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Thursday, 27 September 2018

#Elite10 Preview

#BetweenTheSheets: Elite 10 Preview
Welcome our first "slam" event of the season

Welcome to 2018 curling! The day has finally arrived folks. Men. Women. Curling athletes. Same ice. At a slam. Wow!

Ok, ok, ok, this is not uncommon during the Grand Slam of Curling season I know. Each of the other 6 #gsoc events offer a men's and women's draw. The holdout, for whatever ridiculous reason someone may try to sell you, was the #Elite10.

Well thank you for waking up and joining the real world #Elite10.....we officially have 100% compliance on equality at the Grand Slam of Curling. Cel-e-brate the times, come on....

Those familiar with this blog know the distant relationship #TwineTime and the #Elite10 have had over the years. To be frank, this blog is still not a huge fan of the event. Straight up. Point. Blank. Period.

But before you go and crucify me, as some fans and athletes have done in the past, let me explain the issues I have always had with the event. The biggest complaint was the gender-bias of the past. When this event was introduced during the 2014/15 curling season it was a men's-only event. Whhaaattt?? How was this possible? In a time when all sports have been fighting for equality would a sport who, on the base surface, seems to be more supportive of athlete equality than a few of its competitors out there, drudge up a new event and make it only for male athletes. On top of it, they make it a Grand Slam of Curling event? Throwing sponsorship money, high purse numbers and TV coverage together to boot? This was the original event to start the hashtag #BeBetter! We longed for the days, back in 2014 and still to this day, when gender equality would not be an issue on the curling ice. We already see more men's tour events offering larger purse amounts than women's events, surely we did not expect to see it on the large-scale #gsoc ice. Yet there we were, awe-struck and dumbfounded this would be deemed acceptable. Issue #1 folks. Can you really argue with me here?

The second complaint I had was with the competition designation and format itself. For those new to the #Elite10, take all the normal scoring rules you have become accustomed to and throw them out of the house and into the boards. At this event a match play system is used where scoring is based on ends won not rocks scored. To win an end, the team with hammer must score two or more points OR the team without hammer successfully steals a point (or more). Basically skins game right? Here is the skins game difference though. We have no carry-over ends. If the team with hammer scores one point, the end is a push and the team with hammer will now lose hammer for the next end. Also, there are no ties. If a match ends in a tie (remember ends won not points) after 8 ends of play a draw to the button will determine the winner. For standings purposes a regulation W is worth 3 points, a draw to the button W is worth 2 points, a draw to the button L is worth 1 point and a regulation loss receives 0 points. Last year 3 matches were decided with the draw to the button, twice involving two competitors back this season. Niklas Edin won a draw to the button (def. Carruthers) and lost (l. to Gushue) while Reid Carruthers won one (def. Howard) and lost (l. to Edin).

The format also means a higher probability of games ending prior to the full 8 ends being played. Remember, you score based on winning the end so if you win four of the first five ends played, you opponent needs to win every end (6, 7 and 8) just to force the draw to the button shot for the W. Go up 4 ends to 1 after 6, game over you win and the scoreline reads "3 & 2" for you, meaning you are up 3 with 2 ends to play when the match was called. Last season 14 games (of 26 total played or 54%) ended prior to the 8th end being played, including the TB, both QF and the championship final. Now this does not mean the games were not close or competitive or fielding great shots by those on the ice, sometimes you have a great day and sometimes you have an off day. It is sport after all.

