Rocks are spinning. Brooms are sweeping. Drinks are pouring. Victories are being celebrated. Tears are being wept. Seasons are being ended. The playdown party is raging on for another week folks!
When the party officially kicked off a few weeks ago we were starting down the path towards crowning provincial/territorial champions and filling in those blanks on the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and Tim Hortons Brier bingo square. Excitement was at an all-time high and everyone was in the party mood.
Last week the playdown party hit the coveted midnight mark. You know the midnight marker at a party. Everyone is feeling a bit more buzzed and loosened up. The party arrow is pointing to the far right on the fun meter. And, even though you have been at it for a few hours, you know you have it in you to go a few more.
This week, we enter the after party. Your first location has made the last call announcement and now the lights have come on. But you aren't done. You want the fun to continue. Tired? Sleep is for the weak when you are in party mode. Now we need to find the after party. We drop off a few friends who cannot keep going and the true hardcore party animals line up for the extended part of the evening. This is where we are now. Welcome to the Playdown After Party!
While we wait in line to enter the playdown after party, lets take a step back and celebrate the results from the final leg of the inaugural Curling World Cup season from Jonkoping, Sweden. The event in Sweden was the final chance for teams to earn an automatic spot in the Curling World Cup Grand Final in Beijing, China at the end of the season (May 8 - 12). Here is the #GunnerRunback from Jonkoping:
- #DunnyIsMoney on the international stage. Saskatchewan's Team Dunstone made their Curling World Cup debut as Team Canada and made it count. Dunstone needed a final RR victory over Scotland's Team Paterson to qualify for the final where they would take down world champion and home ice fav Team Edin to pick up the big win. This is the second victory of the season representing the maple leaf for the new team, previously winning a tournament in China before Christmas. Skipper Matt Dunstone and second Catlin Schneider are #TwineTimeFam members so special shout out to them. As well special shout out to #TwineTimeFam member Niklas Edin on reaching the final. The blog sat down to talk with Schneider about the international experience this season, competing at the inaugural Curling World Cup and preparation for the upcoming Sask Tankard this week:
- #Revenge was on the mind of Korea's young Team Kim in Sweden. Kim lost the second leg final in Omaha to #PACC rival Japan's Team Fujisawa. They would not fall in the final a second time around. Kim went 5-1 in the RR to book her ticket into the final where they would knock off Olympic champions and home ice fav Team Hasselborg (also #TwineTimeFam members) to secure their spot in Beijing.
- #TeamUpset for some, coming out party for others. Canada's Kadriana Sahaidak and Colton Lott made the most of their Team Canada debut when they went 4-2 in the RR, squeezing into the final via the LSD TB procedure and knocked off leg two winner Kristin Skaslien and her world champion partner Thomas Ulsrud from Norway in the final. It is worth nothing this was the closest mixed doubles competition of the entire Curling World Cup inaugural season with Skaslien/Ulsrud and Becca Hamilton/Matt Hamilton finishing first in Pool A with 4-2 records while Sahaidak/Lott also tied atop their pool at 4-2 with Olympic silver medal winners Jenny Peret/Martin Rios from Switzerland and Sweden's experienced duo of Camilla and Per Noreen.
With the three qualifying legs complete, the Grand Final field is starting to take shape. Here are the qualifiers:
MEN - Canada (Team Koe), USA (Team Shuster), Canada (Team Dunstone) China (Host - TBD), Sweden (Highest non-qualifier - TBD), Scotland (Second non-qualifier - TBD), World Men's Champion (TBD), Special WCF Invite (TDB)
WOMEN - Canada (Team Homan), Japan (Team Fujisawa), Korea (Team Kim), China (Host - TBD), Sweden (Highest non-qualifier - TBD), Russia (Second non-qualifier - TBD), World Women's Champion (TBD), Special WCF Invite (TBD)
MIXED DOUBLES - Canada (Walker/Muyres), Norway (Skaslien/Nedregotten), Canada (Sahaidak/Lott), China (Host - TBD), Switzerland (Highest non-qualifier - TBD), USA (Second non-qualifier - TBD), World Mixed Doubles Champion (TBD), Special WCF Invite (TBD)
Where things could get interesting is if Canada wins the world men's and/or world mixed doubles championship. Only two teams from the same member association are allocated to compete in the Grand Final. Canada has already qualified two teams in men's and mixed doubles. If, say, Gushue wins the Brier and world championship, he would technically not be eligible to compete in the Grand Final. Wouldn't that be interesting?!?
