Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Punkari Brothers Roar Of The Rings Preview

As ever when it comes to big curling events, myself and my brother Brett (who wrote the majority of this blog post) will attempt to preview this week’s Roar of the Rings in Winnipeg. As you will soon tell, we are both pretty pumped up about this. Also, any of my thoughts will be here in italics.

So it has come down to this. After four years of dedication, hard work, perseverance and perhaps a little bit of luck, the top eight  Canadian Women’s and Men’s teams will compete in the most important spiel of their careers, with a spot on the Canadian Olympic curling team at the Olympics in Sochi, Russia is on the line.

For one women’s and men’s team, it will be the culmination of four long and grueling curling seasons while the other seven teams will go home disappointed and wondering if there ever going to get this chance ever again.

This preview will compile stats of the teams last four seasons, how they got to the trials, their Scotties/Brier records, how they did on the World Curling Tour, along with their strengths, weaknesses and the key player that can make or break that particular team’s chances at winning it all. So without further delay let’s get this underway.

 The Women’s Field

Brett’s more excited about the men’s field, so I will speak about the women’s field, as I am a bigger fan of the female side of the sport than Brett is because of it’s unpredictability.

With that said, this is basically a two-horse race on paper, with both Jennifer Jones and Rachel Homan looking like the clear-cut favourites to win. However, any of the teams that are in this field can pull of an upset at any point and sneak away with a berth at the Olympic Trials.

For example, I don’t think anyone though Cheryl Bernard would be the Canadian Olympic team at the 2010 Olympics, but thanks to an amazing week in Edmonton at the Trials, she earned the right to represent her country. So keep that in mind as you look at the teams that will be in Winnipeg this week.

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

(Left to Right, Skip-Jennifer Jones, Vice-Kaitlyn Lawes, Second-Jill Officer, Lead-Dawn “The Mongoose” McEwen…..Face)

How They Qualified: Won the 2011 Canada Cup

Seasons at a Glance

2010/2011: Lost Scotties final to Saskatchewan (Amber Holland), Played in nine WCT events, Won four of them including The Players Championship over Rachel Homan (also won the Sobeys Slam over Chelsea Carey, the Sun Life Classic over Kelly Scott, and the Victoria Curling Classic International over Shannon Kleibrink).

2011/2012:  Won 2011 Canada Cup (over Chelsea Carey), Won bronze at 2012 Scotties (over Marie-France Larouche), Only won one of nine WCT events entered (the Oslo Cup over Margaretha Sigfridsson), DNQ in two of them.

2012/2013: Three WCT events entered, zero wins, Lost Scotties final to Ontario (Rachel Homan). (While Jennifer Jones was pregnant, Kaitlyn Lawes skipped the team at the Canada Cup, where they lost in the finals to Stefanie Lawton. She also skipped the rink at five WCT events, winning one event (The Shoot-Out over Crystal Webster) and finishing second in another (the Red Deer Curling Classic to Chelsea Carey).

Strengths: Very aggressive offensive strategy that usually leads to lots of blowout wins. The most consistent team at every Scotties they’ve competed in.

Weaknesses: Usually struggle mid-week and sneak in through back door to make playoffs. If  Officer misses her clearing shots Lawes and Jones are not able to overcome it.

Key Players: Jill Officer and Jennifer Jones

As I have written before, this team is pretty much the benchmark when it comes to Women’s curling here in Canada, and they have always been a threat to win a Scotties or any CCA sanctioned event.

After the 2010 season, which saw the rink win a third straight Scotties title, Jennifer Jones and long-time Vice Cathy Overton-Clapham went their separate ways and Jones brought in two-time Canadian Junior champion Kaitlyn Lawes to play that position. Many of us figured the dominance would continue and technically it should have if it weren’t for three tough Scotties losses.

Their win loss record (in the round robin) is staggering as the team has compiled a record of 23-5 in their late three Scotties appearances. However, their playoff record is not so hot as they’ve compiled a record of 2-5.

What is the reason for that? Well it seems to come from the fact that both Jennifer Jones and Jill Officer have both struggled in the playoffs, as Officer struggled with her peel weight shots thus forcing Lawes to clean up the mess, basically wasting two shots and not leaving much room for Jones on her two shots. This has lead to Jones getting out-curled by at least by 10%, which was evident in the 2013 Scotties playoffs.

