#BetweenTheSheet: Welcome to the #IceBubble
18 teams enter. 1 will survive. Are. You. Ready?
🎶 Guess who's back? 🎶
🎶 Back again 🎶
🎶 #TwineTime's back 🎶
🎶 Tell a friend 🎶
Is it real? Is curling really back? Is the blog actually stepping back on the virtual media ice again?
*Checks the pulse* Yup, this is not a dream and I am alive.
Curling. Is. Back.
#TwineTime. Is. Back.
What a crazy 300+ few days we have all been though. Before we step onto the ice though, I hope all of you are healthy and safe. I hope COVID has not taken the lives of loved ones. If it has, my heart reaches out to you and your family.
We may disagree on curling opinions and predictions and content I write in this space during the season but, end of the day, we can all agree the health and safety of fellow human beings is, and always should be, a top priority.
How am I you ask? I am great. Healthy and safe. Employed. Approaching Day 350 of working from home. But, in the grand scheme of what our world is facing, I am doing well and have no complaints. And I hope all of you are doing well also.
Let talk curling!
The last event I attended live was the Scotties in Moose Jaw last year. Here we are a year later and it feels like I have done little to no blogging or podcasts since, which is true. I hope this will complete the full circle and we can come out on the other side of the Scotties with a positive.
We have lots to celebrate. Curling returns. Scotties is back. And we celebrate 40 years of Scotties as the title sponsor for our national women's curling championship.
The first year of the championship under the Scotties banner was 1982 when Nova Scotia's Colleen Jones won her first championship in Regina, SK against Manitoba's Dorothy Rose.
For comparison, the national men's curling championship has had 3 different title sponsors in the same time span: Labatt, Nokia and Tim Hortons. Props to Scotties for the long-term investment into Canadian women's curling. Thank You!
It feels like we have a lot to discuss heading into the #IceBubble. Nobody seems to like calling the environment created by Curling Canada for these events the #IceBubble but I like it so I am going to continue to use it. Sounds more fun than #HubCity2021. *Sigh*
So we can talk #COVID19 and all the off the ice drama experienced before we got here but, to be honest, hasn't every other media source out there already hashed up all of this already? All the speculations and rumors and this, that, the other everyone talked about during the "off-season" has been beaten over our heads with synthetic brooms to hair brooms to corn brooms.
How about we just talk about #STOH2021?
Before we dive into the field, including team by team previews, seeding and predictions, there are three hot topics we can address.
Yay or Nay?
When I say "Yay or Nay" I do not just mean should we be playing because of COVID-19 still being a growing pandemic. Nor because, living in Calgary, I can attest to how numbers in this city have never been steady and have fluctuated back and fourth. Or because #YYC has been a dumpster fire of social unrest since last summer from racism to anti-mask to homophobia and so much in between.
I also ask "Yay or Nay" from the lens of our current Canadian champions. Team Einarson won the Scotties in Moose Jaw last year. They never got to represent Canada on international ice. Here they are forced to defend an incomplete title reign. And for what?
As of right now the 2021 World Women's Curling Championships are not happening. The event, originally scheduled to be held in Switzerland, is off the schedule. No replacement location and/or date has been named. So what does the 2021 Scotties winner get? Another incomplete title reign?
Ok, on the flip side, there is a tremendous amount of prize money at stake for those competing. This is a good thing as teams have been unable to earn any money during the pandemic so a curling paycheck is probably going to come in handy.
And yes, a spot in the Olympic trials is on the line for those teams who have not already been designated a spot. Plus points into the pre-trials events as well.
Of course assuming the Winter Olympics will still go on as planned, which is still a HUGE unknown. What if the Olympics are delayed again? Then what? This event is basically just a regular bonspiel with teams playing for money but little else. And in a bubble world. And during a pandemic.
I still believe no bubble is impenetrable. Do I think Curling Canada is doing the best they can? Of course. They have the best intentions at heart and want to put athlete health as top priority. Can they guarantee it? Of course not.
