Wednesday, 6 November 2019

#TourChallengeGSOC Preview

#BetweenTheSheets: Preview for Pictou
62 teams arrive in Nova Scotia chasing GSOC glory

Knock, Knock
Who's there?
Orange who?
Orange you glad it's Tour Challenge Time?!

Hahaha....the blog is trying to be funny today. Maybe it is because we are in November, my favourite month of the year. Or maybe it is because, living in Calgary, we have snow, snow and more snow so I need to find a laugh somewhere. Or maybe it is because I am a few nights away from an annual vacation.

Either way, you laughed right? Either at me or with me, it doesn't matter.

Bring on the orange rings of the Tour Challenge! Is this curling's version of the Tide pod challenge?

Didn't get that one? Look at the rings. Go to your laundry room and look at your Tide pods. Get it?

Annnyway.....moving on.....

The Tour Challenge might be my favourite Grand Slam of Curling event. I love the Tier I / Tier II idea. I love seeing the elite teams still battle for #gsoc glory but then adding the element of Tier II teams fighting not only for a slam win but to play their way into a future slam event.

Now having said that, this year's event is a bit confusing. The Tier II expanded to 16 teams. When and why was that announcement made? Not that I am against helping to #growthesport but why the expansion?

And what was the deal with the invites this year? The Tour Challenge website still says 15 teams qualify for the Tier II. It also says the breakdown would be based on the next 10 teams in the OOM along with 5 regional teams.

For the women's Tier II field this seems to work out. The next 11 on the OOM and then 5 regional. Team Birt, from PEI, would be recognized as an OOM-qualifier who also happens to be a regional team. Plus a good call on inviting the extra team from the OOM.

But what about the men's Tier II field?

Nova Scotia's Stuart Thompson would be around the OOM cut-off line so perhaps he is considered an OOM-qualifier. If so, that would make 10 OOM invites and 6 regional. But why the imbalance compared to the women? Did more men's teams turn down the Tier II invite?

I know we are talking about only one spot but that is still one spot. Try telling that to Team Dilello or Team Ferris or Team Willsey or Team K. Hartung right now? My guess is they would have accepted the invite if asked.

No disrespect to James Grattan. I have a huge fan of his and love seeing him on the ice competing at this event. Similar to Greg Smith. Smith is a #TwineTimeFam member and I am also a huge supporter for his success.

My comment is more on the transparency. If we want to expand to 16, great! But then lets make it Top 11 OOM + 5 regional. I do support regional spots going to #NextGen teams though. It is great to see Team Glynn receive an invite for the women's Tier II. Similar for Smith on the men's draw.

Maybe the regional requirement should be defending provincial champion + regional #NextGen + 3 additional regional teams. It does appear this is what happens but I would like to see it more defined in the qualification policy. Make it transparent and clear....just to shut me up even (which a few people would probably love to see happen out there).

Also, why are we using pools for this slam? Why are we not adopting a triple knockout here?

If the Tier II is expanding to 16 (which is this a regular thing or one-off for 2019?), the triple knockout makes WAY more sense then this silly pool idea. Did you nothing the Tour Challenge website does not even list the teams in pools? It just lists the overall table for all the teams.

But the draw is done up with a pool mentality. Except either teams are placed in 4 pools of 4 or 2 pools of 8. And each team is provided 4 RR games. In a pool of 4 you play your 3 pool teams and 1 team from one other random pool? Or in a pool of 8 you only play 4 of the 7 teams in your pool? What? Talk about a bit of an imbalance on scheduling....and there is that S-word again.

Just move to a triple knockout. Heck lets make the Tier I a 16 team event as well. Make the Tour Challenge a 64-team field. Hmmmm, that idea sounds familiar. I wonder if this blog made that suggestion in the past?

Under the Tier I pool format there are 60 RR games (men + women) plus all the playoff games (14 combined). Add it up and 74 games are required for the competition, not including possible TB games which usually happen with pool play.

