2015/16 CHL Assessments (Part 2) & Second Round Previews

Hounds Win

(But Lucas, why are you posting this when the semi-finals are underway in all three CHL leagues? Well long story, but my old lappy was sounding like a plane was about to take off so this was delayed quite a bit as I got a new computer last week. Obviously it’s outdated but since I’m planning to post my Semi Final preview late Monday/early Tuesday I figure I should post this, especially for the laughs that come with my wrong selections)

It’s been a heck of a start to the post-season this year in the Canadian Hockey League. With a number of seven-game battles and title threats being knocked out early in all three leagues, the stages is set for what should be a wild run to this year’s Memorial Cup in Red Deer.

So with a number of interesting second round matchups set to begin, it’s time to look back at the teams that we won’t be seeing in the quarter-finals. We start off in the Ontario Hockey League where the reigning Memorial Cup champions have seen their chance at a repeat come to an early end.

Artem Artemov

Saginaw Spirit (24-36-5-3 – 4th in West Division/8th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Erie Otters in four games)

What I Predicted: I might be a year early on the Spirit as I was with Niagara last year, but I love the young core that Saginaw has.

What Actually Happened: Well certainly not that. The expected growth didn’t happen and head coach Greg Gilbert ended up getting the heave-ho as a result

What Lies Ahead: There’s some solid players on the roster with Mitchell Stephens leading the way and if the younger players on the team (including some top college bound prospects) develop this may be a surprise team in 2016-17. It’ll be interesting to see if Moe Mantha remains in charge after coming in to coach after Gilbert was fired or if someone new will take charge.

Anthony Cirelli

Oshawa Generals (27-33-4-4 – 4th in East Division/8th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Kingston Frontenacs in five games)

What I Predicted: Even if Michael Dal Colle is traded the Generals still have enough solid pieces, especially on the back-end, to make it into the playoffs.

What Actually Happened: Not only was Dal Colle traded, but the Generals also dealt Stephen Desrocher away while Ken Appleby moved on to the New Jersey Devils organization. Hamilton almost caught them, but the Generals were able to sneak into the playoffs in the end.

What Lies Ahead: Well they have lots of draft picks now from the trades to build for the future and they apparently want to host the 2018 Memorial Cup (more on that another day) so the rebuilding process is in full swing. Anthony Cirelli and Mitchell Vande Sompel may both find themselves in new locations next year depending on where the Generals find themselves in the standings.

Alexander Nylander

Mississauga Steelheads (33-30-2-3 – 4th in Central Division/7th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Barrie Colts in seven games)

What I Predicted: This isn’t your father’s Mississauga based OHL team. With the McLeod brothers, Tippett, Nylander and Day, this is going to be a fun squad to watch.

What Actually Happened: With so many talented youngsters the Steelheads were much more aesthetically pleasing squad to watch compared to the last couple of seasons. They also came really close to pulling off a big upset of Barrie in the first round as they pushed the Central Division champions to the limit.

What Lies Ahead: All of the big guns should be back next year and that should be enough to put the Steelheads in the discussion for the Eastern Conference title, even if their goaltending remains a total mystery with the graduation of overage netminder Jack Flinn.

Hunter Garlent

Peterborough Petes (33-28-2-5 – 3rd in East Division/6th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the North Bay Battalion in seven games)

What I Predicted: While I like the defence and the goaltending, I have no idea where the goals are going to come from, which might prove costly in the battle for a playoff spot.

What Actually Happened: Sudbury and (to a lesser extent) Hamilton’s struggles left the playoff battle null and void while the offence was led by 40-goal campaigns from overagers Greg Betzold and Hunter Garlent. Like the Steelheads, the Petes almost pulled off an upset of North Bay but ended up running into the Mike Amadio Goal Scoring Machine.

What Lies Ahead: With Betzold, Garlent and Eric Cornel all moving on, the offence will take a hit but they do have guys like Jonathan Ang and Adam Timleck to fill those roles. The defence will be strong though and Matthew Mancina will be a key factor to their success if he returns as an overage starter in goal.

Bryson Cianfrone

Owen Sound Attack (32-25-8-3 – 4th in Midwest Division/6th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the London Knights in six games)

What I Predicted: With Michael McNiven leading the way in goal and a strong defence, they should prove a tough task for any team to go up against even if they don’t have a high-powered offence.

What Actually Happened: McNiven was great once again and the Attack were a thorn in the sides of the London Knights in the first round. Hey, I got something right for once.

What Lies Ahead: The offence should be better (look out for Nick Suzuki to have a breakout campaign) and McNiven will be his usual self in goal, but the defence might take a bit of a hit due to graduations. Either way, the Attack should make it back to the playoffs again.

Dante Salituro

Ottawa 67’s (36-29-2-1 – 2nd in East Division/5th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Niagara IceDogs in five games)

What I Predicted: The offence will be good but I’m not sure how strong the defence will be as they had five 1995 birth year players on the back-end at the end of last season.

What Actually Happened: While the 67’s dealt away Travis Konecny they still had a pretty decent season overall, even with some early struggles that left coach Jeff Brown a tad bit frustrated.

What Lies Ahead: Ottawa’s in that future Memorial Cup host race as well so they will look to build on the assets they got in the Konecny deal. They aren’t in terrible shape at the moment but they will need to have some strong campaigns from their younger players next season to be in the mix for home ice once again.

Christian Fischer

Windsor Spitfires (40-21-6-1 – 2nd in West Division/5th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Kitchener Rangers in five games)

What I Predicted: The offence looks good and the defence isn’t too bad, but I’m curious as what they end up doing in goal.

What Actually Happened: The goaltending battle ended up being won by rookie Michael DiPietro with Mario Culina coming in from the Soo Thunderbirds. Head Coach Rocky Thompson did a great job with this group and they lead the West for most of the season until Sarnia went on their late season.

What Lies Ahead: Barring something strange, Windsor will more than likely be the hosts for the 2017 Memorial Cup. Obviously they will try to upgrade through trades and maybe even bringing some players currently committed to college programs (such as Clayton Keller and Chase Pearson) for some veteran presence, but the young core the Spits have should make them one of the top teams in the West next year.

Travis Konecny

Sarnia Sting (42-19-5-2 – 1st in West Division/2nd in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in seven games)

What I Predicted: While the Sting have a pretty decent lineup, there are a few question marks that prevent me from going all in on them. How good will a very young goaltending tandem be? Will Pavel Zacha come back to the OHL or will he play in New Jersey? And lastly, how good of a head coach will Derian Hatcher be?

What Actually Happened: Zacha returned to the OHL and Hatcher was good in his first year in charge. As for the goaltending, that changed when Charlie Graham was brought in at the deadline as the Sting made a bevy of deals, which has headlined by the Travis Konecny blockbuster. A great second half run propelled them to the division title, but they ended up being knocked out by the Greyhounds in a stunner with their prized deadline pickup on the sidelines with an injury.

What Lies Ahead: If Konecny, Zacha and Jakob Chychrun all move on to the NHL next year, it’ll be really tough for the Sting to match what they pulled of this year. Personally, I think Konecny and Chychrun will both be back and Sarnia has enough solid players still around to contend for the division once again. I don’t expect them to go all-in once again like they did this season though.

Kingston Frontenacs

The long wait for Kingston Frontenacs fans is finally over. For the first time since 1998 the Frontenacs have won a playoff series as they beat the Oshawa Generals in five games and handed the playoff futility monkey to the backs of the Prince Albert Raiders, who last won a playoff round in 2005.

As Kingston looks to ride their success and try to make it into their first ever league final, let’s take a brief look at how things have gone for Kingston since their last playoff series win nearly two decades ago when they won over the Generals in seven games before being knocked out in the next round by the London Knights.

1999 – After beating the St. Michael’s Majors for the last playoff spot by two points, Kingston lost to the Barrie Colts in five games.

2000 – With OHL MVP Andrew Raycroft in goal, Kingston entered the playoffs as the fifth seed but lost in five games to the Sudbury Wolves.

2001 – This playoff run didn’t last long for Kingston as they were swept by the top ranked Belleville Bulls

2002 – The Frontenacs took part in the last OHL tiebreaker game to date for the final playoff spot but lost 6-2 to the North Bay Centennials. It was the last ever win for the Cents before they moved to Saginaw that summer.

2003 – Kingston finished four points back of the Mississauga IceDogs for the eighth and final playoff spot.

2004 – Even with the fourth highest scorer in the league in Eric Himelfarb, the fifth seeded Fronts lost to Barrie in five games.

2005 – Kingston misses the playoffs by four points and the eighth seeded Majors upset the top-ranked IceDogs in five games.

2006 – Kingston enters the post-season as the fourth seed but is upset by the Sudbury Wolves in six games.

2007 – The Frontenacs are the fifth seed this time around and lost in five games to Oshawa, with the big defeat coming in Game 2 as they coughed up 6-2 lead at home and lost in overtime.

2008 – A move from the Kingston Memorial Centre to the K-Rock Centre takes place but the Frontenacs miss the playoffs by six points to the Peterborough Petes.

2009 – Kingston ends up with the second worst record in the league and finishes last in the Eastern Conference. They end up 13 points back of Sudbury for the last playoff spot.

2010 – Kingston returns to the playoffs as the fourth seed but end up losing a seven-game battle with the defending conference champion Brampton Battalion.

2011 – The Fronts are the fifth seed yet again but lose in five games to Oshawa.

2012 – Kingston has the worst record again in the conference and are 23 points back of Oshawa for the last playoff spot in the East. They are actually 20 points better than the Erie Otters, who get rewarded for their 10-win season by drafting Connor McDavid.

2013 – After making it to the playoffs as a seven seed, Kingston is swept aside in four games by Barrie.

2014 – The Frontenacs crack the 300 goal mark for the first time since 1998 and enter the playoffs as the three seed. They hold a 3-0 lead over the Petes but the wheels fall off as Peterborough becomes the fourth team in OHL history to come back from the brink and win the series. Kingston lost Game 5 in overtime 6-5, had a 3-0 lead in Game 6 before losing 5-4 and lost the deciding contest 2-1 in overtime.

2015 – With Sam Bennett coming back late in the year, Kingston came into the playoffs on an offensive tear as the sixth seed. That success that move into the first round though as they got swept by the North Bay Battalion.

OHL Eastern Conference Predictions

Kingston NIagara

1) Kingston Frontenacs vs. 4) Niagara IceDogs

Last Playoff Meeting: N/A

Season Series: Kingston 3-1

Prediction: Kingston in six (Niagara could be a tricky matchup for Kingston, especially if Alex Nedeljkovic is on his game, but having won a playoffs series at last I think the Fronts will ride that confidence into the next round.)

Barrie North Bay

2) Barrie Colts vs. 3) North Bay Battalion

Last Playoff Meeting: 2015 (North Bay won 4-1 in the East Semifinal – North Bay also won 4-2 in the 2014 East Semifinal in 2014 – Barrie won over the Brampton Battalion 4-0 in the 2010 East Semifinal )

Season Series: North Bay 4-2

Prediction: North Bay in 7 (There’s a slight bit of Northern Ontario bias in this one but with the previous two playoff meetings between these two teams, I think that will be the deciding factor in this matchup)

OHL Western Conference Predictions

Erie Sault Ste. Marie

1) Erie Otters vs. 7) Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds

Last Playoff Meeting: 2015 (Erie won 4-2 in the West Final – Sault Ste. Marie last beat Erie 4-2 in the 2000 West Semifinal)

Season Series: Erie 2-0

Prediction: Erie in 5 (As a Greyhounds fan, I would love to see them get some revenge in their third straight playoff meeting with Erie. However, the Otters are just too strong for another upset.)

London Kitchener

3) London Knights vs. 4) Kitchener Rangers

Last Playoff Meeting: 2015 (London won 4-2 in West Quarter-Final – Kitchener last beat London 4-3 in the 2010 West Semifinal)

Season Series: London 4-2

Prediction: London in 6 (Granted, Owen Sound did give London quite a scare in the first round and Kitchener might pull off the upset. With that said, I don’t see London being knocked out this early as they have a stronger lineup than the Rangers.)

With the OHL out of the way, our next stop is the QMJHL where a legit contender for the Memorial Cup has been knocked out.

Michael Carcone

Drummondville Voltigeurs (27-39-2-0 – 6th in West Division/16th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in four games)

What I Predicted: With a decent forward core, they might have enough to return to the playoffs.

What Actually Happened: Thanks to the 89-point campaigns of Michael Carcone and Alex Barre-Boulet, the Voltigeurs made their way back to the post-season. Unfortunately for them, they ran right into the Rouyn-Noranda juggernaut and were outscored 33-4.

What Lies Ahead: The two top scorers can come back to the team next year and they should both have strong campaigns. With the said, the defence does leave a little bit to be desired at the moment.

Guillaume Gauthier

Sherbrooke Phoenix (24-35-7-2 – 5th in West Division/15th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Shawinigan Cataractes in five games)

What I Predicted: This is one of those teams that have a ton of talented players on offence and defence but will only go as far as their goaltending takes them

What Actually Happened: Evan Fitzpatrick wasn’t bad, and he was great in the playoffs, but the Phoenix underachieved massively and a front office change took place as they failed to build off of last year’s solid campaign.

What Lies Ahead: Fitzpatrick is going to be back for a third season but this has all the makings of a rebuilding campaign with many of the team’s top forwards set to move on. Defenceman Jeremy Roy might be one of the key names at next year’s trade deadline.

11 Christophe Boivin - Titan Acadie-Bathurst

Acadie-Bathurst Titan (27-35-3-3 – 5th in Maritimes Division/14th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Saint John Sea Dogs in five games)

What I Predicted: They’ll struggle in a tough division but they should make the playoffs.

