The Punkari Brothers Preview the 2018 Tim Hortons Brier

Written By Brett Punkari (With Cameos by Lucas Punkari)

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Now that the Olympics are officially over it’s time to return to the Season Of Champions. We are now going to look at the 2018 edition of the Tim Hortons Brier, which returns to Regina for the first time since 2006 when Jean-Michel Menard defeated Glenn Howard in the final.

This year’s field is mostly a top heavy lineup with a mix of returning veterans and first timers, with seven contenders having a possible chance of winning it all. As always, we’ll go through our top fifteen teams as a whole and mention the two wildcard teams at the end.

Firstly, here’s each Pool, which will see the top four teams advance to the championship round for a shot at the playoffs.

Pool A

  • Alberta
  • British Columbia
  • Canada
  • Newfoundland & Labrador
  • Northwest Territories
  • Nova Scotia
  • Wildcard
  • Yukon

Pool B

  • Manitoba
  • New Brunswick
  • Northern Ontario
  • Nunavut
  • Ontario
  • Prince Edward Island
  • Quebec
  • Saskatchewan

    1) Team Canada (Bally Haly Golf & Curling Club – St. John’s)

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Skip – Brad Gushue, Vice – Mark “Bam Bam” Nichols, Second – Brett Gallant, Lead – Geoff Walker

Grand Slam Record – 18-5 (Champion, Champion, Quarter-Finalist, DNQ)

For a team that a lot of people penciled in to make the Olympics, their third place result at the Trials had to be a bit disappointing. Despite that, Gushue’s the odds-on favourite to win a second straight Brier title, especially if he has his early season form where no one could touch him on the Grand Slam circuit. They did struggle a little bit early on in Ottawa as they got to grips with things on their mechanics, but I don’t think they should have any issues in Regina. Having won it all last year, Gushue has nothing to lose as they seem set to go on another four-year run barring a lineup change.

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1) Team Canada (Brad Gushue)

Olympic Trials disappointment aside, the Gushue rink has been the team to beat over the last calendar year and they come in to Regina as the easy favourites. With not as much pressure as there was a year ago playing at home, expect the Newfoundland squad to have a strong week with a couple of challenges here or there. They may have struggled a little bit at some recent events, but we said that about Kevin Koe the last two years and they did okay at the Brier. 

2) Manitoba (West St. Paul Curling Club – Winnipeg)

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Skip – Reid Carruthers, Vice – “Pimp” Braeden Moskowy, Second – Derek Samagalski, Lead – Colin Hodgson

Grand Slam Record – 10-10 (DNQ, Quarter-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist)

This season has been full of ups and downs for Reid Carruthers, especially after just missing out on the playoffs at the Roar of the Rings. That being said, they’ve bounced back in style by running the table at the Manitoba Provincials. Their first trip to the Brier together in 2015 left a lot to be desired with a 4-7 record, but these guys have more experience under their belts and they can make a ton of shots. If they play at their best, they should easily make the playoffs and give Carruthers a chance to win his first title as a skip.

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2) Manitoba (Reid Carruthers)

Over the last couple of years, Carruthers has led one of the top rinks on the men’s side but hasn’t the result to show for it. Well other than last year’s runner-up with Joanne ‘Frizz’ Courtney in the mixed doubles worlds, but that’s another story. Given how well they’ve played from top to bottom, Carruthers has a great chance to defeat Gushue if they come out of the gates strong. Plus, with the Brier being in Regina, you can bet that Moskowy will want to play well in front of his hometown. 

3) Northern Ontario (Community First Curling Centre – Sault Ste. Marie)

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Skip – Brad Jacobs “Cups”, Vice – Ryan “Medium Size” Fry, Second – E.J. Harnden, Lead – Ryan “Pete” Harnden

Grand Slam Record – 14-7 (Semi-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist, DNQ, Semi-Finalist)

Speaking of teams who have had up and down stretches, Brad Jacobs got off to a pretty promising start to the season until the Roar Of The Rings where things just fell apart and they missed out on the playoffs. Then at the Northern Ontario provincials, Jacobs had to grind his way big time through the playoffs as he won a tie-breaker game then came from behind to beat Canadian Junior runner-up Tanner Horgan. Those showings remind me a bit of what this rink went through in 2013 and 2014 where they always did things the hard way way before winning. With that said, if the provincial win gives them their confidence back, the rest of the field needs to watch out.

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3) Northern Ontario (Brad Jacobs)

Not only is the beard back, but this squad has already announced that they’ll be back for another four-year cycle and another run at the Olympics. With a nothing to lose attitude, I expect them to be in the mix once again to win it all. Like we said in Ottawa though, they’ll need to get wins early or risk getting down on themselves and falling out of the mix.

4) Alberta (Saville Community Sports Centre – Edmonton)

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Skip – Brendan Bottcher, Vice – Darren Moulding, Second – Brad Thiessen, Lead – Karrick “The Jackhammer” Martin

Grand Slam Record – 8-3 (Semi-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist – Only competed in two Slams)

Brendan Bottcher has been putting in some pretty good performances this season, including being our biggest surprise at the Olympic Trials. Out of the other potential contenders that aren’t the main title threats, I feel like this rink is the most consistent out of the group, even if their shooting percentages don’t quite add up. Sure they didn’t do well at the Brier last year with a 3-8 record, but Bottcher and the rest of the team should have a much improved showing, especially with being in an easier pool.

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4) Ontario (John Epping)

Now that he’s finally won a provincial title as a skip and handing the title of best curler yet to make a Brier to Jason Gunnlaugson (?!?!?!) in the process, expect Epping to hit the ground running in Regina. We’ve talked a lot about his ability to make crazy run-backs out of nothing and I expect to see some of those great shots all week long. I’m not sure he’ll make the final, but he’s an instant threat for a championship nevertheless. 

5) Ontario (Leaside Curling Club – Toronto)

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Skip – “Big” John Epping, Vice – Matt Camm, Second – Patrick Janssen, Lead – Tim March

Grand Slam Record – 11-10 (Quarter-Finalist, DNQ, Semi-Finalist, DNQ)

Well it finally happened, John Epping beat Glenn Howard in a provincial final (only took you 12 years). Anyway, of the title contenders this is one of the wild cards as we really don’t know how Epping and his team will perform. They’ll play well as a group or be off their game and force John into making his insane runbacks. There’s pretty much no in between here, but I think Epping will be riding high after making a Brier and be a playoff threat. Oh, and he’ll make two big runbacks this week.

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5) Alberta (Brendan Bottcher)

If there’s any team that can break up the status quo in the playoffs, it’s this squad. Having been to a Brier before and coming off a strong showing at the Olympic Trials, the Bottcher rink is continuing their rise through the ranks. A top four finish might come around in their next trip to the nationals, but a tiebreaker game wouldn’t shock me.

6) Saskatchewan (Nutana Curling Club – Saskatoon)

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Skip – Steve Laycock, Vice – Matt Dunstone, Second – Kirk Muyers, Lead – Dallan Muyers

Grand Slam Record – 3-6 (Quarter-Finalist, DNQ – Only competed in two slams)

After a pretty rough year and a half, Steve Laycock has somewhat righted the ship with the chance to compete at his home province’s Brier, even though he had to take the Brad Jacobs route to win Saskatchewan. It’s kind of difficult to tell how Laycock will perform, since we haven’t seen a lot of him this year and he didn’t play well at the Roar of the Rings. This will be a coming-out party for fourth stone thrower Matt Dunstone, another former Canadian Junior champion who has awesome hitting ability. I expect Dunstone to stand on his head this week and there’s a chance here for a winning record with the rest of the team’s experience at the Brier.

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6) Saskatchewan (Steve Laycock)

Like his fellow Manitoban Shannon Birchard did at the Scotties, Dunstone has a chance to have a huge breakout week on a national stage in Regina. With Saskatchewan still looking for their first Brier title since 1980, Laycock is still the best bet to end that drought, though his bronze medal showing in 2015 is quickly fading in the rear view mirror. Like Bottcher, he can get in a tiebreaker but the playoffs might be a tall task.

7) Nova Scotia (Halifax Curling Club)

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Skip – Jamie “Don’t Call Me Charlie” Murphy, Vice – Paul Flemming, Second – Scott Saccary, Lead – Philip Crowell

Grand Slam Record – N/A

Jamie Murphy returns to the Brier for the fourth as he looks to build off of his 4-7 showing a year ago. He did have some close games in the round-robin last year, so he won’t be a push over for anyone. Plus, he’s in the easier of the two pools, so he has a good chance of making it to the championship round.

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7) Nova Scotia (Jamie Murphy)

There’s a bit of a drop-off when it comes from the top teams to the rest of the pack, but Murphy should lead the way when it comes to the second half of the field. Given how well the Bluenosers women’s team did at the Scotties, I’m sure Murphy and his team want to match that performance. If they get to the Championship round, anything is possible.

8) British Columbia (Kelowna Curling Club)

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Skip – Sean Geall, Vice – Jeff Richard, Second – Andrew Nerpin, Lead – David Harper

Grand Slam Record – N/A

In the first of two provincial surprises we’ll talk about in this preview, Sean Geall makes his first trip to the Brier since going 6-5 in 2009 after upsetting Jim Cotter. Geall’s been a contender in British Columbia for quite a long time and having another former Brier competitor in Jeff Richard on the roster should help a bit. It’s tough to say how they’ll end up, but like Nova Scotia, they are in an easier pool and have a good chance of making it into the championship pool.

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8) Northwest Territories (Jamie Koe)

Having returned from causing chaos in South Korea while watching his brother at the Olympics, national hero Jamie Koe is back at the Brier yet again. The last time the event was held in Saskatchewan, he led the Northwest Territories to a fourth place showing at the 2012 Brier in Saskatoon. I don’t expect him to match that result, but his Twitter feed will be the star of the event as he runs wild in the #Patch.

9) Quebec (Glenmore Curling Club – Dollard-des-Ormeaux)

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Skip – Mike Fournier, Vice – Felix Asselin, Second – William Dion, Lead – Jean-Francois Trepanier

Grand Slam Record – N/A

In the other upset of the provincials Mike Fournier knocked off multi-time Quebec champion Jean-Michel Menard in a slugfest of a final. Fournier does have a couple of former junior players in the lineup in Felix Asselin and former national champion William Dion, so that should help them out a bit, even though they are in a tougher pool compared to some of the other mid-pack teams.

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9) British Columbia (Sean Geall)

After a great last shot to beat Jim Cotter, Geall is back at the Brier and has a good shot of making the championship round if things work out. Jeff Richard is a great pick up to the rink and British Columbia usually has some fairly good curlers waiting in the wings behind the big names. Don’t be shocked if this ends up being out surprise team of the week.

10) Northwest Territories (Yellowknife Curling Centre)

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Skip – Jamie Koe “Patch”, Vice – Chris Schille, Second – Brad Chorostkowski, Lead – Robert Borden

Grand Slam Record-N/A

So the king of the patch is back to drink and party, along with apparently having to curl in between. Last year was a week to forget with a 1-10 record, but he did hand Brad Gushue his last loss before he ran the table at the Brier and the Worlds. This rink isn’t a pushover for anyone and the pool format might allow him to contend for more wins. Or Jamie can just go party in the #patch as he usually does.

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10) New Brunswick (James Grattan)

Remember when Grattan finished third in 1997 as a skip and again in 2002 as the third for Russ Howard? Those were good times. He has been in the middle part of the field in his last trips in 2013 and 2014 so there’s a chance he could surprise here in Regina. I just don’t see it happening.

11) New Brunswick (The Gage Golf & Country Club in Oromoctooooooooooo, New Brunswick)

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Skip – James Grattan, Vice – Chris Jeffrey, Second – Andy McCann (With a great Expos hat!), Lead – Peter Case

Grand Slam Record – N/A

It’s been four years since we’ve seen James Grattan at the Brier and his results have been mixed as a skip along the way. The usual problems will probably come up during the week with the teams from the East Coast having to play on different ice surfaces, and that will probably happen early on. If they can get a couple of wins early, they might be in the playoff hunt. Also, how did New Brunswick get Papa John’s to sponsor their playdowns?

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11) Quebec (Mike Fournier)

Like British Columbia, Quebec is another province where the depth is pretty solid even if the big favourite doesn’t come through. Having two top junior alumni should help Fournier out, but it’s hard to see him cracking the top half of the field at the Brier given what’s ahead of him.

12) Prince Edward Island (Charlottetown Curling Club)

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Skip – Eddie Mackenzie, Vice – Josh Barry, Second – Christopher Gallant, Lead – Sean Ledgerwood

Grand Slam Record – N/A

One person who is glad the pre-qualifying round is gone is Eddie Mackenzie as he missed out on the main event last year. He’s been to the Brier but has not had a lot of success with his best result being a 4-7 showing in 2014. The addition of Josh Barry at vice should help them get a few more wins, but he’ll be in tough as he’s in the harder of the two pools.

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12) Yukon (Thomas Scoffin)

Like Sarah Koltun, Scoffin is the future of curling in the Territories once national hero Jamie Koe retires to open #Patch Breweries or something along those lines. It will be a learning week for this talented youngster but expect Scoffin to make some noise in the years to come, especially if some lineup changes happen in the next few months and he joins a veteran lineup.

13) Yukon (Whitehorse Curling Club)

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Skip – Thomas Scoffin, Vice – Tom Appleman, Second – Wade Scoffin, Lead – Steve Fecteau

Grand Slam Record – N/A

A seven-time Canadian junior participant that led the Yukon to a 7-5 record in 2011 and won a silver medal with Alberta in 2012 after losing to Matt Dunstone in the final, Thomas Scoffin has returned to his home province with a pretty solid squad. Not only is he playing with his dad, but he’s also brought along Tom Appleman who used to play with Brendan Bottcher. Like Jamie Koe has done with the Northwest Territories, Scoffin has a chance to carry the Yukon for many years. He might struggle this week, but if his success at the Juniors is any indication, expect him to pull off some big upsets over the next few years.

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13) Prince Edward Island (Eddie MacKenzie)

He’s gotten a little bit better after a few trips to the Brier, but it’s hard to see MacKenzie finishing anywhere else but the bottom of the field. With no true young talent set to lead a team after Adam Casey went to Saskatchewan, it might be a long while before Prince Edward Island is near the upper half of the standings.

14) Newfoundland & Labrador (Bally Haly Golf & Curling Club – St. John’s)

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Skip – Greg Smith, Vice – Matthew Hunt, Second – Andrew Taylor, Lead – Ian Withycombe

(Could Curling Canada not get a better photo than this blurry one of the rink?)

Grand Slam Record – N/A

This is where we find out what the depth of curling in Newfoundland is like on the men’s side if someone other than Brad Gushue makes it to the Brier. Don’t get me wrong, it was great to see plenty of teams in the provincials after just two took part a couple of years ago, but this is going to be a long week for Smith. With that said, it’s going to be a big help to have someone else at the Brier from the province. I mean, Gushue can’t play forever right?

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14) Newfoundland & Labrador (Greg Smith)

Had the defending U Sports national champion Adam Boland won the provincials, I may have had this province in a higher slot. Granted, Smith did represent Newfoundland at the juniors a few years ago, but I suspect this will be a long week for the rink. They will get to play Gushue though, so that will be fun.

15) Nunavut (Iqualit Curling Club)

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Skip – Dave St. Louis, Vice – Wade Kingdon, Second – Peter Mackey, Lead – Jeff Nadeau

Grand Slam Record – N/A

This is pretty much a similar story to our preview for the Scotties regarding this territory. Yes, Dave St. Louis will be able to get more games under his belt and be able to help Nunavut progress, but he’ll be in a really tough group and will have to play Saskatchewan, Ontario, Manitoba and Northern Ontario along the way. Their might be some big blowouts coming, but if they can keep these games somewhat close it might be a good week.

Ottawa Ont.Mar 4, 2016.Tim Hortons Brier. Team Nunavut skip Wayne Kingdon, Curling Canada/ michael burns photo

15) Nunavut (Dave St. Louis)

The big question for Nunavut is of course if they will win a game this week. Their best chance would be against Prince Edward Island in Pool Play, but they may have a shot in the seeeding games to wrap up the week depending on who they face. Either way, it’s going to be a long week.

Wildcard Game Preview

Team Mike McEwen (Fort Rouge Curling Club – Winnipeg)

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Skip- “ Magic” Mike McEwen, Vice – B.J. Neufeld, Second – Matt Wozniak, Lead – Denni Neufeld

Grand Slam Record – 11-7 (Semi-Finalist, Semi-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist – Only competed in three slams)

This almost has a very similar feel to Chelsea Carey’s trip to the Scotties, as the Canadian Trials runner-up failed to win the provincials. Granted, McEwen missed almost all of the Manitoba provincials due to the chicken pox, which forced the team to play with just three guys and put B.J. Neufeld at skip. They made it to the finals, which saw McEwen make a shocking return at vice, but they came up just short against Reid Carruthers. McEwen is healthy once again and is the favourite to win this game. If he make it to the main field, he should easily make it to the podium.

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Provided he doesn’t look like Sickly Sam again, McEwen should bounce back from two tough losses and make it to the Brier field if all goes well in the winner-take-all contest. If he does make it there, this rink should be the biggest threat to knocking off Brad Gushue. It remains to be seen if this lineup will stay intact after the season, so this might be their last shot at a major crown if changes are in store.

Team Jason Gunnlaugson (Granite Curling Club – Winnipeg)

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Skip – “Gunner” Jason Gunnlaugson, Vice – Alex Forrest, Second – Ian McMillan, Lead – Connor Njegovan

Grand Slam Record – 15-6 (Champion, Quarter-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist)

Now we come to potentially the biggest wildcard in the field, provided he actually wins this game. Gunner has had a pretty good season for the most part although his provincial was a total disaster that lasted only three games. The squad is pretty solid but they just can’t seem to get over the hump come playoff time at the Grand Slams, other than than Tier II win earlier this year at the Tour Challenge. Gunner’s hitting ability is something to behold and that could help his team finish anywhere from third to seventh in this field. It’s so hard to guess where he’ll end up, but it will be lots of gun watching Gunner throw throw giant quadruple takeout bombs though.

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A cult icon to be sure, Gunner is having his best season to date as a men’s skip and has been rewarded with a chance to sneak into the Brier. If he beats McEwen, this is a true wild card of a rink as they could be anywhere from the finals to missing out on the playoffs. Personally, I’d probably have them in fourth place behind the big three, but the Gunner and Koe matchup will be the game of the week for pure comedy. TSN probably won’t show it, but  that’s their loss. 

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The Punkari Brothers Review the 2018 Winter Olympics Men’s and Women’s Curling Events

Written by Brett Punkari (With Cameos by Lucas Punkari)

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The 2018 Winter Olympics will go down as one of the most historic events in curling history, as there were some incredible performances from nations you would not expect to be medal contenders and shocking disappointments for teams you would expect to be at the top.

We also saw yours truly lose his mind over CBC’s tire fire coverage of the curling, but that’s another rant for another day.

It will take some time to see how these results will affect things globally for curling, but it should mean a ton of positives going forward as we look back on what happened over the last couple of weeks.

Women’s Event

Gold Medal – Sweden (Anna Hasselborg)

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In terms of the favorites coming in to the Olympics, Anna Hasselborg was pretty much rock solid all tournament long. Even though she had a couple of blips late in the round-robin, it felt like most of her strong showings from events in the last couple of years, though there was that question mark lingering about whether or not her playoff woes would happen.

She silenced any doubt with a convincing victory over Great Britian in the semi-final and a dominant performance in the gold medal game against South Korea. Hasselborg has now finally gotten over the hump with a major event title and with no one in the pipeline for Sweden she should be a formidable force for another Olympic cycle as she’s only 28.

It was only a matter of time before Hasselborg’s rink would break through with a win and they did so at the biggest stage of them all. A solid squad from top to bottom, it was only their lack of success in event finals that was their biggest weakness. Now that they’ve won the gold, they are probably already penciled in as the team to lead the way in China in four years time. Before that though, a clash with Jennifer Jones awaits at the Worlds in North Bay in March in what should be a must-see contest.

Round-Robin Stats

Lead – Sofia Mabergs – 83% -Tied for 4th

Second – Agnes Knochenhauer – 84% – 1st

Vice – Sara McManus – 84% – 1st

Skip – Anna Hasselborg – 82% – 1st

Team – Sweden – 83% – 1st

Silver Medal/Biggest Surprise – Korea (Eun-Jung Kim)

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Raise your hand if you predicted that this team would not only be be first in the round-robin but make it all the way to the final. I can imagine that no one is.

In our preview, we mentioned that although the team was solid, they hadn’t done a lot on the Grand Slam circuit and we felt like they were still some time away from being a contender. Instead, they went on a run that stunned everybody, especially with their stats not adding up to their record until their last few round-robin games.

There was a feeling that at some point the drop-off would occur, and it did in the final as they seemed a little nervous and maybe kept things a little to simple, which is a bad mistake against a strong hitting team like Sweden. Despite that, this going to be huge for Korean curling going forward, especially now that they have a facility that can be used for events in the future.

I’ve been watching curling since 1993 and a Korean gold medal run would easily be the most shocking thing I’ve seen since watching the sport (I think Jenn Hanna beating Rachel Homan in the 2016 Ontario Scotties still tops the list, but that’s another story for another day).

This was a hard team to figure out early on as their stats didn’t really match up with their record and it felt like they were benefiting from their opponents struggles. However, with some dominant games to end the round-robin and an aggressive approach against Japan in the semifinals, I started to buy in to the a gold medal upset. Alas, they went away from the rocks in play approach and played a wide-open game against Sweden, which may have been their undoing. Now it’ll be interesting to see if Korea can keep up this level of play over the next four years, or if they’ll go the way of Rui Liu after his surprising fourth place result in 2014.