Every sport has tried. Every sport has had some issue, whether major or minor. Anything can happen. Every athlete entering the bubble does enter a risk element. But they do so weighing it against their comfort level. There is no right or wrong answer. We respect those who decided to compete. We respect those who decided not to.
And yes there is just as big of a risk for me going grocery shopping this afternoon. I recognize and understand this as well. We hope for the well-being and safety of everyone. But is any percentage of risk worth the reward?
Financially 100%. Health and well-being? Debatable.
Which leads into the next major discussion....
The event will happen, bearing any major unforeseen circumstances we hope never come into play. Yet it will happen with an expanded field. The #IceBubble became bloated pretty quick. And why again?
Ah right because we could not have the wildcard play-in game. And we cannot have a field of 15 or 17 teams because odd number events do not work, especially with a round robin. Right!
So why did we expand to 18? Why could we not just have 16 as the norm and just give the highest non-qualified (or provincial/territorial allocated) team the final spot?
Enter The Koe Effect.
Imagine a Brier without Kevin Koe and his team. And because they were unable to compete at an Alberta championship. And because Alberta Curling allocated their spot to defending champ Team Bottcher. How unfair?!?
Is it? Look I know there was more at play than just Koe but lets not kid ourselves either. Team Koe was a driving force behind this decision. And hey I am glad Koe will be at the Brier as Kevin and the boys deserve it.
But lets be real. Do we really think the decision to expand was based on what was also great for the Scotties? When this topic hit the discussion airwaves, I sure saw a lot of male curlers being interviewed and having opinions on this. I sure did not see an equal amount of discussion and media attention on the women's side of the game. Again, The Koe Effect.
So here we are in a pandemic, creating an #IceBubble (which is not cheap) and our decision to help ensure a safe environment is to invite MORE teams?
And didn't we see SO MANY people complain in the past about how expanding the field to 16 teams was bloating the field and makes the opening Round Robin portion with 2 pools a waste of time with so many "layup games"?
And aren't those the SAME people who were pushing for expanding to 18 teams this year?
The Koe Effect became the Have Your Cake and Eat It Too Effect!
Bye Bye Scotties/Brier
Ok so those teams, again mainly men's players who have been interviewed and highlighted in the media, want to see the Scotties/Brier NOT be how we select our national champion for world championships but rather would like to see the Scotties/Brier be the last spot entry into the world championship qualifier event (ahem Canada Cup ahem). And this will help #growthesport. Sure?!
And to get there we need to first expand this year's field to 18 to allow "elite" teams to shine so, in turn, we can make the changes later to an 8 or 9-team Canada Cup style world championship qualifier.
Yup, this is all making great sense.
Why do we need to make this change? Has Canada done SO BAD on the world championship stage over the past 5 or 10 years where we are concerned our Scotties/Brier winner will not win gold?
Ummm pretty sure Canada has won 5 of the last 10 world men's championships and 2 of the last 10 women's championships.
Are we so elitist as a curling nation where if we do not win gold we have to revamp the entire system rather than recognizing the world has caught up and the sport is now a global game?
Are those stats and results really that bad?
For the women, Switzerland has won 5 of the last 10. But they have only won 7 overall (compared to Canada's 17) and prior to that first win over the last 10 years, their previous win was back in 1983.
For the men, Canada has 5 and Sweden has 4 in the past 10 years.
Yup, we need to revamp our system because our current Canadian champs are sure underperforming on the world ice.
What this really reeks of is "elite" teams want a direct spot into a world championship qualifier and feel they should not have to compete on the provincial level. They earned their spot at the top of the rankings so why should they, in turn, have to qualify for a national championship spot too? Come on!
Do we give the Stanley Cup champ a free pass to the first round of the playoffs? Does the Super Bowl winner get to return as a wild card team at minimum?
We already reward our defending champs with a spot in next year's field, regardless of how they even perform at a world championship. Why is that not open for discussion then?