So what will take for this team to win it all? The pressure will first be on Officer to make her peel shots when asked to, as that is her strength. If they are not made, however, then the team will be scrambling to get out of trouble, and because of the style they play, it may get too junked up thus putting the pressure on Jones to make tough shots to get out of trouble, which she may not make.

However this is a very consistent and dominant squad, and if the chips fall in their favor they can put the heartbreaking losses of the Scotties behind them.

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When Kaitlyn Lawes was brought in under somewhat controversial circumstances after the 2010 season, the main purpose was to build the Jones rink towards winning the Olympic Trials. Though the last three Scotties have ended in disappointment, this is the event that counts the most in the grand scheme of things.

When it comes to past trials, Jones’ record has been underwhelming. In her first trip in 2005, she went 5-4 to finish in a tie for fifth with Sherry Anderson, and in 2009, she was nowhere near the hunt to finish at 2-5. Sure this event is always a crap-shoot, but that record had to sting big time.

Given this field and Jones’ success in the past, anything other than a win in the finals will be a disappointment. But like Brett said, everyone will need to be playing at the top of their games for that to happen. 

Team Heather Nedohin from the Saville Sports Centre in Edmonton, Alberta

(Left to Right: Skip-Heather “Shitballs” Nedohin, Vice- Beth Iskiw, Second-Jessica Mair, Lead-Laine Peters)

How They Qualified: CTRS leader of 2011/2012 Season

Seasons at a Glance

2010/2011: Competed in seven WCT events, won one event, lost 2011 Alberta Scotties Tournament of Hearts final (to Shannon Kleibrink)

2011/2012: Won Scotties Tournament of Hearts (over Kelly Scott), Won Bronze at World Women’s Curling Championships (over Ji-Sun Kim), DNQ in five of seven WCT events entered.

2012/2013: Finished fourth at Scotties (lost bronze medal game to Kelly Scott), Entered nine WCT events, won one (the Prestige Hotels and Resorts Curling Classic over Anna Sidorova), DNQ in five events.

Strengths: Hard to say as not much has been seen of this team other than at the Scotties. They are the best team currently in Alberta so I guess that’s a strength? (I would say they are usually consistent at any event they are at.)

Weaknesses: Heather Nedohin’s emotion control and focus (Come on Brett, this is clearly a strength)

Key Player: Heather Nedohin

For many years, it seemed like the best women’s teams in Alberta were only Shannon Kleibrink and Cheryl Bernard as both teams made the Scotties in the four year span before the 2009 Olympic Trials and both squared off in the final with Bernard coming out on top.

Afterwards both teams seemed to fall off the radar and new teams started to emerge in Valerie Sweeting, Heather Nedohin, Laura Crocker and much more. In the 2012 Alberta Scotties final, Heather Nedohin and crew avenged their 2011 loss to represent Alberta at the Scotties and then things started to click as they made the playoffs as the fourth seed after many wacky crazy moments, including Nedohin saying “shitballs” vs Quebec (Marie-France Larouche).

Then after winning the 3 vs. 4 playoff game over Quebec, they won a crazy semifinal on a measurement over Jennifer Jones, and eventually won the title over Kelly Scott. They would go on to the Ford World Women’s Curling Championship, where they would finish in third. Last season they finished fourth at the Scotties after fading late in the round-robin due to Nedohin’s emotions sometimes getting the better of her.

So what will it take for this squad to continue the Alberta streak at the Olympic Trials for a third straight time on the Women’s side?  It’s quite simple. Heather Nedohin, as we know is a pretty emotional skip and sometimes her emotions may cause her to lose her focus. If she can keep a clear head, this team can be talented enough to win it all.

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I have no idea what my brother is talking about, Heather Nedohin’s antics make her a hero to our community. (Also Hi Eve!!!) 

Though I don’t think Nedohin is a slam-dunk to make it to the finals at the Trials, she is probably the best bet to sneak in there. Over the last two seasons, she has been one of the best teams in Canada, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Plus, she is only one of a couple of skips in the Trials field who have been to the Worlds, and I think that counts for something.

Team Stefanie Lawton from the Granite Curling Club in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

(Left to Right: Skip-Stefanie Lawton, Vice-Sherry Anderson, Second-Sherri Singler, Lead-Marliese Kasner)

How they Qualified: Won the 2012 Canada Cup

Seasons at a Glance

2010/2011: Won 2010 Canada Cup (over Cheryl Bernard), competed in five WCT events, won one event (the Colonial Square Ladies Classic over Jennifer Jones), lost 2011 Saskatchewan Scotties Tournament of Hearts final (to Amber Holland).

