeating Sean Murray in the final.  Bill Stopera and Craig Brown reached the SF.  (6/8 including finalist)
  • ManCurl Tour Classic (W) - Joelle Brown put a stop to #TeamUpset Shannon Birchard's bid to win back-to-back titles, knocking her off in the final to win the inaugural ManCurl Tour Classic event.  Jennifer Clark-Rouire and Katie Chappellaz qualified for the SF.  (3/4 including finalist)
  • ManCurl Tour Classic (M) - Another week of Manitoba curling action and another Bohn victory...this time belonging to David Bohn though.  David Bohn defeated Jordan Smith to claim the title in Winnipeg.  A pair of young skips, Braden Calvert and JT Ryan, continued the #TeamMovingOnUp movement in reached the SF.  (5/6 including finalist)
Chalk up another average week in the prediction category it appears.  A few correct champions (Homan, Gushue), a few finalists who ended up winning (Wang, McCormick, Bohn) and a few predicted winners ended up in the finals (Birchard, Koe).  Overall only 2 events had sub-.500 predictions for the qualifiers too.  Considering how many events were on tour last week and the amount of teams competing, still a solid #TwineTime result.  Overall Grade: B

As some teams start to prepare for the next #gsoc event, The Masters, in two weeks and others are competing in their Olympic trials (Feltscher, Paetz, Tirinzoni for the #HoppSchwiiz berth), there are fewer events highlighted this week.  Also, this has been a stressful and tiring week for #TwineTime so we are going a bit light on the predictions this week.  My apologies in advance to those events and teams competing but not discussed below....#TwineTime wishes you all good luck and good curling!  Bring on Week 6 (technically Week 10 on tour I know) action!  On the plus side, a mixed doubles event is included this week :)  Here are this week's #TourLifePredictions:


Canad Inn's Men's Classic

Portage, MB

2016 Champion: Reid Carruthers

Format:  20 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers.

Top Team Entered:  Team Jacobs, Team Koe, Team Epping, Team Laycock, Team Carruthers

Favourite:  Teams Jacobs, Koe and McEwen are all the top draws here and should be considered a trifecta favourite.  This will be only the 3rd event of the season for all three of these teams.  Jacobs reached the SF at the season opening Tour Challenge and followed it up with an undefeated run to the Shorty Jenkins championship.  McEwen lost in that same Shorty Jenkins final and followed that up with a disappointing 2-3 finish in Saskatoon a few weeks ago.  As for Koe, he finished a disappointing 1-3 at the Tour Challenge but, after taking a few weeks off, returned to the ice last weekend in Edmonton with a runner-up finish.  Overall Jacobs would be the top of the top I suppose but all three of these teams are capable of deep runs here.

Dark Horse:  Who is next?  Two weeks ago Colton Flasch shocked us all with his championship W in Saskatoon.  Last weekend Adam Casey went undefeated to qualify A-side in Edmonton only to come up short in the SF.  If I am a team flying under the radar or trying to make a move up the rankings, seeing these kind of #TeamUpset results has to give me some confidence each week on tour.  Flasch is back in the hunt this weekend once again.  As are both Korean men's teams (SooHyuk Kim and Chang-Min Kim).  Young Braden Calvert has been putting up stronger results the past few weeks with QF and SF finishes in Manitoba tour events, not to mention he has a championship win under his belt earlier in the season.  And never count out defending Canadian junior champ Tyler Tardi....he will bring the #TardiParty to Portage and look to upset a few of the big dogs.

W2W4:  This is a surprisingly more complex and tough to call field than many may expect upon first glance.  The top teams named above will be the one's many fans expect to see qualify for weekend action.  However, if this season is teaching us something it is expect the unexpected with the men's tour events now as well.  There are numerous trap games in the bracket for the so-called favourites and one slip up could see a top team down in C-side.  It certainly wouldn't be the first time for some of these teams (McEwen, Carruthers, Laycock...we are looking at you!).  The young teams of Calvert and Tardi look to continue the #TeamMovingOnUp trend while a few international teams (Korea, Japan's Morozumi and USA's Shuster) will also be threats to stop an all-Canadian playoff bracket.  Expect a few close games and at least 3-5 upsets along the way.  Oh...and let's see what Glenn Howard and the boys do this weekend?!

Qualifiers:   Team Jacobs, Team McEwen, Team Koe, Team Shuster, Team Epping, Team C. Kim, Team Laycock, Team Carruthers

Championship:  Team McEwen def. Team Jacobs


Paf Masters Tour

Aland, Finland

2016 Champion:  New Event

Format:  12 team RR with 3 pools of 4.  Top 8 qualify.

Top Team Entered:  Team Kim, Team Fujisawa, Team Kleibrink

Favourite:  Would it be wrong to put a bow over all three Japanese teams and label them as co-favourites this weekend in Finland?  Team Fujisawa, Ogasawara and Matsumura are three of the strongest teams not only in this field but on tour, proving Japan has come on strong in developing a national system producing top quality teams.  Fujisawa will be in Pyeongchang representing Team Japan but you have to imagine Ogasawara and Matsumura still want to prove they are a top team and compete for, possibly, the right to represent Japan at Women's Worlds.  After the #PACC nations proved their might last weekend in Basel, expect a similar result this weekend in Aland (with Korea's Kim also in the mix).

