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Friday, 24 August 2018

#Curling S1819W1

#BetweenTheSheets: Opening Weekend!
The official start to the curling season hits the ice this weekend



Welcome back to the ice the curling athletes from around the world for our sports entertainment....oh and their passion and livelihood I suppose.

The 2018/19 curling season will see its official first draw, runback, steal and hogline violation this weekend in Winnipeg and Baden, Switzerland. Ok technically the season started last weekend in Japan but, in full respect to the teams and athletes competing last weekend, that event felt like the pre-season tune-up event to the full season.

It has been a busy off-season for curling athletes and fans alike. I hope everyone enjoyed the summer months because our focus is now shifting back to the cold and frigid temperatures of arena ice and snow. Don't you love it?

This post will focus on the action on the ice. If you missed the Season Preview, I highly recommend checking it out and sharing your thoughts. We had many topics to discuss, including the #FreeAgentFrenzy during last season and this off-season, breaking down what and who to watch, which could be successes and which could be potholes on the ice. The preview also discusses the on-going rankings saga, identifying a few #TeamUpset flag bearers to keep your eyes on this season and predictions on who could emerge atop the table at some of the biggest events of the season.

A few readers have asked: "Why no mention of the World Cup in the preview?" Well my fellow rock heads and stoners, first off clever catch and great question. The straight up reason is I really do not know how I feel about it yet. I am not sure if I am in favour of these events or not. While I love the conceptual idea, I worry about the potential negative impact on the sport in the long-run. Do these World Cup events really just help distance the gap between those top teams and the next grouping in the rankings? I don't want it to become a "rich get richer" argument but I struggle to see how it might lead us down this path. What I can promise you is I am going to give this more thought and #StayTuned.

Before settling in the hack for the opening throw, we need to do a small routine to prepare for the shot. In true blog fashion, of course I am talking about the #GunnerRunback. For the opening of the season lets take a quick look back at how the #PowerRankings finished last season:


MEN

  1. Team Edin
  2. Team Gushue
  3. Team Koe
  4. Team Mouat
  5. Team Gunnlaugson

Hon. Mention: Team Shuster, Team McEwen, Team De Cruz, Team Kim, Team Bottcher


WOMEN

  1. Team J. Jones
  2. Team Hasselborg
  3. Team Muirhead
  4. Team Einarson
  5. Team Homan

Hon. Mention: Team Sinclair, Team Tirinzoni, Team Kim, Team Carey, Team Moiseeva

This will the starting block for the 2018/19 #TwineTime Power Rankings. Now I know your first response is "ummm #TwineTime most of these teams have changed players or no longer exist". Yup you are correct. But we need a starting point nonetheless right?

Obviously Team McEwen and Team Moiseeva are no more. Team Koe, Team Einarson, Team Tirinzoni and Team Carey look very different this season. Team Shuster, Team Gunnlaugson, Team Jones and Team Muirhead have minor adjustments as well. While Team Edin, Team Gushue, Team Hasselborg and Team Homan remain in tact and seem poised as early favourites to ascend the rankings mountain.

As I said, this is just a starting point. I am sure we will see teams climb up and slip down the mountain all season. This is going to be the true rocky mountain of the season folks. And we are going to do things a bit different this year. In years past results and consistency have been the key factors in deciding the #PowerRankings. This year the element of actual points based on results will come into play.

If you checked out the season opening blog post discussing the rankings system, you would be familiar with my proposed tour restructuring. Well, if I am going to make the case for the new Tour system, I better be prepared to back it up and use it. This season I will be implementing the point structure proposed in the blog post to help populate the weekly #PowerRankings. It could cause even more of an avalanche for the teams. Or it could help create a more steady path to the top. We shall see. Either way, it will be a new element added into the formula so bare with me and stay tuned for how it shakes out all season long.

Now bring on the Week 1 predictions folks. Using the same format as last year, #TwineTime will break down the events for the upcoming weekend, list the favourites and some #TeamUpset contenders and predict who could be left standing victorious Sunday evening. One difference you may notice is the tour event classification in brackets next to the tour event name. While this is not an official World Curling Tour classification, it does support the #RankingsRedux blog post from the beginning of the season to help support the arguments made in that post and bring the idea off the page and into the real world a bit more.

It is predictions time baby......

MEN

Baden Masters (Tour 500)

Baden, SUI

2017 Champion: Team Niklas Edin

Format: 20 team RR with 4 pools of 5 teams. Top 8 qualify.