One would have to guess Sweden will send Team Edin and Team Hasselborg (should they not qualify as world champions and are still wanting to compete in May?!) as they have competed in each leg of the season already. Similar with Perret/Rios for Switzerland in mixed doubles. The USA mixed doubles spot should be interesting with Sarah Anderson/Korey Dropin and the Hamilton's both having strong cases to be the invite. Of course we have to see how national and world championships play out still but things could get interesting. As we say, #StayTuned.
Ok ID's have been checked. Coats have been checked. Drinks have been ordered. Time to get this after party started!!
Our field was finalized Sunday afternoon. Congratulations to the final qualifying teams:
British Columbia - Having been a regular BC Scotties competitor since 2014, this was finally the breakthrough year for Sarah Wark. Wark finished the RR with a 6-1 record, good for first place and a spot in the page playoff 1vs2 game. There she would defeat rival Corryn Brown to book her spot in her first provincial final. While Brown would go on to win the SF against Brette Richards, Wark would once again have her number in the championship final. The victory punctuates the first provincial title for Wark and she will be making her Scotties debut in Sydney.
Northern Ontario - The face that runs the (northern) place is back! History was made over the weekend when Krista McCarville claimed her 7th Northern Ontario championship. The victory propelled her in the all-time lead, one up on former rival (but now Scotties opponent) Tracy Fleury. Team McCarville went a perfect 7-0 en route to the title, going 6-0 in the RR to finish in first and earn the bye in the final. Jenna Enge knocked off NOnt junior champ Kira Brunton in a TB after both finished the RR 3-3 to advance to the final. Enge did give McCarville a battle, with McCarville needing to score 2 in the 10th with hammer to claim the title. Remember Enge is a 4-time champ as well, previously competing with Fleury. Is McCarville already considered a dark horse contender in Sydney?
Ontario - Guess who is back? The hottest team on tour this season is back to "defend" their Scotties title. Team Homan claimed their 4th Ontario championship over the weekend, knocking off Team Julie Tippin in the final after posted a 6-1 RR record to earn the bye. Tippin had quite the run though, winning her final two RR games on Friday to finish 4-3 and qualify for the TB. Once there she knocked off defending champ Hollie Duncan (who, as reported by Jonathan Brazeau curling during pregnancy and returned to the ice after a brief hospital visit) and then defeated Jestyn Murphy in the SF to reach the championship. Now remember Homan (also curling pregnant along with second Joanne Courtney we should add) did not compete in the Scotties last year as she was in PyeongChang and was the 2017 Scotties winner so, in a way, she has a similar claim to the "defending champion" title as Team Jones (who will be wearing the maple leaf in Sydney). And you may have heard cheers of joy celebrating Homan's victory from the mountains out in Banff on Sunday....
Team Wildcard - Nobody was cheering harder to Team Homan this weekend than Alberta's Casey Scheidegger and company. While Scheidegger was competing in the TSN Skins Game in Banff, part of them must have been fixated on the results three provinces over. When Homan hoisted the Ontario trophy once again, a sigh of relief and excitement must have come over Team Scheidegger. Homan's victory resurrected their Scotties dream and punched them a ticket into the wildcard play-in game vs. Team Einarson. So the stage is set. The final spot in the #STOH2019 field will come down to the winner between Alberta's Team Scheidegger and Manitoba's Team Einarson. This match-up will be discussed in more detail during the #TwineTime event preview but interesting to see Einarson back in the same predicament as last year (which worked out pretty good for her) against another Alberta team.
The three provincial winners will join the already qualified field including:
Canada - Team Jennifer Jones
Alberta - Team Chelsea Carey
Saskatchewan - Team Robyn Silvernagle
Manitoba - Team Tracy Fleury
Quebec - Team Gabrielle Lavoie
Newfoundland and Labrador - Team Kelli Sharpe
New Brunswick - Team Andrea Kelly
Nova Scotia - Team Jill Brothers
PEI - Team Suzanne Brit
Northwest Territories - Team Kerry Galusha
Yukon - Team Nicole Baldwin
Nunavut - Team Jenine Bodner
With the field in Sydney finalized, the pools have now been determined as well. Here is the breakdown as per Curling Canada:
Pool A - Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, BC, Northern Ontario, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Nunavut
Pool B - Canada, Wildcard, Saskatchewan, PEI, NWT, New Brunswick, Yukon, Newfoundland
At first glace, Pool A may be considered the #PoolofDeath with strong championship pool contenders like Homan, Fleury, Carey, McCarville and Brothers. We also have the rookie Wark from BC who could surprise a few teams as they have had a strong #wct season. Plus we get the exciting Fleury vs. McCarville matchup!