Round-Robin Stats

Lead – Yeong-Mi Kim – 83% – Tied for fourth (played in six of nine round-robin games)

Second – Seong-Yeong Kim – 77% – Tied for 6th

Vice – Kyeong-Ae Kim – 76% – Tied for 5th

Skip – Eun-Jung Kim – 78% – Tied for 2nd

Team – Korea – 79% – Tied for 3rd

Bronze Medal – Japan (Satsuki Fujisawa)

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Japan also picked up their first medal in curling at the Olympics this year, but unlike Korea, this isn’t as much of a shocker as Fujisawa won a silver medal at the Worlds in 2016 and we know what this rink can do. They got off to a 4-1 start and beat Korea but struggled with three losses in their last four games, although they did beat Sweden in that stretch.

In the playoffs, they had a valiant effort to take Korea to an extra-end and then bounced back a day later to steal away the bronze medal from Great Britain. With this showing by Fujisawa, and the improved play of Yuskue Morozumi on the men’s side, Japan is on solid ground internationally and should have more great results in the future.

With the team laughing their heads off after forcing an extra-end against South Korea and Fujisawa stretching in the middle of the 10th end of a bronze medal game, we really need to have this rink playing more at Grand Slam events as they are a ton of fun to watch. Although their stats didn’t show it, they were in every game this week and will be a team to keep an eye out for over the next few years as they gain every more experience at big events.

Round-Robin Stats

Lead – Yurika Yoshida – 78% – 9th

Second – Yumi Suzuki – 74% – Tied for 9th

Vice – Chininami Yoshida – 76% – Tied for 5th

Skip – Satsuki Fujisawa – 73% – Tied for 6th

Team – Japan – 75% – 9th

Fourth Place – Great Britain (Eve Muirhead)

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This year’s Olympics was a tale of inconsistency for Eve Muirhead as she would have great games and not so great games during the round-robin. Although they got some big wins to get into the playoffs (including an important victory over Canada), it didn’t really feel like they were on the same level as Sweden and Korea when it came to being gold medal threats.

Eve was close to getting the bronze medal though for the second straight Olympics, but a couple of risky shots in the last ends proved to be her undoing. Obviously it’s a dissappointing way to end the week, but with her and Hasselborg both in their late 20’s, expect the Muirhead rink to be back strong in 2022 as a gold medal threat.

Eve’s takeout attempt for the win instead of going for the draw in the 10th when she was already lying one will haunt me for years. As Brett said, Eve had an up and down week but when they were playing well, they looked really good. I highly recommend seeing the finish to the game against Canada, as Eve made a brilliant shot in the ninth end and played a picture perfect 10th to get into the playoffs.

Rough finish aside, I still feel like Eve’s rink is on the right track with arguably their best campaign since winning the bronze in 2014. They have one more chance to finish the year out strong at the Worlds, provided they beat Hannah Fleming in a best-of-three series.

Round-Robin Stats

 

Lead – Lauren Gray – 81% – 7th

Second – Vicki Adams – 79% – 4th

Vice – Anna Sloan – 76% – Tied for 5th

Skip – Eve Muirhead – 78% – Tied for 2nd

Team – Great Britain – 79% – Tied for 3rd

Biggest Disappointment – Canada (Rachel Homan)

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Wow….just wow. To go from running the table at the World Championships and win Canada’s first women’s world title since 2008 to becoming the first Canadian Curling Team to miss the playoffs at the Olympics is a big stunner. Getting off to a 0-2 start with losses to Korea and Sweden is bad enough, but to cause controversy over a burned rock and choking against Denmark to fall to 0-3 is even worse.

Homan and crew did start to make a run by winning three in a row but a late loss to China and a late-game collapse against Great Britain took them out of it. In all honesty, it’s been more a case of not say bad games but it’s more of bad mistakes at the worst times for the team over the last.

In terms of Rachel Homan herself, she is also in the same age group with Hasselborg and Muirhead so she does have another crack at the Olympics, although it is always tough to come out of Canada. I’m pretty sure they’ll be together for another four-year run, but it’ll be interesting to see how they’ll bounce back from this going forward.

Remember when Brett and I said all of the questions we had about Rachel Homan’s team were over and done with since they won the Olympic Trials? Now they are all back again after a maddingly incosnstent week in South Korea. With games that were all over the map (especialyl that Switzerland game that saw them give multiple three-enders and still win) and Homan having some tire fires along the way, this was one of the most confunding performances in quite some time.

With everyone being young they’ll make another run at the Olympics in the future, but the next four years in Canada should be interesting with Jennifer Jones seemingly not going anywhere. Plus, with Kerri Einarson forming a crazy super rink in Manitoba, it might not be as clear-cut of redemption story as one might expect.

Round-Robin Stats

Lead – Lisa Weagle – 86% – 1st (Perfect Game in Draw 8 against the United States)

Second – Joanne Courtney – 80% – 3rd

Vice- Emma Miskew – 92% – 2nd

Skip – Rachel Homan – 77% – 4th

Team – Canada – 81% – 2nd

Men’s Event

Gold Medal/Biggest Surprise – United States (John Shuster)

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It’s “The Miracurl On Ice” everyone. After starting 2-4 and having a bad finish against Norway, it looked another dissapointing run for the United States was coming up with their last three gaems being against Canada, Swizterland and the United States. Instead, they rattled of three straight wins (including an extra-end steal over Canada and a steal of four in the eight to beat Great Britain) to make the playoffs.

With momentuon on their side, the Shuster rink would stun Canada yet again in the semis and then had the game of their lives against the heavy favourites Sweden to give the United States their biggest result in curling history. It’s also a huge redempetion story for Shuster, as he was kicked to the curb by USA Curling’s High Performance Comitteee after 2014 and bounced back on the scene with his own team of misifts as he put it.

Going forward, this win has a chance to get more people playing curling in the United States, and that should be huge for the sport going forward. Don’t forget that this year’s men’s worlds will be in Las Vegas, and you can bet the crowds will be huge is Shuster is playing in it or the team makes an appearence.

Seeing that Brett and I both felt like Shuster was the favourite to get the bronze medal, maybe it’s not that much of a shock that they won a gold medal, but the way that did teh Americans did it with their backs against the wall was remarkable to watch. Not only is Shuster now among the top teams in the world now with this win, but he’s also become an folk hero south of the border with his comeback story. Plus, Matt Hamilton is now a legend with his great mustache and his super out-going personality in the style of a John Morris. Personally, I can’t wait to see what these guys do over the next four years, as they have another run left in them and they are an easy team to get behind. 

Round-Robin Stats

Lead – John Landsteiner – 83% – Tied for 7th (Perfect Game in Draw 4 against Sweden)

Second – Matt Hamilton – 82% – 5th

Vice – Tyler George – 79% – Tied for 8th

Skip – John Shuster – 77% – Tied for 7th

Team – United States – 80% – 10th

Silver Medal – Sweden (Niklas Edin)

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Everything was pretty much going status quo for Niklas Edin at the Olympics. Although he lost two of his last three round-robin games, his rink was pretty much dismantling everyone in their patch and advanced to the gold medal game with a 9-2 win over a Switzerland rink that beat in him the round-robin.

Then came the finals against the United States, where a big double by John Shuster to tie the game up in the third end seemed to change and everything as Sweden never got back on track after that. Sure they were in the game, but they were on their back heels untl everything came apart in the eighth end when the Americans got five points.

This has to be a disspointing result for the entire team, but especialy Niklas as he was the the best team in the round-robin for a second straight Olympics but didn’t come away with the gold medal. If this group sticks around for another four-year run they should be the big favourites. However, it all depends on Edin’s health as he’s talked about being 32 years old with a body that feels like it’s 56.

An Olympic gold medal win would have put Edin head and shoulders above everyone else as the top skip of this decade, but instead it’s another big punch to the gut on the biggest stage of the sport. As Brett mentioned, Edin’s overall health is a question mark and he might not play as much on the Tour as a result if that’s an issue, but everyone on the rink is still young enough to contend for another crown in four years time with no one else on his level in the European scene as of yet.

Round-Robin Stats

Lead – Christoffer Sundgren – 86% -Tied for 5th

Second – Rasmus Wrana – 88% – 1st

Vice – Oskar Eriksson – 89% – Tied for 1st

Skip – Niklas Edin – 85% – Tied for 1st

Team – Sweden – 87% – Tied for 1st

Bronze Medal – Switzerland (Peter De Cruz)

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Peter De Cruz was very close to becoming our dissapointment of the week at the end of round-robin play. After pummling Sweden to end their unbeaten run, he lost last two games against Korea and the United States to go into a tiebreaker, where fourth stone thrower Benoit Schwarz made a great takeout to score five in the ninth end and beat Great Britain. Things didn’t go well in the rematch against Niklas Edin in the semifinal, but the rink bounced back with a great showing against Kevin Koe to take home the bronze. While the women’s teams have had more success internationall lately, we can expect De Cruz tao carry the mantle just fine for the men’s side for years to come.

The losses to finsih off the round-robin was a slightly concerning, but a bronze medal performance that included a win over Niklas Edin and knocking off Kevin Koe certainly was a great one for the Swiss side. They won’t be at the Worlds this year, but this group will be among the favourites going forward at any event they compete in. They certainly proved me wrong with my prediction of a sixth place showing in South Korea.

Round-Robin Stats

Lead – Valentin Tanner – 87% – Tied for 2nd

Second – Peter De Cruz (Skip) – 81% – Tied for 6th

Vice – Claudio Paetz – 84% – 3rd

Fourth – Benoit Schwarz – 82% – 3rd

Team – Switzerland – 83% – Tied for 3rd

Fourth Place/Biggest Disappointment – Canada (Kevin Koe)

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Early on Canada were doing just fine as they won their first four games of the round-robin to set up a huge game against Sweden. It was a tight contest early on, but Sweden controlled the second half as they picked up a 5-2 win and hand the Canadians their first loss.

That’s when things started to snowball as Kevin Koe fell off his game and the team lost tight contests. They turned things around at the end of the round-robin to finish second, but then things got worse. They gave up two points to the States on a light draw in the eighth end to lose the semifinal and Koe himself only shot 63% in the bronze medal game against Switzerland. This led to more history, and not the kind you want to be involved with, as the Canadian men’s curling side joined the women in failing to earn a medal and they also become the first men’s rink to not even make the final.

I’m not really sure what happened to this team, but it felt like the Sweden game was the turning point as they didn’t quite look the same after that loss. In terms of the team itself, I have no idea what direction they are going in as they are a little bit older than some of their competitors. There will probably be a different looking rink on the men’s side representeing Canada in China in 2022, but you can bet that Curling Canada will be eager to turn things around after a rough week.

Even when they got off to a perfect start, I didn’t feel like Canada was on the same level as the Sweden rink they were favoured with when the tournament began. As the week wrapped up, it felt like the Koe squad had aged dramatically and looked nowhere close to the level of the other teams in the medal round, which was truly shocking.

Rough week for Canadian curling aside (which if you paid attention to the world curling scene isn’t a super surprise, though the results happening at the Olympics is not ideal in the least), the big question mark is what will happen to the Koe squad going forward. While many men’s sides do stick around near their 50’s, I wouldn’t be shocked if some sort of changes occur going forward with this lineup. I hear John Morris might be avaliable. Okay maybe I’m making that up, but it makes sense in my head at least.

Round-Robin Stats

Lead – Ben Hebert – 86% – Tied for 5th (Perfect game in the Bronze Medal Game against Switzerland)

Second – Brent Laing – 86% – 2nd

Vice – Marc Kennedy – 89% – Tied for 1st

Skip – Kevin Koe – 85% – Tied for 1st

Team – Canada – 87% – Tied for 1st

Punkari Brothers Shots of the Week

Women’s Event – Eve Muirhead’s double raise double takeout to sit two in the ninth end against Canada in the round-robin (Go to the 2:24:30 mark)

Source: Women’s curling, Feb. 20: Draw 11 Canada vs. Great Britain | Video | CBC Olympics | PyeongChang 2018

Men’s Event – Benoit Schwarz’s takeout for five in the ninth end of the tiebreaker against Great Britain (Go to the 2:22:00 mark)

Source: Men’s curling tiebreaker, Feb. 21: Switzerland vs. Great Britain | Video | CBC Olympics | PyeongChang 2018


The Punkari Brothers Preview the 2018 Winter Olympic Games Men’s and Women’s Curling Events

Written by Brett Punkari (With cameos by Lucas Punkari)

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Every four years the top men’s and women’s athletes from around the world compete in the biggest sporting event in the world, The Olympic Games. While there is tons of events like Skiing, Hockey and Bobsled, our main focus is the men’s and women’s curling events.

In terms of this preview, were going to have a similar format to our Roar of the Rings predictions with the men’s and women’s events both having separate countdowns on how we think things will end up, along with how they’ve faired in the Grand Slam of Curling events this year and what they’ve done during the last four years at major curling events. Of note, the playoff format is slightly different with a straight semifinal matchup between the 1st and 4th seeds and the 2nd and 3rd ranked teams before the medal rounds.

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We didn’t have time to do a mixed doubles preview, as we probably would have been wondering who half the field was along the way, but a huge congrats to Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris for winning the gold for Canada. Not bad for a team that came together in the last couple months. While it’s a bit of a train wreck to watch at times with so many changes in momentum, it was still a pretty fun way to get things going at the Olympics. 

Women’s Event

1) Canada (Rachel Homan)

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Skip – Rachel Homan “Destroyer”, Vice – “A Miscue By” Emma Miskew, Second – Joanne “Frizz” Courtney, Lead – Lisa “Da” Weagle

Grand Slam Record: 8-9 (DNQ, DNQ, Quarter-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist)

Notable Accomplishments: 2015 Canada Cup Champions, 2015 Scotties Tournament Of Hearts Bronze Medalist, 2017 Scotties Tournament Of Hearts Champions, 2017 Women’s World Curling Champions, 2017 Roar Of The Rings Champions

Currently considered by most to be the top team in the world at the moment, Rachel Homan is looking to carry the momentum from winning the Worlds last year in China and the Roar of the Rings two months ago in Ottawa. We’ve gone over this rink quite a lot over the last couple of years, and judging by their play on the Slams as of late, it seems that everyone is at there best when the big events come around.

While Homan is probably the favourite in many people’s eyes to win the gold in South Korea, there is one thing to keep in mind. Her rink usually always does well in their first trip to a new event, but they end up coming up short and win the second time they go. We shall see if they can change that story this time around. Also, have we discussed how ripped Joanne Courtney is!

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1) Canada (Rachel Homan)

Sup Amanda Gates! As Brett and I have talked about over the last couple of seasons, Homan can be all over the map but when she’s on her game, she’s untouchable. She enters as the favourite to win Canada’s second straight gold medal in women’s curling and she should be in the mix. However, any tire fires might be a problem as this is a very good field with some solid depth, especially compared to the men’s side.

2) Great Britain (Eve Muirhead)

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Skip – “Scottish Curling Heroine” Eve Muirhead, Vice – “Sloan Dog” Anna Sloan, Second – Vicki Adams, Lead – Lauren Gray

Grand Slam Record: 8-5 (Semi-Finalist, Semi-Finalist – Only competed in two events)

Notable Accomplishments: 2015 European Championship Silver Medalist, 2016 European Championship Bronze Medalist, 2017 European Champions, 2017 World Women’s Curling Championship Bronze Medalists

This will be Eve Muirhead’s third trip to the Olympics and she appears to be close to finding the form that took her to a World Championship in 2013. The team has had a few lineup changes over the last couple of years and Eve herself has had some up and down results, but the last few months have seen her turn in some solid performances.

The key player has to be Anna Sloan, as more often than not she misses some shots (though sometimes they are shots that are tough to make) and it’s often up to Eve to bail her out. Muirhead is one of the best shotmakers out there and she should be a major threat to Canada’s chances of a repeat. Plus, don’t forget about the addition of Glenn Howard as coach, which should help her out a lot.

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2) Great Britain (Eve Muirhead)

Although I feel like Rachel’s the pick to win it all, I’m probably rooting more for Eve to do well out of my two favourite curlers. Naturally though, I want a tie in the gold medal game and a power outage. With all that said, Eve’s been playing the best she’s had in quite some time and her previous trips to the Olympics should be huge in making her a threat to contend for a title. Like Brett said though, the play of Anna Sloan will be the key to any success.

3) Sweden (Anna Hasselborg)

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Skip – Anna Hasselborg “Potatoes”, Vice – Sara McManus, Second – Agnes Knochenhauer, Lead – Sofia Mabergs

Grand Slam Record: 11-7 (Runner-Up, Semi-Finalist, DNQ – Only competed in three slams)

Notable Accomplishments: 2016 & 2017 European Championship Silver Medalist, Finished fourth at the 2017 World Women’s Curling Championship

A former World Junior champion, Hasselborg has essentially taken the reigns at the top team in Sweden over the last year and has shot up the world rankings as well. Last season was her breakout year, as her rink is a really strong group and they nearly won a few Grand Slams. An emotional player in the style of a Brad Jacobs, the only drawback to their success so far is that they have yet to win a major event. If everything clicks, they can win the gold in their first trip to the Olympics, but she’s going to be a contender for years to come no matter what happens here.

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3) Sweden (Anna Hasselborg)

Having won the 2010 World Junior title over Rachel Homan, it’s taken a bit for Hasselborg to make an impact on the women’s scene, but she has certainly done so in a short amount of time. Although her losses in the finals of Grand Slam events and the European Championships are slightly concerning, there’s no doubt that this team has the talent to contend this week. A gold medal run isn’t that shocking of an expectation.

4) Switzerland (Silvana Tirinzoni)

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Skip – Silvana Tirinzoni, Vice – Esther Neuenschwander, Second – Manuela Siegrist, Lead-Marlene Albrecht

Grand Slam Record: 8-8 (Quarter-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist – Only competed in three slams)

Notable Accomplishments: Finished fourth at the 2017 European Championships, (Last trip to the World Championships was in 2015, where they finished in fifth)

During this Olympic cycle, both Alina Paetz and Binia Feltscher came away with world championships for Switzerland, but it was Silvana Tirinzoni who got the last laugh over them as she ran the table to win their Olympic Trials. Over the last couple of years, Tirinzoni has done well on the Grand Slam circuit, including a win back in 2015 over Rachel Homan in a fog bowl, and they performed well last year when Neuenschwander was sidelined with an injury and Cathy Overton-Clapham filled in as a super sub. As a former world junior champion with a solid team, this might be the one skip that’s a wild card out of the four favourites, but it’s one you should doubt at your own peril.

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4) Switzerland (Silvana Tirinzoni)

It’s kind of funny that a team that hasn’t been to the Worlds in awhile ended up being the Olympic rep, but that’s how good the depth is in that country at the moment. Given how well Tirinzoni has done on the Grand Slam scene in recent years, a chance at a medal isn’t that far-fetched as she’s a solid skip and her rink doesn’t make many mistakes.

5) Japan (Satsuki Fujisawa)

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Skip – Satsuki Fujisawa, Vice – Chinami Yoshia, Second – Yumi Suzuki, Lead – Yurika Yoshida

Grand Slam Record: N/A

Notable Accomplishments: 2015 Pacific-Asia Curling Champions, 2016 World Women’s Curling Championship Silver Medalist, 2016 Pacific-Asia Curling Championship Bronze Medalist, 2017 Pacific-Asia Curling Championship Silver Medalist.

In 2016 Satsuki Fujisawa nearly shocked the world as she brought Japan to their first ever final at the Worlds, where they lost to Switzerland in a close game. 2017 was a bit of a down year as they failed to qualify for the Worlds, but they’ve bounced back with a WCT win this year and a trip to finals at the Pacific-Asia Championships. A team that is always laughing no matter what happens and a fun team to get behind as a fan, they have a shot at making the playoffs but will need to pull off a couple of upsets along the way.

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5) Japan (Satsuki Fujisawa)

In between laughing up a storm on the ice, this is a pretty darn solid team that proved how good they can be with a silver medal performance at the 2016 Worlds in Swift Current. Perhaps making them a medal favourite is a bit bold, but I would easily make this young squad my sleeper pick for this week. 

6) United States (Nina Roth)

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Skip – Nina Roth, Vice – Tabitha Peterson, Second – Aileen Geving, Lead – Rebecca Hamilton

Grand Slam Record: 3-6 (DNQ, DNQ – Only Competed in two slams)

Notable Accomplishments: 2016 & 2017 USA National Silver Medalist, 2017 USA Olympic Curling Trials Champion, Finished 5th at 2017 World Women’s Curling Championship

With the Erika Brown era essentially over, it’s time for someone new to lead the charge for the Red White and Blue. Nina Roth is arguably the top women’s skip in the United States right and she’s done okay at best over the last couple of years, though her fifth at last year’s Worlds was a good showing. They will have a slight advantage when it comes to knowing the ice and the stones when the round-robin gets underway as Rebecca Hamilton already played this week with her brother Matt in the Mixed Doubles event. This is another wild card for me this week, but they might make the playoffs if things go right.

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6) United States (Nina Roth)

While I would like to see Jamie Sinclair get a shot at a major event soon (I’ll save my rant on how USA Curling picks their World Rep for another day), Roth has had some decent results over the last couple of years. I’m not sure I’d pick them for a medal, but a tiebreaker wouldn’t shock me.

