Some of the best curling in the world is going on this week in Kitchener, at the pre-Olympic Trials qualifying. 12 men’s and 12 women’s teams vying to keep their Olympic dream alive, and to qualify for the final Olympic Trials to be held in December.
If you are a true curling fan, it will not get better than this. The Grand Slams have somewhat turned into a festival of the same 5 or 6 teams all fighting over some pile of money that they really do not need. It all seems like rather contrived drama to me. As I have said before, I can only watch Martin play Howard so many times before it gets a little dull. The Brier on the other hand has the tradition and the prestige, but it also has PEI and the Territories (at least for now). The Trials offer a glimpse into something different. These are some of the top teams that you do not see on television very often, if at all. They are playing for something that means far more than money. And they are among the best teams in the country.
It also shows how much depth exists in Canadian Curling, in that any of the 12 teams at the pre-Trials would have to be considered as a strong favorite if you dropped them into a World Championship.
This is truly curling worth watching. The stakes for these guys could not be higher. Making the final eight will either be a breakthrough for some of the teams, or a confirmation of status for others.
On the men’s side, Jacobs, Gushue, Menard, Rumfeldt, Kean, Cochrane, Balsdon, Higgs, Laycock, Morris, Fowler and Frans are the 12 teams that will compete for the right to play at the Trials in December. Martin, Howard, Stoughton, McEwen, Koe and Epping have already qualified into the final eight, and thus are not playing this week.
So who will get through this weekend? I think the most-battle tested teams will make it through. Gushue will find a way to get a spot. Tough to bet against Morris or Jacobs, but I think I would pick Ménard ahead of either based on what I saw at Gatineau. Jacobs is cursed with surreal expectations, they will weigh him down this weekend. Kean I think needs another 4 years before they can truly contend. Morris will struggle to find chemistry with his new team. My pick is Gushue and Ménard. I will be cheering hard for the boys from Quebec; it would be awesome to have some Quebec content at the Trials, and Ménard and friends have proven that they can play at that level. Tune in this weekend – or follow along on-line at curling.ca. And of course good luck to my buddy Balsy, aka Greg Balsdon who I will be seeing in few weeks at the Canadian Mixed.
Once into the final eight, I am picking McEwen to break through at the Trials.
I am not sure what will happen in the women’s, but I think the December Trials will ultimately be a 3 horse race between Heather Nedohin, Jenny Jones, and Rachel Homan. The only team that could come out of this weekend with an outside shot at the Olympics is Kelly Scott. The other teams will be heavy underdogs at the Trials. Of the big three, you would be crazy to bet against Homan the way she has played. So my picks are:
Men: Gushue, Ménard
Women: Scott, Bernard
Trials: McEwen and Homan to represent Canada at the Olympics - you read it here first.
The Quebec Curling Tour Championship was held this weekend, possibly for the last time. Attendance is down, and there seems to be little interest in Quebec to support a tour that is inaccessible to many of the curlers that pay for it. (The event is funded by “taxing” every curling event in the province $20 per player to accumulate a prize pool for this tournament). Not sure what the solution is, but I am working on it!
On the ice, Menard beat Reid in the final. Reid is skipping a team with JS Roy, Mo and Lou (with Simon Dupuis).
Some of the big Quebec names are not having stellar seasons so far; I will not name names but there were a lot of grumpy curlers at Laviolette that were out well before Sunday. Tough to predict who will do well in Provincials, but so far it looks a bit of a one-horse race based on the way the big teams are playing.
As for me, we lost a tough quarter final game to Dan Caron. No offense to Dan and team – who played great – but it felt like we beat ourselves. We seem to be giving away 8th end deuces like candy on Halloween. Need to fix that...
The Quebec competitive curlers had their annual tête-à-tête with Curling Quebec. The meeting went very well (far less yelling than last year), although all we can seem to agree in is the fact that the current Circuit and Provincial Qualifying format is not working.
Quebec has a number of challenges:
1. Competitive sign-ups are WAY down. Probably only about 25-30 teams will try to compete to go to the Brier this year. Probably fewer than 10 women’s teams will sign up. There are a number of theories as to why:
- The good teams are “too good”, thereby discouraging average teams from entering
- The entry fee (around $300) is too high
- There are less curlers – less juniors feeding into the system
- Nobody but the top teams wants to spend a week at Quebec Provincials usually held in some remote town
· 2. The Quebec Curling Tour is not working – average teams see it as a “tax” on every bonspiel, for which they receive nothing. The Circuit collects less and less money every year, and they had a tough time finding 16 teams to fill the event.
2. Quebec is BIG
It is a big challenge to satisfy the competitive teams (which come mainly from Montreal, Quebec, Gatineau and the Saguenay), as well as support the more remote parts of the province like Abitibi and Cote Nord who also want to play.
3. Quebec is diverse.
How do you accommodate the needs of the 6-7 teams that practice, train, travel and work their asses off to be competitive at a National level with the needs of Colts/New teams that are trying to break into competition, or the remote region teams that just want to play? The reality is we need both.
I do not have the answers to these problems – but I am working on it, as are CQ and the competitive players. Everyone wants to develop curling and to see more teams playing competitively, and recreationally. But how?
Is still tell the story of how a mere 20 years ago, I qualified for Provincials out of the Montreal region in a playdown that featured 76 teams for 3 spots! Now there are less than 30 teams in the entire province. SIGH.