#BetweenTheSheets: A Paradise Hangover?!
How will top teams respond after high-profile #TourChallenge
What a week on the World Curling Tour! The Tour Challenge event threw its last rock in Paradise, NL on Sunday evening as we say goodbye to The Rock and hello to another week on tour. Bringing together 60 men’s and women’s teams (240 curlers!!) in one place for a high-profile, high-energy, high-stress event can truly only be considered a curling fans ultimate paradise. See what I did there? Paradise….Paradise, NL….aannddd flashed the house on that one I guess.
Back to business. Here is what we learned this past week on The Rock (great pics courtesy of Anil Mungal and Grand Slam of Curling):
- Karma for Goo? – Will we ever see a grand slam home team winner? Brad Gushue and his team came into their home province event off a nice win in Oakville. They were the favourites. Sure, they suffered a loss in their opening game but never looked back. Everything seemed to set up perfect for them to please the home crowd with an event championship and end the home town #gsoc curse. Enter the villain…Ku-Dog! Last year, Gushue played home spoiler robbing Mike McEwen and Steve Laycock home grand slams wins. Karma is a….Ku-Dog Mr. Gushue. Kevin Koe’s foursome played the upset-minded villain role perfectly, knocking off The Goo and claiming Koe’s 4th grand slam title.
- Hopp Schwiiz – The Swiss are completely taking over the world curling tour…on the women’s side at least. Silvana Tirinzoni’s rink stole the title…literally…from favourite, and previously unbeaten, Rachel Homan. The Swiss team found modest results in the round robin, finishing with a 2-2 record and barely avoiding a tiebreaker. Once they hit the playoffs, they turned it up a notch. Knocking off surprise playoff teams Kelsey Roque and Tracy Fleury, not many expected them to beat Team Homan. But win they did…chocolate for all! What we learned this weekend was never underestimate the Swiss….any of them! With Alina Paetz winning in Oakville, Tirinzoni winning this past weekend and past world champion Binia Feltscher always a threat, the Swiss could dominate the tour this season. Hopp on board…
- Welcome back Cotter – Oh the phrase that will dog Jimmy Cotter for his entire career. I am sure he would prefer to be referred to as a consistent high calibre team rather than a welcome back team. Nonetheless, Cotter and his B.C. boys showed complete domination in winning the Tier II men’s championship…and the all expenses paid invite to The Masters grand slam event in Nova Scotia at the end of October. Capping off an undefeated week with a title, on the heels of a 5-1 semifinal appearance in Oakville, can anyone really doubt this team belongs with the top dogs of curling? Their combined record for their opening season two events is 12-1. Cotter is back indeed…but did he ever really leave? Special mention as well to finalist Mark Kean and his team from Stoney Creek, ON. Remember this team only came together in the offseason and this was their second event playing together. Going 4-0 in the RR, making the final and losing to the reigning BC champs is nothing to hang your head about.
- Flying Under The Radar – Entering the Tier II women’s event, much focus was placed on previous provincial champions Heather Strong, Suzanne Birt, Mary-Anne Arsenault, Sylvie Robichaud, Jill Thurston and Cathy Overton-Clapham. The top international teams entered, Anna Hasselborg and Cissi Ostlund from Sweden and Nina Roth and Jamie Sinclair from USA, were mentioned as possible favourites to win. All the while, it was a team who garnished little attention that came out on top at the end of the weekend. Winnipeg’s Kerri Einarson didn’t just win the Masters spot, she looked unstoppable. Going 4-0 in the round robin and breezing through the playoffs, Einarson asserted herself as a possible grand slam dark horse. Perhaps even more important, Einarson looked like an early favourite for the Manitoba Scotties berth. With Jennifer Jones receiving the automatic spot as Team Canada this season, the buffalo is wide open. This opening win could be the confidence Einarson and team need. Props as well to finalist Chantelle Eberle. Another team with little experience on the big ice, Eberle survived a tiebreaker and upset American favourite Sinclair in the semifinal before running into a hot shooting Einarson.
