2014/15 CHL Assessments (Part 1) & First Round Previews

Goodbye Plymouth

It’s that time of the year again. Over the course of the next two months I’ll be looking back to see where I went wrong in my pre-season predictions and what teams I had on the money in the OHL, QMJHL and WHL. Along with that, I’ll also be making my playoff predictions as well for each round.

Without further delay, let’s get things started with the OHL and showcasing the four teams that won’t make the playoffs, including one that will be heading to a new location come next city.

Pavel Jenys

Sudbury Wolves (12-54-1-1 – 5th in Central Division/10th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated on February 18th)

What I Predicted: There’s a couple of decent players here, but there is not a lot to be desired, and I expect the Wolves to be at the bottom of the league standings

What Actually Happened: Not only was Sudbury the worst team in the OHL, but they ended up having the worst record in the entire Canadian Hockey League. At least we got that Paul Fixter rant.

What Lies Ahead: The Wolves have the number one overall pick in the draft and it seems like a fairly wide open class with Owen Tippett and David Levin among the top choices. Despite a couple of good pieces to build around in Matt Schmalz and Kyle Capobianco, it may be another long season ahead in Sudbury.

Owen Sound Attack v Windsor Spitfires

Windsor Spitfires (24-40-2-2 – 5th in West Division/10th in Western Conference – Eliminated on March 15th)

What I Predicted: I’m not quite convinced on the defence, but I really like the forwards Windsor has, and they are my sleeper pick in the Western Conference.

What Actually Happened: Well they traded Josh Ho-Sang away for starters, so that kind of messed with my predictions for a great forward core. An 11-game losing streak to end the season proved to be far more damaging.

What Lies Ahead: I still like the forwards here, especially Logan Brown, and 63-point defenceman Trevor Murphy could be a huge asset at the trade deadline next January. The rest of the back-end and the goaltending do have question marks still, and they will need to improve that if they hope to win a playoff game for the first time since 2011.

Sonny Milano

Plymouth Whalers (23-38-5-2 – 4th in West Division/9th in Western Conference – Eliminated on March 15th)

What I Predicted: Following a slight blip last season, the Whalers should return to form this year.

What Actually Happened: Not only did Plymouth fail to come close from being the Soo Greyhounds’ biggest threat, they missed the playoffs for the first time in 23 years. The only other time they missed was their first season as a franchise in 1990-91 as the Detroit Compuware Ambassadors.

What Lies Ahead: The Whalers are moving to Flint to become the Firebirds and will have a brand new look in the management and coaching staff. With Sonny Milano, Alex Peters, Josh Wesley and Alex Nedeljkovic all coming back, not to mention a high-end draft pick, they should return to the playoffs.

Jimmy Lodge

Mississauga Steelheads (25-40-2-1 – 4th in Central Division/9th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated on March 19th)

What I Predicted: Every year I bet against Mississauga making the playoffs, and they end up getting there, so I’ve decided to stop picking against them this season.

What Actually Happened: They actually missed the playoffs this time around. They went all-in by getting Jimmy Lodge in a trade from Saginaw but the season ending knee-injury of goalie Spencer Martin ended up costing them in the end.

What Lies Ahead: For starters, I would be surprised if James Boyd is brought back, so I expect that there will be a new coach behind the bench. Michael McLeod and Sean Day will be the building blocks to build around and the Steelheads might be back in the post-season, but I doubt they will be a high seed.

Bulls Final Win

The biggest storyline heading in the OHL playoffs if of course the impending end of the Belleville Bulls franchise. It was announced out of nowhere on March 12 that the Bulls had been sold and would be moving to Hamilton to become the Bulldogs.

I’ll save my thoughts over how this deal was done and the fact that junior hockey in Hamilton hasn’t really worked another day. Instead I’ll bid a fond farewell to a franchise that I’ve always considered to be one of the most well-run in the Eastern Conference. Those teams in 2008 and 2009 were sublime and they were a game away from playing London for the title in 2013. Those teams, and players like Mike Murphy, PK Subban and Luke Judson (who I got to know while working in Fort Frances), will be my lasting memories of the club.

Jack Miller

And of course, there’s Jack Miller, my second favourite announcer in all of junior hockey behind the London Knights’ Mike Stubbs. While Stubbs’ style is like throwing a hair dryer in a hot tub, Miller has the stylings of a master jazz musician who hits the right notes at the right moments. He will still be involved in the TSN Radio’s World Junior broadcasts, but the fact that he won’t be doing any more OHL games is an absolute crime.

OHL Eastern Conference Predictions

Oshawa Peterborough

1) Oshawa Generals vs. 8) Peterborough Petes: Oshawa in four (This one won’t be close. While it’s good for the Petes to make it back to the playoffs again, the Generals are way to strong for them to pull off another massive upset.)

Barrie Belleville

2) Barrie Colts vs. 7) Belleville Bulls: Barrie in five (Obviously I’m rooting for Belleville here in this one, but they don’t have the firepower to matchup with the Colts on offence. Here’s hoping that the fans at the Yardmen Arena will get one more victory before the Bulls leave town for good.)

North Bay Kingston

3) North Bay Battalion vs. 6) Kingston Frontenacs: Kingston in 6 (Ever since Sam Bennett returned to Kingston after being injured at Calgary Flames training camp, the Frontenacs have been on fire. Now North Bay is the defending conference champions and they are a very good team, but Kingston’s offence has been sublime over the last month. I’ll probably regret this, but I have Kingston advancing to the second round for the first time since 1998.)

Ottawa Niagara

4) Ottawa 67’s vs. 5) Niagara IceDogs: Niagara in five (Back in September, I had Niagara as the runaway favourite in the Eastern Conference while Ottawa would be fighting it out to just make the playoffs. As you can see, I was way off the mark. When it comes to this series, I think Niagara has too many offensive weapons for Ottawa to try and slow down.)

OHL Western Conference Predictions

Soo Saginaw

1) Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds vs. 8) Saginaw Spirit: Sault Ste. Marie in four (If Jake Paterson was still in Saginaw I would be slightly worried that he could steal a few games from the Greyhounds. Since he’s now in Kitchener, the Greyhounds should have little trouble with the Spirit in the opening round. As a huge Greyhounds fan, I have now doomed them to a six game upset loss I’m sure.)

Erie Sarnia

2) Erie Otters vs. 7) Sarnia Sting: Erie in 5 (McJesus and Co. should have no problems at all in their opening round series. The only reason why I don’t have this as a sweep? Erie tends to have one odd game in a span where they lose to a team they shouldn’t, and Pavel Zacha might bust out a hat-trick when you least expect it.)

London Kitchener

3) London Knights vs. 6) Kitchener Rangers: London in five (I’m still surprised Sportsnet is showing the Oshawa and Peterborough series over this one, but I digress. Jake Paterson might steal a game or two, but I expect Kitchener’s defence will have a tough time trying to stop Max Domi, Christian Dvorak and Mitchell Marner.)

Guelph Owen Sound

4) Guelph Storm vs. 5) Owen Sound Attack: Guelph in 6 (This one can go either way, but I think Guelph’s run to the Memorial Cup final last year will be a key factor in helping them advance to the next round. Plus, the question marks around Attack defenceman Chris Bigras’ health can’t be a good sign.)

Our next stop is the QMJHL, where only two teams missed out on the playoffs.

Mark Simpson

Acadie-Bathurst Titan (17-43-6-2 – 6th in Maritimes Division/18th in QMJHL – Eliminated on March 2nd)

What I Predicted: For a team that doesn’t have a whole lot to begin with, there is still isn’t a whole lot here.

What Actually Happened: The lack of overall depth had me peg this team to be at the bottom of the QMJHL standings and that’s where they ended up. They weren’t Sudbury bad, but they did struggle on their way to being in the basement.

What Lies Ahead: The QMJHL draft lottery is in April so we won’t know if Acadie-Bathurst will have the number one pick, which is expected to be Shane Bowers (unless Joseph Veleno gets exceptional status, but that’s another story for another day). At the moment, the Titan do have some nice young pieces to build around with forward Jordan Maher and defenceman Guillaume Brisebois leading the way, so a return to the playoffs might not be far off.

Joey Ratelle

Drummondville Voltigeurs (26-38-1-3 – 6th in West Division/17th in QMJHL – Eliminated on March 13th)

What I Predicted: The squad is fairly young on both forward and defence, but they have two 1995-born goalies who had strong seasons a year ago. If the duo of Joe Fleschler and Louis-Philip Guindon match their performances from last season, they might have a strong season.

What Actually Happened: Fleschler’s numbers much worse, Guindon got dealt to Rimouski and Anthony Brodeur was brought in after Christmas. That and a number of other trades resulted in a late-season slide in the standings and caused Drummondville to miss the playoffs.

What Lies Ahead: Drummondville’s draft pick ended up in Saint John so they won’t be involved in the draft lottery, (Saint John got the pick from Cape Breton at the trade deadline for captain Olivier LeBlanc. The Screaming Eagles got that pick from the Voltigeurs for William Carrier last year.) so that’s not good for the rebuilding process. They have two exciting forwards in Joey Ratelle and Alex Barre- Boulet, but it might be another tough season in Drummondville next winter.

Zach Fucale

The most intriguing player in the entire QMJHL playoffs might be Quebec Remparts netminder Zach Fucale, who will sadly not be rocking this awesome looking tuque.

After winning the Memorial Cup with Halifax in 2013 and becoming a second round pick by Montreal in the NHL Entry Draft, Fucale’s had a rough time over the last 12 months. Sure, he did win the gold medal for Canada at the World Juniors, but he lost his starting job in last year’s QMJHL semi-finals and his numbers so far with Quebec (an 8-8 record and a 3.22 GAA) leave a lot to be desired.

As the Memorial Cup hosts, a lot is expected of Quebec in the playoffs. But if Fucale continues to be just average, things might get ugly unless Callum Booth takes things over in a big way.

QMJHL Playoffs Predictions

Rimouski Victoriaville

1) Rimouski Oceanic vs. 16) Victoriaville Tigres: Rimouski in four (For me, the Oceanic are the class of the QMJHL and they should have no problem at all in their opening round series.)

Moncton Chicoutimi

2) Moncton Wildcats vs. 15) Chicoutimi Sagueneens: Moncton in five (The Wildcats have the top scorer in the league in Conor Garland and Russian hero Ivan Barbashev on their roster. That should be more than enough for them to get the win.)

Blainville-Boisbriand Gatineau

3) Blainville-Boisbriand Armada vs. 14) Gatineau Olympiques: Blainville-Boisbriand in five (I still have no idea how the Armada are pulling this off. Either way, they should move to the second round with ease, even though Gatineau has won 13 of their last 16 games heading into the playoffs.)

Quebec Cape Breton

4) Quebec Remparts vs. 13) Cape Breton Screaming Eagles: Quebec in five (As much I’m hemming and hawing over Fucale’s play, and despite the fact that Cape Breton has two draft eligible Russian forwards in Maxim Lazarev and Evgeni Svechnikov, the Remparts are too good to not advance to the second round.)