Pool B, on the other hand, could be considered the #PoolofOpportunity. While Jones and the WC winner will be favoured to advance, two additional spots remain for a handful of teams. Birt, Galusha and Crawford have all been here before and this might be one of there best shots at moving forward. Silvernagle may be a rookie but the addition of Lawton at vice, coupled with how well they have played this season (remember the Canadian Open result!?) could make them a strong dark horse here.
You can best believe the #TwineTime blog will have your full preview where we discuss all these storylines and so much more next week. #StayTuned
The Brier puzzle is slowly coming together. We added four more teams into the field this weekend. Congratulatory roll call goes out to:
British Columbia - Have you heard of this guy named Jim Cotter? You may be a bit familiar with him. Who am I kidding? If you pay attention to curling and the Brier (which of course you do if you are reading this!!) you know Mr. Cotter. Welcome Back, Cotter!! Jim Cotter, with new team addition Steve Laycock at vice, collected his 8th BC title this weekend. Cotter took the fast track to claiming his Brandon berth, winning the A-side event and following it up with a victory in the 1vs2 game before winning the final. Interestingly enough, he beat the same team in each of those big games, Team Jason Montgomery. Montgomery, after losing the A-final, won the B-side to book his spot in the 1vs2 game. After losing again to Cotter in the page playoff, he knocked off the new look Team Josh Barry, with #TwineTimeFam member John Cullen at lead, in the SF before once again falling victim to Cotter. Interesting to note, 2019 will also be the 8th Brier appearance for Laycock, having previously competed out of Saskatchewan (including last year).
Northern Ontario - We talked about it with Krista McCarville above, we mention it again here. The face who runs the (northern) place emerged victorious once again. Brad Jacobs and company are #BrierBound once again folks. Jacobs also made history, becoming the first team to win five consecutive championships. The record he beat? His own record of four straight (2010-2013). Add it up and it is 9 NOCA championships in 10 years, remembering he didn't compete in 2014 because he was competing in Sochi. But similar to last year, it wasn't an easy slide on the ice to the title. Once again, Jacobs had to take a longer road to the title by finishing second in the RR with a 6-1 record. Jacobs would knock off Mike McCarville in the SF before taking down Tanner Horgan, with #TwineTimeFam member Mark Kean at vice, in the final. The championship win was revenge for the RR loss earlier in the week. When the rocks stopped spinning, both Jacobs and Horgan finished with 7-1 records overall but Horgan's one loss happened to come in the game that mattered most. The gap is closing though up north. Collectively Jacobs has now won 11 NOCA titles, the most of any Northern Ontario curler (FYI legendary Al Hackner has 9).
Ontario - #TeamUpset FTW?!?!? For some the final results in Ontario over the weekend would be considered an upset with a new face emerging from a strong field to claim the title. For the #TwineTime blog, not so much. This blog has been saying all season Scott McDonald and his team were the real deal and a real threat to take the Ontario tankard over heavily favoured Team Epping and Team Howard. Team McDonald have been regular fixtures on the blog's #PowerRankings this season and this weekend they proved they are the real deal. McDonald went undefeated in the RR (9-0), knocked off defending champ Epping in the 1vs2 game and again (for the 3rd time in the competition) in the championship final. Epping would reach the final after defeating Howard in the SF, who in turn knocked out Charley Thomas in the 3vs4 game. Not to toot my own horn here but...this blog told you McDonald was coming! And now we have a first McBrier for McDonald!
Newfoundland and Labrador - The most wide-open field of the weekend...and perhaps during the entire #BrierBound playdown party wrapped up in St. John's, NL this weekend. In the end, the #TeamUpset pick outlasted the 12 team field with Andrew Symonds collecting his first NL title defeating 2000 champ Rick Rowsell in the playoffs. Symonds was the cream of the crop all week, winning the A and B events, meaning he needed to be defeated twice in the playoffs after coming up short in the C SF (losing to Rowsell). Symonds would only need the 1 playoff game though to wrap up the title and punch his ticket to Brandon. Symonds lost the NL final last year but added fellow 2018 playoff skip Adam Boland to the team this year and it has paid off with a Brier invite.
The four provincial winners will join the already qualified field including:
Canada - Team Brad Gushue
Quebec - Team Martin Crete
New Brunswick - Team Terry Odishaw
Nova Scotia - Team Stuart Thompson
PEI - Team John Likely
Nunavut - Team Dave St. Louis
Shaping up to be quite the field in Brandon. We have some familiar faces tied in with some rookie names thus far. And we still have a few spots left to go.
