Hot Takes on CHL Teams (2017 Edition – Part 2)

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The opening round of the CHL playoffs is in the books, which featured some excellent series, a five-overtime thriller and a couple of surprising upsets.

There’s also been some big moves away from the ice. Don Nachbaur and Jarrod Skalde won’t be back behind the bench for the Spokane Chiefs and Guelph Storm respectively, while Ryan Suzuki was the top overall pick in the OHL Draft by the Barrie Colts.

So as the quarter-final round marches towards it’s conclusion, here is another look at the teams that have seen their season coming to an end, starting with the Ontario Hockey League where the Memorial Cup host is now sitting on the sidelines.

Johnny Corneil

Niagara Ice Dogs – 23-35-6-4 – 3rd in Central Division – 8th in Eastern Conference

For a team that I thought would struggle mightily after losing so many pieces from the league runner-up squad a year ago, to see them get into the playoffs with the amount of young talent that they had was impressive, especially after they traded away Graham Knott and Christopher Paquette.

The experience of getting to the playoffs should bode well for the Ice Dogs in the years to come, especially with an exciting young forward group that includes Ben Jones, Oliver Castleman, Kirill Maximov and talented rookie Akil Thomas.

Although they will be losing veteran blueliners Ryan Mantha and Aaron Haydon, there are several interesting younger players that will get key ice time next season on that back end. If they can gel quickly on the back end, this could be a team on the rise in the Eastern Conference.

Artur Tyinuling

Ottawa 67’s – 26-34-7-1 – 5th in East Division – 7th in Eastern Conference

With a third-straight opening round loss, which follows with two straight seasons of missing the playoffs, it really feels like the 67’s are treading water a bit after their trip to the Eastern Conference final in 2012.

Although they will be losing leading scorer Artur Tyanulin, there will be a nice forward group in Ottawa next season with Travis Barron, Austin Keating, Sasha Chmelevski and Tye Felhaber (who they acquired from Saginaw) all coming back.

The defence will be young but has a couple of nice pieces in Noel Hoefenmayer and Peter Straits, while Leo Lazarev will more than likely be back in goal, so the 67’s should have a better result than seventh place next season.

However, if things end up looking the same in the nation’s capital, it will be interesting to see much how longer Jeff Brown will be in charge of the team.

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Sudbury Wolves – 27-34-7-0 – 2nd in Central Division – 6th in Eastern Conference

It’s been a rough few years for the Wolves, but after a couple of years away they returned to the playoffs and they actually gave the Oshawa Generals a pretty tough challenge in their first round series.

As they move forward, the young base of talent should continue to blossom, especially with Dimitri Sokolov, David Levin and MacCauley Carson up front. At the other end of the rink, Jacob McGrath has taken over the reigns at starter and should get better in the coming seasons.

The one weakness the Wolves might face is on defence. It isn’t bad with guys like Reagan O’Grady and Owen Lalonde already set for top minutes, but they will be losing Kyle Capobianco, Aiden Jamieson and Patrick Sanvido, so it will be a much younger and inexperienced group.

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Sarnia Sting – 31-30-6-1 – 4th in West Division – 8th in Western Conference

It was unlikely that all three of Jakob Chychrun, Travis Konecny and Pavel Zacha were going to come back to the Sting, but losing all three players to the NHL but the Sting in a tough spot for this year.

The reloading of the picks and assets they gave up in their ill-faded 2015-16 run to a West Division title and a first round exit began when Nikita Korostelev was dealt to the Petes at the trade deadline, but there are still some pieces here that might help the Sting next season.

The offence looks pretty sporting with Jordan Kyrou, Drake Rymsha, Anthony Salinitri and Adam Ruzicka all slated to come back, while the backend might need to improve a little bit if they want to move up the standings.

Mind you, if Sarnia could get any of the highly-touted kids they’ve took in recent years that are slated to take the college route (see Tyler Weiss and Mattias Samuelsson) any pre-season projections could change in a hurry.

Ryan Moore.jpeg

Flint Firebirds – 32-28-3-5 – 3rd in West Division – 7th in Western Conference

Given how much of a tire fire their inaugural campaign was, this was a super improvement for the Firebirds as there were no scandals surroundings their sophomore season.

Heading into the third season in Flint, one of the major building blocks is the offence for the Firebirds. Although Kole Sherwood looks set to join the Columbus Blue Jackets system, Ryan Moore will be back for his overage season along with Dallas Stars prospect Nicholas Caamano. However, one player that will be worth watching on a nightly basis is Ty Dellandrea, as he should have an impressive sophomore season.

With that said, the Firebirds defensive depth and goaltending situation looks slightly worrying. That might need to be addressed if they want to return to the playoffs once again.

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Hamilton Bulldogs – 33-27-4-4 – 4th in East Division – 5th in Eastern Conference

Although their dreams of getting the 2018 Memorial Cup didn’t come true, the Bulldogs had a pretty successful second season in Hamilton and almost won their first ever playoff series before falling in overtime to the Kingston Frontenacs in Game 7.

The Bulldogs have a pretty solid base as they move forward. Although Matt Luff may end up joining the Los Angeles Kings system, they will have Will Bitten returning after picking him up in a trade with Flint at the start of the year.

Matthew Strome, Brandon Saigeon, MacKenzie Entwistle and Connor Roberts will also be among the major contributors on offence, while the defence will feature Justin Lemcke and Benjamin Gleason as the main anchors. If Kaden Fulcher can shoulder the load as a starting netminder, this might be one of the teams to beat in the Eastern Conference next season.

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Kitchener Rangers – 36-27-3-2 – 4th in Midwest Division – 6th in Western Conference

I thought this team would be higher up in the standings in the Western Conference but that certainly wasn’t the case, especially after they dealt Jeremy Bracco to the Windsor Spitfires.

Despite that, this is a team that I really think could make some noise next season, although the goaltending position does look to be a bit of a question mark if St. Louis Blues prospect Luke Opilka doesn’t come back for an overage season.

Nevertheless, the amount of firepower the Rangers have is impressive with the likes of Adam Mascherin, Connor Bunnaman, Joseph Garreffa and Greg Meireles. My brother would tell you that their defence is usually swiss cheese, especially after giving up 71 shots to the Owen Sound Attack in the playoffs, but the likes of Connor Hall, Elijah Roberts and Giovanni Vallati should make next year’s blueline a fairly solid one.

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Windsor Spitfires – 41-19-5-3 – 2nd in West Division – 5th in Western Conference

Like the Saskatoon Blades in 2013 and the Regina Pats in 2001, the Spitfires will now have to play a waiting game before they take to the ice as the hosts for the Memorial Cup in May, as they were unable to put away the London Knights despite holding a 3-1 series lead.

We will discuss how the Spitfires will fare in that tournament another day, so let’s look at their future. They will be losing a lot of pieces from this year’s squad as Jeremiah Addison, Julius Nattinen, Graham Knott, Jeremy Bracco and Jalen Chatfield are among those graduating at year’s end. They will also have six overage players to try and figure out what to do with, though I expect Aaron Luchuk will be one of the three coming back.

There are some interesting pieces that can return, such as forwards Logan Brown and Gabriel Vilardi, defencemen Mikhail Sergachev, Sean Day and Logan Stanley plus goaltender Michael DiPietro. However, their overall depth is very worrisome, especially since their last two drafts aren’t look that stellar at the moment.

Let’s now make our way to the QMJHL, which saw one of the division champions get knocked out in rather surprising fashion.

Tyler Boland

Rimouski Oceanic – 26-35-6-1 – 6th in East Division – 16th in League

The Oceanic are still rebuilding a bit from their run to the league in 2015, with evidence from that coming when they traded captain Simon Bourque to the Saint John Sea Dogs

While they will be losing leading scorers Tyler Boland and Dylan Montcalm, the Oceanic still have a pretty interesting forward group coming back, especially since they were able to win the QMJHL draft lottery and have the chance to take highly touted forward Alexis Lafreniere first overall.

Thanks to the luck of the draw, the future of the Oceanic might have changed in a big way, especially with where they might end up in next year’s playoff picture.

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Halifax Mooseheads – 27-35-3-3 – 5th in Maritime Division – 15th in League

With a talented trio of Benoit-Olivier Giroux, Nico Hischier and Jared McIsaac joining the ranks, the Mooseheads got off to a pretty solid start before almost fading out of the playoff mix, though they bounced back nicely by pushing the defending QMJHL champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies to a six-game battle in the first round.

This is still a pretty young team with a ton of talent coming into next season, which will be helped by the return of leading scorer Maxime Fortier for his overage campaign. Hischier’s status will be up in the air depending on what happens at the NHL Draft in June, but the pieces are there for the Mooseheads to make some noise next year as they look to be the hosts for the Memorial Cup in 2019.

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Baie-Comeau Drakkar – 26-32-6-4 – 5th in East Division – 13th in League

After finishing last in the league a year ago, the Drakkar had a nice bounce-back season in 2016-17, thanks in large part to a number of talented young players.

Thanks to many of their key players returning, mainly leading scorers Ivan Chekhovich, Jordan Martel and D’Artagnan Joly, this is a team that might be a nice middle of the pack sleeper for next season. Also keep an eye out for blueliner Xavier Bouchard, who had 34 points in his rookie campaign and is eligible for the 2018 NHL Draft.

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Drummondville Voltigeurs – 28-34-1-5 – 4th in West Division – 12th in League

The first season with Dominque Ducharme in charge of the team saw them in about the same spot that they were a year ago, especially after dealing away some top players in Alex Barre-Coulet, Frederic Aube and Joey Rattelle.

While there are some interesting pieces coming back, such as Mathieu Sevigny and Pavel Koltygin up front along with blueliner Nicolas Beaudin, all signs point for another finish in the teens for the Voltigeurs next year.

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Quebec Remparts – 31-30-4-3 – 4th in East Division – 11th in League

Granted, they were probably not going to go all that far after trading away starting goaltender Callum Booth to the Saint John Sea Dogs, but this is the third time in the last four years that the Remparts have been knocked out in the first round. In that time, the only exception to that rule came in 2015 when they lost the league final to Rimouski on their way to a semifinal result as Memorial Cup hosts.

There’s a lot of decent young talent on this team, with two of the stand-out guys for me being forward Philipp Kurashev and goaltender Dereck Baribeau, which puts the Remparts in a good opportunity to make some noise in the coming seasons. I’m not sure if they’ll make it out of the first round next year yet, but they might have home ice advantage if all goes well.

Vitali Abramov

Gatineau Olympiques – 33-3-4-0 – 3rd in West Division – 10th in League

The first half of the Olympiques season wasn’t very good as they got off to a rough start and (coaching change). After that, thing turned around in a hurry for Gatineau as they rocketed up the standings and were an overtime goal away from erasing a 3-0 series deficit against the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.