What Actually Happened: Hey I was right on this one. They showed improvement from the last couple of years but being in a pretty good division meant that they weren’t going to have a long run in the playoffs.

What Lies Ahead: This could be a nice surprise team next year. There’s a lot of good young players in Vladimir Kuznetsov, Jordan Maher, Antoine Morand and Reilly Pickard so it wouldn’t be a total shock if they are in the mix for a home playoff seed in 2017.

Matthew Boucher

Quebec Remparts (28-33-6-1 – 5th in East Division/12th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Gatineau Olympiques in four games)

What I Predicted: As the Remparts enter the (hopefully) future home of the Quebec Nordiques they are still in okay shape after hosting the Memorial Cup.

What Actually Happened: They weren’t in too bad shape but they improved their future this season by trading many of their top assets that were still around, including a big deadline deal that saw Dymtyro Timashov head to Shawinigan.

What Lies Ahead: Well Patrick Roy’s not coming through the door which isn’t a good sign. There’s some okay pieces on the team but Quebec might find themselves scratching and clawing their way to make the playoffs next year.

Pascal Laberge

Victoriaville Tigres (33-28-3-4 – 4th in East Division/11th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Moncton Wildcats in five games)

What I Predicted: Players like Maxime Comtois and Pascal Laberge will make the Tigres a team to watch in the years to come. For now though, I expect them to be in battling just to make the playoffs yet again.

What Actually Happened: They did slightly better than that. The Tigres worked their way into the middle of the league table this season and they matched up well with Moncton in the first round.

What Lies Ahead: With two very strong forwards up front, this is a team that will be on the rise for the next couple of season. Anything less than a quarter-final appearance next year will be a disappointment.

Nicolas Roy

Chicoutimi Sagueneens (32-25-5-6 – 3rd in East Division/10th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in six games)

What I Predicted: With Nicolas Roy leading the way on offence, they might contend for a home playoff spot.

What Actually Happened: Roy had a 90-point season and Chicoutimi was just four points away from being one of the top eight teams in the league when the playoffs got underway. Not a bad prediction for once by yours truly.

What Lies Ahead: Roy will be back once again but there’s not a lot of depth around him. He might net a big return for Chicoutimi at next year’s trade deadline.

Antoine Dufort-Plante

Rimouski Oceanic (36-25-5-2 – 2nd in East Division/8th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Charlottetown Islanders in six games)

What I Predicted: They’ll be in a tight battle just to make it into the post-season which will be a quite contrast to where things were for them last year.

What Actually Happened: Well I got that wrong. Granted they were nowhere near being as strong as they were on their run to the league title a year ago, but the Oceanic were solidly in the middle of the pack before being knocked out by a resurgent Charlottetown side.

What Lies Ahead: Probably more of the same. Rimouski isn’t losing a lot of players to graduation so they should have another decent campaign and make the playoffs with ease.

Anthony Beauregard

Val-d’Or Foreurs (49-15-3-1 – 2nd in West Division/4th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in six games)

What I Predicted: The amount of scoring power in the top lines should make this an exciting team to watch every night.

What Actually Happened: For most of the last two months of the regular season, Val-d’Or went back-and-forth with Rouyn-Noranda for the top record in the league. Things looked to be going according to plan until they were stunned by a pesky Armada squad in the biggest upset of the first round in the country.

What Lies Ahead: Julien Gauthier will be back, but Val-d’Or is about to lose a ton of their scoring power due to graduation. After three strong seasons, the rebuild is about to begin.

Blainville Upset

I’ve touched on this already, but Blainville-Boisbriand’s six-game win over Val-d’Or was a jaw-dropper. Not only did they effectively slow down one of the best offences in the country, but the 40-point difference between the two teams was the largest upset in QMJHL history.

I’ve gone on the record in the past about how much I love the 1 vs. 16 format in the QMJHL and a lot of it has come from the big upsets you get. Last year, for example, the third ranked Armada were upset in six games by Gatineau and 12th ranked Halifax upset Shawinigan in a seven game affair.

Gatineau also had a surprising six game upset in 2013 when they defeated fourth ranked Rimouski. There was also a 4 vs. 13 upset in 2012 when Baie-Comeau swept aside Victoriaville, and there’s usually been a couple of first round stunners since this format came around in 2011.

So does that mean no one is safe? Well the top two teams seem to be okay so far as they usually win in clean sweeps. However, given the recent stunners in this league, there will be a time when a potential Memorial Cup winner is knocked out by a team that just gets into the playoffs. I for one can’t wait to see how everyone would react to it.

QMJHL Quarter-Final Predictions

Rouyn-Noranda Blainville-Boisbriand

1) Rouyn-Noranda Huskies vs. 13) Blainville-Boisbriand Armada

Last Playoff Meeting: N/A (The Montreal Junior played Rouyn-Noranda in 2009 with the Huskies winning 4-2 in the first round)

Season Series: Rouyn-Noranda 6-0

Prediction: Rouyn-Noranda in five (Given the fact that the Armada just upset the Huskies closest threat, they should at least take one game from them. The entire series though? I just can’t see it.)

Shawinigan Charlottetown

2) Shawinigan Cataractes vs. 9) Charlottetown Islanders

Last Playoff Meeting: 2011 (In their only meeting to date, Shawinigan won 4-1 in the first round)

Season Series: Shawinigan 2-0

Prediction: Shawinigan in six (Shawinigan has been a fun roller-coaster ride to watch as of late with their inconstancies and Charlottetown has been a much different team with Daniel Sprong coming back. I’ve gone with the higher seed here, but an upset wouldn’t surprise me.)

Saint John vs. Cape Breton

3) Saint John Sea Dogs vs. 7) Cape Breton Screaming Eagles

Last Playoff Meeting: 2012 (Saint John won 4-0 in the first round – Cape Breton last beat Saint John 4-0 in the 2008 first round)

Season Series: Saint John 5-4

Prediction: Saint John in five (The Screaming Eagles have a very solid squad with a strong forward core but I was very impressed with how Saint John looked against Acadie-Bathurst. This will be a good series, but I think it might not be a long one.)

Gatineau Moncton

5) Gatineau Olympiques vs. 6) Moncton Wildcats

Last Playoff Meeting: 2006 (Moncton won 4-1 in the semifinals – Hull won the other meeting 4-1 in the 2004 final)

Season Series: Split 2-2

Prediction: Gatineau in six (This might be a pretty good matchup. Moncton looked good in their series against Victoriaville but Gatineau just dominated Quebec with ease, and that’s the difference for me in this one.)

To round things out we now head to the WHL, which saw a number of great first round series with interesting results.

Brett Pollock

Edmonton Oil Kings (29-36-6-1 – 5th in Central Division/8th in Eastern Conference – Won 6-4 over the Medicine Hat Tigers in WHL Tiebreaker Game – Eliminated by the Brandon Wheat Kings in six games)

What I Predicted: This is a team that can go either way. By bringing in last year’s USHL goalie of the year Alec Dillon, the Oil Kings may have added a piece that can assure them of a playoff spot. However, if things go sideways, players like Brett Pollock, Aaron Irving and Dysin Mayo may get dealt in order to start a rebuild.

What Actually Happened: Well Dillon ended up getting hurt early on and the Oil Kings sputtered into the playoffs through the tiebreaker game, but they elected to hold on to their veteran players for some strange reason.

What Lies Ahead: Things might get really ugly with the Oil Kings next season if Irving, Mayo and Pollock all stick in the pro ranks and not a heck of a lot at the moment seemingly set to replace them. It’ll be interesting to see what will happen in goal as well as Dillon, Payton Lee and Patrick Dea might all be coming back.

Kailer Yamamoto

Spokane Chiefs (33-30-5-4 – 4th in US Division/8th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Victoria Royals in six games)

What I Predicted: This is a pretty solid team that should be able to get into the playoffs with relative ease and give Portland or Seattle a stiff test in the first round.

What Actually Happened: Well replace Portland or Seattle with Victoria and that prediction is pretty accurate. The Chiefs had to deal with some injury issues during the campaign but the signs of a bright future were there for all to see.

What Lies Ahead: Ty Smith, the top overall pick in the 2015 WHL Draft, will join a team that already has Kailer Yamamoto and Jaret Anderson-Dolan in it’s young core next fall.  A potential bid for the US Division title doesn’t seem to be that far-fetched.

Dominic Turgeon

Portland Winterhawks (34-31-6-1 – 3rd in US Division/7th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Everett Silvertips in four games)

What I Predicted: This is the official last stand of the Winterhawks as the depth looks pretty ugly after this season.

What Actually Happened: Injuries and inconsistent play led to the Winterhawks just getting into the playoffs this year. The four game loss to Everett also proved to be the end for Jamie Kompon, who was axed after two seasons as head coach and general manager.

What Lies Ahead: Whether or not Mike Johnston comes back to the team, whoever is in charge will find themselves with a tough task. Unless some high-end Americans end up coming to the team (hi there Kieffer Bellows) the next couple of years could be pretty rough in Portland. At least they have Cody Glass.

Chase Witala

Prince George Cougars (36-31-3-2 – 4th in BC Division/6th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Seattle Thunderbirds in four games)

What I Predicted: They aren’t quite as strong as the Rockets, but this is a team that continues to get better and better.

What Actually Happened: They had flashes in the first half, but the Cougars ended up struggling in the last couple of months and their season ended with a whimper.

What Lies Ahead: A new coach will be in charge after Mark Holick parted ways with the team and they will be inheriting a good situation. With a veteran core slated to return, the Cougars should be one of the favourites in the Western Conference next season.

Reid Gardiner

Prince Albert Raiders (38-26-7-1 – 2nd in East Division/5th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Moose Jaw Warriors in five games)

What I Predicted: The Raiders have a solid roster but they lack a true game-breaking forward that the Warriors and Pats have at their disposal.

What Actually Happened: That above statement proved to be true, especially in their loss to a Moose Jaw squad that had Dryden Hunt and Brayden Point, but a strong first half from a hard-working squad earned them home ice in the first round.

What Lies Ahead: As they now have the longest streak without a playoff win in the entire CHL (the Raiders made it to the conference final in 2005) I expect fans in Prince Albert want that bad distinction to leave there as quickly as possible. With a mix of youth and experience on the roster, a quarter-final trip seems entirely possible come next Spring.

Collin Shirley

Kamloops Blazers (38-25-5-4 – 3rd in BC Division/4th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Kelowna Rockets in seven games)

What I Predicted: I think the Blazers are missing just that extra little bit of players that will push them into the playoffs. That might change next season, but not just yet.

What Actually Happened: The Blazers dropped their first six games of the season and things looked to be going sideways. After that, they were one of the top teams out in the West and they pushed the defending champions to the limit in the first round.

What Lies Ahead: There’s a couple of holes to fill, but the Blazers look to be on the road back after a couple of rough years. Keep an eye on impressive goaltender Connor Ingram over the next few months as well, as he may work his way into the World Junior discussion.

Radel Fazlev

Calgary Hitmen (42-26-2-2 – 3rd in Central Division/4th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Red Deer Rebels in five games)

What I Predicted: Even if Jake Virtanen doesn’t return, the depth the Hitmen have is still good enough for them to contend for a division title.

What Actually Happened: Virtanen ended up staying around in Vancouver and the Hitmen ended up shaking things up after a slow start. Those trades (which saw Jackson Houck, Jakob Stukel and Cody Porter come in Vancouver) helped them out a ton and had them right in the mix for the division crown in the end.

What Lies Ahead: A decent forward core will allow Calgary to be in the mix for a division title once again next season. However, the defence is basically Jake Bean, Michael Zipp and a bunch of question marks, so that’s slightly concerning.

Brayden Burke

Lethbridge Hurricanes (46-24-1-1 – 1st in Central Division/2nd in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Regina Pats in five games)

What I Predicted: There’s a good chance that they could make the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

What Actually Happened: I thought the Hurricanes could get in as a Wild Card, but no one had them being the division champions. A great start led to a dream season for long-suffering Hurricanes fans, even if it ended early in a trick matchup with Regina.

What Lies Ahead: There will be holes that have to be filled as a few veteran players move on. However, with a strong young core still around, the Hurricanes should once again be in the mix next year in the Eastern Conference. After years in the wilderness, this team is back and it’s awesome to see.

Lethbridge Regina Comp

With Lethbridge’s Cinderella run coming to an abrupt end in the first round, I can’t help but think that the situation they are currently in is pretty similar to what the Regina Pats were in a couple of years ago, and not just because they beat them this year.

Let’s go back to the 2013-14 season. Regina had just missed the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five years and drafted Sam Steel with the second overall pick in the draft. Obviously, the expectations were set high for when Steel would come in a year later, but the Pats surprised many by winning the East Division.

Their post-season run ended in quick fashion though as they were swept by the Brandon Wheat Kings, but the foundation was set for what was to come. They won a playoff series for the first time since 2007 when they beat Swift Current last season and they look to be building towards a legit title threat in the next couple of seasons. If the Hurricanes want to look at the right way to go about things in the years ahead, they need to look no further than the squad that has frustrated them for years in the playoffs.

WHL Eastern Conference Predictions

Brandon Moose Jaw

East Division Final – 1) Brandon Wheat Kings vs. 3) Moose Jaw Warriors

Last Playoff Meeting: 2006 (Moose Jaw won 4-2 in the East quarter-finals – Brandon last beat Moose Jaw 4-1 in the 2005 East quarter-finals)

Season Series: Brandon 7-1

Prediction: Brandon in five (Moose Jaw does have a dynamic duo in Dryden Hunt and Brayden Point, but the amount of depth that Brandon has will be far too much for the Warriors to handle.)

