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Friday, 28 September 2018

#Curling S1819 W6

#BetweenTheSheets: Opportunity Knocking, Who Answers?
A full weekend of curling action means plenty of ranking points up for grabs



What a weird end of September it has been folks. We have rain in some parts of the Canada. Snow in others. Warm, summer-like temperatures here and there. And cold, below average temperatures in scattered spots. The weather has been unpredictable this month.

The temperatures may have us running back and forth between shorts and pants, jackets and hoodies, toques and ball caps, one thing we can count on is the the rocks and rings are starting to heat up the ice in curling clubs across the world. Most clubs are now open for business. The winter sport of curling has officially arrived as we say goodbye to unpredictable September and hello to Fall October.

As clubs start to become more active, you best believe the World Curling Tour is starting to amp up its schedule now as well. We are in Week 6 of the season and this is going to be one of the busiest and most active weeks on tour all year. I hope you are all ready for this....

Normally this blog would tackle an issue or two leading into the preview and predictions for the week. What are the hot topics of the curling week? But not this week folks. The blog concentrated on the important topic of #WheelchairCurling earlier this week. We also have the #Elite10 preview blog post out for those looking to get a perfect primer on what to expect in Chatham, ON. With 5 men's events and 4 women's events taking place this weekend, we simply don't have time for the warm-up stretches and practice throws. We want to slide right into the action!

This weekend is an competition schedule of opportunity for many teams. With so many events taking place and the vast majority of Top 10 teams competing in one slam event, the chance at a tour title, nice take home money and tour ranking points is open on a first come, first serve basis. Under the #TwineTime tour series, the ranking points are knocking at the door in Vernon, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Lower Sackville and Tallinn this weekend waiting to see which team answers the door first and seizes the opportunity sitting in the house right before their very eyes.

Last week the pressure was on the #TwineTime blog to follow-up an A+ prediction grade from the previous week. The results in Winnipeg, Kitchener-Waterloo and Tallinn failed to live up to the high standard set one week prior unfortunately.

At the #MotherClubClassic in Winnipeg, the blog went 6/8 with the men's qualifiers but missed both finalists. Although calling out #TeamYoungBucks, USA's Mark Fenner as the #TeamUpset contender, was a hit since they did reach the final. For the women, the blog also went 6/8 and correctly predicted Team Einarson emerging with the title.

At the #KWFallClassic, a modest 5/8 accuracy on the women's qualifiers but missing both finalists and champion coupled with a similar 5/8 men's qualifiers and again missing both finalists and champion shows some struggles from the Kitchener-Waterloo front.

The mixed doubles event in Tallinn, Estonia saved some face for the blog going 6/7 on the qualifiers and correctly predicting Norway's Skaslien/Nedregotten duo to reach the final. Although the blog did predict them winning the championship while in actuality they fell short against their fellow Olympic podium duo Perret/Rios from Switzerland.

The Winnipeg results were above average. The Kitchener-Waterloo predictions were below average. The Tallinn mixed doubles event was above average. If we combine all the predictions from a week ago, we underachieved on our goal of maintaining the A+ grade but we still pass with flying colours. Overall Grade: B

As mentioned we have a full house of events this weekend for #wct action. The big news is we finally have our first #Tour1000 event for the women in Vernon, B.C. And, continuing with the #Elite10 preview theme of equality, the Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic is a dual event with the women actually have a higher purse, and resulting in a higher tour series classification, compared to their male counterparts competing at the same event. A few weeks ago we saw a dual event, Shorty Jenkins, offer a higher purse and series ranking to the men compared to the women. It is nice to reverse the tables a bit this week (although next week the tables turn once again). Hopefully we will eventually get to the point where dual-offering events can truly be dual-offerings with equal purse payouts and tour series classifications. In time perhaps, in time. However, in recognition of this fact, this week we will start with the women's previews/predictions.

No time to waste as we have a full house of action to cover this week. Here are the #TourLifePredictions:


WOMEN

Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic (Tour 1000)

Vernon, BC

2017 Champion: Team Rachel Homan

Format: 19 team RR with 3 pools of 5 and 1 pool of 4. Top 8 qualify.