At the moment, the Olympiques look to be a team that might struggle a bit next year as they have a fairly young looking team. However, they do a massive trade chip in their back pocket if they happen to struggle, as Columbus Blue Jackets prospect and QMJHL scoring champion Vitali Abramov will be back for his final junior season.

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Victoriaville Tigres – 35-25-6-2 – 3rd in East Division – 9th in League

This is the fourth straight playoff loss for the Tigres in the first round, and I was really surprised that they ended up losing in a sweep to Chicoutimi as I expected that series to last a lot longer than it did.

With that said, I think the Tigres should end that streak next season. They have a really strong group of forwards that can come back with James Phelan, Ivan Kosorenkov, Felix Lauzon, Pascal Laberge and potential top-ten pick Maxime Comtois all eligible to return.

The back-end is pretty solid as well, and it might end being strengthened during the course of the campaign, which makes this side one of the teams to watch come next season.

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Shawinigan Cataractes – 42-20-4-2 – 1st in East Division – 3rd in League

Despite not getting Anthony Beauvillier back from the New York Islanders, last year’s runner-up finishers had another great campaign and looked set to make some noise in the playoffs, only to be stunned by a Val-d’Or squad that themselves were upset by a much lower seeded Blainville-Boisbriand in the first round 12 months ago.

Although top scorers Alexis D’Aoust and Dennis Yan will both be moving on, the Cataractes to have some good returning pieces coming back, especially in high-scoring blueliner Samuel Girard.

I suspect there will be a bit of a drop-off after the last couple of seasons, but Shawinigan might be able to get some assets to help them out thanks to an abundance of overage players on the roster.

To finish things out, we head to the Western Hockey League where a team that made a major splash with trades during the regular season sputtered out of the post-season mix much earlier than they would have hoped.

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Calgary Hitmen – 30-32-8-2 – 4th in Central Division – 8th in Eastern Conference

At the start of the season, I thought this team would struggled a bit on defence while scoring a lot of goals. While they did have a tough time slowing down other offences, the Hitmen had a harder time finding the back of the net and that proved to be a major problem.

While it’s unclear if Matteo Gennaro (who had an excellent second half) will be moving on to the Winnipeg Jets organization, there are still a number of strong forwards that will be back. Beck Malenstyn, Jake Kryski and Mark Kastelic should lead the way, while there is also a chance that Jakob Stukel could return before moving on to the Vancouver Canucks system.

However, the defensive side of things really worries me. If things don’t go well there and Calgary is scratching and clawing to try and make the playoffs again, I wouldn’t be surprised if they deal away Carolina Hurricanes first round pick Jake Bean at the trade deadline.

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Brandon Wheat Kings – 31-31-7-3 – 4th in East Division – 7th in Eastern Conference

It was a new era off the ice for the defending WHL champions as Kelly McCrimmon joined the Las Vegas Golden Knights, but it was also a much different season on the ice as well as Ivan Provorov made the Philadelphia Flyers, Jordan Papirny was dealt to the Swift Current Broncos and Nolan Patrick missed a ton of time due to injuries.

While the Wheat Kings will be losing Reid Duke to the Golden Knights and Patrick’s status won’t really be known until after he’s drafted, they still have a number of good weapons on offence with Ty Lewis, Tanner Kaspick and Stelio Mattheos leading the way. Kale Clague will again lead the way on defence, although he might be another name bandied about in trade deadline chats.

One thing that is worth keeping an eye on however is in goal. The Wheat Kings have two overagers in Travis Child and Logan Thompson that will look to be the starter, while a number of prospects are waiting in the wings for the other spot on the team.

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Victoria Royals – 37-29-5-1 – 4th in BC Division – 8th in Western Conference

While I’m sure everyone’s still recovering from their quintuple overtime loss to Everett in Game 6, the Royals did a pretty good job in a tough BC Division this year, especially when losing guys like Joe Hicketts and Coleman Volrath to graduation

Once again, the Royals should have a really dynamic forward group, even if Tyler Soy ends up making the Anaheim Ducks system. Matthew Phillips will be the headline attraction, but guys like Dante Hannoun and Ryan Peckford will also do some damage.

I’m not totally convinced on the defence as of yet, but Griffen Outhouse should have another solid season in goal as the Royals try to make some noise in what looks to be another tightly contested battle out West.

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Red Deer Rebels – 30-29-9-4 – 3rd in Central Division – 6th in Eastern Conference

Shortly after their big blockbuster trade deadline deal that saw Josh Mahura head to the Regina Pats, the Rebels just about fell off a cliff and nearly missed out on making the playoffs before just about upsetting the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the first round. Hockey sure is a strange sport.

Last year’s Memorial Cup hosts will be losing quite a bit from this year’s squad, as Michael Spacek, Evan Polei and Adam Musil are all moving on. However, they had a pretty solid one-two punch coming back on offence in Brandon Hagel and Lane Zablocki, who was the key piece coming back in the Mahura trade.

I suspect the Rebels will strengthen their overagers before the season begins, but they also have some nice younger pieces coming back. If they all mesh well, they might be in the wild card mix in the Eastern Conference.

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Tri-City Americans – 41-28-3-0 – 3rd in US Division – 6th in Western Conference

The Americans were right in the mix in the US Division and probably were deserving of a better fate in the playoffs, especially with losing Michael Rasmussen due to an injury in the final weeks of the regular season.

Although they will lose Tyler Sandhu, Parker Wotherspoon and Rylan Parenteau, this is a team that I’m really high on when it comes to the 2017-18 season, especially when it comes to their forwards.

Morgan Geekie, Kyle Olson, Jordan Topping and Rasmussen all had over 50 points in scoring, while Parker Aucoin, Carson Focht and incoming prospect Sasha Mutala will all be key cogs in the offence.

The defence has an excellent one-two punch in Juuso Valimaki and Dylan Coghlan, while either Evan Sarthou or Beck Warm can get the job done in goal. Their might need to be some extra depth on defence to be a legit title threat, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Tri-City ends up being my pick to win the US Division prior to the start of the campaign.

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Kamloops Blazers – 42-24-2-4 – 3rd in BC Division – 5th in Western Conference

Speaking of teams that were in crazy good divisions, the Blazers just about finished at the top of standings in BC but ended up having some tough luck again against the Kelowna Rockets in the opening round.

There will be a number of key players moving on, such as Devan Sideroff and Colin Shirley, but the biggest loss will be Connor Ingram who had yet another great campaign for the Blazers and also won a silver medal at the World Juniors for Canada.

Dylan Ferguson, who got a lot of time in goal while Ingram wasn’t in the lineup this year, will help to shoulder that load as the Blazers still have some key veterans coming back in Garrett Pilon and Joe Gatenby that will help to lead the way.

The emergence of the younger players on the Blazers roster, which includes Jackson Shepard and Luke Zazula, will be a key part in helping the team keep up their recent strong results in the standings. Another player that may help in that is 2016 first round pick Massimo Rizzo, though it appears the highly-touted forward is slated to suit up for the BCHL’s Penticton Vees next fall.

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Moose Jaw Warriors – 42-21-8-1 – 2nd in East Division – 4th in Eastern Conference

Even with Dryden Hunt and Brayden Point moving on, the Warriors put together another solid season this year and kept pace with the Regina Pats throughout the campaign before falling in a tightly-contest seven game series to the Swift Current Broncos, which was a much earlier exit than the team had hoped for given some of the moves they had made.

The overage situation is worth keeping an eye on as forwards Jayden Halbgewachs, Brayden Burke and Tanner Jeannot can all come back, along with starting netminder Zach Sawchenko. A lot of this may depend on if any of them, in particular Sawchenko, gets selected at the NHL Draft in June, but this will be interesting to see how that will play out going forward.

The Warriors have a pretty solid group of guys that will be coming back next season, with Brett Howden and Noah Gregor being the key cogs on offence in addition to potential breakout players Justin Almedia and Luka Burzan. Josh Brook and Jett Woo are an excellent young one-two punch on the blueline, while Sawchenko or Brody Willms will have good numbers as the starting goaltender depending on how things play out.

With the extra hunger of an early first round exit, the Warriors should be among the pre-season favourites in the East, but how they fare may depend on what their archrivals in Regina do as they prepare to host the Memorial Cup.

Jansen Harkins

Prince George Cougars – 45-21-3-3 – 1st in BC Division – 2nd in Western Conference

Speaking of strong seasons that ended earlier than hoped, the Cougars campaign will be one that will be long talked about. After an excellent start that saw them beat the Pats at home and earn the number one ranking in the country, the Cougars made what felt like a million trades to strength their side, but instead they struggled at times in the second half before an opening round loss to the Portland Winterhawks.

After going all-in, the Cougars will be losing quite a lot of big guns to graduation as Jansen Harkins, Jesse Gabrielle, Colby McAuley, Radovan Bondra, Brendan Guhle, Sam Ruopp and Ty Edmond are all moving on. That’s not even mentioning the six 1997-born players that they’ll have to whittle down to three before next season, and that number could move up to eight if Brad Morrison and Tate Olson don’t turn pro.

Despite all that, there will still be some good pieces that the Cougars will have on their roster next season. Nick McBride will more than likely be the overage starter in goal with top prospect Taylor Gauthier waiting in the wings and there’s a good trio of 1998-born forwards that can return in Nikita Popugaev, Kody McDonald and Josh Curtis.

With that said, a big drop-off is coming for the Cougars as they will have a lot of holes to fill, so it might be a little while before they have a legit chance to contend once again.


Hot Takes on CHL Teams (2017 Edition – Part 1)

Regina Pats Big Heads

We’re a week into the Canadian Hockey League playoffs as I post this and not only have we seen some great games, but we’re also saying farewell to several teams that were swept aside in the first round.

I didn’t end up doing a season preview post this year so I can’t make fun of my picks for this year’s run to the Memorial Cup, but I have decided to do a multi-part series where I look ahead at what we can expect from teams as they gear up for the 2017-18 season.

So, without further delay, let’s get started in the Ontario Hockey League.

Anthony Stefano

Barrie Colts – 17-44-6-1 – 5th in Central Division – 10th in Eastern Conference

The Colts are missing the playoffs for only the second time in franchise history, with their previous experiencing of not taking part in the post-season dancing taking place back in 2011.

A league-worst finish back then turned into a massive positive for the Colts as they were able to draft Aaron Ekblad with the first overall pick in the draft. Fast-forward six years and they have a chance to do it again.

If they take the best player on the board in both the OHL Draft and CHL Import Draft, they will more than likely end up taking high-impact forwards Jack Hughes and Andrei Svechnikov, who will both improve the Colts big time. However, seeing that the team has had a few top picks not come to Barrie in recent years, what happens with those picks could be a big story line come draft day.

With all that said, the Colts do have an interesting core coming back. They will be returning a lot of younger guys on the defence, and the forwards aren’t bad with Lucas Chiodo returning as the leading scorer with 53 points. I think they stand a good chance to make a return to the playoffs next season, especially since they are in the Eastern Conference.