From a competitive format perspective, I actually do not mind the adjusted skins game idea. As I have said in past #Elite10 blog posts, I praise the curling world for trying something new and sticking with it. I think there are people out there who really enjoy this event. I like the competition format. What I do not like is the designation this format and this event receive. This is a "gimmick" made for TV event. We all know it is. Is it fun? Sure. Is it something different on the ice? Of course. Should it be packaged up as a Grand Slam of Curling event with major dollars at stake and ranking points? Not at all! The TSN Skins Game, a distant event in the past unfortunately now, owned what it was. It was a fun event for those athletes competing to play with a different format, win some cash and enjoy. This event is marked on equal ice with fellow highly competitive #gsoc events, including the winner earning a spot in the season-ending Champions Cup (taking away a valuable spot for an earned tour winner I think). But lets be honest with ourselves, curling fan to curling fan. This is not an equal event. It is not on the same level as The Masters or even the Tour Challenge. Heck the Tour Challenge Tier II event deserves a much higher designation than the Elite 10 but do people see it that way? Unfortunately not.

I will spare you all the details I have hashed up in the past but if you are interested take a look at the 2016 blog post HERE or the 2017 post HERE or the....oh wait I didn't even bother with a 2018 post as my energy ran out on this event last year. Looking back at those posts I sure seemed to enjoy using the term "Elite-ist" a lot LOL

I welcome the change to include this event as a men's and women's spiel starting this season though. This is a positive and a step in the right direction towards us mending our relationship for the future #Elite10. While I still think your ego is a bit too high and you see yourself being a step above others when you really shouldn't be, at least we are starting to text one another again right? Even if we both wait days on end to respond only to annoy the other one and be passive aggressive. Progress and baby steps though, yes?

Our preview is going to be slightly different for this event. We will break down each pool, pre-ranking the teams based on their current #TwineTime ranking. The predictions of course will be the same, basing solely on luck for the most part (and maybe a little knowledge of the teams and the sport?!).

As you remember from the #RankingsRedux post to start the season and unveil the new Tour Series idea, Grand Slam of Curling events receive special point values to determine our rankings. However, the #Elite10 is still not considered (in my estimation anyway) a "slam" event and rather just a sub-set of the #gsoc series. As a result, the point allocation for this event are slightly lower compared to the Big 4 (Masters, National, Canadian Open, Players Championship). For the #Elite10 the point values fall under the #SpecialEvent series and will be allocated as such:

Winner - 750
Finalist - 450
SF - 340
QF - 135
Wins - 12/per W (max of 48)

First notice, yes the #Elite10 winner will receive fewer points than a #Tour1000 winner. These "special event" series events are usually invite-only and/or have a set qualification system. While the field may be, arguably, stronger, the navigation through an equally-tough #Tour1000 series event holds high recognition as well. I know there will be arguments for and against this idea...hey the proposed system ain't perfect I will admit. But is the current system? Lets just be honest with one another here....

Having said that, the season opening slam will present an opportunity for a few teams to make a significant climb up the rankings mountain or, for one men's team, distance themselves from the pack early on in the season. Don't forget to check out the most up to date #PowerRankings heading into the week in addition to an important discussion on the role of #WheelchairCurling in the sport family.

Lets slide in to the #TourLifePredictions and FINALLY welcome the women into the #Elite10 house:

Elite 10

Chatham-Kent, ON

2017 Champion (technically held in March 2018): Team Mike McEwen (men) & New Event (women)

Format: 10 teams with 2 pools of 5. Top 6 qualify.


Pool A

1. Team Silvana Tirinzoni (6) - The new look #HoppSchwiiz reps have looked strong in their first two outings of the season, reaching the final at the Stu Sells Oakville and the SF at the Shorty Jenkins. The new back-end pairing of Tirinzoni and Alina Paetz seems to be clicking just fine. We know both of these Swiss skips love playing on the grand slam ice and are known to make deep runs. Expect a first combined playoff run from the duo in Chatham.

2. Team Jennifer Jones (T38) - The defending Canadian and World champion would love to pad her resume by becoming the first-ever Elite 10 champion. It appears to be the only major title she does not have to her credit and it is through no fault of her own. We have only seen the new-look Team Jones once this season, reaching the QF at the Colonial Square in Saskatoon a few weeks ago. The argument could be made she has been drawn into the "easier" of the two pools based on resume success alone but this is a #gsoc event and any team can beat any other.