Top Teams Entered (Top 15): Team Fujisawa

Favourite: Can we say #TeamWorld? This field is divided as a Canada vs. The World event with 6 strong international teams coming to Vernon looking to steal a title on Canadian soil. Japan is the front runner, bringing Olympic bronze medal winners Team Fujisawa and up and coming Japanese threat Team Matsumura into the competition. Team Gim from Korea and a #TeamUpset contender from a few weeks back, Russia's Team Kovaleva, will also be threats for the title. Add in the German champs, skipped by #TwineTimeFam member Danielle Jentsch, and China's Team Liu and we have a real threat to see 6 of the 8 qualifier spots go to #TeamWorld here. And yet, remember no #PACC nations were invited to the 2019 Continental Cup....

#TeamUpset: Well if #TeamWorld is leading the favourite, #TeamCanada must be the upset. Weird to say right? But when we look at the comparison resumes of the 6 international teams vs. the 13 Canadian teams it does seem to stack up a bit towards the world team. But lets not undersell nor underestimate the Canadian teams competing in Vernon either. Kelsey Rocque is certainly no cake walk opponent and is a strong title threat this week. As is another Canadian junior champ Kristen Streifel, who opened up her season a few weeks ago with a strong SF showing in Saskatoon. And the home province will have quite a number of big name teams to rally behind, including current BC champ Team Van Osch as well as current BC Team of the Year award winner Team Brown.

W4W4: When opportunity comes knocking, you better be ready to open the door. This is the PERFECT example of this truth. With defending champion Team Homan and many other top contending women's teams competing at the Elite 10 (damn #gsoc schedule) the 19 teams competing in Vernon have a great chance to take home a large #wct women's title, and paycheque, this weekend. Whichever team emerges victorious this weekend will pick up some cash, a nice boost in their rankings and, perhaps, have an early outside shot at a season-ending Champions Cup spot. *Knock* *Knock* *Knock*....who is going to answer the door first?

Qualifiers: Team Fujisawa, Team Brown, Team Gim, Team Matsumura, Team Rocque, Team Streifel, Team Kovaleva, Team Gushulak

Championship: Team Fujisawa def. Team Gim


Avonair Cash Spiel (Tour 250)

Edmonton, AB

2017 Champion: Team Nadine Scotland

Format: 16 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers.

Top Teams Entered (Top 15): N/A

Favourite: With two-time defending champion Nadine Scotland taking a curling hiatus this season, we really are left with a wide open field here. This is a pro-Alberta field with 15 of the 16 teams entered (more on the 1 non-Alberta team in a moment) representing the Wild Rose province. While none of the teams could really be considered the favourite, none of them are really considered to be long shots either. The favourite bet right now may just be on crowning an Alberta champion in Edmonton.

#TeamUpset: Instinctively I always side with #PolarPower as a strong #TeamUpset contender when I see Team Galusha listed on the teams entered list. One can never underestimate skipper Kerry Galusha in an event given her experience and resume, plus she is a #TwineTimeFam member. But the season opening event for her is usually a bit tough as the team does not have the access to ice and practice times leading into the event as many of their competitors. A #TeamUpset special contender may just be the young Kayla Skrilik team from Calgary. This blog first noticed Team Skrilik at the Autumn Gold Classic last year over Thanksgiving weekend in Calgary. They play a smart game and have the skills to make the big shots. As they gain more experience against the top female teams on tour their confidence will grow and those W's are going to start rolling in. This could be the perfect opportunity for them to make a mark on this season.

W4W4: The door knocking theme continues here. Who can seize the day and capitalize on a great opportunity? We already know there are strong Alberta female teams on tour but with Team Scheidegger, Team Walker and Team Carey competing at the Elite 10 and Team Rocque choosing to compete in Vernon, this is a great chance for the Alberta teams in the field to gain some momentum and confidence heading into the season. We really have a mix here with many of the teams stepping on the ice for the first time this season as well. Scoring a #wct title over a group of provincial competition would be a great way to build towards the ultimate goal for these teams, an AB Scotties title in early 2019.