Red Deer Regina

Central Division Final – 2) Red Deer Rebels vs. 4) Regina Pats

Last Playoff Meeting: 1997 (Red Deer won 4-1 in the East Quarter-Finals in their only playoff meeting to date. The two teams also met up at the 2001 Memorial Cup in Regina where the Pats won 5-2 in the final round-robin game.)

Season Series: Split 2-2

Prediction: Regina in seven (Maybe it’s foolish to pick against the Memorial Cup hosts, but the Pats are a much different team than they were in the regular season. With the Canes already out of the picture, I think they can pull off another shocker here.)

WHL Western Conference Predictions

Victoria Kelowna

BC Division Final – 1) Victoria Royals vs. 2) Kelowna Rockets

Last Playoff Meeting: 2015 (Kelowna won 4-1 in the West Semifinals in their only playoff meeting to date)

Season Series: Victoria 5-3

Prediction: Kelowna in six (This has the potential to be one of if not the best second round series in the entire country. Joe Hicketts is currently out of the lineup with an injury and that might be enough of a blow to the Royals to give the Rockets another win.)

Everett Seattle

US Division Final – 1) Seattle Thunderbirds vs. 2) Everett Silvertips

Last Playoff Meeting: 2014 (Seattle won 4-1 in the West Quarter-Finals in their only playoff meeting to date)

Season Series: Everett 6-4

Prediction: Everett in six (Seattle does have more weapons on offence but this will come down to goalie duel between Landon Bow and Carter Hart. Since Hart looks to be healthy again, Everett’s my pick here.)


The Punkari Brothers 2016 Women’s Worlds Review

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Written by Lucas Punkari (With Cameos by Brett Punkari)

This year’s Women’s Worlds in Swift Current was a pretty good event, and not just because I got to meet everyone on Team Muirhead. After 2010’s successful run at hosting it’s not a surprise that the town nicknamed Speedy Creek did an excellent job once again.

The crowds were strong all weekend long, the curling was much better than it was last year in Japan and there were some pretty interesting results that may help to set the stage for the run towards the 2018 Olympics.

Feltscher

Gold Medal – Switzerland (Binia Feltscher)

Ho hum, another year and another world title for the Swiss. After Feltscher’s 2014 stunner over Rachel Homan and Alina Paetz surprising run to a title in 2015, Feltscher returned in Swift Current to not only win her second title but Switzerland’s third in a row and their fourth in the last five years including Mirjam Ott’s 2012 championship in Lethbridge.

It was dominant showing in the round-robin but the Swiss rink was good when it mattered most as they had the top record and won a pair of games over Japan in the playoffs to be champs once again, and possibly put them as the favourites at the moment to win the Olympics in South Korea in two years. It was an emotional win as well for third Irene Schori who is currently battling cancer.

After the Mirjam Ott era ended there has been an explosion of great talent in Swtizerland with Alina Paetz, Silvana Tirinzoni and now two time World Champion Feltscher. With four titles in the last five years, Switzerland has now become the top country in women’s curling and it’s going to be tough for other countries to knock them off from the perch.

Team Stats

Lead – Christine Urech – Tied for 9th – 83%

Second – Franziska Kauffman – Tied for 2nd – 86%

Third – Irene Schori – 2nd – 87%

Skip – Binia Feltscher – 6th – 79%

Team – Tied for 3rd – 84%

Fujisawa

Silver Medal and Biggest Surprise – Japan (Satsuki Fujisawa)

Every year there’s a team that comes seemingly out of nowhere at the Worlds and this year it was Fujisawa. The 24-year-old was near the top of the standings all week long, crushed Eve Muirhead and Chelsea Carey in the round-robin and played strong all through the playoffs. If it wasn’t for a heavy draw on her last shot in the finals, she could have forced an extra end for the championship and who knows what could have happened. Having tons of fun along the way with their infectious attitude, Fujisawa won her country’s first ever medal at the Worlds and will be a team to watch for in the future.

After finishing in 7th place in her first trip to the Worlds in 2013, Fujisawa and her team curled the lights out in Swift Current. Was it their positive attitude that led to their success. Who knows, but this was a big surprise to see them in the finals and for Japan to win their first world women’s medal is huge going forward. 

Team Stats

Lead – Yurika Yoshida – 8th – 84%

Second – Yumi Suzuki – Tied for 2nd – 86%

Third – Chinami Yoshida – 1st – 89%

Skip – Satsuki Fujisawa – 1st – 86%

Team – 1st – 87%

Sidorova

Bronze Medal – Russia (Anna Sidorova)

Maybe it’s me overanalyzing things a bit, but I’m left wondering if Sidorova let a golden opportunity to win a World Championship slip away this week. Although Russia won over both Canada and Switzerland in the round-robin, they lost in an extra-end to the United States and were beaten soundly by Scotland and Japan to fall out of the mix for the 1 vs. 2 game. Sidorova herself was strong in the 3 vs. 4 game against Canada but struggled slightly against Japan in the semis. To win another bronze medal is nothing to sneeze at but I’m sure the entire rink will be left wanting more as they try to round out the season with their first Grand Slam win.

If it wasn’t for a pair of miscues in the 9th and 11th ends of the semi final, we could perhaps be talking about Russia being in the finals for the first time. They were cruising along early in the round-robin  until they hit some bumps in the road, but they bounced back to work their way into the playoff mix. A third straight bronze medal is nice and they beat Canada for the first time in the page playoffs, but losing that semi final will be a tough pill to swallow I’m sure.

Team Stats

Lead – Nkeiruka Ezekh – Tied for 9th – 83%

Second – Alexandra Revea – Tied for 8th – 80%

Third – Margarita Fomina – 3rd – 86%

Skip – Anna Sidorova – 5th – 81%

Team – Tied for 6th – 82%

Carey

Fourth Place – Canada (Chelsea Carey)

What a difference a month makes. After winning the Scotties with relative ease (okay compared to Rachel Homan’s 2014 destruction tour it was really a cake walk), Carey and her rink had some challenges in Swift Current. They had some tough losses in the round-robin, especially to South Korea and Japan, but they bounced back every time and Carey was sublime in a win or go home game against Scotland on Thursday night in their round-robin finale.

The playoffs were a different story however as Carey wasn’t quite on her game in both encounters with Russia, although she almost clawed her way back to win a bronze medal. Although they became the first Canadian rink since Jennifer Jones in 2009 to miss out on the podium, this was a valuable learning experience for the team as they look to win a second straight Scotties crown next year.

It felt all week like Carey and company were not getting anything going when it came to consistency. Whether if it was trying to adjust to the ice or the fact that third Amy Nixon and Carey were off at times, they were lucky to sneak into the playoffs after Scotland fell off in the last two days. They weren’t quite on the same level as the other teams in the playoffs, and Canada’s streak of not winning a gold medal is now at eight years and counting.

Team Stats

Lead – Laine Peters – Tied for 5th – 86%

Second – Jocelyn Peterman – Tied for 5th – 85%

Third – Amy Nixon – 5th – 83%

Skip – Chelsea Carey – 3rd – 83%

Team – Tied for 3rd – 84%

Evelyn

Biggest Disappointment – Scotland (Eve Muirhead)

Oh Evelyn, it pains me to put you here but alas it’s true. After a convincing win over Russia on Wednesday morning, Scotland was all alone in first place at 7-1 and looked to be in strong shape to make the playoffs. Then the wheels fells as they coughed up a 5-1 lead to Switzerland and lost in an extra, were run over by the red-hot Japan rink and lost their round-robin finale to miss the playoffs. Eve, who finished the week as the second best skip, had three pretty sub-par games by her standards in those losses while the rest of her rink (including the often-maligned third Anna Sloan) were strong in the Switzerland and Canada defeats.

It’s been a strange year for my favourite curling rink but they were playing as well as they ever had all week in Swift Current. With three stinging defeats in the round-robin, I can’t help but feel like Eve and her squad missed out on a great chance to take home a title, though I expect them to be back in the mix again next year in China.

Another rink who I almost considered here was Sweden’s Margaretha Sigfridsson. Although I thought she might struggle slightly after a not so great tour season, the two time silver medalists had a terrible start and had a 1-6 record before getting three straight wins near the end of the week. You have to wonder what’s next for the team, especially with some strong young rinks on the rise in Sweden.

Eve Muirhead’s fifth place result at the Worlds can be summed up from two games. It had to sting to lose to Switzerland after having a 5-1 lead and Eve’s struggles in her final round-robin game against Canada brought an end to her title hopes. However, I’m not sure I would consider them to be the biggest disappointment of the week, even though they missed the playoffs. Sweden, as Lucas mentioned, had a rough showing and Canada wasn’t what I expected them to be. An 11-2 loss by the Scotties champions to Japan is something you never expect, even though Fujisawa had an amazing week.

Team Stats

 Lead – Sarah Reid – Tied for 1st – 88%

Second – Vicki Adams – 1st – 87%

Third – Anna Sloan – Tied for 6th – 80%

Skip – Eve Muirhead – 2nd – 85%

Team – 2nd – 85%


2015/16 CHL Assessments (Part 1) & First Round Previews

Medicine Hat Edmonton Tiebreaker

(A quick note from yours truly. I’m posting this on Sunday with all of the playoff series now underway. As such, some of these picks (shoutout to Brandon and Edmonton) are wrong already. However, I decided to keep them in so that this post would be true to when I made the picks, and to laugh at them later on.)

Tuesday’s Tiebreaker game in the Western Hockey League more or less summed up the junior hockey season thus far. We’ve had storied franchises miss out on the post-season, perennial doormats rise from the ashes, and whatever the heck is going on in Flint.

So with the playoffs set to go, it’s time for my annual look back and look ahead for the three branches of the CHL. As always, let’s start things off with the Ontario Hockey League.

James McEwan

Guelph Storm (13-49-4-2 – 5th in Midwest Division/10th in Western Conference – Eliminated on February 28th)

What I Predicted: I would be stunned to see Robby Fabbri and Justin Nichols stay all year with the Storm as the squad needs to rebuild and quickly.

What Actually Happened: Fabbri ended up making the St. Louis Blues and Nichols was finally dealt to Oshawa, but the season was a hot mess without them. Head Coach Bill Stewart left the team early on and the Storm were well out of the playoff mix before the season was even half old.

What Lies Ahead: Quite a lot actually. For starters, the Storm will have the number one pick in the OHL Draft next month, with defencemen Ryan Merkley and Bode Wilde both in the running as being the first overall selection. General Manager Mike Kelly and Head Coach Jarrod Skalde (who came on board around Christmas time) are both expected to be back but there’s still a lot of holes to fill, especially in goal. Plus, the Storm are in negations over their lease at the Sleeman Centre so that could be fun.

Mikkel Aagaard

Sudbury Wolves (16-46-5-1 – 5th in OHL Central/10th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated on February 28th)

What I Predicted: It can’t go much worse for Sudbury after their struggles last year, but things are looking up for them.

What Actually Happened: Well I was sort of right as they were not the worst team in the league, but they were nowhere near challenging for a playoff spot like I expected. There were nights where they competed but more often than not they were blown out of the water.

What Lies Ahead: The Wolves have a bevy of young players coming into the team next year and with David Levin, Michael Pezzetta and Dmitry Sokolov all coming back they may actually be able to get into that playoff mix. Either way, I expect Kyle Capobianco to be one of the biggest names on the market during the trade deadline.

Will Bitten

Flint Firebirds (20-42-4-2 – 5th in West Division/9th in Western Conference – Eliminated on March 12th)

What I Predicted: After getting a billion draft picks for Ryan McLeod, Flint is a team that’s working towards contending in the long-term.

What Actually Happened: A legit tire fire. John Gruden was fired, hired, then fired again as head coach, the league had to take over operations of the club and the city of Flint itself has a water crisis. This was far from your typical expansion season.

What Lies Ahead: Who the heck knows on the ownership side of things so let’s look at the team itself. They will have two top five picks on draft day, which is nice, but who knows how many of those kids will want to report to Flint? Guys like Will Bitten and Vili Saarijarvi are nice pieces to build around, but if the toxic atmosphere around the team is still there how long will they stick around? Personally, they should just move the team to Belleville and bring back the Bulls.

Matt Luff

Hamilton Bulldogs (25-35-8-0 – 5th in East Division/9th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated on March 18th)

What I Predicted: I might be slightly early on the Bulldogs hype train but with some good young players and guys that can break out, they may surprise some this season.

What Actually Happened: The exact opposite of that. Injuries to players like Justin Lemcke and Brandon Saigeon didn’t help matters and the expected improvement didn’t happen. I’m sure the people of Belleville didn’t mind though to see the Bulldogs struggle.

What Lies Ahead: A new look for the team to resemble the colours of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats is the main difference for the next year and the growth of one of the youngest squads in the league will be interesting to watch, especially with Matthew Strome. If there’s more struggles though, expect major changes.

Guelph Storm 1991-92

You may be wondering why I have a photo of the 1991-92 Guelph Storm in this blog post. Well up until this year, this marked the last time that the Storm had failed to make the OHL playoffs.

The Storm’s 23 year streak of making the post-season was the longest active streak in the OHL prior to this season, and it was one of a number of long runs that came to an end this year. In fact, three double-digit streaks came to an end in the Western Hockey League as the Kootenay Ice (17 seasons), Medicine Hat Tigers (13 seasons) and the Tri-City Americans (12 seasons) all missed the playoffs.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Lethbridge Hurricanes ended the longest active playoff futility streak in the CHL as they returned to the post-season for the first time in six years. Another WHL team, the Moose Jaw Warriors, are also back in the playoffs this year after three seasons away.