While the Scotties field may be finalized, the playdown party stays open into the after hours as we celebrate more provincial playdowns for the men and continue to finalize the Brier field. The focus will be on the prairie provinces with heavyweight contending Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba hitting the ice. Here is what to look forward to this week:
2018 Champion: Team Brendan Bottcher
Format: 12 team modified triple knockout with 4 qualifiers advancing to page playoff bracket.
We have our Big Two here. In one corner we have two-time defending champion Team Bottcher looking for the #3peat and trying to #DefendTheIce in Edmonton. In the other corner we have 4-time AB champ and 6-time Brier participant Kevin Koe looking to reclaim his title.
Koe has not been defeated at the AB Boston Pizza Cup since he lost the 2013 final to Kevin Martin. Ok, for clarity, he has lost games at the BP Cup but he has not lost this event since 2013. Koe did accomplish the #3peat, winning the titles in 2014, 2015 and 2016. He has not competed the past two years because he hasn't had to, being Team Canada at the Brier and Olympics will do that. With Martin retiring from the sport, this event has turned into the Koe Kompetition.
And then along came Brendan Bottcher. Bottcher lost the 2015 final and 2016 SF to Koe. With Koe not competing the past two years, Bottcher was finally able to rise to the top and take the title. Now we get both back on the ice drawing against one another for the first time here since 2016.
Ku-Dawg being the big dog on campus. Bottcher being the new dog on campus. Both believing they are the true King of Alberta. Something has to give this weekend, right? If we go on season results, Bottcher may hold the advantage. Team Bottcher is 40-11 on the season, qualifying in 7 of 8 events (losing in a TB in the other) with 4 championship appearances and 2 titles, including the #gsoc Canadian Open. Add in the TSN Skins Game win this past weekend in Banff and this team is on a roll, peaking at the right time.
As for Koe, an equally impressive 39-17 record on the season. They won the first leg of the Curling World Cup in China to start the season. They have qualified in all 8 #wct events entered this season, including three additional championship final appearances (Portage, The Masters, Canada Cup). The only draw back for them might be closing out the big games. 3 final appearances is great but 3 runner-up results doesn't feel as wonderful. Consistent? Yes! Failing to finish? Unfortunately yes!
When we look at the H2H between the two, on tour this season they are 2-2. Bottcher picked up the championship final win over their rival in Portage earlier in the season while Koe got the best of Bottcher at the Canada Cup of Curling, winning the RR match and the TB battle. But add in the skins final win by Bottcher this weekend and they have the slim H2H advantage.
This is going to be fun!!
But whoa whoa whoa....this isn't a two-team provincial championship folks. There are 10 other teams who have qualified to compete in Edmonton and are looking to write their own #BrierBound feel good story. Now when you have a Power Two leading the charge, a strong argument could be made the rest of the field sits in the #TeamUpset category.
Karsten Sturmay returns to the field after a finals appearance last season. Ted Appelman is also back, having lost the 2017 final. Both are looking for revenge and would love nothing better than to deny both of the top dogs their spot in Brandon.
Be weary of past contenders Daylan Vavrek and Aaron Sluchinski too. Vavrek has not had the best season on tour but did reach the SF last year. Plus he has former playoff contender Mick Lizmore as his 5th. As for Sluchinski, he reached the playoffs in 2015 and 2017 so maybe odd-numbered years are his thing. Plus, on tour this season they have qualified in all 4 events entered (losing in the QF each time however). Experience is always a wild card advantage.
But you want a true, outside the box #TeamUpset contender to push for a playoff spot? How about James Pahl? Sporting a nice 20-10 record on the season. Has a championship final appearance (Calgary, l. to Appelman) and also reached the QF in Medicine Hat and Red Deer. Plus the Ellerslie Curling Club, host of these championships, is home ice for the team giving them literally home ice advantage.
Any of these five teams could go on a run and make a playoff push in Edmonton. If we go on assumptions with Koe/Bottcher nabbing two spots, we still have two playoff positions open on the bracket. Who seizes the day?
What 2 Watch 4 (#W2W4)
Can anyone really stop the much anticipated Koe vs. Bottcher clash for the title on Sunday? And which Koe will we see in Edmonton, the one who has won big events in the past or the one who has faltered a bit in the big games this season? Remember we have not seen Koe at an AB championship the past two seasons given he was Team Canada in 2017 and competed in PyeongChang last year. Koe is prone to taking one or two losses at provincials in the past but has also shown the resiliency to bounce back quick in a triple knockout and get on a roll.