Qualifiers: Team Varnes, Team Kaufman, Team Skrilik, Team Sturmay, Team Marthaller, Team Galusha, Team Flory, Team Makichuk

Championship: Team Sturmay def. Team Marthaller


Manitoba Curling Tour Classic (Tour 250)

Winnipeg, MB

2017 Champion: Team Joelle Brown

Format: 8 team RR with 2 pools of 4. Top 4 qualify.

Top Teams Entered (Top 15): N/A

Favourite: #TeamJCR has been the most consistent team the opening month of the season in this field. They have played two events this season and are sliding a perfect 1.000 on qualifying. They reached the SF at their season opening event in Morris and the QF last weekend at the Mother Club. Overall they sport a positive 7-4 record on the year. Special note two of those losses are to the #1 team on tour thus far Team Einarson, who is beating up everyone. Clark-Rouire's strong start to the season could continue with a nice title run here.

#TeamUpset: Most of the field? Pool B especially is going to be interesting to watch. We have Team Brown, Team Hale, Team McDonald and Team Vachon. Huge opportunity for two of these teams to make a playoff run here. We saw Brown compete last weekend and make a QF run at the Mother Club. But Hale, McDonald and Vachon will be making their season debuts. With Pool A chalked full of teams who have been competing already this season, Pool B could produce the best shot at a #TeamUpset flag bearer...but it won't be easy.

W4W4: With many of the top contending Manitoba teams not competing at this event, this is a great opportunity for these 8 teams to find some footing on the sliding path in the province right now. The interesting thing with this smaller tournament format is the teams actually play the teams in the other pool for the RR and NOT the teams in their own pool. Weird right? Why even have pools? This could be an advantage for those Pool A teams who have collectively played more thus far this season. While an early tour win doesn't necessarily guarantee success later on in the season, picking up some prize money and a giant cheque sure doesn't hurt the confidence heading into the full part of the season. Door + Knocking = Who is Answering?

Qualifiers: Team Clark-Rouire, Team Brown, Team Chappellaz, Team Ackland

Championship: Team Clark-Rouire def. Team Chappellaz


Tallinn Ladies International Challenger (Tour 250)

Tallinn, Estonia

2017 Champion: Team Chantale Widmer

Format: 15 team RR with 3 pools of 5 teams. Top 8 qualify.

Top Teams Entered (Top 15): N/A

Favourite: Switzerland's Ursi Hegner may be the headliner in Tallinn this weekend. Hegner has a strong line-up this season, adding Michele Jaeggi as her fourth thrower while Hegner skips and throws vice stones. We know much of the attention of #HoppSchwiiz female curling is surrounding Team Tirinzoni and Team Feltscher, with Team Stern showing they are a threat as well. Team Hegner is probably the ultimate #TeamUpset in Swiss curling right now but in this field the experience level of the back end may just give them a stones up advantage. Remember Jaeggi is also the current World Mixed Doubles Curling Champion. Another top contending name to keep your eyes on is Finland's Oona Kauste. Kauste has struggled since her breakout year of 2015 when she led her team to a bronze medal at the European Championships. But remember she is a six-time Finnish champion and recently competed at the 2018 Winter Olympics in mixed doubles.

#TeamUpset: Estonia is hosting this event and the home nation fans have high hopes for a home team victory. And why not? Estonia may be the fastest growing nation for developing strong contending female teams over the past 2 or 3 years. Marie Turmann has helped #growthesport with her success in mixed doubles the past few seasons and is the two-time defending Estonian women's team champion. Last season she represented Estonia at the Euro B-division, finishing 3rd overall and just missing promotion to the A-division for this season (which happen to be hosted in Tallinn as well in November). Turmann's main Estonian rival, and former teammate, Maile Molder is another #TeamUpset contender to keep your eyes on here.