Shawinigan Halifax

5) Shawinigan Cataractes vs. 12) Halifax Mooseheads: Halifax in 6 (Now I know this isn’t the Mooseheads of the last couple of years, and Shawinigan does have a pretty good lineup that’s headlined by 94-point draft eligible centre Anthony Beauvillier. However, I saw Nikolaj Ehlers carry Denmark into the World Junior playoffs so who says lightning can’t strike twice. Okay, Olivier Bjorkstrand helped him out as well but still.)

Val-d'Or Rouyn-Noranda

6) Val-d’Or Foreurs vs. 11) Rouyn-Noranda Huskies: Val-d’Or in five (It’s a shame this isn’t being broadcast on Sportsnet because this might be a really fun series. In the end, the experience of winning the QMJHL title a year ago should help the Foreurs in this one, though I’m starting to think this might go the distance.)

Baie-Comeau Saint John

7) Baie-Comeau Drakkar vs. 10) Saint John Sea Dogs: Saint John in six (The Sea Dogs had a bit of slide in the later part of the year but I think they should be able to come out on top with a mild upset in this one.)

Sherbrooke Charlottetown

8) Sherbrooke Phoenix vs. 9) Charlottetown Islanders: Sherbrooke in six (A Daniel Audette vs. Daniel Sprong matchup in the playoffs? Just take my money already. Mason McDonald may steal a game or two, but the Phoenix have too many offensive weapons for the Islanders to try and stop.)

Our last stop on our CHL playoff preview train is the WHL, where six teams will not be heading to the post-season.

Brett Stovin

Saskatoon Blades (19-49-2-2 – 6th in East Division/12th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated on February 27th)

What I Predicted: With the team already putting Nikita Scherbak on the market and bringing in Alex Forsberg and Ty Mappin as reclamation projects, that should show you where the Blades will end up this year.

What Actually Happened: Scherbak was dealt to Everett only four days into the season, while Mappin ended up back in the AJHL with the Olds Grizzlys. The Forsberg move worked out as he had a good season (a career best 58 points) and was dealt to Victoria for a first round pick in 2017 at the deadline, but it was a long season yet again for the Blades.

What Lies Ahead: For the second year in a row, a first round pick that the Blades traded ended up in with another team, and the Spokane Chiefs will have a chance to take the top prospect in the draft (more than likely Ty Smith) with the first overall pick. Brycen Martin’s the lone high-end guy on the team at the moment, so it might get worse yet before things recover from the hot mess that was the 2013 Memorial Cup hosting experience.

Tyler Wong

Lethbridge Hurricanes (20-44-5-3 – 6th in Central Division/11th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated on March 4th)

What I Predicted: I don’t think things will be as bad as last season, but with Macoy Erkamps wanting out, and Reid Duke visiting a USHL camp before reporting to Lethbridge, it’s going to be another long winter for the Hurricanes.

What Actually Happened: Duke and Erkamps were both traded to Brandon in yet another fleecing by the Wheat Kings on the Hurricanes, and both Drake Berehowsky and Brad Robson were let go of their head coach and general manager duties in early December. With that said, the Hurricanes were better in the second half and weren’t getting blown out of the water like they were a year ago, so there was some progress.

What Lies Ahead: The ownership situation remains the hot button topic and probably won’t be resolved until late in the summer. On the ice, goaltender Stuart Skinner was a star in his rookie year with the club and his future looks bright. Leading scorer Tyler Wong will probably be dealt at next year’s deadline but some good young players might put this team in the mix to contend for a wild card in 2016. Now if only they can sign last year’s second overall pick Jordy Bellerive.

Jackson Houck

Vancouver Giants (27-41-2-2 – 5th in BC Division/10th in Western Conference – Eliminated on March 20th)

What I Predicted:  I don’t think they have the depth of Victoria or Kelowna, but the Giants have a pretty exciting lineup besides Benson, and they will be looking to impress all year long as they try to upend Red Deer’s bid of hosting the Memorial Cup in 2016

What Actually Happened: Troy Ward got canned in favour of Claude Noel in November, the Giants didn’t win the bid for the 2016 Memorial Cup and they lost 11 of their last 12 regular season games to miss the playoffs.

What Lies Ahead: The Giants announced on Wednesday that Noel would not be coming back so the club is now looking for its fourth head coach in the last three seasons. The team is going to be built around sophomore forward Tyler Benson, so their might be a shake-up of the current roster to give him more high-end pieces to play with.

Cole Ully

Kamloops Blazers (28-37-4-3 – 4th in BC Division/9th in Western Conference – Eliminated on March 21st)

What I Predicted: Legendary coach Don Hay is back with the Blazers, but I’m not expecting them to be back in the playoff mix quite yet.

What Actually Happened: The Blazers were in it right until the end, but a loss to the Prince George Cougars on March 20th proved to be their undoing. That and only winning eight games on the road all season.

What Lies Ahead: Prior to the season, I expected NHL prospects Cole Ully and Ryan Rehill to be traded to help with the rebuild in Kamloops. That didn’t happen and that may prove to be a missed opportunity if both turn pro and no assets were gained. With that said, there are some nice young forwards on the roster like Deven Sideroff and Jake Kryski, and the Blazers have a solid starter in goal in Connor Ingram that might help them return to the playoffs next year.

Reid Gardiner

Prince Albert Raiders (31-37-2-2 – 5th in East Division/10th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated on March 14th)

What I Predicted: Even with Leon Draisaitl more than likely not coming back to Prince Albert, the Raiders will still be a playoff team in my opinion.

What Actually Happened: Well that didn’t happen at all did it. Cory Clouston got fired in October, Draisaitl (who played in Edmonton for the first half of the season) and Josh Morrissey were both dealt to Kelowna and they weren’t able to overcome a slow start to get into the playoffs.

What Lies Ahead: The overall depth isn’t the greatest, but if Reid Gardiner has another strong season and Nick McBride improves in goal, the Raiders might sneak into the wild card discussion next year. They won’t challenge Brandon by any means for the division crowd, but things won’t be too bad.

Brayden Point

Moose Jaw Warriors (32-35-4-1 – 4th in East Division/9th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated on March 21st)

What I Predicted: I went back and forth between the Warriors and the Pats over who will finish in fourth place in the final standings, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s Moose Jaw that ends up making the post-season as a wild card team when March rolls around.

What Actually Happened: Well I wasn’t right on Regina, but Moose Jaw ended up getting fourth and just missed out on making the playoffs after Swift Current went on a late season slide. A number of close losses over the last couple of months will leave the Warriors wondering what might have been.

What Lies Ahead: With a talented young goaltending duo in Zach Sawchenko and Brody Wilms, and Brayden Point leading the way up front, the Warriors should again be in the mix to make the playoffs. However, if it looks like they will miss the post-season for a fourth straight year, Point will become the biggest piece on the trade market in the WHL during the 2016 trade deadline.

Sam Steel

It’s not often that the loss of a rookie forward is considered a game-changer for the WHL playoffs, but Sam Steel is not your ordinary first year player.

Steel, the second overall pick in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft behind Vancouver’s Tyler Benson, is expected to miss the entire playoffs with an ankle injury that he suffered on March 10th against Prince Albert and will be a much missed weapon for the Pats as they look to win a playoff series for the first time since 2007.

After the Pats made a number of trades at this year’s deadline, the squad is now built around the 16-year-old centre, who had 54 points in 61 games this season.

With so much of the team going through Steel already, it’s disappointing that he won’t be involved in the post-season, but I figure this will give him extra motivation to be even better come next year. For the rest of the WHL, that’s not something they will want to hear.

WHL East Division Predictions

Brandon Edmonton

1) Brandon Wheat Kings vs. Wild Card 2) Edmonton Oil Kings: Brandon in five (Tristan Jarry might steal a game, but the Wheat Kings have way too much for the defending Memorial Cup champions to handle.)

Regina Swift Current

2) Regina Pats vs. 3) Swift Current Broncos: Regina in six (The Pats are a much different looking squad than they were two months ago and the Broncos stumbled big-time down the stretch. Given Swift Current’s struggles in form, I expect Regina to come out on top in a competitive series.)

WHL Central Division Predictions

Calgary Kootenay

1) Calgary Hitmen vs. Wild Card 1) Kootenay Ice: Calgary in five (The Ice stunned the Hitmen last year in the first round but I don’t see another upset happening this year. Calgary’s been on fire over the last few weeks and I don’t think Kootenay can matchup with them, even with Sam Reinhart on their roster.)

Red Deer Medicine Hat

2) Medicine Hat Tigers vs. 3) Red Deer Rebels: Red Deer in seven (This might be my favourite matchup in the entire first round of the CHL as both teams were dead even with Calgary for the division title. I’ve hemmed and hawed over this one, but I decided to go with Red Deer as they look to build some momentum for the 2016 Memorial Cup that they will host.)

WHL BC Division Predictions

Kelowna Tri-City

1) Kelowna Rockets vs. Wild Card 2) Tri-City Americans: Kelowna in 5 (This one is similar to the Brandon and Edmonton series.  Eric Comrie might steal a game for Tri-City, but Kelowna will probably run over the squad with their depth.)

Prince George Kelowna

2) Victoria Royals vs. 3) Prince George Cougars: Victoria in six (The Cougars have played great over the last few weeks and the CN Centre will be rocking. However, I think the Cougars have just enough to pull out the series win.)

WHL US Division Predictions

Everett Spokane

1) Everett Silvertips vs. Wild Card 1) Spokane Chiefs: Everett in four (I still have no idea what to make of either of these teams, but I think Everett is far stronger than Spokane in this matchup.)

Portland Seattle

2) Portland Winterhawks vs. 3) Seattle Thunderbirds: Portland in six (With both teams having high-end forwards this might be a really good series. Olivier Bjorkstrand has been a man possessed after the World Juniors though, and I think that might be the difference.)

Well that wraps things up. Here’s hoping the opening round of the playoffs in all three leagues have some wild upsets and triple overtime thrillers.


The Punkari Brothers 2015 Brier Review

2015, Calgary Ab, Tim Hortons Brier, B.C. third Ryan Kuhn, Ontario skip Mark Kean, Curling Canada/michael burns photo

Written by Brett Punkari (With cameos by Lucas Punkari)

This year’s Tim Hortons Brier will go down as one of the best in recent memory. There were so many twists, turns, drama filled games, broom smashing, broom breaking and insane shots. Yes there was the usual bad picks on the ice when it comes to big arenas but what can you do. Anyways, this goes to show how the men’s curling scene is the most competitive it has been in a while. Also for the first time since the playoff format began at the Brier in 1980, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta all failed to make it into the final weekend. Not only that, some big names had less than impressive weeks for their standards.

Best in recent memory? Try the greatest Brier of all time. Okay I wasn’t around for the ones in the 1980’s and my memory is vague on the 90’s and early 2000’s, but this was the best curling event I have ever seen. You’ll see why as this review goes on, but I doubt any event will top this Brier for the foreseeable future.

JMC120255420_med

Champions and Biggest Surprise: Team Canada (Pat Simmons)

As Team Canada sat at 2-3 on Monday night, things were bleak and my eighth place prediction seemed more and more likely, though they were not out of it by any stretch of the imagination. Then John Morris proposed to drop to vice and have Pat Simmons become the skip. Pat agreed, but only if he ran the show, and boy did it turn out to be a terrific move.