The fun part will be seeing who, if anyone, can stop the Big Two and who emerges with those other two playoff spots. When we head into the page playoff, we know there will be four teams in the running and anyone can beat anyone at anytime. We saw it happen in Ontario last weekend where the two big names went down, could we see a similar surprise result in Alberta? My money says no...but you just never know.
Qualifiers: Team Bottcher, Team Koe, Team Sturmay, Team Sluchinski
Alberta Championship: Team Koe def. Team Bottcher
2018 Champion: Team Steve Laycock
Format: 16-team triple knockout with 4 qualifiers advancing to page playoff bracket.
No team comes into this event riding a larger wave of confidence than Matt Dunstone. Dunny and company just won the Curling World Cup in Sweden, as discussed above with special guest and Dunstone second Catlin Schneider, and have been playing some outstanding curling all season. They sport an impressive 57-22 record on the season...yes folks they have already played 79 games this season. That is A LOT of curling!! Add it all up and it equates to playing 11 tour events plus the Curling World Cup last week. They have qualified in 8 events, reached 4 finals and claimed 3 titles (and the World Cup win). Dunstone is a defending champ here, albeit with a completely different team, but he is slowly becoming a Sasky curler and winning over the hardcore Sasky fans who may have struggled cheering for a Manitoba boy in green at the start of the Brier last season. Having been in Regina and talking to many Sask curling fans, by the end of the Brier he had been happily adopted into the province.
Moskowy, on the opposite side, also competed at the Brier last season with Team Carruthers as the Manitoba champion. Time for him to come back to his roots and try to reclaim the #TeamGreen jacket. And of course do not forget front end combo Catlin Schneider and Dustin Kidby won the 2017 SK Tankard together as a member of Team Adam Casey so they will be looking to make their sophomore appearance. Remember Schneider was named to the All-Star team as top vice in his rookie appearance. There is a certain buzz around this team right now and momentum is squarely on their side.
The only question might be jet lag and are the boys starting to get tired from a very busy (and travel heavy) season? They have been to China and Sweden. They have competed in tour events from BC to Nova Scotia. We have seen it in the past with teams becoming physically and mentally tired heading into an event where emotions are high. If Dunstone can stay mentally, physically and emotionally focused on returning to the Brier, we may be saying #DunnyIsMoney once again on Sunday.
Well there should be no real surprise on who the leading candidate is for the #TeamUpset flag bearer in Whitewood. 3-time defending Sask junior champion Rylan Kleiter and his squad will make their SK Tankard debut and are coming off a breakout performance at Canadian juniors, winning a bronze medal. Team Kleiter is having an outstanding season having also competed at their first #gsoc event, the Canadian Open. They may only possess a modest 17-12 record on tour; however, it does include back-to-back championship final appearances in Moose Jaw and Estevan back in November. It is worth noting, they own a 6-4 H2H record against the field here too.
But Kleiter is not the only #TeamUpset contender in the field. Keep your eyes on Kody Hartung, who owns an impressive 33-9 record on the season. In fact Hartung has won their past 4 #wct events heading into the SK Tankard (Regina, Red Deer, Wadena, Swift Current). Since November their record is 26-2, which included the championship final win over Team Bottcher in Red Deer and winning the Saskatchewan Tour Championship as the final tune-up event. Against this field they own a H2H record of 12-1 with their only loss coming to Dunstone back in October in Portage.
What 2 Watch 4 (#W2W4)
There are quite a few new team combinations in the field this year but many familiar names. Brock Virtue (SF last year), Jason Jacobson, Ryan Deis, Brent Gedak, Josh Heidt, Scott Comfort and Mike Armstrong have all been here before and have all been strong competitors for the coveted green jacket in the past.
But perhaps the biggest name people will also be keeping close eyes on will be Kirk Muyres. Muyres is a 4-time Sask champ curling with Team Laycock. When the Laycock team split at the end of last season Muyres, sticking with brother Dallan, joined forces with another brother combo Kevin and Dan Marsh to form #TeamBro....or is it #TeamMnM for Team Muyres and Marsh? Either way, this new team may have struggled a bit at the early part of the season but has come on strong the second half, really finding their groove as a team. They won the #gsoc Tour Challenge Tier II in November and have reached 3 other #wct finals this season. They also played in two additional slams, losing a TB at the Boost National and going 0-3 at the Canadian Open.
