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Friday, 12 October 2018

#WMxCC2018 Preview

#BetweenTheSheets: World Mixed Hits Canadian Ice
The World Mixed Curling Championship slide out from Kelowna


Here. We. Go. The 2018/19 curling season shifts from the hacks of tour life to the hacks of international world competition this weekend. The first world championship of the season hits the ice in Kelowna, B.C. for the World Mixed Curling Championship.

Canada will host the world championship for the first time in the brief history of the event and will be home to the coronation of our first world champions. This is an exciting part of the season when we not only have tour events circled on our tour calendar but we also start the path towards world championships and continental championships.

Are you ready for an international battle royal on the ice?

As mentioned the world mixed championship is still in its infancy stage of an event. In fact the world mixed doubles championships have even been around longer. 2018 will mark only the 4th world championship for mixed teams. Previously the event was an European-only event, with the European Mixed Curling Championships taking place from 2005 to 2014.

In the 10-year history of the European event, Scotland was the most successful nation in terms of gold medal triumphs taking home 4 championships. Germany followed with 2 and Switzerland, Sweden, Finland and Wales each landed at the top of the podium once. Yup, you read that right folks Wales did win a European title back in 2007.

Collectively Germany had been the most successful nation in terms of landing on the podium, taking home a medal in 6 of the 10 championships held. Scotland followed with 5 podium appearances and Sweden with 4. Overall 13 different nations landed on the podium at least once in the 10-year running of the European championship.

But the rest of the world was catching up on the discipline and the need for a world championship grew. North American strongholds Canada and the USA have a long-running history of hosting mixed national championships. The #PACC region also began growing within the sport and mixed curling was no exception. The interest grew, the demand was made and the World Mixed Curling Championships were born in 2015.

In the three-year history of the event no single nation has won multiple titles and no nation has been successful trying to #DefendTheIce. The inaugural champions were from Norway, skipped by well-known Steffen Walstad. In 2015, held in Bern, Switzerland, Norway would defeat Sweden, skipped by current #SwedishViking second Rasmus Wrana, in the final. The following year Sweden would return to the world final, this time skipped by Kristian Lindstrom, and once again would come up just short in the final losing to Russia. The Russian champions were led by future 2018 Winter Olympic mixed doubles pairing Alexander Krushelnitskiy and Anastasia Bryzgalova and would delight the home nation fans with their gold medal performance.

Last season, in Champery, Switzerland, Scotland, led by Grant Hardie, would retake their position atop the mixed standings when they defeated Canada, led by Trevor Bonot, in the final. Collectively Sweden and Scotland have been the most consistent medal threats at the event, landing on the podium in two of three occasions (Scotland also won a bronze in 2016). Other one-time podium finishers including bronze medal winners China (2015) and Czech Republic (2017).

As you can see from the names listed above, mixed curling attracts some of the top athletes in the sport to compete outside the conventional men's and women's team discipline. Walstad, Wrana, Lindstrom and Hardie have all had success with their men's teams on the international stage. The world mixed competition is a high-caliber event which may be overlooked by some media but it is worth equal recognition during the curling season.

The inaugural championship in 2015 hosted 36 nations. The past two years, 2016 and 2017, 37 member associations have stepped up to compete. For the 2018 edition 35 nations will be competing for world supremacy. Chinese Taipei will be making their debut at the event while Italy returns for their second time, previously competing in 2016. Missing from last years world championships are China, Israel, Luxembourg and South Korea. Bit surprising seeing two strong #PACC nations not send delegations this year to compete but welcoming to see a nation make their debut as well.

Lets toss up the opening rock with our #TourLifePredictions to get this event underway:

World Mixed Curling Championship

Kelowna, B.C., Canada

2017 Champion: Scotland

Format: 35-nation RR with 3 groups of 9 nations and 1 group of 8 nations. Top 12 qualify with 4 group winners earning a bye to the QF while the remaining 8 qualified nations compete in the opening qualification playoff round.

Group A


Favourite: Any time you have a two-time world champion in the mix they have to be considered a favourite right? Highlighting Group A will be Germany's Andrea Schoepp, who will play fourth stones on the team skipped by brother Rainer Schoepp. Schoepp, Andrea that is, won world women's championships in 1988 and 2010 and in 2016 was the world senior silver medal winner. The brother-sister duo has also been successful in the mixed team discipline in the past, winning a European championship in 2008 and European bronze in 2005, 2007 and 2010. They did compete last year but struggled to a disappointing 2-4 RR record, missing the playoffs. I would not expect a similar result this year as they are the most experienced duo in this group. Past European champion Adrian Meikle returns to lead Wales once again and could be, based on resume, a co-favourite in this very wide open group.