The team won all but one game (they lost Draw 16 to Northern Ontario) and had super close wins in the playoffs over Saskatchewan and Newfoundland & Labrador. Simmons was on fire in the championship final, including a huge runback double while facing two in the fourth end to force a blank. Morris’ play improved tremendously as a third, and at times it looked he was playing the same way he did when he was on Kevin Martin’s team. For Morris to step down to vice and give the confidence to have Simmons call the shots was huge on his part also.

Finally this is justice for Simmons to win the Brier as a skip after a terrible pick in 2008 cost him a playoff win against Kevin Martin at the Brier in Winnipeg.

The Curling Gods indeed came through for Simmons after they turned on him seven years ago, as he was lights out in the finals. For Morris to make the switch will go down as one of the all-time great moves in Brier history, and it shows just how much of a team player he has become. Unlike Brett, I felt that Team Canada was going to be in the final four but I never expected this, especially after their poor start. I’m not sure how they will do at the Worlds yet, but it looks like this group will stick together for another season, and possibly all the way until the 2017 Olympic Trials.

Team Stats

Lead: Nolan Thiessen – 3rd – 91%

Second: Carter Rycroft – 2nd – 90%

Vice: John Morris – 4th – 88% (80% as Skip)

Skip: Pat Simmons – Tied for 2nd – 84% (86 % as Vice)

2015, Calgary Ab, Tim Hortons Brier, Northern Ontario skip Brad Jacobs, third Ryan Fry, Curling Canada/michael burns photo

Runner-Up: Northern Ontario (Brad Jacobs)

The reigning Olympic champions were definitely showing the stuff that made them Brier winners two years ago. They almost ran the table in the round-robin and they didn’t have that usual mid-week slump that we’re used to seeing, although they came close to that in the 1 vs. 2 page playoff game.

Although they turned up the intensity for the playoffs, they ran into a red-hot Pat Simmons in the final and one bad end (where they gave up three points in the 9th) cost them a chance at a second Brier crown. However, we know that this team will be back and out for blood next year, because the bigger the stage and the tougher the competition, the more intense this team becomes.

I still think there was a little bit of a mid-week slump for Team Jacobs as they probably should have lost a game against Saskatchewan. At any rate, the top team in the world (unless you’re a Mike McEwen supporter) were the best rink all week with only the bad ninth end and the lights out showing by Simmons prevented them from winning a second title. Nevertheless, they will probably enter the 2015-16 season as one of the top three teams in the world and it would be quite a surprise if they weren’t in the mix in Ottawa next March.

Team Stats

Lead: Ryan Harnden – Tied for 6th – 88%

Second: EJ Harnden – 4th – 87%

Vice: Ryan Fry – 1st – 92%

Skip: Brad Jacobs – 1st – 86%

2015, Calgary Ab, Tim Hortons Brier, Saskatchewan, skip Steve Laycock, Curling Canada/michael burns photo

Bronze Medalists: Saskatchewan (Steve Laycock)

Steve Laycock was having a career year prior to the Brier and this is a rink that has been getting better and better over the past few season. The performance at the Brier has shown that they look primed for an Olympic Trials run as they can hang with some of the top teams in the country. The one thing they will need to work on is their soft shots, especially on their setup shots early in the ends, but other than that this looks to be Saskatchewan’s best hope to end their Brier drought in quite some time.

Prior to the Brier I had this rink ranked in seventh place and feared that I had them placed way lower than I should have. I was proved right on that assumption as the Saskatoon rink ended up being my surprise team of the week. I knew they were good, especially after strong showings over the last two season, but I didn’t expect them to be in the medal hunt. I don’t know if they will be a favourite to win it all quite yet, but I expect them to be in the discussion for a playoff spot if they make it back next year.

Saddledome

An honourable mention for my biggest surprise has to be Prince Edward Island’s Adam Casey. Other than one really bad game against Northern Ontario, they were great for a first-year team as they worked through the pre-qualifying round and finished at 5-6. I wouldn’t be surprised if they sneak into the tiebreaker discussion over the next couple of years at the Brier.

Team Stats

Lead: Dallan Muyers – 8th – 87%

Second: Colton Flasch – 10th – 83%

Vice: Kirk Muyers – 5th – 87%

Skip: Steve Laycock – Tied for 2nd – 84%

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Fourth Place: Newfoundland & Labrador (Brad Gushue)

The way things looked throughout the week, it appeared that this would be the year that Brad Gushue’s Brier drought would end, especially after beating Northern Ontario, Saskatchewan and Team Canada in the round-robin. Unfortunately, one bad miss in the 1 vs. 2 game and two more close losses left Gushue on the outside looking in and leaving a real bitter taste of what could have been.

After Gushue made his insane game-winning shot against Alberta, I felt like this was finally going to be the year that the 2006 Olympic gold medalist would win it all. Alas, a couple of close misses against Northern Ontario and Team Canada in the playoffs proved to be his undoing. Since he’s not really good in even-numbered years at the Brier, I’m assuming he will finally win it all in 2017 when it will more than likely be held in St. John’s. I look forward to the hate mail I will receive from folks in my hometown about that last line.

Team Stats

Lead: Geoff Walker – Tied for 4th – 89%

Second: Brett Gallant – Tied for 7th – 84%

Vice: Mark Nichols – 9th – 81%

Skip: Brad Gushue – Tied for 4th – 82%

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Biggest Disappointment: Alberta (Kevin K0e)

During the course of the season, the new lineup for Team Koe would look great one game then really off the next. This week it was the struggles of the skip and three heroic game-winning shots (by British Columbia, Newfoundland & Labrador and Saskatchewan) that left Koe out of the playoffs for the very first time in his fourth trip to the Brier.

Kevin himself didn’t perform really well this week shooting wise, and while we can forgive him for his struggles early on because of food poisoning, the amount of shots he missed at key times was not like him at all. As a result, his confidence seemed to take a big hit. Hopefully he can regain that form in the final events of this season or at the start of next year and show the potential of this lineup.

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You could argue that Manitoba finishing at 4-7 was worse than Alberta’s result, but Reid Carruthers’ rink was ranked anywhere from fourth to ninth place in the standings heading into this week. Koe was expected to be in the finals or the semis at worse, so to finish at 6-5 is a huge shock. Granted a couple of those losses came on wild game-winning shots, but the skip’s struggles were too much to overcome in my opinion. I think this was more of a case of first year jitters for a new squad, as I expect them to be at the top of their game in the lead-up to the 2018 Olympics.

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My other disappointment from this year’s event was the 0-11 week for cult hero Jamie Koe of the Northwest Territories. After he lost to New Brunswick in Draw 2, I was worried that his one chance of avoiding relegation had disappeared, and that proved to be the case. He’s teased retirement on Twitter and I really hope that doesn’t happen, as I want to by him an adult beverage some day at the #Patch.

Team Stats

Lead: Ben Hebert – 2nd – 93%

Second: Brent Laing – 1st – 91%

Vice: Marc Kennedy – 2nd – 91%

Skip: Kevin Koe – Tied for 4th – 82%

Award Winners and All Stars

2015, Calgary Ab, Tim Hortons Brier, Team Canada skip Pat Simmons, Curling Canada/michael burns photo

Hec Gervais Playoff MVP: Pat Simmons- Team Canada

1st Team All-Stars

Lead: Colin Hodgson – Manitoba

Second: Carter Rycroft – Team Canada

Vice: Ryan Fry – Northern Ontario

Skip: Brad Jacobs – Northern Ontario

2nd Team All-Stars

Lead: Ben Hebert – Alberta

Second: Brent Laing – Alberta

Vice: Marc Kennedy – Alberta

Skip: Brad Gushue – Newfoundland & Labrador

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

Ross Harstone Award (Most Sportsmanlike): Jim Cotter – British Columbia

The Punkari Brothers Shot of the Week: Brad Gushue – Newfoundland & Labrador (Game winning double-runback double-takout in Draw 12 against Alberta)


The Punkari Brothers 2015 Brier Preview

2015brierWritten by Brett Punkari (With cameos by Lucas Punkari)

Before we get rolling I just want to point out this is the hardest bit of predictions I have ever done, even more so than last year’s Olympic Trials. You can make a case in my opinion  for the top nine teams (Brett seems to have excluded Ontario from this) to win this event, and I would buy that argument. This is the best Brier field I’ve ever seen and I can’t wait for this event to get started.

 

Now that the Scotties is over it’s now Brier time as we head to Calgary where the field is really stacked. You can make a case for at least eight teams to have a legitimate shot at winning the Brier Tankard. So without a doubt this is one of the toughest fields to predict so don’t be surprised if these picks are way off. Once again, the Grand Slam Records will be mentioned like we did at the Scotties with the Masters of Curling, The National and the Canadian Open all being included.

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1Northern Ontario – Soo Curlers Association

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

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

The Olympic champs are back and to be honest, they are the most consistant team on paper even though they have won one event this year. Though in true Team Jacobs tradition, they have done things the hard way as they had to win out to make the playoffs. Also Ryan Fry’s play has not been as great this year as he has missed some shots he would make with his eyes closed.

However when this team gets on a roll almost nobody can stop them, and in two of their losses in finals (Canada Cup and The National) it was to a certain team that lost a certain provincial…..Hmm who could that be? (Oooo, throwing shade at Mike McEwen)

Either way if they can keep winning and not have to do things the hard way they are the favourites to win a second title.

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1) Brad Gushue (Newfoundland & Labrador)

Alright, we got our first disagreement. So why have I gone against Northern Ontario? Well there’s three reasons. Firstly, I’ve had this hunch that Gushue is going to win the Brier since about October. Secondly, the return of Mark Nichols has done wonders for this team as they have won two Grand Slams already this season. Thirdly, Gushue is always good it seems in odd-numbered years at the Brier. Put it all together, and that’s why I have Gushue finally winning the Canadian title for the first time. 

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2Newfoundland & Labrador – Bally Haly Country Club (St. John’s)

 

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

Grand Slam Record – 14-6 (Win, DNQ, Win)

This year has been one of Brad Gushue’s most successful to date with two Grand Slam victories, even though they had a DNQ in the other and their Canada Cup appearance was not that impressive. The return of Mark Nichols to the Gushue rink is a major boost and the lineup is probably the best Gushue has had in quite a while. If they can perform well and not force Gushue to make hero shots then perhaps he may finally get that ever elusive first Brier crown.

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2) Brad Jacobs (Northern Ontario)

If it wasn’t for my Gushue hunch, the defending Olympic gold medalist would be my pick to win it all. They are the top team in the World at the moment (although defenders of a certain Manitoba team who has yet to make a Brier would tell you otherwise) and it’s hard to bet against them. This time, however, they won’t come in under the radar.

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3) Alberta – Glencoe Club (Calgary)

 

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

Grand Slam Record – 10-6 (Quarter-Finalist, DNQ, Semi-Finalist)

As we mentioned before in our provincial previews, this lineup is godly, at least on paper. However, they have not have that strong of a season.

There have been times where they have looked great and there have been times where they looked really bad. Though it’s probably more of a case of feeling things out as this team’s lineup is new for Koe himself.