I am not buying into this entire argument. Call me a historian. Call me out of touch. Call me an idiot. Heck you wouldn't be the first. You won't be the last. And you can join the list of others (including some curling athletes themselves) who feel this way.
Our system is not broke. Our results are not tanked. And if we are worried about the financial revenue vs. expense, maybe we need to look at the bigger revenue model as a collective rather than reducing a current national championship event in order to just add another Canadian-only grand slam.
But I digress as usual. I am sure there will be much more discussion on the topics above and, odds say, I probably already lost a few of you from reading any more of this blog or future blogs because you disagree with my perspective. And that is ok.
Lets talk about the 2021 Scotties Tournament of Hearts event itself and just get excited, for right now at least, to have competitive curling back on the ice and back on our televisions.
The Power Rankings return! Ok, so they have not really changed as the ranking system was placed on hold when the curling rocks stopped spinning last April. But we can bring them back to help "seed" the teams competing in this year's Scotties.
Again, as a reminder for those new to the house, the seed is based on the #TwineTime Power Rankings system. This is a slightly altered system compared to the current CTRS commonly known and used. More info on the blog system, developed in 2018, can be found HERE.
In order of their seeding from the Final Power Rankings in April 2020, lets break down the teams and ask a few questions on what we should watch for (Ranking, Odds to win via Bodog):1. #WC1 - Team Fleury/Carey (#2, +400): Can we just call them Team Fleurey? It feels weird to refer to this team as Team Carey when she is the sub. Oh skips, always getting the attention right? But seriously, this is the #1 seed based on the rankings and nobody should be surprised. What a season they had pre-COVID. The big question here will be Chelsea herself adjusting to the new team in front of her. Before the call-up, she did not have a team (at least not publicly announced). Which Chelsea shows up? The 2017/2019 champion Chelsea? Or the 2018/2020 Chelsea? She is a force when she is on her game. But, when she struggles, the sports psychology side rears its ugly head. Lets see how the rest of the team reacts in the good (and bad) moments.
2. #TeamCanada - Team Einarson (#4, +200): The defending champs are back. And should we be happy about this? Honestly, you have to feel for this team. They win a Scotties and then nothing. No Team Canada moment at a world championship. No real big follow up after a huge W. COVID puts everything on pause. And then they get to come back to Scotties ice to defend a title they never really got to enjoy. Being the defending champs means everyone wants to beat you. But I really hope this team comes out with the same hunger they had in Moose Jaw last year. They felt like they had something to prove and wanted to silence any doubters. They did. Now do it again and continue to do so until you get your deserved world championship experience (whenever that might be).
3. #BuffaloHunt - Team J. Jones (#6, +550): Another Manitoba team to round out the Top 3 seeds. What a surprise?!? Look we can never count out Jennifer Jones. She is chasing another title and a bunch of Scotties records along the way. Her resume speaks for itself. And with how strong Manitoba has become on the women's side of the game, you have to wonder if the thought creeps into her mind of just how many more of these opportunities she is going to have. We are seeing it in tennis with Serena Williams. Every GOAT comes face to face with the wall. Can Jones spark one last historic run to the title? And boy oh boy do we want to the Lisa Weagle vs. Rachel Homan battle.
4. #CurlON - Team Homan (#9, +195): Speaking of Homan, two straight Scotties losses are going to sting. And each happened in opposite ways. One, you had control and should have won. Two, you battled back after everyone wrote you off and almost pulled off one of the best comebacks in Scotties #HERstory. But alas both ended the same way...with a silver medal and faces of disappointment. How do you recover? And how do you recover knowing you have not played this season and your last big game was a Scotties loss one year ago? A small monkey and Grumpy Bear cloud is lightly hanging over the shoulder of this team. Can they shake off both and turn silver into gold?