3. Team Chelsea Carey (T38) - We still don't really know what to expect out of the new look Team Carey this season. We have seen them on the ice only once, reaching the QF at the HDF Shoot-out in Edmonton. We know the high quality and tandem experience of the front end duo, Dana Ferguson and Rachelle Brown, but what about the back-end? Take nothing away from vice Sarah Wilkes and the skipper, we just have to see how they mesh in the house together. Not to mention combined with the front-end pairing who have the familiarity with one another. This could be a tough go for this new team.

4. Team Tracy Fleury (44) - Fleury may be the dark horse #TeamUpset pick in the field here. Yes this is a new team but really the only addition is the skipper herself. The rest of this team is very familiar with one another, having played the past few seasons with Kerri Einarson at the helm. The last time we saw Selena Njegovan (nee Kaatz but has since married Connor Njegovan), Liz Fyfe and Kristin MacCuish they were playing in the Champions Cup final to end last season. Not to mention they reached the Scotties final last year as Team Wildcard. Fleury also competed at the Scotties last season with her former team. We have seen this team play two #wct events this season, reaching the QF at the season-opening Icebreaker in Winnipeg and falling just short of qualifying at the Shorty Jenkins. I would not underestimate this team this week.

5. Team Laura Walker (T60) - Make it 5 for 5 on teams in this pool who saw change in the off-season. Weird how they all made off-season changes yet still qualified for this event....and without really playing this season yet. Oh that equal and fair ranking system right? Ok out of the rabbit hole, not the time. Advantage Laura Walker! Walker is joined by HOF champion, past super-spare and former Carey vice Cathy Overton-Clapham at vice and another former Carey player, Laine Peters at lead. And look who is sitting at second, former Team Sweeting vice Lori Olson-Johns. This is a stacked team of experience with the skipper oddly enough being the least experienced on the women's game. Of course Walker is a world junior silver medal winner (2010) and the current Canadian mixed doubles champion (with Kirk Muyres). Walker (with Muyres) also won the Curling World Cup mixed doubles event so she has had plenty of ice time this season...just not as much with the new women's team. They failed to qualify in their only event of the season in Edmonton, picking up only 2 wins along the way. Give this team time to gel though and the results should come pouring in...it just might not be quite yet against this field. The Walker vs. Carey battle Friday morning should be fun though.

Projected Standings: 1. Tirinzoni  2. Jones 3. Fleury  4. Walker  5. Carey

Pool B

1. Team Casey Scheidegger (5) - Now calm down rock heads and stoners, yes I realize Pool B is "headlined" by Team Homan and Team Hasselborg but remember what I stated above: the preview will be based on the current #TwineTime rankings. Homan and Hasselborg have not competed on tour yet, only at the Curling World Cup which is not a ranking points-eligible tournament. Thus, welcome Team Scheidegger to the top spot for Pool B. And why shouldn't they be considered a top contender here? They have played one event this season and won! They took home the HDF Shoot-out title in Edmonton, a field that included fellow #Elite10 competitors Team Carey and Team Walker. Scheidegger is the defending Alberta champ and had a successful debut at the Scotties last season. This team stayed together in the off-season and this should help them. It worked in Edmonton, why not in Chatham as they chase their second #gsoc title. Watch out!

2. Team Jamie Sinclair (T33) - A similar storyline to Scheidegger actually, one year removed. Two years ago Scheidegger surprised the curling world in winning her first grand slam event after starting the season competing in the Tier II of the Tour Challenge. Last year Sinclair made the similar move in claiming her first #gsoc title (and first for her now-home nation). Sinclair would also repeat her US title and represent the USA at the world championships, reaching the playoff round. 2017/18 was her breakout season. How do you follow it up though? It hasn't been a great start to the year, failing to qualify at the Stu Sells Oakville and reaching the QF at the Shorty Jenkins. But they have been known to be slow starters in seasons past as well. Again, a team with no change (there may be a theme of this in this pool in contrast to Pool A) so familiarity works on their side. This is a very tough pool though so they have to be firing on all cylinders right from the opening rock.

