Welcome to the Season of Champions portion of the 2018/19 curling season. After all the world curling tour events and Curling World Cup legs and Grand Slam of Curling excitement we are finally ready to play for the big ticket item: Team Canada jackets!!
The 2019 Canadian Junior Curling Championships will claim Prince Albert, Saskatchewan as home for the next week as teams representing their province/territory look to navigate a difficult slide path from pool play to championship pool play to playoffs to ultimately being crowned the new Team Canada. For the men's and women's teams who do emerge with the title next weekend they will feel the pride of playing for a world championship as the home nation at the 2019 World Junior Curling Championships in Liverpool, Nova Scotia.
LOTS of pressure, stress, drama and excitement for all the players who qualified to compete this week. And think, what were you doing in January when you were 18 or 19 or 20 years old?
The history books may just get an update this week as a few players are looking to end their junior careers on top and stake their claim as the best junior curlers this country has ever seen. But we look forward, we must look back.
The Canadian Junior Curling Championships have not always received the massive love and attention the event deserves, given these athletes competing are the future of the sport. This event truly elevates the #growthesport movement and what a history the event has. Get out the pencils folks, time to go back to school (heck for these players they are skipping school to be here).
- The very first Canadian Junior Curling Championship was contested in 1950 and was a men's only event. Hosted by Quebec City, Quebec, Bill Clarke's Saskatchewan team would take home the inaugural title.
- In fact, in the early days of this tournament the championship was dominated by #TeamGreen. Saskatchewan teams claimed the first three titles and 6 of the first 7. Saskatchewan has won 14 junior men's titles but now sits in 2nd place overall as neighbour province Alberta leads the way with 16. Alberta's last championship came in 2012 (Brendan Bottcher) while Saskatchewan's last title was in 2011 (Braeden Moskowy).
- Overall all 10 provinces have collected at least one junior men's title with Newfoundland and Labrador (2001 - Brad Gushue) and Nova Scotia (1993 - Shawn Adams) owning only one. Although not a province, Northern Ontario is a regular staple on the Canadian championship scene and has collected 4 junior men's titles with the most recent being Jeff Currie in 1996. All three territories are still searching for their first title.
- The women began playing for a Canadian junior title in 1971. The inaugural champion was Alberta's Shelby McKenzie who took home the title in Vancouver, B.C.
- Overall Saskatchewan holds the mark for most titles won with 11. The last title for #TeamGreen was in 2011 (Trish Paulson). Alberta and Manitoba are tied for second with 9 title apiece. Alberta's last title was 2017 (Kristen Streifel - originally from Saskatchewan may we point out) while Manitoba's last title was 2009 (Kaitlyn Lawes).
- The past few years have been dominated by Alberta and Nova Scotia. Alberta has won 4 of the past 7 while Nova Scotia has won 2 of the past 3. The two recent titles by Nova Scotia ups their record to 5, sitting 4th all-time.
- Similar to the men, all 10 provinces have claimed at least 1 junior women's title. Newfoundland and Labrador (2007 - Stacie Devereaux) and Quebec (1999 - Marie-France Larouche) sit with one lone title. Also similar to the men, all three territories are awaiting their first title. Where the women differ from the men however is Northern Ontario is also awaiting their first junior women's title.
- Until recently, winning back-to-back junior titles proved to be almost impossible. Gary Thode's Saskatchewan team were the first to accomplish the feat, winning titles in 1951 and 1952. Bayne Secord, also representing Saskatchewan, pulled the same feat in 1954/1955. No team would be able to #DefendTheIce again until 1998/1999 when John Morris and his Ontario team went back-to-back. Since Morris, Charley Thomas (Alberta - 2006/2007), Braden Calvert (Manitoba - 2014/2015) and Tyler Tardi (B.C. - 2017/2018) have successfully retained the title. No team has won three straight titles, a few Tardi will attempt this week.
- For the women, the first team to go back-to-back was Alberta's Cathy King in 1977/1978. Other junior women to #DefendTheIce include: Suzanne Gaudet (PEI - 2001/2002), Kaitlyn Lawes (Manitoba - 2008/2009) and Kelsey Rocque (Alberta - 2014/2015). Worth noting B.C.'s Julie Sutton went back-to-back in 1986 and 1987 but as vice in 1986 and skip in 1987. Nova Scotia's Kaitlyn Jones will try and add her name to this elusive list this week.
