Saturday, 20 November 2021
#BetweenTheSheets: European Curling Championships Preview
Granite stones are ready to slide down the "Rocky Hill" ice
Do you know how Lillehammer, Norway got its name?
The town was originally named after an old farm "Hamar" or "Hamarr" in old Norse dialect.
However, a neighbouring town was also known as "Hamar" causing a bit of confusion as to which town is which.
Hamar, the host city for the upcoming 2021 European Curling Championships, needed to differentiate itself from the "other Hamar" so it started to be known as "Little Hamar".
Little Hamar adapted over time to become known as Litlihamarr and eventually Lillehammer as we know it today.
"Hamarr" also stands for "Rocky Hill" so over the next 8 days the granite stones will slide down the ice at Rocky Hill.
There is your history lesson for the day rock heads!
"Bring on the #ECC2021 preview blog post," you say? OK....
Lillehammer is a perfect backdrop for a European sporting event. Lillehammer hosted the 1994 Winter Olympics and the 2016 Winter Youth Olympics.
However curling was not part of the Olympic roster in 1994.
Fast forward 27 years and Lillehammer will finally host some of the top men's and women's curling teams from around the world...with a European focus of course.
Oh but wait, Lillehammer is not new to hosting this event though. The town, now comprised of just over 28,000 people, actually hosted the ECC back in 1990.
So the 27 year wait still holds strong but Lillehammer does have a history of hosting curling events.
Back in 1990, Sweden's Mikael Hasselborg (name sound familiar?) and Norway's Dordi Nordby took home the gold medals.
31 years later, can Mikael's daughter replicate the magic on ice and become a father - daughter European champion tandem at the same host town?
Norway's women's team will be fighting to earn promotion back to the Euro A-Division in 2022 but could the men's team, skipped by Steffen Walstad, end the nation's Euro drought dating back to Thomas Ulsrud's win in 2011?
Which 7 men's and women's nations will earn direct spots in the 2022 World Championships?
Which Euro A-Division nations will be relegated to Euro B-Division in 2022?
Which Euro B-Division nations will be promoted, as well as qualify for the 2022 World Qualification Event, to Euro A-Division next year?
And which Euro B-Division nations will be relegated to Euro C-Division for 2022?
Before anyone gets triggered by the "R-word" in Canada, take note Europe has been doing the promotion/relegation format for years. It works well, at least I think so anyway.
I actually am supportive of the concept when it is done correctly. I think the European Curling Championships do it justice given the number of competing nations.
As we always say in the blog, #growthesport and encourage it to flourish.
Oh yes, there is A LOT to play for in Lillehammer. Not to mention European pride and bragging rights.
And, for some, perhaps momentum heading into the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Time to turn over that rock, clean it off, reset ourselves and slide out of the hack with the #ECC2021 preview.
2020 Winners: Not Held (2019 Champs: Sweden - Team Hasselborg)
A-Division Format: 10 team RR with Top 4 qualifiers advance to playoffs with 1 vs. 4 / 2 vs. 3 SF
B-Division Format: 10 team RR with Top 4 qualifiers advance to playoffs with 1 vs. 4 / 2 vs. 3 SF
Nations: Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Italy, RCF, Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey
If you are not going with the 2-time defending champs here, I am at a loss for words?
Sweden's Team Hasselborg may not be having the best season but they did just win another #GSOC title in Chestermere and seem to have "got their groove back". If so, I feel back for their competition.
Hasselborg will try to become only the sixth female skip in the history of the event to #DefendTheIce. She will also attempt to become only the second to #3peat.
Who was the first? The great Swedish skip Anette Norberg of course, who actually won 5 in a row (2001 - 2005) and 6 in 7 years.
This is the first step in the double #DefendTheIce process for Team Hasselborg this season.
First defend their Euro championship. Next defend the Olympic gold. Can they pull the double-double?
Remember the 2017 Euro Championship, before the 2018 Winter Olympics?
Hasselborg finished 1st in the RR with an undefeated 9-0 record, defeated Italy in the SF only to lost to Scotland's Eve Muirhead in the final. A final where Muirhead wore the #StealPants in 9 and 10 to solidify the championship.
Hasselborg has won back-to-back Euro titles and the Olympic gold since. We learn from our losses folks....
Yowie Wowie....can we really pick just ONE #TeamUpset in this field? There are a few flag bearer options.
Right away Turkey stands out as a top contender here. Turkey will be making their first Euro appearance since 2017, where they finished 9th and were relegated.
Dilsat Yildiz has come so close over the past few years to earning promotion for her nation. She has been a regular B-Division playoff team and it will be exciting to see how the team handles being back on centre ice.
