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Wednesday, 4 October 2017

#WMxCC2017 Preview

#BetweenTheSheets: World Mixed Curling 
Championship Preview
Who takes home the first world championship of the season?

While tour events and Olympic hype generates much of the buzz around this curling season, there are still numerous world championship events on the curling calendar for fans to be salivating over.  The first championship of the 2017/18 season is about to get underway in Champery, Switzerland: The World Mixed Curling Championship.

With mixed doubles being added to the Olympic roster for 2018, mixed curling has been left in the hack with less emphasis and discussion.  To the layman sports fan the two terms "mixed" and "mixed doubles" may seem like one in the same.  Let's be clear here, the event starting this week will feature teams of four, similar to traditional curling, consisting of 2 men and 2 women.  Hence the term "mixed curling".

The World Mixed Curling Championship are still in their infancy stage as 2017 marks only the third time this event has been held.  Before we dive into the record-setting 2017 field, let us take a quick #GunnerRunback on the brief history of these championships:

  • The World Mixed Curling Championship was first held in 2015 but an international mixed curling championship is not a new concept.  The 2015 event saw a transformation of the original European Mixed Curling Championship, which had been hosted annually since 2005.
  • Mixed curling has certainly had its share of big names compete and find their spots on the podium.  In the previous incarnation of the European Mixed Curling Championships, top players such as Niklas Edin, Andrea Schoepp, Markku Uusipaavalniemi, Tom Brewster, Alina Paetz, Silvana Tirinzoni, Steffen Walstad and Eve Muirhead have all found podium success in the past.  The European championship certainly provided a launching pad for many of the biggest names in the sport today.
  • During the European championship years, Scotland emerged as the top nation winning 4 Euro titles.  Overall Germany proved to be the most successful in podium finishes with 6 medals from 10 events, including 2 world titles (2008 with Andrea Schoepp and 2013 with Andy Kapp).  The championships also produced a few surprise nations with podium finishes, most notably Wales winning the title in 2007 and Hungary picking up bronze in 2013.
  • The shift to a world championship event arose from the growth of the discipline around the world.  Canada had crowned a mixed champion since 1964 but with no world title available to pursue.  Also many Pacific Asia nations, like China, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand were marketing the discipline back home to encourage a #growthesport model but, similar to Canada, needed a world championship as an "end game" or goal for those teams competing.
  • European nations have still dominated the world championship podium, picking up 5 of the 6 medals awarded thus far.  Norway, skipped by Steffen Walstad, won the inaugural championship held in Bern, Switzerland while Russia won the title last year on home ice in Kazan.
  • 2016 marked a historic year for Russia as Russian athletes Alexander Krushelnitskiy and Anastasia Bryzgalova completed the double gold run of claiming both the World Mixed Curling Championship and World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship in the same year.
  • Always a bridesmaid never a bride seems to be the mantra for Sweden at the world championships.  In 2015 and 2016 Sweden wound up reaching the world final and coming up short, taking home a silver medal in back to back years.  Both Swedish teams have been led by strong skips, namely Rasmus Wrana (2015) and Kristian Lindstrom (2016).
  • Other than Sweden, Russia in the only other nation to reach at least the SF in both years finishing 4th in 2015 and of course taking home the title last year.  
  • The only non-European nation to medal was China, who took home bronze in 2015.  Last year, Korea did make the SF though and wound up with a 4th place finish.
  • The event itself has seen growth over the past two years.  In 2015 a total of 36 nations competed.  Last year 37 nations competed.  This year, a new record of 38 nations will compete.  Entry into the event is open to all World Curling Federation Member Associations, of which there are now 50!  This translates to 76% of the current member associations will ice a team at these world championships.  New to the world championship scene this year will be Luxemburg and Hong Kong.  Unfortunately not returning to the 2017 competition will be Romania, Belgium and Andorra, who combined sported a 1-19 record with the only W belonging to......Andorra believe it or not (def. Belgium in RR play)!!
  • Canada, considered the curling powerhouse nation, has yet to medal at the World Championships.  The 2015 team, skipped by Max Kirkpatrick from Swift Current, SK, finished the RR with a 6-2 record but lost in the QF to Russia.  Last year's team, skipped by Mick Lizmore from Calgary, AB, finished the RR 7-0 but were upset in the QF by Scotland, who would go on to win bronze.  The 2017 #TeamCanada will be represented by Trevor Bonot's Northern Ontario crew, who won the Canadian Mixed title back in November 2016 (defeating Manitoba's team consisting of Braden Calvert and Kerri Einarson).
Now that we know the history of the event, should we start making some assumptions now?  Favour a European team to come out on top.  Favour Sweden to make the final and come up short.  And favour a dark horse nation to reach the Final 4, see China and Korea in the past.  Alright, I think we are ready for the #TwineTime preview and predictions!