Muyres is a #TwineTimeFam member remember and took some time to sit down with the blog to discuss the season thus far, moving into the skip position this year, prep for the big SK Tankard this week and help preview the field a bit:
Hmmm seems #MrSmiles and I have a similar take on this year's SK Tankard field. I promise you all I wrote my portion of this blog post before speaking with Kirk. Great minds think alike? Regardless, special "Thank You" once again to Kirk for taking time out before the start of the event to talk with me and give a little #TwineTime exclusive. And what do you think Team Muyres fans? Do you agree with Kirk and I? Can we dub Team Muyres as #TeamMnM?
Qualifiers: Team Dunstone, Team K. Hartung, Team Muyres, Team Kleiter
Saskatchewan Championship: Team Dunstone def. Team Muyres
2018 Champion: Team Reid Carruthers
Format: 32-team double knockout with 8 qualifiers (4 A-side and 4 B-side) advancing to modified double knockout with 4 qualifiers moving into page playoff championship bracket (Got all that??).
Early favourite would be defending champion Carruthers, especially with the new #TeamBFF line-up adding Mike McEwen into the fold. Combined, Carruthers and McEwen have accounted for the past 4 Manitoba championships as skips. Add in the Jeff Stoughton titles for Carruthers as second and Samaglaski's title with Rob Fowler (2012) and members of #TeamBFF (or is it Team McCarruthers?) have won the MB title 8 straight seasons. It is no wonder everyone named this team a juggernaut at the beginning of the season. History alone indicates the Buffalo stays on the back of this team.
But it has not been the season many expected from this team either. It has been a bit of a Rama Rollercoaster ride we have seen in the past with some strong high's and some surprising lows. The team is still finding their groove with line-up shuffles, who calls the game, who throws final stones, ect. There are still a lot of cooks in this kitchen. They are 40-27 on the season, qualifying in 5 of 12 events, reaching a #gsoc final (Elite X) and winning three titles (Stu Sells Toronto, Karuizawa, Golden Wrench). Those are the high moments. They also went 0 for at the Canada Cup of Curling and owned a dismal combined record of 6-14 from November to mid-December. Those are the low moments. Experience alone factors in here and could be their ace in the hole. They have all won here before and know how to dial it in for this event. But which team shows up? The high or the low? The recent experience at the TSN Skins in Banff helped and they seem to be peaking at the right time. Lets just hope they don't go over the edge and the roller coaster heads down at the wrong time.
Oh the kids are alright folks...and they are ready to make their move. This could be the year! Braden Calvert is leading the charge of #TeamNextGen looking to become the new face who runs the place. Calvert is having an outstanding season, having qualified in 6 tour events and taking home one title (Icebreaker in Winnipeg). They have also competed in 3 #gsoc this season (Tour Challenge Tier I, National, Canadian Open) which should help give them added experience and confidence heading into this provincial championship. Last season Calvert went a shocking 0-2 and made a quick exit from the championship. Do not expect the same this season!
BUT Calvert is also seeded here so can he really be considered an upset? Maybe, maybe not. If not, how about throwing your support behind Ty Dilello? Dilello, curling with past MB junior champ Hayden Forrester, have qualified in 6 tour events this season and has reached two championship finals (Atkins, MCT). Dilello draws the same qualifying bracket as Carruthers and could give the favourite a surprise should they meet in the A-qualifier game.
BUT Dilello is not the only other upset team in this field either. What about Tanner Lott? Lott has a tour title under his belt this season (Mother Club Fall Classic) and reached another tour final (Thistle Integrity Stakes). And don't forget vice Colton Lott is coming off a mixed doubles win in Sweden at the Curling World Cup! Or how about Riley Smith and his team? They have two tour titles to their credit this season, including winning the MCT Championships in December as their final tune-up event. They have qualified in 5 of 7 events this season and are a strong dark horse contender.
What 2 Watch 4 (#W2W4)
There are a few young buck skips looking to have a breakout performance in Virden and with big name favourites Carruthers and Gunnlaugson looking a bit prime for a potential upset, the field this year could be more competitive than ever. The interesting piece at play here is the format of this event. I raged about it last year and have similar opinions still.
This is a bloated field. 32 teams still seems a bit much considering an 0-2 record sends you home. Is it really a #growthesport argument to invite a large field only to send 8 teams home right away with the 0-2 record? The competition kicks off and at the end of opening day we already send 8 teams home, on Day 1! And this is considered a good format? Yes I am sure those 24 athletes are very happy to drive to small town Manitoba in cold February only to be sent home right after arriving. Makes sense for their work and personal lives too. You can tell work you need to miss the entire week or you might be back on Friday morning. Why not just cut the competition down to a more competitive 16-team triple knockout? Who does a double knockout event, seriously?