3. Team Homan (NA) - The first of the Curling World Cup competitors taking the ice for the first time on tour this season....and crazy how they all ended up in the same pool here. We last saw Homan winning the Curling World Cup a few weeks ago to kick-start their season on the right slide path. The last time we saw them compete on tour was winning the season-ending Champions Cup last year. Make that 2 championship wins in their past 2 events. Remember Homan is still chasing the Career Grand Slam this season, needing a win at the Players' Championship later in the season. But you know this team would love to go in the history books as the first team to win the Elite 10 as well.

4. Team Hasselborg (NA) - The Olympic champions are ready to make their tour debut folks. Ok so we saw them compete at the Curling World Cup to technically debut their season, reaching the championship final and coming up short vs. Homan. The Hasselborg/Homan rivalry is really starting to become one of the best things for the women's game I think. Get ready for their RR match Friday afternoon to close out the women's pool play...and this better be the TV game Sportsnet!! The #SwedishVikings are always going to be a threat in grand slam events yet still seeking their first #gsoc title. Last season saw them reach a final (Tour Challenge), SF (Masters) and two QF (Players, Champions Cup). The season prior they reached their first final (Champions Cup) and 4 SF (Tour Challenge, Masters, Canadian Open, Players). Tough to find a more consistent team at slam events over the past few years. Imagine the story lines if they win their maiden slam title and the inaugural #Elite10 event?

5. Team Roth (NA) - Make it 3/3 on 2018 Winter Olympic competitors and Curling World Cup contenders in this pool and, oddly enough, 5/5 on teams who did not make off-season changes. Again, weird how these pools work themselves out isn't it? We have only seen Roth compete at the Curling World Cup this season and, while they did not make the final, they did finish with a respectable 3-3 record (losing to Homan twice and Russia's Anna Sidorova). They may be in tough at this event to reach the playoffs, given how strong this pool is. However the last time we saw Roth at a #gsoc event she reached the QF (2018 Players' Championship). The Roth/Sinclair rivalry is also becoming a great story for women's curling, especially in the US. We have not really seen two strong US women's teams competing on tour together for awhile and now competing at a slam together (and against one another). The Battle of the Red, White and Blue takes place Friday morning.

Projected Standings: 1. Homan  2. Hasselborg  3. Scheidegger  4. Sinclair  5. Roth

Qualifiers: Team Tirinzoni, Team Homan, Team Jones, Team Hasselborg, Team Fleury, Team Scheidegger

#Elite10 Women's Championship: Team Tirinzoni def. Team Jones


Pool A

1. Team John Epping (1) - The top men's team on the #TwineTime mountain comes to Chatham as a strong favourite to pick up his 4th #gsoc title. Epping has put together a quite formidable team this season, adding the experienced front-end duo of Brent Laing and Craig Savill. The new team started their season with a QF appearance at the Stu Sells Oakville and followed it up the next week winning the biggest event on the men's tour thus far, the Shorty Jenkins Classic. Epping does seem to have a love/hate relationship with this event in the past though. He has played in each edition of the event but with mixed results: DNQ, QF, DNQ, QF. If the trend continues, expect an early exit here?

2. Team Glenn Howard (6) - Speaking of Laing and Savill, who did they curl their best years with together? Mr. Glenn Howard of course! Howard is joined by a new team as well this season, staying with son Scott (moving up to vice) and adding David Mathers and Tim March at front end. Hmm interesting that the current editions of Howard and Epping are playing with former competitive teammates. Epping picks up Laing and Savill while Howard picks up Mathers and March. Howard himself will always be a threat at a slam though, he has won 14 of them after all. Last season Howard reached the SF at this event and ended his season with a finals appearance at the Champions Cup. This season, with new line-up in tow, they struggled at the Stu Sells Oakville going winless but rebounded nicely with a SF appearance at the Shorty Jenkins (where he lost to Epping in the RR). And what match-up do we get opening night on Wednesday? Howard vs. Epping!