Top Teams Entered:  Team Edin, Team De Cruz, Team Mouat, Team Ulsrud

Favourite: #SwedishVikings start their season fresh off Olympic silver and wold championship gold defending a title they won last year. In fact Edin also won this title in 2015 so Baden has been a happy start to the season from him in recent history. Starting the season with the same team as last year will be an advantage for Team Edin. The big question mark will be Niklas himself hitting the ice after the off-season surgeries and how his recovery is going. He seems ready to go though having briefly spoken to him and he doesn't expect any lingering effects to his game this weekend. That is good news for Team Edin and bad news for his competition. The Swedish boys do have a favourable draw however they cannot overlook anyone as past world championship participants Team Baumann from Germany (featuring #TwineTime fam Ryan Sherrard moved up to vice) and a strong up and coming Swiss team in Jan Hess could present early challenges.

#TeamUpset: We will see two teams #TwineTime identified in the Season Preview as one's to watch this season and teams who could make a move up the rankings. Dutch curling has been put on the ice thanks to Jaap van Dorp and his young team from Zoetermeer. A few world championship appearances under their belts, successful #wct seasons as well (including a tour title in the past) and this team could be ready to make the shift from dark horse to team to watch out for. This team did top my list of men's teams to watch this season after all. But we also cannot forget the #HoppSchwiiz fans and another young team poised to make some noise. Yannick Schwaller from Bern is a former world junior champion (2014) and seems to be ready to truly become the next face of Switzerland curling (watch out Team De Cruz!). This team made a slight line-up change not in faces but in throwing positions as Michael Brunner and Romano Meier will switch positions with Brunner now as vice and Meier as second. Last season this was the #TwineTime pre-season #TeamUpset pick and they bolted up the rankings. This season I think we will continue to see their rise towards the Top 15 or Top 10 in the world and will cement their place as a dark horse team of the year candidate. Here is their chance to prove it!

W2W4: This is a divided field from the initial overview. We have the heavily experienced teams (Edin, De Cruz, Ulsrud) who should be favoured to reach at least the SF. We have the up and coming teams (Mouat, van Dorp, Schwaller, Pfister) who seem ready to follow-up successful seasons last year and really make a name for themselves this season. We have a few teams (Baumann, Walstad, Hess, Wunderer) who are familiar to some but are still looking to really break through as a regular contender on tour and establish themselves as strong European teams. And then we have a few unknown teams (Mercier, Doronin, Nyman, Harsch) who would love to make a name for themselves at the opening event of the season. The opening event of the season can be tricky as everyone is right now level and even with one another on the stats sheet. There will be excitement and emotions on the ice to start the year and every team wants to slide out on the right foot early. Can the favourites navigate the draw or will we start the season with a few upsets already?

Qualifiers: Team Ulsrud, Team De Cruz, Team Edin, Team Mouat, Team Schwaller, Team Walstad, Team van Dorp, Team Hess

Championship: Team Edin def. Team De Cruz


Goldline Icebreaker (Tour 250)

Winnipeg, MB

2017 Champion: Team Braden Calvert

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

Top Teams Entered: Team Gunnlaugson, Team Shuster, Team Dunstone, Team Muyres

Favourite: The Olympic champs will start their season in Winnipeg with a slightly new line-up. Team Shuster will welcome #TwineTime fam member Chris Plys to the team this season as vice with the retirement of former vice Tyler George (again who knows how permanent that will be). Plys is a great addition to the team though having international and Olympic experience of his own on top of just being a stand up great dude with a great on-ice attitude. Pressure is on this team though wearing the Olympic champ hat from here on in and they will have a giant attention billboard on their backs wherever they go this season from fans and media. The media attention post-Olympics last year was fun and all but now it is time to step back on the ice and compete while also still dealing with media/fan attention. It is back to work time and we will see how this team handles the easy off-ice distractions coupled with the expected post-Olympic blues. They did reach the final here last season and would love to start their season off with a bang in a field full of new look teams.

#TeamUpset: Can the defending champions be considered the #TeamUpset in the field? In this instance I think they just might. But I also think they will not mind playing the role once again. It worked last year right? Braden Calvert has successfully managed the transition from junior champion to the men's game. He is the bright future of the sport not only in Manitoba but in Canada. While the collective experience of his competition this weekend may be greater than him and his team, they should not be underestimated. Calvert does bring a new team under him though with the addition of Ian McMillan (second) and Robbie Gordon (lead) but both bring great experience to the team. The eyes of curling fans may be on the numerous "bigger name" teams in this field but don't be surprised if Team Calvert is in the hunt to defend his title come Sunday.