Under a standard 16-team triple knockout, there would be 66 games played plus the regular 14 playoff games. We are only adding 6 games overall. Currently there are 10 open slots on the draw schedule for this year's Tour Challenge, including the Saturday morning and Friday evening slots for possible TB games. The schedule works folks. It could be done. Oh wait, it is done at The Canadian Open. Why not two triple knockout slams? Especially with the Tier II bumping up to 16 now?!

Just some curling rink thoughts to ponder rock heads. What do you think?

Since we cannot control what happens off the ice, we might as well talk about what is happening on the ice. Preview and predictions time. This is going to be a bit condensed of a preview just because of the size of the event.....and trying to fit in writing this blog preview on top of work and preparing for a vacation is burning day hours quick. Sorry in advance.


Tour Challenge

Pictou County, NS

2018 Champions: Team Jacobs, Team Homan (Tier I), Team Muyres, Team Stern (Tier II)

Format: Tier I - 15 team RR with 3 pools of 5. Top 8 qualify. Tier II - 16 RR with 2 pools of 8. Top 8 qualify.

Tier I


Pool A

The big question is whether Team Koe can rebound from just missing the playoffs at The Masters? Ok they lost in a TB but they still missed the playoffs, that is what the history book will show. Koe has not missed a slam playoff bracket since the 2017 Tour Challenge. 11 straight slam playoff appearances. Wow! But all good things come to an end I suppose. Gotta secretly feel a bit for Kirk Muyres, who subbed in at The Masters while regular vice BJ Neufeld is away expecting an addition to the family. Koe will be adding in John Morris this week. Time to reactivate the playoff streak?

Scotland's Bruce Mouat rebounded from a tough October when he reached the SF at The Masters. Can he build on that momentum? And has the team blocked out the fact of knowing they are not heading back to the European Championships in a few weeks to #DefendTheIce? The reality may be stepping on the ice. Another strong slam performance, or another slam title, may help ease that pain.

Similar for Switzerland's Team De Cruz. They are not heading back to European's this year either, after just losing out on the spot to rival Team Schwaller. De Cruz would have been looking for redemption after failing to make the playoffs at last years ECC. Maybe a nice slam run will help?

And the "We are still here" duo of Team Shuster and Team McEwen. Lots of discussion around these teams surviving to stay in the Tier I conversation even though their recent slam results have been less than stellar. Both could use a playoff run here to silence those critics (sorry I am one, I can admit it) and reclaim their spot among the "elite". Shuster did reach the QF here last year remember.

Projected Standings: 1. Team Koe  2. Team Mouat  3. Team De Cruz  4. Team Shuster  5. Team McEwen

Pool B

What is going on with the #SwedishVikings? Will the real Niklas Edin please stand up? Edin had a tough go at The Masters, finishing 1-3 and missing the playoffs. Now sure his one victory was against the champion, Team Dunstone, in the final RR game but I don't think Team Edin enjoys the "moral victories" as much as the meaningful ones. Edin has not reached a slam final since the 2018 Players' Championship. He reached 3 SF last year but also failed to qualify twice. We know Edin has a history of building towards the end part of the season so the results are not huge cause for concern. But this event is also a tune-up for European's where Edin will be looking to reclaim his crown as #KingNiklas. They need a strong result here.

Can we say the same about Brad Gushue? The run to The Masters final was great but the performance in the final was underwhelming from what we are used to seeing for The Goo. A few uncharacteristic misses, coupled with great play from Team Dunstone of course, still left people wondering if the powerhouse Team Gushue of old is back. They did overcome the QF jinx they placed on the themselves so one hurdle overcome.

And what about this Ontario trio? Epping/Howard/McDonald. How fun is this going to be? These are the Big 3 in Ontario and the threats for the Ontario title again this year. McDonald the defending champ who perhaps is feeling the pressure. Epping, the favourite who stumbled last year in a surprise. And Howard, the face that runs the place on Ontario curling ice. And we get to see them all battle one another in the RR. Whichever team can go 2-0 against their provincial rivals not only has a good shot at making the playoffs here but some early bragging rights and mind games.