Given the results mentioned above, let’s shift our focus to the present. Did we see a shake-up in the Power Rankings this week? Gushue and Paetz entered the Tour Challenge on top of the world, did they retain their spots? Did champions Koe and Tirinzoni go from unranked to Top 5? Let’s take a look at the #TwineTime power rankings:
(1) Brad Gushue (LW: 1)
(2) Mike McEwen (3)
(3) Kevin Koe (HM)
(4) Brad Jacobs (5)
(5) Jim Cotter (HM)
Hon. Mention: Team Edin, Team Carruthers, Team Laycock
- No surprise Gushue stays on top. Even suffering a tough loss in the final and all the talk about the curse, let’s remember he still made the final! This team has 3 events under their belts, making the final in all 3 and picking up 1 event win already. This team is consistent every week and could be very hard to knock from the top.
- Tour Challenge winners Koe and Cotter deserve their spots in the Top 5. Last week both were honourable mention teams. Both went into Paradise and came away with victories. The question will be if they can sustain the momentum and hold onto their Top 5 spots. There are some very good teams looking up at them.
- McEwen lost a competitive semifinal to Gushue and, with Team Edin struggling this past week, the #redpants deserve the second ranking. The Gushue – McEwen rivalry will become the top rivalry on tour this season…perhaps culminating in a #Brier2016 Championship final?
- Jacobs suffered a tough quarterfinal loss to McEwen but this was their first event of the season as well so making the playoffs is a positive. I fully expect this team to find their Olympic form quick and continue to challenge for tour titles every week.
(1) Rachel Homan (LW: 1)
(2) Eve Muirhead (3)
(3) Silvana Tirinzoni (HM)
(4) Alina Paetz (1)
(5) Jennifer Jones (5)
Hon. Mention: Team Kim, Team Middaugh, Team Fleury
- Congratulations Rachel Homan…you are back on top of the world (well at least the #TwineTime world). Sure Rachel and company lost the final, they will be disappointed. But let that not cloud over the results from the entire event. They completely dominated the field. A strong, international heavy, field at that. Beating Feltscher, Muirhead and Kim sends a strong sign this team is ready for another world championship run. An even more important win, confidence wise, was knocking off Canadian rival Val Sweeting in the final RR game. Two weeks into the season, this team has two championship appearances and one title. Homan is a force this year!
- I might receive some flack for moving Muirhead up the rankings with a quarterfinal loss. But let’s be realistic here. This was their first event of the season, they beat current world champ Paetz and eventual Tour Challenge champ Tirinzoni. They survived a tricky tiebreaker against Jennifer Jones and the team they lost to in the quarters was Homan. They beat the teams currently ranked 3, 4 and 5 in the power rankings and lost to the top team. Yup, I think they earned this spot thank you!
- The coveted #3 spot seems to be reserved for our champions this week in both men’s and women’s power rankings. Tirinzoni jumps from unranked to third…and most deserving. She beat some high profile teams last week and those results cannot be ignored. Similar to Koe though, the big question will be sustaining the ranking.
- World champion Alina Paetz struggled in Paradise. Suffering a 1-3 record and, at times, looking completely lost with the ice conditions, perhaps the once unstoppable champs have a small kink in their armour. But this is only 1 event, against a very high-class field, so punishing them with a large drop in the rankings just did not seem fair. Remember they did make the Oakville final the previous week.
Last week’s #TwineTime predictions were met with mixed results. On the Tier I men’s side, I accurately called Gushue making the final; however, I had him coming up short against Mike McEwen (whom he beat in the SF). I did accurately predict 6 of the 8 qualifier teams though. Tier II men’s was the shining light to my weekend with a perfect prediction of Cotter winning over Kean. My predictions even included both semifinal rinks, Team Brewster and Team Smith. Tier I women’s picks were a complete miss as I saw Muirhead winning over Paetz and only correctly predicting half the qualifiers. Tier II also saw a miss with the Strong over Sinclair pick. This is a tricky sport and, as we have often seen, any team can defeat any other on any sheet on any day.