3. Team Jason Gunnlaugson (T15) - I must admit, I love seeing Jason Gunnlaugson playing grand slam events. Not only because he is a #TwineTimeFam member either. The guy is an outstanding curler and representative of the sport who deserves a spot playing on the big event ice. Last season Team Gunner played in every #gsoc event and reached the QF in 5 of 6. The only event they failed to qualify in? The Elite 10, where they went winless. It has been a solid start to the season for the Manitoba team though, reaching the SF at The Icebreaker and the QF at the Shorty Jenkins. Gunner is very analytical as we know and this "skins" format can work for or against him quite easily. He can overthink the strategy and get caught or plan the perfect game plan to go on a deep run.

4. Team Mouat (T32) - The darlings of Scotland from a year ago are ready to show they are the real deal and not just a rookie sensation on the ice. Last year Team Mouat won their first grand slam event they competed in, The National, and rode that success to a bronze medal win at the world championships. They ended last season reaching the SF at the Champions Cup. They opened this season with QF appearance at the Baden Masters, having to navigate the TB procedure to stay alive. We also saw them compete at the Curling World Cup and finish with a very respectable 4-2 record, defeating Kevin Koe along the way and coming a final RR win shy of forcing a TB (they may have a new rival in Switzerland's Peter De Cruz now). Team Mouat is the odd-men out in this pool though. We have not seen them compete in this event so time will tell how they handle the different format. Teams new to the event have struggled in the past adapting right off the opening rock. The advantage is Mouat has a bye the opening night draw and hits the ice Thursday morning vs. Gunnlaugson. For a rookie #Elite10 team, the opportunity to sit back and watch a draw before stepping on the ice could be an advantage for them (not to mention Gunner does play the opening draw vs. Gushue).

5. Team Gushue (NR) - Well what can we say about the current two-time Canadian champs that hasn't been said already. Gushue is aiming for his 11th #gsoc title. Last season the team won 3 grand slam titles (Tour Challenge, Masters, Champions Cup) not to mention reaching the championship final of this event. In the four-year history of the event, Gushue has won (2015), reached the final (2017), QF appearance (2014) and failed to make the playoffs (2016). The odd format does not seem to bother him one bit. The only disadvantage, and it is hard to find disadvantages with this team, is this will be their first time on the ice this season while their competition have been playing for a few weeks. They cannot come out flat in those opening slides or it could turn into a long few days for the boys from The Rock. This is a pro team though too so expecting a few hiccup ends may be expected but also expect them to be a playoff contender come the weekend as well.

Projected Standings: 1. Epping  2. Gushue  3. Howard  4. Mouat  5. Gunnlaugson

Pool B

1. Team Brad Jacobs (3) - The #TwineTime preseason pick as Brier favourite sure looks to be backing up the prediction with their start to the season. We have only seen the boys from Northern Ontario once this season but it was a finals appearance at the Shorty Jenkins, coming up just short of defending their title vs. Epping. From a grand slam perspective, Jacobs seems to go through these hills and mountains with his results. Four years ago he won his first slam title (Players' Championship). Three years ago he failed to capture a slam. Two years ago he rebounded with two slam titles (The National, Champions Cup) and last season he failed to win one. Their best result last season with 2 SF finishes (Tour Challenge, Canadian Open). If we keep the trend moving into this season we should expect a few slam titles out of #TeamMuscleMen right? They do have success in this event historically, having reached a SF (2014), F (2016) and QF (2017). It would appear the only piece missing is the C (as in Champion) on their Elite 10 resume.