It could be perhaps a bit of a reach to pick this team this high considering the year they have had. Though I do think this lineup is way too good to not be talked about as a podium threat at the very least.

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3) Kevin Koe (Alberta)

The defending champion is back with a brand-new team that is gearing up for a run at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Given their season to date it’s easy to write them off but I fear anything less than a semi-final prediction would be foolish, even if I have them finishing behind the two Brad’s. Also, the Marc Kennedy vs. Ryan Fry matchup at third is going to be amazing, even though the CCA booked that game for Sunday morning. That schedule maker should be fired. 

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4Manitoba – West St. Paul Curling Club

 

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

Grand Slam Record – 8-4 (N/A, Quarter-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist)

After last season Jeff Stoughton cleaned house and Reid Carruthers decided to become a skip again. He has put together a pretty decent combination, with a former Canadian Junior champion (Moskowy) and a former Brier Competitor as well (Samagalski).

Although we have not seen a lot of this team, Carruthers has definitely picked up his shooting ability and Samagalski’s big weight ability helps too. Overall for a first year team it is a pretty potent combination, however this is Carruthers first ever Brier as a skip so it’s tough to say how it will go for him.

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4) John Morris (Team Canada)

Brett will get into his reasons why he’s not convinced on Johnny Mo’s squad a little bit later on, but I have this team as a playoff threat. Sure their season hasn’t been stellar with a limited schedule, but you have three members of last year’s championship team and a skip who almost led Jim Cotter to a Brier and Olympic Trials title a year ago. Doubt this rink at your own peril.

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5Saskatchewan – Nutana Curling Club (Saskatoon)

 

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

Grand Slam Record – 11-7 (Quarter-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist, Runner-Up)

This year has been a career year for Steve Laycock. In addition to making his first ever Grand Slam final and coming inches short of his first title at the Canadian Open, he has also had two wins on the World Curling Tour as well. This is a team that just seems to get better and better ever since we took notice of them at the pre-trials two years ago and Laycock has become a more complete player. They have a pretty good shot at making their first playoff appearance but with the field as stacked as this one is, it’s going to be extremely tough.

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5) Mike McEwen (Manitoba)

After some tough luck, Mike McEwen actualized all of the years of dominance on the World Curling Tour by…wait what’s that? HE LOST THE PROVINCIAL FINAL AGAIN?!?!?

In all seriousness the luck this team is on at the provincials is just horrific. I picked the team I’ll mention shortly to win the event but now it’s just getting to the point with McEwen where it’s starting to become gut-wrenching. Here’s hoping the lineup stays intact and gets to the Brier soon.

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5) Reid Carruthers (Manitoba)

This is a team that I loved on paper the moment I saw it, and not just because my boy Braeden Moskowy is there. This is a solid squad from top to bottom that will probably trade provincial titles with McEwen in the years to come. I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs in their first go-around, but I expect them to be in the mix for a tiebreaker at least.

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6) British Columbia – Vernon & Kelowna CC

 

Skip – Jimmmmmmm Cotter, Vice – Ryan Kuhn, Second – Tyrel Griffith, Lead – Rick Sawatsky

Grand Slam Record – 3-6 (DNQ, N/A, Quarter-Finalist)

What a different a year makes. Last year Jim Cotter was one win away for a stunning Olympic trials win and he was one win away from his first Brier crown. Now he is back to his usual darkhorse role as he looks to prove that he can get it done as a skip and that he does not need John Morris to help him, which is what a lot of people are going to be talking about.

In terms of this season, they got off to a pretty slow start but they have picked up their play in the second half of the year. Can he beat any of the big teams to make playoffs? It’s going to be real tough.

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6) Jean-Michel Menard (Quebec)

After two strong showings in the last two Briers, I expect the 2006 champion to be in the mix once again. I would probably have this team in the playoffs as well if it wasn’t for the insane depth that is on display in Calgary this week.

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7Quebec – Club De Curling Etchemin (Saint-Romuald)

 

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

Grand Slam Record – N/A

Jean-Michel Menard has had a major resurgence the past two years at the Brier and he’s almost rekindled his title form from 2006. With this year’s lineup, he is probably the true wildcard in the field as you can perhaps make a case for him to get back on the podium or finishing mid pack, it’s just that close. Either way prepare to have your glass and speakers destroyed from his screaming. (Disclaimer: The Punkari Brothers will not be held responsible for glass and speaker damage, you’ve been warned.)

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7) Steve Laycock (Saskatchewan)

Now we get into the teams where I feel like I’ve ranked them lower than I should have. In addition to his great year on the tour, Laycock probably should have made the playoffs in a tiebreaker game last year at the Brier if it wasn’t for a late collapse against James Grattan. I expect him to be strong this week, but it will be tough to make the playoffs in this field.

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8) Team Canada – Glencoe Club (Calgary)

 

Skip – John ‘Johnny Mo’ Morris, Vice – Pat Simmons, Second – Carter Rycroft, Lead – Nolan Thiessen

Grand Slam Record – 7-9 (Quarter-Finalist, DNQ, DNQ) Note: Scott Bailey was playing second for all of the Grand Slam events

So John Morris has left Jim Cotter’s team to take over the old Kevin Koe rink and decided to play a somewhat limited schedule. Thus far it has not gone real well as it has been a major struggle for the most part, including a 1-5 record at the Canada Cup. Although they have looked better in recent months, it’s tough to see them doing well considering the limited schedule they played in this year, even though this is a good lineup on paper.

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8) Jim Cotter (British Columbia)

It’s not that I think Jim Cotter is going to have a bad week. I just think no more Johnny Mo will lead to some struggles that they might not have dealt with a year ago. With that said, I wouldn’t be surprised if last year’s runner-up is in the mix for a tiebreaker by the end of the round-robin.

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9) Ontario – Fenelon Falls CC 

Skip – Mark Kean, Vice – Mat Camm, Second – David Mathers, Lead – Scott Howard

Grand Slam Record – 1-4 (N/A, DNQ, N/A)

Mark Kean was mostly known for being a good but not great team on the tour and in Ontario over the past couple of years. Then all of a sudden, Kean’s fortunes took a turn for the better as he recruited a former Canadian Junior runner-up skip (in Camm) and two players who won a grand slam with John Epping (in Mathers and Howard.

On paper, this is a pretty darn good young lineup who could potentially be a threat down the road if they stick together. However with the amount of great teams at this year’s event, it could be a tough learning experience, but they may scare some people.

Kitchener Ont.Nov9,2013 Capital One Road to the Roar.Skip Mark Kean.CCA/michael burns photo

9) Mark Kean (Ontario)

For me, this is the biggest wild-card of the entire field. One of my favourite young teams in all of men’s curling at the moment, I was pleasantly surprised to see them reach the Brier. A 6-5 record wouldn’t stun me, but it’s going to be quite hard to do well at a Brier for the first time with a field as good as this one is.

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10Northwest Territories – Yellowknife Curling Centre

 

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

Grand Slam Record – N/A

“You talk about your guards, your taps and your John 3:16, Koe 3:16 says I just whipped your Ass!” Yeah we know he is not Stone Cold but Koe 3:16 was the shirt he had at last year’s Brier so I had to run with it. Anyway, this is the toughest lineup the former fourth place finisher has ever had to deal with, though there are some teams near the bottom he could knock off.

He is always very capable of pulling off a couple of his big upsets as well, so while it may be tough, I see Koe 3:16 staying out of relegation.

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10) Adam Casey (Prince Edward Island)

The clear-cut favourite to advance out of pre-qualifying, this talented young line-up sure picked the wrong year to make it onto the scene. I expect that Casey and his rink will pull off a couple of upsets and escape relegation.

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11) Prince Edward Island  – Silver Fox Curling & Yacht Club (Summerside)

 

Skip – Adam Casey, Vice – Josh Barry, Second – Anson Carmody, Lead – Robbie Doherty

Grand Slam Record – 3-6 (N/A, DNQ, DNQ)

We already talked about how this team came about in our provincial preview and of course they will be fighting through the relegation round to get in. What I’ve learned about Adam himself as a skip is that he is not afraid to be very aggressive and potentially try crazy and insane shots that either make look like a hero or zero.

So could he perhaps make a case to try for shot of the week honours? It wouldn’t surprise me. In all honesty, this team is real young and will be great for PEI in the future, but not with this stacked field.

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11) Jamie Koe (Northwest Territories)

Poor Jamie. Had this been any other year I would have them in the mid-pack, but not with this stacked lineup. They should still be safe from avoiding relegation though, as they have loads of experience at the Brier.

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12New Brunswick – Thistle St. Andrews Curling Club (Saint John)

 

Skip – Jeremy Mallais, Vice – Zach Eldridge, Second – Chris Jeffrey, Lead – Jason Vaughn

Grand Slam Record – N/A

In perhaps the upset of the provincials, Jeremy Mallais stunned multi-time New Brunswick champion James Grattan. The trouble is, Jeremy has never been on a stage like this before and a lot of NB curlers are used to straight ice. So that combination will unfortunately see New Brunswick drop to the relegation round in my opinion.

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12) Jeremy Mallais (New Brunswick)

Sure he’s been at a couple of Juniors in the past, but I fear Mallais is being thrown to the wolves at this week’s event. If they avoid relegation, that should be considered a huge accomplishment.

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13) Nova Scotia – Mayflower CC (Halifax)

 

Skip – Glen MacLeod (Throws Third), Vice – Peter Burgess (Throws Skip), Second-Colten Steele, Lead-Rob Mclean

Grand Slam Record – N/A

In another upset Glen MacLeod upset former Nova Scotia champ Jamie Murphy to make it to the Brier. He is in the relegation round where he has to face Adam Casey, which will be a real tough task, so I think Nova Scotia will miss its first ever Brier, since they have been there since the beginning.

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13) Glen MacLeod (Nova Scotia)

MacLeod has been to the Brier once before a third for Paul Flemming’s 5-6 Nova Scotia rink in 1998, so he knows what to expect. However, he’ll be in tough against Casey and even if he wins that game, I think he’ll be in that relegation mix with New Brunswick.

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14) Yukon – Whitehorse Curling Club

Skip – Robert Smallwood, Vice – Wade Scoffin, Second – Steve Fecteau, Lead – Clint Ireland

Grand Slam Record – N/A

Robert Smallwood has been to a Brier before but that was years ago, and this is the first time in quite a long time that Yukon has returned to the Brier. If a certain young skip (Shout-out to Brett’s boy Thomas Scoffin) returns to his province and leads this team then they might be able to fight out of relegation. However, with this current lineup, that won’t be the case.

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14) Robert Smallwood (Yukon)

In his previous two trips to the Brier, Smallwood went 2-9 in 1994 (with wins over PEI’s Mike Gaudet and Alberta’s Ed Lukowich) and repeated that mark in 1995 (with wins over Alberta’s Kevin Martin and New Brunswick’s Bryan MacPherson). Perhaps Kevin Koe should be worried, but it’s hard to see this rink making it that far. If they get to the play-in game against Casey, I would consider that mission accomplished.