Ryan Merkley of the Guelph Storm. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL  Images.

Guelph Storm – 21-40-5-2 – 5th in Midwest Division – 10th in Western Conference

After making the playoffs for 23 straight season, the Storm have now missed out on the post-season for the last two years and only had a slight improvement over what they accomplished last season.

A new general manager will be taking over the Storm when Mike Kelly steps down in May, but the pieces are here for the Storm to rebound in short order, especially with a high-end forward coming with the second pick in the OHL Draft and dynamite blueliner Ryan Merkley, who should probably end up being named the league’s rookie of the year in a few weeks.

With guys like Givani Smith, Isaac Ratcliffe, Nathan Schnarr and Liam Hawel, the forward depth for the Storm isn’t too bad. What happens on the back-end will be the key to any run at a playoff spot, especially on defence with a number of their prospects having gone to the NCAA route as of late.

Brett McKenzie

North Bay Battalion – 24-38-4-2 – 4th in Central Division – 9th in Eastern Conference

Injuries played a key role in the Battalion missing out on the playoffs for not only the first time since they moved to North Bay in 2013 but since the franchise was in Brampton in 2002.

At the moment, this looks like a team that’s in the middle of the road when it comes to the league standings. If he doesn’t turn pro with the Vancouver Canucks, Brett McKenzie would be a nice addition as an overager to a forward group that that doesn’t have anyone returning that had over 40 points last season, although Adam McMaster could have a nice sophomore season.

If Cam Dineen is healthy, he’ll be a huge part of a defence that also features Adam Thilander and Brady Lyle, but the biggest hole is in goal as it remains to be seen who the Battalion will have as their starter come September.

Hayden Hodgson

Saginaw Spirit – 27-32-7-2 – 5th in West Division – 9th in Western Conference

This is the first time since 2005 that the Spirit have missed the playoffs and this appears to be a franchise in a bit of a crossroads stage, especially after trading guys like Mitchell Stephens and Tye Felhaber this season.

If NHL-drafted blueliners Keaton Middleton and Markus Niemelainen bounce back from disappointing campaigns and the younger talent, which is led by forward Brady Gilmour, continues to improve, there’s a good chance the Spirit will be back in the playoffs in the always strong Western Conference.

However, the team might need to do a better job of getting their higher-end picks to report, especially when they have yet to bring in highly-touted American prospects Blade Jenkins and Bode Wilde away from their commitments to Michigan and Harvard respectively.

Next up is the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, which featured the worst team in the entire Canadian Hockey League this season.

Jeremy McKenna

Moncton Wildcats – 14-51-2-1 – 6th in Maritime Division – 18th in League

Simply put, this was a bad team, especially after they traded away anything that could move and went on a near-league record 25-game losing streak after the trade deadline. At some point, the Wildcats were going to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008, the drop-off after making back-to-back semifinal appearances was staggering.

While there are some interesting pieces the team can build around, especially in forward Jeremy McKenna, this is still a super young team that will need to do well in the draft with the number of picks they have picked up to move back into the playoff discussion.

That could all change rapidly however if they win the QMJHL Draft Lottery in the coming weeks and have the first overall pick, which more than likely turn out to be forward Alexis Lafreniere, who destroyed the midget ranks for St-Eustache this past season.

Thomas Gregoire

Sherbrooke Phoenix – 26-38-1-3 – 6th in West Division – 17th In League

The Phoenix have yet to win a playoff series since joining the league in 2012 and now they have to deal with missing out on the post-season for the first time in three years.

There are some nice pieces to build around towards achieving that first ever trip to the quarter-final next year, especially with forwards Yaroslav Alexeyev and Anderson MacDonald, along with blueliners Thomas Gregoire and Luke Green.

The biggest question mark for me though is what happens with St. Louis Blues draft pick Evan Fitzpatrick, who might be in contention for a role with Canada’s World Junior team next winter in Buffalo. If the Phoenix get off to a bad start next season, I could see him being dealt to one of the top teams in the league that’s looking for a starting goalie.

Rounding things out is the Western Hockey League, where we begin with a club that may finally know where they will play for the next little while.

Colton Kroeker

Kootenay Ice – 14-46-10-2 – 6th in Central Division – 12th in Eastern Conference

After a referendum on using public funds for a new arena in Nanaimo that could have seen the Ice move there was voted town, the Ice will be staying put in Cranbrook for the foreseeable future after a new ownership group bought the team earlier this week.

With that cloud seemingly moving on, the major focus will be on improving a team that’s finished last in the league for two straight years and only improved by two wins this season.

There is a huge light at the end of the tunnel though in highly-touted forward Peyton Krebs who will enter the league this fall. Perhaps Klim Kostin or Griffin Mendel will join him, but that might be asking for too much if you’re an Ice fan.

While Krebs’ arrival is a massive boon for the Ice, there’s still a long way to go when it comes to getting back into the playoffs. There’s some nice pieces with guys like Cale Fleury and Brett Davis, but there’s still a lot of holes on this roster that need to be filled, especially in goal as I haven’t a clue who the starter will be at this point.

Ty Ronning

Vancouver Giants – 20-46-3-3 – 5th in BC Division – 10th in Western Conference

The Giants have missed the playoffs for three straight years and in four of the last five seasons, but they are keeping coach Jason McKee around for a second campaign so that’s a good sign.

The sophomore campaign in Langley for the Giants will be an interesting one, especially if leading scorer Ty Ronning ends up turning pro as a member of the New York Rangers. James Malm and Tyler Popowich will be expect to lead the way on offence, while the defence will get a shot in the arm in top prospect Bowen Byram. The goaltending shouldn’t be too shabby as well with Ryan Kubic coming back as the starter and rookie Trent Miner possibly contending for the backup role.

With all of that said, all eyes will again be on Tyler Benson and if he can stay healthy for a full campaign. If the Giants are stuck in the same spot yet again, the Edmonton Oilers prospect could be the biggest piece on the market at next year’s trade deadline.

Simon Stransky

Prince Albert Raiders – 21-44-5-2 – 6th in East Division – 11th in Eastern Conference

After their surprising second place finish in the East Division a year ago, this was a team that was expect to be in the mix for the playoffs once again.

However, things went sideways for the Raiders early on, especially when overage forward Reid Gardiner joined the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL. The first half sell-off soon began with Brendan Guhle, Rylan Parenteau and eventually Gardiner (after he returned from the AHL) were all dealt elsewhere.

With all that said, the second half performance from the younger players on the team bodes well for the Raiders as they look to end the longest streak in the CHL (11 years) without a playoff series win. Forwards Parker Kelly and Cole Fonstad should have strong campaigns, along with defenceman Max Martin and draft-eligible netminder Ian Scott.

Plus, the Raiders won the rights to the top pick in the WHL Bantam Draft next month, where Brendan Guhle’s younger brother is the considered to be the best player on the board. However, he won’t be joining the league until the 2018-19 season.

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Edmonton Oil Kings – 23-43-5-1 – 5th in Central Division – 10th in Eastern Conference

The rebuild if officially on in Edmonton for a hockey team other than the Oilers, as the Oil Kings sold off their veterans at the trade deadline and only won a handful of games on their way to missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

With Davis Koch (who quietly put together a nice 70-point season) and Trey Fix-Wolansky up front, the Oil Kings have a couple of nice weapons on offence, but their defence might be the backbone of the side next year with guys like Conner McDonald, Will Warm, Brayden Gorda and Ethan Cap being a solid base to build around.

The most intriguing part of next year’s team might be in goal. Patrick Dea can come back as an overager, but they also have Liam Hughes returning from an injury and a pair of top prospects in Lance Alm and Boston Bilous waiting in the wings.

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Saskatoon Blades – 28-35-7-2 – 5th in East Division – 9th in Eastern Conference

If it hadn’t been for a bevy of injuries, especially with forward Cameron Hebig missing the entire season, the Blades probably would have been in the playoffs for the first time since they hosted the 2013 Memorial Cup.

While it remains to be seen where they stand in what could be a very good East Division next year, the Blades should be in the mix once again for a wild card spot at worse and possibly end the longest playoff drought in the CHL.

The amount of young talent that the Blades have should certainly help with that, especially with Kirby Dach who had 10 points in 19 games as underage forward this year. Joining him in that group are guys like Josh Paterson, Michael Farren and Chase Wouters up front, while Libor Hajek (who granted isn’t a youngster by any means) should move out from being an under the radar player into one of the favourites for the top defenceman in the league.

It will be interesting to see what happens with the Blades overage situation, especially if Hebig is healthy, as fellow forwards Braylon Shmyr and Mason McCarty, blueliner Evan Fiala and goaltenders Logan Flodell and Brock Hamm can all come back.

If Flodell returns, the battle for the backup role is also going to be fun. Joel Grzybowski has had a great year with the SJHL’s Battlefords North Stars, but the team also has the rights to prospect Nolan Maier, who was taken in the second round of last year’s draft.

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Spokane Chiefs – 27-33-8-4 – 5th in US Division – 9th in Western Conference

I’m always a sucker for young talent and I was probably a year early on having this team as the best in the US Division as they ended up missing the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

Even if Hudson Elynuik ends up becoming a part of the Carolina Hurricanes organization next fall, the young core of this team is going to be a lot of fun. Kailer Yamamoto and Jared Anderson-Dolan are going to be two of the most dangerous players in the WHL on offence, while defenceman Ty Smith should continue to get better and live up to his billing as the top pick in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft.

The goaltending side of things should be interesting when it comes to what direction the Chiefs ends up going in. At the moment, Dawson Weatherill is the only guy in the system with any WHL experience, so I’m curious as to if an older netminder will be brought in to help him out or if they will let him shoulder the load and become the main guy.


The Punkari Brothers 2017 Brier Preview

2017-brierWritten by Brett Punkari (With Cameos by Lucas Punkari)

It’s time once again for the Tim Hortons Brier, and this year were heading far east to St.John’s, Newfoundland, where the atmosphere will likely be through the roof. In terms of the field this year is an interesting mix of veterans and a few first timers as well, as it’s not quite as stacked as we’ve seen over the last two years of the event.

Well I think it’s still a darn good lineup, maybe except for a couple of teams, but it should be a better week than last year in Ottawa. Granted, it was never going to match the insanity that was the 2015 event in Calgary, but being in Newfoundland for the first time since 1972 should make this a week to remember.

1) Newfoundland and Labrador – Bally Haly Golf & Curling Club

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

Grand Slam Record – 18-6 (Quarter-Finalist, Semi-Finalist, Semi-Finalist, Champion)

It’s been an interesting year thus far for Team Gushue as Mark Nichols had to play skip for almost the entire first half of the season as Gushue recovered from hip and groin injuries. However their performance did not fall off that much, as the team made the playoffs in every event and won the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard. Gushue returned at the Boost National where he made it to the semis, and then followed that up with a victory at the Canadian Open.