#TeamUpset: We have a few dark horse contenders to keep an eye on in this group. The top of the list may be Belarus, skipped by Ilya Shalamitski. If you remember a few weeks back in this very blog Shalamitski was listed at the #TeamUpset contender for a #wct event in Tallinn, Estonia. What happened? His men's team ended up winning the entire event. Ilya is having a great calendar year, promoting his men's team from European C-Division to B-Division and now picking up the first #wct title for his home nation. His is riding the wave of confidence and that alone could be very dangerous for his competitors. Imagine taking Belarus to the playoffs here for the first time? Making a deep run towards the podium? Could happen folks! Also keep your eyes on Hong Kong, skipped by Jason Chang. Chang led the nation to their first appearance here last year and finished just outside the playoffs with a respectable debut record of 3-4. With another year of experience under their belts and the absence of perennial #PACC powerhouse nations China and South Korea, Chang could lead Hong Kong to the best #PACC finish at this event.

Projected Standings: 1. Germany  2. Scotland  3. Belarus  4. Wales  5. Hong Kong  6. England  7. Italy  8. Turkey  9. Kazakhstan


Group B

Favourite: You would be hard pressed to make an argument saying any nation has adopted the mixed and mixed doubles disciplines better than Russia. They have put tremendous resources towards developing solid mixed players and teams and the results have paid off. The Russian foursome in Kelowna will have the 2018 mixed doubles world silver medal winners Maria Komarova and Daniil Goriachev in the line-up, skipped by Alexander Eremin. This team is full of international experience and will be a threat for gold. Although, perhaps Switzerland would make an argument saying they are the more successful mixed nation in the world. It certainly holds true for mixed doubles but the mixed team event is yet to bring out the same podium results many would have expected. This year the team will have a strong presence at vice though with two-time world champion Irene Schori supporting the back end led by skip Mario Freiberger. Russia and Switzerland are the top of the class in this group.

#TeamUpset: Is this the breakout year for Brazil? Look at the previous results for Brazil at this event: 0-8 (2015), 0-6 (2016), 1-5 (2017). One win in three years and a collective record of 1-19. On paper it certainly would not seem to expect much from the only South American curling nation. But hold on folks do not write them off completely again this year. For 2018 the Brazilian team will be led by Anne Shibuya at skip and Claudio Alves at vice. Shibuya has international experience in mixed doubles, previously representing Brazil and the 2017 world mixed doubles championships and just missing the playoffs with a 3-4 record. Outside our two favourites listed above, most of the other teams in this pool have little to no international world championship experience. While Brazil may still be in the infancy years of international curling, given this pool and the bit of extra experience for their skip, this could be the breakout year for Brazil and their best finish at the event.

Projected Standings: 1. Russia  2. Switzerland  3. USA  4. Denmark  5. Brazil  6. Finland  7. Ireland  8. Australia  9. Netherlands


Group C

<Ed. Note: Original error note with 2018 skip Lukas Klima referred to as 2017 second Lukas Klipa>

Favourite: The 2017 bronze medal winner, Czech Republic, return looking to go one round better and play for the world title this season. Last year Jaroslav Vedral skipped this team to the Final 4. This year the team will be led by Lukas Klima, not to be confused with 2017 second Lukas Klipa. The Czech's have a strong team and are quickly building a reputation as a contender at world events. They should be considered the favourite to earn the bye into the QF. Once there, watch out as they would be only two wins away from that championship final. But watch out for Spain's Sergio Vez as a possible threat to the top spot here. Yes that is right I am saying Spain is a curling threat. How about that for #growthesport? But why not? Vez represented Spain at this event last year and led his team to the playoffs with a strong 5-2 RR record. Sure they lost in the opening round of the playoffs but look who they lost to...eventual champions Scotland....by a 4-2 scoreline. This is a strong team and we could easily be seeing Spain in the QF here. Not to mention Vez recently led his men's team to a qualifying playoff spot at the #wct event in Switzerland last weekend.

#TeamUpset: Well the ultimate #TeamUpset would be the only debut nation in the field, Chinese Taipei. But do not assume just because the nation makes their debut here they will be overwhelmed by the experience. Taipei skip Randy Shen is no debut skip, having competed at past #PACC and #wct events. It was only two years ago when Shen led his men's Chinese Taipei team to the playoff round at the #PACC, finishing in fourth place. Last year Shen's team missed the playoffs with a 3-5 record. Again, in a field chalk full of debut international players, Chen's experience could be the wildcard here. While the nation may be the debutante, the skipper certainly is not.

