So the obnoxiously named Roar of the Rings tournament is finally upon us. This week has become the pinnacle week in our sport. Sure the Olympics are cool, the Brier looks like fun, but the fact is there is no more pressure-laden, intense, gut check curling week in the world that can compare to the Canadian Olympic Trials. The fact is, representing Canada in curling at the Olympics is life-changing. You will likely medal – and are expected to win gold. You instantly become a celebrity beyond the curling world.
Very often an Olympic win can turn into a career. Look at Cheryl Bernard, who honestly was not a top tier curler for that long before her Olympic appearance in Vancouver. But look what it has done for her! She has turned that Silver Medal into a broadcast/public speaking career! The Brier or Scotties can make you a big name in curling, but the Olympics can make you big EVERYWHERE.
That is why this is the big prize in today’s game. The big teams plan everything around this one week of curling. The Slams are fun, the Brier is awesome, but the Olympics are EVERYTHING.
So there are now 9 Men’s and 9 women’s teams left that will play down for this prize. I will review them here. Here are my picks, for what they are worth, with odds for each team!
It all starts and ends with Brad Gushue (3-1). For sure, this is the odds-on favorite to win.
Right now – if I was betting – if you gave me the entire field or Brad Gushue – not sure who I would pick. They are not playing curling anymore, they are playing Perfect. They are at some different, mystic-like level of curling now. They really do seem to be playing the game with remote control rocks. They are defending Brier champs, have won more Slams than Hulk Hogan and will be untouchable if they are on. This team has no weakness. Their front end sweeps like beasts, and they all throw with robot like precision. Mark Nichols is the best 3rd in the world.
Their biggest opponent will be themselves. They surely know everything I just wrote in the previous paragraph, and curling is a game where our own expectations can often be crushing. The favorites do not always win at the Trials. Gushue in 2006, Jacobs in 2014, Harris in 1998. None of these were even remotely favorites to win, and this lack of expectation might have helped them overcome the pressure.
But they are my pick.
KEVIN KOE (5-1):
Kevin has shown that he has the game to beat Gushue. He is likely the most talented skip in the game today, and can win games almost all by himself. He showed this at the Brier last year and the year before. They have not been stellar of late, but none of that matters. They have boatloads of experience, with two Olympic Medalists on the team. Ben Hebert is probably the best sweeper on the planet. With Hebert sweeping, you have no idea how bad Koe has to throw an out-turn to miss it.
They seem a notch below Gushue right now, but this team has repeatedly shown the ability to step up at the right time.
Our defending Olympic reps have been up and down since their last event. They have not experienced the same level of success that they experienced heading into the previous trials, where they were the hottest team in the world, coming off a Brier win.
They have become a little harder to cheer against since the last Olympics as well. They have toned down the crazy yelling and chest bumps, and seem generally less angry. I think they took a bit too much abuse for being over-the-top obnoxious (some of it from me) – and it forced them to be very quiet during the whole broomgate scandal.
EPPING (8-1): Some strong slam performances, but at best an outside chance of winning. The Slams they won seemed to be when John was standing on his head, as opposed to the team dominating the game, which is what you will need to win this week.
McEWEN (7-1): This team was so strong at the beginning of this Olympic Cycle, and yet they are so absent from having any promising results in over a year now. I am cheering for them more than anyone (need to see a toe-tucker at the Olympics), but I have a feeling this is not their year. Hope I am wrong here.
CARUTHERS (7-1): Reid has played well at times, but I am thinking their lack of experience at this level will catch up with them when the chips are on the table.
LAYCOCK (20-1): No chance. Dunstone at 2nd seems like a llama playing tennis.
MORRIS (15-1): Definitely seem better after flipping skip and 3rd (Cotter was skipping right up until the pre-trials). Morris has been clutch at the trials. Not sure they have the horses to beat the big teams (they have not so far this year). Definitely a dark horse contender.
BOTTCHER (20-1): Playing well, but not at the same level as the big boys.
The Big 2:
The women’s field does not have a clear cut favorite the same way the men’s does. But 2 teams clearly stand out:
Jenny Jones (3-1): Tough to bet against a women who is simply put the best clutch curler on the planet (male or female). JJ is riding a winning streak into the event, and looks to be the clear favorite. Not sure if I can stand to watch another 4 years of WTF WFG commercials, but what the heck – let’s call her the favorite.
Rachel Homan (4-1): If you would have asked me 12 months ago, I would have called the Homanator a clear favorite. They are defending Scotties champs, and are the best prepared team I have ever seen. Plus they spend their days eating Pinty’s chicken strips; that must be worth something. Only hiccup has been their play of late, although they seem like the kind of team that will peak at the right time.
Best of the Rest:
Sheidegger (8-1): Okay, I admit it. I have a soft spot for toe-tucking women. This is a young team with no Scotties experience – but the skip toe-tucks! My 9 –year old daughter has started curling little rocks, and I am crushed that she has a high, classic curling slide. Was hoping she would genetically tuck that heel into her leg and set her chin right behind the rock. So we will put Sheidegger as our 3rd ranked team just because. And because they looked very good at the last slam.
Sweeting (8-1): Good team, lots of big game experience. Expect her to be in the playoffs. She has been solid for a while, and is a top-10 world team.
Carey (8-1): Chelsea Carey seems a little less consistent, but winning a Scotties means you could win here.
Not This Time:
Flaxey: (12-1): A strong Ontario Team, just not sure they have the big-game experience to win at this level.
Englot (15-1): I think their run at the Scotties last year was an outlier, expect them to finish below .500. (despite my aforementioned adoration of toe-tucking women - Kate Cameron!)
McCarville (15-1): Hot team coming out of the trials, with some solid experience at the Scotties to back her up. I don't think they are capable of beating the Big 2 if they are on.
Tippin (20-1): The last team to qualify, looks like they will be in a bit over their heads. They are the 20th ranked women’s team in the world, in a game where the gap between 1 and 10 is huge. Would require a miracle of Disney-movie proportions.
Team Fournier Update:
Well that sucked.
We played like arses in Charlevoix, and fumbled our way to a 2W-3L out-of-the-money finish. Blech. We are having an opposite season to last year: Last season we won a pile of money and then stunk at provincials. This year we have tried stinking during the season – maybe that means we will play well at provs??!? Very clever of us.
The event was won by Marty Ferland, who is having a great season. Imagine how good these guys will be playing in the seniors event in a couple of years! (I hope they need a 5th)
Next up: The Quebec Tour Championship in Sorel this weekend!