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Monday, January 29, 2018

Diving into the Shallow end of The Pool Discussion

So, dear readers, in case you are confused looking at the Scotties standings this week, let me fill you in on what has changed.
The Scotties (and the Brier) have moved to a new format, with 2 Pools instead of the standard round robin. Why did they do this?

Here are the constraints:
  • The Scotties and Brier need to have full representation from all provinces and Territories. That makes 11 Provinces (Ontario is still deservedly split into North and South) and 3 Territories – so 14 teams. I do not know why this is the case. I have heard that some of the Sport Canada government funding demands that all provinces/territories have equal access, but I am not sure what equal access means exactly
  • The CCA likes having a Team Canada. It helps promote the events.
  • The event is already bordering on too long at 9 days. 

So that makes 15 teams that we "need" to have. And a 14 game round robin seems a little bit too long. So the CCA decided to add a 16th team (the Wild Card – a one game playoff between the two best teams in Canada who did not win a province) and split the tournament into 2 pools of 8. After you have played everybody in your pool, the top 4 teams then play each other – and the cumulative record determines the final 4 teams that make the playoffs.

Sound confusing? It is.

The good news is as the week moves along it will look more and more like a normal Scotties, with the top teams fighting it out in the end.

The Purists have gone insane over this. A Wildcard? Nunavut? What are these aberrations to the format I love! 

Even those who were loudly against Relegation (a crappy idea where the 4 lowest ranked teams from the previous year had to playoff before the event to send 1 team through to the main event) are vociferously complaining about the new format. Cripes, I even heard Kerry Galusha (the skip from the NWT) ragging on the format on Social Media! In trying to please everyone, Curling Canada has pleased no one. Even Mark Dacey (from Nova Scotia who have missed the last few Briers thanks to relegation) posted his prediction that this is the death of the Scotties/Brier.

So where do I stand on this? I guess I always say – if you are going to complain, then show me a better idea.

Do we Group all of the Territories up into one spot again? That would solve some of the problems. It is difficult to see why we continue to offer a Nunavut a spot at every National championship. I have nothing against curlers from Nunavut (I have met a few that are among the coolest people I have met curling), but from what I understand we are talking about one 2-sheet curling club that gets to send a team to every National Championship. It is basically a bye to the Brier. But then you need to find a way to let them play a playoff against a team that is a 6 hour flight away. And I am not sure if this would affect government funding of the event.

Should we group other parts of the country together as well? What about the Atlantic Canada? Atlantic Canada represents around 6% of the population of Canada, but now has 25% of the spots at the Scotties. That does not seem fair. (please don't check my math here)

Maybe we should look at regional entries to determine spots. Quebec has had only 8 women’s teams signed up this year. Maybe this should disqualify us from having an automatic spot.

Maybe Northern Ontario should not get a spot. I like mooses (or is it meese), but fair is fair and Northern Ontario is not a Province.

I think you may see where I am going here. There is no perfect solution. Somebody is always going to scream unfair! - and say that x is under-represented and y is over-represented.
There is no solution that will be fair to everybody. Manitoba has 3 teams at the Scotties this year! Is that fair?

If you have a better idea - please speak now!!!

In the meantime...

I think the notion of 1 Province (or Territory) = 1 Spot is part of the game. It is not now, nor has ever been fair to the more populous parts of the country, but hey who said life was fair.
Team Canada is a fun idea.
I’m not a fan of the wildcard idea either, but 15 is an odd number. So that makes 16 teams with a wildcard, and leaves us with the current format.

Is this format perfect? God no.

Is it tough to follow along? Yup – but we will figure it out eventually.

Will I go blind from watching some of the sub-club-level curling that is now part of the Scotties and the Brier? Maybe.

In the end – the relevance (or lack thereof) of the Scotties and the Brier has been far more damaged by the emergence of the Olympics as the penultimate curling event in the World, as well as the 37 Slam events that are now on Sportsnet every weekend from September until July. The concept of Free Agency, that makes provincial residency irrelevant has not helped the cause either. 
I seem to remember reading Warren Hansen interviewed a few years back say that the Brier would become a Second-Tier event, and the Canada Cup would emerge as the true National Championship. 

