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Friday, 26 October 2018

#Curling S1819 W10

#BetweenTheSheets: As The Rock Turns
Welcome to another week of World Curling Tour ice-itement


Like pebble to a curling sheet, these are the Days Of Our #WCT Lives!

Ok so maybe I am cross-referencing different daytime soaps, what do I know? I don't watch any of these shows and have no idea. But what I do know is curling drama takes place on a weekly basis in arenas all over the world. Teams compete for money. Teams compete for bragging rights. Teams compete for ranking points. Teams compete for the power and glory of being listed as a champion. Doesn't sound too far off from a daytime soap does it?

Welcome to another #TwineTime episode of 'As The Rock Turns'

This week we see our "elite" names competing on the big ice in Truro, NS aiming to take home a #gsoc major slam title. There will be drama in the Bluenose province, best believe that!

But the weekly curling story lines are not restricted to just the #CanadianBeefMasters action. We have numerous World Curling Tour events happening around the world this weekend. And do not think there will not be some added pressure and drama within those rings as well.

These teams competing on tour are on the outside looking in. While they see their fellow competitors scoring TV time, media attention, playing for big prize money and ranking points, they are competing at "smaller" tour events trying to displace an "elite" team from the grand slam field and earn their way into the coveted spot. It is a dog eat dog world and for the teams competing at the events listed below, no time to be wearing the milkbone underwear.

This blog has always been a bit critical over the qualification process to reach a grand slam event. We seem to have the same teams competing year after year after year. Of course this has to do with the current ranking system in place and we all know how I feel about that. Hence the #TwineTime mock proposed structure being used this season.

But there are times when a new team emerges from the "next level" to compete with the "elite" and becomes a slam champion. Look at Casey Scheidegger. Jamie Sinclair. Bruce Mouat. These are teams who were not originally considered in the "elite" conversation but worked their way into the slam fields and surprised the curling world by landing a coveted #gsoc championship.

It almost feels like we need to up the drama level at the slam events. Maybe we bring back the discussion of promotion/relegation. As mentioned in the Masters preview blog post earlier this week, back in 2012 The Masters used a Tier I and Tier II system of play where Tier II teams would play for 2 playoff spots against the 6 Tier I qualifiers. Not a bad idea.

Currently you have 15 teams competing for 8 playoff spots. Over half the field makes the playoffs here, earning big money and big ranking points. But what if the playoff field was cut down to 6? Now 9 teams are going home empty handed. And you bring in 12-16 Tier II teams to play a double or triple knockout to earn a playoff spot. Things get a bit more interesting right? As The Rock Turns indeed!

Now logistics could create a problem, which I understand. We see it with the Tour Challenge offering the Tier I and Tier II and how there are limited venue options available to run two slam draws at the same time. But it can be done. The Tier II Tour Challenge has been successful and, having attended one and talking to fellow curling enthusiasts, fans seem to like the concept. I am not saying change this idea. Keep the Tour Challenge as is. But what if we added a second Tier II idea into another slam event, a major. Maybe The Players Championship where the format does change to only 6 Tier I teams reaching the playoffs and 2 Tier II being promoted? By doing this at The Players Championship you have a full season of opportunity for teams to earn a Tier I or Tier II spot. Plus, the Players Championships is the final major of the season and considered the "Crown Jewel" of the #gsoc season. Why not amp it up a bit more for excitement and drama?

But the idea behind promotion/relegation does not need to stop there. Again, taking into consideration the teams playing #wct events this weekend, what if those "elite" teams playing in the #gsoc event faced the risk of relegation? Similar to the European Championships, what if the two teams who finish last in the RR (based on record with LDS as the TB, similar to how you avoid TB to reach the playoffs) were relegated out of qualifying for the next slam? Now this would be a bit difficult given the next slam already has the field determined prior to the start of this slam so maybe you are relegated out of earning an invite into the next open qualified slam?

If we look at this with a real-time lens, this would mean the two teams who finish last at The Masters would not be invited to compete at The National. Technically the Tour Challenge is the next slam but invites already go out before The Masters begins. The National qualification period closes Nov. 4. This could actually work and would add a bit extra pressure to those teams competing at the current slam while giving a bit extra hope to those on the wrong side of the qualification bubble.