2011/2012: Competed in six WCT events, won two events (The Shoot-Out over Cheryl Bernard and The Players Championship over Cathy Overton-Clapham) and DNQ in one event, lost 2012 Saskatchewan Scotties Tournament of Hearts Final (to Michelle Englot).

2012/2013: Won 2012 Canada Cup (over Kaitlyn Lawes), competed in seven WCT events, won two events (the Manitoba Lotteries Women’s Curling Classic over Rachel Homan and the Colonial Square Ladies Classic over Chelsea Carey) and DNQ in two of them, lost 2013 Saskatchewan Scotties Tournament of Hearts final (to Jill Shumay).

Strengths: Very solid squad, especially early on in season, consistent in CCA events, especially the Canada Cup and Continental Cup.

Weaknesses: Have tendency to blow leads late in games, somehow cannot seem to win their provincial title considering they are the clear favourite, possibly fade late in the year due to early success or playing too many events leading to provincials.

Key Player: Stefanie Lawton

After taking part in the 2009 Olympic Trials and losing in the semifinals of the 2010 Saskatchewan Scotties Tournament of Hearts (to Amber Holland), Stefanie Lawton decided to make a change by cutting lead Lana Vey (who now plays with Michelle Englot) and brought in rival skip Sherry Anderson. At the time, it seemed a formidable one-two punch and Lawton’s rink became one of the first teams on the women’s side to have two skips on one rink.

This change brought instant success in 2010 as they won the Canada Cup and a WCT event, however, they lost the 2011 Saskatchewan provincial final to eventual Scotties champion Amber Holland. In 2012, with Amber already in the Scotties, everyone figured Lawton would win the provincial crown and be a big Scotties title threat. However, that did not happen as Lawton lost the final for the second year in a row, this time to Michelle Englot.

Then the 2012/2013 season came along and things started out great with a Canada Cup title and two WCT victories, and almost everyone figured Lawton would finally get out of Saskatchewan. However, she lost the final again to relative unknown Jill Shumay.

It’s shocking how a team that should dominate their own province on paper can lose three provincial finals in a row. The reason seems to fall on Stephanie Lawton’s shoulders as it always seems like she struggles with her strategy to hang on to leads especially late in games, which was seen in the 2013 Players Championship as she blew a big lead and lost to Eve Muirhead in the semi-finals.

This  is a very consistent team, but if Lawton cannot stop blowing leads and struggling in the playoffs, it could be an exclamation point of how their last four years have been.

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Dawn ‘The Mongoose’ McEwen face seems thrilled by this whole write-up. Anyways, as Brett has said, Lawton’s team usually loses when they shouldn’t and that will probably happen a couple of times at the Trials.

Either way, this is a rink that should be in the mix all week long, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they make it into the playoffs, or even the finals.

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

(Left to Right: Skip-Rachel “has no time for your silly draws” Homan, Vice-“A miscue by” Emma Miskew, Second- Allison Kreviazuk, Lead-Lisa “Da” Weagle)

How They Qualified: CTRS leader for 2012/2013 season

Seasons at a Glance

2010/2011: Competed in six WCT events, had one win (Shorty Jenkins Classic over Tracy Horgan) and two DNQ, made first Scotties appearance and finished in fourth (lost bronze medal game to Heather Smith-Dacey)

2011/2012: Competed in five WCT events, DNQ in three of them, lost 2012 Ontario Scotties Tournament of Hearts final to Tracy Horgan (No Comment).

2012/2013:  Competed in seven WCT events, won two events (the OVCA Women’s Fall Classic over Allison Nimik and The Masters Grand Slam Of Curling over Chelsea Carey) and had one DNQ, Won 2013 Scotties (over Jennifer Jones), finished third at World Women’s Curling Championships (defeated Erika Brown in bronze medal game).

Strengths: Vicious hitting game, utilize the tick shot very effectively almost every end with Lisa Weagle, youngest team in field.

Weaknesses: Rachel Homan’s draw weight, usually have to lose a tournament before they can win one. (Ha, weaknesses with the Rachel Homan Killing Machine, your funny Brett).