So who are the longest streaks now for making the playoffs and being on the outside looking in? Well in terms of playoffs appearances, the London Knights now lead the OHL with 16 straight playoff trips while the new WHL leaders are the Everett Silvertips as they have made the playoffs in all 13 years of existence. They are nowhere close to catching the QMJHL leaders though as the Gatineau Olympiques have now made the playoffs for 32 straight years.

As for playoff futility, the Saskatoon Blades lead the way as they have now missed the playoffs for three straight years. The Flint Firebirds, Sudbury Wolves and Vancouver Giants are all behind the Blades after missing the postseason for a second straight season.

OHL Eastern Conference Predictions

Kingston Oshawa

1) Kingston Frontenacs vs. 8) Oshawa Generals

Last Playoff Meeting: 2011 (Oshawa won 4-1 in the East Quarter-Finals – Kingston last beat Oshawa 4-3 in the 1998 East Quarter-Finals in what is the team’s last playoff series win to date)

Season Series: Kingston 7-1

Prediction: Kingston in 4 (I feel like I’m tempting fate here by actually picking Kingston to win a playoff round but they are far better than Oshawa in this matchup. The tougher challenges for this star-crossed team lies ahead.)

Barrie Mississauga

2) Barrie Colts vs. 7) Mississauga Steelheads

Last Playoff Meeting: 2012 (Barrie won 4-1 in the East Quarter-Finals – Mississauga last beat Barrie 4-1 in the 2009 East Quarter-Finals)

Season Series: Barrie 5-1

Prediction: Barrie in 5 (Mississauga is much a different team than in years past and their weapons might give Barrie some trouble, however the Colts have been here before and should be able to get into the next round with ease.

North Bay Peterborough

3) North Bay Battalion vs. 6) Peterborough Petes

Last Playoff Meeting: 2009 (Brampton won 4-0 in the East Quarter-Finals in what is the only playoff meeting with these two teams so far. Just for the heck of it, and because I love them, the North Bay Centennials won their two playoff meetings with the Petes. They swept them in the first round back in 1991 and won a OHL semifinal series in five games a year later.)

Season Series: Split 2-2

Prediction: North Bay in 5 (This has the potential to go longer but the fact that North Bay has been to the league final and the conference final over the last two years should allow them to win this one with ease.)

Niagara Ottawa

4) Niagara IceDogs vs. 5) Ottawa 67’s

Last Playoff Meeting: 2015 (Niagara won 4-2 in the East Quarter-Finals – Ottawa last beat Niagara 4-1 in the 2010 East Quarter-Finals)

Season Series: Niagara 3-1

Prediction: Niagara in 5 (Seeing that I had Niagara winning the Eastern Conference this year, I can’t pick against them here. Ottawa’s done a good job after trading Travis Konecny but Niagara has too much depth in this matchup.)

OHL Western Conference Predictions

Erie Saginaw

1) Erie Otters vs. 8) Saginaw Spirit

Last Playoff Meeting: 2014 (Erie won 4-1 in the West Quarter-Finals in the only playoff meeting with the two teams so far.)

Season Series: Split 2-2

Prediction: Erie in 4 (The fact that Saginaw split the season series with Erie is interesting but with how dominant the Otters have been in general this year, I don’t see this one lasting very long.)

Sarnia Sault Ste. Marie

2) Sarnia Sting vs. 7) Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds

Last Playoff Meeting: 1996 (Sarnia won 4-0 in the first round in the only playoff matchup so far between the two teams)

Season Series: Sarnia 5-1

Prediction: Sault Ste. Marie in 6 (Here comes the hometown bias pick, but hear me out on this one. Yes the Greyhounds aren’t as good as they were last year and the Sting are much stronger with the moves they made, but this is the matchup the Greyhounds wanted. They avoid the Erie and London juggernauts (for now), they’ve been strong on the road as of late and they matchup quite well with the Sting in my opinion. I might be crazy, but I think there’s a good chance of an upset here.)

London Owen Sound

3) London Knights vs. 6) Owen Sound Attack

Last Playoff Meeting: 2011 (Owen Sound won 4-2 in the West Quarter-Finals – London last beat Owen Sound 4-0 in the 2007 West Quarter-Finals)

Season Series: London 4-2

Prediction: London in 4 (Owen Sound’s a team that will keep you honest and they might take a game from London but I just find it hard to imagine the Mitch Marner and Friends road show coming to an end in the first round.)

Kitchener Windsor

4) Kitchener Rangers vs. 5) Windsor Spitfires

Last Playoff Meeting: 2010 (Windsor won 4-3 in the West Final as they erased a 3-0 deficit in the series on their way to a second straight Memorial Cup Title. – Kitchener last beat Windsor 4-3 in 1992 in the first round)

Season Series: Windsor 3-1

Prediction: Kitchener in 6 (This is one of those series that can go either way and it might be the best opening round matchup in the CHL. I think having home ice advantage will be a huge boost to Kitchener, but it will be close.)

So with the OHL done, let’s move on to the QMJHL where only two teams missed the playoffs.

Vincent Deslauriers

Baie-Comeau Drakkar (14-49-2-3 – 6th in East Division/18th in QMJHL – Eliminated on February 20th)

What I Predicted: After two heartbreaking playoffs losses to Val-d’Or in consecutive seasons, I’m expecting quite a drop-off from Baie-Comeau this year.

What Actually Happened: The drop-off happened and it was massive as Marco Pietroniro was fired as head coach after just eight wins in 55 games. There wasn’t much to be found in the positivity department for the team this year.

What Lies Ahead: Baie-Comeau will be in the draft lottery with Halifax in the next few weeks to get the first overall pick in the 2016 QMJHL Draft, with defenceman Jared McIsaac and Benoit Olivier-Giroux among the top prospects. In fact, the Drakkar have four of the top 20 picks in this year’s draft so they have a chance of turning things around pretty quickly. The first thing on the agenda though is to find a new bench boss.

Maxime Fortier

Halifax Mooseheads (21-39-7-1 – 6th in Maritimes Division/17th in QMJHL – Eliminated on March 11th)

What I Predicted: With Nikolaj Ehlers more than likely going to the NHL this year, the Mooseheads look ready to rebuild and may deal Timo Meier at the deadline.

What Actually Happened: Well Meier got dealt to Rouyn-Noranda and the Mooseheads strong run of teams that made them one of the top teams in the entire QMJHL came to an end as they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

What Lies Ahead: Like Baie-Comeau, Halifax has a number of high picks in the draft that will help them rebuild. They have some good talent returning up front in Arnaud Durandeau, Maxime Fortier and Otto Somppi that should allow them to return to the playoffs with ease.

Rouyn-Noranda Killing Machines

It might be strange to say that the top ranked team in the CHL Top 10 is underrated, but I feel that way about the top-ranked Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, especially since none of their games were televised nationally on Sportsnet during the regular season.

Prior to the start of the season, I was really tempted to pick the Huskies in the final but ended picking Saint John to beat Val-d’Or instead. I had no idea that the Huskies would be this good though. They’ve run through the league with a .831 winning percentage, which is the best since Halifax went on to win the Memorial Cup in 2013 and they enter the playoffs on a 14 game win streak.

Their depth is really strong also. I’ve mentioned Timo Meier earlier but the Huskies also have Francis Perron, Jean-Christophe Beaudin, Martins Dzierkals, Julien Nantel and AJ Greer who can damage up front, along with their high scoring defencemen Nikolas Brouillard and Jeremy Lauzon.

The Huskies have only been to the QMJHL final once as they lost in 2008 to Gatineau but it would be a massive surprise if they didn’t make it there this year, unless they face Val-d’Or in the semis where all heck could break loose.

QMJHL Playoff Predictions

Rouyn-Noranda Drummondville

1) Rouyn-Noranda Huskies vs. 16) Drummondville Voltigeurs

Last Playoff Meeting: 2013 (Rouyn-Noranda won 4-1 in the first round. They also won 4-3 in the quarter-finals in 2007 in their only other playoff meeting)

Season Series: Rouyn-Noranda 4-2

Prediction: Rouyn-Noranda in 4 (Poor Drummondville. Their reward for making the playoffs is to be a lamb to the slaughter against the Huskies. This one might not be close.)

Shawinigan Sherbrooke

2) Shawinigan Cataractes vs. 15) Sherbrooke Phoenix

Last Playoff Meeting: N/A

Season Series: Shawinigan 4-1

Prediction: Shawinigan in 4 (Okay granted Shawinigan has been an interesting team to watch as of late, including firing their coach in the last few weeks, but Sherbrooke has been a super underwhelming squad this year. They might steal a game or two if everything’s clicking but I’m not sure they have enough to pull off a stunner.)

Saint John Acadie-Bathurst

3) Saint John Sea Dogs vs. 14) Acadie-Bathurst Titan

Last Playoff Meeting: 2007 (Saint John won 4-2 in the Quarter-Final in their only playoff meeting so far.)

Season Series: Saint John 6-3

Prediction: Saint John in 4 (After a slow start, the Sea Dogs really turned things around in the second half. With the mix of youth and experience they have, it might be too much for the Titan to handle.)

Val-d'Or Blainville-Boisbriand

4) Val-d’Or Foreurs vs. 13) Blainville-Boisbriand Armada

Last Playoff Meeting: 2013 (Blainville-Boisbriand won 4-0 in the Quarter-Finals in their only meeting to date.)

Season Series: Val-d’Or 5-1

Prediction: Val-d’Or in 4 (Like Rouyn-Noranada, Val-d’Or has one of the best offences in the entire country. Expect a few high scoring contests in this series.)

Gatineau Quebec

5) Gatineau Olympiques vs. 12) Quebec Remparts

Last Playoff Meeting: 2010 (Gatineau won 4-3 in the Semifinals. The Olympiques also won 4-1 in the 2008 Quarter-Finals in the other playoff meeting between the two sides.)

Season Series: Gatineau 3-1

Prediction: Gatineau in 5 (Like Kingston in the OHL, I was way off base with my pre-season thoughts on Gatineau. Quebec will give them a bit of a challenge but the Olympiques should be fine in the end.)

Moncton Wildcats vs Victoriaville Tigres 28 Jan 2010

6) Moncton Wildcats vs. 11) Victoriaville Tigres

Last Playoff Meeting: 2013 (Victoriaville won 4-1 in the First Round – Moncton last beat Victoriaville 4-1 in the 2006 First Round)

Season Series: Split 1-1

Prediction: Moncton in 5 (Victoriaville have a number of good players but it’s hard for me to go against a team that has the QMJHL’s leading scorer in Conor Garland.)

Cape Breton Chicoutimi

7) Cape Breton Screaming Eagles vs. 10) Chicoutimi Sagueneens

Last Playoff Meeting: 2004 (Chicoutimi won 4-1 in the Quarter-Finals – Cape Breton last beat Chicoutimi 4-3 in the 2001 First Round.)

Season Series: Split 1-1

Prediction: Cape Breton in 5 (This might actually be a pretty even matchup but with the number of strong offensive players that Cape Breton has, I think that will give them an advantage.)

Rimouski Charlottetown

8) Rimouski Oceanic vs. 9) Charlottetown Islanders

Last Playoff Meeting: N/A

Season Series: Split 1-1

Prediction: Charlottetown in 6 (With Daniel Sprong returning from the Pittsburgh Penguins midway through the season, Charlottetown has been much improved. Although I’m picking an upset, don’t expect the defending champions to go quietly into the night.)

To round things out we have the WHL, with six teams that are headed to the golf course early, including one that lost a tiebreaker game for the final playoff spot.

Zak Zborosky

Kootenay Ice (12-53-6-1 – 6th in Central Division/12th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated on February 20th)

What I Predicted: Things are looking pretty dire for the Ice and they might be the worse team in the league.

What Actually Happened: Early injuries to their key players didn’t help matters at all and the Ice were well out of the mix early as they missed the playoffs for the first time since they moved from Edmonton.

What Lies Ahead: Despite low attendance numbers, the team appears to be staying in Cranbrook for one more year. The Ice have won the rights to the top pick in the Bantam Draft and have a number of strong players to choose from with forwards Kirby Dach and Peyton Krebs joined by defenceman Bowen Byram among the top prospects available. They won’t be with the Ice until the 2017-18 season though and it looks like it will be another rough campaign for them next year.

Chase Lang

Vancouver Giants (23-40-5-4 – 5th in BC Division/10th in Western Conference – Eliminated on March 2nd)

What I Predicted: The Giants will be without Tyler Benson for the start of the season but they should still have enough to make the playoffs as he won’t be out for long.

What Actually Happened: Benson ended up missing a ton of time this year with injuries, which sort of summed up the year for Vancouver as they missed the playoffs for the second straight year. Lorne Molleken was fired as head coach which means the Giants will have their fifth different bench boss in the last four years, with Mike Johnston widely expected to take over the general manager and head coach roles at the moment.

What Lies Ahead: The Giants may find themselves in a new home next fall as rumours continue to swirl that the club is headed to Langley or possibly Abbotsford. There’s a lot of good young talent on the team, and if Benson can actually stay healthy, a playoff spot isn’t out of the question for the 2016-17 season.

Connor Gay

Saskatoon Blades (26-42-4-0 – 6th in East Division/11th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated on March 11th)

What I Predicted: I think the Blades are one year away from being a legit playoff contender after a couple of bad seasons.

What Actually Happened: I still feel that way after this season. The Blades showed signs of improvement throughout the 2015-16 campaign but their will still nights where they would get roughed up by the top teams in the WHL.

What Lies Ahead: Since they aren’t trading their draft picks anymore it seems, the Blades actually have some exciting young talent on the horizon. There will be some growing pains for sure, but a chance at a wild card spot doesn’t seem to be a crazy suggestion for next season.