The new format will not help solve any of these larger problems that face the Scotties and the Brier. But it probably won’t make it worse!
If you are saying that this new format will kill the Brier/Scotties, I hope you are wrong. And if the Brier/Scotties do fall away, I think the new format will be at best 9th or 10th on my list of causes of death when we perform the autopsy!

So in the meantime, grab your popcorn and appreciate the events for what they still are! The Junior, Mixed and Senior Nationals have embraced this inclusive format, and it seems to have served them well. Getting to the Brier or the Scotties has never been about “fair”. It is about having curlers from everywhere play in our National Championship. Let's stick with that for now.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Sippy Cups and Light-Up Curling Shoes

So we are a few weeks away from the Men’s provincial championship, hopefully the highlight of our curling season.

What has my team been doing? We are in hiding. My team has been busy with practicing in secret. We have been hiding away in Tibet working on our curling and meditative chanting with a group of Bhuddist monks, in a desperate attempt to clear our head of negative thoughts. Not sure it will help our curling – but Will’s says that thanks to the Tantric chanting we practiced he can now hold out for hours when having sex and Felix is now able to levitate! (But given that he weighs 80 pounds, it might just be the wind picking him up off the ground). So with nothing else to talk about, let’s talk about women’s curling!

So every year I usually write a blog about the sorry state of women’s curling in Quebec, and what we can do to fix it. The past few years have featured on average 5 or 6 teams at Provincials, and with a few exceptions no Quebec Team has been particularly competitive on the National stage. Yes, Marie-France, Lauren and Eve have played well at times and seem to invest the practice time and spiel schedule to be competitive, but they are the exception and Marie-France has cut down her schedule considerably of late, and is definitely not getting better. So typically the last few years have featured Marie-France and Eve fighting to represent the province.

But this year was different.

This year, in order to fill out the field, Curling Quebec invited JUNIOR teams to play at the Scotties. And play they did. Despite the fact that the best junior team in the province РLaurie St-Georges was busy at Junior Nationals (where they lost the final no less), 3 other junior teams played. And guess what РEmilia Gagn̩ from the Saguenay actually won!!!

Make no mistake, I have absolutely no idea who Emilia Gagn̩ is. But by all accounts she played great, made some clutch shots and came away the winner, beating Perron, then Larouche, then Eve in the finals. The average age on this team is Рwait for it Р18!!!

I am not saying they are a young team, but
  • After they won, they poured juice boxes on each other instead of Champagne
  • At their team dinner at a restaurant after the game, the waitress brought them crayons and coloring sheets
  • The heels light up on their curling shoes
  • They think Bruno Mars is Classic Rock
  • This will likely be the first team that will have to bring Fake IDs to get into the Patch.

But seriously, I am sure this will be a great experience for them, and will hopefully ignite some much needed passion in the women’s game.

More importantly, I think this might be the beginning of something. I have been hanging around junior curling a bit now that my daughter is involved, and there seems to be something happening in Quebec. There are a lot of kids. Increasingly, a lot of the Moms and Dads you see at the rinks are retired competitive curlers, now bringing their kids into the game. And Quebec already has a rich history of outstanding junior coaching.

Curling Quebec has started the Tip Tap Toc skills program for 12 and under curlers – and supposedly 23 clubs ran a Little Rock event to try to send kids to the finals. I was honestly shocked to find out that 23 clubs have Little Rock programs. And did I mention there were LOTS OF KIDS.

And all of this is happening before the Olympics, which are sure to provide an additional bump for the sport, as curling will likely be about half of the Olympic coverage that you see on TV. And with the curlers being more recognizable than the hockey players this time around, curling is poised to be the most talked about event at the Games.

So you can look at a junior team winning the Scotties as a sign of how far the women’s game as fallen off in Quebec, but I prefer to look at is a sign of some much needed renaissance in women’s curling, and is likely a sign of things to come. The future of the game is definitely junior curling, I guess I just did not expect it to get here so fast!

So let’s all raise our sippy-cups of apple juice in a toast to wish them well!!!