- Prince Albert will serve as Canadian junior hosts for the second, having previously hosted the event in 1987. In 1987, teams emerging victorious were New Brunswick's Jim Sullivan (men) and B.C.'s Sutton. As a province Saskatchewan has hosted the event 6 times, with the first being the men's only event in Saskatoon in 1953. Oddly enough 1953 was the one year out of the first seven years of this event where Saskatchewan did not win the title. Rather Ontario's Bob Walker ended the Saskatchewan reign.
- Home province victories have been hard to come by at the Canadian Junior Curling Championships. The first men's home ice win was in 1959 by Alberta's John Trout. Other home ice men's winners include: 1961 (B.C. Jerry Caughlin), 1969 (Saskatchewan Robert Miller), 1975 (Alberta Paul Gowsell), 1984 (Manitoba Bob Ursel), 1988 (B.C. Mike Wood) and 2017 (B.C. Tyler Tardi). Overall only 7 home province fans have celebrated a junior men's win in the 69-year history of the event. Doesn't bode well for Saskatchewan's Team Kleiter this week does it? At least it has been done once by Saskatchewan in the past.
- For the women, home province victories have been celebrated in: 1972 (Manitoba Chris Pidzarko), 1979 (Saskatchewan Denise Wilson), 1989 (Manitoba Cathy Overton), 1996 (Alberta Heather Godberson), 2002 (PEI Suzanne Gaudet) and 2005 (New Brunswick Andrea Kelly). Collectively only 6 home province wins in the 47-year history of the Canadian women's event. But, similar to the men, at least it has been done once before by Saskatchewan giving hope to Team Ackerman and Team Erickson this week.
There are going to be a lot of story lines to keep your curling eyes peeled this week. Can the #TardiParty continue for another season and claim their third straight Canadian title? For skip Tyler Tardi and vice Sterling Middleton they will attempt to become the first Canadian junior men to win 3 Canadian junior titles...and they could do it all in succession!
What about #TeamBluenose? Kaitlyn Jones will look to #DefendTheIce while also handing the title of most successful Canadian female junior curler to second Karlee Burgess. A 2019 title would be Canadian title #3 for Burgess. And remember, added incentive if Team Jones can repeat they would compete as Team Canada in front of home province fans!
But don't hand over those history books quite yet for an update. There are quite a few high-quality teams ready to dethrown the champions and write their own page in the history book for 2019.
Canadian Junior Curling Championships
Prince Albert, Saskatchewan
2018 Champions: Men - B.C. (Team Tardi), Women - Nova Scotia (Team Jones)
Format: 14-team RR with 2 pools of 7. Top 4 advance to the Championship Pool where Top 3 advance to the playoffs. 1st place in the Championship Pool receives a bye to the final while 2nd vs. 3rd battle in the SF.
All eyes will squarely be focused on the #TardiParty from B.C. this week. They have been the class of the junior field, both nationally and internationally, the past few seasons and will look to continue their junior domination on the ultimate high taking home a third title and historic achievement for Tardi/Middleton. The addition of Matthew Hall, who moved from Ontario to join the team this season, just makes this team even more dangerous. Hall lost the 2017 Canadian junior final to Tardi so he has experience at this level and going deep into a rather long (and can be grueling) tournament. Plus Hall is a #TwineTimeFam member so this blog is wishing him a bit of good luck.
But lets not just hand Tardi the title already. There are contenders in this field and in this pool. Saskatchewan's Rylan Kleiter will also be making his third straight appearance at the Canadian juniors. While Kleiter has yet to advance out of the RR pool and into the Championship Pool this could be his season. The team just competed at the Canadian Open #gsoc event in nearby North Battleford where, although they failed to win a game, surely took some great learnings and confidence into this event. Plus Kleiter will be the home province team so he will have tremendous fan support. The fans in North Battleford loved the team, especially the pants, so expect a similar reaction all week in Prince Albert, which could be the extra incentive this team needs to advance to their first Championship Pool.
Alberta's Desmond Young may be the dark horse team in this pool and a serious consider for a strong record advancing into the Championship Pool. Young has experience playing on the #wct this season, competing in 3 events. In fact, prior to winning the Alberta junior championship, Young reached his first #wct final in High River going undefeated all the way to the championship before coming up short against Team Usselman. The experience of playing on #wct ice against tour caliber competition can only be a benefit to the team when they arrive here to play on arena ice. This team could surprise a few people this week.
Projected Standings: 1. B.C. 2. Alberta 3. Saskatchewan 4. Ontario 5. Newfoundland and Labrador 6. Yukon 7. Nunavut
Without question the harder pool of the two on the men's draw. There are legit title contenders in this pool and the top two teams could be the two biggest challengers to Tardi's run at another title.