Jon Martin

Swift Current Broncos (24-38-7-3 – 5th in East Division/10th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated on March 13th)

What I Predicted: After struggling just to make the playoffs a year ago, the Broncos look set to start a rebuild. It could be a long winter in Speedy Creek.

What Actually Happened: Although the Broncos did deal away Jake DeBrusk and Landon Bow, the season wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Jon Martin had a breakout campaign after being traded from Kootenay and earned a NHL contract with San Jose, the younger players stepped up their game after the deadline and if it wasn’t for some injuries they could have made the playoffs.

What Lies Ahead: This is an interesting team. With a decent looking defence, goaltender Taz Burman having a strong half-season after coming over from Seattle and some young forwards, the Broncos may be able to contend for a wild card spot. Like the Blades though, it will be tough especially in what could be a very good East Division next year.

Chad Butcher

Medicine Hat Tigers (30-37-3-2 – 4th in Central Division/9th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated on March 22nd after a 6-4 loss to Edmonton in a Tiebreaker)

What I Predicted: Although the move away from the Medicine Hat Arena will take some getting used to, the Tigers will once again have a solid team.

What Actually Happened: A slow start and injury issues led to a shake-up as top scorers Trevor Cox and Cole Sanford were both traded away. They were 12 points out of the playoffs before a dramatic late season that brought them into a tiebreaker game with Edmonton at home, but they just missed out on completing the comeback.

What Lies Ahead: The Tigers forwards look pretty decent for the future with Max Gerlach and Mason Shaw coming back and sniper Gary Haden playing full-time next year after he was acquired from Regina. The defence and goaltending will have a different look to it but with some of the top teams in the Central dropping off a bit, Medicine Hat should return to the playoffs once again.

Parker Bowles

Tri-City Americans (35-24-2-1 – 5th in US Division/9th in Western Conference – Eliminated on March 18th)

What I Predicted: This isn’t a roster that looks exciting on paper but Tri-City has a pretty solid squad.

What Actually Happened: It was a pretty decent year for the Americans and they were able to bounce back after a slow start. In the end though, only a scant two points kept Tri-City out of the playoffs for the first time in over a decade.

What Lies Ahead: Parker Bowles and Brandon Carlo are both moving on and those will be tough holes to fill. At the same time Evan Sarthou and Parker Wotherspoon might be two of the biggest assets on the trade market next January if the Americans are in trouble. With all that said, younger players like Michael Rasmussen, Jusso Valimaki and incoming prospect Carson Focht might allow Tri-City to return to the playoffs.

Red Deer Rebels v Calgary Hitmen

As the Red Deer Rebels begin their quest to a win a Memorial Cup on home ice, they will do so without veteran forward Conner Bleackley as he’s out for the playoffs after undergoing wrist surgery.

It’s been a star-crossed season for the High River, Alberta native, who had 46 points in 55 games. He was removed ast the Rebels captain in October in favour of Wyatt Johnson, missed a few weeks with a kneecap injury and has his NHL rights dealt to the Arizona Coyotes by the Colorado Avalanche, who took him in the first round in 2014. It’s expected that the Coyotes won’t sign him and he’ll go back into the NHL draft.

It’s a rare occurrence that a first round pick doesn’t get signed by his NHL team, and especially one from the CHL. The most recent example I could find was Philippe Paradis, who was drafted 27th overall by Carolina in 2009 from Shawinigan and had rights dealt to Toronto for Jiri Tlusty a few months later with the Maple Leafs then signing him to a contract. At this point, Paradis has yet to make it to the NHL and is now with the Syracuse Crunch.

The same thing happened to Angelo Esposito, who was thought at one time to be the top pick in the 2007 NHL Draft while he was playing with Quebec. He ended up getting picked 20th overall by Pittsburgh but was dealt to Atlanta for Marian Hossa at the 2008 trade deadline. The Thrashers signed him that summer, but he never played in the NHL and is now playing in Italy.

You have to go all the way back to 2002 to find a junior player who was taken in the first round and went back into the draft two years later. Hull Olympiques import defenceman Martin Vagner was taken 26th overall by Dallas that year but was not signed. He was then taken in the 9th round two years by Carolina but ended up going back to Europe and never played in the NHL. Here’s hoping Bleackley’s future turns out better than that.

WHL East Division Predictions

Brandon Edmonton

1) Brandon Wheat Kings vs. Wild Card 2) Edmonton Oil Kings

Last Playoff Meeting: 2015 (Brandon won 4-1 in the East Quarter-Finals – Edmonton last beat Brandon 4-1 in the 2014 East Semifinals)

Season Series: Edmonton 3-1

Prediction: Brandon in 4 (Edmonton barely got into the playoffs through the tiebreaker game while Brandon has been destroying everything in their path as of late. This one might not be close.)

Prince Albert Moose Jaw

2) Prince Albert Raiders vs. 3) Moose Jaw Warriors

Last Playoff Meeting: 1999 (Prince Albert won 4-1 in the East Semifinals. – Prince Albert also won 4-0 in the East Quarter-Finals back in 1992. – The two clubs also played in East Division playoff round-robin in 1986. Prince Albert and Moose Jaw both advanced to the quarter-finals with 9-1 and 4-6 records respectively.)

Season Series: Moose Jaw 6-2

Prediction: Moose Jaw in 6 (Prince Albert is a hard-working team that doesn’t quit but Moose Jaw has arguably the best one-two tandem on offence in the entire league with Dryden Hunt and Brayden Point. There’s no one on Prince Albert that can match that and that might make the difference.

WHL Central Division Predictions

Lethbridge Regina

1) Lethbridge Hurricanes vs. Wild Card 1) Regina Pats

Last Playoff Meeting: 1996 (Regina won 4-0 in the East Quarter-Finals – The Pats won the only other playoff meeting between the two teams 3-1 in the 1993 East Quarter-Finals)

Season Series: Regina 3-1

Playoff Prediction: Lethbridge in 6 (This is quite an interesting matchup, and not just because Regina won a wild 9-8 affair a month ago. With leading scorer Adam Brooks, overage sniper Cole Sanford and draft eligible forward Sam Steel, the Pats have a number of offensive weapons that can find the back of the net. However, the Hurricanes have been expected to fall back to the earth all year long and it would be foolish to bet against them now.)

Red Deer Calgary

2) Red Deer Rebels vs. 3) Calgary Hitmen

Last Playoff Meeting: 2013 (Calgary won 4-1 in the East Semifinals – Red Deer last beat Calgary 4-3 in the 2004 East Quarter-Finals)

Season Series: Calgary 4-3

Prediction: Red Deer in 7 (This one’s a toss-up, especially as Red Deer is still without starting netminder Rylan Toth who is out with a high ankle sprain. With that said, I think the additions the Rebels made ahead of this year’s Memorial Cup will allow them to get through in the end. At any rate, this series has to go at least six games so that the Hitmen can host two games at the old Stampede Corral.

WHL BC Division Predictions

Victoria Spokane

1) Victoria Royals vs. Wild Card 2) Spokane Chiefs

Last Playoff Meeting: 2014 (Victoria won 4-0 in the West Quarter-Finals in their own postseason meeting to date – Spokane won 4-1 over the Chilliwack Chiefs in the 2011 West Quarter-Finals. The Chiefs moved to Victoria after the season.)

Season Series: Split 2-2

Prediction: Victoria in 4 (Spokane does have some nice weapons but they are coming off of a long injury crisis. With the speed that Victoria possesses, it might be a rough go for the Chiefs.)

Kamloops Blazers v Kelowna Rockets

2) Kelowna Rockets vs. 3) Kamloops Blazers

Last Playoff Meeting: 2013 (Kamloops won 4-0 in the West Semifinals – Kelowna last beat Kamloops 4-0 in the 2009 West Quarter-Finals)

Season Series: Kelowna 5-3

Prediction: Kelowna in 6 (With Nick Merkley and Jackson Whistle both out with injuries and the Blazers possessing one of the best goalies in the WHL in Connor Ingram, there’s actually a good chance that Kamloops can pull off the upset. However, with all the experience that Kelowna has, I think they should be able to pull this one out.)

WHL US Division Predictions

Seattle Prince George

1) Seattle Thunderbirds vs. Wild Card 1) Prince George Cougars

Last Playoff Meeting: 2003 (Seattle won 4-1 in the West Quarter-Finals – Prince George last beat Seattle 3-0 in the 2000 West Semifinal)

Season Series: Split 2-2

Prediction: Seattle in 5 (If Prince George is back to their form from earlier this season they might give Seattle a scare. If that isn’t the case, I think Seattle will advance with ease.)

Everett Portland

2) Everett Silvertips vs. 3) Portland Winterhawks

Last Playoff Meeting: 2015 (Portland won 4-1 in the West Semifinals – Everett last beat Portland 4-3 in the 2005 West Quarter-Finals)

Season Series: Split 5-5

Prediction: Everett in 5 (The biggest question mark before this series begins is the status of Silvertips goaltender Carter Hart who is out with a lower body injury. With that said, Portland has been so hit or miss this year that it might not make a major difference.)


The Punkari Brothers 2016 Women’s Worlds Preview

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Written By Lucas Punkari (with cameos by Brett Punkari)

When you look at the Curling scene in Canada, two things stand out. On the women’s side, there’s a hierarchy of top teams (led by a big four now of Chelsea Carey, Rachel Homan, Jennifer Jones and Val Sweeting) then everyone else battling it out. On the men’s side, there’s 10-15 that have a legitimate shot of winning a major event in this country, and that’s not including the strong junior rinks like Matt Dunstone and Tanner Horgan.

Those roles are flip-flopped on the world stage. While the Brier champ usually has to battle it out with Niklas Edin of Sweden or Norway’s Thomas Ulsrud and his magical pants in recent years on the men’s stage, the women’s champion from Canada has to deal of a ton of strong rinks in order to win it all. There’s a reason why Canada hasn’t won a gold medal since 2008 (though they came pretty close in 2011 with Amber Holland, 2014 with Homan and last year with Jones).

This bring us to this week’s Women’s Worlds in Swift Current. The last time we here marked the end of the Jennifer Jones rink with Cathy Overton-Clapham at third, Cecilia Ostlund’s apparent breakout for Sweden (which has happened yet) and Eve Muirhead almost winning a gold medal at 19 years of age over Andrea Schopp of Germany. Here’s how we see this year’s event playing out.

1) Russia – Moskvitch Curling Club (Moscow)

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Skip – Anna Sidorova, Third – Margarita Fomina, Second – Alexandra Raeva, Lead – Nkeiruka Ezekh, Alternate – Alina Kovaleva

Grand Slam Record: 6-9 (DNQ, Quarter-Finalist and Quarter-Finalist)

This year really feels like it’s Sidorova’s time to break out on the World Stage. Having won the bronze medal at the last two worlds, making her first Grand Slam finals at the 2015 Players Championship and winning a second European title this winter, everything is there for Russia to make it to the finals for the first time and win a medal. Sidorova’s bounced back nicely from a rough showing in Sochi and might be the skip to beat at the 2018 Olympics if this upward trend continues.

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1) Russia – Anna Sidorova

Sidorova has constantly been improving every single year since she made it to the worlds in 2010. After winning her second European Championship earlier this season, she looks primed to win her first world title.

2) Scotland – Dunkeld Curling Club (Pitlochry)

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Skip – “Scottish Curling Heroine” Eve Muirhead, Third – Anna Sloan “Sloan Dog”, Second – Vicki Adams, Lead – Sarah Reid, Alternate (not pictured) – Rachel Hannen

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

Okay, let’s be honest, I want Eve to win it all. She’s my favourite curler on the planet and I’m going to be cheering her on in person on Wednesday when she plays Russia and Switzerland. She hasn’t had the most dominant of years on the World Curling Tour, but she surprisingly has the best record of everyone in this event in the Grand Slams this year. I feel Sidorova has the momentum on her side, but Eve has made it to the finals in her second and fourth trips to the Worlds. This marks trip number six for her, so the trend might continue.

Las Vegas Nevada, Jan15, 2016.World Financial Group Continental Cup of Curling 2016. Team World skip Eve Muirhead (Scotland) third Anna Sloan, second Vicki Adams, lead Sarah Reid. Curling Canada/ michael burns photo

2) Scotland – Eve Muirhead

Eve has always been near the top of the world teams and she should be in the mix once again this year. However her success is going to depend mostly on the shooting ability of Anna Sloan. If she’s on her game, they’ll be in the finals for sure, but if she struggles they might be in trouble.

3) Canada – The Glencoe Club (Calgary)

TeamCanadaW

Skip – Chelsea “The Annihilator” Carey, Third – Amy Nixon, Second – Jocelyn Peterman, Lead – Laine Peters, Alternate (not pictured) – Susan O’Connor

Grand Slam Record – 7-9 (DNQ, DNQ, Semi-Finalist)

With the way that she performed during the Scotties a month ago, Carey enters this week playing the best that she’s ever had. With a strong team and the home crowd on her side, she can complete her dream season and end Canada’s losing streak that has lasted since 2008. However, it’s always tough to win the Worlds after a dominant performance at the Scotties. Look what happened over recent years with Jennifer Jones and Rachel Homan.

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3) Canada – Chelsea Carey

As Lucas said, Chelsea Carey is trying to become the first Canadian team since 2008 to win the world womens title. They have a good shot at it, especially with how she’s playing at the moment, but this week might end up like how Rachel Homan’s first trip to the Worlds went in 2013 when she picked up a bronze medal. 