Projected Standings: 1. Team Gushue  2. Team Epping  3. Team Edin  4. Team Howard  5. Team McDonald

Pool C

Bottcher. Dunstone. Jacobs. Here we go.

Bottcher had his run of 3 straight slams ended at The Masters, which included a RR defeat at the hands of Dunstone.

Jacobs had his Masters hopes dashed in the QF by Dunstone.

Dunstone took home his first #gsoc title.

Something has to give with these three in the same pool. Pressure on Dunny though, entering as the recent slam champion. Can he continue the momentum or wilt under the pressure with a target on his back?

Jacobs is the defending champion here. He has some major points to defend but, perhaps more importantly, he has hit the QF wall fellow namesake Gushue overcome. Since the title here last year Jacobs has qualified at every slam...and lost each QF game.

Bottcher has some unfinished business in the orange rings, losing the final last year to Jacobs. The loss did seem to propel the team into the slam beasts they became later in the season but I am sure Bottcher would love to get some revenge on both Jacobs and Dunstone.

And what about our #TeamUpset challengers in Team Gunnlaugson and Team Schwaller? Schwaller is preparing to represent Switzerland at the European Championships so a strong result here would be a great tune-up. Plus the team has never qualifier for the playoffs in their previous 4 slam appearances. Gunnlaugson was the final team to earn a spot in the Tier I and has reached one slam QF in his previous 5 appearances (2018 National). Both are in need of a good result.

Projected Standings: 1. Team Jacobs  2. Team Bottcher  3. Team Dunstone  4. Team Gunnlaugson  5. Team Schwaller

Qualifiers: Team Koe, Team Gushue, Team Jacobs, Team Mouat, Team Epping, Team Bottcher, Team Dunstone, Team Edin

#TourChallenge Championship: Team Jacobs def. Team Mouat


Pool A

Want to talk about #growthesport? How about the fact that when the pools were released my first thought was how exciting it will be to watch two top Japanese teams battle in the same pool. Fujisawa has been a regular fixture at slam event but Yoshimura was the first to reach a slam final. Not to mention the fact Yoshimura reached the Tier II final here last year. This is becoming a heated rivalry, one that perhaps has been brewing in Japan for a few years but is now making its way over for the rest of the curling world to watch unfold.

Does that makes Team Homan and Team Jones the supporting characters in this pool? Well hardly given their resumes and slam history. But Homan did fail to reach the playoffs at The Masters, only the second time that has happened in their past 8 slam events. In that same time span they have won 4 slams and reached another final. Homan beat Yoshimura at The Masters but Yoshimura got the last laugh with the run to the final. Homan is the defending champ here though so be weary of her.

As for Jones, dependable for a playoff run but then it is hit and miss. Jones has failed to miss the playoffs only twice in the past 23 appearances. The streak includes 4 titles and 3 additional finals. But last year Jones only reached the SF once. She missed the playoffs once too. The unbeatable cloak is starting to fall off. She may need a deep playoff run here more than anyone else in the pool.

And do not underestimate Team Rocque. They may fly the #TeamUpset flag in the pool but they are having a great season and when you are the underdog in a pool of Top Dogs, sometimes you find your bark flying under the radar and surprise a few.

Projected Standings: 1. Team Homan  2. Team Fujisawa  3. Team Yoshimura  4. Team J. Jones  5. Team Rocque

Pool B

Hasselborg vs. Tirinzoni. Yes, Yes, Yes! Bring. It. On. This is the best rivalry in women's curling right now. European rivals. World championship rivals. Grand slam rivals.

Hasselborg won last year's European final. Tirinzoni won the world championship. Now we get these teams in the same pool? Do not be surprised to see both advance and play again in the final. And both have this event as a final tune-up for the 2019 European Curling Championships. Lets see more of this budding rivalry.