5. #ABStrong - Team Walker (#10, +1400): Laura Walker, time to write your redemption story. One of the images still etched in my brain from last year's Scotties was seeing Walker walk to the back after being eliminated from Championship Pool contention and seeing the look on her face. The holding back of major tears in her eyes while being interviewed. She wanted the results SO BAD last year. Time to earn your redemption and revenge! It has been quite the past 12 months though for Walker. She and hubby Geoff welcomed a baby boy into their family. And I think having him with her in the #IceBubble will actually be the positive difference compared to last year. Less distractions. More life/sport balance. And, regardless of results and how you play, when she steps off the ice and goes back to the hotel room she gets to look into his adorable face and everything will just be alright in the world. And that balance could be what makes Team Walker the most dangerous, and perhaps least talked about, team in this field. I would not sleep on her and the team. And, by the way, special congrats shout out to regular lead Nadine Scotland who made the decision to sit out the event after announcing she is expecting. Wishing her and baby positive vibes and wishes of good health.
6. #WC2 - Team Zacharias (#19, +2500): Rookie team. Wildcard team. World junior champs. Ranked #6? Yes, this team is THAT good folks. I know it has been awhile but go back and watch some highlights from this team at the Canadian Junior and World Junior Curling Championships. Yowie Wowie! These young guns can curl. And I don't think they will be caught with the "deer in the headlights" look we often talk about with rookie teams. They seem fearless. Their pool is tough though so they cannot slip up, especially early. Championship Pool contender? Yes! Dark horse playoff contender? Possibly. It will be fun to see how they do.
7. #TeamPacific - Team Brown (#26, +1400): Speaking of surprises, Team Brown was one of the nice surprises from last year's Scotties when they did reach the Championship Pool in their rookie campaign. What can they do now when expectations are higher? I like this team. They are fun to watch. Last year, in some games, you questioned some of the shot calls but I think those calls came down to nerves. I also think this team learned a lot from last year's run and are ready to make a similar run this year. Can they pull a similar result or suffer the dreaded "Sophomore Slump"?
8. #WC3 - Team Peterson (#34, +2200): So 18 team field. 8 teams advance to Championship Pool. 3 Wildcard teams in the field. All 3 with Top 8 seeds? Hey, don't be surprised if our Champ Pool has all 3 WC teams and 5 of the 8 still standing are from Manitoba. It can happen. Ok sure Team Peterson is probably the longest shot of the 5 but they did finish #34 in the Power Rankings for a reason. This is also one of the rookies teams who I am unsure how they respond to the Scotties moment. Honestly no fans in the stands could be an advantage for them (and other rookie teams). Less distractions. Easier to focus. Plus, this Wildcard team literally has a wildcard in their back pocket: Cathy Overton-Clapham. Cathy O. will serve as the 5th and this will be her 13th Scotties. Her experience and mentoring may be the ace in the hole for this team.
9. #TheIslanders - Team Birt (#35, +2000): The trendy dark horse contender pick not from Manitoba or Ontario. And rightfully so. If there is a team who could slow the Buffalo Hunt and stop the Ontario playoff reign, it could be Team Birt. She reached the Champ Pool last year. She has reached the Scotties playoffs before and has been on the podium. And I think Pool B is a perfect spot for her with games she should win, games against a few big contenders early to gauge where they are and the remaining teams sitting right with them on the Champ Pool bubble. Could we see the team from the smallest province make the biggest noise?
10. #TeamGreen - Team Anderson (#47, +3000): See above? No, seriously. We could say many of the same comments for Sherry Anderson as mentioned above for Suzanne Birt. A vet. Been in the playoffs. Been on the podium. Also drawn into Pool B. Anderson should never be underestimated. Could she stumble and only pick up 2 or 3 wins? Sure. Could she get on a roll and reach the Champ Pool with 5 or 6 wins? Sure. Everything and anything in between is also an option. This is a team who I wish we could have seen play a provincial championship to gauge where they are at entering the #IceBubble. But the unknown works in their favour against their competition as well. Plus, I am a homer so obviously I want to see my Sasky teams also do well.