World Mixed Curling Championships

Champery, Switzerland

2016 Champion:  Russia

Format:  38 nations competing in a RR with 2 pools of 7 and 3 pools of 8.  Top 16 advance to the playoffs.

Group A

Teams: Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Japan, Russia, Slovenia, Wales

At first glance, Russia's Alexey Stukalskiy would jump out as the front runner here on both name recognition and international experience alone.  Skukalskiy competed at the world championships last year in Edmonton and represented Russia at the 2014 Winter Olympics.  The defending champions here should have a strong shot at a title defence coming from this group.

Of the remaining teams, Slovenia is one of only two returning teams from last year (more on the other later) where Jure Culic finished 1-6.  Welshman Adrian Meikle does return after missing last year's championships.  Meikle did represent Wales in 2015 posting a 3-5 record; however, he did win European Mixed gold in 2007.  This will be Croatia's second world championship after making their debut last year.

This is a wide open pool behind the Russians.  Croatia and Slovenia will probably struggle but expect Japan, Hungary, Estonia and Wales to battle for a Top 3 finish and a playoff spot.

#TwineTime Projected Standings:  1. Russia  2. Hungary  3. Estonia  4. Japan  5. Wales  6. Slovenia  7. Croatia

Group B

Teams: Belarus, Brazil, France, Italy, Latvia, Sweden, USA

Expect a two-horse race in Group B between Sweden and USA.  Sweden will be led by 2017 world junior champion Isabella Wrana playing skipping roles with Patric Mabergs as vice.  After back to back silver medals, Sweden will be looking to take that extra step this time around and finally claim gold.....and Isabella can take home bragging rights to brother Rasmus after his silver medal win in 2015.

Team USA will be led by Hunter Clawson.  Clawson has had a successful junior career, coming just short of winning the USA title and has been slowly trying to make a move up the men's rankings south of the border.  France could make a push here though as Stephane Vergnaud returns after a 2-5 showing last year.  Belarus and Brazil will be led by the same skips who back-ended the teams in 2015 and will want to have a better outing (Belarus 2-6 and Brazil 0-8).  Latvia has been coming on strong on the mixed doubles world stage the past few years so they may be the dark horse team here.

#TwineTime Projected Standings:  1. Sweden  2. USA  3. Latvia  4. France  5. Italy  6. Belarus  7. Brazil

Group C

Teams: Denmark, Spain, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Korea, Luxemburg, New Zealand, Scotland

Expect a tough three-time fight for the top spot in this group.  Scotland (Grant Hardie), Denmark (Mikael Qvist) and Korea (Kim Chi-gu) should run away from the field here.  Scotland and Korea are coming off Final 4 appearances last year and battled for bronze (won by Scotland) albeit with different teams.  Qvist is the experienced team in the group though after sporting a 5-3 record in 2015, losing in the Round of 12 to eventual champions Norway.

Spain's Sergio Vez makes his second appearance after finished 3-5 in 2015 and Kazakhstan's Viktor Kim is hoping third time's a charm for a W after posting an 0-6 record last year and 0-8 in 2015.  Either Kazakhstan or Luxemborg will celebrate their first ever win at this event!

Welcome Luxembourg to your first world championship, let's see how you do! #growthesport  Who knows though....pool competitor Korea made their debut last year and turned it into a bronze medal win?!

#TwineTime Projected Standings:  1. Scotland  2. Denmark  3. Korea  4. New Zealand  5. Spain  6. Ireland  7. Luxemborg  8. Kazakhstan

Group D

Teams: Austria, Czech Republic, Finland, Hong Kong, Israel, Norway, Switzerland, Slovakia

Similar to Russia in Group A, this should be Switzerland's group to win.  2014 world junior champion Yannick Schwaller will skip the team and, if you are a regular reader of this blog, you know how much of a fan #TwineTime is of the young skip.  He will be joined by 2015 world bronze medal winner Elena Stern as vice combining for one of the most experienced back end combo's at this event (with Sweden of course).  Not to mention this is Schwaller's second appearance at the event, representing Switzerland in 2015 and posting a 7-1 RR record and losing in the QF to eventual runner-up Sweden (led by Rasmus Wrana). 