 

 


The Punkari Brothers 2015 Scotties Review

Team Northern Ontario skip Tracy Horgan third Jennifer Horgan second Jenna Enge lead Amanda Gates at the Scotties 2015

Written by Brett Punkari (With Cameos by Lucas Punkari)

The 2015 Scotties Tournament of Hearts had a bit of history with of course the first pre-qualifying games and the first Northern Ontario representative as well. In terms of the tournament itself it started off pretty routine, however it got real interesting near the end and in the playoffs itself.

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1Manitoba – Jennifer Jones

Well it looks like the Queen of curling has finally returned as Jennifer Jones showed why she is the most successful skip in women’s curling today with a steady and terrific performance all week long. Though she had some scares and some dominant wins, the turning point came after a stunning loss to Nova Scotia mid-week as she turned up the wick. Although her  percentages were lower in the playoffs, you have to go back to her 2nd shot in the 1vs2 game and the shot that catapulted her towards another crown.

Manitoba was the most consistent team from start to finish, and it wasn’t a surprise to see them win. They reached their peak when it mattered the most, and while they weren’t totally sharp in the finals, Jones made two incredible pick takeouts in the ninth end to prevent Val Sweeting from taking the lead. They are a deserving champion and it was great to see Kaitlyn Lawes finally win a Scotties title.

Final Stats

Lead: Dawn McEwen – 1st – 90% (Perfect Game in Draw 4 – British Columbia)

Second: Jill Officer – 1st – 86%

Vice: Kaitlyn Lawes – 1st – 84%

Skip: Jennifer Jones – 2nd – 81%

Team Alberta skip Val Sweeting thrid Lori Olson-Johns second Dana Ferguson leadRachelle Brown win the semifinal at the Scotties 2015

2) Alberta – Val Sweeting

It felt like throughout the entire tournament that Val Sweeting and company were the most consistent team and seemed destined for perhaps running the table or being the favorite in the 1 vs. 2 game. Then  in the final two round robin draws it looked like they hit a brick wall, especially Val herself as draw weight had escaped her. Then, one bad end cost her in the 1 vs. 2 game, and as if things could not be any more sour, the entire team outcurled Manitoba in the final only to lose the title game for the second straight year. Ok so last year’s loss was one thing considering how much Rachel Homan destroyed everyone, but to outcurl Jones and lose has to sting even more.

The losses against Saskatchewan and Manitoba to finish off the round-robin were ugly but they stepped up big time in the semis and the finals. Sure they didn’t win it all, but they proved last year was no fluke though and I expect them to be considered a true threat once again if they make it to the 2016 event.

Final Stats

Lead: Rachelle Brown – Tied for 4th – 85%

Second: Dana Ferguson – Tied for 3rd – 81%

Vice: Lori Olson-Johns – 2nd – 82%

Skip: Val Sweeting – 4th – 79%

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3) Team Canada – Rachel Homan

This team was easily one of the favorites coming in, but this was the first year for this lineup and the fact that they have struggled in finals this season didn’t make them a shoe-in for the finals when the event began. They never really destroyed anyone at this year’s Scotties and they had a number of tough games against teams that they should have annihilated on paper.  The turning point came after their loss to Manitoba and they never seemed to get back on stride as they had lost three of their last five before squeaking out a win against Northern Ontario just to make playoffs. They ran into a red hot Saskatchewan team in the 3 vs. 4 game but managed to get revenge in the bronze medal contest. Though being on the podium three years in a row is nice, it was definitely an un-Homan like week.

Having covered the entire event in Moose Jaw this week, I can easily say that the Homan team was just off slightly, though they were incredible on the last three games they had (especially Emma Miskew’s showing against Northern Ontario). Rachel was missing shots that she would make in her sleep last year and I think that’s what made the difference. With that said, the addition of Courtney made this more or a less a brand-new rink, so a third place result isn’t all that bad. I expect this rink to be back with a vengeance in 2016.

Final Stats

Lead: Lisa Weagle – 2nd – 88%

Second: Joanne Courtney – Tied for 5th – 80 %

Vice: Emma Miskew – 3rd – 81%

Skip: Rachel Homan – 3rd – 80%

Team Saskatchewan, Stefanie Lawton, Sherry Anderson, Stephanie Schmidt, Marliese Kasner and coach Rick Folk Scotties in draw twetve action at the 2015 Scotties

4) Saskatchewan – Stefanie Lawton

It had been an up and down year for Stefanie Lawton’s rink as the skip had a child earlier in the year and Sherry Anderson took over. Then, to make matters worse, Sherri Singler injured her ankle just days before the Scotties and Stephanie Schmidt had to fill in at second. As if things couldn’t get any tougher, two of their first three games were losses to Canada and Manitoba. The team got a lot better as the week went on, including a 9-1 beatdown of Alberta, and they made it to semifinals where they came one point away from Lawton’s first ever Scotties final. To lose the bronze medal game and finish fourth again has to be disappointing but considering what has happened to this team throughout the year it was a good results. They have a chance of reaching the podium next year if things fall the right way.

With Sweeting’s struggled at the end of the round-robin and Homan looking human, Lawton’s red-hot form had everyone convinced that she would be playing Jones in the final. If it wasn’t for a three-ender against Alberta, Saskatcheawn may have been in their first final since Amber Holland won in 2011. It wasn’t the best finish, but this rink did an amazing job of working through their challenges. It’s hard to know how things will play out come next winter, We do know that Schmidt won’t be taking over for Singler next year, as she’s joining up with Michelle Englot’s Regina rink.

Final Stats

Lead: Marliese Kasner – Tied for 4th – 85%

Second: Stephanie Schmidt -2nd – 82%

Vice: Sherry Anderson – 5th – 79%

Skip: Stefanie Lawton – 1st – 83%

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Biggest Surprise – Nova Scotia – Mary-Anne Arsenault

Yes, their record was 5-6. However Nova Scotia played a lot better than what the record showed. They had one point losses to Alberta, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Saskatchewan. They also had two straight upset wins over Manitoba and Canada. So had those losses went the other way they could have been 10-1! This is definitely a case of what could have been and they might have  done what Prince Edward Island almost did in 2010.

Nova Scotia may have been a playoff team, and they certainly did a lot better than I thought they would, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say they would have been a finalist. For starters, that 2010 field was a lot weaker than that was in Moose Jaw this past week. With that said, Arsenault said on a few occasions that they could have been 5-1 at one point and they may be a darkhorse for a playoff spot if they return next year, especially as the younger players have that experience of being in the national spotlight.

Team Stats

Lead: Jennifer Baxter – 3rd – 86%

Second: Jane Snyder – Tied for 3rd – 81%

Vice: Christina Black – Tied for 7th – 76%

Skip: Mary-Anne Arsenault – 8th – 74%

Team Northern Ontario skip Tracy Horgan in final draw action vs Team Canada at the Scotties 2015

My biggest surprise, however, is Northern Ontario. Now to be fair, Brett and I both had Tracy Horgan’s Sudbury rink being an outsider for the playoffs if they made it through pre-qualifying, but I never expected them to push Team Canada to the limit. This week made them known nationally and I expect them to be in the playoffs before the next Olympic Trials.

Team Stats

Lead: Amanda Gates – 11th – 78%

Second: Jenna Enge – Tied for 5th – 80%

Vice: Jennifer Horgan – Tied for 9th – 75%

Skip: Tracy Horgan – 7th – 75%

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Biggest Disappointment – British Columbia – Patti Knezevic

To go from being an alternate last year to winning your provincial title the next year has to be a dream come true. Unfortunately it turned into a nightmare for Patti Knezevic as it was a struggle from first stone to the last. You can almost compare this to Kristie Moore’s performance for Alberta in 2013 as they were not considered a world beater but for this team to struggle that badly left a lot to be desired. Also as a result BC will join the Yukon and Northwest Territories in the relegation round next year.

Perhaps Curl BC will learn from booking Kelly Scott and Kesa Van Osch in the first round of a triple knockout event. Either way, it wasn’t a good week for Knezevic and I doubt that Sarah Koltun and Kerry Galusha will be pleased to play BC next year in the pre-qualifying round.

Team Stats

Lead: Rhonda Camozzi – 7th – 83%

Second: Jen Rusnell – 8th – 75%

Vice: Kristen Fewster – Tied for 9th – 75%

Skip: Patti Knezevic – 12th – 64%

Award Winners

2014 Scotties Tournament of Hearts

Sandra Schmirler Award (MVP): Jennifer Jones – Manitoba

1st Team All Stars

Lead: Dawn McEwen – Manitoba

Second: Jill Officer – Manitoba

Vice: Kaitlyn Lawes – Manitoba

Skip: Stefanie Lawton – Saskatchewan

2nd Team All Stars

Lead: Lisa Weagle – Canada

Second: Stephanie Schmidt – Saskatchewan

Vice: Lori Olson-Johns – Alberta

Skip: Jennifer Jones – Manitoba

Team Saskatchewan third Sherry Anderson, throws her rock in draw five action at the Scotties 2015

Marj Mitchell Sportsmanship Award: Sherry Anderson – Saskatchewan

The Punkari Brothers Shot Of The Week: Stephanie Schmidt – Saskatchewan (Triple peel in 3 vs. 4 game vs. Team Canada in the 11th end)


The Punkari Brothers 2015 Scotties Preview

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Written by Brett Punkari (With cameos by Lucas Punkari)

Before the event preview let’s round up our provincial playdown predictions series.

Part 4 (Brett’s Pick/Lucas’ Pick/Actual Winner)

Northern Ontario: Brad Jacobs/Al Hackner/Brad Jacobs

Alberta: Brendan Bottcher/Kevin Koe/Kevin Koe

British Columbia: Jim Cotter/Jim Cotter/Jim Cotter

Saskatchewan: Steve Laycock/Steve Laycock/Steve Laycock

Ontario: John Epping/Wayne Middaugh/Mark Kean

Nova Scotia: Mark Dacey/Jamie Murphy/Glen MacLeod

Newfoundland & Labrador: Brad Gushue/Brad Gushue/Brad Gushue

Prince Edward Island: Adam Casey/Adam Casey/Adam Casey

Northwest Territories: Jamie Koe/Jamie Koe/Jamie Koe

Manitoba: Mike McEwen/Reid Carruthers/Reid Carruthers

Oh Brett, he didn’t learn in regards to McEwen. My wacky picks (Hackner and Middaugh) didn’t come true, and Brett’s Bottcher prediction was a year early. Other than that we were pretty close though, except for our swing and a miss in Nova Scotia. Now, to our regular scheduled programming.

With all of the provincials over and done with, it is time to crown our national champion on the women’s. This year there is a relegation qualifying round with three teams fighting for a Scotties spot. So for this preview the teams will be ranked 1-14 with 13th and 14th being the two relegation teams that we think will not qualify. Some of these teams have played in the Grand Slams (in this case the Masters of Curling and the Canadian Open) slams so their records will be mentioned as well. Oh yeah, and I get to cover this event in Moose Jaw this week, so I’ll be making some random blog posts as we go along from Mosaic Place. 