7) Russia – or as everyone calls them – Olympic Athletes From Russia (Victoria Moiseeva)

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Skip – Victoria Moiseeva, Vice – Uliana Vasileva, Second – Galina Arsenkina, Lead – Julia Guzieva

Grand Slam Record: N/A

Notable Accomplishment: 2016 European Curling Champions

So where do I begin with this one. Back in 2016 Moiseeva upset Anna Sidorova to qualify for the Euros and then on Russia’s first title at the event. Sidorova bounced back with a runner-up result at the Worlds in 2017, which was her best showing there after a number of bronze medal results, but a poor showing at at Euros in 2017 set up a seven-game series between the twos ides that Moiseeva won in five games.

Now that all of the chaos is over, it’s going to be really interesting to see how this rink will do as we haven’t seen them much since that European run. In fact, this squad won the fan vote to play in the Everest Curling Challenge this year, but an illness kept them from competing and Val Sweeting took their place. For me, this is the major wildcard in the field as they could finish anywhere.

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7) Russia (Victoria Moiseeva)

Had Anna Sidorova been competing at this event, she easily would have been a medal threat and I would of probably put her in either third or fourth spot in a close battle with Sweden. But since the Russian Curling Federation gonna Russia Curling Federation, I haven’t a clue where to put Moiseeva. Yes, she’s won a European title, but is a totally different animal. 

8) South Korea (Eun-Jung Kim)

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Skip – Eun-Jung Kim, Vice – Kyeong-Ae Kim, Second – Seon-Yeong Kim, Lead – Yeong-Mi Kim

Grand Slam Record: 6-6 (DNQ, Semi-Finalist)

Notable Accomplishments: 2016 and 2017 Pacific-Asia Curling Champions, Finished 6th at the 2017 Women’s World Curling Championship

We’ve known for a long time that this was going to be the team that would represent their home country in curling and this team has played in a lot of Grand Slam events over the last prepare for it. They’ve made the playoffs a few times on the tour, but they haven’t done great at the Worlds yet and I think the pressure of being the home country might be too much for them to overcome. Also, they have to face Rachel Homan in their first game. Yikes!

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8) China (Bingyu Wang)

Eight years since she entered the Vancouver Olympics as the favourite to win a gold medal, Bingyu’s probably not in the mix as a clear-cut medal threat here in South Korea, but she can probably be in the battle for a playoff spot with a good week. She’s been in this event before, and that should help out a younger squad get used to the big stage. 

9) China (Bingyu Wang)

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Skip – “Master Betty” Bingyu Wang, Vice – Yan Zhou, Second – Jinli Liu, Lead – Jingyi Ma

Grand Slam Record: 2-6 (DNQ, DNQ – Only competed in two slams)

Notable Accomplishments: 2016 Pacific Asia Championship Silver Medalist

This is Bingyu Wang’s third Olympic appearance and this year she does have a new lineup with a different front end instead of the one we saw last season. Ever since she won the world title in 2009, Wang’s had a lot of ups and downs with her results. She might pull an upset or two, but don’t expect a whole lot.

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9) South Korea (Eun-Jung Kim)

Having the home crowd on her side should help, and there’s a chance she could surprise given her decent runs on the World Curling Tour in the past, however I just can’t see Kim getting into the playoff mix. I wouldn’t be surprised though if she ends up being a threat in a few years time. 

10) Denmark (Madeleine Dupont)

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Skip – Madeleine Dupont, Vice – Denise Dupont, Second – Julie Hogh, Lead – Mathilde Halse

Grand Slam Record: N/A

Notable Accomplishments: N/A

The Dupont sisters have been around the game for quite awhile now and were at the Olympics together in 2010 in Vancouver. Madeline is back in a skip role after playing with Lene Neilsen for a few years, but I’m not expecting much from them in South Korea, though they will probably be in a few close games.

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10) Denmark (Madeline Dupont)

Well I wasn’t expecting to see the Dupont sisters back on the Olympic stage, but here we are! Given that they haven’t done much lately, I’m assuming they’ll be at the bottom of the pack, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this experience helps them being a better team on the European scene in a few years. 

Men’s Event

1) Sweden – Niklas Edin

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Skip – “The Swedish Pimp” Niklas Edin, Vice – “The Cleaner” Oskar Eriksson, Second – “The Machine Gun” Rasmus Wrana, Lead – “The Underboss” Christoffer Sundgren

Grand Slam Record: 13-8 (Semi-Finalist, Runner-Up, Runner-Up – Only competed in three events)

Notable Accomplishments: 2015-2017 European Men’s Curling Champions, 2015 World Men’s Curling Champions, 2017 World Men’s Curling Championship Silver Medalist,

Don’t ask me how I turned this team into the Bullet Club. Anyways, it’s a coin flip for the race for who wins gold in South Korea, but I ended up putting Edin as my pick in his third run at the Olympic title. He’s gotten better and better over the last few years with a couple of world titles, multiple European championships and also becoming the first European men’s rink to win a Grand Slam event.

As for the team itself, their hitting ability is off the charts, especially with Oskar Eriksson being one of the hardest throwing players in the game. Although their soft game has gotten better, their one weakness is if Wrana or Eriksson make mistakes on their peels, that can lead to big problems. With that said, this a terrific squad and with Edin missing out on a chance at the gold with a loss to David Murdoch in the semi-final in 2014, anything other than a trip to the finals would have to be a disappointment.

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1) Sweden (Niklas Edin)

You can make a case either way for Sweden or Canada to be the champion, but given his body of work over the last couple of years, I ended up giving Edin the nod for a gold medal. He’ll be hungry to redeem himself after losing in the semis four years ago when he was arguably the best team there, and if everyone’s on their game, they’ll be hard to top. 

2) Canada (Kevin Koe)

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Skip – Kevin Koe, Vice – Marc Kennedy, Second – Brent Laing “Lainger”, Lead – “Benny Heebz” Ben Hebert

Grand Slam Record: 13-9 (DNQ, Semi-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist, Semi-Finalist)

Notable Accomplishments: 2016 Tim Hortons Brier Champions, 2016 World Men’s Curling Champions, 2017 Tim Hortons Brier Silver Medalist, 2017 Tim Hortons Roar Of The Rings Champions

We have already gone over a good chunk about this team in our Roar Of The Rings preview and review, so there’s not much left to say about that.  Ben Hebert and Marc Kennedy have been to the Olympics before winning gold in 2010, so their experience is going to help Kevin Koe and Brent Laing out tremendously. Like I mentioned before, the top two is pretty much a coin flip but I would say the difference between Edin and Koe could be their draw games, especially with Kennedy and Hebert’s sweeping ability. Either way, it should be a great battle.

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2) Canada (Kevin Koe)

This is one of those battles that will probably come down to an extra-end in the race for gold. We’ve talked before how if Koe’s off, things could get tough, but he’s played so well at major events it’s hard to see that happening. I think Edin’s Olympic experience has me leaning more towards him, but Koe’s going to be right there. If someone other than these two wins the gold medal, it would be a major surprise.

3) United States (John Shuster)

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Skip – John Shuster, Vice – Tyler George, Second – Matt Hamilton, Lead – John Landsteiner

Grand Slam Record: 6-8 (Quarter-Finalist, DNQ, DNQ – Only competed in three slams)

Notable Accomplishments: 2015 United States Men’s Curling Champions, 2016 United States Men’s Curling Championship Silver Medalist, 2016 World Men’s Curling Championship Bronze Medalist, 2017 United States Men’s Olympic Trials Champions

This is a player and team that has gotten better and better over the few years, and especially Shuster lost skipping duties in 2010 after losing three of his first four games. Shuster almost in the upper level of men’s curling on the world stage, especially after two straight trips to the playoffs at the Worlds. He might need the week of his life to get in teh medal round, but Shuster’s play as of late and his Olympic experience should help him be in the playoff discussion at the very least. Plus, don’t forget that Matt Hamilton will be coming off the mixed doubles event so he might give the team a leg up when it comes to knowledge of the ice and rocks.

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3) United States (John Shuster)

If you had told me a few years ago that I would John Shuster as a legit medal threat at the Olympics, I’d have thought you were nuts. However, given how good these guys have been at the Worlds in recent years, it’s not that crazy of an outcome. The race for the final two playoff spots are going to be crazy, but these guys have done well enough in recent years to be in the hunt for a medal.

4) Switzerland (Peter de Cruz)

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Skip – Peter de Cruz (Throws Second Stones), Vice – Benoit Schwartz (Throws Skip Stones), Second – Claudio Paetz (Throws Third Stones), Lead – Valetine Tanner

Grand Slam Record: 9-7 (DNQ, Quarter-Finalist, Champion – Only competed in three events)

Notable Accomplishments: 2015 European Men’s Curling Championship Silver Medalist, 2016 & 2017 European Men’s Curling Championship Bronze Medalist, 2017 World Men’s Curling Championship Bronze Medalist

Here is another one of those skips that has pretty taken the mantle as the top team for their country. For the last year and a half, de Cruz has become a force on the men’s scene with a bronze medal at last year’s Worlds and a win at the most recent Grand Slam of Curling event over Niklas Edin in January. This is another real solid squad in this field and they have a good chance of being on the podium.

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4) Norway (Thomas Ulsrud’s Magical Pants)

It’s the last stand for the 2010 Olympic silver medalists and I expect to have a good run all week. Granted, they might not be on the same level as the other top rinks now on the men’s stage, but they have enough experience to have a shot at the playoffs. Plus, who doesn’t love the pants. 

5) Norway’s Magical Pants (Thomas Ulsrud)

 

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Skip – Thomas Ulsrud, Vice – Torger Neergard, Second – Christoffer Svae, Lead – Haavard Vad Peterson

Grand Slam Record: 3-6 (DNQ, DNQ)

Notable Accomplishments: 2015 European Men’s Curling Championship Bronze Medalist, 2015 World Men’s Curling Championship Silver Medalist, 2016 European Men’s Curling Championship Silver Medalist

Ah yes the team with the pants. Thomas Ulsrud is back for his third straight Olympics as the skip, but to be honest I think his best performances might be behind him, especially with young Steffen Walstad hot on his heels. We all know how good Ulsrud is on soft shots and the hitting ability of Christoffer Svae is still pretty good, plus they have lots of experience so it would be foolish to not have them in the playoff mix. They might need some luck for a medal, but they’ll be a team to watch with 14 different pairs of pants apparently coming to the Olympics. I do wonder if anyone else will be wearing “The Pants” when this team retires though.

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5) Great Britain (Kyle Smith)

Although Bruce Mouat’s rink beat him to the punch of winning a Grand Slam event, Smith is the next strong men’s rink over in Scotland after the runs of Tom Brewster and David Murdoch. Thanks to a strong showing at the Europeans, I’d consider them the best threat to break into the top four in South Korea.

6) Great Britain (Kyle Smith)

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Skip – Kyle Smith, Vice – Thomas Muirhead, Second – Kyle Waddell, Lead – Cameron Smith

Grand Slam Record: 1-7 (DNQ, DNQ)

Notable Accomplishment: 2017 European Men’s Curling Championship Silver Medalist

Even though he had a breakout season on the Grand Slam circuit, I was a little surprised that Kyle Smith was selected as the rep for Great Britain over someone like David Murdoch or Tom Brewster. With that said, this is a solid and young squad, but being in the Olympics before making a World Championship might put a bit of pressure on him. Then again, Eve Muirhead was kind of in a similar spot back in 2010 as she was still playing in the junior ranks and we’ve seen what she’s done over the years. Keep a close eye on Smith going forward though, as he’ll be in the mix in four years time and will be no pushover in South Korea.

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6) Switzerland (Peter de Cruz)

Brett’s probably a little higher on de Cruz’s chances than I am. Granted, they’ve picked things up as of late and seem to be on the verge of being the best European rink that’s not Niklas Edin on a regular basis, but I’m not sure they will be in the medal picture this time around. Call it a hunch more than anything.

7) Japan (Yusuke Morozumi)

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Skip – Yusuke Morozumi, Vice – Tetsuro Shimizu, Second – Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi, Lead – Kosuke Morozumi
Grand Slam Record: N/A
Notable Accomplishments: 2015 Pacific Asia Curling Championship Silver Medalist, 2016 Pacific Asia Curling Championship Bronze Medalist, Finished fourth at 2016 World Men’s Curling Championship
Yusuke Morozumi gets the call for Japan and he might be capable of a few upsets this week. This team is known for really good hitting ability and has been a playoff contender at the last two world men’s curling championships, but they are probably more of a wild card here this week.
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7) Japan (Yusuke Morozumi)
If anyone is capable of a shock run to the playoffs like Riu Liu at the last Olympics, this is the team to do it. They’ve been in the mix at the worlds in their last couple of trips there and I fully expect to pull a few upsets in South Korea. A strong start is the difference between a playoff spot and a mid-pack finish though. 

8) Denmark (Rasmus Stjerne)

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Skip – Rasmus Stjerne, Vice – Johnny Frederiksen, Second – Mikkel Poulsen, Lead – Oliver Dupont

Grand Slam Record: N/A

Notable Accomplishments: 2016 World Men’s Curling Championships Silver Medalist

For someone who has been to a world men’s final in 2016 and made the playoffs in 2013, there has not been a ton of talk about this former World Junior Champion. Although he went 4-5 at his first trip to the Olympics four years ago, Stjerne has had a lot of ups and downs over the last few years, so it’s really tough to tell where he will end up.

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8) South Korea (Chang-Min Kim)

This might be a slightly biased point of view having seen them all week at the Boost National event in Sault Ste. Marie in November, but Kim’s hitting game makes them a team to watch for all week. I’m not sure they’ll be in the mix to contend, but being the hosts for the men’s field should give them a ton of momentum in the years to come.

9) South Korea (Chang-Min Kim)

 

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Skip – Chang-Min Kim, Vice – Se-Hyeon Kim, Second – Eun-Su Oh, Lead – Ki-Bok Lee

Grand Slam Record: 6-5 (Runner-Up, DNQ – Only competed in two slams)

Notable Accomplishments: 2017 Pacific-Asia Champions

The Men’s team representing South Korea hadn’t done much at all over this cycle, until this year. Not only did Kim capture the Pacific-Asia title, but they made a shocking run to the finals at the Boost National where they lost to Bruce Mouat in the final. From what I’ve seen of them, this is a solid team and Kim is a pretty good hitter, but in all honesty I don’t see them doing well on home soil. However, I think they will pull off a couple of upset wins.

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9) Denmark (Rasmus Stjerne)

Like Brett said earlier, Stjerne probably should be higher in the mix given how he’s had strong showings at the Worlds. However, he’s been all over the map at the other events and it’s harder to see him higher than the bottom half of the standings. Perhaps he’ll appear more often at events over in Canada in the next cycle, but we will have to wait and see.

10) Italy (Joel Retornaz)

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Skip – Joel Retornaz, Vice – Amos Mosaner, Second – Andrea Pilzer, Lead – Simone Gonin

Grand Slam Record: N/A

Notable Accomplishments: Finished ninth at the 2017 World Championships

For the first time since 2006 when they were the host country, Joel Retornaz has brought Italy back to the Olympics upsetting the likes of Germany, China and the Czech Republic to qualify. Now there has not been much said about Joel compared to some of the other rinks, even though he had a fairly respectable showing at last year’s world championships. With that said, don’t expect much in his second Olympic Games.

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10) Italy (Joel Rentoraz)

What a great beard! Brett’s gone over the main thoughts on this squad, but I think they can surprise a few teams as they’ve gotten better over the last couple of years. They might not have a great week in South Korea, but Rentoraz and Jaap Van Dorp of the Netherlands might be rinks to watch for in the coming years as they getter better on the European and World stage. 


The Punkari Brothers Review The 2017 Roar Of The Rings

Written by Brett Punkari (With Cameos by Lucas Punkari – Yes this is two months delayed but hey, better late than never right)

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After eight days of intense competition, we have crowned our men’s and women’s teams that will represent Team Canada at the 2018 Olympics in South Korea. For the winners it’s a culmination of four years of very hard work and a lot of sacrifices. For the others, it will be a question of whether or not to get a chance like this again. One thing that is for sure is that when the curling season ends, there will be a ton of lineup reshuffling.

Let’s start things off with the women’s event where the top team in the world is starting to revert back to their 2014 form.

Champions – Team Rachel Homan

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I think we can officially stop questioning this team from now on as Rachel Homan is pretty much almost back to her 2014 form. After getting off to an okay start in the round-robin and having a very close call against Casey Scheidegger, Rachel turned up the wick in the playoffs with an impressive showing over Jennifer Jones in the semifinal and was in control of the final against Chelsea Carey, even though the final end was almost like watching this year’s Scotties final with Michelle Englot.

Something that surprised me during the week while watching the rink, especially during the playoffs, was that Rachel went back to using the tick shot on almost every end with Lisa Weagle when they had the hammer and it was tough for the like of Jones and Carey to respond to that.

In terms of the Olympics, it will be a tightly contested affair as Homan will have to deal with a couple of strong European sides that will talk more about in our Olympic preview. The one big question heading into February though is if Homan will have her usual trend where she loses a big event in her first attempt before winning it all, or will she change that narrative and bring back the gold medal.

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My two favourite skips in Rachel Homan and Eve Muirhead are going to be at the Olympics! You have no idea how happy I am about this turn of events.

As Brett said, Homan and crew stepped up their game when it mattered the most and it was their best performance of the season to date after some interesting showings at the Grand Slam. She should be the favourite for the gold medal in South Korea, though Muirhead and Anna Hasselborg will be right there as her toughest foes.

Round-Robin Stats

Skip – Rachel Homan – 85% – 1st

Vice – Emma Miskew – 84% – 1st

Second – Joanne Courtney – 85% – 1st

Lead – Lisa Weagle – 81% – 8th

Team Percentage – 85% – 1st

Runner-Up/Biggest Surprise – Chelsea Carey

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Boy this one has got to sting. After becoming the first women’s team to go unbeaten in the round-robin, they just weren’t at their best when it mattered most in the final against the hometown favourites. Carey got off to a great start by beating Homan and she only trailed in one game during the round-robin as she came from behind to beat Julie Tippin. However, a missed blank attempt in the first end and then a steal in the second end made it a tough hill to climb against Homan in the final.

With all that said, having Cathy Overton-Clapham has really helped this team out in my opinion and it makes Carey one of the favourites to get out of Alberta for the playdowns. While I’m sure this loss will be a tough one to get over for Carey, she should have a great chance of contending for a Scotties crown if they make it there.

Heading into this week, Brett and I both felt like Carey usually does well in 10-end Curling Canada sanctioned events compared to the eight-end games on the World Curling Tour, so there was a chance that she could be a good pick to surprise. I certainly didn’t expect her to run the table though and she was darn close to beating Homan in the finals if it wasn’t for a sluggish start.

Getting out of Alberta will be tough, but Carey will be among the favourites to do so in the always tough province. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with this squad after this year though, as I suspect Overton-Clapham and Peters probably aren’t going to be around for another four-year run.

Round-Robin Stats

Skip – Chelsea Carey – 80% – Tied for 3rd

Vice – Cathy Overton-Clapham – 77% – Tied for 5th

Second – Jocelyn Peterman – 82% – Tied for 2nd

Lead – Laine Peters – 89% – 2nd

Team Percentage – 82% – Tied for 3rd

Third Place/Biggest Disappointment – Team Jennifer Jones

Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Rachel Homan

For the defending Olympics champions and the top team based on their performance to date ahead of the trials, this was more of a case of a team that went in the opposite direction at end of the week. After starting things off with a 5-0 record, which included a come from behind win over Casey Schiedegger, the losses began.

Following a close game against Chelsea Carey, the Jones rink suffered a lopsided defeat to Krista McCarville and then lost both their last round-robin game and the semifinal to Rachel Homan. Jennifer’s shooting percentages really fell off during that stretch as she was shooting in the mid 60’s to the low 70’s, which is something you don’t expect to happen.

Now that the Olympic run is over, Jones is again the favourite to get out of Manitoba and return to the Scotties. However, will this prove to be her last run at making it to the Olympics? We’ll have to wait and see.

Round-Robin Stats

Skip – Jennifer Jones – 74% – Tied for 7th

Vice – Kaitlyn Lawes – 82% – Tied for 2nd

Second – Jill Office – 79% – 6th

Lead – Dawn McEwen – 92% – 1st

Team Percentage – 81% – 5th

Having won her last 14 games before the Trials, Jones was to me the easy favourite and looked to be on track with a 5-0 start. However, as Brett already mentioned, things went pear-shaped and it felt like things we’re off a little bit and it reminded me of some of the strange losses Jones had over the last couple of years.

Obviously it’s a tough way to finish off the quest for an Olympic gold medal repeat, but this rink should easily be the favourites to win the Scotties if they make it that far. The future is super interesting though as I have no idea if Jones or Officer will be back for another run. If there’s any changes, Kaitlyn Lawes might be the most interesting player to keep an eye on when all of the shuffling takes place.

Kanata ON.December 6, 2017.Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings Curling Trials.Team Sweeting, skip Val Sweeting, lead Rachel Brown.Curling Canada/ michael burns photo

While I agree with Brett that the shocking slide Jones had would make her rink the disappointment of the week, the other rink that didn’t end up finishing anywhere near our expectations was the one skipped by Val Sweeting. 

Going into the event, we expected Sweeting to be right up there with Homan and Jones in the mix for the playoffs, but an 0-3 start seemed to squash any chance of that. She finished the week with a 4-4 record and ended Krista McCarville’s playoff hopes with an extra-end win in her last game, but I’m starting to wonder if the back-to-back trips to the Scotties finals in 2014 and 2015 might be the peak of this rink’s run.