Austria is the second returning team from last year.  Andreas Unterberger's squad finished 4-3, just outside the playoffs but the year of experience could be a huge benefit with this field.  Israel will be making their return to the championships after missing last year and will have some familiarity on the team as 2015 skip Elana Sone (1-7) will act as vice to former Quebec junior champ now Team Israel skip Adam Freilich.  This team could surprise here.

The Czech Republic, Finland, Norway and Slovakia will all field completely new teams at this event so time will tell how they adjust to the world championship event and ice.

Finally welcome our second debut nation Hong Kong to the field.  Not only will Hong Kong make their world mixed debut but this will be the first international curling event for Hong Kong as a nation to participate in.  This pool will not make it easy on the debut nation mind you but who doesn't love a good upset?

#TwineTime Projected Standings:  1. Switzerland  2. Austria  3. Finland  4. Israel  5. Norway  6. Czech Republic  7. Slovakia  8. Hong Kong

Group E

Teams: Australia, Canada, China, England, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Turkey

When the group placement was released, people may have jumped up and said Canada has drawn a fairly easy group, avoiding power house nations like Russia, Switzerland, Sweden and Scotland.  However, once we take a closer look I'm not so sure Canada is even the favourite of the group.  The Northern Ontario foursome, led by skip Trevor Bonot, will be a contending team but they arguably have been handed the toughest and deepest group in the competition, based on experience.

Germany will be led by two-time world champion Andrea Schoepp with brother Rainer throwing skip stones.  The brother-sister duo has a Euro mixed gold medal (2008) and three bronze medals (2005, 2007, 2010) to their credit and should be considered a team to watch for this upcoming week.

Australia's Hugh Millikin, originally from Vancouver, has appeared in 11 world championships and has claimed 9 Pacific-Asia gold medals for Australia.  As recent as 2014, Millikin took home a bronze medal at the World Senior Curling Championships, his third such medal (2010, 2011).  Millikin did compete here last year, posting a 2-4 record.

Speaking of the #PACC, China returns to these world championships after missing last year and will be led by Liu Sijia.  Liu previously played lead for Bingyu Wang and eventually skipped her own team to a #PACC gold medal W in 2014 and a world championship appearance (6-5 record).

And the strong international resume continues in this pool with Turkey and Poland.  Dilsat Yildiz and Alican Karatas return as the back end of a strong team after finishing 4-4 in 2015 and last year reaching the playoffs with a 5-2 RR record (l. to Germany in the opening round of the playoffs).  Poland welcomes back Andrzej Augustyniak at skip and the team will try to build on their breakthrough performance last year when they posted a 4-2 record to reach the playoffs before losing to eventual 4th place finisher Korea in the opening round of the playoffs.

Netherlands will be making their second appearance after their debut last year and will look to improve on their 0-7 result.   

#TwineTime Projected Standings:  1. Germany  2. China  3. Canada  4. Turkey  5. Poland  6. Australia  7. England  8. Netherlands

Qualifiers:  Russia, Sweden, Scotland, Switzerland, Germany, Hungary, USA, Denmark, Austria, China, Canada, Korea, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Turkey 

#FinalFour: Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, China

World Mixed Curling Championship Final:  Switzerland def. Sweden - A battle of former world junior medallists with Schwaller and Stern overcoming Wrana and Mabergs in a tight final.  Switzerland will claim their first world mixed title while heartache continues for Sweden as they settle for their third consecutive silver medal.

Excited rock heads and stoners?  Well you should be!  This will be the first of many world championships taking place this season.  And with 38 nations competing, who knows who will come out on top.  Stay up to date on all the draw action beginning this Friday October 6 by visiting the event homepage HERE.  And send your good luck messages and well wishes to your favourite teams on social media using the hashtag #WMxCC2017.  As well, come the playoff round, select games will be streamed LIVE for your viewing pleasure through the World Curling Federation YouTube channel, including the gold medal game.

Speaking of, what do YOU the curling fan think of 38 nations competing for a world championship?  Have YOUR say now on the #TwineTime Home Page by participating in the #TwineTime Poll.  #VOTEToday

ICYMI as we head into Week 5 #wct action, take a read at the updated #PowerRankings HERE and see which teams made a move, which teams slipped up and which teams are heating up the ice as we head into the fall portion of the season.

And #StayTuned for the full preview and prediction for the all the action going down this weekend.

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