1) Team Canada (Ottawa Curling Club)

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Skip: Rachel Homan “Destroyer”, Vice: “A miscue by” Emma Miskew, Second: Joanne “Frizz” Courtney, Lead: Lisa “Da” Weagle

Grand Slam Record: 9-3 (Runner Up and Semi Finalist)

This season Team Homan made a change as Allison Kreviazuk left to go to Sweden. So Joanne Courtney has come in to fill her shoes and it has paid off on the sweeping side as she has made Weagle and Miskew look like fools. However they haven’t come up clutch in finals where it has matter the most. They have lost four of five finals they have been in and they have gotten out curled, especially at second. In order to bring a three-peat they have to get it done in the championship final and Joanne has to bring her best.

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1) The Rachel Homan Killing Machine (Team Canada)

Oh come on, like you were expecting me to pick someone else. In her last two Scotties title, Homan has a combined record of 25-1 and she didn’t even have to throw her final stone in any game last year in Montreal. It’s hard to bet against that especially with the best sweeper in the women’s game now onboard in Joanne Courtney.

With that said, the Homan rink can implode at a moment’s notice and in spectacular fashion (see last year’s world finals against Switzerland or the Canada Cup final in December where Rachel basically kept the game from being a romp). If they are off in any way, they are there for the taking.

2) Alberta (Saville Sports Centre – Edmonton)

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Skip: Val Sweeting “Sweetning Sauce”, Vice: Lori-Olson Johns, Second: Dana Ferguson, Lead: Rachelle Brown

Grand Slam Record: 10-2 (Winner and Semi Finalist)

This year has been a roller coaster for Val Sweeting. At the beginning of the season the team brought in New Brunswick champion Andrea Crawford to be the vice, but that didn’t last long and she left early on. Before the Masters of Curling, they brought in Cathy Overton Clapham to spare and they won the event. Then they brought in Lori-Olson Johns and things got even better as they won the Canada Cup. They have also had Team Homan’s number this season as they have beaten them in the playoffs on their way to winning the Masters of Curling and the Canada Cup. It will be super close, so don’t be surprised if they win this whole thing.

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2) Val Sweeting (Alberta)

In my opinion, Sweeting has been the most impressive team in the country so far this year. They’ve build off of the momentum of their breakthrough campaign in 2013-14 and have become a major threat despite a couple of line-up changes.

It may be foolish to not pick a Jones/Homan final but with how strong this rink has been, I’m not convinced that will happen.

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

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

Grand Slam Record: 7-5 (Semi Finalist and Quarter Finalist)

After winning Olympic gold in 2014, Team Jones has returned and is once again one of favorites. They have not really shown their form from the Olympics as of yet, especially in the Canada Cup as they failed to qualify for the playoffs and were near the bottom in terms of stats in four categories. Though this is the Scotties and you can be sure that Jones will try very hard to get Kaitlyn Lawes her first Scotties crown.

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3) Jennifer Jones (Manitoba)

Okay it’s probably foolish to bet against the most dominant force in Canadian women’s curling in the last decade, but I honestly think Jones is there for the taking. Her overall level of play in the Manitoba playoffs wasn’t all that hot, and coughing up a 4-0 lead and allowing nine straight points to Rachel Homan at the Canada Cup has to be a slight concern.

Like Brett said though, this rink is always on their game at the Scotties. You can make a case that they should have won six in a row prior to being in Sochi, and they will probably be in the finals again. I just can’t pick against Homan or Sweeting at the moment.

4) Saskatchewan (Nutana Curling Club – Saskatoon)

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Skip: Stefanie Lawton, Vice: Sherry Anderson, Second: Sherri Singler, Lead: Marlese Kasner

Grand Slam Record: 1-3 (DNQ – Sherry Anderson skipping)

This year has been different to say the least for Team Lawton as Stefanie Lawton herself sat out most of the year as she had her second child. Sherry Anderson was moved  back to a skipping role with mixed results, including a DNQ at the Canada Cup. With Lawton back, it should help them contend once again however they have to knock off one of the big three teams to do it.

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4) Stefanie Lawton (Saskatchewan)

In addition to being the home rink at the Scotties, Lawton and her rink won the only other major curling event held at Mosaic Place as they capture the 2012 Canada Cup. They should be in the mix for the finals but they will need to avoid a random upset that has dogged them in the past, such as their Draw 17 to defeat to Sarah Koltun that dropped them to the 3 vs. 4 Page playoff game last year.

5) Northern Ontario (Idylwylde Golf and Country Club – Sudbury)

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Skip: Tracy Horgan, Vice: Jennifer Horgan, Second: Jenna Enge, Lead: “Pimp” Amanda Gates

Grand Slam Record: N/A

Tracy Horgan became the first team to qualify for Northern Ontario in Scotties history and the former Ontario champion could have a case for being a potential playoff threat as she has had experience on arena ice before from her 2012 appearance. Now of course they have to fight through the relegation games, though they will have a bit of a leg up on ice conditions, so that has to help in some degree.

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5) Tracy Horgan (Northern Ontario)

The pre-qualifying round is going to be insane as you can make a case for Northern Ontario, Northwest Territories or the Yukon to advance. Personally, I have Horgan coming through based upon their play over the last couple of years on the tour, and if she does she has the best chance of possible sneaking into the playoffs if the big four falter. 

6) Ontario (Bayview Golf & Country Club – Thornhill)

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Skip: Julie Hastings, Vice: Christy Trombly, Second: Stacey Smith, Lead: Katrina Collins

Grand Slam Record: 1-3 (DNQ)

This was our darkhorse team to win Ontario and they came through by beating Sherry Middaugh in the final. They are among the top teams in Ontario but it’s really difficult to tell how they will do in their first ever Scotties. They should be in the mix for a playoff spot, but it’s going to be tough.

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6) Julie Hastings (Ontario)

After Crystal Webster, Hastings was probably the best skip never to have been at a Scotties based upon her strong play in Ontario. Now that she’s here, she’s flying in under the radar compared to more well-known teams, and that should allow them to be in the playoff discussion if a top rink falters. 

7) New Brunswick (Curl Moncton)

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Skip: Sylvie Robichaud, Vice: Rebecca Atkinson, Second: Marie Richard, Lead: Jane Boyle

Grand Slam Record: N/A

With Andrea Crawford moving to Val Sweeting’s team (and we all know what happened there), Rebecca Atkinson had to look for a new team and has joined Sylvie Robichaud who has been a New Brunswick runner-up over the past few years. Although Atkinson’s experience has to help Robichaud in some regard, it will be a rebuilding year for New Brunswick before we’d consider them a playoff darkhorse.

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7) Sylvie Robichaud (New Brunswick)

Robichaud has skipped at the Scotties before in 2008, where she finished with a 1-10 record with her only win coming against Prince Edward Island’s Suzanne Birt. Atkinson has impressed me with her play with Crawford over the last few years and should help Robichaud out a lot here, even if they may not be in the playoff discussion. 

8) Newfoundland & Labrador (Bally Haly Golf & Country Club – St. John’s)

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Skip: Heather Strong, Vice: Stephanie Korab, Second: Jessica Cunningham, Lead: Kathryn Cooper

Grand Slam Record: N/A

It’s another Scotties appearance for Heather Strong, as Stephanie Korab has taken Laura Strong’s place on the team. Last year’s saw Strong get off to a 4-1 start but she lost her last six games to fall out of the playoff race. This year, with a slightly stronger field, it will be tougher for Strong to have that same type of start so don’t be surprised if she is around mid-pack all week.

Team Newfoundland/Labrador skip Heather Strong throws her rock at the 2014 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the Canadian Women's Curling Championship

8) Heather Strong (Newfoundland & Labrador)

Strong has a daunting stretch where she has to play Jones, Sweeting and Homan in rapid succession, with the qualifier team facing her in between the Alberta and Team Canada contests. If she can pull off an upset there, she might sneak into the tiebreaker mix, but she can’t afford to drop a game to one of the lesser squad.

9) Nova Scotia (Mayflower Curling Club – Halifax)

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Skip: Mary-Anne Arsenault, Vice: Christina Black, Second: Jane Snyder, Lead: Jennifer Baxter

Grand Slam Record: N/A

Mary-Anne Arsenault returns after her 2013 Scotties appearance with a much younger squad though she still has Jennifer Baxter with her. The field wasn’t great in 2013 and she could have made the playoffs had things tipped in her favor in some games. This year, I don’t see that happening.

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9) Mary-Anne Arsenault (Nova Scotia)

Obviously not having another Colleen Jones reunion tour isn’t fun but Arsenault should do alright. Okay she won’t probably won’t be in the playoff mix, but I wouldn’t be stunned if this five-time national champion pulls off a few upsets and plays a spoiler role to the top sides.

10) British Columbia (Prince George Golf and Country Club)

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Skip: Patti Knezevic, Vice: Kristen Fewster, Second: Jen Rusnell, Lead: Rhonda Camozzi

Grand Slam Record: N/A

Last year Patti Knezevic was at the Scotties as an alternate for Kesa Van Osch. When a flu bug spread it hit BC the worst as Knezevic has to skip a couple of games (a 7-3 win over Ontario and a 8-7 win over the Yukon) and at times had to play with only three players. We know she can skip on Scotties ice, which should help, but its tough to see this team finishing higher than mid pack.

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10) Suzanne Birt (Prince Edward Island)

It’s been 12 years since the two time Canadian Junior champion took the Scotties by storm with a 10-1 record and a third place finish in her debut. She’s been nowhere close to that since then and while I would love for her to be in the mix once again, I just don’t see that happening. Now if she could somehow get Erin Carmody and Geri-Lynn Ramsay to come back to PEI, that might be the spark that’s needed. 

11) Prince Edward Island (Charlottetown Curling Complex)

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Skip: Suzanne Birt, Vice: Shelly Bradley, Second: Michelle McQuaid, Lead: Susan McInnis

Suzanne Birt is still trying to find that magic form that she had way back in 2003. Though the lineup is different than in previous years, it’s really tough to see her ever rekindling that form. Though I could be absolutely wrong by the end of the week as PEI could be at best a mid-pack team, but that does not seem likely.

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11) Patti Knezevic (British Columbia)

 Like Jill Shumay in 2013, I really have no idea where to put this rink. I think I have them way too low in the grand scheme of things but since they are a brand new rink to this experience, I really can’t put them anywhere else. I fully expect this team to be the one I miss the most in my predictions.

12) Quebec (Glenmore & Etchemin Curling Clubs – Dollard-des-Ormeaux and Saint-Romuald)

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Skip: Lauren Mann, Vice: Amelie Blais, Second: Brittany O’Rourke, Lead: Anne-Marie Fliteau

Grand Slam Record: N/A

This province has had its struggles ever since Marie France-Larouche’s last appearance three years ago. Their records have been below .500 and it has gotten worse. It will be up to Lauren Mann to try to prevent relegation, though they are the best team in Quebec at the moment so they could be in okay shape. Plus, having two former Scotties competitors in O’Rourke and Fliteau should help a bit.

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12) Lauren Mann (Quebec)

They might be the top team in Quebec at the moment but the drop-off between Marie France and everyone else in that province is like the one between Eve Muirhead and everyone else in Scotland. Mann will be in tough in Moose Jaw and Quebec is my pick to be in the relegation pool for the 2016 event.