Round-Robin Stats

Skip – Val Sweeting – 77% – 5th

Vice – Lori Olson-Johns – 76% – 7th

Second – Dana Ferguson – 82% – Tied for 2nd

Lead – Rachelle Brown – 87% – 4th

Team Percentage – 80% – 6th

Now we move on to the men’s portion of the Olympic Trials, where a team that was pretty much built for this event showed everyone what it was made of.

Champions – Team Kevin Koe

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When this team was formed four years ago, many people figured that with this lineup they were going to be the favorites to win the trials. Though there were some ups and downs along the way, this proved why many expected them to be in South Korea.

Now granted, there was a little bit of luck along the way as their early games came to down to one shot. Then in the finals, which is the best game of the season so far, everyone was playing their best and Kevin Koe continued his great shot making and return to the form we saw a couple of years ago. I almost seems like the bigger the stage, the better he plays.

When it comes to the Olympics, it’s basically a coin flip between Koe and one other team for the gold at this point. I think it’s going to help Koe and Laing quite a lot though that both Kennedy and Hebert have been at the Olympics so they will help them with what to expect at the event. Also, you have to Benny Heebz chucking his broom all the way across the sheet after the final shot.

In addition to an 80-grade broom chuck from Hebert, the Koe rink was the most consistent all week long and really stepped up their game as the competition continued after a few narrow wins early on. The stage is set for Koe and Niklas Edin to fight it out for the Olympic title, and it should be a great battle if they are both at the top of their game.

Round-Robin Stats

Skip – Kevin Koe – 88% – 1st

Vice – Marc Kennedy – 86% – Tied for 2nd

Second – Brent Laing – 90% – 2nd

Lead – Ben Hebert – 92% – Tied for 1st

Team Percentage – 89% – Tied for 1st

Runner-Up – Mike McEwen

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Although it was another tough loss for Mike McEwen, this was probably his coming out party on the national stage as he played two of the best games of his life in the playoffs. Even though he had a shaky end to the round-robin, I think McEwen’s showing in Ottawa could be a launching to perhaps getting his first Brier in the next couple of years. That says a lot considering this rink almost split up after losing the Manitoba provincial final in 2015.

If everyone stays with this team, they might end up being the favourites for the 2022 Olympic run. We’ve been waiting for Mike to have a great showing at a Curling Canada event and he did just that in Ottawa. With how great he played in the playoffs, it’s kind of a bummer that he missed out on the win, but that big event title is coming.

Round-Robin Stats

Skip – Mike McEwen – 85% – 5th

Vice – B.J. Neufeld – 85% – Tied for 6th

Second – Matt Wozniak – 88% – Tied for 3rd

Lead – Denni Neufeld – 90% – 3rd

Team Percentage – 87% – Tied for 3rd

 

 

Third Place – Brad Gushue

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For the defending Brier and World Champion, it was almost a similar story to their run to that elusive Brier title in St. John’s where he got off to a slow start but turned things up as the week went on. If it wasn’t for one bad shot in the semifinal, Gushue would have probably been in the running for another chance at going to the Olympics. Next up is a return to the Brier as Team Canada and possibly another four year run, so Newfoundland should still be in good hands in the years ahead.

Obviously one bad end doesn’t make the week a full disappointment, but given how well Gushue and his rink have played over the last calendar year, not making the finals of the Olympic Trials has to be quite a let-down. Although we’re not sure if any changes are in store for this rink going forward, you’d have to think an intact Gushue foursome would be the odds-on favourite to contend for Olympic honours in 2022.

Round-Robin Stats

Skip – Brad Gushue – 87% – 2nd

Vice – Mark Nichols – 86% -Tied for 2nd

Second – Brett Gallant – 87% – Tied for 5th

Lead – Geoff Walker – 88% – 6th

Team Percentage – 87% – Tied for 3rd

 

Biggest Surprise – Brendan Bottcher

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Speaking of guys who had a coming out party on the national stage, Brendan Bottcher has put a real good case for himself as a potential contender for the 2022 Olympics. After getting off to an 2-1 start, Bottcher had a bad showing against John Morris, but he bounced back by being in every game he played as he almost defeated Kevin Koe in the zound-robin and was in the playoff hunt before a late loss to Mike McEwen.  I think Bottcher is someone that can be a really good all-around player going forward, especially with his soft game. We shall how things how things go for him down the road.

Given his successful junior career, Brett and I expected Bottcher to be one of the future stars on the men’s scene. Now that he’s been to a Brier and an Olympic Trials, the sky’s the limit for this talented skip going forward. Nothing seems to faze him and I suspect he’ll be in the playoff mix at the Brier soon, especially with another chance to back this year with Koe at the Olympics.

Round-Robin Stats

Skip – Brendan Bottcher – 82% – 7th

Vice – Darren Moulding – 85% – Tied for 6th

Second – Brad Thiessen – 87% – Tied for 5th

Lead – Karrick Martin – 86% – Tied for 7th

Team Percentage – 85% – Tied for 5th

Biggest Disappointment – Brad Jacobs

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Talk about falling off the face of the earth. Brad Jacobs could have easily been 4-0 early on in the week, but he threw his final draw through the house and lost to Kevin Koe before blowing a big lead and losing to Steve Laycock. After that, it seemed that his confidence took a major nose dive, as he shot 65% or worse in three of his last four games.

For a team that is built on raw emotion, this has to be one of the most frustrating events they’s ever been in, and it will be interesting to see if the guys can bounce back for the Brier if they get there. There is a silver lining, however, as all four guys are back on the team for another four year run so I expect to see more intensity in the years to come.

The draw through the house in an extra-end against Koe summed up a rough week for the defending Olympic champions, as they couldn’t seem to get out of their own way after that. It’s good that they are staying together though, as it should help Northern Ontario stay at the top of the mix and give them a leg-up on any men’s teams that plan to change things up.

Round-Robin Stats

Skip – Brad Jacobs – 79% – Tied for 8th

Vice – Ryan Fry – 85% – Tied for 6th

Second – E.J. Harnden – 88% – Tied for 3rd

Lead – Ryan Harnden – 89% – Tied for 4th

Team Percentage – 85% – Tied for 5th

Punkari Brothers Shots of the Week

Women’s – Rachel Homan’s game winning double takeout against Casey Scheidegger

Men’s – Kevin Koe’s draw in the eighth end against Mike McEwen in the final

 

 

 

 


The Punkari Brothers Preview the 2018 Scotties

A quick note here from Lucas. Brett and I have done an Olympic Trials recap and we also did a provincial preview for the Scotties and the Brier, but I haven’t had a chance to post those yet. Keep an eye for those in the coming weeks, which will be comical in hindsight, as is this late to the party Scotties preview.

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The time has come once again to preview the Scotties Tournament Of Hearts, though this year’s event in Penticton comes with a major change. With the field expanding to 16 teams and no more relegation, the Scotties now have a pool system like the Canadian Juniors.

In a similar format to the Canadian Juniors, eight teams will be in two pools with the top four in each group moving to a championship pool. From there, the four best records will then advance into the playoffs.

Also, there’s a 16th team in the field this year, which is the Wildcard Team that will be determined by a play-in game between the two highest ranked team in the CTRS rankings that failed to win their provincials.

(A quick comment on this. While I don’t mind the pool play, the concept of adding a team to the field that didn’t even win the provincials is baffling. Granted, you probably could have gotten around this and stayed at 14 teams by getting rid of Team Canada, but heaven forbid we force the defending champions to play through provincial playdowns.)

Before we go over our rankings for this year’s field, which will start off with the 15 teams in the event already and then the two wildcard teams, here’s how each of the pools look for this week in Penticton.

Pool A

  • Manitoba
  • New Brunswick
  • Northern Ontario
  • Northwest Territories
  • Nova Scotia
  • Saskatchewan
  • Wildcard Team
  • Yukon

Pool B

  • Alberta
  • British Columbia
  • Newfoundland & Labrador
  • Nunavut
  • Ontario
  • Prince Edward Island
  • Quebec
  • Team Canada

1) Manitoba (St. Vital Curling Club – Winnipeg)

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Skip – Jennifer Jones, Vice – Kaitlyn Lawes, Second – “Jilly” Jill Officer, Lead – Dawn “The Mongoose” McEwen

Grand Slam Record: 22-4 (Semifinalist, Champion, Champion, Semifinalist)

(Due to Kaitlyn Lawes competing in the Mixed Doubles event at the Olympics with John Morris, Shannon Birchard will be playing in her place at the Vice position)

Although the Olympic Trials ended on a sour not with four straight losses, it would be foolish to make anyone else but Jennifer Jones the favourite for the Scotties, even though she did get quite a scare in the provincial final against Darcy Robertson.

It’s been a phenomenal season for the Jones rink as a whole, but it will be interesting to see if they can pull it all together in the playoffs as there’s been a slight downturn in performance at the Olympics Trials and the provincials. Losing Kaitlyn Lawes is going to hurt a bit, but this is a glorious chance for Shannon Birchard to stand out on the national scene with a great performance.

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1) Manitoba (Jennifer Jones)

Even with Lawes heading to South Korea, Jones’ rink is easily the favourite for this event. They’ve played well all year, other than a slightly disappointing finish at the Olympic Trials, and the addition of Birchard is a great one. I’ve been a fan of her for awhile now, mainly because she plays mixed doubles with Jason Gunnlaugson, and she’s going to be one of the players to watch on the women’s scene over the next few years.

2) Alberta (Grande Prairie Curling Club)

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Skip – Casey “Scheidiggitydog” Scheidegger, Vice – Cary-Anne McTaggart, Second – Jessie Scheidegger, Lead – Kristie Moore

Grand Slam Record: 10-10 (DNQ, Quarter-Finalist, Runner-Up, DNQ)

In her eight attempt, Casey Scheidegger finally broke through to make it to the Scotties and given how she preformed at the Olympic Trials, she has a pretty good chance of not only making the playoffs but perhaps winning it all.

Her play has gotten better over the course of the last year since she broke through to win her first Grand Slam title in 2017, and having veteran players like McTaggart and Moore should help her quite a lot. With her continued improvement, it’s possible for her to become a national champion in her first attempt.

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2) Alberta (Casey Scheidegger)

With her breakout performances over the last year, including a dandy of a shot to win the Alberta title, I fully expect Casey to have another strong week at her first Scotties. Granted, it’s hard to win a national title in your first try, but she has a pretty good shot with the way this field shakes out. Granted, she’ll probably have to beat Jones to do that, and that’s always a tough task.

3) Northern Ontario (Idylwylde Golf & Country Club – Sudbury)

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Skip – Tracy Fleury, Vice – Crystal Webster, Second – Jennifer Wylie, Lead – “Pimp” Amanda Gates, Alternate – Jenna Walsh (Northern Ontario uses a five-player rotation)

Grand Slam Record: 5-5 (DNQ, Semi-Finalist – Only competed in two slams)

 

Tracy Fleury returns to the Scotties for the third time and is representing Northern Ontario for the first time since 2015 after winning on home ice over Krista McCarville at the provincials. Despite a disappointing showing at the Pre-Trials, this season has been better than the last couple of years, which included a strong showing at the Boost National. If they play like they did there, they should have a shot at the playoffs, though we are guaranteed to see Amanda Gates cause all sorts of hilarity.

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3) Team Canada (Michelle Englot)

Although this season hasn’t been great since their surprise run to the Scotties final last February, Rachel Homan’s Olympic Trials success gave the Englot another chance at a national title. Personally, I think they’ll go as far as Kate Cameron takes them, but they should be a playoff team at worst.

4) Team Canada (Granite Curling Club – Winnipeg)

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Skip – Michelle Englot, Vice – Kate “Straight Edge” Cameron, Second – Leslie Wilson, Lead – Raunora Westcott

Grand Slam Record: 9-12 (Quarter-Finalist, DNQ, DNQ, Runner-Up)

 

*Due to Rachel Homan winning the Roar Of The Rings, the runner-up from last year’s Scotties gets the Team Canada spot for this year*

Boy does Michelle Englot feel fortunate that Rachel Homan is heading to the Olympics, because I don’t think she would have gotten out of Manitoba given how the season has gone. However, they may have turned things around a little bit with a runner-up finish at the Canadian Open. With that said, if Englot is to be in the mix for a title once again, there has to be a lot more consistency and Kate Cameron will need to continue her outstanding play from last year.

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4) Northern Ontario (Tracy Fleury)

Not only does everyone’s favourite lead Amanda Gates return to the national stage, but Crystal Webster will be competing in her first Scotties and has shed the title of being the best curler yet to play at the event. Although they’ve been up and down when it comes to consistency, the talent is there in this team to make the playoffs if all goes well.

5) Northwest Territories (Yellowknife Curling Centre)

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Skip – Kerry Galusha, Vice – Sarah Koltun, Second – Megan Koehler, Lead – Shona Barbour

Grand Slam Record: N/A

Coming off of her best ever showing last year at the Scotties, Galusha received a major shot in the arm as Sarah Koltun moves from the Yukon to join the other top women’s team in the Territories. With Galusha’s experience at this event, she’s always a tough skip to go up against no matter who is playing here. It might be a bit of a stretch to pick her in the top five, but if she can keep her momentum from last year, watch out.

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5) Northwest Territories (Kerry Galusha)

Given how well she played last year after winning the pre-qualifying round, Galusha should have another good week in Penticton. Although they don’t play much on the World Curling Tour, they are always competitive, and Koltun is one of the better young curlers in the country. Her addition should make this team even better.

6) British Columbia (Nanaimo Curling Centre)

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Skip – Kesa Van Osch, Vice – Marika Van Osch, Second – Kalia Van Osch, Lead – Amy Gibson

Grand Slam Record: N/A

Kesa Van Osch will be making her second trip to the Scotties and she’s hoping at the very least that the flu bug stays away from her team. In her last trip in 2014, the flu decimated them to the point where they were playing with three players at certain points, though they did post a 6-5 record.

This year, Kesa’s sisters will be joining up with them again after being at the Canadian Juniors together. Their national experience should help this fairly solid squad, though the midfield is so hard to predict so it could be wrong in that regard.

Team Nova Scotia skip Mary-Anne Arsenault calls on the sweepers to stop in draw thirteen action at the Scotties 2015

6) Nova Scotia (Mary-Anne Arsenault)

In her last trip to the event in 2015, Arsenault beat Rachel Homan and Jennifer Jones and was in the mix for a playoff spot. If this rink has another strong round-robin, a spot in the playoffs isn’t that far fetched given the depth of this year’s field.

7) Newfoundland & Labrador (St. John’s Curling Club)

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Skip – Stacie Curtis, Vice – Erin Porter, Second – Julie Devereaux, Lead – Erica Trickett

Grand Slam Record: N/A

Another skip that had her best ever showing at last year’s Scotties was Stacie Curtis, as she rose up the standings after spending three tournaments in the basement. She might have a shot of getting out of her round-robin pool and giving other teams fits, but I can’t see too much else happening. However, if she keeps improving, she could be in the same boat as Andrea Crawford was for New Brunswick a few years ago when they were on the fringes of playoff contention.

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7) British Columbia (Kesa Van Osch)

After an impressive debut in Montreal four years ago, it’s a little surprising to see Van Osch have to wait this long to return to the Scotties. Now that she’s back as the home skip, along with having her sisters alongside here, I expect her to have a pretty solid sophomore appearance on the national stage.

8) Nova Scotia (Dartmouth Curling Club)

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Skip – Mary-Anne Arsenault, Vice – Christina Black, Second – Jennifer Baxter, Lead – Jennifer Crouse

Grand Slam Record: N/A

In what will be her 13th trip to the event, Arsenault is back at the Scotties for the first time since 2015, where she went 5-6 and could have had a better record with a bit more luck. The lineup has a slight change with Baxter going up to second and Crouse now at lead, and they will be a tough squad to go up against all week, especially with Arsenault’s experience. However, they might need some luck to get out of their group.

 

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8) Saskatchewan (Sherry Anderson)

This is one of those rinks that you could really put anywhere in the standings. Anderson’s a good veteran player and the youngsters have all done well on the junior circuit, but they haven’t played a ton on the tour and the Scotties are a totally different beast. They might sneak into the championship round, but would need to have a couple of upsets along the way.

9) Ontario (Royal Canadian Curling Club – Toronto)

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Skip – Hollie Duncan, Vice – Stephanie LeDrew, Second – Cheryl Kreviazuk, Lead – Karen Sagle

Grand Slam Record: N/A

So about the Ontario women’s curling scene at the moment. With Rachel Homan at the Olympics, Lucas and I had four possible teams in the mix to win the title, but none of them did. Instead, it was a lineup with two former Team Homan alternates in LeDrew and Kreviazuk, that came away with the title. Although Duncan has been in the Ontario provincials a few times and LeDrew went to the Scotties with Shelley Nichols a few years back, this is another team that’s a complete wild card for this week.

 

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9) Ontario (Hollie Duncan)

Brett already went over the state of Ontario curling and I have to agree with him that I have no clue where this rink is going to end up. Having LeDrew and Kreviazuk there is great though, even though Cheryl really should be with Team Homan in South Korea, but that’s another story for another day.

10) Saskatchewan (Nutana Curling Club – Saskatoon)

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Skip – Sherry Anderson, Vice – Kourtney Fesser, Second – Krista Fesser, Lead – Karlee Korchinski

Grand Slam Record: N/A

It’s the fourth different champion in as many years in Saskatchewan, with this year’s team featuring the return of a wily veteran with a young lineup alongside her as Sherry Anderson is back at the Scotties for the first time since 2015 and her first trip as a skip since 2004. For the young core, this will be a huge week for them to gain experience for the near future, but it’s hard to see them getting out of their pool. I mean, they could pull a few upsets along the way, but it’s hard to see that happening.

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10) Prince Edward Island (Robyn MacPhee)

Now we get into the group of teams from the East Coast that don’t play a lot on the circuit. You could draw many names out of a hat here, but I’d probably take the MacPhee rink based upon their overall experience.

11) New Brunswick (Curl Moncton)

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Skip – Sylvie Robichaud, Vice – Melissa Adams, Second – Nicole Bishop, Lead – Kendra Lister

Grand Slam Record: N/A

After losing in last year’s provincial final, Robichaud went out and brought in the skip that beat her in Adams to play at vice, which to me feels like Adams kind of left her team out to dry after missing out in the pre-qualifying round last year but that’s another story. The new addition has to given Robichaud some extra confidence and perhaps some better results, but that seems tough with a very experienced pool. At least Adams will be playing in more than four games this time.

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11) Newfoundland & Labrador (Stacie Curtis)

Brett’s higher on the chances of the former Canadian Junior champion than I am, though she might finish higher than I’m expecting her to be based upon an improved showing last year in London. Coming back to the Scotties multiple times has made her a good sleeper pick for the future, but I don’t think it will be this year.

12) Prince Edward Island (Charlottetown Curling Complex)

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Skip – Robyn MacPhee, Vice – Sarah Fullerton, Second – Meaghan Hughes, Lead – Michelle McQuad

Grand Slam Record: N/A

Robyn MacPhee returns for the third consecutive year to represent PEI. Not a lot has changed lineup wise and their record the last couple of years hasn’t been that great. In all honesty, I can’t see much happening for them this week in Penticton, even though they are in a slightly easier pool.

Team New Bruswick, skip Sylvie Robichaud waits for the shot to develope at the Scotties 2015

12) New Brunswick (Sylvie Robichaud)

In the last couple of years, Robichaud has had a couple of upset wins, with her biggest coming against Rachel Homan in 2015. Although the rink is a solid one, I’m not sure she can break into the championship pool unless she has a couple of upsets.

13) Quebec (Club de Curling Riverbend – Alma)

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Skip – Emilia Gagne, Vice – Melina Perron, Second – Marie-Pier Harvey, Lead – Chloe Arnaud

Grand Slam Record: N/A

This team’s main goal was to represent Quebec at the Canadian Juniors, but they ended up losing their provincial semi-final. They bounced back in a huge way at the Scotties, as they knocked off Eve Belisle to go to the Scotties. I’m wondering how this year’s Canadian Junior runner-up Laurie St. Georges feels about this.

Anyways, this experience at the Scotties is really going to help this young rink going forward, especially when it comes to the junior circuit, as they might have a chance of getting Quebec their first women’s junior title since 1999.

 

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13) Quebec (Emilia Gagne)

It’s always great to see junior rinks mixing it up on the national stage and this reminds me quite a bit of when Sarah Koltun went to the Scotties in 2014. I’m not expecting a shocking playoff run, but this week will be huge for the Quebec rink going forward.

14) Yukon (Whitehorse Curling Club)

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Skip – Chelsea Duncan, Vice – Jenna Duncan, Second – Kara Price, Lead – Jody Smallwood

Grand Slam Record: N/A

With Sarah Koltun heading out East to join Team Galusha, there’s a major hole that needs to be filled in the Yukon. While Chelsea Duncan has previous experience at the event with Koltun, it might be tough to win any games this year. However, if she stays the course and plays at multiple events like Galusha, that experience will help them get close in the future.

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14) Yukon (Chelsea Duncan)

This is going to be another rink that will use this experience of playing at the Scotties to get better going forward. That’s a good thing about the pool format now, as the Yukon and Nunavut will get to play a full slate of games instead of being gone after a couple of days. If Koltun comes back though, watch out for this group going forward.