W4W4: This event really highlights the growth of curling in Europe over the past few years. Can you imagine seeing teams from Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and Hungary competing for a #wct title six or seven seasons ago? Here we are in 2018 with all of these nations fielding competing teams with a threat to take home a tour title. This is what the World Curling Federation and European Curling has been dreaming and building towards for years. An increase in competitive teams, from various competing nations, building towards making Europe the true curling hotspot for competition. Sure these teams may not be regular #wct threats every week nor threats to compete for the European Championship and World Championship at this stage but it is building and the competition level among these teams and nations is growing. This is a slide in the right direction for everyone involved.

Qualifiers: Team Hegner, Team Turmann, Team Kauste, Team Molder, Team Palancsa, Team Rumyanceva, Team Stasa-Sarsune, Team Wilson

Championship: Team Hegner def. Team Palancsa


MEN

Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic (Tour 250)

Vernon, BC

2017 Champion: Team Jeff Guignard

Format: 12 team triple knockout with 3 pools of 4 teams. Top 6 qualify with Top 2 earning byes to the SF.

Top Teams Entered (Top 15): N/A

Favourite: Matt Dunstone put together a smart season-opening schedule for September for his new team. They went hard for the opening three weeks, competing in Winnipeg and back-to-back events in Oakville. And while they failed to claim a tour title they did reach a final and QF along the way. They have the most ice time under their sliders in comparison to their competitive in Vernon so they should come in as slight favourites for a deep playoff run. The Dunstone schedule was built aiming for grand slam qualification and a tour win this weekend will only help elevate their hopes for qualifying in the remaining slams this year.

#TeamUpset: Could a member of the defending champion team be considered a #TeamUpset? For this event and in this field perhaps so. Daniel Wenzek competed here last year as vice for Jeff Guignard and took home the championship title. This season Wenzek returns to #DefendTheIce except now he is doing so as the skip of his own team. Wenzek's new team made their debut at the King Cash Spiel with a strong SF showing. Wenzek is still competing with lead Nicholas Meister and has added some tour experience with Jared Kolomaya, previously competing out of Manitoba, at vice. The addition of Jordan Tardi at second adds championship calibre as well. They may be an early dark horse contender in B.C. folks.

W4W4: The return of Jim Cotter! Cotter will make his season debut with his slightly altered squad, adding former Sask champ Steve Laycock at vice this off-season. It will be interesting to see how the Cotter/Laycock pairing works but, on paper, this team is the BC front runner. We also could see former teammates square off in the playoffs with Laycock vs. Dunstone after their split last season, which included a Brier run. Speaking of Brier 2018 participants, the defending BC champion Team Geall returns to the ice this weekend after posting a nice SF appearance a few weeks ago in their season debut event. And want another Regina Brier connection? Josh Barry, formerly competing out of PEI with Team MacKenzie, will join his new team on the ice for their second event of the season after reaching the final a few weeks back at the King Cash Spiel.

Qualifiers: Team Cotter, Team Dunstone, Team Geall, Team Barry, Team Wenzek, Team Cseke

Championship: Team Dunstone def. Team Cotter


Avonair Cash Spiel (Tour 250)

Edmonton, AB

2017 Champion: Team Aaron Sluchinski

Format: 25 team RR with 5 pools of 5 teams. Top 8 qualify.

Top Teams Entered (Top 15): N/A

Favourite: Korea's Soo-hyuk Kim is back folks! Kim is a two-time champion of this event (2014, 2015) and seems to love competing on the Avonair ice. Kim skipped the event last season after losing in a TB in 2016 in his quest for the #3peat. Kim has been a team where people are waiting for them to break out and move from the middle of the rankings pack into the top contender category for a few seasons now. Last season Korean rival Chang-min Kim emerged as the top team, reaching a grand slam final (The National), representing Korea at their home Winter Olympics and winning the #PACC. Soo-hyuk Kim needs to start building a challenge once again for the top spot in Korea and making his season debut at a tournament where he has had great success could be the knocking door of opportunity this team needs this season.