4) Switzerland – Flims Curling Club

switzerland

Skip – Binia Feltscher, Third – Irene Schori, Second – Franziska Kaufmann, Lead – Christine Urech, Alternate – Carole Howald

Grand Slam Record: 3-9 (DNQ, DNQ, DNQ)

Having won three of the last four World Championships with three different skips, Switzerland can easily lay claim to having the best depth of any country in the world on the women’s side. They really should be showing their playdowns on television.

After two straight stunning wins for Feltscher and Alina Paetz, the 2014 champion has returned. Her season hasn’t been all that great on the World Curling Tour, which is why I have them in fourth, but this is Switzerland. If your betting against to not make the playoffs your playing with fire.

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4) Switzerland – Binia Feltscher

Switzerland can basically pick a team at random and they would be a podium threat at this event. Feltscher shocked everyone in 2014 by winning the Worlds, which included two rather convincing wins over Rachel Homan. Although she had a terrible year on the Grand Slam circuit, you should never ever count Feltscher or any Swiss team out of the mix at the worlds. 

5) Sweden – Skelleftea Curling Club

sweden

Fourth – Maria Prytz, Third – Christina Bertrup, Second – Maria Wennerstrom, Skip – Margaretha Sigfridsson (throws lead stones), Alternate – Agnes Kochenhauer

Grand Slam Record – 2-7 (DNQ, DNQ)

Of all the teams that you would consider to be a playoff contender, this is the one I feel has the biggest chance to crash and burn. After two silver medal results in 2012 and 2013 and a silver medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics, the veteran Swedish rink lost a tiebreaker game at the 2014 Worlds to South Korea and were 5-6 in Japan last year. I think they’ll be in the mix this week in Swift Current, despite a bad showing on the Grand Slam circuit this year, but if they struggle it might be time to see what Anna Hasselborg and Cecilia Ostlund can do on the world stage.

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5) Sweden – Margaretha Sigfridsson

Sigfridsson has been more known for being the Glenn Howard of women’s curling at the moment as she’s been the runner-up at the Worlds and the Olympics. As of late, she’s fallen on hard times and has been struggling in big events. She is a playoff contender but this rink is not as good as it was in the past few years.

6) United States – Madison Curling Club

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Skip – Erika Brown, Third – Allison Pottinger, Second – Nicole Joraanstad, Lead – Natalie Nicholson, Alternate (not pictured) – Tabitha Peterson

Grand Slam Record – N/A

Hey look, the team that actually won the American playdowns are the team that will be at the Worlds. What a concept! (This will be explained more in our men’s preview). With Brown and Pottinger together, this is a team that might surprise people this week. United States curling hasn’t been the best lately, but this is a rink that can easily sneak into the medal discussion with their pedigree.

2014 Winter Olympic Games - Season 2014

6) United States – Erika Brown

Erika Brown’s squad has basically been the best team from the States since Debbie McCormick was in the medal hunt around a decade. In face, Brown had McCormick on her rink in 2014 for the Olympics, but that went horribly wrong. With Pottinger on board, this is probably one of the biggest wildcards in this year’s field.

7) Japan – Tokoro Curling Club (Kitami)

TeamJapan

Skip – Satsuki Fujisawa, Third – Chinami Yoshida, Second – Yumi Suzuki, Lead – Yurika Yoshida, Alternate – Mari Motohashi

Grand Slam Record – N/A

While not as impressive as Switzerland, Japan is another rink that has been solid over the years, especially with Ayumi Ogasawara’s results over the last couple of years. Fujisawa is part of the next wave of international curlers and while she doesn’t play as much as the other bigger names on the tour, she should have a solid week.

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7) South Korea – Ji-Sun Kim

Ji-Sun Kim made a huge splash four years ago in Lethbridge when she made it to the playoffs and beat Heather Nedohin in the 3 vs. 4 game before she lost the rematch to the Canadian rink in the bronze medal game. She repeated that playoff trip in 2014 but lost the bronze medal game again, this time to Russia. After a bad 2015 she has returned to the Worlds after beating Eun-Jung Kim, who has played in the slams this year. With that said,  I’m not sure if she will replicate her performance from her last two trips to this event.

8) Finland – Aland Curling Club (Eckero)

finland

Skip – Oona Kauste, Third – Milja Hellsten, Second – Maija Salmiovirta, Lead – Marjo Hippi, Alternate – Jenni Rasanen

Grand Slam Record – N/A

The sister of Finnish men’s skip Aku, the younger Kauste broke out on the women’s scene with a bronze medal win at the European Championships over Denmark. She actually had a 5-0 lead after three ends in the semifinals before eventually losing to Eve Muirhead in a wild affair. I expect her to be in the middle of the pack in Swift Current, but don’t be surprised if she pulls off a couple of upsets.

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8) Japan – Satsuki Fujisawa

Fujisawa has been to the Worlds once before in 2013 where she finished in 7th place. She has gained more experience since then so it will be interesting to see how much she has improved in the last three years.

9) South Korea – Gyeonggi-Do Curling Club (Uijeongbu)

korea

Fourth – Un-Chi Gim, Third – Seul-Bee Lee, Second – Min-Ji Um, Skip – Ji-Sun Kim (throws lead stones), Alternate – Yoon-Jung Yeom

Grand Slam Record: N/A

Out of all the rinks in this field, this is the one I can’t make heads or tails of. Yes, South Korea have made the playoffs in their last two trips to Canada for the Worlds but they have done next to nothing since then. With all that, and the field that’s here, it’s hard for me to put them any higher than this. Also, Kim throwing lead stones is an interesting move.

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9) Finland – Oona Kauste

Kauste has already made a big splash this year as she won the bronze medal at the European Championships. In her first Worlds appearance as a skip, it’s going to be really interesting to see how things go for her. She might surprise everyone again or she could have a very tough week. It’s tough to say.

10) Denmark – Hvidovre Curling Club

denmark

Skip – Lene Nielsen, Third – Stephanie Risdal, Second – Isabella Clemmensen, Lead – Charlotte Clemmensen, Alternate – Madeleine Dupont

Grand Slam Record: N/A

I really shouldn’t have Denmark in 10th, they have one of the Dupont sisters making a cameo. My biggest reason for this is track record more than anything. Yes Nielsen almost won a bronze in 2011, but she hasn’t been close to the medal hunt since. Her fourth place result at the Europeans might be a sign of future success, but I just don’t see it happening in this week’s event.

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10) Denmark – Lene Nielsen

Like Lucas said earlier, Nielsen is back and has been okay over the years, but to be honest she hasn’t a ton of success in recent trips to the Worlds. This biggest goal for her this year might be to just get things on track for Denmark.

11) Germany – Fussen Curling Club

germany

Skip – Daniela Dreindl, Third – Analena Jentsch, Second – Marika Trettin, Lead – Pia-Lisa Scholl, Alternate – Maike Beer

Grand Slam Record: N/A

How great is that alternate name! She and Jamie Koe would be the best mixed doubles pair ever. Dreindl has the tough task of trying to match the success of Andrea Schopp on the Worlds stage, including her 2010 title win in Swift Current. I’m pretty she won’t be in the mix this week, but stranger things have happened.

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11) Germany – Daniela Dreindl

Daniela Driendl has been to the Euros before and she had a 4-7 record at last year’s Worlds, but she is trying to follow the success of Andrea Schopp which has to be tough. Time will tell how Germany will do in the future but it might be a tough week for this squad. 

12) Italy – Tofane Curling Club (Cortina d’Ampezzo)

italy

Skip – Federica Apollonio, Third – Stefania Menardi, Second – Chiara Olivieri, Lead – Maria Gaspari, Alternate – Claudia Alvera

Grand Slam Record – N/A

There’s always one rink in the field that I really don’t have a single clue about and this year it’s Italy. The men’s rink did stun Niklas Edin last year in Halifax so maybe Apollonio can do the same this week in Swift Current. Hopefully it won’t come at Eve Muirhead’s expense.

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12) Italy – Federica Apollonio

This is the biggest unknown in this year’s Worlds. Italy has not had a lot of success in recent years, though they did pull off some stunning upsets in 2012 when Diana Gaspari defeated Heather Nedohin, Anna Sidorova and Bingyu Wang. However, I don’t see anything like that happening this year.


The Punkari Brothers 2016 Brier Review

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Written by Brett Punkari (with cameos by Lucas Punkari)

This year’s Tim Hortons Brier in Ottawa had one of the most stacked fields yet and it had the potential to top last year’s chaos in Calgary. In the end, it was not quite as good as last year’s Brier, but it a lot of great shot making and a very emotional moment when Craig Savill returned to the ice while battling cancer and threw two perfect shots in the final round robin game for Team Ontario

Kevin Koe, Ben Hebert, Brent Laing, Marc Kennedy

Champion – Alberta (Kevin Koe)

What a difference a year makes. In their second year together, the team that many people believe are the favorites for the 2017 Olympic Trials have officially arrived. Koe and crew came into this year’s Brier with a much better season than in their debut campaign, as they had the best record on the WCT among the rinks that made the Brier and they had also won the Canada Cup.

They went into the playoffs kind of under the radar as the third seed after close losses to Ontario and Newfoundland & Labrador, while a burned rock from Brent Laing led to a defeat to Northern Ontario. They had a great performance in the 3 vs. 4 game against Manitoba, got some lucky breaks against Northern Ontario in the semi, but they turned up the wick tenfold with a spectacular performance in the championship final. It will be interesting how this lineup will do in at the world later this year in Switzerland as Kevin has some unfinished business after a fourth place result in 2014.

They weren’t super sharp in the round-robin and Koe was there for the taking in the semis against Northern Ontario, but their showing in the final proved that this is the rink to beat in Canada for the next few years. The Worlds might be a different story (especially with that Niklas Edin fellow) but Koe stands a good chance of giving Canada their first men’t title since 2012. They’ll be back at the Brier next year, but how Koe will do in an odd numbered year is anyone’s guess.

Team Stats

Lead – Ben Hebert – 1st – 94%

Second – Brent Laing – 1st – 92%

Vice – Marc Kennedy – 3rd – 92%

Skip – Kevin Koe – 4th – 89%

Team – Tied for 1st – 92%

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Runner-Up – Newfoundland and Labrador (Brad Gushue)

Another year and unfortunately another Brier disappointment for Brad Gushue as he made his second final appearance, came out flat early and never recovered. There was a bit of a feeling that he would finally pull it off considering he got the better of Northern Ontario in the 1 vs. 2 game and he did have a round robin win over Alberta. Instead, two steals early in the final and a spectacular performance from Alberta left Gushue on the outside looking in once again. Now should he win the Newfoundland provincials next year you can bet he will do anything and everything to get that elusive title at home.

I really though this was Brad’s year, but I feel like I’ve said that the last couple of seasons. He was solid all week and finally got the upper hand on Brad Jacobs in the playoffs, but an average showing against a red-hot Kevin Koe in the final was too much to overcome, along with that hot mess that was the seventh end. With the Brier taking place in St. John’s next year, the pressure will be immense for Gushue to finally break through at win Newfoundland’s first title since 1976.

Team Stats

Lead – Geoff Walker -Tied for 6th – 91%

Second – Brett Gallant – 4th – 90%

Vice – Mark Nichols -2nd – 92%

Skip – Brad Gushue – 2nd – 92%

Team – Tied for 3rd – 91%

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Bronze Medalist – Northern Ontario (Brad Jacobs)

This year’s Brier has pretty much summed up the 2015-2016 season thus far for Brad Jacobs and company. They went through the round robin undefeated and seemed to have all the luck with them as well with a final stone miss from Glenn Howard in the battle of Ontario and Brent Laing’s burnt stone in the Alberta game. That’s not to say they weren’t shooting very well in round robin as three of the four players had all-star awards.

Then when the playoffs rolled around, things went south. One bad end in the 1 vs. 2 game and a string of missed opportunites in the semi-final proved to be their downfall. They did manage to salvage their week with a bronze medal but just barely. Though they have to disappointed with the outcome of this week, Team Jacobs looks to be back on track for the rest of the season.

Just like last year, a couple of missed opportunities led to the Jacobs rink missing out on a Brier title. After the ninth end mishap in Calgary against Pat Simmons, the seventh end tire fire against Gushue and Jacobs missing out on a couple of chances to score multiple points on Koe proved to be their undoing. Like Brett said though, things seem to be back on track for the defending Olympic champions and they should be a top team once again next year. 

Team Stats

Lead – Ryan Harnden – 4th – 92%

Second – E.J Harnden – 2nd – 92%

Vice – Ryan Fry – 1st – 93%

Skip – Brad Jacobs – 1st – 93%

Team – Tied for 1st – 92%

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Fourth Place – Manitoba – Mike McEwen

After finally getting over the provincial hump, Mike McEwen had a pretty good showing in his first Brier appearance. Of course it was a bit of a learning experience with the crowds and the noise, which is something he was not used not even though he has been in arenas many times. The Brier is always a different beast compared to the Grand Slams, so if he makes it back to the Brier next year he can be a legit title threat.

During one of the post-game scrums, Mike mentioned how being at the Brier was the next step in the team’s progression as they had to experience everything that goes with the week-long event. Now that they’ve been to the event, and provided their previous provincial mishaps are a thing of the past, they will more than likely be in the mix for a spot in the finals next year depending on how the field looks. 

Team Stats

Lead – Denni Neufeld – 2nd – 94%

Second – Matt Wozniak – 7th – 88%

Vice – B.J Neufeld – 4th – 91%

Skip – Mike McEwen – 3rd – 89%

Team – Tied for 3rd – 91%

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

Biggest Surprise – New Brunswick (Mike Kennedy)

We expected a very rough outing for Mike Kennedy in his return to the Brier considering how stacked the field was. Although he only won three games he did pull an upset on veteran Steve Laycock and kept all of his games close with the only exception being a 10-5 blowout loss to Northern Ontario. With his performance, New Brunswick was well above the relegation zone and will be back next year.