Estonia is another team to watch. When they qualified for the A-Division on home ice in 2018, fans were excited. When they were able to retain their A-Division status in 2019, fans were starting to think maybe Estonia can become a regular fixture in the top Euro flight. Remember this team is coming off a #HERstoric 2021, where they represented Estonia at their first World Women's Curling Championship.
Pressure will be on though as Liisa Turmann will be skipping the team in the absence of sister Marie.
Speaking of welcome back stories, what about Italy? Steffania Constantini will make her Euro skipping debut with Italy. She earned her home nation A-Division promotion back in 2019 and Italy will be making their return trip to the top flight for the first time since 2018.
And of course we shout out the darling upsets from the 2021 World Women's Curling Championships, Team Denmark.
The team, skipped by Madeleine Dupont, was ranked 10th in the field entering the competition. They finished the RR with am 8-5 record, good enough for 4th place, a spot in the playoffs and earning Denmark a ticket to the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Dupont appears to be missing the event though according to her IG account as her back is acting up again. The blog has always been a big fan of Dupont so #TwineTime wishes her a speedy and healthy recovery.
At first glance, the appears to be a 4-team race between Sweden (Hasselborg), Switzerland (Tirinzoni), Scotland (Muirhead) and RCF (Kovaleva).
Those are the same 4 nations, and same 4 teams, who reached the playoffs in 2019, the last time this event was held.
3 of those teams also reached the playoff round back in 2018, with the difference being Germany's Daniela Jentsch made the playoffs (and won the bronze medal) while Scotland's Eve Muirhead finished 6th.
Can anyone crack the #Big4 in 2021?
Jentsch is back for her 8th Euro Championship and could be the dark horse contender.
Plus do not forget the Top 7 qualify for the world championship while the bottom 2 are relegated.
Even if nobody can crack the Top 4, teams still want that Top 7 finish. And nobody wants to be relegated.
Projected Standings: 1. Switzerland 2. Sweden 3. RCF 4. Germany 5. Scotland 6. Denmark 7. Czech Republic 8. Italy 9. Turkey 10. Estonia
#ECC2022 B-Division Relegation: Turkey, Estonia
#WWCC2022 Qualifiers: Switzerland, Sweden, RCF, Germany, Scotland, Denmark, Czech Republic
#ECC2021 Qualifiers: Switzerland, Sweden, RCF, Germany
#ECC2021 Bronze Medal: Germany (Team Jentsch) def. RCF (Team Kovaleva)
#ECC2021 GOLD MEDAL: Sweden (Team Hasselborg) def. Switzerland (Team Tirinzoni)
Nations: Austria, England, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain
Home ice advantage.
Competed in the 2019 Euro A-Division.
One of the best mixed doubles curlers in the world.
Why would anyone bet against Norway's Kristin Skaslien?
This will be Skaslien's 13th Euro appearance. Not to mention her 5 world women's championship appearances and 7 world mixed doubles championship appearances. She is the most experienced skip in the field.
Worth noting Marianne Roervik actually skips the team but throws vice stones while Skaslien throws the last rocks.
Anything short of promotion would be a shock.
It is always interesting to see how the Euro C-Division nations, fresh off earning promotion a few months prior, perform here.
Lithuania, Slovenia and Austria were the C-Division podium finishers, earning their spot in the B-Division.
Can any of them avoid dropping back and being relegated to the C-Division again?
Or, can they shock the system and go from C-Division to A-Division in one year?
At the last championship in 2019, Lithuania was relegated after a last place finish in B-Division while Slovenia and Austria were still stuck in C-Division trying to work their way up.
Outside of Skaslien, this is actually quite a wide open field for the other promotion spot. Not to mention the two nations who earn promotion here also qualify for the World Qualification Event and keep those world championship dreams alive.
What about Latvia? Similar to Norway, they were relegated from the A-Division in 2019. And this came after their #HERstory performance in 2018 where they finished 5th overall (ahead of Muirhead).
Latvia will not be represented by Iveta Stasa-Sarsune nor Santa Blumberga. Instead Evelina Barone will take over as skip of the national team.
Barone, who just turned 18 on November 16, did play lead in 2019 so it will be interesting to see how the junior Latvian champ is able to translate her game onto the women's ice.
Hungary, England, Slovakia, Finland, Spain were all in this same position in 2019. Hungary and England reached the playoffs but fell short vs. Italy/Turkey respectively.
But what is interesting in 2021 is all those nations are represented by different teams. So the flag may look the same but the teams are quite different.
There is no Dorottya Palancsa for Hungary. This year Hungary will be skipped by Ildiko Szekeres, a name more familiar on the world mixed doubles stage perhaps as being a world mixed doubles silver medal winner in 2009. She has not competed at the European Championships since 2013.