Northern Ontario's Tanner Horgan is back with redemption on his mind. Can he FINALLY win a Canadian junior title after coming oh so close time and time again? Horgan has lost two junior finals, last year to Tardi and in 2016 to Matt Dunstone. He also collected a bronze medal win in 2017. He is a podium threat for sure but can he finally get the monkey off his back and win the big one? His team is a contender with brother Jake back at vice. Jake won the 2017 Canadian U18 title. Remember Horgan plays on the #wct as well with Mark Kean as vice but with Keaner WELL over the junior age (Kean is a #TwineTimeFam member after all and the blog loves you Mark), the move of Jake adds a strong Horgan backend to an already strong contending team.
But also watch out for Manitoba's J.T. Ryan. Here is a guy I really like. I like watching Ryan compete and believe he is a perfect example to continue following in the footsteps of past Manitoba junior successful skips like Dunstone and Braden Calvert. Ryan did win the bronze medal at this event last year remember and lost a tough TB (to Hall) in 2017. Ryan has also found some success on tour, reaching the QF in two events this season.
Both Horgan and Ryan have some unfinished business to attend to this year, namely against rivals Tardi and Hall. It will be interesting to see all three advance to the Championship Pool and who knows what will happen there?!
Nova Scotia's Graeme Weagle makes his Canadian junior debut this season and could shock the curling community with a deep run this week. Weagle enters 2019 looking to build off a successful 2018 when he captured the Canadian U18 Curling Championship. Weagle will be put to the test against Canadian junior vets Horgan and Ryan; however, the final two spots in this pool are wide open. Weagle skips this team but actually throws vice stones as vice Owen Purcell will be throwing the final rocks. Weagle also competed in one tour event this season, in Halifax and finished a respected 2-3 just missing playoffs. Weagle will open the RR vs. Horgan and close with Ryan and Quebec. If the team can collect those middle RR game W's, the final game vs. Quebec may just be for carry-over record and not a de facto elimination game. The opening game will tell us alot about how ready this team is for the next step.
Watch out for dark horse Tyler Smith from PEI as well. Smith will be making his 4th Canadian junior appearance, previously competing in 2013, 2015 and 2017. Apparently Smith really likes those odd number years! Each year Smith has competed he has done one round better than his previous appearance. He just missed the Championship Pool in 2013 by one game. In 2015 he lost out in a TB (to Horgan) to advance to the Championship Pool. And in 2017 he finally advanced but came up short in a playoff bid. Can he go one better this year and reach the playoffs? Do not underestimate him folks!
Worth noting, the addition of the U18 championships seems to be a great launching pad for the next generation of players. Started back in 2017, we already see both 2017 and 2018 winning skips competing in this year's Canadian junior competition.
Projected Standings: 1. Northern Ontario 2. Manitoba 3. Nova Scotia 4. PEI 5. Quebec 6. New Brunswick 7. Northwest Territories
Championship Pool Qualifiers: B.C., Northern Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Ontario, PEI
Playoff Qualifiers: B.C., Northern Ontario, Manitoba
Canadian Junior Men's Curling Championship: Northern Ontario (Horgan) def. B.C. (Tardi)
Similar to Pool A for the men, the defending champs highlight Pool A for the women. All eyes will be on Nova Scotia's Kaitlyn Jones and company as they look to win back-to-back titles and hand Nova Scotia their third title in four years. What can we say about Team Jones that hasn't been said already? This is without question one of the strongest junior women's teams we have seen in Canada. Sure they lost Kristin Clarke this season as she is no longer junior eligible but they picked up Lauren Lenentine, no stranger to the Canadian junior crowd. Lenentine skipped PEI at the past two Canadian juniors, reaching the Championship Pool both times. In fact, in 2017 she was in the same RR pool as Jones (then representing home province Saskatchewan) and Clarke. She knows her now teammates former competitors quite well and seems to have moved into the vice position on the team quite well. Worth mentioning, Jones is from Saskatchewan so she will have tremendous fan support in Prince Albert this week.
But similar to above, do not just hand the title over to the defending champs quite yet. This pool is STACKED with competition. I honestly do not remember the last time we saw a junior pool this stacked with legit title contenders.
B.C.'s Sarah Daniels is back looking to avenge the silver medal she won in 2016, losing the final to Nova Scotia's Mary Fay. Alberta's Selena Sturmay returns. Sturmay also last competed in 2016 reaching the Championship Pool but finishing one game out of a TB spot. Both Daniels and Sturmay are strong threats for Jones' title here. Worth noting Sturmay has competed in 3 tour events this season, qualifying in two and reaching the SF at one (Avonair in Edmonton).