#TeamUpset: Honestly most of the field. There are a handful of contending teams entered for play but, in a field of 25, close to 15 to 18 of these teams really could wave the #TeamUpset flag this weekend. A few teams like Cole Adams, Jordan Steinke and Evan van Amsterdam would love to put their fellow AB competitors on notice. A few more experienced teams, like current World Senior Curling Champion Wade White or former White teammate Kevin Tym, would also like to show experience matters. This field could quickly become an Expect The Unexpected field of dreams.

W4W4: Similar to the women's field, this is a strong Alberta-based field. Outside of Korea's Kim and two teams from neighbouring Saskatchewan, we have 22 Alberta teams squaring off looking for a strong start to their season. For many of these teams this will be their season debut as well so we aren't too sure what to expect from them quite yet. When you compete in the same province as Olympic rep Kevin Koe and Brier finalist from a season ago Brendan Bottcher, you know you have your work cut out for you. A strong start to the season, with some momentum and confidence, can go a long way towards AB dark horse contender and AB also-ran competitor. This is a prime opportunity to walk through the AB curling door and proclaim your team as a team to watch out for.

Qualifiers: Team Kim, Team Sturmay, Team Appelman, Team K. Park, Team Cross, Team Sluchinski, Team Harty, Team Deis

Championship: Team Kim def. Team Appelman


KKP Classic (Tour 250)

Winnipeg, MB

2017 Champion: Team Dennis Bohn

Format: 10 team RR with 2 pools of 5 teams. Top 4 qualify.

Top Teams Entered (Top 15): N/A

Favourite: Last week Tanner Lott rode the #TeamUpset train to a #wct title so why should we not expect Team Lott to come into this weekend as the early favourite? Momentum, check. Confidence, check. Almost the exact same line-up of competition from a week ago, check. Ride with the one who comes in hot and Tanner Lott is that horse right now.

#TeamUpset: How about Ty Dilello folks? You may not be super familiar with the 25yo out of Winnipeg but perhaps you should start. Team Dilello is off to a solid start this season, with Ty skipping after playing vice for Sean Grassie last season. The team went 2-2 at the season opening Icebreaker and last weekend reached the QF at the Mother Club. The back-end combo of Dilello and young Hayden Forrester seems to be a smart pairing. This team could emerge as a dark horse in Manitoba this season. Fun facts about the skipper as well, did you know he is a published author with his book 'Golden Boys' coming out last November? Writes for Euro Hockey and the IIHF? And used to play on the IFT tennis circuit? Talk about an all-around athlete here, impressive!

W4W4: Tanner Lott has a title. Braden Calvert has a title. Teams Lyburn and Dennis Bohn have successful SF spots from a week ago. Team Dilello and Drews reached the QF last weekend as well. This is basically the same field we saw compete at the Mother Club Classic with all the qualifiers returning and looking to continue chalking up some ranking points and momentum. Once again, the door is knocking and one of these Manitoba teams is going to answer.

Qualifiers: Team Calvert, Team Lyburn, Team Dilello, Team Bohn

Championship: Team Lyburn def. Team Calvert


The Curling Store Cashspiel (Tour 250)

Lower Sackville, NS

2017 Champion: Team Stuart Thompson

Format: 8 team RR with 2 pools of 4 teams. Top 4 qualify.

Top Teams Entered (Top 15): N/A

Favourite: Stuart Thompson returns to #DefendTheIce and slide away with the repeat. Thompson and company stayed together in the off-season in hopes of not only continuing to have tour level success but to also finally make a Brier run out of Nova Scotia this season. Last year the team reached the Deloitte Tankard (Nova Scotia provincial championship) SF before coming up short vs. Mark Dacey. In 2017 Thompson lost the provincial final to Jamie Murphy. And back in 2015 and 2016, Thompson finished 4th at the Tankard. This team seems to be on the cusp on breaking through the Nova Scotia glass ceiling and making a big name for themselves. A start to the season with a repeat title defence would be a perfect confidence boost.