15) Nunavut (Iqaluit Curling Club)

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Skip – Amie Shackelton, Vice – Geneva Chislett, Second – Denise Hutchings, Lead – Robyn Mackey

Grand Slam Record: N/A

 

This is where the road is going to get really for Nunavut at these events as they enter a full round-robin. We’ve seen some lopsided scores in the Canadian Juniors for the territory and I think we might see that here. There will be a point when a group of curlers come through to give Nunavut a chance at a decent record, but I don’t think that will be happening for a long time.

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15) Nunavut (Amie Shackleton)

Brett’s already said everything when it comes to how this team will fare. I think it’s going to take a Sarah Koltun or a Thomas Scoffin type to come from the junior ranks to help Nunavut contend in the future, but we shall see how things go.

The Wildcard Teams

Team Chelsea Carey (The Glencoe Club – Calgary)

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Skip – Chelsea “The Annihilator” Carey, Vice – Cathy Overton-Clapham, Second – Jocelyn Peterman, Lead – Laine Peters

Grand Slam Record: 15-6 (Runner-Up, Semi-Finalist, Champion)

As we mentioned in the Roar of the Rings preview, the addition of Cathy O has made a huge difference with a runner-up showing at the Olympic Trials being the highlight of their season. Although they had a disappointing finish at the Alberta Scotties, this will probably be the biggest threat to Jennifer Jones, but that’s only if they qualify for the main draw. If Carey wins the wildcard game, I expect her to be a title contender and make the playoff for sure.

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It’s been a bit of a weird season for Carey as she’s had some great showings but a second place result at the Olympic Trials and not making the Alberta provincial final is sure to be a big disappointment. If she can win the wildcard game, Carey is easily the toughest opponent that Jones would have to deal with and I’d probably have her in second in the standings.

Team Kerri Einarson (East St. Paul Curling Club)

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Skip – Kerri Einarson, Vice – Selena Kaatz, Second – Liz Fyfe “And Her Hair”, Lead – Kristin MacCuish

Grand Slam Record: 15-8 (Champion, Runner-Up, DNQ, DNQ)

For a team that looked to have a lot of promise early on in the season, things didn’t go well at the Road to the Roar as she they lost their last round-robin game to Krista McCarville and were on the outside looking in for the playoffs. Then they ran the table at the Manitoba Scotties but ended up crashing and burning in the playoffs.

When they are on their game, this rink can matchup with the best in the world, but they haven’t had much luck since the pre-trials and they’ve had a few rough showings along the way. If they can beat Carey and make it in the field, I see them as a playoff contender if things go right.

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Brett and I were obviously shocked when Einarson was unable to get a spot in the Olympic Trials, but this is a great chance for them to salvage their campaign if they can get the 16th slot. A trip to the finals wouldn’t surprise me, but I think they can get to the semis for sure and I would have them ranked in the fourth slot coming into this week.

 


The Punkari Brothers Preview the 2017 Roar of the Rings

Written by Brett Punkari (With Cameos by Lucas Punkari)

With the conclusion of the Road To The Roar a couple of weeks ago (and some bad predictions on our part) the field is set for the 2017 edition of the Roar Of The Rings. Nine days of big crowd, crazy shot making, broom smashing and probably the most intense event in all of curling.

Like our preview four years ago, this preview will go super in depth as we look at how each team has done over the last three and a half seasons, their potential strengths and weaknesses, a key player for each rink and any lineup changes that happened along the way.

We’ll start things off with the Women’s event, where although it can be unpredictable at times, there appears to be a clear favourite in the field based upon how this season has gone so far.

Of note the teams are listed in the order that they clinched their spot in the Trials.

Women’s Event

Team Rachel Homan from the Ottawa Curling Club in Ottawa, Ontario

(Left to Right Skip – Rachel Homan “Destroyer”, Vice – “A Miscue By” Emma Miskew, Second – Joanne “Frizz” Courtney, Lead – Lisa “Da” Weagle)

How They Qualified: Won the 2015 Canada Cup

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: Brought in Joanne Courtney from Val Sweeting’s rink to replace the departing Alison Kreviazuk, Competed in eight World Curling Tour events, Won two events (the Stockholm Ladies Cup over Margretha Sigfridsson and the Pomeroy Inn & Suites Prairie Showdown over Silvana Tirinzoni), Had one DNQ (Red Deer Curling Classic), Lost the Canada Cup final to Val Sweeting, Won the Bronze Medal as Team Canada at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts over Stefanie Lawton

2015/2016: Competed in 10 WCT events, Won five events (Stu Sells Oakville Tankard over Alina Paetz, Stockholm Ladies Cup over Eve Muirhead, Autumn Gold Curling Classic over Chelsea Carey, Masters of Curling over Val Sweeting and The National over Tracy Fleury), Had one DNQ (Elite 10 where they competed against men), Won the Canada Cup over Val Sweeting, Lost the Ontario Scotties final to Jenn Hanna

2016/17: Hired Adam Kingsbury as Coach, Competed in eight WCT events, Won three events (Shorty Jenkins Classic over Allison Flaxey, Canad Inns Women’s Classic over Chiaki Matsumura and the Humpty’s Champions Cup over Anna Hasselborg), Had one DNQ (Meridian Canadian Open), Lost Canada Cup final to Jennifer Jones, Won Ontario Scotties title over Jacquelin Harrison, Won the Scotties Tournament of Hearts over Michelle Englot (Third title for Homan, Miskew and Weagle – First for Courtney), Won World Women’s Curling Championship over Anna Sidorova (First World Title for all four curlers – Went 13-0 and first Canadian rink to win the Women’s title since Jennifer Jones in 2008)

2017/18: Competed in five WCT events, Won two events (Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic over Un-Chi Gim and the Autumn Gold Curling Classic over Nina Roth), Had two DNQ’s (Tier I Tour Challenge and Masters of Curling)

Strengths: Great hitting ability, Joanne Courtney’s sweeping, The Weagle tick shot

Weaknesses: Homan’s potential for tire fires, Draw weight issues, Not using The Weagle tick shot as much as they used to

Key Player: Rachel Homan

Coming off a dominating performance at the 2014 Scotties and a silver medal at the Worlds, there was a change in the Homan rink as Allison Krevaziuk left for Sweden. Joanne Courtney was brought in as the new second and there’s a bit of a feeling out process in their first year together.

Then they were absolutely dominant for the 2015-16 campaign as they destroyed everything in their path, until they were stunned in the Ontario provincial final in a shocking upset by Jenn Hanna. Since then, this rink has transformed into trying to become a more complete squad, and to be honest I don’t they have been nowhere near as dominant as they were two years ago.

We know the credentials that Homan and the rest of the team have, specially after winning the Scotties and the Worlds last year, but I don’t think they are playing up to their strengths. Firstly, the tradition of having Lisa Weagle throw the tick shot in every single end has vanished, which was one of their biggest weapons. Also, Homan herself can’t draw worth a lick these days but she can still make a ton of hits as that’s always been her strength.

This rink is still one of the favourites to win, but if it had not been for that provincial final loss in 2016, I would probably have had them as a shoe-in to head to the Olympics.

As a diehard Rachel Homan supporter, I have no idea what to expect from her heading into the Olympic Trials. Yes, she’s coming off a great 2016-17 season where she won the Scotties and the Worlds, but the rest of the campaign was all over the place. This year hasn’t been great shakes either, as their three Grand Slam events have left a lot to be desired.

A lot of how they’ll do this week depends on how Homan plays, though the showings of Miskew and Courtney will be big factors as well. If Homan is on the form she was at the end of last year’s Scotties, she’ll win it all in her hometown. However, if she’s off in anyway, the chance for tire fires are huge. There’s no in between here.

Team Jennifer Jones from the St. Vital Curling Club in Winnipeg, Manitoba

(Left To Right Skip – Jennifer Jones, Vice – Kaitlyn Lawes, Second – “Jilly” Jill Officer, Lead – Dawn “The Mongoose” McEwen)

How They Qualified: First team on the 2015-16 CTRS (Canadian Team Ranking System) rankings not already qualified for the Trials (This was due to Chelsea Carey failing to medal at the 2016 World Championship)

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: Brought in Wendy Morgan as Coach, Competed in eight WCT events, Won four events (Stockholm Ladies Cup over Silvana Tirinzoni, Autumn Gold Curling Classic over Rachel Homan, Canad Inns Women’s Classic over Jill Thurston and the Karuizawa International over Eun Jung Kim), Had one DNQ (Players Championship), Went 3-3 at Canada Cup to finish tied for fourth place and missed the playoffs, Won Manitoba Scotties over Kerri Einarson, Won the Scotties Tournament Of Hearts over Val Sweeting (Fifth title for Jones and Officer, Fourth title for McEwen and First title for Lawes), Finished Runner-up at the World Women’s Curling Championships to Alina Paetz

2015/2016: Competed in 11 WCT Events, Won two events (Dekalb Superspiel over Erika Brown and the Humpty’s Champions Cup over Rachel Homan), Had two DNQ’s (Autumn Gold Curling Classic – Also lost a tiebreaker game to Eve Muirhead at the Tier I Tour Challenge), Lost Canada Cup semifinal to Val Sweeting, Won Bronze as Team Canada at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts over Kerri Einarson

2016/17: Competed in 11 WCT events, Won two events (Dekalb Superspiel over Michelle Englot and Westjet Players Championship over Val Sweeting), Had one DNQ (Tiebreaker loss to Chelsea Carey at Boost National), Won Canada Cup over Rachel Homan, Lost in the semifinal at the Manitoba Scotties to Darcy Robertson.

2017/18: Competed in 7 WCT Events, Won two events (Masters of Curling over Kerri Einarson and Boost National over Casey Scheidegger), Has made the playoffs at every event this year and is on a 14-game winning streak heading into the Trials

Strengths: Aggressive offensive strategy that usually leads to a lot of high scores, Consistent at nearly event they compete in, Dawn McEwen never has a bad tournament at lead

Weakness: Not very good at defending leads, Jennifer Jones isn’t quite great at throwing big weight hits, Offensively minded strategy can come back to bite them if they aren’t making shots

Key Player: Jennifer Jones

The defending Olympic champions seem to be hitting their stride at the perfect time this season as they have become the clear favourites based upon their level of play at the recent Grand Slam of Curling events. Personally, I thought that the devastating loss to Darcy Robertson at last year’s Manitoba provincials would affect them a little bit, but that hasn’t been the case.

We all know how strong this has been with their offensively minded play, and when they get that going it’s tough to try and stop them. However, there are some ways that teams can work around that, as Jennifer Jones can sometimes miss the big weight hits and forcing Kaitlyn Lawes into tough shots can sometimes lead to some inconsistent play that puts Jones into tougher situations.

With that said, the Jones rink seems to be back on track yet again and that’s not good news for the rest of the field.

Although they’ve had a few strange losses over the last couple of years that probably wouldn’t have happened a couple of years ago (see the 2016 Scotties semifinal against Krista McCarville and the 2017 Manitoba Scotties semifinal against Darcy Robertson), there’s no doubting that Jones is once again the favourite heading into this week. Anyone that tells you otherwise is foolish.

With a 14-game winning streak in their back pocket, plus the fact that they won this event in Winnipeg four years ago, the top women’s player of her generation has a chance to become the first skip ever to win back to back Olympic Trials on the women’s side. At this point, it’s hard to be against her.

Team Allison Flaxey from The Granite Club in Toronto, Ontario

(Left to Right Skip – Allison Flaxey, Vice – Clancy Grandy, Second – Lynn Kreviazuk, Lead – Morgan Court)

How they Qualified: Highest team on the 2016-2017 CTRS rankings not already qualified for the Olympic Trials (This was due to Jennifer Jones winning the 2016 Canada Cup)

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: The consisted of Flaxey, Katie Cottrill, Kristen Foster and Court, Competed in seven WCT events, Best result was a tiebreaker loss to Silvana Tirinzoni at the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard, Went 1-5 at the Canada Cup and finished in a tie for sixth place, Went 4-5 at the Ontario Scotties and finished in a tie for fifth place

2015/16: Clancy Grandy joined the rink at vice and Lynn Kreviazuk returned at second, Competed in 13 WCT events, Won two events (the KW Fall Classic over Erika Brown and the Uiseong Masters over Eun Jung Kim), Had five DNQ’s (Stu Sells Oakville Tankard, Stu Sells Toronto Tankard, US Open of Curling, Perth Ladies International and Humpty’s Champions Cup), Went 3-6 at the Ontario Scotties and finished in a tie for seventh place

2016/17: Competed in 14 WCT Events, Won two events (the WFG Masters over Rachel Homan and Perth Ladies International over Silvana Tirinzoni), Had four DNQ’s (Boost National, Bernese Ladies Cup and Humpty’s Champions Cup – Lost a tiebreaker to Anna Hasselborg at the Westjet Players Championship), Went 4-3 at the Ontario Scotties and lost a tiebreaker game to Cathy Auld

2017/18: Competed in seven WCT events, Made playoffs at one event (Lost in the semifinal to Shannon Birchard at the Colonial Square Ladies Classic)

Strengths: Lynn Kreviazuk’s shooting ability

Weaknesses: The team can be hot and cold over the course of the year

Key Player: Lynn Kreviazuk

After making her first Scotties in 2014, Allison Flaxey has been all over the place when it comes to how’s she fared at events. However, things became a little bit more consistent over the last couple of years with the addition of Clancy Grandy and the return of Lynn Kreviazuk, as the rink has moved back up the rankings to be considered the second-best team in Ontario.

Last season was Flaxey’s best to date as she won her first Grand Slam title, but we haven’t gotten a real clear grasp of they will fare in Ottawa with their level of play as of late. As a result of that, Flaxey is one of the biggest wildcards in this field.

If the Trials had taken place at this time last year, Flaxey would easily be considered a playoff contender given how well her rink was doing on the cashspiel circuit. Since then though, she hasn’t really had that great of a run of form, especially with only one playoff trip so far in this campaign. I suspect she’ll be much more consistent this week in Ottawa, but I don’t know if it’s enough to crack into the top three.

Team Val Sweeting from the Saville Community Sports Center in Edmonton, Alberta

(Left to Right Skip – Val Sweeting, Vice – Lori Olson-Johns, Second – Dana Ferguson “Fergielicious”, Lead – Rachelle “Sugar” Brown

How They Qualified: Highest team on 2016-2017 CTRS standings not already qualified (This was due to Rachel Homan winning the 2017 Scotties)

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: Brought in Andrea Crawford to replace the departing Joanne Courtney, Crawford left the team early in the season and was replaced by Lori Olson-Johns, Competed in nine WCT events, Won one event (Masters of Curling over Margaretha Sigfridsson), Had two DNQ’s (Autumn Gold Curling Classic and Canad Inns Women’s Classic), Won the Canada Cup over Rachel Homan, Won the Alberta Scotties over Chelsea Carey, Finished runner-up at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts to Jennifer Jones (Sweeting’s rink had lost the final the previous year to Rachel Homan)

2015/2016: Competed in 12 WCT Events, Won one event (HFC Insurance Shootout over Stefanie Lawton), Had one DNQ (Tier I Tour Challenge), Lost the Canada Cup final to Rachel Homan, Lost the Alberta Scotties final to Chelsea Carey

2016/2017: Competed in 11 WCT events, Won one event (Tier I Tour Challenge over Michelle Englot), Had three DNQ’s (Colonial Square Ladies Classic, WFG Masters and Karuizawa International), Went 3-3 at the Canada Cup and lost to Kerri Einarson in a tiebreaker, Lost the Alberta Scotties Final to Shannon Kleibrink

2017/18: Competed in six WCT events, Won one event (Tier I Tour Challenge over Anna Hasselborg), Had two DNQ’s (Autumn Gold Curling Classic and Masters of Curling)

Strengths: The play of Lori Olson-Johns, Pooks and Fergie’s Dance Parties (No?)

Weaknesses: Dana Ferguson’s hitting ability, Inconsistent play of Val Sweeting

Key Player: Lori Olson-Johns

When you look back at everything leading up to the Olympic Trials, the Sweeting rink did an excellent job of dealing with Andrea Crawford leaving the rink early in the 2014/15 season and having Lori Olson-Johns help stabilize things on their way to a Canada Cup title and a second straight trip to the Scotties finals. Since then, Sweeting and her team have always been in the mix but have only tasted success on occasions, especially when it comes to the provincial stage as they’ve lost back-to-back finals.

There are a couple of holes for this rink, which is a pretty solid one all things considered. Dana Ferguson seems to have a tough time making hits or peels without something going wrong, so if Rachelle Brown misses her shots you have some problems. Both Lori and Val can help bail Dana out, but there have been games where Sweeting can look really bad out there. An example of this came earlier this year in the Tier I Tour Challenge final, when she had an off performance against Anna Hasselborg but was able to steal the win.

As a whole, this team should be in the mix to be a legit contender in Ottawa, even though they may have been even better if Joanne Courtney had hung around and not joined Team Homan a few years ago. With all that said, do we really need a Pooks and Fergie dance party at the Olympics though?

Yes Brett, the world does need more Pooks and Fergie at major sporting events. This event also needed more Amanda Gates, but I digress.

In regards to the Sweeting rink, they’ve been a threat at almost every event they’ve played in during this Olympic cycle, but they haven’t parlayed their round-robin success into strong playoff showings on a regular basis. That will need to change if they want a chance to win at the majors, and what better way to shove that narrative aside than with a win in Ottawa.

Team Chelsea Carey from The Glencoe Club in Calgary, Alberta

(Skip – Chelsea Carey (Front), Vice – Cathy Overton-Clapham (Left), Second – Jocelyn Peterman (Right), Lead – Laine Peters (Back)

How They Qualified: Highest team on the 2015-17 CTRS rankings not already qualified (This was due to Rachel Homan being the leader over the two-year span)

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: Chelsea Carey moves to Alberta from Manitoba to skip a team with Laura Crocker, Taylor McDonald and Jen Gates, Competed in eight WCT events, Won two events (the Boundary Ford Curling Classic over Jolene Campbell and the HDF Insurance Shootout over Val Sweeting), Had four DNQ’s (Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic, Autumn Gold Curling Classic, Masters of Curling and Canad Inns Women’s Classic, Lost the Alberta Scotties Final to Val Sweeting.

2015/2016: Carey leaves her previous rink to take over as skip for Heather Nedohin (who lost to Carey in the Alberta semis a year earlier) and acquired Jocelyn Peterman to replace Jessica Mair at second (Amy Nixon remains at third and Laine Peters is still at lead), Competed in 13 WCT events, Had two runner-up finishes (the Autumn Gold Curling Classic to Rachel Homan and the Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic to Stefanie Lawton), Had six DNQ’s (Stu Sells Oakville Tankard, Colonial Square Ladies Classic, The National, The Players Championship and the Humpty’s Champions Cup – Also lost a tiebreaker game at the Tier I Tour Challenge to Tracy Fleury), Won the Alberta Scotties over Val Sweeting, Won the Scotties Tournament Of Hearts over Krista McCarville (First Scotties title for all four team members), Finished fourth at the Women’s Worlds after a loss in the bronze medal game to Anna Sidorova (Carey loses her automatic Trials spot from winning the Scotties as she failed to make the podium at the Worlds)

2016/2017: Competed in 10 WCT events, Won one event (Hokkaido Bank Curling Classic over Un-Chi Gim), Had four DNQ’s (Autumn Gold Curling Classic, Tier I Tour Challenge, Meridian Canadian Open and Perth Ladies International), Went 2-4 at the Canada Cup and finished tied for fifth, Won a bronze medal as Team Canada at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts over Krista McCarville

2017/18: Cathy Overton-Clapham brought in to replace the retired Amy Nixon at third, Competed in six WCT Events, Best finish was a runner-up (Lost to Kerri Einarson at the Tier II Tour Challenge), Have made the playoffs at every event this season

Strengths: A veteran lineup with tons of experience at big events, Have played well at CAA events in recent years, Consistent all season

Weaknesses: Have been all over the map with results in the past couple of years at events that weren’t the Scotties

Key Player: Cathy Overton-Clapham

After making her first Scotties in 2014 with Manitoba, Chelsea Carey headed off to Alberta to join up with a younger rink, however that only lasted one year as Carey then jumped ship to take over skipping duties for the Heather Nedohin squad.

That move worked out in a huge way as she won her first Scotties title in 2016, though her trip to the Worlds in Swift Current didn’t go as planned as Canada missed out on the podium for the first time since 2009. Since then, Carey’s been okay at best as she hasn’t really had the overall success of some of the major contenders on the World Curling Tour circuit.

This year, Carey brought in Cathy Overton-Clapham to replace the retired Amy Nixon at third, and we know what she’s been capable of as a Super Sub over the last couple of years. At this point, I have this rink penciled in for the middle of the pack, but who knows what could happen if Overton-Clapham and Carey are on their games.

While Homan and Jones are considered the two teams to beat this week, the other Scotties champion from the last three years is sliding in completely under the radar. Maybe it’s because she hasn’t done a heck of a lot over the last year or so, but her play is second only to Jones when it comes to overall performance this year. With the addition of Overton-Clapham, this is a sleeper pick that’s well worth watching.