We all know the story by now of Gushue coming so close to getting that elusive Brier title. This could be perhaps his best shot yet as they have been the most consistent team on tour this year. With the Brier at home, it would seem fitting to finally win it all this year, and I’m going on record and predicting there will be a riot no matter what happens with them in the final.

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1) Newfoundland & Labrador (Brad Gushue)

I feel like I’ve said this the last three years, but it does seem like there’s no better chance for Gushue to finally win the Brier title than this year. The team has been strong no matter the lineup all season long and they are going to have a ton of support all week long. It’s hard to bet against them.

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

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Skip – Brad Jacobs “Cups”, Vice – Ryan “Medium Size” Fry “79″, Second – E.J. Harnden, Lead – Ryan “Pete” Harnden

Grand Slam Record: 17-8 (Runner-Up, DNQ, Champion, Semi-Finalist)

This has definitely been a much better season compared to last year for Jacobs, where the trend seemed to be to do great in the round robin and then crash and burn in playoffs. They got their second Grand Slam title at home in the Boost National, though they did have to do it the hard way. The consistency has been there this year as well, though they did have one bad stretch from the Tour Challenge to the Canada Cup, where they failed to make the playoffs at both events.

Now a lot of people are probably hoping that we get the Battle of the Brads in this year’s Brier final and I think there is a fairly good chance at that. Believe it or not, the teams are 2-2 against each other this year and they are also dead even in all time meetings at 18-18.

When it comes to this week, I can see each side splitting the round-robin and playoff matchup, but I have Gushue squeaking it out in the final. However, if this intense team have the mojo working in the final, get out of their way.

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2) Northern Ontario (Brad Jacobs)

I’m a little bummed out the beard isn’t back, but Jacobs is again in fine form heading into the Brier. If he’s consistent all week long and they don’t have any bad ends in the playoffs that have cost them the last two years. Northern Ontario has an excellent chance of spoiling the party in St. John’s.

3) British Columbia – Vernon & Kelowna Curling Clubs

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Skip – “Johnny Mo” John Morris, Vice – Jimmmmmmmmmm Cotter (Throws fourth stones), Second – Tyrell Griffith, Lead – Rick Sawatsky

Grand Slam Record: 12-8 (DNQ, Quarter-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist, Semi-Finalist)

John Morris has reunited with Jim Cotter, with whom he finished runner-up at the 2013 Olympic Trials and the 2014 Tim Hortons Brier. It looks this team had not missed a beat and they have had some good performances this year, including a win at the Driving Force Abbotsford Cashspiel.

Jim’s probably glad that Johnny Mo has returned and Cotter himself can be a much better player in that regard. From what we saw a couple of years ago, he can be a terrific shooter when the chips are down, so this could be the most likely team to break up the Brad show.

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3) Manitoba (Mike McEwen)

Now that he’s been to a Brier, McEwen knows what to expect on the big stage and I think that will play to his advantage. He hasn’t had a dominant performance on the Tour this season like he has in the past, but this feels like a squad that is flying in under the radar and might be the biggest sleeping giant this week.

4) Manitoba – 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: 11-10 (Quarter-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist, DNQ, Quarter-Finalist)

Statistically this has not been one of McEwen’s best seasons to date. Yes he does have two wins this season on the Tour, but he just seemed a little bit off compared to his usual sharp showings on the Grand Slam circuit.  He did manage to put in some of his best games of the year in the Manitoba provincials and he got the better of hisprovincial rival Reid Carruthers as well.

I would say that Team McEwen is kinda going into this year’s Brier a bit under the radar, but I would still not count out Magic Mike since this is his second Brier appearance so he should be more comfortable in this atmosphere.

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4) British Columbia (John Morris)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, never count out Johnny Mo. During the last couple of months, Morris and Cotter have been playing brilliantly on the Grand Slam circuit and I expect them to continue that run of form once again this week as they return to the playoffs.

5) Team Canada – The Glencoe Club (Calgary)

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

Grand Slam Record: 8-11 (DNQ, DNQ, Quarter-Finalist, DNQ)

Early on this season, it looked like Team Koe were not missing a beat from last year as they went on a 11 game win streak and had a 16-2 record in their first three events.

Then once the slams came around things fell apart and seemed like the Kevin Koe of 2015 was showing up again as he was missing shots he would normally make. Even Marc Kennedy was having a few struggles, but he has bounced back as of late.

At the moment, this team is kind of in the same boat as Chelsea Carey was heading at the Scotties, but they are hoping that their play at the Continental Cup and their win at the TSN Skins Game will turn things around. Would it surprise me though if they went on to repeat? Not at all.

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5) Team Canada (Kevin Koe)

Like Brett said earlier, this has the same vibe that Chelsea Carey was at entering the Scotties last week. If this team is back to it’s normal form, they’ll be in the mix to return to the final. However, if Koe’s struggling with his hits like he has been at a few of the Grand Slams this season, it could be a long week.

6) Quebec – Curling Club Etchemin (Saint-Romuald)

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Skip – Jean-Michel Menard, Vice – Martin Crete, Second – Eric Sylvain, Lead – Philippe Menard

Grand Slam Record: 1-3 (Competed in one event – DNQ)

Once again Jean-Michel Menard is here to destroy your TV speakers. The road back to the Brier was not an easy one for Menard though, as he barely qualified for the provincial playoffs but he kicked it into gear and won the event.

The past couple of showing for Menard at the Brier have been somewhat disappointing, but those fields were absolutely stacked. This year, however, I could see Menard giving the front runners fits.

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6) Quebec (Jean-Michel Menard)

Like Krista McCarville, Menard doesn’t play much on the tour but he’s always a threat at the nationals. A mid-pack finish seems most likely, but a possible tiebreaker berth isn’t that far fetched.

7) Alberta – Saville Sports Centre (Edmonton)

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

Grand Slam Record: 7-12 (DNQ, DNQ, DNQ, Quarter-Finalist)

As mentioned before in our provincial preview this year was a golden opportunity for Brendan Bottcher to make his Brier debut and he made the most of it. He’s a Canadian and World Junior champion and he’s already played in big arenas on the Grand Slam circuit.

We’ve already talked about the lineup change with Darren Moulding replacing Pat Simmons after Christmas, but Bottcher’s coach is the Old Bear himself Kevin Martin, so he has to help this team big time in terms of getting used to the Brier. They may finish higher than where I’m predicting them but some first time jitters may prevent that from happening.

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7) Alberta (Brendan Bottcher)

You always have to get a Brier under your belt before you become a legit threat, so this will be a great learning week for the Alberta squad. With that said, this group has the talent to possibly get in the playoff discussion if they get off to a strong start.

8) Ontario – St. George’s Golf & Country Club (Etobicoke)

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Skip – Glenn Howard, Vice – Richard Hart “Surgeon”, Second – David Mathers, Lead – Scott Howard

Grand Slam Record: 6-5 (Competed in two events – DNQ, Runner-Up)

Glenn Howard is once again back for his 17th Brier appearance and this year he has brought in David Mathers to have a mix of youth and experience. We have not heard much from him on the Grand Slam scene, but Howard was the runner-up at the Tier 2 Tour Challenge event to Greg Balsdon.

It’s kind hard to tell where Glenn could be in final standings, and while I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulled off a few upsets, he’s nowhere near his dominant form of a few years ago.

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8) Ontario (Glenn Howard)

Another year and another appearance at the Brier for Glenn Howard, as John Epping can’t seem to get out of Ontario yet. Given the strength of the field, a mid-table result seems fair for Howard, but he might be able to turn back the clock and have a strong week.

9) Saskatchewan – Highland Curling Club (Regina)

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Skip – Adam Casey, Vice – Catlin Schneider, Second – Shaun Meachem, Lead – Dustin Kidby

Grand Slam Record: N/A

After having a dismal performance at last year’s Brier as the skip for Prince Edward Island,  Adam Casey made the move to the land of the Green Riders and took over skipping duties for Shawn Meachem, who was the runner-up at last year’s provincials.

That move paid off as they obliterated Steve Laycock in the provincial final this year. Casey’s experience at the last couple of Briers should help this rink out, but this is the true Wild Card of this year’s field.

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9) Northwest Territories (Jamie Koe)

The living legend has returned to run wild at the #Patch and curl along the way. With no pre-qualifying game to worry about this, I think Jamie should have a pretty solid week. Plus, I’m sure he wants to have just as good a result as his sister Kerry did at the Scotties.

10) Northwest Territories – Yellowknife Curling Club

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Skip – Jamie Koe “3:16”, Vice – Chris Schille, Second – Brad Chorostkowski , Lead – Robert Borden

Grand Slam Record: N/A

“So I won the game “WHAT” I took the team out “WHAT” Went to the patch “WHAT” Sat down and chatted with friends “WHAT”, Had a beer “WHAT” Two Beers “WHAT” Three Beers “WHAT” a shot of whiskey “WHAT” a margarita “WHAT” and a bloody mary”

Ahem…. Anyway, the king of  the patch has returned and he will probably raise hell over there. Besides the usual chaos over there, he might be in contention for a few more wins at this year’s Brier since he does not have to worry about the relegation round anymore. Since this year’s field isn’t as crazy strong as the last couple of years, he should have a better showing at the end of the week.

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10) Saskatchewan (Adam Casey)

As Brett mentioned earlier, this is a team that can finish anywhere in the final standings. Casey’s a talented shooter, but it’s always tough for a team that doesn’t play a ton on the World Curling Tour to make adjustments to playing at the Brier. Just look at what happened to Saskatchewan women’s champion Penny Barker last week.

11) Nova Scotia – Halifax Curling Club

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Skip – Jamie “Don’t Call Me Charlie” Murphy, Vice – Jordan Pinder, Second – Scott Saccary, Lead – Phil Crowell

Grand Slam Record: N/A

Last year Jamie Murphy suffered a heartbreaking final shot loss in the pre-qualifying final to Jamie Koe. So Murphy is back in the pre-qualification round once again and it’s basically a two horse race with him and Prince Edward Island. I think he should be able to qualify for the main field and also have a chance to end an 11 game losing streak in the round-robin.

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11) Nova Scotia (Jamie Murphy)

With no Jamie Koe in the mix, Murphy should be able to get through with ease. I’m not sure if he’ll surprise in the main field, but he should be able to get Nova Scotia’s first round-robin win in quite some time.

12) New Brunswick – Capital Winter Club (Fredericton)

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Skip – Mike Kennedy, Vice – Scott Jones, Second – Marc LeCocq, Lead – Jamie Brannen

Grand Slam Record: N/A

To be honest I feel bad picking New Brunswick in this spot again, as Mike Kennedy was our biggest surprise at last year’s Brier. This is a team that can make a lot of shots, and they should play well all week long, so they can be a team that surprise once again.