W2W4: Obviously the big story here is how all these new teams competing this weekend will fare their first time on the ice. We will see the new Team Dunstone. The new Team Muyres. The updated Team Shuster. A slightly altered Team Gunnlaugson who added former McEwen lead Denni Neufeld to the line-up. Really who knows what we will see and what we can expect. All of these teams I am sure enter the opening event with a ton of confidence and excitement to hit the ice with their new teammates but which teams will suffer some growing pains early on and which will find quick success? All of these players are experienced and have strong individual resumes so skill and talent will not be the issue. This will be the perfect feeling out process for each of these teams, which could make for some interesting results. Expect the Unexpected this weekend perhaps? From a blog perspective, this event is full of #TwineTimeFam members: Matt Dunstone, Catlin Schneider (Team Dunstone), Kirk Muyres (Team Muyres), Jason Gunnlaugson (Team Gunnlaugson) and Chris Plys (Team Shuster). The blog will always support all of you guys week in and week out but sorry, only one of you can walk away with #TwineTimeFam bragging rights to start the season.

Qualifiers: Team Dunstone, Team Shuster, Team Gunnlaugson, Team Muyres

Championship: Team Gunnlaugson def. Team Dunstone


WOMEN

Goldline Icebreaker (Tour 250)

Winnipeg, MB

2017 Champion: Team Kerri Einarson

Format: 10 team RR with 2 pools of 5 teams. Top 5 qualify with Top 3 earning a bye to the SF. #4 will play #5 in the QF with the winner advancing to play #1 seed in the SF.

Top Teams Entered: Team Einarson, Team Sidorova, Team Fleury, Team Flaxey

Favourite: All eyes will be on #TeamSuperSkip this weekend. Since the announcement of an all-skip team at the end of last season people, myself included, have been wondering how this line-up would work. Too many cooks in the kitchen? Too many voices around the table? We have all come up with speculative reasons why this may not work but perhaps not giving enough credit to the four women who believe this WILL work. The skill and talent and shotmaking is there. This team could be a force on tour this season and they would love nothing more than to silence the doubters (and maybe even the little voice in their heads as well) by having a strong start to the season. Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur will have the eyes of the curling world on them all weekend. The announcement of the new team was big but now they need to follow it up with results. Imagine a Team Einarson vs Team Fleury SF or F battle though (they are in opposite pools so would only face off in the playoffs). Kerri vs her former teammates. Plus remember the old Team Einarson are the defending champions here. The story lines will write themselves.

#TeamUpset: In the Baden Masters preview, the pre-season men's dark horse pick was highlighted as the team to perhaps shock an experienced field this weekend. The blog women's pick could play a similar role this weekend in Winnipeg. USA's Cory Christensen is one of those sneaky dangerous teams who may still lack the big game experience of the women's tour but have the talent and skill to defeat any of the teams they draw up against on the ice. Again, similar to Team Schwaller, last year this team was one of my pre-season #TeamUpset picks and they waved the flag with success all season. If they can continue the momentum of a strong last season they could be a dark horse team week in and week out to knock off the big teams and really make that push as not only the top ranked US women's team but a team in contention for a Top 10 spot in the world. They will be in tough here being drawn into the tougher pool against three VERY strong Manitoba teams (Einarson, Peterson, Robertson) but they seem to thrive when the pressure is off. Do not sleep on this team this weekend or this season.

W2W4: Similar to the men's field for this event in Winnipeg, the focus on the women's field will be how the new line-up teams perform on the ice. We know about #TeamSuperSkip but there are a few other new team formations to keep eyes on. The former Team Einarson members have joined forces with former Northern Ontario champion Tracy Fleury. Former Ontario champion and grand slam champion Allison Flaxey has joined up with former Team Englot members Kate Cameron and Raunora Westcott and invited former Team Rocque second Taylor McDonald to make the move to Manitoba. Up and coming Manitoba skip Beth Peterson also brings out a new team this season. Oh and Manitoba Scotties finalist last year Darcy Robertson is also in this field and, unlike most of her competition, she brings back the same team as last year. Perhaps early advantage to Team Robertson heading into this event? These are the 5 Manitoba women's teams we all expect to be the main contenders in the Buffalo Hunt this season and we get to see them battle it out on the ice to start the season. Could there be anything better than this? Welcome to Week 1 folks!

Qualifiers: Team Sidorova, Team Einarson, Team Robertson, Team Fleury, Team Christensen

Championship: Team Einarson def. Team Robertson


As mentioned above, bring it on rock heads and stoners. Week 1 is finally here! Welcome back #curling! As always share your thoughts and predictions with the blog through the comments section below or hit me up on social media. And yes, if you comment below perhaps we can actually get some engagement and discussion going this season. Imagine that....curling fans (and maybe even a few of the athletes themselves) engaged in conversation together?!?! How about that for #growthesport? You didn't really think I would go an entire blog post without throwing in that hashtag did you? Come on!!

Enjoy the opening weekend action folks.