We would be looking at you Team Howard, Team Jacobs, Team Gunnlaugson and Team Schwaller for the men. Better start winning Team Muirhead, Team Tirinzoni, Team Sinclair and Team Roth for the women. Four of you eight would be at risk for relegation.

On the flip side, time to seize an opportunity for others. We are looking at you Team McDonald, Team Calvert, Team Muyres and Team Horgan. Here is your opportunity Team Yoshimura, Team Sidorova, Team Kovaleva and Team Harrison. Four of these eight could play themselves into a promotion spot.

Time to add a bit of intrigue and drama into the Grand Slam of Curling. The Tour Challenge Tier II idea is good but we could see the drama intensified just a bit while also creating a more equal house for all teams competing. Would this promotion/relegation idea be risky? Sure! We could, in theory, see Team Edin or Team Gushue struggle at a slam and go winless and miss the next slam. Imagine the outcry?!? Heck right now we have Team Jacobs and Team Tirinzoni in the relegation spot. What an unfair world to have neither of them stay in the slam circuit due to one bad event. But c'est la vie folks. Win and in. As The Rock Turns!

Speaking of teams looking to take advantage of a win and in mentality, we have a few #wct events to discuss this week. We have 1 #Tour500 event for the men and 2 #Tour250 events. For the women we have 3 #Tour250 events to preview. Kamloops, B.C. and Tukums, Latvia will play host to a dual men's and women's event this weekend too. Bring on our preview and predictions.

#TourLifePredictions


WOMEN

Gord Carroll Curling Classic (Tour 250)

Whitby, ON

2017 Champion: Team Tracy Fleury

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

Top Teams Entered (Top 15): N/A

Favourite: Korea's Un-Chi Gim has had an up and down season to say the least. They have qualified in 3 of their 5 events, including a SF appearance in Vernon and a QF appearance recently in Portage. However, in between those two events they failed to qualify in Calgary and Abbotsford. We are almost left to wonder which team will show up this weekend. They have the pedigree for a championship run but the inconsistency week in and week out is a small concern. If Gim does slip on the ice, perhaps watch out for Hollie Duncan or Jacqueline Harrison to keep the title in Ontario. Duncan has a SF showing under her slider earlier in the season at the Shorty Jenkins while Harrison has qualified in all 4 events entered with 2 SF and 2 QF finishes. Worth noting, this event has been won by a home province Ontario team 8 consecutive times. Gim could be the biggest threat to end the streak this year.

#TeamUpset: All eyes may be on newly minted World Champion Danielle Inglis this weekend in Whitby. Inglis will return to her women's team fresh off the world championship gold medal performance last weekend in Kelowna with her mixed team. It will be interesting to see how Inglis performs jumping right back on the ice after the emotional victory. Will it be championship hangover or continued victory and momentum? Inglis and her women's team have qualified in one of three tour events this season, reaching the QF at the Shorty Jenkins. Plus who doesn't like a little #TwineTimeFam flying the #TeamUpset flag?

Qualifiers: Team Harrison, Team Cadorin, Team Inglis, Team Rizzo, Team Tippin, Team Murphy, Team Gim, Team Duncan

Championship: Team Gim def. Team Harrison


Kamloops Crown of Curling (Tour 250)

Kamloops, BC

2017 Champion: Team Dailene Pewarchuk

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

Top Teams Entered (Top 15): N/A

Favourite: B.C.'s Corryn Brown has quickly established herself as not only the future of B.C. women's curling but the present. This team has been a force on tour this season, winning the King Cash title in their season opening event, reaching the QF in Vernon and the finals in Abbotsford. They are 18-7 on the season and, at one point, had a 10-game winning streak spanning two events. She was placed in the opposite pool to main contender Team Nakajima/Matsumura from Japan but should face a challenge for top spot in the pool from fellow B.C. contender Team Gushulak.

#TeamUpset: Why not let the winning continue? If you are Sarah Wark you certainly hope momentum is on your side this weekend after they claimed the title in Abbotsford two weeks ago. Wark came into Abbotsford ranked outside the Top 90 on the #OOM rankings and went 5-0 en route to the title, including big victories over much higher ranked teams like Nakajima, Gushulak and Brown...all who happen to be competing this weekend as well. When you have the confidence knowing you can already beat those higher ranked teams, why should we not expect the winning ways to continue?