Always be weary of those U18 success teams folks. As noted above with the men's preview, the women's preview is no different. We have two U18 contending teams in this pool looking to make a name for themselves on the Canadian junior stage this season.
Northern Ontario's Kira Brunton won the 2017 Canadian U18 title while Saskatchewan's Skyler Ackerman is the 2018 Canadian U18 runner-up. Both teams will be making their junior debut this week and, while they have a loaded pool of experience in front of them, there is still (at least) one Championship Pool spot for the taking here.
Of note, Saskatchewan will have two junior women teams competing this week as Yukon decided not to send a team to the competition. Team Ackerman will be noted as Saskatchewan (Host) for the week.
Projected Standings: 1. Nova Scotia 2. Alberta 3. Northern Ontario 4. B.C. 5. Saskatchewan (host) 6. Ontario 7. Nunavut
Two of the three podium finishers from last year are back to try and go one (or two) wins better this season...and both find themselves against one another as favourites in Pool B.
Quebec's Laurie St.-Georges had Canadian curling fans wrapped around her finger last season after their breakout performance. When St.-Georges made her debut at the 2016 Canadian juniors she reached the Championship Pool and finished a game out of a playoff spot. Hmmm sound familiar? This 2019 field sure has a lot of 2016 feel to it doesn't it?! Last season St.-Georges returned to the national championship and not only reached the Championship Pool but qualified for the playoffs and played in the national final. Unfortunately she would come up short to Team Jones but the playoff appearance and SF win were huge for the team and should give them a hunger to go one better this year.
And who did St.-Georges and her Quebec team beat in that SF last year? 2019 pool competitor Justine Comeau from New Brunswick. Comeau is no stranger to this competition. She has competed in 3 previous Canadian juniors and has qualified for the Championship Pool each time. In fact, in her debut she finished 4th (2015) and has since won bronze in 2016 and 2018. Not a bad junior resume if I say so. How many junior players can say they have Top 4 finishes, with two podium results, every year they have competed at the national championship? Not too many! Notice the theme there as well. Yup Comeau is also a returnee from the 2016 championships.
Newfoundland and Labrador's Mckenzie Glynn became one of the ultimate #TeamUpset stories of the 2018 championships and she is back once again to carry on waving the flag. Last year Glynn ended up finishing first in her RR pool with a remarkable 5-1 record to advance to the Championship Pool, in her first Canadian junior appearance remember. Unfortunately the Championship Pool got the better of her and she went 0-4 to finish with a 5-5 record overall, good enough for 6th place. One year older, one year wiser and one year ready to take the results to the next level? Glynn would love to build on last year's success and show her results were not just rookie luck. Keep your eyes on this team this week in a relatively wide open pool for the final two Championship Pool spots.
And how can we not mention the host province champions skipped by Rachel Erickson. Joining Erickson at vice is Sara England. Those familiar with curling royalty are probably familiar with that name as England is the daughter of Sask/Canadian great Sandra Schmirler! A championship win might be hard pressed for Team Erickson given this strong field but a spot in the Championship Pool is not out of the question either given this pool. If Erickson can build off the home province support and England can channel a bit of mom's super curling ability, the fans could have a lot to cheer for in the next round.
Projected Standings: 1. New Brunswick 2. Quebec 3. Saskatchewan 4. Newfoundland and Labrador 5. Manitoba 6. PEI 7. Northwest Territories
Championship Pool Qualifiers: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Alberta, Quebec, Northern Ontario, Saskatchewan, B.C., Newfoundland and Labrador
Playoff Qualifiers: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec
Canadian Junior Women's Curling Championship: Nova Scotia (Jones) def. New Brunswick (Comeau)
Bring on the action in Prince Albert folks. Who are you cheering for rock heads and stoners? Agree with the predictions above? Or do you see a different team emerging victorious this week?
While RR games will not be televised by TSN (still? really? #BeBetter), for the first time games will be streamed LIVE via Curling Canada's Facebook page.
And remember we still have the World Qualification Event going on in Naseby, New Zealand this week as we fill in the final two men's and women's spots at the 2019 World Championships in Denmark (women) and Canada (men). ICYMI, the #TwineTime preview offers up some insight on the field and a few predictions as well. Could we see a few new faces and new nations make their world championship debut?
Plus Quebec will crown it's provincial men's and women's winners this weekend to add another team to the Brier and Scotties field.
And next week we start Scotties qualifiers in the remaining provinces. #TwineTime will have your preview of those events sliding into your house as well.
Happy Curling Everyone!!