Plus, teams are placed in pods for the opening A/B bracket meaning they only play the other 7 teams in their pod. The A-draw is basically 4 pods with 2 teams from each pod qualifying for the next phase of the event. This could, in theory, present an uneven draw favouring some teams while proving a disadvantage for others. The B-draw still keeps the 8 teams together meaning duplicate pairings throughout the draw. Why? Why not mix up the pods outside the A-draw? Maybe because the draw formation would be a challenge? Well then cut down the field. Going 0-2 or 1-2 at a provincial championship and being sent home early does not feel like a #growthesport argument, rather just bloating a draw for the sake of saying we have more teams competing in our provincial championship because we have so many strong teams. It is a provincial championship. Only 1 team will win regardless of the qualification format for the provincial event. Eliminating the competition the weekend or two prior to the event in a qualification event over sending the same team home with a 0-2 record seems to make more sense.
Championship Qualifiers: Team Gunnlaugson, Team Calvert, Team Carruthers, Team R. Smith
Manitoba Championship: Team Calvert def. Team Carruthers
2018 Champion: Team Jamie Koe
Format: 6-team RR with 3 qualifiers. 1st place earns bye to championship final.
You know who the favourite is here, right? Do we dare bet against Jamie Koe? Koe has been the face of NWT men's curling since 2006. In fact, in the past 13 years Koe has won the NWT championship 12 times including the past 10. #3peat? #5peat? How about Koe chasing #11Heaven? The last time Koe did not win the NWT title was in 2008! How is that for a curling stat?
But this year has been a bit different for Koe. This is a new team, joining forces with previous NWT contestant David Aho at vice and Cole Parsons at lead (who competed together last year with Steve Moss). The team also added former Alberta challenger Matt Ng, who previously competed alongside Kevin Park and Charley Thomas among others. Team Koe, with Brett Zubot at lead and no Ng, has only played one #wct event this season, participating in the Original 16 in Calgary and going 0-3.
It is worth noting Koe has joined forces with competitors he beat en route to the Brier last year. Team Moss, with Aho and Parsons, ended up losing the A-final, 1vs2 page playoff game and NWT championship final to Koe. For Aho and Parsons, perhaps this is a great example of the old adage "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em".
Of course there is also the Red Deer Curling Classic. We do not need to rehash everything from the Red Deer incident but you have to wonder what toll the experience will have on the veteran skip. Teammate Ryan Fry certainly went through a lot but has since made his comeback to the ice and has found positive results as a step moving forward. Koe is one of the most popular guys at the Brier with fans always around him cheering him on while on the ice and taking pics and asking for autographs off the ice. Having attended a few Briers with Koe competing, I can say he has always been great with fans. While the actions in Red Deer were disappointing, we can all only hope Koe is able to put off-ice distractions him and focus on chasing another NWT title on the ice. On a bright note, I have only heard positive responses from fellow competitors and fans expressing their support for Koe moving forward and commending him for being open and honest about the incident and his taking steps to ensure similar incidents never happen again. We all make mistakes and I think the curling world has moved forward. Winning the NWT title and being #BrierBound would be a great slide forward as well for Koe.
The field? Honestly when you are competing against the NWT legend known as Jamie Koe you have to know you are the #TeamUpset contender. Until someone can rise up and take down the champ, we have to consider everyone else as the upset flag bearers.
But there are familiar names in the field too. While last year finalist Stephen Moss is gone (and Koe is playing with his former teammates), 2018 SF finisher Nick Saturnino is back albeit with a line-up shuffle. Saturnino is no longer skipping but rather playing lead while former second Andrew Dunbar moves up to skip. Kyle Gee, previously playing lead, moves up to second while D'arcy Delorey remains at vice. This is an experienced team, having competed last year and remained in tact. They could challenge a possible vulnerable champ.
And do not overlook a previous NWT champ either. Greg Skauge, 2010 champion, is back once again to challenge Koe for the title. Last year Skauge lost a C-qualifier when the competition was a triple knockout. Skauge also lost the 2016 NWT final to Koe. Skauge has the same team as last year, with a familiar face to Koe at vice: Tom Naugler. Naugler, if you remember, was vice for Koe and won two NWT titles together (2011, 2013).