Dark Horse:  Let's go with the homer pick and take Finland's Oona Kauste as the dark horse on home ice.  Back in 2015 everything was trending up for the young Finnish skip.  They won the bronze medal at the European Championships and earned a return spot to the world championships in 2016.  However, once the calendar rolled over the struggles started to mount.  Kauste finished the world championships with a disappointing 1-10 record.  The team was dethroned for the Finland Championships by Anne Malmi and missed last year's world championship.  This season has been a struggle to start as well with the team sporting a 1-5 record after two events.  But if there was ever a time to turn the season around, an event in your home country is the perfect opportunity.  Remember Finland still has a shot to qualify for Pyeongchang at the last chance qualifier event and Kauste would be wise to get on a winning streak now.

W2W4:  There are a few story lines to keep your eyes on this weekend in Finland.  Obviously the continuation of the #PACC nations looking strong at tour events will be a highlight.  With 4 teams competed, expect all 4 to reach the playoffs and possible pose an all-PACC nation championship final.  Also keep an eye out on the lone Canadian team competing, Alberta's defending Scotties champion Shannon Kleibrink.  Kleibrink is certainly no slouch when it comes to international competition and she may be the strongest team in the field to take down the #PACC quartet.  But if you really want a fun story to watch, let's see how Latvia and Lithuania compete against this field.  Latvia will be competing at the upcoming Olympic qualification event and will be considered a long shot to qualify but they are still developing the program and have shown in the past to be a surprise nation.  We don't often see Lithuania competing but Virginija Paulauskaite does have Lithuania competing in the European B Group now, with Latvia and Finland by the way, and this is a great opportunity to get some competitive game action in prior to next month's European Championships.

Qualifiers:   Team Kim, Team Fujisawa, Team Kleibrink, Team Ogasawara, Team Hegner, Team Matsumura, Team Norberg, Team Kauste

Championship:  Team Fujisawa def. Team Kim


Pacific Northwest Mixed Doubles Invitational

Seattle, WA

2016 Champion:  Martin / Schneider

Format:  18 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers.

Top Teams Entered:  Wang/Ba, Martin/Schneider, Kasner/Kalthoff, Birchard/Gunnlaugson, Sinclair/Dropkin

Favourite:  China's Wang Rui and Ba Dexin are the class of this field.  The duo has found the podium at the past two World Mixed Doubles Curling Championships, claiming silver in 2016 and bronze last year.  Wang also joined Bingyu Wang's team last season and won an Asian Winter Games gold with them en route to competing at the world championship.  Ba has been competing on the men's tour with Zang Jialiang and found success winning five-straight #PACC gold medals from 2012-2014 and a bronze in 2015.  Ba also competed at the 2014 Winter Olympics where China (skipped by Rui Liu) finished 4th.  This team will be a strong medal contender at the 2018 Winter Olympics when mixed doubles makes it's Olympic debut!  At their last mixed doubles event in Edmonton, the duo reached the SF.

Dark Horse:  Mixed doubles also has the high potential to produce dark horse playoff contenders.  Most of the teams competing regularly compete on tour with the men's and women's foursomes so it can be tough to predict how the teams come together and compete as a duo.  Based on season results, Shannon Birchard and Jason Gunnlaugson have the potential to do quite well here if they can continue having the hot hands they have shown on their respected tours.  Similar statement could be made for USA's Jamie Sinclair and Korey Dropkin.  But perhaps one of the ultimate dark horse teams is Saskatchewan's Sherry Just and Ryan Deis.  The pairing had a strong start to the mixed doubles season at the Canad Inns Mixed Doubles Invitational back in September, reached the A-semifinal and B and C finals, including an opening match W over eventual champs Carey/Hodgson.  At the event in Edmonton a few weeks ago they lost the consolation final.  Don't sleep on their potential this weekend.

W2W4:  Mixed Doubles, need I say more!?!?  This discipline is coming to the Olympics so any opportunity to see the action up close and personal or even through a YouTube live stream is a not to miss event.  Last season the WCT YouTube channel provided excellent streaming coverage of the event, including the championship final.  While it is unknown if this will happen again this year, it is worth keeping your curling stones fixated on the action in Seattle this weekend.  We know Wang/Ba will be Olympic threats but who knows which of the other teams in this field could possibly be joining them in Korea.  Many nations have not named their Olympic teams with trials set up early 2018 (in the case of Canada at least).  The teams competing are looking to add valuable points to their mixed doubles ranking and, hopefully, bolster their chances (and confidence level) on keeping Olympic aspirations alive.

Qualifiers:   Wang/Ba, Martin/Schneider, Birchard/Gunnlaugson, Just/Deis, Mei/Wang, Walker/Smith, Sinclair/Dropkin, Cotter/Cotter

Championship:  Wang/Ba def. Martin/Schneider

Again, sorry for the smaller #TourLifePredictions section this week rock heads and stoners.  I am off to spend some quality time with my brother this weekend.

Don't forget to stay up to date with all the #WMxCC2017 action on the ice in Champery, Switzerland this weekend as the playoffs will get underway and we will crown our first champion of the season at the World Mixed Curling Championships.  Compare the playoff bracket to the #TwineTime predictions HERE (Yes I am still sticking by my predictions...but holding my breath right now) and don't forget to catch some live streaming of the playoff games on the World Curling Federation YouTube channel HERE.

Enjoy the curling action!

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