It should be noted #TwineTime has entered into a pick’em contest with our curling friends @NerdCurl. For all major events during the season of champions (i.e. grand slams, national championships, European championships ect) both Phil Darin and I will go full rock chalk unveiling our predictions for the event. At the end of the season, the highest point total will be declared the winner. Of course, you as my faithful followers know this should be a slam dunk victory for #TwineTime. But follow along with the predictions here and on twitter throughout the season. And of course, please feel free to share your support for either of us (#TwineTime!!!!). After the #TourChallenge, here are the standings:
@TwineTime14: 11 points
@NerdCurl: 14 points
Take note though NerdCurl only threw a half rock in Paradise predicting Tier I. #TwineTime exposed full stones but predicting both Tier I and Tier II. I chalk up this win for NerdCurl with an asterisk. Bring on the Masters for our next head-to-head pick’em challenge.
This week on tour sees teams scattered across the country for spiels. Some of the top teams are even using this week as an energy recharge and taking the week off from competitive action. Many men’s teams will be hitting the ice at events in Cornwall and Edmonton. The women’s tour takes teams to Brockville and Edmonton. Please note, at publication time teams and draws for the Cloverdale Cash Spiel in Surrey were not available. Let’s take a quick look at what to expect this week:
AMJ Campbell Shorty Jenkins Classic
2014 Champion: Brad Jacobs
Format: 24 team round robin with 8 qualifiers
Top Teams Entered: Team Gushue, Team Edin, Team Howard, Team Jacobs, Team Murdoch
What to Watch for (W2W4): Many top name teams will be competing in Cornwall but if you are looking for a familiar name from the past, and fan favourite, focus your attention on Guy Hemmings. The 4-time Quebec champion and twice Brier finalist (1998, 1999) has played a limited tour schedule over the past 5 seasons but is coming off a qualifier appearance at the Oakville Fall Classic last weekend.
Qualifiers: Team Jacobs, Team Menard, Team Gushue, Team Murdoch, Team Kean, Team Edin, Team Casey, Team Adams
Championship: Team Gushue over Team Jacobs
HDF Insurance Shoot-Out
2014 Champion: Brendan Bottcher
Format: 16 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers
Top Teams Entered: Team Bottcher, Team Brewster, Team Smith
W2W4: This is the first event of the season for many of the teams competing and the first chance to see some up and coming teams from Alberta and Saskatchewan looking to challenge for a provincial tankard.
Qualifiers: Team Bottcher, Team Brewster, Team Smith, Team Thomas, Team Lizmore, Team Korte, Team Sluchinski, Team Meachem
Championship: Team Brewster over Team Bottcher
AMJ Campbell Shorty Jenkins Classic
2014 Champion: Sherry Middaugh
Format: 12 team round robin with 4 qualifiers
Top Teams Entered: Team Middaugh, Team Kim
W2W4: The return of 8-time Quebec champion Marie-France Larouche to the ice. Larouche has not been on tour since the 2012-13 season. How will she perform at her first event with her new team?
Qualifiers: Team Kim, Team Kean, Team Middaugh, Team Morrissey
Championship: Team Kim over Team Middaugh
HDF Insurance Shoot-Out
2014 Champion: Chelsea Carey
Format: 24 team round robin with 8 qualifiers
Top Teams Entered: Team Sweeting, Team Carey, Team Lawton, Team Roque
W2W4: This will be the first event we see Steph Lawton and Sherri Anderson compete at since their break in the off-season. Interestingly enough, they are both in Group D and will square off for the first time Friday afternoon.
Qualifiers: Team Roque, Team Silvernagle, Team Sweeting, Team Kleibrink, Team Carey, Team Englot, Team Eberle, Team Lawton
Championship: Team Sweeting over Team Roque
If you are in Edmonton, Brockville or Cornwall, I highly recommend you head down to the curling club hosting the world curling tour event and see some of the best curlers in the world on the ice live. The atmosphere is much different in comparison to watching on tv. If you are not in one of host cities for this week’s tour events, follow along with scores and updates online at CURLINGZONE.
Rock on curling fans…
Spark Sports Analyst