Projected Standings: 1. Czech Republic  2. Spain  3. Sweden  4. Estonia  5. Latvia  6. Chinese Taipei  7. Poland  8. France  9. Croatia


Group D

Favourite: The Group of Death of course would be Group D. While many of the other groups seem to be wide-open with many players making their international debut, this group has some experience factor to it. This is also the Group of Women, as many of the women on these teams are the strong leaders. The instant favourite of course would be Norway. Ingvild Skaga returns after losing the bronze medal game last year to Czech Republic. Skaga and her Norweigan team won their group last year with a 5-2 record and were one of the favourites for gold after the RR. The experience of competing last year, and being successful, marks them a favourite this year. The fact they also just missed the podium makes them even more dangerous! But don't underestimate Hungary either. The Hungarians are skipped by Zoltan Palancsa but it is the younger Palancsa, Dorottya, who will throw fourth stones and brings a wealth of international experience to the ice even at her young age. She is a two-time world mixed doubles champion remember and has been a regular competitor on the mixed scene since her junior years. She is also the skip of the Hungarian women's team who are battling their way back towards European A-Division. This is another strong team and one who could make a podium push. And how about the host nation of Canada? I said this was the Group of Death right? Well there are three favourites in this group to support the title. Canada, skipped by Mike Armstrong, will have a strong female in the back of the house as well with Danielle Inglis. Inglis reached the Ontario final last season, was fifth for Ontario champion Team Duncan at the Scotties and brings a tremendous amount of skill and knowledge to the competition (not to mention she is a #TwineTimeFam member). Anderson and Inglis have been playing together for quite some time now as well, including successful results in mixed doubles which should help them here. They will have the pressure of being the first Canadian team to compete at this event on home soil but the pressure could also act as the extra motivation to succeed. This group is a three-pronged attack with all three nations have a legit shot at the podium. Last year Group D produced two of the final four teams, could they sweep the podium this year? This is going to be fun to follow!

#TeamUpset: The rest of the group? Honestly, the big three listed above really *should* be head and shoulders above the competition in Group D this week. One nation who could ruin the fun for the favourite trifecta could be Slovakia though. Juraj Gallo returns after a successful 2017 event where he led Slovakia to a respectable 4-3 record and just missed the playoffs due to the TB procedure. The advantage for this team is they will be completely under the radar in this group. We have seen it time and time again when a team nobody is really talking about or focusing on ends up getting into their own zone and surprising the favourites. This would be historic if we saw Slovakia reach the playoffs this week. Don't underestimate them!

Projected Standings: 1. Canada  2. Norway  3. Hungary  4. Slovakia  5. Austria  6. Japan  7. Slovenia  8. New Zealand


Qualifiers: Germany, Russia, Czech Republic, Canada, Scotland, Switzerland, Spain, Norway, Belarus, USA, Sweden, Hungary

Bronze Medal: Canada def. Norway

World Mixed Curling Championship Gold Medal: Russia def. Czech Republic


What say you rock heads and stoners? Do you agree? Disagree? Who do you think will emerge as world champions once the final rock lands in the house in Kelowna next weekend? Share your thoughts and predictions in the comment section or hit me up on social media.

Now do not think I forgot about the #wct events taking place this weekend either. For the men we have a #Tour1000 event in Portage as well as 4 #Tour250 events around the country. The women will see a #Tour500 event in Basel, Switzerland and 3 #Tour250 events in Canada. For this week the #TwineTime blog will offer up a quick preview/prediction for the two larger events, with good luck and good curling respect to all teams competing on the ice this weekend in all events.

MEN

Canad Inn's Men's Classic (Tour 1000)

Portage La Prairie, MB

2017 Champion: Team Reid Carruthers

Format: 24-team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers.

Top Teams Entered (Top 15): Team Koe, Team Jacobs, Team Carruthers, Team Howard, Team Bottcher, Team Gunnlaugson

Favourite: Tough to ever bet against Kevin Koe in an event right? The winners of the opening leg of the Curling World Cup last month followed up the season-opening result with a QF finish at the Elite 10 grand slam. They have only played two events this season but own an overall 9-3 record with all 3 losses coming to teams ranked in the Top 9 in the world. This team does not suffer those "bad" losses many other teams have in events. They have been consistent and sharp even with the new line-up and the addition of BJ Neufeld in the house with Koe and Colton Flasch up front with Hebert seems to be a working. This is event number three for the team but the first real event of the season. No gimmick (Elite 10!) and no promo event (Curling World Cup). This is high-level tour curling at its finest and this seems to be the perfect time for Team Koe to pick up their first tour win of the season. Very, very dangerous here! Of course we cannot undersell the two-time defending champion Carruthers, coming off an Elite 10 final and championship win at Stu Sells Toronto. Remember combined Team Carruthers has now won this event four of the past five years with Mike McEwen going back-to-back as well in 2013-2014.