Ottawa Ont.Mar 5, 2016.Tim Hortons Brier.N.B. skip Mike Kennedy, Curling Canada/ michael burns photo

12) New Brunswick (Mike Kennedy)

This veteran squad will play well all week, especially since they are already locked in the main draw, but it’s hard to see them anywhere else but the bottom of the pack with how strong this year’s field is once again.

13) Prince Edward Island – Charlottetown Curling Complex

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Skip – Eddie Mackenzie, Vice – Sean Ledgerwood, Second – Matt Nabuurs, Lead – Robbie Doherty

Grand Slam Record: N/A

After Adam Casey left Prince Edward Island, it’s up to Eddie Mackenzie to get them back out of the relegation zone. In his last appearance at a Brier in 2014, he had his best showing with a 4-7 record so he does have experience going for him. If he does manage to make the field I can only see him being in the 10th to 12th place range.

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13) Prince Edward Island (Eddie Mackenzie)

The battle between Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island will be a big one as they try to get a third team from the East Coast into this year’s field. They’ll give Murphy all they can handle, but it’s hard to see them doing well in the main field.

14) Yukon – Whitehorse Curling Club

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Skip – Craig Kochan, Vice – Jon Solberg (Throws 4th Stones), Second – Ray Mikkelsen, Lead – Darrin Frederickson

Grand Slam Record: N/A

This year we have a brand new representative for the Yukon and its Craig Kochan. Kochan himself is a multi-time Northern Ontario Junior Champion and has competed in Canadian Mixed championships as a skip for Northern Ontario. It’s still difficult to tell how this rink will perform since they don’t play on tour much at all though, they could maybe give Nova Scotia and PEI a bit of a scare.

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14) Yukon (Craig Kochan)

Nothing like another Northern Ontario connection in the field. The Yukon will be another pesky team, though maybe not on the same level as the women’s side with Sarah Koltun in the coming years, but I’m not sure if they’ll be able to make it in the main field.

15) Nunavut – Iqaluit Curling Club

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Skip – Jim Nix, Vice – Edmund MacDonald, Second – Greg Howard, Lead – Darryl McGrath

Grand Slam Record: N/A

We also have a new representative this year for Nunavut in Jim Nix. We don’t know much at all about the Nunavut squad this year but the same thing applies as before. If they can keep things close then it would be good for the future especially since they will be in the main field next year with the new pool format.

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15) Nunavut (Jim Nix)

As we’ve said before, this is all about experience for Nunavut. Hopefully the province can get some decent showings in the junior ranks in the coming years as they get thrown to the wolves on the men’s side.


The Punkari Brothers 2017 Scotties Review

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Written By Brett Punkari (With Cameos by Lucas Punkari)

Coming into this year’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts the women’s curling scene was a tough one to predict. especially with a lot of upsets in the provincials. At the end of the week in St. Catharines, however, we saw some career best performances and a championship final that is the curling game of the year as of right now.

Champions – Ontario (Rachel Homan)

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Well I guess we can stop debating Rachel’s performance now. All week it felt like Team Homan were a bit different from what we’ve seen in their past Scotties. They may not have been destroying the field, but they started off with a 10-0 record and ended up with their second best overall team percentage in their five trips to the Scotties.

After losing two straight games to Manitoba, you almost had the feeling that things could turn out like it did for Homan at the 2014 Worlds when she beat everyone but Switzerland. But a great start in a very dramatic final helped the rink win their third Scotties title, and the first for second Joanne Courtney.

I still can’t quite figure them out though as they try to be a more complete team, and I’ll have to see how things go at the Worlds before I can decided where exactly this rink will stand coming to the Olympic Trials.

Of the three titles that Rachel has won, this one was easily the toughest to come by given her battles with Michelle Englot. There were some head-scratching moments at times from the team, but when they were on their game they were tough to stop. If they play like they did in the semifinals and the finals at the Worlds in China, Homan should finally win a world title. If they struggle against what looks to be a tough field, it could be a tough week.

At any rate, Rachel’s officially among the greats now with three national titles in five years and becoming the youngest skip to win a Scotties trifecta. Also, I’m super please to see Joanne Courtney win a title, as I thought she played well all week.

Round-Robin Stats

Lead – Lisa Weagle – 86% – Tied for 1st

Second – Joanne Courtney -85% – 1st

Vice – Emma Miskew -84% – 1st

Skip – Rachel Homan – 84% – 1st

Team – Ontario -85% – 1st

Runner-Up – Manitoba (Michelle Englot)

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It’s amazing how things can come together at just the right time. In Michelle Englot’s first season in Manitoba she makes it to her first ever final and gave Team Homan all they could handle, including a pair of wins over the eventual champions.

All week long, she would come after teams by putting rocks in play early and that proved to be the key to her success. With a strong performance at the Scotties, and the brilliant play of third Kate Cameron, this is a team to keep an eye on next year as they look to play their way into the Olympic Trials.

Out of all the teams at the Scotties, this was probably the most consistent one. Englot’s strategy was great all week, especially in her three games against Homan, and Cameron was easily the breakout performer from the event. I’m excited to see how this rink does next year, and they might be back at the Scotties as Team Canada if Homan happens to win the Olympic Trials in Ottawa.

Round-Robin Stats

Lead – Raunora Wescott – 84% – Tied for 4th

Second – Leslie Wilson – 80% – Tied for 6th

Vice – Kate Cameron – 81% – Tied for 3rd

Skip – Michelle Englot – 80% – 4th

Team – Manitoba – 81% – Tied for 4th

Bronze Medalist – Team Canada (Chelsea Carey)

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For the defending champions, the season had not been the greatest for them but they seemed to turn things around at the Scotties. Even though they had a tough loss to start the week off against Ontario, they gave Manitoba their only round-robin defeat on their way to a 9-2 record.

However, things went South big time in the 3 vs. 4 game, where Carey’s draw weight was basically non-existent. They turned things around to win the bronze medal game, but the big story came afterwards as Amy Nixon announced that she would be leaving the team at year’s end. Team Carey’s looking for someone new to fill that vice slot, and that’s something to keep an eye on during the off-season.

Had Carey’s draw weight hadn’t vanished against Northern Ontario, she might have had a legit shot of playing in the final. Given the not so great run-up to the Scotties, the way they played all week bodes well for the future. Seeing Amy Nixon leave the sport is a bummer though, and I’m curious as to who they bring in for the Olympic run. Fingers crossed it’s Heather Nedohin, but I doubt it’s her.

Round-Robin Stats

Lead – Laine Peters – 86% – Tied for 1st

Second – Jocelyn Peterman – 83% – 3rd

Vice – Amy Nixon – 81% – Tied for 3rd

Skip – Chelsea Carey – 83% – 2nd

Team – Canada – 83% – 2nd

Fourth Place – Northern Ontario (Krista McCarville)

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Throughout the week, it just seemed like Northern Ontario was off just a little bit and they weren’t quite as sharp as we had expected, even though everyone was in the top five when it came to their stats. When the playoff rolled around though, it seemed like they found another gear with their win over Team Canada and if it wasn’t for one bad early end, they could haven beaten Ontario as everyone on the team played well.

Looking towards the future, it will be interesting to see where Team McCarville ends up in terms of making it straight to the Olympic Trials or having to go through the pre-trial route next year, especially with how they’ve preformed at the last two Scotties.

Brett already touched on McCarville’s playoff run, but her round-robin losses were interesting as well. She got blown out by Alberta, coughed up a big lead to Manitoba and had a back-and-forth battle with Ontario, which may have put her in better standing by the end of the week if she won any of those games. While she didn’t quite match up to our expectations of winning the whole event, it was still another good week for a Thunder Bay rink that is no longer a sleeper on the national stage.

Round-Robin Stats

Lead – Sarah Potts – 84% – Tied for 3rd

Second – Ashley Sippala – 81% – Tied for 4th

Vice – Kendra Lilly – 80% – 5th

Skip – Krista McCarville – 81% – 3rd

Team – Northern Ontario – 82% – 3rd

Biggest Surprise – Northwest Territories (Kerry Galusha)

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I was torn as too what my biggest surprise team would be prior to going with Kerry Galusha, as you could also make a case for Quebec’s Eve Belisle or Stacie Curtis of Newfoundland & Labrador.

After finally getting out of the relegation round Galusha made the most of her return to the main stage as she had her best ever performance with a record of 5-6. In fact she was in the playoff mix until Thursday afternoon and gave a lot of tough challenges to the top teams in the field. After missing out the last two years on getting into the main draw, this performance was something special for Galusha as she almost led the Northwest Territories into their first trip to the playoffs.

Round-Robin Stats

Lead – Sharon Cormier – 75% – 12th

Second – Danielle Derry – 78% – 8th

Vice – Megan Koehler – 73% – 10th

Skip – Kerry Galusha – 74% – 6th

Team – Northwest Territories – 75% – Tied for 9th

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While Galusha’s run was awesome, my biggest surprise was Quebec’s Eve Belisle. While her stats weren’t super fantastic, she played well all week and almost got her way into a tiebreaker. If she can build off of this showing next year, Quebec might be a possible sleeper team in Penticton

Round-Robin Stats

Lead – Brittany O’Rourke – 79% – Tied for 8th

Second – Trish Hill – 80% – Tied for 6th

Vice – Lauren Mann – 76% – 8th

Skip – Eve Belisle – 74% – 6th

Team – Quebec – 77% – Tied for 7th

Biggest Disappointment – British Columbia (Marla Mallett)

2017 Scotties Tournament of Hearts

Boy this is one you’d want to scratch your head over. How did things go so horribly wrong for Marla Mallet and team, especially when two players ended up on All-Star teams. It seemed like nothing went right after losing a close game in the opening draw to Nova Scotia, especially with Marla herself did not throw well and seemed to struggle with the ice. It’s been a couple of years in a row now that BC has finished near the bottom and that has to be a worry going forward.

While I still think British Columbia will be in okay shape in the future, especially if Corryn Brown plays as well as she has in Juniors, this was a really bad week for the Mallett rink. Unlike Penny Barker’s Saskatchewan rink, who were getting their feet wet on a national stage, this was a team that was playing well in two positions and struggled in the other roles. Had Mallett and Richards been just average, British Columbia could have been in the same spot as Quebec at the end of the week.

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Also, there was a severe lack of Heather ‘Shitballs’ Nedohin coverage, but that’s another story.