Like Jeremy Mallais a year ago, Mike Kennedy proved us wrong again. Since New Brunswick rinks hardly play the big events on the men’s (except for the occasional cameo by James Grattan and junior player Rene Comeau) it’s easy to pick them to go down into the pre-qualifying wrong. With these two showings though, I may have to think twice before next year’s Brier. Though I’d probably still pick Jamie Koe ahead of whoever the New Brunswick champs

Team Stats

Lead – Jamie Brannen – Tied for 10th – 86%

Second – Marc LeCocq – 10th – 85%

Vice – Scott Jones – 11th – 82%

Skip – Mike Kennedy – 9th – 83%

Team – 10th – 84%

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Biggest Disappointment -British Columbia (Jim Cotter)

Coming into the Brier, Jim Cotter was having a career season as a skip as he won the season opening Tier 2 Challenge event and he made his first televised Grand Slam final. Instead, Cotter had his worst performance as a skip at the Brier as he was pushed to the brink before winning his last round-robin game over New Brunswick to get in the main field. He has had two playoff appearances at Brier, but that’s when he was a vice and last stone thrower with Bob Ursel in 2008 and he had the same role in 2014 when he won a silver medal with John Morris. He has never made the playoffs as a skip and that might be a cause for concern if your a BC fan going forward.

Team Stats

Lead – Rick Sawatsky – 5th – 91%

Second – Tyrell Griffith – 5th – 90%

Vice – Ryan Kuhn – 10th – 85%

Skip – Jim Cotter – Tied for 11th – 80%

Team – 9th – 86%

Adam Casey

I’m going to go with a different choice than Brett and select Adam Casey as my disappointment of the week. After a decent debut as a skip a year ago with a 5-6 record, I thought Casey would do well enough to avoid relegation. Instead, some rough showings (other than an upset over Team Canada) have left Prince Edwards Island in the pre-qualifying event next year. Although I think Casey will be able to get out of that if he returns, he’ll be in tough against whoever the Nova Scotia rink is.

Team Stats

Lead – Robbie Doherty – Tied for 10th – 86%

Second – Anson Carmody – 11th – 84%

Vice – David Mathers – 12th – 81%

Skip – Adam Casey – Tied for 11th – 80%

Team – 12th – 82%

Award Winners

Ottawa Ont.Mar 12, 2016.Tim Hortons Brier.Brier First Allstar Team (L-R) Canadian Curling Reporters Gerry Geurts, lead Denni Neufeld (Manitoba), Second Brent Laing (Alberta), third Ryan Fry (N.Ontario), skip Brad Jacobs (N.Ontario), Curling Canada Peter I

First Team All Stars

Lead – Denni Neufeld – Manitoba

Second – Brent Laing – Alberta

Vice – Ryan Fry – Northern Ontario

Skip – Brad Jacobs – Northern Ontario

Ottawa Ont.Mar 12, 2016.Tim Hortons Brier.Brier 2nd. Team Allstars, (L-R) Canadian Curling Reporters Gerry Geurts, lead Ben Hebert, second E.J.Harnden, third Mark Nichols, skip Brad Gushue, Curling Canada's Peter Inch, michael burns photo

Second Team All Stars

Lead – Ben Hebert – Alberta

Second – E.J Harnden – Northern Ontario

Vice – Mark Nichols – Newfoundland and Labrador

Skip – Brad Gushue – Newfoundland and Labrador

Ottawa Ont.Mar 12, 2016.Tim Hortons Brier.Ross Hartsone Award B.C. second Tyrel Griffith, Curling Canada's Peter Inch,Curling Canada/ michael burns photo

Ross Harstone Sportsmanship Award

Tyrel Griffith – British Columbia

Ottawa Ont.Mar 13, 2016.Tim Hortons Brier.Alberta skip Kevin Koe, Curling Canada/ michael burns photo

Hec Gervais Playoff MVP Award

Kevin Koe – Alberta

Punkari Brothers Shot Of The Week

Jamie Koe – Northwest Territories – Double Runback Triple Takeout in Draw 6 vs Alberta


The Punkari Brothers 2016 Brier Preview

 

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Written by Brett Punkari (with cameos by Lucas Punkari)

Last year we thought we had one the most stacked fields in recent memory. Well this year’s Tim Hortons Brier could have the potential of one of the craziest in years with as many as nine teams with a legitimate shot at winning the tankard. This preview will be the same as the Scotties, but don’t be surprised if these predictions are way off.

A brief note before we make our picks. While I’m just as pumped up as Brett is for this year’s Brier, it’s going to take a lot to top last year’s tournament. I mean, you had Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario all missing the playoffs, a bevy of wild finishes, a crazy playoff and the incredible comeback of Team Canada winning the whole event. I have no idea how this year will match that but it might come close, especially with the level of play that will be on display.

 

1) Alberta – The Glencoe Club (Calgary)

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Lineup – Skip – Kevin Koe, Vice – ‘Best in the World’ Marc Kennedy,  Second – Brent Laing “Lainger”, Lead – “Benny Heebz” Ben Hebert

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

I’m already questioning my picks and this is just the winner. Anyway, Team Koe is having a much better season in their second year together and Kevin seems to have gotten his mojo back as well. Not only they have won a Grand Slam event earlier this year but they also have won the only CCA event this year, the Canada Cup. They also made a bit of a lineup change as now Marc Kennedy calls the line in the house instead of Brent Laing when Kevin throws his stones. This team has also made playoffs in every single event they have attended, though they had to get by a pesky Charlie Thomas in the Alberta playdowns. Like I said this team has definitely come together with the lineup switch and they have worked out all the kinks after their first season. This will be a tough team to stop.

2015, Calgary Ab, Tim Hortons Brier, N.L. skip Brad Gushue, lead Geoff Walker, second Brett Gallant, Curling Canada/michael burns photo

1) Newfoundland & Labrador (Brad Gushue)

Well Brett and I are already in a disagreement over this year’s Brier picks. I feel like I say this every year, but I really feel like this is Gushue’s year. The best skip yet to win a national championship, Gushue has had yet another stellar season on the World Curling Tour. With the 2017 Brier taking place in St. John’s, Brad has some extra motivation to win his first title and have two Newfoundland rink competing on home turf next March.

2) Newfoundland and Labrador – Bally Hally Golf and Curling Club (St. John’s)

 

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Skip – Brad ‘Concussion Head’ Gushue, Vice – Mark “Bam Bam” Nicholls, Second – Brett Gallant, Lead – Geoff Walker

Grand Slam Record – 20-5 (Runner-Up, Quarter Finalist, Champion and Runner-Up)

If you want to give thanks or wave a finger at someone for bringing in the controversial directional brushing, it’s this team. Brad Gushue brought the directional brushing out at the first Grand Slam event (the Tier 1 challenge) which caught everyone off guard. He has taken advantage of this situation with the best record in terms of Grand Slam events and the have made playoffs in all but one event. That event, however, was the Canada Cup when the rest of the field had caught up to them with directional brushing.

Now Gushue is definitely among the favorites to win in it all, however the even numbered years have not been good to him as he failed to make the playoffs in 2010, 2012 and 2014. Howeverm don’t be surprised if he finally wins it all this year and if he does the 2017 Brier in St.John’s will be  a massive party.

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2) Alberta (Kevin Koe)

The 2015 Brier was an out and out disaster for the new look Koe rink but the changes to this year’s rink with Kennedy calling the line has made them look like the odds-on favourite for the 2018 Olympics like many expect them to be. Koe’s always strong in the even number years at the Brier as he won it all in 2010 and 2014, and he was the runner-up to Glenn Howard in 2012. Expect this squad to do much better this year than they did in Calgary. 

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

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

Grand Slam Record – 11-9 (Quarter-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist and DNQ)

As we mentioned in the Northern Ontario preview, this season is not one that Team Jacobs would like to put in their scrapbook as a good one. The trend seems to be that the team would come out of the gates strong but then would crash and burn come playoff time or at the end of round robin, which had been the case in the Grand Slams. They also DNQ’ed at the Canada Cup as they were still getting used to the directional brushing.

Now they did win the TSN Skins game, and perhaps things could be turning around, but it’s hard to tell. However I would never count this team out when it comes to the Brier. If they find that spark that lights the fire underneath them and get their mojo back, watch out. Perhaps Brad growing the Ginger Beard helps as well.

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3) Northern Ontario (Brad Jacobs)

Who doesn’t love the Ginger Beard. The 2015-16 season hasn’t been the best one for Team Jacobs, but this is the defending Olympic champions and they were pretty close to winning their second Brier in three years last season. It’s going to be tough with Gushue and Koe playing really well this season, but Jacobs has a good a shot as anyone to win a second Brier title.

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 – 12-9 (Semi-Finalist, Champion, DNQ and DNQ)

Well it finally happened, Mike McEwen finally won Manitoba and got that elusive Brier bert. This season, he got off to another McEwen like start on tour, including a win at the Masters. Then after a runner up at the Canada Cup things kind of fell off with two consecutive DNQ’s in the Grand Slams. However he picked it up when it mattered the most at the provincials, beating a very tough Canadian Junior champion in Matt Dunstone. McEwen has been one of the top teams in the country for many years but has never made it to the big dance and now he can finally show why Vic Rauter called him “Magic Mike”. Don’t be surprised if he wins the whole thing in his first appearance.

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4) Manitoba (Mike McEwen)

Having shed the title of best skip yet to play in the Brier (and handing it to Ontario’s John Epping in the process), McEwen enters this week as one of the odds-on favourite to win it all. However, I’m always of the opinion that you have to lose a Brier before you can win one as it’s such a different animal than every other event you compete in. He’ll have a great showing and should easily make it into the playoffs.

5) Team Canada – The Glencoe Club (Calgary)

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Skip – ‘Postman’ Pat Simmons, Vice – “Johnny Mo” John Morris, Second – Carter Rycroft, Lead – Nolan Thiessen, Alternate – Tom Sallows

Grand Slam Record – 5-8 (DNQ, Quarter-Finalist, DNQ – Competed in three slams)

We have not heard a lot from the defending Brier champions this season as they once again have been playing on a limited schedule. Their performances early in the year were a little hit and miss, though they almost made the playoffs at the Canada Cup. It looks like they are starting to pick up their game as they picked up a win at the Golden Wrench classic. It may be odd to pick the defending champs in fifth but then again I doubted this team last year as well when they were on a limited schedule.

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5) Team Canada (Pat Simmons)

A year after the most improbable Brier triumph in recent years, Simmons is the full-time skip this season. Like Brett said, they haven’t played that well compared to the four favourites on the tour this year, but we said the same thing a year ago. With the talent that this squad has, I can easily see them force a tiebreaker game on Friday. 

6) Saskatchewan – Nutana Curling Club (Saskatoon) 

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Skip – Steve Laycock, Vice – Kirk Muyres, Second – Colton Flasch “Gordon Saviour Of The Universe”,  Lead – Dallan Muyres

Grand Slam Record – 8-13 (DNQ, Semi Finalist, DNQ and Quarter Finalist)

Last year was a career season for Steve Laycock as he made his first Grand Slam final and he also made the podium winning Bronze at the Tim Hortons Brier, where he had a really good shot of making it to the final. This year has been an up and down one for Laycock. Yes, he did make it to the semis at the Masters, but he also went winless at The National and he did not have a good showing at the Canada Cup.  It is kind of hard to tell how things will go for Laycock this time around at the Brier considering the year he has been having.

2015, Calgary Ab, Tim Hortons Brier, Saskatchwan skip Steve Laycock, third Kirk Muyres, Curling Canada/michael burns photo

 

6) Saskatchewan (Steve Laycock)

With his bronze medal result in Calgary, Laycock is no longer flying in under the radar going into this year’s Brier. Although he hasn’t been as strong as the other teams in this field on the cash circuit, this is another rink that seems to play better against the very best and they could also force a tiebreaker game. 

7) Ontario – St. George’s Golf and Country Club (Etobicoke)

ONteam

Skip – Glenn Howard, Vice – Richard Hart “Surgeon”, Second – Adam Spencer, Lead – Scott Howard

Grand Slam Record – 9-10 (Quarter Finalist, DNQ, Semi Finalist, DNQ)

In what was pretty much the curling match of the year so far, Glenn Howard won an epic 10 end war over John Epping to win the Ontario title. He has overcome a lot of adversity as well. When Wayne Middaugh injured himself in a skiing accident, it forced Richard Hart back to his original vice position and it looks like based upon provincials that they have not missed a beat. Adam Spencer did sub in for Middaugh at a Grand Slam event earlier in the season so he has some experience playing with Glenn, which should help.

Now Glenn has not been the dominate force he once was in the last couple Olympic trial cycles but he’s looking to prove he’ still got some game left even if he is getting up there in terms of age. With that said, it’s going be tough to maintain the podium and playoff streak he has at the Brier.

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7) Quebec (Jean-Michel Menard)

I feel like I say this every year about the 2006 Brier champion, but he’s always in the mix despite not playing a lot of World Curling Tour events. It will be tough to match up with the really good rinks that will be in Ottawa this week, but don’t be surprised if Menard surprises everyone and is in the playoff mix once again.

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

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

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

It’s another Brier appearance for Jean-Michel Menard and like last year he is a bit of a wildcard. He has only played in four events on tour but he has made playoffs in two of those four events. You should never underestimate the former Canadian champion, especially when it comes to your hearing with his loud yelling.

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8) Ontario (Glenn Howard)

Even with no Wayne Middaugh, Howard’s back at the Brier after a couple of years away following a great provincial final win over John Epping. The lineup has jumbled around a little bit and this team’s nowhere near as good as it was during his Brier wins in 2007 and 2012, however this is Glenn Howard, it would be foolish to not pick him to have a good week.