Team Casey Scheidegger from the Lethbridge Curling Club in Lethbridge, Alberta

(Left to Right Skip – Casey “Scheidiggitydog” Scheidegger, Vice – Cary-Anne McTaggart, Second – Jessie Scheidegger, Lead – Kristie Moore)

How They Qualified: Highest team in the 2016/17 CTRS standings not already qualified (This was due to Rachel Homan being the CTRS leader in 2016/17)

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: Competed in six WCT events, Won one event (Medicine Hat Charity Classic over Brett Barber), Had two DNQ’s (Autumn Gold Curling Classic and Pomery Inn & Suites Prairie Showdown), Lost the Alberta Scotties 3 vs. 4 Page Playoff game to Chelsea Carey

2015/2016: Stephanie Enright replaces Brittany Tran at lead, Competed in six WCT events, Won one event (Boundary Ford Curling Classic over Brett Barber), Had two DNQ’s (Autumn Gold Curling Classic and Crestwood Ladies Fall Classic), Lost in the Alberta Scotties C Event final to Jessie Hunkin

2016/2017: Competed in eight WCT events, Won four events (HDF Insurance Shootout over Eve Muirhead, Autumn Gold Curling Classic over Jennifer Jones, Medicine Hat Charity Classic over Nadine Scotland and the Meridian Canadian Open over Silvana Tirinzoni), Had one DNQ (Humpty’s Champions Cup), Lost the Alberta Scotties semifinal to Val Sweeting

2017/2018: Kristie Moore replaces Stephanie Enright at lead, Competed in five events, Best finish was a runner-up at the Boost National to Jennifer Jones, Had two DNQ’s (Tier 1 Tour Challenge and the Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic)

Strengths: Have shown no fear in going against teams as an underdog

Weaknesses: Although they won their first ever Grand Slam of Curling event in their first attempt in North Battleford last year, this is their first time competing at a Curling Canada competition

Key Player: Casey Scheidegger

This is a case where one breakout season catapults a team into the spotlight. After being in the mix on the Alberta scene for the last couple of years, Casey Scheidegger jumped onto the national scene last year with a breakout performance on the World Curling Tour and a massive upset win in her first ever Grand Slam of Curling competition at the Canadian Open.

It’s one thing to play well at the Grand Slam events in front of smaller crowds, but competition at a massive event such as the Olympic Trials in what should be a great atmosphere with larger crowds is a whole different experience. There will certainly be some nerves, but this is a solid team that should be in the mix for a playoff spot if everything goes well.

Following last year’s breakout campaign, Scheidigger and her rink from Lethbridge have quickly become a tough opponent for anyone to go up against on the World Curling Tour. Granted, how they’ll fair this week is tough to say, but they should be battling to get into the playoffs when the round-robin ends and a strong showing in Ottawa could set this squad up for a possible first trip to the Scotties in February.      

Team Michelle Englot from The Granite Curling Club in Winnipeg, Manitoba

(Left to Right Skip – Michelle Englot, Vice – Kate “Straight Edge” Cameron, Second – Leslie Wilson-Wescott, Lead – Raunora Westcott)

How They Qualified: Highest team on the 2016-17 CTRS rankings not already qualified (This was due to Jennifer Jones being the runner-up on the 2016-17 CTRS rankings)

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: Team skipped by Kristy McDonald, Competed in 10 WCT events, Won two events (Mother Club Fall Curling Classic over Colleen Kilgallen and the Granite Ladies Cash Spiel over Kerri Einarson), Had three DNQ’s (Canadian Open and The Players Championship – Also lost a tiebreaker to Silvana Tirinzoni at the Masters of Curling), Lost the 3 vs. 4 Page Playoff game at the Manitoba Scotties to Barb Spencer (Englot was skipping a rink in Saskatchewan with Candace Chisholm, Ashley Howard and Kirsty Johnson that lost to Stefanie Lawton in the provincial final)

2015/2016: Rink still skipped by Kristy McDonald, Competed in eight WCT events, Best finish was a semifinal appearance at the Masters of Curling where they lost to Rachel Homan, Had two DNQ’s (Dekalb Superspiel and Meridian Canadian Open), Went 1-5 at the Canada Cup and finished in a tie for sixth place, Lost the Manitoba Scotties final to Kerri Einarson (Englot was still in Saskatchewan skipping a rink with Chisholm but was now joined by Stephanie Schmidt and Brooklyn Lemon – They lost to Jolene Campbell in the 3 vs. 4 Page Playoff game at the provincial playdowns)

2016/2017: Englot takes over as skip as McDonald leaves, Competed in 10 WCT events, Won one event (the Mother Club Fall Curling Classic over Joelle Brown), Had five DNQ’s (Colonial Square Ladies Classic, Autumn Gold Curling Classic, Canad Inns Women’s Classic, Meridian Canadian Open and the Westjet Players Championship), Won the Manitoba Scotties title over Darcy Robertson, Finished runner-up at the Scotties after losing to Rachel Homan in the final

2017/2018: Compete in eight WCT events, Had one win (the Mother Club Fall Curling Classic over Kerri Einarson), Had three DNQ’s (Canad Inns Women’s Classic, Masters of Curling and the Boost National)

Strengths: Michelle Englot’s touch on soft shots, the play of Kate Cameron at third

Weaknesses: Michelle Englot’s hitting ability

Key Player: Kate Cameron

While Scheidigger had a breakout year to move into the spotlight, the Englot rink utilized one big event to move into the big time. After being on the fringes of breaking out in Manitoba but running into Kerri Einarson and Jennifer Jones in the provincial playdowns, the addition of Michelle Englot to the Kristy McDonald rink and the breakout performance of Kate Cameron propelled them to lofty heights and a near win at the Scotties.

There’s two things that standout with the team itself. Englot is someone who likes to have rocks in play and be more of a finesse player, which makes her me really good at soft shots. The other thing is Kate Cameron’s consistency and her deadly hitting ability. It’s just a question of seeing if the team can put everything together and have a good showing.

If it wasn’t for Rachel Homan returning to form at the end of the Scotties, there’s a very good possibility that the Englot rink would be entering this week as the reigning national champions. Like Brett said, the overall play of Englot and Cameron will be the key to any success this squad has this week, as an off performance will leave them on the outside looking in.

Team Krista McCarville from the Fort William Curling Club in Thunder Bay, Ontario

(Left to Right, Skip – Krista McCarville, Vice – Kendra Lilly, Second – Ashley Sippala, Lead – Sarah Potts)

How They Qualified: Won the ‘A’ final at the Road to the Roar

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: McCarville and Sippala did not play while Lilly and Potts led a team that included Oye-Sem Won Briand and Tirzah Keffer, Competed in three WCT events, Had a runner-up finish at the Molson Cash Spiel where they lost to Cory Christensen, Had two DNQ’s (Curl Mesabi Classic and the Canad Inns Women’s Classic), Lost the Northern Ontario Scotties final to Tracy Fleury

2015/2016: McCarville and Sippala returned to the lineup, Competed in six WCT events, Won (the Colonial Square Ladies Classic over Sherry Anderson, Molson Cash Spiel over Nina Roth, the Curl Mesabi Classic over Cory Christensen and the US Open of Curling over Sijia Liu), Had two DNQ’s (Canad Inns Women’s Classic and Humpty’s Champions Cup), Won the Northern Ontario Scotties over Tracy Fleury, Finished runner-up at the Scotties after losing the final to Chelsea Carey

2016/2017: Competed in five WCT events, Best finish was a runner-up at the Tier II Tour Challenge where she lost to Jacqueline Harrison, Had one DNQ (Canada Inns Women’s Classic), Won the Northern Ontario Scotties over Tracy Fleury, Finished fourth at the Scotties after losing to Chelsea Carey in the bronze medal game

2017/2018: Competed in three WCT events, Best finish was a runner-up at the Shorty Jenkins Classic where she lost to Jamie Sinclair, Had one DNQ (Canada Inns Women’s Classic), Defeated Briane Meilleur in the ‘A’ final at the Road to the Roar

Strengths: The strong play of Krista McCarville

Weaknesses: Inconsistent play from Ashley Sippala and Sarah Potts

Key Player: Krista McCarville

Everything old is new again for Krista McCarville as she makes her second trials appearance and her first since 2009. Ever since she’s returned to the game and taken over skipping duties from Kendra Lilly, this rink has rocketed up the rankings in Canada, which is very impressing seeing that they don’t play that much on the World Curling Tour compared to everyone else.

Over the last couple of years, McCarville has had to take things over herself on several occasions and help the team out, especially if they struggle at the start of a game. Despite that, this is a very solid squad and a huge under the radar threat to perhaps win it all.

Other than the big three of Homan, Jones and Sweeting, McCarville is easily the best bet from the rest of the field to come away with an Olympic Trials spot. Although she doesn’t play a lot on the World Curling Tour and had to come through the pre-trials as a result of, she’s always a threat at the Scotties and she should be in the mix in Ottawa. A trip to the finals isn’t that far-fetched.

Team Julie Tippin from the Woodstock Curling Club in Woodstock, Ontario

(Left to Right Skip – Julie Tippin, Vice – Chantal Duhaime, Second – Rachelle Vink, Lead – Tess Bobbie)

How They Qualified: Won the ‘B’ final at the Road to the Roar

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: Duhaime was the skip for the rink with Ginger Van Ymeren at vice, Competed at two WCT Events, Had two DNQ’s (Challenge Chateau Cartier de Gatineau and Mount Lawn Gord Carroll Classic), Did not qualify for the Ontario Scotties (Tippin was the third on Cathy Auld’s rink in Ontario that also included Holly Donaldson and Carty Howard but failed to qualify for the Ontario Scotties)

2015/2016: Tippin joins the rink and becomes skip with Duhaime moving to vice, Competed in six WCT events, Had three wins (Stroud Sleeman Cash Spiel over Allison Flaxey, the Cookstown Cashspiel over Anna Hasselborg and the Listowel Libro Women’s Classic over Megan Balsdon), Had one DNQ (Oakville OCT Fall Classic), Lost the 3 vs. 4 Page Playoff game at the Ontario Scotties to Jenn Hanna

2016/2017: Competed in 10 WCT events, Won one event (Stroud Sleeman Cash Spiel over Megan Baldson), Had three DNQ’s (Stu Sells Oakville Tankard, the Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic and the Tier II Tour Challenge), Went 3-4 at the Ontario Scotties and finished in a tie for fifth place

2017/18: Competed in six events, Won two events (the KW Fall Classic over Susan Froud and the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard over Chrissy Cadorin), Had three DNQ’s (Canad Inns Women’s Classic and the Boost National – Also lost a tiebreaker to Eve Muirhead at the Tier I Tour Challenge), Defeated Briane Meilleur to win the ‘B’ event at the Road to the Roar

Strengths: As a true underdog they have nothing to lose

Weaknesses: Have never competed at an event of this scale before

Key Player: Julie Tippin

Remember when Jason Gunnlaugson made a surprise run to the Olympic Trials in 2009 but finished at the bottom of the standings with a 0-7 record. That’s likely what’s going to happen to Julie Tippin this week as she makes her first Trials appearance.

Yes, she has become a stronger player on the Ontario circuit in the last couple of years and they’ve made a couple of appearances at Grand Slam events lately. However, this week has all the makings of a rough one for them. However, if they do well and pull off a couple of upsets, that might help their stock in Ontario as everyone looks to try and stop Rachel Homan.

How dare you bring my hero Gunner into this Brett. If anything, I think Tippin will be more along the lines of Crystal Webster and Renne Sonnenberg from the last two Trials as a rink that will finish at the bottom of the standings and pull off a couple of upsets. That’s probably the most you can expect out of the Tippin squad, but this might be a rink that could be in the mix for the next Olympic cycle depending on how many changes take place elsewhere.

We now move on to the men’s side, where it will probably be an all-out war with all of the broom smashing, cussing, emotional celebrations and insane shot make we’ve come to expect in recent years.

Men’s Field

Team Kevin Koe from The Glencoe Club in Calgary, Alberta

 (Left to Right Skip – Kevin Koe, Vice – Marc Kennedy, Second – Brent Laing “Lainger”, Lead – “Benny Heebz” Ben Hebert)

How They Qualified: Won 2015 Canada Cup

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: Competed in 10 WCT events, Won two events (Direct Horizontal Drilling Fall Classic over Steve Laycock and the Karuizawa International over Se Hyeon Seong), Had one DNQ (The National), Finished tied for fourth at the Canada Cup with a 3-3 record, Won the Alberta men’s title over Brendan Bottcher, Finished tied for fifth at the Tim Hortons Brier with a 6-5 record

2015/2016: Competed in 11 WCT Events, Won three events (Tier I Tour Challenge over Brad Gushue, Direct Horizontal Drilling Fall Classic over Brendan Bottcher and the Perth Masters over Thomas Ulsrud, Made the playoffs at every event, Won the Canada Cup over Mike McEwen, Won the Alberta men’s title over Charley Thomas, Won the Tim Hortons Brier over Brad Gushue (Third Brier title for all three players), Won the World Men’s title over Rasmus Stjerene (Third world title for Laing and second world title for Koe, Kennedy and Hebert – Canada’s first world title on the men’s side since 2012)

2016/2017: Competed in 11 WCT events, Won two events (Shorty Jenkins Classic over Mark Nichols and the Red Deer Curling Classic over Ted Appleman), Had three DNQ’s (WFG Masters, Tier I Tour Challenge and Meridian Canadian Open), Went 2-4 at the Canada Cup of Curling and finished tied for sixth place, Finished second as Team Canada at the Tim Hortons Brier after losing to Brad Gushue in the final

2017/2018: Competed in six WCT events, Won one event (Ashley Home Store Curling Classic over Niklas Edin), Had one DNQ (Tier I Tour Challenge)

Strengths: The hitting abilities of Kevin Koe and Marc Kennedy, the godlike sweeping of Kennedy and Ben Hebert

Weaknesses: Hot and cold shooting performances from Koe in recent years, indecisiveness from Kevin leads to very poor time clock management

Key Player: Kevin Koe

When this lineup was put together in 2014, it felt like the clear cut favourite to win the Olympic Trials as it was incredible looking squad on paper that seemed tough to stop. It seemed that way in 2016 when they won the Brier and then captured the World Men’s title, as they were easily the team to beat that year.

Recently, while the talent is still there to win many events, a few things here and there have prevented that from happening. The major problem seems to be Kevin Koe himself, as his shooting has been rather suspect at best recently and he’s missed his fair share of shots, even on some hits that he is usually super deadly at making. Another issue seems to be the fact that he can be really indecisive when it comes to his decision making on shots and that in turn leads to really bad clock management that forces him to rush near the end of the game in order to make shots.

With all that said, Kevin always seems to step up his game in the playoffs if he makes it there at big events. If everything clicks for this lineup this week, the rest of the field will need to watch out as there’s a very good chance this group could be off to the Olympics.

Like Brett, this is lineup that looks really good on paper and they have shown how strong they can be with their impressive 2015/16 campaign. With all that said, Koe’s been all over the map lately with his level of play and Marc Kennedy has been hit or miss on occasions as well after being the best player in the world for a number of years. As a result, I can’t quite make them the favourites for this week but they should make the playoffs.

Team Reid Carruthers from the West St. Paul Curling Club in Winnipeg, Manitoba

(Left to Right Skip – Reid Carruthers, Vice – “Pimp” Braeden Moskowy, Second – Derek Samagalski, Lead – Colin Hodgson)

How they Qualified: Won the 2016 Canada Cup

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: Carruthers returns to skipping and forms a new rink after being the second for Jeff Stoughton in the last Olympic cycle, Competed in 12 WCT events, Won one event (Stu Sells Toronto Tankard over Brad Jacobs), Had five DNQ’s (Shorty Jenkins Classic, Point Optical Curling Classic, Canad Inns Men’s Classic, Whites Drug Store Classic and The Players Championship), Won the Manitoba men’s tankard over Mike McEwen, Went 4-7 at the Tim Hortons Brier and finished in 10th place

2015/2016: Competed in 13 WCT events, Won two events (Dekalb Superspiel over Charley Thomas and the Humpty’s Championship Cup over John Epping), Had one DNQ (The Players Championship), Went 2-5 at the Canada Cup and finished tied for seventh place, Lost in the semifinals of the Manitoba men’s tankard to Matt Dunstone

2016/2017: Competed in 13 WCT events, Won one event (Canad Inns Men’s Classic over Charley Thomas), Had four DNQ’s (Shorty Jenkins Classic, College Clean Restoration Curling Classic, Canadian Open and the Humpty’s Champions Cup), Won the Canada Cup over Mark Nichols, Lost the Manitoba men’s tankard final to Mike McEwen

2017/2018: Competed in eight WCT events, Won one event (Canad Inns Men’s Classic over Glenn Howard), Had three DNQ’s (Tier I Tour Challenge, Shorty Jenkins Classic and the College Clean Restoration Curling Classic)

Strengths: A very solid lineup all the way around, the play of Braeden Moskowy, Derek Samagalski’s hitting ability

Weaknesses: Have yet to take that next step into an elite team

Key Player: Braeden Moskowy

Since returning back to skipping following his stint with Jeff Stoughton, Reid Carruthers has put together a lineup that’s pretty good from top to bottom. Carruthers and crew have gotten better over the last few years, but they are starting to remind a bit of Val Sweeting’s team, as they have always been around at events but only occasionally taste success.

No one should sleep on this team though, especially with Braeden Moskowy at third and the hitting ability of Derek Samagalski. They’ve yet to reach the next level, but they might be able to do it here in Ottawa as this will be a tough test for anyone in the field.

While I get where Brett is coming from, I think the more apt comparison for the Carruthers rink right now is Stefanie Lawton, in which they’ve done well on the World Curling Tour and the Canada Cup but have yet to dominate on the national stage. With that said, doubt this solid rink at your own peril, as they should be in the playoff mix all week.

Team Brad Gushue from The Bally Haly Golf and Curling Club & The Re/Max Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador

(Left to Right Skip – Brad Gushue, Vice – Mark “Bam Bam” Nichols, Second – Brett Gallant, Lead – Geoff Walker)

How They Qualified: Won 2017 Tim Hortons Brier (They confirmed this spot by winning a gold medal at the World Men’s Championship later that year)

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: Mark Nichols rejoins the team at vice after playing with Jeff Stoughton and Brett Gallant moves down to second to replace the departing Adam Casey, Competed in 10 WCT events, Won three events (Masters of Curling over Mike McEwen, Canadian Open over Steve Laycock and Perth Masters over Kyle Smith), Had one DNQ (The National), Went 3-3 at the Canada Cup and finished in a tied for fourth place, Won the Newfoundland & Labrador tankard over Gary Wensman (only two rinks competed in the playdowns), Finished fourth at the Tim Hortons Brier after losing to Steve Laycock in the bronze medal game

2015/2016: Acquired Jules Owchar as Coach, Competed in 14 WCT events, Won nine events (Uiseong International over Soo Hyuk Kim, Stu Sells Oakville Tankard over Reid Carruthers, Shorty Jenkins Classic over Glenn Howard, the Swiss Cup Basel over Jaap Van Dorp, the Challenge Chateau Cartier De Gatineau over Mark Bice, The National over Reid Carruthers, The Mayflower Cashspiel over Sven Michel, The Elite 10 over Reid Carruthers and The Players Championship over Brad Jacobs), Made the playoffs at every event, Went 3-4 at the Canada Cup and finished tied for fifth place, Won the Newfoundland & Labrador men’s tankard over Colin Thomas, Finished runner-up at the Tim Hortons Brier after losing to Kevin Koe

2016/17: Competed in 12 WCT events (Gushue was sidelined until the Boost National in December after undergoing surgery to deal with a hip and groin injury and only played in five events – As a result, Nichols skipped the team in the first seven WCT events with Pat Simmons, Adam Spencer and Charley Thomas filling in at vice), Won two events (Stu Sells Toronto Tankard over John Epping and the Meridian Canadian Open over Niklas Edin), Had one DNQ (the Princess Auto Elite 10), Lost the Canada Cup final to Reid Carruthers (Nichols was the skip for that event), Won the Newfoundland & Labrador men’s tankard over Adam Boland, Won the Tim Hortons Brier in St. John’s over Kevin Koe (The first Brier title for all four members of the rink and the first for a Newfoundland & Labrador squad since 1976), Won the World men’s title over Niklas Edin (The first for all four members of the team – Went a perfect 13-0)

2017/2018: Competed in six WCT events, Won (Tier I Tour Challenge over Steffen Walstad, Swiss Cup Basel over Thomas Ulsrud, Stu Sells Toronto Tankard over Codey Mause and the Masters of Curling over Niklas Edin), Had one DNQ (the Shorty Jenkins Classic), Had put together a 23-game win streak over four WCT events before losing to John Morris in the final round-robin game and Mike McEwen in the quarter-finals at the Boost National

Strengths: Easily the top team in the world and the most consistent team at the moment, the hitting ability of Mark Nichols

Weaknesses: Brad Gushue’s hitting ability

Key Player: Mark Nichols

After missing out on the last two Olympic Trials, Gushue has gotten the old magic back from his run to the gold medal in 2006. Since Mark Nichols returned to the rink in 2014, Gushue has not only picked up the elusive Brier crown that was missing from the trophy cabinet, but his squad has become the top team in the world.

This lineup is really solid from front to back and it’s hard to thank of any glaring weaknesses compared to some of the other teams in this field. I would say though that after Gushue underwent surgery on his hip and groin last year, his hitting ability has dropped off a little bit as he doesn’t quite have the same big weight capability that Nichols does.

Either way, the play for Team Gushue over the last 12 months have easily catapulted them to being the favourites for the Roar of the Rings and give Gushue himself an excellent chance of going for an Olympic gold medal 12 years after going on the top of the podium in Italy.

This is a no brainer. If you are picking anyone but Gushue to be the favourite in Ottawa this week, you have lost your mind. The team has been white-hot for the last year and have been really good at every bonspiel during this Olympic run. If Newfoundland’s favourite son doesn’t make it to the final, it would be a huge stunner.