But do not undersell the other teams in this pool either. Team Scheidegger has won a slam before. Scheidegger will once again be skipped by Sasky's Amber Holland while skipper Casey prepares to welcome the newest addition to the family any day now (November 14 is still a great day, beats Jessie's November 10 pick I think LOL). And speaking of Saskatchewan, Team Silvernagle has become a regular fixture on the slam scene breaking through last season. This will be their first Tour Challenge slam.

And hello Elena Stern. The Tier II champions from a year ago have transitioned nicely into the Tier I grouping, having reached their first slam QF at The Masters. There is A LOT of positive momentum for this team this season. Again they may fly under the radar against the competition but I would still be buying up stock on this team while the going rate is good.

Projected Standings: 1. Team Hasselborg  2. Team Tirinzoni  3. Team Scheidegger  4. Team Stern  5. Team Silvernagle

Pool C

Speaking about rivalries, we get a doozy in Pool C. Kerri Einarson vs. Tracy Fleury. Yes, Yes, Yes! Two of the hottest teams on tour this season. Fleury is fresh off her first slam win at The Masters. Einarson has 3 final appearances and a slam title under her belt in her previous 6 slam events. And both are considered not only Manitoba Scotties favourites but Scotties champion front-runners. Another rivalry curling fans should be living for.

Speaking about the Scotties, what about our current champion Team Carey? The slam results have been a bit underwhelming for the Alberta team. Only 2 QF appearances in their past 6 slam events. Not the strongest of resume. Although two years ago Carey was playing in the Tier II and since has been a regular fixture on the Tier I. But the same can be said for Einarson right? Einarson did defeat Carey in that 2017 Tier II final. And talk about rivalry....Einarson vs. Carey is right up there as former Manitoba rivals.

Sweden's Team Wrana was one of the few elite teams who stepped on competitive ice last weekend...and they won. So advantage and momentum to the young #NextGen team coming into this event. This will be Wrana's sixth slam appearance and they are still looking for their first playoff spot. This might be the perfect time to make #HERstory.

And hey, if those Big 3 Canadian teams want to search and destroy one another, why not let USA's Team Roth swoop in under the radar and steal a playoff spot from one of them?

Projected Standings: 1. Team Einarson  2. Team Fleury  3. Team Wrana  4. Team Carey  5. Team Roth

Qualifiers: Team Homan, Team Hasselborg, Team Einarson, Team Fujisawa, Team Tirinzoni, Team Fleury, Team Wrana, Team Scheidegger

#TourChallenge Championship: Team Hasselborg def. Team Tirinzoni

Tier II


Pool A

Full transparency, I actually have no idea if this is how the pools work for this event. I have seen one site listing 2 pools. Another listing 4 pools. It is a bit of a cluster. But it doesn't really matter since, under either format, the teams do not really play everyone and just play 4 games and whoever can finish 4-0 or 3-1 will be in the playoffs with maybe a few 2-2 as well (with TB probably). So it is what it is. Don't @ me over it!

This grouping is tough. Team Calvert is one of the hottest Tier II / #NextGen teams of the season. Team Fournier has stepped up their game and looks to be a challenger, finally a team from Quebec competing in the slam and being a threat. Team Muyres is the defending champion. Team van Dorp, in preparation for European's, has put together one of their best seasons on tour. And Stuart Thompson is the defending Nova Scotia champion who just reached the final in Halifax last weekend. Scotland's Team Bryce has also had one heck of a season and really played their way into this field with the most important rule we look for with the #PowerRankings: consistency, consistency, consistency.

Oh and what about New Brunswick's Team Jones? They are perfect on the season thus far. 2 events. 2 titles. How is that for confidence and momentum heading into a slam?

And #TwineTimeFam member Greg Smith will always add energy into an event. We will see jumping. We will hear yelling. We will see #TeamEnergy make their slam debut as the #NextGen / #TeamUpset flag bearer.