Round-Robin Stats

Lead – Blaine De Jager – 86% – Tied for 1st

Second – Brette Richards – 76% – Tied for 10th

Vice – Shannon Aleksic – 82% – 2nd

Skip – Marla Mallet – 69% – 12th

Team – British Columbia – 78% – 6th

Award Winners

First Team All Stars

2017 Scotties Tournament of Hearts

Skip – Rachel Homan – Ontario

Vice – Emma Miskew – Ontario

Second – Joanne Courtney – Ontario

Lead – Blaine De Jager – British Columbia

Second Team All-Stars

2017 Scotties Tournament of Hearts

Lead – Lisa Weagle – Ontario

Second – Sarah Wilkes – Alberta

Vice – Shannon Aleksic – British Columbia

Skip – Chelsea Carey – Team Canada

Marj Mitchell Award

2017 Scotties Tournament of Hearts

Kerry Galusha – Northwest Territories

Sandra Schmirler MVP Award

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Rachel Homan – Ontario

Punkari Brothers Shot Of The Week

Rachel Homan – Double Runback Takeout against Northern Ontario in the Semifinal

 

 

 


The Punkari Brothers 2017 Scotties Preview

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Written by Brett Punkari (With Cameos by Lucas Punkari)

The 2017 Scotties Tournament Of Hearts is the last one in the current Olympic cycle, so for teams that are looking for trials or pre-trials spots, this takes on a more significant purpose.

As for the event itself, it almost has a similar feel to last year’s in Grande Prairie with a group of teams that are legit contenders and others fighting for scraps, especially with a lot of the favorites in certain provinces falling by the waste side. (See our disastrous provincial picks for more on this.)

Also this Scotties marks the final one in which it involves the pre-qualification round, as next year’s Scotties will have a change in format. That format is similar to the Canadian Juniors with a pool system and they will also be adding the highest ranked CTRS team that failed to qualify out of their provincial playdowns. (Don’t even get me started on rewarding teams that don’t win their provincials. I’ll call this the Rachel Homan/Mike McEwen rule by the way.)

For this year’s predictions the same format applies with our picks for the final results, complete with the teams that miss out on the field, and the records for teams that competed at the Grand Slams this season.

(Also, thrill to the photoshop jobs done by Curling Canada to get rid of it’s teams sponsors on their jackets. Channeling the spirit of Warren Hansen apparently.)

1) Northern Ontario (Fort William Curling Club – Thunder Bay)

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Skip – Krista McCarville, Vice- Kendra Lilly, Second – Ashley Sippala, Lead – Sarah Potts

Grand Slam Record: 10-3 (Competed in two slams – Runner-Up and Semi-Finalist)

Last year the talk around the Scotties was of McCarville The Magician, as she kept finding ways to claw back from deficits on their way to a runner-up finish.  Out of all the teams competing this week this seems to be the one that has had the most consistent year, as they haven’t a roller coaster ride of peaks and valleys compared to the other rinks and they’ve had good results at the Grand Slams they’ve played at.

The biggest key surrounding Northern Ontario is the play of all the positions so that life can be made easier for McCarville and perhaps Kendra Lilly. If those things hapen, Northern Ontario could win their first ever Scotties title in just their third year at the event.

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1) Northern Ontario (Krista McCarville)

In a season that has been totally unpredictable, the McCarville rink seems like the only safe bet in this year’s field. With their strong showing in only a couple of Grand Slam and last year’s runner-up result, the time seems right for the Thunder Bay rink to finally break through on a national stage.

2) Ontario (Ottawa Curling Club)

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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: 14-8 (Runner-Up, Quarter-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist, DNQ)

Well I guess the new stuff they are trying worked. We already know about the season Homan and crew have had up to this point, and coming into the provincials we figured they would either blow everyone away or have a tire fire. Neither of those things really happened, as she only had a couple of blowout wins all week in addition to some narrow victories and one tire fire loss to Allison Flaxey.

If the rink can find that form that helped them to Scotties championships in 2013 and 2014 (which was before Courtney joined the team), they well be tough to stop. However, if things go bad and a tire fire does happen, then it might turn out like in 2015 where they almost missed the playoffs before finishing in third place.

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2) Ontario (Rachel Homan)

If things were going according to plan, Rachel’s third title would already be engraved given how good this team is on paper. However, with everything that has happened since the provincial final loss to Jenn Hanna a year ago, I’m still finding it hard to put this rink as my favourite to win the Scotties. They should make it to the final given the strength of the field. If things go South though, who knows what will happen in the lead-up to next year’s Olympic Trials in Ottawa. 

3) Team Canada (The Glencoe Club – Calgary)

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Skip – Chelsea “The Annihilator” Carey, Vice – “Pimp” Amy Nixon, Second – Jocelyn Peterman, Lead – Lanie Peters

Grand Slam Record: 7-12 (Quarter-Finalist, DNQ, Quarter-Finalist and DNQ)

This season has been pretty average for the defending Canadian champions. Sure, they did get a win very early on this year at an event in Japan, but they have struggled quite a bit at other tournaments.

Of all the contending teams, this is the one that might be the most vulnerable to missing the playoffs, but they have turned things a round a little bit at the Continental Cup and the Skins Game, so we shall see if that upward trend continues.

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3) Manitoba (Michelle Englot)

Granted, it’s going to be kind of weird seeing Englot not wearing the green of Saskatchewan at the Scotties, but I expect her squad to be right in the mix this year. It’s a pretty talented group and Michele’s veteran presence is going to be a huge asset for the rink over the course of this week.

4) Manitoba (Granite Curling Club – Winnipeg)

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Skip – Michelle Englot, Vice – Kate Cameron, Second – Leslie Wilson-Westcott, Lead – Raunora Westcott

Grand Slam Record: 7-6 (Competed in two events – Runner-Up and DNQ)

Michelle Englot, who had been a mainstay in Saskatchewan for many years, decided to jump to Manitoba this season and inherited the Kristy MacDonald rink that finished runner-up in last year’s provincials.

They have kind of been under the radar in Manitoba this year, since most people were expecting Jennifer Jones and Kerri Einarson to make it to the Scotties, but Enlgot did lead the team to their first Grand Slam final at the Tour Challenge. Her experience should help this team a lot at the Scotties this year.

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4) Team Canada (Chelsea Carey)

As Brett said earlier, this is the one team among the favourites that is the most vulnerable to missing out on the playoffs based on current form. If Carey and her rink can get back to anywhere near how they played at the Scotties last year, they should be fine. However, if they end up getting off to a bad start, it might be a tough week.

5) Alberta (Okotoks Curling Club)

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Skip – Shannon Kleibrink, Vice – Lisa Eyamie, Second – Sarah Wilkes, Lead – Alison Theissen, Super Sub Skip (Not Pictured) – Heather “Shitballs” Nedohin

Grand Slam Record – 4-2 (Competed in one event – Semi-Finalist)

For the first time in six years, 2006 Olympic Bronze Medalist Shannon Kleibrink has returned to the Scotties. She had to overcome quite a bit to make it there, however, as she suffered a back injury early on at the provincials and had to call in Heather Nedohin to fill in for a couple of games before she had a convincing win in the final over Val Sweeting.

This is a younger lineup than in previous years, but Kleibrink has done well on the tour this year as she made the playoffs at all but one event. Her experience will help them tremendously, and I would not be surprised if she ends up making it to the semis.

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5) Alberta (Shannon Kleibrink)

With Kleibrink’s back still bothering her a bit, we’re going to see a few cameos by Heather Nedohin at skip this week, which will clearly lead to great comedy. Kleibrink’s arguably the best skip to never win a Scotties and she’s probably the biggest sleeper in this field. Depending on who ends up skipping in most of the games this week, this is a rink you shouldn’t take lightly.

6) British Columbia (Golden Ears Winter Club – Maple Ridge)

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Skip – “Pimp” Marla Mallett, Vice – Shannon “Crooked Neck” Aleksic, Second – Brette Richars, Lead – Blaine De Jager

Grand Slam Record: 1-3 (Competed in one event – DNQ)

Marla Mallett has returned to the Scotties for the first time since 2009, where she nearly stunned everyone by having the best record in round-robin before losing to Jennifer Jones in the finals. The lineup she had is something to behold looking back in hindsight, as she had Diane Gushluak, Grace Macinnes and Jaclayn Brown alongside her.

She has one tour event win this year and one other playoff appearance, but to be honest, it’s really difficult to tell where this rink stands. They are one of two wildcards in this field, but I don’t think she will regain her 2009 form.

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6) British Columbia (Marla Mallett)

I feel like I’m rewriting my preview for Jenn Hanna once again when she returned to the Scotties last year for the first time since 2005. If Mallett can get anywhere near her 2009 form, it will be a heck of story. I don’t think that will happen, but I expect her to be right around the middle of this year’s field given it’s overall strength.

7) Quebec (Town of Mount Royal Curling Club and Glenmore Curling Club – Dollard-des-Ormeaux)

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Skip – Eve Belisle, Vice – Lauren Mann, Second – Patricia Hill, Lead – Brittany O’Rourke

Grand Slam Record: N/A

Over the last few years, Quebec has had not a lot of success since the days when Marie-France Larouche was a regular playoff threat. Eve Belisle is the next to step up to the plate for Quebec as she makes her first trip to the Scotties since 2010 as the new skip for Lauren Mann’s rink. Mann’s previous trip to the Scotties wasn’t the greatest though, as she went 3-7 two years ago in Moose Jaw.

Belisle has made the playoffs before at, as she qualified for the 3 vs. 4 game in 2006, so her combined skipping experience with Mann should boost this team’s performance. I think they can pull off a few upsets and maybe have an above .500 record.

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7) Saskatchewan (Penny Barker)

I got to chat with Penny and her lead Danielle Sicinski quite a lot when I worked in Moose Jaw, so I’m looking forward to seeing them play on a national stage. Seeing that most of their bonspiel play takes place around the province, this rink is the biggest unknown in the field. With the said, given Saskatchewan’s relative strong play over the years, they should comfortable finish in the middle of the standings. Also, they have cult hero Amber Holland as their fifth, so that is another reason to cheer for this rink.

8) Saskatchewan (Moose Jaw Ford Curling Centre)

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Skip – Penny Barker, Vice – Deanna Doig, Second – Lorraine Schneider, Lead – Danielle Sicinski

Grand Slam Record: N/A

For me, this is the other potential wildcard team in this year’s field. Penny Barker definitely did things the hard way at the Saskatchewan provincials as she had to win a tiebreaker before beating Stefanie Lawson and Robyn Silvernagle to win her first provincial title.

Barker won a Canadian university silver medal in 2007, but had yet to break through to the Scotties until now. We’re not sure how this rink is going to do, but we felt the same way with Jill Shumay in 2013 before she had a 6-5 record, so the same thing could happen here.

Scotties Tournament of Hearts,

8) Quebec (Eve Belisle)

The addition Belisile to the Lauren Mann is a good one but I’m not sure how they will fair in this field. I think they’ll play well, but it’s hard to see them making it into the top six in the final standings

9) Prince Edward Island (Charlottetown Curling Complex)

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

Grand Slam Record: N/A

This team was put together this season after a few roster changes, with the biggest being that Suzanne Birt has stepped back from curling competitively. Like most East Coast team, they don’t curl in a lot of the major events, but they did pick up a win earlier this season at the OVCA Women’s Fall Classic over the likes of Sherry Middaugh and Ayumi Ogasaware. Could this perhaps be the team that PEI fans are looking for to break out of their recent struggles? We shall see.