Team Brad Jacobs from The Community First Curling Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

(Left to Right Skip – Brad Jacobs “Cups”, Vice – Ryan “Medium Size” Fry, Second – E.J. Harnden, Lead – Ryan “Pete” Harnden)

How they Qualified: Highest team on the 2016/2017 CTRS rankings not yet qualified (This was due to Brad Gushue winning the 2017 Tim Hortons Brier)

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: Competed in nine WCT events, Won two events (Shorty Jenkins Classic over Adam Casey and The Players Championship over Mike McEwen), Had one DNQ (Canad Inns Men’s Classic), Lost the Canada Cup final to Mike McEwen, Won the Northern Ontario men’s tankard over Al Hackner, Finished second at the Tim Hortons Brier after losing to Pat Simmons in the final

2015/2016: Caleb Flaxey takes over as coach after Tom Coulterman retired, Competed in nine WCT events, Best finish was a runner-up at The Players Championship to Brad Gushue, Went 3-4 at the Canada Cup and finished in a tie for fifth place, Won the Northern Ontario men’s tankard over Jordan Chandler, Won a bronze medal at the Tim Hortons Brier over Mike McEwen

2016/2017: Competed in 11 WCT events, Won three events (College Clean Restoration Curling Classic over Thomas Ulsrud, Boost National over Reid Carruthers and the Humpty’s Champions Cup over Kevin Koe), Had one DNQ (Lost a tiebreaker to Niklas Edin at the Tier I Tour Challenge), Lost a tiebreaker to Steve Laycock at the Canada Cup, Won the Northern Ontario men’s tankard over Dylan Johnston, Finished fourth at the Tim Hortons Brier after losing the bronze medal game to Mike McEwen

2017/2018: Competed in five events, Won one event (the Shorty Jenkins Classic over Mike McEwen), Had one DNQ (Lost a tiebreaker to Bruce Mouat at the Boost National)

Strengths: Very deadly hitting ability, the sweeping of the Brush Brothers

Weaknesses: Draw and soft shot game isn’t the greatest, the ability to control their emotions, inconsistent play from Ryan Fry as of late

Key Player: Ryan Fry

The defending Olympic champions are back in the mix once again, even though they aren’t quite as deadly as they were four years ago when they won the Brier, the Olympic Trials spot and the Olympic gold medal in a 12-month span. Although the lineup is intact and the hitting ability is still great, I feel like this team has lost something over the last couple of years.

One problem seems to be that Ryan Fry isn’t quite as sharp as he was a few years back and it feels like that their soft game isn’t as strong as some of the other sides in Ottawa, which might present issues if those factors become big issues. However, this is still a rink that rides off of their emotions and if someone make a big shot that gets them fired up, this team will become a monster that’s really tough to stop.

When the Northern Ontario kingpins are on their game, they are easily one of the best sides in the world. However, if something goes wrong, they quickly become rattled mentally and it’s tough for them to bounce back. A strong start this week will be imperative for the defending Olympic champions to succeed, otherwise it will be tough to come back in the standings with such a deep field.

Team Mike McEwen from The Fort Rouge Curling Club in Winnipeg, Manitoba

(Left to Right Skip – “Magic” Mike McEwen, Vice – B.J. Neufeld, Second – Matt Wozniak, Lead – Denni Neufeld)

How They Qualified: Highest ranked team in the 2015-2017 CTRS standings not already qualified (This was due to Brad Gushue having the best total over a two-year span)

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: Competed in 10 WCT events, Won seven events (Stu Sells Oakville Tankard over John Epping, Point Optical Curling Classic over John Epping, the Canad Inns Men’s Classic over Kevin Koe, the Challenge Chateau Cartier De Gatineau over Jean-Michel Menard, The National over Brad Jacobs, the Pomeroy Inn & Suites Prairie Showdown over Niklas Edin and the Elite 10 over Niklas Edin), Made the finals at all but one event (Lost the Masters of Curling to Brad Gushue and The Players Championship to Brad Jacobs – Lost the Canadian Open quarter-final to Brendan Bottcher), Won the Canada Cup over Brad Jacobs, Lost the Manitoba men’s tankard final to Reid Carruthers

2015/2016: Competed in 12 WCT events, Won three events (Point Optical Curling Classic over Reid Carruthers, the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard over Glenn Howard and the Masters of Curling over Jim Cotter), Had three DNQ’s (Canad Inns Men’s Classic, The National and the Meridian Canadian Open), Lost the Canada Cup final to Kevin Koe, Won the Manitoba men’s tankard over Matt Dunstone, Finished fourth at the Tim Hortons Brier after losing to Brad Jacobs in the bronze medal game

2016/2017: Competed in 13 WCT events, Won two events (Dekalb Superspiel over William Lyburn and the Ed Werenich Golden Wrench Classic over Adam Casey), Had four DNQ’s (College Clean Restoration Curling Classic, Stu Sells Toronto Tankard and the Canad Inn Men’s Classic – Lost a tiebreaker at the Boost National to John Epping), Went 2-4 at the Canada Cup and finished tied for sixth place, Won the Manitoba Men’s tankard over Reid Carruthers, Won a bronze medal at the Tim Hortons Brier over Brad Jacobs

2017/2018: Competed in six WCT events, Best finish was a runner-up to Brad Jacobs at the Shorty Jenkins Classic, Had one DNQ (College Clean Restoration Curling Classic)

Strengths: A solid squad from top to bottom, Have finally gotten over the hump of winning a Manitoba provincial title

Weaknesses: Mike McEwen’s mental stability, B.J. Neufeld’s inconsistent play

Key Player: Mike McEwen

With McEwen earning a couple of provincial titles and making the playoffs at the Brier the last two years, that’s a huge confidence booster to this rink as they are already used to the loud crowds and crazy atmosphere you can see at an Olympic Trials.

There isn’t a lot say about McEwen’s team that hasn’t already been talked about as they are one of the best in the business. However, one thing I’ve noticed lately is that B.J. Neufeld can be a little off at times compared to his teammates, which is something I’ve seen first hand at the Grand Slam of Curling events in the Soo.

The biggest thing though, and it’s something we’ve noticed for a long time, is Mike’s mental stability. If he’s in control of a game, everything is fine, but if a bad shot happens or if the team falls behind, Mike gets down on himself and it can be tough to recover.

Although they aren’t the juggernaut on the tour that they were a few years back, this is a team that’s always in the hunt and a playoff run wouldn’t shock me at all.

If there’s a sleeping giant on the men’s curling scene, the former Manitoba provincial championship bridesmaid has to be it. They’ve always been good on the World Curling Tour, but they’ve yet to capture a major event crown. If the team’s on their game and McEwen doesn’t get down in the dumps over a bad shot or two, the massive breakthrough we’ve been waiting for with this rink might come to pass.

Team John Epping from The Lakeside Curling Club in Toronto, Ontario

(Left to Right Skip – “Big” John Epping, Vice – Matt Camm, Second – Patrick Janssen, Lead – Tim March)

How They Qualified: Highest ranked team in the 2016/2017 CTRS standings not already qualified (This was due to Brad Gushue being the CTRS leader for the 2016/2017 campaign)

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: Competed in 14 WCT events, Won one event (the Gord Carroll Curling Classic over Chris Gardner), Had seven DNQ’s (Stu Sells Toronto Tankard, Canad Inns Men’s Classic, Challenge Chateau Cartier De Gatineau, The National, Canadian Open, US Open of Curling and the Elite 10), Lost the Ontario men’s tankard final to Mark Kean

2015/2016: Brought in Matt Camm from the Mark Kean rink to replace Travis Fanset at third, Competed in 14 WCT events, Won two events (Meridian Canadian Open over Brad Gushue and the US Open of Curling over Craig Brown), Had six DNQ’s (Stu Sells Oakville Tankard, Tier I Tour Challenge, Point Optical Curling Classic, Stu Sells Toronto Tankard, Masters of Curling and The Players Championship), Lost to Kevin Koe in the semifinal of the Canada Cup, Lost the Ontario men’s tankard final to Glenn Howard

2016/2017: Competed in 14 WCT events, Won two events (Cookstown Cashspiel over Peter De Cruz and Challenge De Curling De Gatineau over Matt Dunstone), Had six DNQ’s (Oakville OCT Fall Classic, Stu Sells Oakville Tankard, Tier I Tour Challenge, Meridian Canadian Open, Princess Auto Elite 10 and The Westjet Players Championship), Lost to Reid Carruthers in the semifinal of the Canada Cup, Lost the Ontario men’s tankard semifinal to Wayne Tuck Jr.

2017/2018: Competed in eight WCT Events, Made two trips to the semifinals (Lost at the College Clean Restoration Curling Classic to Colton Flasch and at the Boost National to Chang-Min Kim), Had three DNQ’s (Shorty Jenkins Classic, Canad Inns Men’s Classic and Masters of Curling)

Strengths: John Epping’s ability to make crazy angle runbacks

Weaknesses: No real consistency with their game, they can be really on or really off

Key Player: John Epping

Like Mike McEwen for most of this decade, John Epping is on the verge of breaking through the door and getting into the Brier, but he just can’t seem to get it together. After squeaking into the Trials in the last go-around, Epping has had a couple of lineup changes and has put together a pretty good squad, especially with the addition of Matt Camm at third.

The way this team plays though, it seems like they are either on their game or they are way off the mark. That’s especially true for Epping, has often has to do his trademark crazy runbacks in order to bail his team out, though everyone has the ability to make shots.

There’s a chance they make the playoffs this week if everyone is consistent, though if I was Epping I’d worry more about making a Brier and finally beating that Glenn Howard guy.

Another possible sleeper in this field, especially with his play at the Canada Cup, Epping has the ability to pull something out of nothing with his great hitting ability. However, if they are to make a surprising run to South Korea, everyone will need to be on their game from start to finish.

Team Steve Laycock from the Nutana Curling Club in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

(Left to Right Skip – Steve Laycock, Third – Kirk Muyres, Vice – Matt Dunstone (throws second stones), Lead – Dallan Muyres

How they Qualified: Highest team in the 2016/2017 CTRS rankings not already qualified (This was due to Reid Carruthers being the runner-up in the 2016/2017 CTRS rankings)

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: Competed in 12 WCT events, Won two events (Weatherford Curling Classic over Brent Pierce and the US Open of Curling over Reid Carruthers), Had four DNQ’s (Baden Masters, Point Optical Curling Classic, Elite 10 and The Players Championship), Won the Saskatchewan men’s tankard over Jason Jacobson, Won the bronze medal at the Tim Hortons Brier over Brad Gushue

2015/2016: Competed in 12 events, Won one event (the Canad Inns Men’s Classic over Kevin Koe), Had two DNQ’s (Tier I Tour Challenge and The National), Went 2-5 at the Canada Cup and finished in a tie for seventh place, Won the Saskatchewan men’s tankard over Shaun Meachem, Finished sixth at the Tim Hortons Brier with a 5-6 record

2016/2017: Competed in 12 WCT events, Won one event (Direct Horizontal Drilling Fall Classic over Reid Carruthers), Had six DNQ’s (Stu Sells Oakville Tankard, Shorty Jenkins Classic, Boost National, Elite 10, The Players Championship – Lost a tiebreaker at the Humpty’s Champions Cup to Niklas Edin), Lost to John Epping in a tiebreaker at the Canada Cup, Lost the Saskatchewan men’s tankard final to Adam Casey, Colton Flasch left the rink after the provincials with Matt Dunstone joining the squad and playing at the last three Grand Slams of the year

2017/2018: Competed in six WCT events, Made two trips to the quarterfinals (Lost to Brad Gushue at the Tier I Tour Challenge and to Pat Simmons at the Direct Horizontal Drilling Fall Classic), DNQ (College Clean Restoration Curling Classic, Canad Inns Men’s Classic and the Masters of Curling – Lost a tiebreaker to Sean Geall at the Ashley Home Store Curling Classic)

Strengths: The addition of Matt Dunstone to the lineup

Weakness: Have been nowhere near the level of play they showed during the 2015 Brier

Key Player: Steve Laycock

Talk about a team that has fallen on hard times in recent years. After putting together his best ever Brier run in 2015, the wheels have come off of Steve Laycock’s wagon as of late.

After an okay showing in the 2016 Brier, Laycock got steamrolled in the 2017 provincial final by Adam Casey, which soon led to Colton Flasch leaving the rink and forming his own team. At the moment, it feels like Laycock’s become fairly mediocre and has almost regressed to what he was like when he first started skipping. It could be a tough week for this rink, even with the talented Matt Dunstone now joining them.

While I love the addition of Matt Dunstone to this lineup, I don’t think it’s enough to get them in the playoff discussion. They’ve been all over the map as of late, despite a good showing at the Canada Cup last year in Brandon, and I have to think that the huge loss they suffered to Adam Casey in last year’s Saskatchewan provincial final is still in the back of their minds.

Team John Morris from the Vernon Curling Club in Vernon, British Columbia

(Left to Right Skip – John Morris “Johnny Mo”, Vice – Jim “Jimmmmmmmmm” Cotter, Second – Catlin Schneider, Lead – Tyrell Griffith)

How They Qualified: Won the ‘A’ final at the Road to the Roar

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: John Morris leaves the rink with Jim Cotter returning to skipping and duties and Ryan Kuhn being brought in as the vice, Competed in four WCT events, Made one semifinal appearance (Lost to Brent Pierce at the Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic), Had two DNQ’s (Hub International Crown of Curling and the Masters of Curling), Went 2-4 at the Canada Cup and finished in sixth place, Won the British Columbia men’s tankard over Dean Joanisse, Went 5-6 at the Tim Hortons Brier and finished tied for seventh place (Morris started the year as the skip for an Alberta based rink that featured Pat Simmons, Carter Rycroft and Nolan Thiessen – Halfway through the Brier as Team Canada, Morris and Simmons switched spots before going on an improbable run to win the Brier title over Brad Jacobs – It was the third Brier title for Morris, Rycroft and Thiessen, while Simmons won his second title and his first as a skip – The rink went to win the bronze medal at the World Men’s championship over Aku Kauste)

2015/2016: Competed in seven WCT events, Won one event (Tier II Tour Challenge over Mark Kean), Had one DNQ (the Meridian Canadian Open), Won the British Columbia men’s tankard over Sean Geall, Went 3-8 at the Tim Hortons Brier and finished tied for ninth place (Morris was the third for Team Canada, which was still skipped by Simmons – They finished fifth at the Tim Hortons Brier with a 6-5 record and split soon afterwards)

2016/2017: Morris returns to the team to replace Khun with Cotter moving back to his role as vice and fourth stone thrower, Competed in 14 WCT events, Won two events (the Driving Force Abbotsford Cashspiel over Ken McArdle and the Princess Auto Elite 10 over Brad Jacobs), Had three DNQ’s (the WFG Masters – Lost a tiebreaker to Craig Brown at the Ed Werenich Golden Wrench Classic and to Reid Carruthers at the Westjet Players Championship), Catlin Schneider joined the team at second for the last two events of the year after playing at the Brier with Adam Casey, Tyrel Griffith moved down to lead and Rick Sawatszky became the team’s alternate

2017/2018: Competed in five WCT events, Made two quarterfinals appearances (Lost to Chang-Min Kim at the College Clean Restoration Curling Classic and lost to Kevin Koe at the Direct Horizotanl Drilling Fall Classic), Had three DNQ’s (Tier I Tour Challenge, Masters of Curling and the Boost National), Defeated Brendan Bottcher in the ‘A’ final at the Road to the Roar, Lost their first 11 games on the Grand Slam of Curling circuit before beating Brad Gushue in their last game of the round-robin at the Boost National

Strengths: The hitting ability of John Morris, Jim Cotter’s draw game

Weaknesses: Morris can sometimes be way off when it comes to big weight hits

Key Player: John Morris

During our Road to the Roar preview, we mentioned about Morris coming back to play with Cotter and the addition of Catlin Schneider to the team, but there’s a couple of notes to add. During that tournament, the rink made another lineup change as Morris is now throwing skip rocks and Cotter’s throwing third stones. That seemed to turn things around as they got the berth to Ottawa and they could do some damage this week, though probably not on the same level as they were four years ago.

Sure, their play on the Grand Slam of Curling circuit hasn’t been very good this year, but this is Morris and Cotter. You’d be silly to think that they are going to struggle at this event. Like Brett said, I don’t think they’ll match their shocking run to the final in 2013, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were in the playoff discussion near the end of the week.

Team Brendan Bottcher from The Saville Community Sports Centre in Edmonton, Alberta

(Left to Right Skip – Brendan Bottcher, Vice – Darren Moulding, Second – Brad Thiessen, Lead – Karrick “The Jackhammer” Martin)

How They Qualified: Won the ‘B’ final at the Roar to the Roar

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: Competed in 11 WCT events, Won two events (HDF Insurance Shootout over Steve Laycock and the German Masters over Sven Michel), Had one DNQ (the Point Optical Curling Classic), Lost the Alberta men’s tankard final to Kevin Koe

2015/2016: Competed in 10 WCT events, Had two runner-up finishes (Lost to Shaun Meachem at the HDF Insurance Shootout and to Kevin Koe at the Direct Horizontal Drilling Fall Classic), Had three DNQ’s (Masters of Curling, The National and the Elite 10), Lost in Alberta men’s tankard semifinal to Kevin Koe

2016/2017: Vice Tom Appleman left the team and was replaced by Pat Simmons, Simmons left the rink halfway through the campaign and was replaced by Darren Moulding, Competed in 11 WCT Events, Made three semifinal appearances (Lost to John Morris at the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard, Thomas Ulsrud at the College Clean Restoration Curling Classic and Ted Appleman at the Red Deer Curling Classic), Had six DNQ’s (Canad Inns Men’s Classic, WFG Masters, Tier I Tour Challenge, the German Masters and the Westjet Players Championship – Lost a tiebreaker to Charley Thomas at the Boost National), Won the Alberta men’s tankard title over Ted Appleman, Finished 10th at the Tim Hortons Brier with a 3-8 record

2017/2018: Competed in five WCT events, Had two wins (the Medicine Hat Charity Classic over Jamie King and the Red Deer Curling Classic over Ted Appelman), Had one DNQ (the Direct Horizontal Drilling Fall Classic), Defeated Glenn Howard to win the ‘B’ final at the Road to the Roar

Strengths: The sweeping ability of Karrick Martin

Weaknesses: Their shooting percentages aren’t quite as good as some of their rivals, which we saw at last year’s Brier

Key Player: Darren Moulding

This is going to be a great audition on a national stage for the former World Junior curling champion as Bottcher looks to kickstart his run at the 2022 Olympics. He’s been through a couple of lineup changes over the last few years, but the addition of Moulding last season brought a nice edge to the squad. Bottcher is a consistent player in his own right and he could give the bigger teams a run for their money this week if they aren’t careful.

While we all wait to see the madness that is going to happen when everyone switches rinks in a few months, Bottcher is probably in really good shape to his roster stay mostly intact ahead of the 2022 Olympic cycle. This week’s going to be another learning experience for the young Alberta skip, but don’t be surprised if he pulls off an upset or two. Plus, they have my boy Jason Gunnlaugson as their alternate and coach, so that might lead to some great comedy.

With all that said, it’s now time to give our predictions for this year’s Roar of the Rings, which of course means we will be jinxing our picks to win the whole thing.

Brett’s Predictions

Women’s Event

  1. Jennifer Jones (The defending champions are on form once again and I feel more confident in their play than everyone else in the field)
  2. Rachel Homan (As I mentioned earlier, I would have easily picked them to win it all if it wasn’t for their loss to Jenn Hanna at the 2016 Ontario Scotties and everything that’s happened since. They are the defending World Champions, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they do win it all, but I’m predicting at least two tire fires this week.)
  3. Val Sweeting (They have the potential to win it all, but they just need to put it all together. Or we can just watch Pooks and Fergie dance instead.)
  4. Krista McCarville (This is my dark horse pick and a team that I think no one is really talking about all that much. Remember that run they had at the 2016 Scotties? That could happen again here in Ottawa. The biggest question though is if Krista has to channel her ‘McCarville the Magician’ persona again to get the team out of trouble.)
  5. Chelsea Carey (With this squad having lots of experience, especially with Cathy O joining the team, I think Carey will have a better showing than she did in 2013.)
  6. Casey Scheidegger (I’m sure they will have some nerves competing on the biggest stage of their careers, but I can see this rink given the other squad fits all week.)
  7. Michelle Englot (I feel a bit bad putting Englot this low, but the fourth to eighth range in the standings can really go either way. If Kate Cameron stands on her head again like she did at the Scotties, they might have a chance of sneaking into the playoffs.)
  8. Allison Flaxey (This was another team that was hard to place in the standings, but I just don’t think they have what it takes to fight for a playoff spot this time around.)
  9. Julie Tippin (You might be able to win a game, but thanks for coming either way.)

Men’s Event

  1. Brad Gushue (The top team in the World has been rolling along so far this year. It will be tough to stop them.)
  2. Kevin Koe (This probably the team with the best chance of stopping Gushue, as they have had some wars with him over the past two years. If Kevin’s shooting is on form, look out.)
  3. Brad Jacobs (The defending Olympic champions are among the favourites, but they’ll need to have Ryan Fry return to his 2013 form, be better on the soft shots and find that emotional spark that makes them tough to beat.)
  4. Mike McEwen (A real solid team all around and having those two Brier appearances will help them out a lot. This is probably Mike’s best shot with the current squad that he has.)
  5. Reid Carruthers (This another team that I probably would have had higher had they not lost the provincial final to McEwen last year. This is another strong team, so the playoffs aren’t out of the question if they play well all week.)
  6. John Morris (The lineup change between Cotter and Morris at the Road to the Roar seems to have been the right move. However, the same magic from 2013 might not happen once again.)
  7. John Epping (Epping will probably make of his crazy runbacks at some point this week, but the rest of the rink needs to be solid in order to have a shot at the playoffs.)
  8. Brendan Bottcher (More than likely one of the major contenders at the next Trials, he’s going to be a tough opponent all week long as he won’t have as much pressure on him.)
  9. Steve Laycock (Did I mention that this team has fallen off a cliff yet?)