England saw Lisa Farnell held the team in 2019 but 2021 will see Hetty Garnier as skip. She will be joined by Anna Fowler as vice though, again a familiar name from the world mixed doubles scene.
Slovakia just missed the playoffs in 2019 with Gabriela Kajanova as the helm. This year Slovakia will be skipped by Daniela Matulova.
Spain went from Oihane Otaegi in 2019 to Irantzu Garcia in 2021. Once again, perhaps a more familiar name from the mixed world.
Are we seeing more mixed doubles players lead their national women's teams too? Is this indicating a slower growth in these nations or a more strategic and structured approach?
It will be interesting to see how this competition plays out with a fairly wide open field.
Projected Standings: 1. Norway 2. Hungary 3. England 4. Lithuania 5. Spain 6. Austria 7. Slovakia 8. Latvia 9. Finland 10. Slovenia
#ECC2022 C-Division Relegation: Latvia, Finland, Slovenia
#ECC2021 B-Division Qualifiers: Norway, Hungary, England, Lithuania
#ECC2021 B-Division Bronze Medal: Hungary (Team Szekeres) def. Lithuania (Team Paulauskaite)
#ECC2021 B-Division GOLD MEDAL: Norway (Team Roervik) def. England (Team Garnier)
#ECC2022 Promotion: Norway, England
#WQE 2022: Italy, Turkey, Norway, England
2020 Winners: Not Held (2019 Champs: Sweden - Team Edin)
A-Division Format: 10 team RR with Top 4 qualifiers advance to playoffs with 1 vs. 4 / 2 vs. 3 SF
B-Division Format: 16 team RR with two pools of 8. Top 3 advance to playoffs with pool winners receiving a bye to the SF. QF games will be A2 vs. B3 / A3 vs. B2
Nations: Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland
Similar to the women, do you want to bet against #KingNiklas at a European Championship?
Sweden's Niklas Edin will attempt to #DefendTheIce once again. He also happens to have won 5 of the past 6 Euro titles. Of course remember that loss in 2018 to Scotland's Bruce Mouat.
Hmmm, look at the season Mouat has put together. Could we see a little case of History Repeating in 2021?
Don't think Edin is going to roll over though. The 7-time Euro champ, 5-time world champ (defending champ in both categories btw), is still to be considered the favourite.
He is the best. He is the GOAT at this event. Until someone knocks him off his throne, consistently, he remains the top dog.
Again, similar to the women's field, there are a few dangerous #TeamUpset flag bearers to keep your eyes on this week.
Remember what Denmark did in 2019? Nobody expected them to crash the playoff bracket but they did. Sure they finished 4th overall, off the podium, but what a #TeamUpset showing. Can #HIStory strike the ice once again?
And what about Czech Republic's Lukas Klima? This will be Klima's 5th Euro Championship but only second time in the A-Division...and the first time as skip. He was vice on Team Sik back at the 2015 Euro's, where the team finished in last place and was relegated.
Czech Republic has been fighting their way trying to get to A-Division ever since, with Klima leading the charge. The team finally earned promotion after winning the B-Division in 2019. But can they stay in the top flight now or will it be a one-year showing and back down to B-Division once again?
We all project Sweden, Scotland and Switzerland (The Big S nations) to make the playoff bracket. But who rounds out the field?
Denmark shocked the system in 2019, who is the 2021 version of Denmark?
Will it be Denmark once again?
What about Germany's Team Totzek? They have been making great strides over the past few seasons and did reach the playoffs in 2018 (different line-up I know but still).
Is this finally the year for Italy's Joel Retornaz? If the curling gods are going to show their faces in Lillehammer, they should be shining down on Retornaz. 2021 marks his 13th Euro appearance. He has one medal, the bronze medal win in 2018 (def. Germany). Well-liked universally by his peers and fans, might be time to rally hard behind him at this championship.
And speaking of waiting for the breakout performance, could this be the year for Netherlands and Team van Dorp? This will be van Dorp's 10th European championships, a milestone achievement.
Can he better his best-ever finish, 7th place in 2017?
Watch out for home ice advantage remember! Norway's Walstad is now leading the national team. He was at this event in 2019 remember, playing vice for legend Thomas Ulsrud. The team finished 5-4, missed the playoffs and finished 6th overall.
Plus remember the infamous forfeit loss to England, when Norway was leading 9-5 playing 9. They were forced to forfeit due to violating a WCF rule where "If an alternate player comes into a game, that player must use the brush head of the player being replaced."
That loss cost them a spot in the playoffs. They will be looking to erase that memory, earn redemption and extract some revenge in front of home supporters.