#TeamUpset: When you have so many high ranking teams in the field (6 of the Top 15), there leaves quite a bit of room for a few #TeamUpset contenders. It will be interesting to see how the B.C. teams do travelling out East. Team Tardi and Team Wenzek have had strong starts to their seasons but this will be a much more difficult test. Both seem to be clicking with new team formations though and both could surprise a few of the top dogs in the draw. I would also not want to see a few home province teams, namely the red hot Team Lott and Team Calvert. Team Lott ended September with winning back-to-back tour events. Team Calvert won the season opening event. All of these events were held in Manitoba so these boys seem to enjoy playing at home. Unfortunately they meet in an opening A-side game. And what about another prairie team? How about Alberta's Team Sturmay? They arrive in Portage fresh off a #wct title last weekend so the momentum and confidence they have right now is the perfect set-up shot for surprising a few of the bigger names in the draw. Don't sleep on past #TeamUpset flag bearer Team Horgan from Ontario either. We have seen them take down a few of these higher ranked teams already this season (looking at your Carruthers, Howard, Epping and De Cruz) and are coming off a QF appearance at the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard (where they qualified A-side remember). Collectively, from top to bottom, this draw is quite interesting as every team really could make a strong case for why they are playoff contenders.

Qualifiers: Team Koe, Team Gunnlaugson, Team Jacobs, Team Bottcher, Team Carruthers, Team Dunstone, Team Howard, Team Horgan

Championship: Team Koe def. Team Jacobs


WOMEN

Women's Masters Basel (Tour 500)

Basel, SUI

2017 Champion: Team Bingyu Wang

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

Top Teams Entered (Top 15): Team Tirinzoni, Team Sidorova, Team Wrana

Favourite: We have co-favourites I think at this event. #HoppSchwiiz home nation fav Silvana Tirinzoni is proving thus far the joining of forces with formal rival Alina Paetz has been a success. They team sports a remarkable 12-5 record on the season, have reached at least the SF in all 4 events played and have reached the finals twice, including the first-ever Elite 10 #gsoc final (l. to Hasselborg). This team will have tremendous home nation support behind them and are strong threats for the first Swiss winner here since 2014 (Binia Feltscher). Worth nothing though Tirinzoni herself is a former champion here also, winning the title in 2013. But watch out for Russia's Anna Sidorova as well. Sidorova has reached at least the SF in all three of her events this season and, similar to Tirinzoni, has two championship final appearances. Also similar to Tirinzoni, her last championship final was a loss to Hasselborg (last weekend in Stockholm). Both of these teams should be considered serious championship threats this weekend.

#TeamUpset: While Tirinzoni is a favourite and two-time world champion Binia Feltscher (finalist last year) is a team to watch out for this weekend, there are a few up and coming Swiss teams to keep your eyes on. We already know Team Stern is a "stern" contender on tour now, proven by consistent results over the past year. Team Hegner has a #wct championship under their brooms already this season. And Team Witschonke is a past #TeamUpset mention in this very blog. Perhaps we should add Team Keiser to the list as well. This team will be making their tour debut this weekend. Last year this team competed at this event and came this close to qualifying for the playoffs, losing the C-qualifier to Sweden's Team Norberg. Along the way though they lost their opening game to eventual champion Team Wang, lost a B-side game to Norberg and won two C-side games to reach the qualifier. Overall they finished the event with a respectable 3-3 record. Do not underestimate them, and the handful of other up and coming Swiss teams, this weekend. We could see 4 or 5 of the qualifier teams be from the host nation.

Qualifiers: Team Tirinzoni, Team Stern, Team Sidorova, Team Wrana, Team Feltscher, Team Yoshimura, Team Kubeskova, Team Jentsch

Championship: Team Tirinzoni def. Team Feltscher

Wowzers we had a lot to cover in this weekend's preview blog post curling fans. A few side notes to mention. Best of luck to #TwineTimeFam Cathlia Ward, stepping back on the ice this weekend with her team at the Steele Cup Cash in Fredericton, NB. AND a welcome back to Andrea Crawford. The former NB Scotties champ is back home competing with a new team in NB after living and curling abroad in Germany the past few years. Best of luck to both!

Enjoy the action on the ice!