Projected Standings: 1. Team Calvert  2. Team Bryce  3. Team Muyres  4. Team Fournier 5. Team van Dorp  6. Team S. Thompson  7. Team Jones  8. Team Smith

Pool B

Can anyone argue against Team Horgan being the favourite in this grouping? They just won the Dekalb event in Morris, knocking off Tier I competitor McEwen in the final. And they have been climbing up the #PowerRankings mountain consistently all season. It is almost too bad Horgan and Calvert are on opposite sides of the pool draw, a RR battle would have been fun. However, imagine an all-Manitoba #NextGen slam playoff game between these two?

And speaking of rivalries, this pool has a few to watch. How about the #YoungBucks of Team Dropking against the #OldGuys of Team Ruohonen? These two have been chirping one another on social media all season and we are living for it. This is exactly what we want to see out of curling rivalries. Yes these guys are friends off the ice but they play up the rivalry on the ice perfectly.

The host province will have lots to cheer for here as well with Team Murphy, Team Stevens and Team K. Thompson all together in this grouping. These are three of the top teams in the province, along with fellow Tier II contender and defending provincial champ Stuart Thompson. Stevens and Murphy did not draw one another for the RR but K. Thompson will play both as part of their 4-game RR. If Thompson can win both he could, in theory, eliminate both of this provincial rivals. Would all the Nova Scotia teams like to make it an all-#TeamBluenose Final Four? Of course. But only one can win remember.

Oh hey a team from out west is in this field. How's it going Team Sturmay? The NS teams are going to get a lot of coverage and eyes this week but it could be the team travelling the furthest who surprises the entire field and takes home the title. Sturmay is a legit threat here to make the playoffs.

And James Grattan. One of my favs. Since I was a kid for some reason I have always had a special place in my heart for New Brunswick. It was always, if Saskatchewan cannot win I hope NB surprises them all. I am a sucker for the underdog. Grattan has the career and resume but is still considered an underdog here. Root for him once again right?

Projected Standings: 1. Team Horgan  2. Team Sturmay  3. Team Dropkin  4. Team Murphy  5. Team K. Thompson  6. Team Ruohonen  7. Team Grattan  8. Team Stevens

Qualifiers: Team Calvert, Team Horgan, Team Bryce, Team Sturmay, Team Muyres, Team Dropkin, Team Fournier, Team Murphy

#TourChallenge Championship: Team Horgan def. Team Bryce


Pool A

See men's Tier II Pool B preview above? We have ourselves another three-way Nova Scotia battle here folks. Team Arsenault, the face of Nova Scotia curling. Team Brothers, the team seemingly in the shadows of the favourite. And Team Hilliard, the new #TeamUpset from the province who has quickly established themselves as a NS title contender. It will be fun to watch these rivalries build. Arsenault has a slight advantage in the fact she gets to play both while Hilliard and Brothers will not face one another in the RR (unfortuantely).

If you are looking at a few dark horse contenders to emerge from this grouping though keep your eyes on Team Murphy, Team St-Georges and Team Balsdon. All three teams have played a strong schedule already this season and all three have found great success, qualifying and winning. Baldson and Murphy are trying to establish themselves as the next threat to Team Homan in Ontario while St-Georges has become the #NextGen face in Quebec and early Scotties favourite.

And talking about a team trying to keep up with the Jones' (or Einarson's or Fleury's), enter Team Peterson. Peterson comes from a stacked Manitoba province filled with some of the best women's curling teams not only in Canada but in the world. She has built herself up into the next tier of competitors but needs to take the big step into a challenger role. A playoff appearance here, with a deep run towards the title perhaps, would help build that momentum and confidence.

But never count out a world champion! A two-time world champion at that. Switzerland's Binia Feltscher is playing in her fifth Tour Challenge. At the inaugural event she competed in the Tier I. For the past three years she has competed in the Tier II, reaching the QF last year and the SF the year prior. The #TwineTimeFam member is always going to be a threat and, if the team can navigate the sometimes tricky Tier II ice conditions early, they could be a title contender here once again.