Lucas’s Predictions

Women’s Event

  1. Jennifer Jones (The defending Olympic champions are peaking at the right time and look to be on the verge of an historic Trials repeat.)
  2. Rachel Homan (If they are on form, they’ll take home the title. If not, tire fires await.)
  3. Val Sweeting (Always good in the round-robin, but the playoffs are a question mark.)
  4. Krista McCarville (They are always solid and should never be counted out.)
  5. Casey Scheidegger (My sleeper pick for this week. They never seem to get rattled out there.)
  6. Chelsea Carey (They aren’t great on the cash circuit but always seem to fair well at major Curling Canada events.)
  7. Michelle Englot (A good team, but it’s hard to see them in the playoff mix.)
  8. Allison Flaxey (They were great to start off last season and have been nowhere near that form since.)
  9. Julie Tippin (A rough week awaits.)

Men’s Event

  1. Brad Gushue (As the best team in Canada over the last year, it’s hard to bet against him.)
  2. Kevin Koe (If Koe himself is off his game, this might become a mess.)
  3. Brad Jacobs (This rink can’t afford a bad start or else they’ll probably become rattled)
  4. Reid Carruthers (Given how solid they’ve been over the last couple of years, I feel like their flying under the radar heading into this week.)
  5. Mike McEwen (They’ve made it to the Brier, but they are still looking for that breakthrough performance on the big stage. It might happen here if everything goes well.)
  6. John Morris (They probably won’t make it back to the finals, but this is a tough team to face no matter where they are in the standings.)
  7. John Epping (Epping’s one of the best shooters in the business and will probably pull off a Shot of the Week contender at some point.)
  8. Steve Laycock (Don’t be surprised if Matt Dunstone has a strong week and makes himself known to a national audience.)
  9. Brendan Bottcher (With a Brier and a Trials appearance now under his belt, the learning experience he’s gained over the last year will help him out massively as the run to the 2022 Olympics begins.)

The Punkari Brothers Preview The 2017 Road To The Roar

Brett Says: Well it’s that time again where the four year cycle comes to an end and the top teams in Canada fight it out to represent their country at the 2018 Olympics in South Korea.. We kick things off with the Road to the Roar where 14 men’s and women’s teams get one last shot at one of two spots in the Olympic Trials. The format for this preview will cover the Favourites, Darkhorses, Wildcards and teams that well….I guess rather be at the patch?

Lucas Says: Whoever decided that viewers only wanted to see the playoff games on TSN this weekends needs to be hit with a wet salmon. Anyways, as you will see with this field in both divisions, there’s a number of rinks that can end up anywhere in the overall standings when the event concludes Sunday.

Women’s Event

Brett’s Favourites

Kerri Einarson (Manitoba)

Widely considered to be the second best team in Manitoba, Einarson has steadily rose up the curling ranks over the last two years, as she has won two Grand Slam events and finished fourth in her first trip to the Scotties in 2016. Last year’s provincials didn’t go very well at all as she missed the playoffs, but if Einarson has consistent play this rink should be a potential lock to make her first Olympics trials. Now if only she could beat Jennifer Jones somehow.

Krista McCarville (Northern Ontario)

After being away from the national scene for a few years, Krista McCarville has brought Northern Ontario women’s curling to new heights after a second and fourth place finishes at the last two Scotties. Having finished third at the 2009 Olympic Trials, McCarville has a great chance to return to that event if the front end of Sarah Potts and Ashley Sippala can play well.

Lucas’s Favourites

Kerri Einarson (Manitoba)

Given her recent form over the past couple of years, especially on the Grand Slam scene, the Einarson rink should make it into the Trials with ease. If they get there, I wouldn’t be surprised if they sneak into the playoff discussion given how topsy-turvy the women’s scene is at the moment.

Krista McCarville (Northern Ontario)

Okay so our pick of her winning the Scotties last year didn’t go as planned, but the Thunder Bay group has been in the mix at every event they’ve been in for the last couple of years despite playing on a limited basis. Doubt them at your own peril as they might be able to get into the finals in Ottawa if they gab nab one of the two spots in Summerside this weekend.

Brett’s Darkhorses

Tracy Fleury (Northern Ontario)

Besides becoming the first team to represent Northern Ontario at the Scotties in 2015, Tracy Fleury has been a bit hot and cold over the last couple of years. Since acquiring Crystal Webster the team has gone to a five person rotation, and while they did make a Grand Slam final two years ago where they lost to Rachel Homan, they’ve had some mostly mediocre showings since then and haven’t been able to get back to the Scotties. Fleury has been in the pre-trials before and they are in the mix again here, though she might have been a potential favourite if it wasn’t for the inconsistent play.

teamharrison

Jacqueline Harrison (Ontario)

Over the last couple of years, this rink has risen through the ranks in Ontario to steadily become one of the better teams in the province. Last season, Harrison captured her first Grand Slam title by beating Krista McCarville in the Tier II Tour Challenge and was in the mix to win a provincial crown. She should be in the mix once again this week and could knock off one of the favourites.

Shannon Kleibrink (Alberta)

Last year was pretty much a revival of sorts for Shannon Kleibrink as she upset Val Sweeting to make the Scotties, although she was sidelined for most of the week with back problems and Heather Nedohin stepped in to skip the team. This year, she has brought in former Canadian Mixed Doubles champion Kalynn Park at the second postion which should help things a little. As former Olympic trials champion and a finalist on two other occasions, Kleibrink has the experience to help this rink get in the mix.

Lucas’s Darkhorses

Tracy With Gates

Tracy Fleury (Northern Ontario)

Having just missed out on qualifying for the main trials, Fleury’s Sudbury rink entered the season as one of my favourites to advance out of Summerside along with her provincial rival McCarville. Now while she’s probably been passed by Einarson given the Manitoba’s squad strong start to the year, this is a team that can be in the mix if everything goes well. Plus who doesn’t love Amanda Gates.

Jacquelin Harrison

Jacqueline Harrison (Ontario)

Given her strong season last year, which saw her make the playoffs at a few Slams and pick up a few wins over Rachel Homan, Harrison is one of those rinks that is sliding in under the radar but isn’t talked about a lot for whatever reason. A good showing this week might change that, along with a possible Scotties trip later this year.

Kelsey Rocque

Kelsey Rocque (Alberta)

This is a rink that is due for a breakout performance and it might happen this week. Given the talent they have and the experience Kelsey and her team have gained over the last couple of seasons, a playoff trip isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

Brett’s Wildcards

teambirchard

Shannon Birchard (Manitoba)

A two time Canadian Junior runner-up Shannon Birchard has been giving some of the bigger teams in Manitoba fits, especially with a semifinal trip in 2016. I expect her to push a lot of the top teams here this week and make a run at the Scotties in the near future, especially as everything changes in Manitoba once Jennifer Jones moves on.

teammeilleur

Brianne Meilleur (Manitoba)

One of the young teams who have been around the WCT circuit for a while, Meilleur has been in the mix at the Manitoba Scotties recently and almost got into the tiebreaker mix last year. This team is kind of in the same situation as Shannon Birchard and Kelsey Roqcue, though their probably isn’t as much pressure on them as some of the other rinks. Plus, BJ Neufeld is their coach, so that’s cool.

teammiddaugh

Sherry Middaugh (Ontario)

For a team that has had a ton of experience at big events, including a runner-up finish at the 2013 Olympic Trials, this is probably their last gasp at making the Olympics. Their play at the Grand Slams this year hasn’t been great, as they have a 1-7 record through two events and a few blowout losses. They have a chance to be in the mix here, but it’s hard to see them going much farther.

teamrocque

Kelsey Rocque (Alberta)

Let’s be honest, the first two seasons on the World Curling Tour have been rough for the former two time Canadian and World Junior champion. Personally, I think this team is going to use this experience to start their run towards the 2022 Olympics as their is a lot of talent and potential in this squad. A playoff berth this week isn’t out of the realm of possibility either.

teamtippin

Julie Tippin (Ontario)

Julie Tippin has pretty much been, dare I say, the walking mediocrity of Ontario women’s contenders, even though she’s made the last two provincial playdowns. Granted, she’s started to play in more Grand Slam events and made it to the tiebreaker at the Tier II Tour Challenge in September where she lost to Eve Muirhead, so she might make some noise in the future. However, it’s hard to tell at this point.

Lucas’s Wildcards

Shannon Birchard

Shannon Birchard (Manitoba)

One of the skips to watch for the next Olympic cycle, Birchard has been in the mix in Manitoba for the last couple of years and could be one of those breakout rinks in the coming years. It probably won’t be this week for the mixed doubles partner of Jason Gunnlaugson, but a standout showing is coming.

Shit Balls and Shannon

Shannon Kleibrink (Alberta)

Now if Heather ‘Shitballs’ Nedohin had been a part of this rink, I’d probably pick them to win the whole thing, but alas she’s not here. Given Shannon’s success in other trial runs, it’s not that crazy to think that she could be one of the playoff teams this weekend, even if she hasn’t curled in a lot of major events besides last year’s Scotties.

Briane Meilleur

Brianne Meilleur (Manitoba)

Like Shannon Birchard, Meilleur is another one of those young Manitoba rinks that are in the mid-level of the provincial scene but will probably be a contender in the next few years. I don’t see that jump happening this week, but she will pull off a few upsets in the round-robin.

Sherry Middaugh

Sherry Middaugh (Ontario)

It feels odd to put the 2013 Trials runner-up in this spot, but it feels like Middaugh has fallen well back of the rest of the pack on the women’s scene. I mean, she’ll probably have a good week in Summerside, but I don’t think she would be in the mix in Ottawa next month against a stronger field.

Brett’s #Patch Teams

teambreen

Theresa Breen (Nova Scotia)

So how does a team who has not made the Scotties out of Nova Scotia the last three years make the pre-trials? When you look deeper Theresa Breen has been to three Scotties as a member of Anne Merklinger’s rink and she made the Nova Scotia provincial final in 2015. With that said, how did Jill Brothers not get a spot in here.

teamrobertson

Darcy Robertson (Manitoba)

Let’s be honest, the only reason Robertson is in a pre-trials spot was due to her shocking run at last year’s Manitoba Provincials, where she not only obliterated Kerri Einarson in a tie-breaker but also pulled a gigantic upset over Jennifer Jones in the semis. Like Breen, Robertson has a lot of Scotties experience in the past but with limited success, so don’t expect much.

teamscotland

Nadine Scotland (Alberta)

They have sponsorship from Audi and Rebecca Konschuh from the old Jocelyn Peterman junior championship rink is on the team. However, this Alberta team hasn’t done a lot over the lats couple of years so they might be in tough here.

teamthompsonKarla Thompson (British Columbia)

If you recall her first trip to the Scotties, Thompson got off to a bad start with lose to Nunavut in the pre-qualfying round but she bounced to keep British Columbia in the main event. She’s made a strong addition to her lineup with Shannon ‘Crooked Neck’ Jonaisse this year, and this rink could be a wildcard if everything goes right for them this week, but I wouldn’t hold my breath about it.

Lucas’s #Patch Teams

Theresae Breen

Theresa Breen (Nova Scotia)

I mean it’s an East Coast team so they’ll get supporters that way, but I’m not expecting a lot of a rink that hasn’t really done a ton over the last three years. To me, it’s just filling out the numbers and I’m still wondering how Jill Brothers missed out like Brett is.

Darcy Robertson

Darcy Robertson (Manitoba)

Given what she did in her upset-filled run to the Manitoba provincial final last year, Robertson will surprise a few rinks I’m sure this week, but I can’t see her being in the playoff mix given how strong the field is.

Nadine Scotland

Nadine Scotland (Alberta)

When you curl in a strong province like this one, it’s hard to get a chance to break through against strong fields unless everything goes right. Unless a lot of teams change lineups over the next calendar year, I feel like Scotland falls into this category.

2016 Scotties Tournament of Hearts

Karla Thompson (British Columbia)

Given the tough spot the province is in since Kelly Scott left the competitive scene, Thompson is the best rink in British Columbia right now but might be a mid-level rink at best on this scale. I feel like this province is just waiting for either Corryn Brown and the Van Osch’s to break through nationally before becoming a true contender again.

Julie Tippin

Julie Tippin (Ontario)

A playoff run might be too much to ask for this rink, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Tippin’s squad ends up in the mix in the coming years as they play in more Grand Slam events and provincial playdowns.

Men’s Event

Brett’s Favourites

teambottcher

Brendan Bottcher (Alberta)

Brendan Bottcher was a player that a lot of people kept an eye on after winning two Canadian Junior titles earlier this decade, and he’s been getting better each yaer. He made a couple of Grand Slam playoff runs in 2016 and made it to the Brier last year after Darren Moulding replaced Pat Simmons just before the provincials at third. I think he’ll be a main threat in the Trials in the next four-year cycle, but he could surprise this year’s field if he is able to make it to Ottawa.

teamgunn

Jason Gunnlaugson (Manitoba)

#BeAGunner (Someone needs to make that a trending topic on Twitter.) Anyway, the king of bombs and smashing rocks has returned to the mix after jumping around from team to team over the last few years. He’s taken full advantage of his chances this year with a win at the Tier II Tour Challenge and a quarter-final run at the Masters. Gunner’s always been a crowd favourite with his giant hitting ability and he should make some more fans this week with a great chance to return to the Trials after his surprise run in 2009.

teammorris

John Morris (British Columbia)

Johnny Mo has been back with Jim Cotter for the last couple of years now, and while they haven’t been quite as good as they were in their Trials and Brier run in 2013 and 2014, they did win the Elite 10 event last spring on the Grand Slam circuit. This season, there’s been a lineup change with Catlin Schneider joining the rink at second and Tyrell Griffith moving down to lead. Even with those differences, this probably the best bet to make the Trials, though may not be quite as strong as they were when they lost to Brad Jacobs in the 2013 final.

Lucas’s Favourites

Brendan Bottcher

Brendan Bottcher (Alberta)

With a Brier trip under his belt, the former Canadian junior champion is on the verge of becoming a legit contender. That will probably happen in the next Olympic cycle once everyone changes rinks, but a trip to Ottawa might accelerate that process if Bottcher has a good week in Summerside.

Be A Gunner

Jason Gunnlaugson (Manitoba)

A national hero, well for me at least, the man with the biggest takeout weight in all of curling and one of my all-time favourites is having a strong campaign to start this season. As a result, he has a legit chance to be in the mix not only for an Olympic Trials spot but to maybe win the Manitoba playdowns depending on what happens in the coming months.

John MOrris

John Morris (British Columbia)

Sure the return with Cotter hasn’t been as successful as there’s first go-around together, but it’s Johnny Mo. He’s always solid when it comes to these events and I penciled him right away as one of the teams to make the Trials, where a really good field puts him as a darkhorse to contend once again.

Brett’s Darkhorses

teambalsdon

Greg Balsdon (Ontario)

After stunning Glenn Howard in the 2014 Ontario men’s provincials to make his first Brier appearance, we have not heard a whole lot from Greg Balsdon as he’s made quite a few lineup changes since then. He might be a bit more of a wildcard than a darkhorse, but he has had previous pre-trials experience including a come from behind victory over Brad Jacobs when he was down 8-3 back in 2013.

teamhoward

Glenn Howard (Ontario)

For the first time in his career, Glenn Howard will be in the situation of playing in the pre-trials in what will be his final kick at the can of making the Olympics. He has a pretty good lineup, even with Richard Hart out with an injury and Adam Spencer stepping in, and he has a good chance of making some noise. Maybe he can catch some of the old magic that led him to two Brier titles as a skip yet again.

teammenard

Jean-Michel Menard (Quebec)

So besides all of those trips to the Brier, Menard has not done a lot on the tour circuit over the years. However, we all know that he’s always a tough team to play against on the national stage. If he gets off to a strong start this week, he’s got a good shot of making it to the Olympic Trials in what might be his last run at it.

teamsimmons

Pat Simmons (Alberta)

Pat is now on his third different team in as many years, and he’s inherited a pretty good young Manitoba rink by joining up with Matt Dunstone’s old squad that made it the provincial finals in 2016 just weeks after winning the Canadian Junior title. Pat’s previous experience should help these guys out a ton, especially with a young group of curlers that can throw some big weight.

Lucas’s Darkhorses

Jean Michel Maneard

Jean-Michel Menard (Quebec)

A threat whenever he plays at the Brier, Menard might be in the mix here this week if everything goes right. A key will be a good start though, as it might be hard to make ground in the pool process.

2015, Halifax N.S. Ford Men's World Curling Championship, Canada skip Pat Simmons, Curling Canada/michael burns photo

Pat Simmons (Manitoba)

With Matt Dunstone moving on to join Steve Laycock’s rink, the former Brier champ has moved into a good situation with a young trio of talented hard throwing players. With the veteran presence, they should be in the mix this week to be in the playoffs.

Charley Thomas

Charley Thomas (Alberta)

Maybe it’s me, but I feel like Charley is super under the radar coming into this weekend. Sure, he hasn’t been in the mix for major event titles like his competitors, but Thomas is always solid and he has a good team around him. Doubt the former Junior star at your own peril.

Brett’s Wildcards

teamcasey

Adam Casey (Saskatchewan)

After leaving PEI in 2016, Casey took over skipping duties in Saskatchewan and it turned off with a beating of Steve Laycock in the provincial finals and a 5-6 finish at the Brier as he took over a Shawn Meachem rink that had been in the mix the last few years. There is a lineup change with Brock Montogomery coming in to replace Catlin Schneider at third, so it’s hard to say how things will go.

teamflasch

Colton Flasch (Saskatchewan)

Following their provincial final loss to Adam Casey, their was a switch to Steve Laycock’s squad as Colton Flasch left the rink and was replaced by Matt Dunstone. Now a skip, Flasch has done a pretty decent job so far picking up he’s won an event and played in the Tier II Tour Challenge. It’s hard to say how he’ll fair here, but I’m sure there would be lots of hype if he somehow faced his old team at the Trials.

teamlyburn

William Lyburn (Manitoba)

William Lyburn is another one of those skips that is always giving the big teams in Manitoba fits, but isn’t quite on the same level as a Reid Carruthers or a Mike McEwen. He did make it to the Tier II Tour Challenge final earlier this year where he lost to Gunner, so there’s a chance for him to surprise this week.

teammurphy

Jamie Murphy (Nova Scotia)

Besides Brad Gushue because of obvious reasons, Jamie Murphy is the top team in the Maritimes at the moment with a couple of decent Brier showings over the last couple of years. Paul Flemming has joined the squad this year to add some veteran depth, and I think this will help them to some degree.

teamthomas

Charley Thomas (Alberta)

It seemed like at the beginning of last year, Thomas was finally starting to turn the corner on the men’s circuit but he hasn’t really done a lot since then. Plus, with Craig Savill leaving the rink after last year, it feels like he’s been dealt a big blow lineup wise in addition to missing out on the playoffs at all of the event he’s been at lately.

Lucas’s Darkhorses

Greg Baldson

Greg Balsdon (Ontario)

Ever changing lineup aside, Baldson is one of the guys that will also present a tough challenge at any event. He may not make the playoffs this weekend, but he will be in the mix.

Adam Casey

Adam Casey (Saskatchewan)

With a great group of curlers on his side and some good shot making ability, Casey is one of those guys that will be in the mix for years to come out West. A good showing this week will probably help him in an always stout provincial field later this year as everyone will be trying to stop him from making a second straight Brier trip.

Glenn Howard

Glenn Howard (Ontario)

I mean, he’ll probably beat John Epping in the provincial finals again, but it’s hard for me seeing Howard being a legit threat in this event given not so great Grand Slam showings over the last couple of years. He will be at the Olympics though either way as the coach for Eve Muirhead.

William Lyburn

William Lyburn (Manitoba)

Brett said this already, but Lyburn’s a solid skip and has a good team that has yet to break through in Manitoba. Don’t be surprised if he becomes more of a threat in the coming years.

Brett’s #Patch Teams

teambice

Mark Bice (Ontario)

Bice made the Brier in 2014 with Greg Baldson and is now pretty much skipping that former Ontario championship rink after some lineup changes. We haven’t heard a lot from them recently, but they are always in the mix come playoff time.

teamderuelle

Danya Deruelle (Ontario)

Last year was technically Deruelle’s best year as he rose to 16th in the CTRS rankings. Other than that though, I can honestly say I’m not expecting much from this team.

Lucas’s #Patch Teams

Mark Bice

Mark Bice (Ontario)

Nothing against Bice, but I don’t think the depth in the Ontario’s men side is all that great at the moment and that might be tough to deal with at a strong field like this one.

Dayna Dereuelle

Danya Deruelle (Ontario)

Please see my previous statement.

Colton Flasch

Colton Flasch (Saskatchewan)

It’s odd to not see Flasch with the Laycock rink, but he’s in a good situation with the old member of Bruce Korte’s squad. It’s a young team so this will be a learning week for them, but they might be in the mix in Saskatchewan this year in the provincial playdowns.

Jamie Murphy

Jamie Murphy (Nova Scotia)

Jamie’s a solid skip and his rink will play well at the Brier, but it’s hard to see him being a legit threat at a field like this. With the said, being one of the East Coast sides should give him some support to build off of from the fans.