13) Northwest Territories (Yellowknife Curling Centre)

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Skip: Kerry Galusha, Vice: Megan Cormier, Second: Danielle Derry, Lead: Shona Barbour

Grand Slam Record:N/A

Normally Galusha would be almost a sure bet to make it out of the relegation round. Unfortunately with Northern Ontario in the mix it might be a very tough task. However if Galusha manages to make it out of relegation she is always capable of pulling a big upset or two so approach this team with caution.

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13) Kerry Galusha (Northwest Territories)

I actually got to see the Galusha rink play in Calgary against Team Homan in October and they gave them a bit of a scare before the defending Scotties champs pulled away. Horgan’s favoured to get out of the relegation round but Galusha won’t make things easy. If she advances, I have her finishing in ninth place and pulling off one or two upsets.

14) Yukon (Whitehorse Curling Club)

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

Grand Slam Record: N/A

Last year Koltun made her first Scotties appearance right after being in the Canadian Juniors. It was definitely a learning experience with only two wins, however that included a huge upset over Saskatchewan. Unfortunately it could be a real tough road for her to make it out of relegation with the other two teams in the group. If she were to make it out I don’t see her finishing higher than the bottom of the pack.

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14) Sarah Koltun (Yukon)

Kolton’s going to a massive threat in the future but being stuck in a stellar relegation group may result in a short visit to Moose Jaw. I wouldn’t be surprised if she makes it into the main tournament though and I would have her finishing in 10th place ahead of BC and Quebec, mainly because she’s been here before.


2015 Curling Provincial Preview Blowout (Part 4)

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Written by Brett Punkari (with cameos by Lucas Punkari)

Before we get into the Brier playdowns, a brief recap of what’s happened so far and how we’ve done.

Part 1 (Brett’s Pick/Lucas’s Pick/Actual Winner)

Quebec Men’s: Jean-Michel Menard/Jean-Michel Menard/Jean-Michiel Menard

Quebec Women’s: Lauren Mann/Lauren Mann/Lauren Mann

Northern Ontario Women’s: Tracy Horgan/Tracy Horgan/Tracy Horgan

Newfoundland & Labrador Women’s: Heather Strong/Heather Strong/Heather Strong

(All of these picks were pretty straight forward to be honest. Not a bad start though)

Part 2 (Brett’s Pick/Lucas’s Pick/Actual Winner)

Ontario Women’s: Allison Flaxey/Sherry Middaugh/Julie Hastings

Nova Scotia Women’s: Mary-Anne Arsenault/Mary-Anne Arsenault/Mary-Anne Arsenault

Alberta Women’s: Val Sweeting/Heather Nedohin/Val Sweeting

Saskatchewan Women’s: Stefanie Lawton/Stefanie Lawton/Stefanie Lawton

British Columbia Women’s: Kelly Scott/Kelly Scott/Patti Knezevic

Prince Edward Island Women’s: Kathy O’Rourke/Suzanne Birt/Suzanne Birt

Manitoba Women’s: Jennifer Jones/Jennifer Jones/Jennifer Jones

(I missed on Alberta and Brett missed on PEI but we were pretty much in lock step the rest of the way. Brett did peg Julie Hastings as a dark horse but British Columbia was a massive miss. Pro-tip to Curl BC, don’t book a rematch of last year’s final as the first game in a triple knockout event the following season.)

Part 3 (Brett’s Pick/Lucas’s Pick/Actual Winner)

New Brunswick Women’s: Sylvie Robichaud/Sylvie Robichaud/Sylvie Robichaud

New Brunswick Men’s: James Grattan/James Grattan/Jeremy Mallais

(If I have to look up the guy who won the men’s New Brunswick title, that can’t be a good sign for his relegation chances. Anyways, let’s go to Brett.)

Now that the Scotties provincials are over, its time for the men to take centre stage. There is the potential to have one of the most stacked Brier fields in recent memory, though with the provincial playdowns you can never assume anything until the last rock is thrown.

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Northern Ontario – Feb 4-8 (Last Year’s Brier Finish 11th)

The Field (Skip to Lead)

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

Chris Glibota, Matt Mann, Kyle Sherlock, Mark Dugas

Mike Jakubo, Jordan Chandler, Sandy MacEwan, Lee Toner

Dylan Johnston, Mike Badiuk, Chris Briand, Travis Showwalter

Al Hackner, Frank Morissette, Kris Leupen, Gary Champagne

Ben Mikkelsen, Taylor Kallos, Brian Skinner, Dave Durant

Bryan Burgees, Rob Champagne, Al Macsemchuk, Pat Berezowski

Jeff Currie, Mike McKarville, Colin Koivula, Jamie Childs

With Team Jacobs returning to the provincial championship after their Olympic gold it will be a tough test for all of the other teams in Northern Ontario. There are some good teams here though with recent provincial champions Mike Jakubo and Jeff Currie to Living Legend Al Hackner and former Canadian Junior runner up Dylan Johnston.

However Jacobs is head and shoulders above everyone else. The question is will he win it the easy by domination or will they do it in team tradition, which is the hard way.

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Yes Jacobs should win this going away but that’s a boring pick. I’ve decided to live dangerously and go with Al Hackner. There’s a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, he’s Al Freaking Hackner. Secondly, he just about made the playoffs the last time he played at the provincials in 2013. And finally, there’s bound to be one crazy upset in the playdowns this week, so why not this one.

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Alberta – Feb. 4-8 (Last Year’s Brier Finish 1st)

The Field (Skip to Lead)

Brendan Bottcher, Tom Appleman, Bradley Thiessen, Karrick Martin

Matthew Blandford, Darren Moulding, Brent Hamilton, Brad Chyz

Mick Lizmore, Nathan Connoly, Parker Konschuh, Carter Lautner

Kevin Koe, Marc Kennedy, Brent Laing, Ben Hebert

Aaron Sluchinski, Justin Sluchinski, Dylan Webster, Eric Richard

Scott Manners, Tom Sallows, Ryan Deis, Jordan Stienke

Daylan Vavrek, Evan Asmussen, Jason Gitner, Andrew O’Dell

James Pahl, Ted Appleman, Mark Klinck, Ronald Robinson

Jessi Wilkinson, Morgan Van Doesburg, Aasron Luchko, Neal Woloschuk

Brock Virtue, Charley Thomas, Brandon Klassen, D.J Kidby

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Jamie King, Jeff Erikson, Warren Hassal, Glen Kennedy

Alberta is always a tough province to get out of but this year it comes down to two teams. Former Canadian junior champion Brendan Bottcher and of course Kevin Koe.

This year Koe has a brand new team which on paper seems like a godly lineup. However they have not done that great so far. In terms of grand slam and CCA events they have had a semi final finish but two DNQ’s. Also there have been times where Kevin does not seem that confident with his shot making.

On the other side of the coin Bottcher is having a breakout year with two semifinal finishes on the grand slam circuit. Yes the slams have different rules and less ends than CCA events but it’s still impressive. Based on that I smell an upset as I think Brendan Bottcher will upset Koe and make his first Brier appearance. Also if you want some broom smashing watch the Brock Virtue team.

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Although I see Brett’s point about Bottcher pulling off an upset, I think he’s a year early on that train. For me, Koe’s new lineup is just too good for them not to win the provincials. I mean, are you going to bet against a team that has Marc Kennedy. I think not.

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British Columbia – Feb. 3-8 (Last Year’s Brier Finish 2nd)

The Field (skip to lead)

Chris Baier, Michael Johnson, Corey Chester, Sanjay Bowry

Tom Buchy, Dave Stephenson, Dave Toffolo, Darren Will

Jim Cotter, Ryan Khun, Tyrell Griffith, Rick Sawatsky

Wes Craig, Scott MacDonald, Tony Anslow, Victor Gamble

Neil Dangerfield, Denis Sutton, Darren Boden, Glen Allen

Scott DeCap, Ron Douglas, Pat DeCap, Glen Olsen

Grant Dezura, Kevin MacKenzie, Kevin Recksieder, Jamie Smith

Sean Geall, Andrew Bilesky, Steve Kopf, Mark Olson

Dean Joanisse, Paul Cseke, Jay Wakefield, John Cullen

Mark Longworth, Michael Longworth, Jonathan Gardner, John Slattery

Ken McArdle, Chase Martyn, Cody Johnston, Will Sutton

Jason Montgomery, Jody Epp, Miles Craig, Will Duggan

Darren Nelson, Russ Koffski, Jared Jenkins, Adam Windsor

Brent Pierce, Jeff Richard, Tyler Orme, David Harper

Stephen Schneider, Jeff Guignard, Shawn Eklund, Brant Amos

Daniel Weznick, Nicholas Meister, Calvin Heels, Brian Heels

This year’s British Columbia field is a little more even with John Morris back in Alberta. Jim Cotter is back to a skipping role while bringing in Ryan Khun to replace Johnny Mo.

Cotter is the favorite though former champion Sean Geall has brought in Andrew Bilesky which can make them a pretty good combination. Another darkhorse team is another former BC champion in Brent Pierce but it should be Cotter’s to lose.

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Following his breakout year in 2014 (thanks in large part to Johnny Mo being on board) Cotter is back into his dark horse mode. I agree with Brett that he should win BC, but I think it will be closer than people think.

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Saskatchewan – Feb. 4-8 (Last Year’s Brier Finish 5th)

The Field (Skip to Lead)

Jason Ackerman, Brent Goeres, Horwath Curtis, Mike Armstrong

Scott Bitz, Jeff Sharp, Aryn Schmidt, Dean Hicke

Randy Bryden, Troy Robinson, Kelley Knapp, Trent Knapp

Michael Carss, Mark Bahnrey, Loren Torfimenkoff, Tyler Matheison

Dale Craig, Brady Scharback, Dustin Phillips, Cory Fleming

Drew Heidt, Shawn Meachem, Mitch Heidt, Jeff Chambers

Brent Gedak,Catlin Schneider, Derek Owens, Shawn Meyer

Erwin Hanley, Andrew Edgar, Dean Cursons, Cory Hubick

Jeff Hartung, Kody Hartung, Tyler Hartung, Claire Decock

Jason Jacobson, Dustin Kalthoff, Tony Korol, Rory Golanowski

Josh Heidt, Brock Montgomery, Matthew Lang, Jayden Shwaga

Joel Jordison, Chris Busby, Dane Roy, Matt Froehlich

Steve Laycock, Kirk Muyers, Colton Flasch, Dallan Muyers

Kevin Marsh, Matt Ryback, Daniel Marsh, Aaron Shutra

Terry Marteniuk, Trevor Mackan, Ray Sharp, Aron Hershmiller

Jamie Schneider, Rick Schneider, Curt England, Shannon England

Though this is a pretty large field in Saskatchewan there are two names that probably standout. The most notable name is reigning champion Steve Laycock who is having a career year after making his first grand slam final. The other name that could be a threat is former Saskatchewan champion Joel Jordison, although Laycock is a league above everyone else so it should be an easy road for him to make his second consecutive Brier appearance.

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Jordison (who is from my new neck of the woods in Moose Jaw) is curling part-time this year, so that should work even more into Laycock’s advantage of being the true favourite. If there’s one province though where a team can come out of nowhere and win however, it’s Saskatchewan. So keep that in mind if a team you haven’t heard of makes it to the finals.