2. Team Ross Paterson (5) - Another Scottish team competing in a slam event, things are looking good for Scotland aren't they? Team Paterson is a new team this season with the skipper joining forces with 2018 Olympic and former Team Smith second Kyle Waddell, now playing vice. Paterson stayed with a familiar face from last season in asking Michael Goodfellow to join his new team staying at lead after both played with Team Drummond last season. The boys add Duncan Menzies to the mix at second and seem to have found a winning formula. We have seen this team play two events on tour already, qualifying in both, reaching the QF in Oakville and the SF at the Shorty Jenkins. Similar to their Scottish counterparts, this team has not competed in this format before so we will have to see how they do with a change in strategy. Again similar to Team Mouat, they also get a bye for the opening night before hitting the ice Thursday morning against the world champion #SwedishVikings. This team may be underestimated in this field but could be the perfect #TeamUpset contender to keep your eyes on.

3. Team Niklas Edin (T10) - To say this is probably not one of Niklas Edin's favourite events each season may be an understatement. If you look at his collective #gsoc track record, the Elite 10 is arguably his worst performing event. Edin reached the championship final in the inaugural year (2014) but has since failed to advance out of the RR stage. In the past two years he has reached the SF or better in each slam except this one. With this finally be the breakout season? The world champions have competed in one tour event this season, losing the final in Baden to rival Team Ulsrud. We also saw them compete at the Curling World Cup, struggling a bit to an average (for this team anyway) 2-1-3 finish. Remember #KingNiklas is still recovering from off-season surgery of course so that may be playing a small factor in his results, whether it be physically or mentally. Two years ago Edin won 3 slam events. Last season this team reached 3 slam finals. They are always a playoff contender...just maybe not as big a threat in this format as the other slam events.

4. Team Reid Carruthers (T45) - The #TeamBFF train will try to pick up some momentum in the season opening slam. The Carruthers/McEwen combo hit the ice for their season opener at the Shorty Jenkins reaching 3 wins, losing in a TB and failing to qualify. Growing pains perhaps for a new team. This team generated a lot of buzz before the end of last season even when the rumour of a potential merger of the top Manitoba teams swept into curling houses around the nation. This will be the real big test for how they stack up against the competition. With Jacobs and Edin having the same line-ups, Koe already having a strong start to the season and Paterson exceeding early-freshmen team expectations, the draw will not be easy. On the plus side, McEwen skipped the winning team here last year and is the only two-time winner (also winning the inaugural tournament in 2014). Carruthers reached the final in 2015 and the SF in 2016 so he also seems comfortable with the format. How they come together, navigate a collective game plan and translate to success will be the story.

5. Team Kevin Koe (NR) - One competitive event under the slider this season for the new look Team Koe...and one championship win already. The team could not have scripted a better start to the season than winning the first leg of the inaugural Curling World Cup, knocking off strong teams Mouat and De Cruz in the RR before defeating Team Walstad in the final. Now sure we have not seen this team in tour action yet this season so we will see how they stack up against teams who have been competing more than just a few days thus far. Although lets also look at Kevin Koe's Elite 10 resume. Four years competing at this event. Four consecutive SF finishes. This has been, results-based anyways, Koe's best collective grand slam result over the past four years. He seems to really enjoy the different format. Add in the fact he now has B.J. Neufeld at vice, who happened to win this title last year with Team McEwen, and you have a pretty formidable championship contender.

Projected Standings: 1. Koe  2. Jacobs  3. Paterson  4. Edin  5. Carruthers

Qualifiers: Team Epping, Team Jacobs, Team Gushue, Team Koe, Team Howard, Team Paterson

#Elite10 Men's Championship: Team Gushue def. Team Epping

There you have it rock heads and stoners, the preview blog post for the opening Grand Slam of Curling event of the season. Exciting right? What say you though? Agree? Disagree? Who are you cheering for? Who do you think will hoist the trophy and, for the women, cement a legacy piece in the #gsoc history books?

And don't forget, we also have a full slate of #wct events happening this weekend. The #TwineTime blog will be back later in the week to preview each of those events, including the first #Tour1000 women's event.


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