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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Olympic Trials Preview and Team Update

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.

JACOBS (5-1):
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. 

The Rest:

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!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Red-Fleeced Nostalgia

Road Trip.

It was time for our annual curling road trip to a faraway place to curl. This year’s exotic destination: Val D’Or, aka the City of Gold!
For those of you uninitiated in the complexities of Quebec geography, Val d’Or in located in Abitibi – about 6 hours North-West of Montreal. To get there you actually have to drive through about 3 hours of no cell phone coverage! The horror. We actually had to listen to music and talk with each other! How old school.
We were playing in the Air Creebec Nord Ouest Open – a relatively new event (I believe this is their 2nd year). The event managed to draw most of Quebec’s top teams (except for JM Ménard was on his own road trip – to Summerside PEI to play in the Olympic Pre-Trials). This event is actually a pretty cool idea. Their goal is not to service the “elite” curlers, but instead to help develop the sport in the region. The format reflects this. They mixed up the elite teams into 5 pools of 5 mostly local teams. The top 2 teams from each section got to the quarters, but 4 of the 2nd place teams had to playoff to get down to 8 quarter finalists. The top third place teams got to play a consolation event. This format gave the local teams a chance to play against the big teams, but also gave them a decent prize pool to play for if they did not manage to finish 1st or 2nd. Teams also received 100$ per win in the round robin – so every game carried some meaning for the teams involved.
I like this format a lot – and I think it provides a great example of how to develop interest in the game at a local/regional level. It helps elevate the game for local teams, and lets them compete against stronger competition. It should serve as an example for a lot of regional curling associations looking to grow curling in their part of the world; hold an event! It bring in teams, media, sponsors and if run well can even make a few dollars for the host club. The Belvedere Curling Club in Val d’Or was full of people all weekend.

So how did we do?
Pretty good. We finished 5-1, losing the final to Bob Desjardins and his travelling band of curlers. We got outplayed in the final –we got down a few points early trying to figure out the ice and then Bob did not miss anything. But still a good tournament for us.
Some highlights from the road trip:
  • We managed to show up late for a round robin game. We pulled the absolute rookie mistake of not checking the draw before leaving the club, thinking that our next game was at 8:30AM against local Val d’Or legend “Tiger” Larouche. (side note: really curious how you earn the nickname “Tiger”). The game was actually at 8AM. We showed up late, gave up the hammer, and then proceeded to give up and easy 4 in the 1st end. We eventually came back and won – but not our finest moment.
  • Discovered that Alexander Keith’s Blond does not mix well with Mike’s Cheesesteak poutine. #dontstandbehindmeinthehouse
  • Found out I have no career potential as a ninja. Managed to wake up my entire team multiple times just trying to find the bathroom in our hotel room. Love having all 4 in the same room.

Baie d’Urfe
As I write this – we are 3-0 at the Experience IT Classic at Baie d’Urfe Curling Club – playing in the quarter finals tomorrow morning!
Fred Lawton runs a quality bonspiel, live music, free meals. Unfortunately Curling Quebec kicked him out of his usual time slot (the spiel was always at the beginning of December), and it seems to have hurt his entries. Hopefully he will find a niche for next season, this is a spiel that deserves a full set of teams.

Curling Uniforms.

Due to some unforced errors on our part, we only ordered our teams curling uniforms for this season in September, and we are still waiting for them. This explains why we look like a traveling band of hobos instead of an actual curling team, and why we have not posted a team picture of ourselves yet anywhere.
All this has made me reflect on the evolution of the curling uniform.
My first curling sweater was a red All Canada fleece pullover with black checks. We wore it to our first Junior Provincials. It felt awesome. Here is a pic. (Note that this team had awesome hair; a little Beatles on the left, some Jon Bon Jovi from the skipper!) Not sure why our lead was wearing jeans in this pic. (@John Cullen – how would you rate these unis?)

Since these long-ago days, curling wear has evolved considerably. Curling teams now all seem to be decked out in hi-tech, printed fabric sportswear – usually emblazoned with sponsor logos and yes – of course – numbers (!) and names.
The strange outcome of this is that a number of Curling-focused sports-printing clothing companies have popped up to take advantage of this trend. Dynasty Curling, Runback Curling, PCW, Hardline now all have the ability to make customized designs, with sublimated logos and designs. most of these companies are run by curlers. This has created a serious arms race, as teams try to out-jacket each other.

Makes me long for my red-fleece.

Olympic Pre-Trials

So as I write this, the Olympic pre-trials are coming to an end in PEI. Unfortunately, it was not Jean Michel's week; after a great start they dropped a couple of games that they seemed to be in control of and then finished a game out of the playoffs.

My buddy Greg Balsdon is still alive as I write this, and is poised to knock out Charley Thomas; hoping to see him squeak through, although it looks like Botcher, Morris and Howard are the favorites for the 2 spots at this point. 

On the women's side, I think they will be playing tie-breakers until mid next week. Holy parity Batman!