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9) Prince Edward Island (Robyn MacPhee)

This is another potential sleeper in the field as MacPhee has always been in the playoff conversation when she played with her sister Rebecca Jean or with Birt. Given that she hasn’t played a lot of major events, I have her lower in the standings but I wouldn’t be shocked if she ended up just on the outside of the playoff mix.

10) Northwest Territories (Yellowknife Curling Club)

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Skip – Kerry Galusha, Vice – Meaghan Koehler, Second – Danielle Derry, Lead Sharon Cormier

Grand Slam Record: 1-3 (Competed in one event – DNQ)

Once again, Kerry Galusha is stuck fighting it out in the relegation round, but with the teams being not quite as strong as the last couple of years, she has a good shot of making the main field. Earlier this season, she became the first team from the Territories to play at a Grand Slam of Curling event as she had a 1-3 record at the Tier II Tour Challenge, so that should help her out a bit.

If she makes the main field, she can pull off a couple of upsets of the top teams if they aren’t careful. I’d be surprised if she doesn’t make the cut, but at least she won’t have to go through this again in 2017.

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10th) Northwest Territories (Kerry Galusha)

Thanks to the pre-qualifying round and a loss to Sarah Koltun in the 2014 Territories playdowns, it’s been a few years since Galusha has been at the Scotties. I think she should be able to get through to the main field this year, but I felt that way a year ago before she lost to Karla Thompson.

11) 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

Stacie Curtis is back once again, and looking at her results from last year, she did show some improvement despite a 3-8 record. With the field that is here, there might be a slight chance of finishing towards the middle of the pack, but I’m not going to hold my breathe for the former Canadian Junior champion.

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11) Newfoundland & Labrador (Stacie Curtis)

She has played better in recent years, but there’s still a long way to go before Curtis is up in the standings in my opinion. This might be a rink that fares better if they played more on the tour, but that’s easier said than done. However, we do have the return of Mark Nichols’ sister Shelley (now known as Shelley Hardy) as an alternate.

12) Nova Scotia (Windsor Curling Club)

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Skip – Mary Mattatall, Vice – Margaret Cutcliffe, Second – Jill Alcoe-Holland, Lead – Andrea Saulnier

Grand Slam Record: N/A

In one of the biggest upsets of the provincials (besides Jennifer Jones not making the Manitoba Final of course), Mattatall had the best record in round-robin play and they dominated Jill Brothers in the final to make it to the Scotties. I’m not expecting much from them to be honest, but at least they don’t have to worry about the relegation round.

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12) Nova Scotia (Mary Mattatal)

This is Mary’s sixth trip to the Scotties, but it’s her first since 2005 and she was last a skip at the event in 1998. Her team is currently on a 12-1 run with the provincial Scotties and Senior playdown titles in their back pockets, but it’ll be a tough challenge to be in the mix with some of the top rinks. I do think they can pull of a surprising win or two though.

13) New Brunswick (Capital Winter Club – Fredericton)

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Skip – Melissa Adams, Vice – Jennifer Armstrong, Second – Cathlia Ward, Lead – Katie Forward

Grand Slam Record: N/A

Melissa Adams had been the runner-up in New Brunswick four times in the last six years before finally breaking through last month. She has had some good events on the Tour, but the Scotties are a different beast. I would not be surprised if she does make it through to the main field, and I expect her to be in the 9th to 11th range in the standings if she does.

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13) Yukon (Sarah Koltun)

While I hate the fact that the new 16-team format will reward teams that lose at the provincials (that and bringing back Team Canada each year but that’s another rant for another day), the one positive is that both Galusha and Koltun will be in the main field in Penticton next year. Koltun’s a super-talented shot maker who is one to watch in the future, but I think she’ll just miss out on the main field in a close battle with Galushua.

14) Yukon (Whitehorse Curling Club)

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Skip – Sarah Koltun, Vice – Chelsea Duncan, Second – Patty Wallingham, Lead – Jenna Duncan

Grand Slam Record: N/A

After stepping back last year to focus on her studies, Sarah Koltun has returned to help the Yukon get out of the relegation battle. She’ll be super glad that this format will be gone next year, as it will help her rink get more experience in the years to come. After all, she did have a fourth place finish at the Canadian Juniors back in 2013. If she makes it into the main field this year, I have her finishing around 10th to 12th in the standings.

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14) New Brunswick (Melissa Adams)

It’s good to see Adams make it to the event, but I’m not sure if she’ll have enough to overcome the two Territories rinks this week. The experience will be huge though if she is able to get back to the event next year with the expanded field.

15) Nunavut (Iqualit Curling Club)

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Skip – Geneva Chislett, Vice – Denise Hutchings, Second – Robyn Mackey, Lead – Jenine Bodner

Grand Slam Record: N/A

One event that people may have forgotten about last year’s Scotties was that Nunavut picked up their first ever win a year ago by beating British Columbia, which was huge for the territory. I can’t see them winning any games this year, but if they can keep things somewhat close, that would be a good building block.

2016 Scotties Tournament of Hearts

15) Nunavut (Geneva Chislett)

Next year will be a big one for Nunavut as they will be in the main field and find themselves up against the top rinks in the country. If they can stay in the mix this week, it will be a good sign for them going forward.


2017 Curling Provincial Preview Blowout Spectacular (Part 5)

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Well those Scotties predictions of ours didn’t go well did they? (Nor did last week’s men’s playdowns picks)

Anyways, it’s time finish off the provincial previews for this with the last five spots up for grabs at this year’s Brier.

Alberta (February 8-12)

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Last Year’s Brier Finish – 1st (8-3 – Tied for 3rd in round-robin)

The Field (Skip to Lead)

Charley Thomas, Nathan Connolly, Brandon Klassen, Craig Savill

Brendan Bottcher, Darren Moulding, Bradley Thiessen, Karrick Martin

Ted Appleman, Tom Appleman, Shawn Donnelly, Adam Enright

Mick Lizmore, Daylan Vavrek, Carter Lautner, Brad Chyz

Graham Powell, Tom Sallows, Jordan Steinke, Chris Wall

Roland Robinson, Jeff Erickson, Ryan Konowalyk, James Knievel

Thomas Scoffin, Tristian Steinke, Jason Ginter, Brett Winfield

Jamie King, Glen Kennedy, Sean Morris, Todd Brick

James Pahl, Mark Klinck, Aaron Bartling, Thomas Stroh

Josh Lambden, Chris McDonah, Rob Collins, Colin Stroeder

Aaron Sluchinski, Justin Sluchinski, Eric Richard, Kyle Richard

Jeremy Harty, Dylan Webster, Joel Berger, Gregg Hamilton

With Kevin Koe already going to the Brier as the defending champion, this year’s Alberta playdowns has more of a wide-open feel to it that feels similiar to when Jennifer Jones isn’t in the Manitoba playdowns.

It’s basically down to two skips with Brendan Bottcher and Charley Thomas, who have both had interesting seasons.

Bottcher brought in former Brier champion Pat Simmons, which felt like a major upgrade, but it didn’t really work out as he left the team following Christmas. Darren Moulding came in at third for the Canadian Open, and that worked out as they reached their first Grand Slam of Curling playoff this year.

Thomas has been pretty busy all year, including subbing for Brad Gushue at the Canada Cup when he was injured. He’s brought in Craig Savill, which is great to see after his battle with cancer last season. The Thomas rink has made it to the playoffs at a Grand Slam this year at the National, and they also won their only head-to-head meeting with Bottcher.

It’s going to be really close, but I’m going to give this one to Thomas. However, seeing that the Alberta Scotties were wacky, I’m going to also say that Thomas Scoffin could end up being a spoiler.

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After seeing Moulding play with the Bottcher rink in North Battleford, I feel like the late change might work out alright for his squad. Like Brett, this should be a close battle with two skips to watch for in the coming years, but I’ll pick Bottcher to make his first Brier appearance.

British Columbia (February 8-12)

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Last Year’s Brier Finish: Tied for 9th (3-8)

The Field

Andrew Bilesky, Steve Kopf, Daniel Wenzek, Cameron Watt

Tom Buchy, Dean Horning, Dave Toffolo, Darren Will

Wes Craig, Miles Craig, Cameron De Jong, Dave McGarry

Sean Geall, Jeff Richard, Brendan Willis, David Harper

Jeff Guignard, Chris Faa, Jeff Sargent, Nick Kuit

Glen Jackson, Andrew Komlodi, Corey Chester, Joel Cave

Dean Joanisse, Paul Cseke, Jay Wakefield, John Cullen

Mark Longworth, Michael Longworth, Aron Herrick, John Slattery

Ken McArldle, Denis Sutton, Daren Boden, Glen Allen

John Morris, Jim Cotter, Tyrell Griffith, Rick Sawatsky

Richard Brower, Jan Bos, Mike Moss, Deryk Brower

Tyler Tardi, Sterling Middleton, Jordan Tardi, Nicholas Meister

Thanks to a win in the last draw of the 2016 Brier, British Columbia can thank their lucky stars that they won’t have to fight it out in the relegation round.

Anyways, John Morris has returned to the Jim Cotter rink this year and they haven’t missed a beat from their time together in the 2013-14 season. They are the obvious favourites, but the usual suspects like Andrew Bilesky and Sean Geall will be in the mix.

A darkhorse in all of this is the new Canadian Junior Champion Tyler Tardi, Aka Team Fresh/Team Mint. Like Matt Dunstone last year in Manitoba, Tardi could win the provincials but be unable to attend the Brier as the world juniors will be at the same time.

With all that said, it should be a relatively easy road for Morris as he tries to bring British Columbia back to the mix at the Brier, depending on the rest of the field of course.

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If I’ve learned anything over the last couple of years, it’s to never count out Johnny Mo. Him and Cotter have been playing really well over the last month and I expect them to win the provincial with ease. I do hope Tardi has a good showing though.

Northern Ontario (Feb. 8-12)

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Last Year’s Brier Finish: 3rd (11-0 – 1st in Round Robin)

The Field

Chris Glibota, Dustin Montpellier, Eric Gelinas, Matt Gordon

Jordan Chandler, Sandy MacEwan, Luc Oment, Lee Toner

Dylan Johnston, Mike Badiuk, Cody Johnston, Travis Showalter

Al Hackner, Kory Carr, Frank Morissette, Gary Champagne

Bryan Burgess, Rob Champagne, Al Macesmchuk, Pat Berezowski

Ryan Sayer, Graehem Sayer, Ryan Forget, Gavan Jamieson

Brad Jacobs, Ryan Fry, E.J Harnden, Ryan Harnden

Tanner Horgan, Jacob Horgan, Nicholas Bissonnette, Maxime Blais

Once again Northern Ontario could be the Brad Jacobs show and he has had a better season than last year with two wins this season on the tour.