And keep your eyes on Sawer Kaeser. Kaeser is the three-time defending NWT junior men's champion and will be making his NWT men's debut this week. Kaeser will be playing vice with Bruce McArthur, who returns to the competition for the first time since 2016. While Kaeser may not be a threat in his rookie competition, he could become the future of NWT men's curling. Everyone has to start somewhere and sometime and could 2019 be remembered for being the first year of competition for a future champ?
What 2 Watch 4 (#W2W4)
Is this the year? Can Koe continue his #PolarPower domination or will someone rise up and take down the King of the North? If there was a season to do so, it may just be this year. Koe had the Red Deer distraction and off-ice personal stuff to deal with. He has had less time competing and playing with his new team. Koe might be more prime for the upset this year than any other.
When your competition has been here before, has won before and is competing with the same team as last season while you are almost hitting the reset button by comparison, the competition this week could be closer than we have seen in the past.
Qualifiers: Team Koe, Team Dunbar, Team Skauge
Northwest Territories Championship: Team Koe def. Team Skauge
Format: Top two teams based on CTRS ranking not previously qualified advance to wildcard play-in game held Friday before the start of the Brier (March 1)
Teams in contention: Team Koe, Team Epping, Team Bottcher
The picture cleared up a bit this weekend with the results in Ontario. Epping's loss in the final solidified his spot in the wildcard game. Koe and Bottcher are both in contention as well. If one of the two wins the AB Tankard this weekend, the other will advance to the wildcard game. Koe does have the advantage though. They are the #1 ranked CTRS team and know, should they not win AB, they will go to the wildcard game. For Bottcher, should he not #DefendTheIce this weekend, he will become the biggest cheerleader for his AB rival knowing a Koe win would book his ticket to the play-in game. Should both fail to win this weekend and a #TeamUpset emerge victorious, Koe lives to fight another day while Bottcher's Brier dreams will be over.
Other teams previously in contention were Team Howard and Team Dunstone. With Epping losing the Ontario final, both teams had their hopes dashed for the second chance Brier opportunity. Howard needed Epping to win to have a shot while Dunstone needed a combination of Epping win + Howard faltering + a #CurlingWorldCup win. In the end, even with Dunstone's Curling World Cup win this weekend, he remains just over one point behind Howard in the CTRS. Dunstone will, you imagine, collect at least a few points at the SK Tankard this weekend but, even a run to the final, will not make up the ground on Epping/Bottcher. Had Epping won and Dunstone made a deep run, he would still be in consideration.
Team Wildcard (Early) Prediction: Team Bottcher def. Team Epping - sticking with the same prediction as last week folks!
Keep the playdown rager going to the after party club now folks. You have been preparing all season for this curling overload of games, excitement and drama...don't get tired and fall asleep now. We are into the wee hours of the playdown party.
What say you? Which province are you most looking forward to watching unfold this weekend? Who are your picks to win? Could we see a #TeamUpset steal the title from the favs, similar to Team McDonald in Ontario or Team Thompson in Nova Scotia?
As we say, to those competing this weekend, good luck and good curling!
Next week will be a busy one for the blog rock heads. We have the Scotties hit the ice next weekend in Sydney. The #TwineTime blog will have your special #STOH2019 preview, with predictions, sliding into your house before the wildcard play-in game next Friday. AND....perhaps a special guest will be joining the blog to help preview the field?!?
A special shout out as well to athletes competing in the Canadian Vision Impaired Curling Championships (CVICC) this week in Ottawa. 2019 marks the 15th year of the competition, held annually during the first week of February to celebrate White Cane Week. The event, besides being a competition to crown the next Team Canada, also supports a celebration of ability and sport. This year 7 teams are competing for the maple leaf: BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Team Canada. BC won the title last year with the team returning in attempt to #DefendTheIce. More information and up to date results on this event and White Cane Week can be found HERE. #growthesport
But remember we also have international curling to focus our eyes on next weekend also in Nova Scotia when the World Junior Curling Championships slide out of the hack in Liverpool, NS. Again, this blog will have a full preview of the action next week.
PLUS we have national championships going on in Japan, Scotland, Switzerland and USA. So much curling to pay attention to this week folks!! I told you we are in after party mode...stay strong!
Special THANK YOU once again to Catlin Schneider and Kirk Muyres for talking with the blog this week while preparing for the Sask Tankard competition. It is always great to catch up with #TwineTimeFam members!
Enjoy the conclusion of the playdown party this weekend....and no curling hangovers. We still have LOTS to discuss this season.