Qualifiers: Team Nakajima, Team Wark, Team Brown, Team Gushulak

Championship: Team Brown def. Team Nakajima


Latvia International Challenger (Tour 250)

Tukums, LAT

2017 Champion: Team Danielle Jentsch

Format: 13 team RR with 2 pools of 4 and 1 pool of 5 teams. Top 8 qualify.

Top Teams Entered (Top 15): N/A

Favourite: You have to side with the experience factor in this field. Finland's Oona Kauste is the most experienced skip in the field, with world championship experience to boot. This season we have seen Kauste in two events, reaching the QF in Tallinn and failing to qualify most recently at home at the Paf Masters. Kauste needs to find some strong results right now with the European Championships only a few weeks away (of which #TwineTime will be attending btw). Last year Kauste led her Finnish team to the B-division title earning them promotion to the A-division this year. A championship run here would give them a tremendous boost of confidence and momentum heading into an important month of November.

#TeamUpset: Keep your eyes on the home nation teams competing this weekend. Latvia is one of those nations bouncing back and forth between European A and B divisions. We have seen a stronger #growthesport movement among the Baltic nation recently with more teams stepping on the ice and competing at European #wct events. The home nation slide will be led by Iveta Stasa-Sarsune. Similar to favourite Kauste, Stasa-Sarsune had a strong run in the Euro B-division last year, reaching the championship final before losing to Kauste. This 2nd place finish did earn Latvia promotion to A-division this season though. Latvia will actually field 4 teams in this field. Joining Stasa-Sarsune will be Team Kapostina, Team Stabulniece and Team Rudzite. Rudzite could be the best second hope for Latvia, having also competed in Tallinn and Aland and owns a 3-5 record on the season.

Qualifiers: Team Molder, Team Fellmann, Team Stasa-Sarsune, Team Pluta, Team Kauste, Team Wilson, Team Farnell, Team Rudzite

Championship: Team Kauste def. Team Fellmann


MEN

Huron ReproGraphics Oil Heritage Classic (Tour 500)

Whitby, ON

2017 Champion: Team Glenn Howard

Format: 22 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers.

Top Teams Entered (Top 15): N/A

Favourite: 5 events into the season and each time you get progressively better and better. This is the mantra for Scott McDonald and his team from Ontario. The team started the season with three straight QF appearances in successive weeks, two in Oakville and at the Shorty Jenkins. After a few weeks off they reached the SF at the Stu Sells Toronto to continue to upward swing. The rise continued last weekend in Gatineau when the newly formed team went one round better once again and took home the championship title. This is the definition of consistent results people. The team currently sits just outside the Top 15 on the #OOM but does sit #2 on the #TwineTime #PowerRankings. Each event they seem to get better and better and go one step further. After winning a title last weekend, where does one go now? Back to back titles perhaps?

#TeamUpset: Have we all been underestimating John Willsey and his boys this season? Last year we hardly saw them on tour but this season they are quickly making a name for themselves as an up and coming team to watch out for in Ontario. They have competed in 4 #wct events this season and the last time we saw them on the ice they won the Stroud Sleeman title a few weeks ago. Collectively they sport an impressive 14-9 record on the season and have wins over some pretty strong, big name teams including Team Paterson (competing at the Masters #gsoc right now), Team Muyres and 2018 Olympic champs Team Shuster. If you were not giving these guys serious consideration with your curling eyes before, it might be time to buy in on their rising team stock while the buy-in price is still affordable. We also send out a special welcome back notice to Mark Bice, returning this weekend with his new team, and Heath McCormick, who no longer competes out of USA and is now competing out of original home province Ontario once again. Welcome home Heath!

Qualifiers: Team Willsey, Team Tuck Jr., Team McDonald, Team Horgan, Team Fenner, Team Ferland, Team Ruohonen, Team Dickie

Championship: Team McDonald def. Team Willsey


Kamloops Crown of Curling (Tour 250)

Kamloops, BC

2017 Champion: Team Dean Joanisse

Format: 16 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers.