The only teams that could challenge him are last year’s runner up Jordan Chandler and Canadian Junior Bronze Medalist Tanner Horgan. Horgan actually played at the Boost National Grand Slam event in December and finished with a 1-3 record, with his lone win coming over Steve Laycock.

They’ll make things interesting, but I think Jacobs will once again make it to the Brier.

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As much as I want to pick Al Hackner for the heck of it, it’s getting to the point in Northern Ontario where you can pencil in Jacobs like you do for Brad Gushue in Newfoundland. Granted, there’s a lot more competition in Northern Ontario, but the Olympic champion is just too strong compared to the rest of the pack.

New Brunswick (February 8-12)

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Last Year’s Brier Finish: Tied for 9th (3-8)

The Field

Josh Barry, Rene Comeau, Andrew Burgess, Robert Daley

Ryan Cain, Dimitri Makrides, Mike Flanney Jr., Brent Stewart

James Grattan, Paul Flemming, Kevin Boyle, Peter Case

Mike Kennedy, Scott Jones, Marc Lecocq, Jamie Brannen

Jeremy Mallais, Jason Vaughn, Ryan Freeze, Jared Bezanson

Terry Odishaw, Grant Odishaw, Chris Jeffery, Merk Kehoe

Jason Roach, Andy McCann, Darren Roach, Brian King

Charlie Sullivan, Paul Dobson, Mark Dobson, Spencer Mahwinney

Thanks to Mike Kennedy’s performance last year, he kept New Brunswick out of the relegation round for this year’s Brier. When it comes to the provincials, it’s a really interesting field, with the likes of Kennedy, James Grattan and Jeremy Mallais among the favourites.

However I think this could be Rene Comeau’s year as the former Canadian Junior runner-up has brought in Josh Berry and he is back skipping, which has to help. I’m picking him to win it, but it’s going to be tough.

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I’m going with Comeau as well for a couple of reasons. Not only does he have a talented young rink, but we’ve seen a number of surprising results in the provincials already this season, so why not go with another one. Also, I’ve been burned the last couple of years in picking James Grattan.

Manitoba (February 8-12)

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Last Year’s Brier Finish: 4th (8-3 – Tied for 3rd in Round-Robin)

The Field

(As usual, because of such a gigantic field and since I’m no fun, a link is provided for the field. http://viterrachampionship.ca/teams)

As always we save the biggest field for last, as Manitoba has 32 teams because why not.

Before we get to the two main favourites, there are two squads to keep an eye one. One of them is last year’s provincial runner-up Matt Dunstone, who has a different lineup this season after joining the men’s ranks full time. The other possible darkhorse is cult hero and King of Bomb City Jason Gunnlaugson, who has Dunstone’s team from last year and was in the Top 10 in the CTRS rankings early this season.

Of course, the two rinks to watch are the last two provincial champions in Mike McEwen and Reid Carruthers.  This season hasn’t been the greatest of ones for McEwen so far, as he’s failed to make it out of the quarter-finals at the Grand Slam events and he missed the playoffs at the Canada Cup. In a way, it’s sort of similar to what happened to Brad Jacobs last year.

On the other hand Carruthers is having a career year, as he’s picked up an Olympic Trials spot by winning the Canada Cup and is in the mix for being the best team in Canada this season. Unlike other years, this turned out to be a somewhat easy pick for me as I’m going with Carruthers to win Manitoba over McEwen.

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Let’s finish this thing off with a possibly crazy pick.

Yes I know Carruthers is having a really good season, and McEwen has gotten over the hump of trying to get to a Brier, but let’s be honest. Don’t you want to see Gunner throwing 300 MPH bombs at the Brier?

That’s right, I’m picking my boy to win Manitoba. Hey when you’ve crashed and burned through your provincial picks all year, you might as well wrap it all up in style.


2017 Curling Provincial Preview Blowout Spectacular (Part 4)

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Written by Brett Punkari (With Cameos by Lucas Punkari)

As the Scotties provincials begin to wrap up, we now turn our attention to the Tim Hortons Brier as we have a couple of provincial playdowns already underway and a couple set to begin in the next few days.

Nova Scotia (January 23-29)

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Last year’s Brier finish – 13th (Lost Pre-Qualifying Final to Northwest Territories)

The Field (Skip to Lead)

Paul Dexter, Mark Robar, Michael Brophy, Taylor Ardiel

Mike Fleming, Kevin Ouellete, Kris Granchelli, Don McDermaid

Brent MacDougall, Shea Steele, Jared Brown, Rob Moore

Robert Mayhew, Chris MacRae, Neil Gallant, Nick Burdock

Jamie Murphy, Jordan Pinder, Scott Saccary, Phillip Crowell

Chad Stevens, Cameron Mackenzie, Ian Juurlink, Kelly Mittelstadt

Kendal Thompson, Bryce Everist, Brendan Lavell, Jamie Danbrook

Stuart Thompson, Colten Steele, Travis Colter, Billy MacPhee

For the second year in a row the winner of this provincial will have to fight through the relegation round. In all fairness, they probably shouldn’t even be in this situation as Jamie Murphy had Jamie Koe seemingly eliminated last year until a bad final shot in the win or go home game.

This year’s field is not as good as it has been in previous years and the favorite by a mile has to be Murphy. It should be an fairly easy road for Murphy to win Nova Scotia and he does have a real good chance of getting out of the relegation round in 2017.

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Last year’s 7-4 loss to our hero Jamie Koe (#patch) was a punch to the gut for Murphy, but I suspect he’ll make up for it this year by getting into the main field if he wins provincials. However, Nova Scotia can sometimes have an unlikely provincial winner so keep that in mind as the weekend plays out.

Newfoundland and Labrador (January 24-29)

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Last Year’s Brier Finish – 2nd (9-2 – 2nd in Round-Robin)

The Field

Adam Boland, Stephen Trickett, Zach Young, Evan Kearley

Brad Gushue, Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant, Geoff Walker

Paul Harvey, Steve Bragg, Andrew Manuel, Mike Day

Trent Skanes, Nick Lane, Jeff Rose, Mike Mosher

Colin Thomas, Cory Schuh, Spencer Ford, Spencer Wicks

Well this is basically the shortest preview yet. Good luck to anyone trying to stop Brad Gushue from winning the province for like the millionth time. Gushue himself is pretty much back in form after having surgery on his groin and not playing until the National.

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Gushue did miss a lot of the season but was on fire during the playoffs at the Canadian Open, which was only his second event back. If he doesn’t win the provincials, especially with the Brier taking place in St. John’s this year, the world will implode.

Saskatchewan (February 1-5)

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Last Year’s Brier Finish: 6th (5-6)

The Field

Brad Heidt, Mark Lang, Glen Heidt, Dan Ormsby

Bruce Korte, Kevin Marsh, Daniel Marsh, Matthew Lang

Scott Bitz, Warren Jackson, Aryn Schmidt, Dean Kleiter

Randy Bryden, Troy Robinson, Brock Montgomery, Trent Knapp

Adam Casey, Catlin Schnider, Shaun Meachem, Dustin Kidby

Dale Craig, Cory Fleming, Dustin Phillips, Grant Scheirich

Drew Heidt, Jesse St.John, Cole Tenetuik, Chadd McKenzie

Brent Gedak, Clit Dieno, Derek Owens, Shawn Meyer

Jason Ackerman, Curtis Howarth, Brent Goeres, Scott Deck

Jason Jacobson, Dustin Kalthoff, Nicklas Neufeld, Rory Golanowski

Kody Hartung, Joshua Heidt, Tyler Hartung, Kelley Knapp

Steve Laycock, Kirk Muyers, Colton Flasch, Dallan Muyers

Ryan Armstrong, Tyson Armstrong, Allen Dmytryshyn, Mike Robson

Ryan Deis, Scott Manners, Jason Macphee, Kalin Deis

Brady Scharback, Jake Hersikorn, Quinn Hersikorn, Brady Kendal

Carl deConick Smith, Jeff Sharp, Matt Ryback, Mark Larsen

Over in the land of the Green Riders, the field is not quite as open as it was in the Scotties, as there are two for sure contenders in Steve Laycock and Shaun Meachem.

Laycock’s had a pretty good season, which was highlighted by a World Curling Tour evnet win in Edmonton, so we know that he’s somewhat back to the form that saw him get a third place finish at the Brier two years ago in Calgary.

Meachem was last year’s provincial runner-up and he gave Laycock everything he could handle in the final. He’s had a pretty good season as well and acquiring Adam Casey from PEI gives the lineup a big boost.

The Meachem rink is one to keep an eye out for in the future, but this is still Laycock’s province and I expect him to return to the Brier.

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I fully expect Laycock to win a fourth straight provincial title, but Saskatchewan is always known for throwing in an upset every couple of years. Meachem’s the main threat to do that obviously, but Bruce Korte’s rink did well at the Canadian Open in North Battleford and will be in the mix. Also keep an eye on Brady Scharback’s rink, as they could be a force in the coming years.

Ontario Tankard (January 29-February 5)

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Last Year’s Brier Finish – Tied for 7th (4-7)

The Field

Scott Bailey, Joe Frans, Craig Van Ymeren, Travis Fanset

Greg Balsdon, Jonathan Beuk, Don Bowser, Scott Chadwick

Mark Bice, Adam Spencer, Tyler Morgan, Steve Bice

Dayna Deruelle, Kevin Flewelling, David Staples, Sean Harrison

John Epping, Mathew Camm, Patrick Janssen, Tim March

Mike Harris, Mike Anderson, Scott Hodgson, Scott Foster

Cory Heggestad, Andrew Thompson, Wylie Allen, Kelly Schuh

Glenn Howard, Richard Hart, David Mathers, Scott Howard

Scott McDonald, Codey Maus, Wesley Forget, Jeff Grant

Wayne Tuck Jr., Chad Allen, Kurt Armstrong, Matt Pretty

This year’s Ontario Tankard is going at the exact same time and the same place as the Ontario Scotties in Cobourg, and the question is if John Epping can finally get over the provincial hump. He’s got a good shot once again after another strong season, which was highlighted by making the semifinals at the Canada Cup.

The main threat standing in his way once again is Glenn Howard, who is somewhat we haven’t heard a lot about when compared to recent years. He went 0-4 at the Masters and then lost the Tier 2 Tour Challenge final on the Grand Slam Circuit, but he’s made the playoffs in four out of six World Curling Tour events.

Another team that could sneak in to the finals is 2014 provincial Greg Balsdon, who beat Howard in the Tier 2 Tour Challenge Final. They’ll both give Epping fits, but I expect him to finally get out of his provincial slump and make it to the Brier.

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With Mike McEwen finally breaking through in Manitoba last year, Epping now holds the title of best skip who hasn’t made it to the Brier yet. This feels like his provincial to lose, but I felt that way the last two years when he lost to Mark Kean and Glenn Howard in the final. Will see if the third time is indeed the charm.