9) British Columbia – Vernon and Kelowna Curling Clubs

TeamBC-2

Skip – Jim ‘Jimmmmmm’ Cotter, Vice – Ryan Kuhn, Second – Tyrell Griffith, Lead – Rick Sawatsky

Grand Slam Record – 13-6 (Champion, Runner-Up, DNQ – Competed in three Slams)

In terms of being a skip, Jim Cotter is having a career season. He won his first Grand Slam title and also made his first TV Grand Slam final as well early in the year, plus he just made  the final at the Golden Wrench Classic. In most of Cotter’s appearances as a skip he has finished around the middle of the pack and he has yet to crack into the playoffs as a skip. Picking him this low might be a bit crazy but it’s tough to rank the middle of the pack in this event with how close it is.

2015, Calgary Ab, Tim Hortons Brier, B.C. skip Jim Cotter, Curling Canada/michael burns photo

9) British Columbia (Jim Cotter)

Like Brett, I feel terrible for ranking Cotter this low. Although John Morris isn’t around anymore after almost helping Cotter with the Olympic Trials and the Brier in 2013-14, this is another skip that is always in the mix. He’s one of the rinks that can be a spoiler in a team’s playoff hopes.

10Prince Edward Island – Charlottetown Curling Complex and Silver Fox Curling & Yacht Club (Summerside)

PEIteam

Skip – Adam Casey, Vice – David Mathers, Second – Anson Carmody, Lead – Robbie Doherty

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

Last year Adam Casey had to fight through the relegation round and he had a fairly respectable showing in his first Brier appearance beating the likes of Team Canada, British Columbia and Manitoba. This year’s he had added David Mathers, who was in the Brier last year with Mark Kean, which should help Casey out quite a bit.

Adam Casey

10) Prince Edward Island (Adam Casey)

Casey can make some wild shots and this is a solid young rink that will be at the Brier for years to come. Although he had a good showing last year, it’s hard to rank him any higher with depth of this year’s field in Ottawa.

11) Northwest Territories – Yellowknife Curling Centre

NWTteamM

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

Grand Slam Record – N/A

“If you want to see Jamie Koe whip the Pre-Qualification fields ass give me a hell yeah”

Crowd: Hell Yeah! (I love this Stone Cold gimmick we’ve given Jamie Koe)

After going winless last year, “The Northwest Rattlesnake” has to “Raise Hell” in the pre-qualification round in what looks to be a battle with Nova Scotia’s Jamie Murphy. If he does make the main field, it will be another very tough task to stay above relegation. Having been there many times before though, he might be able to pull off an upset or two.

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11) Northwest Territories (Jamie Koe)

The mayor of the #Patch is probably who I’m rooting for the most this week. The Brier just  won’t be as fun without him in the main field. Jamie Murphy will be a tough rink to beat, but I think the addition of Chris Schille will allow Koe to qualify and earn the Northwest Territories a spot in the main field for next year’s event in St. John’s. 

 

12) New Brunswick – Grand Falls Curling Club

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

Grand Slam Record – N/A

Boy has Mike Kennedy picked a tough year to make a return to the Brier. He does have a playoff appearance in one of his three Tour events this year, but with the field as stacked as this one it’s going to be very difficult to keep New Brunswick out of the relegation zone. Now granted, we thought Jeremy Mallais was going to finish in last place a year ago but he pulled off two victories to stay out of the relegation zone.

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12) New Brunswick (Mike Kennedy)

Kennedy has made four trips to the Brier in the past, with a pair of 5-6 record in the mid 1990’s being his best showing so far. The third Scott Jones has made a couple of trips to the events and Marc LeCocq was a former member of the Glenn Howard rink. However, like Brett said, this will be a tough task to keep New Brunswick in the main field with who will be in Ottawa. 

13) Nova Scotia – Mayflower Curling Club (Halifax)

NSteamM

 

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

Jamie Murphy’s second appearance at the Brier in 2014 was nothing short of a disaster as he went winless and forced Nova Scotia into the relegation round. Now Murphy has returned to try to bring Nova Scotia back into the main dance and he has a fairly good shot since he’s been to the Brier before. If he does make it expect to see him in the 10th to 12th range.

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13) Nova Scotia (Jamie Murphy)

The other favourite to make out of the relegation round, Murphy will be in tough given Jamie Koe’s strong showings at the Brier. With that said, he has a good chance of making it out and keeping Nova Scotia in the main field when the Brier heads to the East Coast next year in Newfoundland.

14) Yukon – Whitehorse Curling Club

team-YK

Skip – Bob Smallwood, Vice – Jon Solberg, Second – Clint Abel, Lead – Scott Odian

Grand Slam Record – N/A

After losing the pre-qualifying final to PEI in Calgary in an extra end, Smallwood has a brand new lineup this season but it’s going to be really tough with Jamie Koe and Jamie Murphy in the event. He may get to the pre-qualifying final but I don’t see him going further than that.

2015 Calgary Ab, Tim Hortons Brier Pre Qualifier, Yukon skip Bob Smallwood, CCA/michael burns photo

14) Yukon (Bob Smallwood)

If it was any other year, Smallwood would have another good chance of making it to the pre-qualifying final. He’ll give Murphy and Koe a run, but he’ll just miss out on making it as far as he did a year ago.

15) Nunavut – Iqaluit Curling ClubNUteamSkip – Wade Kingdon, Vice – Dennis Masson, Second – Aaron Fraser, Lead – Bruce Morgan, Alternate – Chris West

Grand Slam Record – N/A

Wade Kingdon gets the call as the first Nunavut team in the Tim Hortons Brier. He does have some national curling experience playing in the Canadian Mixed Championships but there is a little bit more pressure on him now, especially with the women’s team winning their first ever game at the Scotties. More than likely, the goal is to keep things close.

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15) Nunavut (Wade Kingdon)

Like Brett said, this is more of an experience weekend for Nunavut in their first Brier trip. If they get a win, that would be amazing, but this is all about getting time on the ice on a national stage and building towards the future. 


The Punkari Brothers 2016 Scotties Review

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Written by Brett Punkari (With Cameos by Lucas Punkari)

Coming into this year’s Scotties, the field was definitely a mixed bag as a lot of the favorites failed to get out of their respective provincials.  The final four teams were not that much of a surprise but the end result was almost a major stunner. There were a lot of times where people were questioning the quality of play at the Scotties, but to put things in perspective, only three of the 15 teams in the field competed in more than one Grand Slam event and those three all made the playoffs.

Champion – Alberta (Chelsea Carey)

2016 Scotties Tournament of Hearts

Chelsea Carey got the ball rolling by thumping the defending champion Jennifer Jones 12-5 in Draw One. Carey and her rink had a pretty smooth round-robin overall, even with a couple of losses to Ontario and Manitoba. They again controlled things against Team Canada in the 1 vs. 2 Page Playoff game, even though the score ended up being closer than it should have been, and they had a rock solid performance when it mattered the most in the championship final.

A couple of years ago some people were questioning Chelsea Carey moving to Alberta after she has just won her first Manitoba title. Well it looks like we won’t be questioning that decision anymore. This is also Amy Nixon’s first Scotties title as a position player, although she did win a Scotties in 2012 as an alternate for Heather Nedohin.

From start to finish Carey was the most consistent skip and Alberta were the rink to beat after their Draw 1 romp of Team Canada. It’s great to finally see Amy Nixon win a Scotties, as she’s one of my favourite players on the women’s side, and this offically puts Carey on the map as one of the top skips in Canada. She’ll look to win the World title now in Swift Current in a couple of weeks, an event that Canada hasn’t won the gold in since 2008. 

Team Percentages

Lead – Laine Peters – 86% – Tied for 3rd

Second – Jocelyn Peterman – 81% – Tied for 5th

Vice – Amy Nixon – 84% – Tied for 2nd

Skip – Chelsea Carey – 84% – 2nd

Team – Alberta – 84% – 2nd

Runner-Up and Biggest Surprise – Northern Ontario (Krista McCarville)

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McCarville The Magician. That’s what people were calling her and the rest of her Northern Ontario rink for pulling wins out of nowhere and also turning into point stealing machines. How many times has this team come back from deficits in the second half of games when they looked down and out? They erased a 7-3 deficit won in an extra end over Nova Scotia in the round-robin, they won after being down 5-2 to Manitoba in the 3 vs. 4 Page Playoff game, and most notably they shocked Jennifer Jones after trailing 4-2 after five ends. Eventually the magic finally ran out in the final, but McCarville was a point away from a stunning upset and the future is definitely bright for the land of the moose.

With McCarville’s wild run and Tracy Fleury almost making the playoff last year, Northern Ontario has a legit case for having two of top 10 teams in the country and two of the top three rinks in all of Ontario besides Rachel Homan’s Ottawa rink. It’s been a few years since the Thunder Bay skip has made noise on the national scene, but hopefully McCarville’s silver medal is a sign of things to come, especially with a solid young group alongside of her.

Team Percentages

Lead – Sarah Potts – 87% – 2nd

Second – Ashley Sippala – 81% – Tied for 5th

Vice – Kendra Lilly – 81% – 6th

Skip – Krista McCarville – 80% – 3rd

Team – Northern Ontario – 82% – Tied for 4th

Bronze Medalist – Team Canada (Jennifer Jones)

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Well starting off 1-2 was not the way that Jennifer Jones wanted to start off her title defence but we’ve seen this movie before and it looked like she was an unstoppable freight train heading into the 1 vs. 2 game against Alberta. Unfortunately that was when things started falling apart as she ended up trailing Alberta 7-2 after eight ends and then she messed up an open hit in the 9th end and came up light on a draw in the 10th end to lose in the semis to Northern Ontario. Jones did manage to bounce back with a bronze medal win over Manitoba, but she will now have to battle it out in the provincials once again in order to try and tie Colleen Jones mark of six Scotties titles.

One of the things that makes Jones stand out from her closest rival (Rachel Homan) is that the 2014 Olympic gold medalist very rarely has spectacular collapses in big-game losses (see Homan’s loss to Jenn Hanna for example). That makes her loss to Northern Ontario in the semis all the more shocking, especially since Jones was having a near-perfect game in the first five ends. She’s still one of the top rinks in the world and I expect her to have another strong year next season

Team Percentages

Lead – Dawn McEwen – 90% – 1st

Second – Jill Officer – 87% – Tied for 1st

Vice – Kaitlyn Lawes – 86% – 1st

Skip – Jennifer Jones – 85% – 1st

Team – Canada – 87% – 1st

Fourth Place – Manitoba (Kerri Einarson)

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Kerri Einarson was under a lot of pressure coming into the final draw against New Brunswick as she needed to win to just squeak into the playoff, which she was able to do after making a tough double on her last shot. It was a week full of ups and downs for Einarson. She did beat the likes of Alberta and Northern Ontario in the round-robin, but some losses to Nova Scotia and Quebec put her in the win or play in a tiebreaker situation.   She almost got the better of Jennifer Jones in the bronze medal game and that should set the stage for a big provincial rivalry when the Manitoba provincials get underway next year.

All in all it was a pretty solid year for Einarson. Although she didn’t get a medal in her first trip to the Scotties, she served noticed that her rink will be tough in the years to come. Although Michelle Englot could provide a tough challenge in the provincials, the stage is set for at least one or two battles between Einarson and Jones for a spot at the Scotties in the future. 

Team Percentages

Lead – Kristin MacCuish – 82% – 8th

Second – Liz Fyfe – 87% – Tied for 1st

Vice – Selena Kaatz – 83% – 4th

Skip – Kerri Einarson – 78% – Tied for 5th

Team – Manitoba – 82% – Tied for 4th

Biggest Disappointment – New Brunswick (Sylvie Robichaud)

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This year we expected some more improvement from Sylive Robichaud after a decent finish to her week in Moose Jaw. With a weaker field on paper, a mid-pack showing seemed reasonable. Unfortunately for Robichaud, she lost a bunch of very close games and some questionable calls in the final end against Manitoba proved to be her downfall. As a result, New Brunswick has fallen into the relegation round for the 2017 Scotties.

Robichaud herself had a really good week as she ended up tied for fifth in the final skip stats. With that said, the normally solid Rebecca Atkinson struggled this week and that was probably too much to overcome. If they wins New Brunswick next year, this rink has a solid chance to make the main field, but they will probably have to deal with Kerry Galusha and possibly Sarah Koltun. 

Team Percentages

Lead – Jan Boyle – 81% – Tied for 9th

Second – Marie Richard – 80% – Tied for 8th

Vice – Rebecca Atkinson – 78% – Tied for 11th

Skip – Sylvie Robichaud – Tied for 5th

Team – New Brunswick – 79% – Tied for 8th

All Stars and Award Winners

1st Team All Stars

2016 Scotties Tournament of Hearts

Left to Right – Skip – Jennifer Jones (Canada), Vice – Kaitlyn Lawes (Canada), Second – Jill Officer (Canada) and Lead – Dawn McEwen (Canada)

2nd Team All Stars

2016 Scotties Tournament of Hearts

Left to Right – Skip – Chelsea Carey (Alberta), Vice – Ashley Howard (Saskatchewan), Second – Liz Fyfe (Manitoba) and Lead – Sarah Potts (Northern Ontario)

Marj Mitchell Sportsmanship Award

2016 Scotties Tournament of Hearts

Ashley Howard – Saskatchewan

Sandra Schmirler Playoff MVP Award

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Chelsea Carey-Alberta

Punkari Brothers Shot of the Week

Kerri Einarson’s Double in Draw 17 vs New Brunswick


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