11. #Labelleprovince - Team St-Georges (#49, +3500): Surprised with this seed? You shouldn't be. You may not have seen this team play since their junior days (which was not that long ago btw) but they have picked up some nice wins at tour events before COVID hit. And they were gaining momentum. They were actually the favourites to win the Quebec Scotties last year but were upset in the final. Sure they are a rookie team but, as we mention above, those teams with strong junior championship experience should never be underestimated. Again, do they get caught with the "deer in the headlights" look or will the no fans, less distractions work for them in their rookie campaign. I like this team and I hope we get to see them in a TSN feature game so the rest of the country can see what they can do.
12. #PolarPower - Team Galusha (#65, +3000): If fans could hand out championships Kerry Galusha may have the record for most title wins. I have been to many curling events and people always mention their love for Galusha. True story, I have even been asked or talked about Galusha at European Curling Championships while in Estonia and Sweden. Curling fans, regardless of where they are from, know Galusha and cheer for her. The #PolarPower is a strong force. Could this be the year? Galusha has knocked on the Champ Pool door in the past, coming close but just missing out on stepping foot on the other side. She has the team. She has the experience. I think she even has the confidence this year, perhaps even more than in previous years. Pool A will not be easy. But she has a majority of the rookie teams so the experience factor could come into play. Plus, teams still sometimes write off Team NWT and this year could be the year it pays off for Galusha and hurts others. Plus we get another Galusha vs. Team Canada battle....and those are always fun. Can she pull the upset once again en route to her debut Champ Pool appearance?
13. #TeamBluenose - Team Brothers (#70, +4500): This is a tough team to call. From a tour perspective, they are consistent against their Atlantic counterparts and remain one of the best teams on the East coast. On the other hand, Brothers has struggled on the Scotties ice in the past. A 6-5 record a few years ago seemed like Brothers was trending in the right direction. But then a 2-5 record on home ice in 2019 dropped the stock. I just do not know what to expect. Pool A is also stacked with the two big title contenders, two dark horse threat WC rookies, an Alberta team with something to prove and a territory team looking to make history. Can they step up to the challenge against a staked pool or will the fall through the ice?
14. #TeamArctic - Team Eddy (#170, +5500): The ultimate #TeamUpset pick. Lori Eddy returns and leads her Nunavut team back on the Scotties ice after last year's #HERstoric appearance. Besides Eddy's resume of reaching a Scotties final and winning a silver medal, Eddy's strength is her confidence and leadership. I got to hang out with her and this team while in Moose Jaw last year and this team has fun, on and off the ice. And I think that stems from Eddy's leadership and experience. Have fun. Enjoy the moment. Play your best. Focus on what you can control. And see where the rocks land. It worked last year in picking up 2 wins. Why could it not work once again, now with a team who has more confidence, and those wins are doubled (or even more)? The Curling Gods gave them a more manageable pool and schedule I think. Can they seize the day?
15. #TeamAcadia - Team Adams (NR, +4500): When we talk of teams who could have benefited from a provincial championship, Melissa Adams and her crew are one of those teams. I think the expectations and hopes would be a bit higher had this team got some competitive curling under those brooms and won a championship. Adams has been here before but also lost in that lovely old format of pre-qualifying/relegation. But I also think this team should come in hungry with something to prove. Team Crawford was the NB rep but declined the invite. Adams was the next choice. And while that is great, it leaves you stepping on the ice wanting to prove you deserve it and you can be the #1 choice for New Brunswick. It will be interesting to see how they respond and if they have that hunger and fight in their eyes.