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Ontario – Feb. 2-8 (Last Year’s Brier Finish 8th)

The Field (skip to lead)

Greg Balsdon, Mark Bice, Tyler Morgan, Jamie Farnell

Colin Dow, Ritchie Gillan,  Brett Lyon-Hatcher, John Steski

John Epping, Travis Fanset, Patrick Janssen, Tim March

Joe Frans, Craig Van Ymern, Bowie Abbis-Mills, Jeff Gorda

Cory Heggestad, Dylan Tippin, Simon Barrick, Brandon Tippin

Mark Kean, Matthew Camm, David Mathers, Scott Howard

Ian MacAualy, Steve Allen, Rick Allen, Barry Conrad

Wanye Middaugh, Graeme McCarrel, Peter Corner, Codey Maus

Robert Rumfeldt, Adam Spencer, Brad Kidd, Jake Higgs

Aaron Squiers, Matt Mapletoft, Spencer Nuttall, Fraser Reid

Jon St. Denis, Chris Ciasnocha, Mike Aprile, Shawn Cotrill

As your reading through this field, you’ll notice an obvious name that’s missing. Yep for the first time since 2003 Glenn Howard failed to qualify for provincials. With him out of the picture this field can have as many as six teams (Epping, Frans, Kean, Middaugh, Rumfeldt and Balsdon) with a potential chance of winning it all.

So to determine a champion it comes down to tour and grand slam results. Two teams have stood out with Epping being former Grand Slam champion and Kean having qualified for playoffs on occasions. So I see it coming down to those two and I think Epping will finally breaking through to make his first appearance as a skip. However, seeing Wayne Middaugh skipping the Peter Corner rink has to make some of the teams look over their shoulder as he tries to rekindle his past skipping glory from the 90’s.

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Call me nostalgic but I got Middaugh winning this thing. For starters, he skipped my all-time favourite team to a title in 1998 (I don’t care what anyone says, that’s the best rink ever. The current McEwen squad that is king of the cash spiels would be destroyed by that Middaugh squad). Secondly, Peter Corner and Graeme McCarrell are on the team. If he had Ian Tetley or Scott Bailey as well this would be a romp.

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Nova Scotia – Feb. 3-8 (Last Year’s Brier Finish 12th) 

The Field (skip to lead)

Mark Dacey, Stuart Thompson, Andrew Gibson, Shawn Adams

Paul Dexter, Mark Robar, Neil Gallant, Tommy Bragnalo

Ian Fitzner-Leblanc, Ian Juurlink, Graham Beckon, Kelly Mittelstadt

Pete Burgees, Glen Macleod, Colten Steele, Robbie Mclean

Robert Mayhew, Michael Brophy, Nick Burdock, Ben Creaser

Jamie Murphy, Jordan Pinder, Scott Babin, Tyler Gamble

Chad Stevens, Cameron Mackenzie, Scott Saccary, Phil Crowell

Tom Sullivan, Paul Flemming, Travis Colter, Donald McDermaid

Whoever wins this province will have to fight their way through the relegation rounds with the addition of Team Canada. There are three skips who are all former provincials champions that are contenders for the crown (Dacey, Leblanc and Murphy) though based upon the lineups and how close he has come over the years to making a return trip I think Mark Dacey will win it. He’ll be the best hope for the Bluenosers to escape relegation though it could be a tough task with another maritime province which will be mentioned in a bit.

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Although Dacey does have Shawn Adams on his side I’m going to take Jamie Murphy, who is pretty much going to be Nova Scotia’s top team over the next decade. I don’t see him getting out of the relegation round though, as there’s another team we will talk about shortly that should win that with ease.

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Newfoundland and Labrador – Feb. 3-8 (Last Year’s Brier Finish Ties for 5th)

The Field (skip to lead)

Brad Gushue, Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant, Geoff Walker

Gary Wensman, Jeff Staples, Ivan Davis, Neil Peckham

Yes you read it right. Only two teams are going to fight it out for the Newfoundland provincial title. In terms of Gushue, he’s made another lineup change with Adam Casey being replaced by a returning Mark Nichols. It will unfortunately be a bloodbath for Team Wensman but if they manage to beat Gushue in a game in the best of five series, they can feel pretty good about themselves.

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Can I just pick 1976 Brier winner Jack MacDuff instead? Gushue was going to win this either way, but the fact there are only two teams in the entire provincials has to be a massive concern for the province going forward. Hopefully that can be solved quickly.

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Prince Edward Island – Feb. 6-10 (Last Year’s Brier Finish – 9th)

Adam Casey, Josh Barry, Anson Carmody, Robbie Doherty

Blair Jay, Marc LeClair, Aidan Downey, Richard Roland

Jamie Newson, Andrew Robinson, Sean Clarey, Shawn Pitre

Robert Campbell, Kyle Holland, Mike Dillon, Taylor Mclnnis

Tyler Harris, Sam Ramsay, Cody Dixon, Mike Trudeau

Tyler MacKenzie, Kevin Champion, Matthew Nabuurs, Sean Ledgerwood

This is the other maritime province that has to fight through relegation and there is one team that has become a potential shot in the arm this province desperately needs.

Adam Casey was let go from Team Gushue so he decided to become a skip and brought along former New Brunswick player Josh Barry and Anson Carmody, who was with Eddie MacKenzie.  This team has done decent on the tour but being a young rink is the real reason why this team is a huge boost to the province. If they win the provincials, I see them making it through relegation.

adam-casey

Casey’s the favourite for his province and relegation and it’s not even close. PEI probably should of avoided being in this spot last year but thanks to silly CCA rules (a combined total of three previous results were added together to determine the relegation pool) here they are. If they get out of relegation, they will probably be a mid-pack team, but that depends on the field that is in Calgary.

flag-canada-northwest-territories

Northwest Territories – Feb. 4-8 (Last Year’s Brier Finish 10th)

The Field (Skip to lead)

Larry Greenland, Georgie Greenland, AJ McDonald, Conrad Borque

Jamie Koe, Kevin Whitehead, Brad Chorostikowski, Robert Borden

Dave Mcleod, Donocan Arey, Mel Sittchinli, Richard Ross

Stephen Moss, Ron Delmage, Brett Zubot, Matthew Miller

Nick Saturino, Mark Robertson, Kevin Mcleod, Gordie Kasook

Greg Skauge, Tom Naugler, Brad Patzer, Jim Sosiak

Thanks to Jamie Koe’s previous performances, including a fourth place finish in 2012, the Northwest Territories avoided the relegation games. Even though it’s a decent sizeed field for this province, it should be an easy road foe Koe 3:16 to make another Brier return.

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You talk about your guards, you talk about your John 3:16’s. Koe 3:16 says I just smashed your rocks. Anytime I get to make a Stone Cold Steve Austin reference in a curling blog is a good day.

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Manitoba Feb4-8 (Last year’s brier finish 3rd)

The Field (Skip to Lead)

Because the field is so Gigantic (32 teams) here’s a link to show all of the teams competing. (Oh your no fun Brett)

https://cdn.metricmarketing.ca/www.curlmanitoba.org/files/2015_events/personnel-safeway_media.pdf

This is the biggest provincial championship out there with 32 teams and it features Canadian junior champions, Brier winners, World Curling Tour event winners, and so much more.

This year’s title boils down to three teams. Firstly there’s Reid Carruthers who has returned to a skipping role and has had a pretty good year by winning the Stu Sells Toronto tankard and making the quarters in a grand slam event. Secondly is Jeff Stoughton. He has not had the best of years with a new lineup though he does bring back Rob Fowler and he is always in the hunt.

Finally there is the team that everyone is watching and that is Mike McEwen. They have dominated the WCT like they always have, but they did win their first CCA event in December at the Canada Cup. They are the favorites by a mile and I think it will finally be his time as they break through and put all of their previous runner ups behind them.

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Oh Brett, haven’t you learned from the last five provincials. Things can and will go wrong for McEwen’s team when you least expect it. He should have won the 2012 title but laid a huge egg against Rob Fowler, in what was his best chance to make it to the Brier. Based upon that history, I can’t go all in and pick him.

So as a result, I’m taking Reid Carruthers. For starters, he’s got Braeden Moskowy on the team who I’m a huge fan of, and he’s basically the best of the rest. I’m setting this up for yet another Stoughton win aren’t I? 


2015 Curling Provincial Preview Blowout (Part 3)

Flag-of-New-BrunswickWritten by Brett Punkari (with cameos by Lucas Punkari)

New Brunswick takes centre stage this weekend as they will wrap up the Scotties playdowns and get the Brier action underway. These look like straight forward events to pick but we thought the same thing about British Columbia last weekend.

New Brunswick Women’s – Jan 28-Feb 1 (Last Year’s Scotties Finish Tied for 5th)

The Field (skip to lead)

Melissa Adams, Danielle Amos, Nicole Arsenault-Bishop, Kendra Lister

Sharon Levesque, Debbie McCann, Linda Smith, Christy Borgland

Sarah Mallais, Leah Thompson, Kaitlyn Veitch, Jade Carruthers

Nicole McCann, Laurie Nason, Shelly Eastwood, Carol Charlton

Sylvie Robichaud, Rebecca Atkinson, Marie Richard, Jane Boyle

Shannon Tatlock, Jaclyn Crandall, Shelby Wilson, Emily MacRae

At the end of the 2014 season Andrea Crawford made a stunning move from her home province to Alberta to be part of the Val Sweeting team. However, that move blew up in her face as she left the team shortly after the season began. When that original move happened it forced Rebecca Atkinson to join Sylvie Robichuad, who is a runner up in New Brunswick over the past couple years. With Atkinson’s Scotties experience it should make for an easy provincial.

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This is Atikinson’s to lose like Brett has said already, but it’s hard to see here really making an impact on the Scotties stage now that we know most of the field, especially with Crawford no longer playing. She may battle for the best of the rest category with Julie Hastings, but there’s no way she works into the big four.

New Brunswick Men’s – Jan. 28-Feb. 1 (Last Year’s Brier Finish Tied for 5th)

The Field (skip to lead)

James Grattan, Jason Roach, Darren Roach, Peter Case

Mike Kennedy, Brody Hanson, David Easter, Chris Smith

Jeremy Mallais, Zach Eldrige, Chris Jeffrey, Jared Bezanson

Andy McCain, Marc Lecocq, Scott Jones, Jamie Branen

Grant Odishaw, Rick Perron, Adam Firth, Robert Daley

Terry Odishaw, Paul Dobson, Mark Dobson, Spencer Mawhinney

Wayne Tallon, Mike Flannery, Chris McCann, Mike Flannery Jr.

Jason Vaughn, Charlie Sullivan, Brian King, Paul Nason

Unlike the women’s field, the New Brunswick men’s side has remained the same with Grattan returning with the same team. In terms of this field I see him winning once again, though I can see his toughest competition being Terry Odishaw and perhaps Jason Vaughn.

1297378514345_ORIGINALLike Brett I also have Grattan winning this but he may end being in the battle for relegation at the Brier. That’s not to say this is a bad team, but the field could be the most stacked in a long time.


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