#TeamUpset: While Stuart Thompson is trying to become the new face of Nova Scotia curling, brother Kendal Thompson may be fighting to stay out of his brothers shadow and make a name for himself as well. Last season Kendal was defeated by brother Stuart in the QF of this event. At the 2017 Deloitte Tankard, Kendal lost to Stuart in a pivotal Draw 10 battle, which ultimately cost Kendal a possible TB spot. To add insult to injury, at last year's Tankard, Stuart defeated Kendal in a TB elimination game. Imagine being around the Thompson Christmas table? It would appear Stuart has Kendal's number in the H2H battle...but what a way to turn things around then by knocking him off as the defending champion here and claiming the title for yourself.

W4W4: We finally see the Nova Scotia teams hit the ice this season. While this is only 8 men's teams competing, those 8 teams have a perfect opportunity to open the door as early-season threats for the NS title. Nova Scotia is a wide open province for the Brier spot, more so this year than perhaps in previous years. All 8 of these teams would love to gain the early advantage over their provincial rivals by taking home the season-opening tour title.

Qualifiers: Team S. Thompson, Team Stevens, Team MacDougall, Team K. Thompson

Championship: Team S. Thompson def. Team K. Thompson


Tallinn Men's International Challenger (Tour 250)

Tallinn, Estonia

2017 Champion: New Event

Format: 15 team RR with 3 pools of 5 teams. Top 8 qualify.

Top Teams Entered (Top 15): N/A

Favourite: The Dutch champions, led by Jaap van Dorp, come to Estonia as the most experienced team in the field, given their standing in the European A-division and recent years of competing at the world championships. This is a perfect opportunity for van Dorp to pick up another #wct title and build momentum heading towards those European Championships in November. This is also an advantage for them seeing as those championships will be hosted at the same venue as this event, meaning van Dorp will get familiar with the ice conditions early. This is a great tune-up event for them...but wearing the favourite tag comes with expectations and pressure.

#TeamUpset: We are going on the far limb of #TeamUpset contenders at this event as a large majority of this field would be flying the flag here but lets celebrate seeing Belarus field a team this week in Tallinn. The Belarusian team, skipped by Ilya Shalamitski, will be making their tour debut. We first saw Shalamitski at the 2016 European Curling Championships when he led Belarus to a T5 place finish in the C-division. Last season the Belarus team was skipped by Dimitry Barkan, who also competed in the C-division and lost the SF missing out on a chance to play for promotion to B-division. At the end of last season, in April, Shalamitski was placed back in the skipping duties for the Belarus team and led this exact team to a second place finish in the Euro C-division, qualifying them to compete in the B-division this November here in Tallinn. This marks the first time Belarus has played in the B-division since the 2011 European Championships.

W4W4: The Euro C-division does not garner much hype or coverage. The competition is held at the end of the previous tour season and is often overshadowed by the world championships and tour wrap-up events. This event really will showcase some of the teams who have competed in the lower European division for a few years and give them an opportunity to showcase their talents. Estonia's Harri Lill, Lithuania's Tadas Vyskupaitis and Belarus' Shalamitski are all B-division contenders this year. But we also have some top contenders like Finland's Tomi Rantamaki, Switzerland's Lucien Lottenbach and Latvia's Ritvars Gulbis who have been competing for a few seasons but sometimes have been overshadowed by the bigger or more successful names in the sport of their home nations. Again, the door is knocking here for these 15 teams.

Qualifiers: Team van Dorp, Team Gulbis, Team Lottenbach, Team Rantamaki, Team Vyskipaitis, Team Shalamitski, Team Lill, Team Bukovsky

Championship: Team van Dorp def. Team Lill


There you have it rock heads and stoners, a full slate of events to keep your curling eyes glued to the house and your curling hearts a patter with runbacks, draws, steals, and raises. And of course we have the Grand Slam of Curling #Elite10 to watch as well. Try to keep up but don't overdose on the rocks in play....remember we are just starting to slide into the season here.

Enjoy and good curling!