Projected Standings: 1. Team Murphy  2. Team Arsenault  3. Team Brothers  4. Team Feltscher  5. Team Balsdon  6. Team Peterson  7. Team Hilliard  8. Team St-Georges

Pool B

Could there be a more difficult grouping than this one? Even comparing some of the Tier I pools, it is hard to argue against how difficult this grouping is.

Both international teams are playing lights out this season. Team Jentsch started the season on the far outside looking in at maybe, if lucky, a Tier II invite. Now them come into this event as the top seed and not only an invitee but a top fav for the title. And this is a tune-up event for Euro's where Jentsch is the defending bronze medal winner. And what about Korea's Team Kim? The junior #NextGen team of last year won a Curling World Cup leg and won bronze at the world championships. These are two very tough teams. Last year we saw a Euro - PACC final here. Could we see the same again this year?

But don't tell Team Walker that. They come to Nova Scotia fresh off the Dekalb win in Morris on Monday and are also looking like a solid slam champion contender here. Walker plays Kim Friday afternoon in a key RR game. If either team takes a loss beforehand this game could prove to be an early elimination game between two favourites.

And what about our Scotties teams: Team Birt. Team Crawford and Team Duncan. Suzanne Birt is the face of PEI curling. Andrea Crawford was the face of New Brunswick curling, stepped away for awhile, returned and is ready to reclaim her throne. And Team Duncan is a mere two seasons away from her Ontario title and representing Ontario at the Scotties. She has some revenge on her mind this season after missing the playoffs at the Ontario Scotties last year as defending champ. Crawford already has some wins this season and Birt has played some bigger #wct events and qualified. Both Crawford and Birt should be considered strong contenders to represent Atlantic Canada in the playoff bracket and Duncan is not going to go quietly into the Nova Scotia night.

The team we should be talking about that is maybe flying under the radar here is Team Brown from B.C. This team is having themselves a season. They already have two titles under their sliders. Curling teams and fans may not be noticing this team because they curl out of the far west but this could be the perfect coming out party for our lone Pacific Canada team in the competition. Can the Pacific steal a title from the Atlantic?

Mackenzie Glynn's addition in the field is great from a #growthesport and #NextGen perspective. The young team will make their slam debut, something every junior curling team dreams about. It will not be easy though. Drawing against Jentsch, Birt, Crawford and Brown seems quite daunting. But when you play with nothing to lose and everything to gain, sometimes the strategy can pay off in the end.

Projected Standings: 1. Team Kim  2. Team Jenstch  3. Team Walker  4. Team Brown  5. Team Birt  6. Team Crawford  7. Team Duncan  8. Team Glynn

Qualifiers: Team Murphy, Team Kim, Team Arsenault, Team Jentsch, Team Brothers, Team Walker, Team Feltscher, Team Brown

#TourChallenge Championship: Team Kim def. Team Jentsch

There you have it rock heads. What say you? Who are you cheering for? Do you think Team Jacobs or Team Homan will #DefendTheIce? Who do you think will emerge from a Tier II competition full of parity? 

Share your thoughts in the comment section and/or on social media and always remember to tag your favourite team(s) in your comments. Let them hear you cheering them on. And of course good luck and good curling to all the teams competing.

And ICYMI due to the short turn around between blog posts, check out the updated #PowerRankings blog post HERE, including revealing the Canada Cup #IceBubbleWatch finale!

And do not forget the #PACC and #CMCC2020 are on the ice as well. Who will emerge as the Pacific-Asia champion? Who will earn the right to wear the maple leaf at next year's World Mixed Curling Championship?

So much curling going on this weekend.....


The blog is going to be on a mini-hiatus for most of November. It is vacation time!!

However, special thanks to World Curling Federation, the blog will be in Helsingborg, Sweden for the 2019 European Curling Championships. Follow along on social media as the blog treks through Scandinavia en route to #ECC2019.

And once there who knows what will happen. Live reports. Live coverage of games. Maybe some #AskACurler post-match interviews. You know the drill....#StayTuned.

Happy November!!

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