Projected Standings: 1. Scotland 2. Sweden 3. Switzerland 4. Italy 5. Norway 6. Germany 7. Netherlands 8. Czech Republic 9. Denmark 10. Finland
#ECC2022 B-Division Relegation: Denmark, Finland
#WWCC2022 Qualifiers: Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, Norway, Germany, Netherlands
#ECC2021 Qualifiers: Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy
#ECC2021 Bronze Medal: Switzerland (Team De Cruz) def. Italy (Team Retornaz)
#ECC2021 GOLD MEDAL: Sweden (Team Edin) def. Scotland (Team Mouat)
Nations: Austria, Belgium, Belarus, Bulgaria, England, Estonia, France, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, RCF, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, Wales
No this is not a typo. Yes, RCF is competing in the Euro B-Division in 2021. Whaaaa?
RCF, the same RCF who wowed the world inside the #IceBubble at the World Men's Curling Championship by finishing 2nd in the RR before losing the bronze medal game?
Yup, here they are folks.
Remember the shock of the 2019 Euro results when Russia finished in 9th place with a 2-7 record, thus being relegated? It happened.
Of course they turned it all around, ended up qualifying for the world championship and reached the playoffs.
Sergey Glukhov earned his nation a spot in the 2022 Winter Olympics...yet here they are fighting for promotion back to the Euro A-Division.
Sports folks. Wow!
Anything short of a gold medal in the B-Division would be shocking...perhaps more shocking than the relegation from 2019?
And yes, I recognize they are referred to as Russia at the European Championships. Sorry, I don't buy it. Euro's is still an international event. There are 26 different nations competing here. How much more international can you get? The nation should still be referred to as RCF at this event and not Russia.
Slovenia, Belgium and Slovakia are the three nations who earned their promotion into the B-Division from C-Division.
And as mentioned above with the women's field, it is always of interest to see how those promoted nations fair against the stronger competition.
I would really keep an eye on Slovakia. They were in the B-Division in 2019 and were relegated.
In 2019 they were skipped by Pavol Pitonak. The 49 year old also happens to be the coach of the Slovakian wheelchair curling team and coached them at the 2018 Winter Paralympic Games.
This year Slovakia will see another Pitonak on the team, Pavol's brother Peter will play lead for skip Patrik Kapralik. They are in Group A, the slightly more difficult group, but cracking the playoffs is a possibility.
If RCF is the fav, who joins them in the final and earns promotion to A-Division and a spot in the World Qualification Event?
RCF should dominate Group B but watch out for Spain's Sergio Vez and Latvia's Martins Truksans so be challenge them. All 3 should advance to the playoffs with Hungary possibly posing an outside threat.
Group A might be a bit more wide open. England leads the way, fresh off their 2019 Euro A-Division appearance and relegation. Similar to RCF, they will be looking to rejoin the top flight next year.
Turkey should be the biggest challenger here though as they reached the playoff bracket in 2019 but lost the SF to Czech Republic and the bronze medal to Poland.
Of course, speaking of Poland, they will not be competing here as they are no longer a WCF member association. LOTS going on in Poland right now.
Wales just missed the playoffs in 2019 and should be in the playoff hunt again this year with #TeamUpset Slovakia and France being challengers.
On the flip side, remember the bottom 3 teams will be relegated to Euro C-Division next year.
Group A Projected Standings: 1. Turkey 2. England 3. Wales 4. France 5. Slovakia 6. Austria 7. Bulgaria 8. Slovenia
Group B Projected Standings: 1. RCF 2. Spain 3. Latvia 4. Hungary 5. Belgium 6. Estonia 7. Belarus 8. Lithuania
#ECC2022 C-Division Relegation: Belarus, Slovenia, Lithuania
#ECC2021 B-Division Qualifiers: Turkey, RCF, England, Spain, Wales, Latvia
#ECC2021 B-Division Bronze Medal: England (Team Woolston) def. Wales (Team Pougher)
#ECC2021 B-Division GOLD MEDAL: RCF (Team Glukhov) def. Turkey (Team Karagoz)
#ECC2022 Promotion: RCF, Turkey
#WQE 2022: Czech Republic, Denmark, RCF Turkey
What say you rock heads and stoners? Agree? Disagree?
Share your predictions in the comment section and/or via social media using the #ECC2021.
From Norway to Canada. Lillehammer to Saskatoon. We have big time curling happening on the ice.
The blog is in Saskatoon to cover Trials2021 so check out the @twinetime14 twitter page for live content throughout the event.
And ICYMI, the blog preview post can be found HERE with a #SurvivorSeries theme.
To all the athletes either chasing Olympic aspirations or European supremacy, good luck and good curling.