T17. #TheRock - Team Hill (NR, +6500) / #PurplePower - Team Eby (NR, +6500): Honestly, I could not rank one of these teams above the other. It just did not seem fair. Both are rookie teams. Both are equal long shots. Both will have a tough slide path ahead of them in picking up wins. One is one of the youngest skips in the field (Hill). One is one of the oldest skips in the field (Eby). Perhaps the slight advantage would go to Team Hill here as they did play a provincial championship to win their spot in this field rather than arrive as a delegate. But, in fairness to both, lets go with a tie for the 17th seed. And hey, who knows what will happen. We play the games for a reason folks and upsets can happen anytime in any game.
1. #TeamCanada (2)
2. #CurlON (4)
3. #WC2 (6)
4. #ABStrong (5)
5. #PolarPower (12)
6. #WC3 (8)
7. #TeamBluenose (13)
8. #FearTheMoose (16)
9. #PurplePower (T17)
1. #BuffaloHunt (3)
2. #WC1 (1)
3. #TheIslanders (9)
4. #TeamGreen (10)
5. #TeamPacific (7)
6. #TeamArctic (14)
7. #Labelleprovince (11)
8. #TeamAcadia (15)
9. #TheRock (T17)
Championship Pool Qualifiers: #TeamCanada, #BuffaloHunt, #CurlON, #WC1, #WC2, #TheIslanders, #ABStrong, #TeamGreen
Playoff Qualifiers: #TeamCanada, #CurlON, #BuffaloHunt
#STOH2021 CHAMPIONSHIP: #TeamCanada (Team Einarson) def. #BuffaloHunt (Team Jones)
I spoke of the Curling Gods above and I call on them again here. Team Einarson should win this event. They should be allowed to come back and represent Canada in front of family, friends and fans. They should be allowed to wear the Maple Leaf at a world championship, a right they have already earned. I hope they come in feeling happy to compete but also slighted that they even have to #DefendTheIce when they did not get the full, real Team Canada experience. COVID sucks! But seeing Team Einarson take the Walk of Champions at the end of the event once again would hopefully be the first sign of light at the end of this long, dark tunnel.
On a personal note, THANK YOU to those who stuck with the blog/podcast over these past 350 or so days. I know the content dropped off due to the pandemic and inactivity of the sport but you rockheads helped keep me interested in continuing this work.
We came together to form a #TwineTime Facebook Group.
The page views for the blog and downloads for the podcast continued to grow each month. A quick reminder, the podcast is now available on your favourite streaming systems like Spotify, Amazon Music and Apple Music.
In fact, during the pandemic the blog surpassed a milestone of over 200K page views! I am speechless.
Yes these are small stats in comparison to traditional media coverage and even compared to my fellow new media bloggers/podcasters who cover the sport. But it is still a milestone I am proud of and could never have reached without all of you dedicated rockheads!
Thank You for keeping #TwineTime alive. Always remember, this is a blog/podcast for the fans by a fan.
There are MANY outstanding offerings by my fellow media colleagues to cover the Scotties (and Brier and other #IceBubble events I assume). I have always believed in the notion of not saturating a market for the sake of having a voice. We don't need to all speak at all times but rather we can all speak at various times with differing opinions.
The podcast will return with a few episodes throughout the Scotties. A few special guests have been lined up to bring their knowledge and expertise.
And, in fine #TwineTime tradition, 'Big Red' comes out of retirement to hand out the midterm report card near the end of the opening round robin portion of the draw....with a very special (and very qualified) guest.
Finally, do not forget to sign up for the Fantasy Curling offering by Curling Canada. You can sign up and play for FREE. Register a team name and pick the winners of every game during the Scotties, Brier, Mixed Doubles and World Men's events. FINALLY, after years of this very blog asking for #FantasyCurling, we have something consistent! Can you do better than #TwineTime?
And Fantasy Salary Cap Curling also returns. If you like salary cap fantasy games, similar to what was offered in the past for Scotties/Brier and #GSOC events, check it out. Sign up to play, for free, HERE.
Enjoy the curling. Support ALL forms of curling coverage. Cheer on ALL teams as they have helped bring the sport back on the ice.
Stay safe. Stay warm. Stay healthy. And have fun!