Top Teams Entered (Top 15): N/A

Favourite: This event will be B.C. vs. Japan. Japan will bring two teams to the ice to battle the 14 B.C. teams. The numbers may seem one-sided in favour of the Canadian province but one Japanese team in particular could have the last laugh when the final rock comes to rest on Sunday. Team Matsumura has established themselves as not only a top team in Japan but a top contending team on the #wct this season. They have qualified in all 4 events entered and have 2 championship wins to show for it (Oakville, Abbotsford). The other 2 events were a SF in Hokkaido to start the season and the QF finish last weekend in Medicine Hat. This is also the final tune-up event for the team before heading to Korea to represent Japan in the 2018 Pacific-Asia Curling Championships from Nov. 3 - 10. This team is already considered a favourite to hoist the #PACC title this season but a win here would sure continue building the momentum and confidence.

#TeamUpset: In a field stacked with a strong international contender in Matsumura, past B.C. champions in Jim Cotter and Sean Geall and past Brier participant Josh Berry, many may still be overlooking one of the strongest new teams emerging from the province. The Dan Wenzek - Jared Kolomaya back-end combo seems to be a successful work in progress thus far. The new team has qualified in 2 of 3 events, including a SF finish at their season opener in Maple Ridge. They competed in Portage in their last event, failing to qualify but did walk away with a solid and respectable 3-3 record, including wins over Team Shuster and Team Carruthers. This is a dangerous dark horse team in this field.

Qualifiers: Team Matsumura, Team Wenzek, Team Cotter, Team Geall, Team Barry, Team Longworth, Team Blandford, Team Klymchuk

Championship: Team Cotter def. Team Matsumura


Latvia International Challenger (Tour 250)

Tukums, LAT

2017 Champion: Team Rasmus Stjerne

Format: 13 team RR with 2 pools of 4 and 1 pool of 5 teams. Top 8 qualify.

Top Teams Entered (Top 15): N/A

Favourite: Is there a favourite in this field? I am not sure we can define a "favourite" in a wide-open field. This field has the mix of a Euro B/C-division feel. If we go on resume and experience, on a #wct and Euro competition-level, a few teams stand out. The home nation will have a few teams to cheer for, led by Ritvars Gulbis. We have only seen Gulbis once this season though and he failed to qualify in Tallinn, Estonia. Speaking of Estonia, Harri Lill could be a contender this weekend in Tukums. Lill also competed in Tallinn and just missed qualifying for the playoff bracket. Lill has established himself as a strong mixed doubles player but is still looking for those similar strong results with his men's team. Last season Lill skipped the Estonia team at the Euro B-division and just avoided relegation, winning the relegation game vs. Belgium. With the upcoming Euro's being on home ice, Lill could use a strong performance here before the big event of their season.

#TeamUpset: Hail Lithuania, the up and coming European curling nation! Ok, maybe that is getting a bit too excited but Lithuanian curling is starting to pick up folks. This event will welcome two men's teams from Lithuania. How many of you thought you would see Lithuania field a team, let alone a few teams, on the #wct? But don't underestimate them either. Tadas Vyskupaitis has flown the Lithuania flag at almost every European championships since 2009 (minus 2014). In 2011, Vyskupaitis led Lithuania to promotion from C-division for the very first time. Since then the nation has remained in the middle of the B-division pack, never being able to make the leap to qualification for A-division but also always able to avoid the relegation back down to C-division. This would be a great tune-up event for Vyskupaitis before next month's Euro B-division competition, following up the team's QF appearance at their only other event of the season in Tallinn.

Qualifiers: Team Gulbis, Team Lill, Team Vyskupaitis, Team Makela, Team Mueller, Team Damm, Team Brydone, Team Raev

Championship: Team Lill def. Team Makela


It is a nice even weekend folks with 3 men's and 3 women's events on tour. Ok it is a bit disappointing to see the event in Kamloops offer a larger purse for the men's event ($16K) against the women's event ($10K). Hopefully we can continue to see more of these duel events on tour offer similar prize amounts for the men's and women's draw. In a positive step though, in Latvia the purse for both draws is the same so this week we make one slide back and one slide forward....keeping us still sitting in the equality hack.

Don't forget to keep up with all the scores for these events on the World Curling Tour website. And of course keep those curling eyes glued to your TV screens to see how the opening #gsoc major of the season plays out in Truro, NS at the #CanadianBeefMasters. ICYMI check out the #TwineTime preview/predictions with some fun #MastersTrivia101 info HERE.

Good luck and good curling!