Key Player: Lisa Weagle

This team is scary, good, deadly and young. If you think back to the 2009 Road to the Roar event, Rachel Homan and company were in the hunt to make the Olympic Trials, while they were still playing in juniors. Although they didn’t make the Trials, they served notice that they were a team to watch for, and they would later win the 2010 Canadian Junior Title (over Dailene Sivertson of British Columbia).

Then in their first year of women’s play in 2011, they made the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and were a deadly hitting team throughout the week, though things kind of imploded and they faded to a fourth place finish. After choking away the 2012 Ontario Scotties title to Tracey Horgan, Homan’s rink implemented a new strategy which caught everyone by surprise, which led to them  giving the 2013 Ontario Scotties field an absolute whipping before winning the Scotties.

There are two things that are the key to their success. First off, this is a very deadly hitting team and they can throw hits just as hard as some men’s teams. Also, they utilize the tick shot in almost every end while most teams only use it at the very last end, thus opening up the field of play. This is why Lisa Weagle is the key player for this team, because they depend on her to utilize the tick shot almost every time.

The only real weakness is the team’s draw weight, as they seem to be heavy on draws especially after hits. Another thing to also keep in my end is when they enter a major tournament for the first time, they usually don’t win it. However that does not take away from the fact that this team is a contender.

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Let’s get this out of the way first, besides Scottish curling heroine Eve Muirhead, Rachel Homan is the skip that I support the most, and I will be rooting like mad for her to win the Trials.

As Brett has already written above, this team is more or less a killing machine, and arguably the favourite besides Jones’ rink. Plus, since this rink is extremely young, they might be the favourite to win this event for a couple of decades. 

Plus, a chance for me to see Rachel play Eve at the Olympics in February might cause me to faint upon arrival.

Team Sherry Middaugh from the Coldwater and District Curling Club in Coldwater, Ontario

(Left to Right: Skip-Sherry Middaugh, Vice-Jo-Ann Rizzo, Second-Lee Merklinger, Lead- Leigh Armstrong)

How They Qualified: CTRS Leader from 2011-2013

Seasons at a Glance

2010/2011: Competed in five WCT events, DNQ in two of them, Failed to qualify for Ontario provincials.

2011/2012: Competed in seven WCT events, had three wins (Shorty Jenkins Classic over Rachel Homan, the OVCA Fall Classic over Jenn Hanna, and the Sun Life Classic over Erika Brown) and two DNQ’S, lost in semifinals of Ontario Scotties (to Tracy Horgan).

2012/2013: Competed in seven WCT events, won two events (the Oslo Cup over Margaretha Sigfridsson and the Autumn Gold Curling Classic over Rachel Homan) and three DNQ’s, lost in semifinals of Ontario Scotties (to Cathy Auld).

Strengths: Longtime veteran skip in her fourth trials appearance, very experienced squad, do well early on in seasons.

Weaknesses: Fade late in season, have been unable to advance to the Scotties since 2008.

Key Player: Sherry Middaugh

Sherry Middaugh has been at this game for a long time. She’s a six time Scotties participant, a four time bronze medalist, an all-star in the 2006 event, and that does not count the fact that this is her fourth crack at the Olympic Trials.

Though she has been to many national championships, she cannot seem to shake off the fact that she finishes in third a lot. Also over the last few years, the team have started incredibly well in the WCT by winning a couple of events, but they usually fade late in the season and have not been able to win their provincials despite being  one of the favourites. However, we can forgive this team for because of some Homan team.

So with the trials coming somewhat early in the season, could this work to their advantage? It might, but it may take a bit of luck.

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I’m in the same boat as Brett here. Over the years, the Middaugh rink has always been good on the World Curling Tour, but they have done nothing when it comes to the provincials. I don’t think those issues will be any different here at the Trials, though the experience that Sherry has in these events can be viewed as an asset.

Team Chelsea Carey from the Fort Rouge Curling Club in Winnipeg, Manitoba

(Left to Right: Skip Chelsea Carey, Vice Kristy McDonald, Second Kristen Foster, Lead Lindsay Titheridge)

How They Qualified: CTRS Runner-up from 2011-2013

Seasons at a Glance

2010/2011: Competed in nine WCT events with two wins (the Manitoba Lotteries Women’s Curling Classic over Cathy Overton-Clapham and the Dekalb Superspiel over Michelle Montford) and three DNQ’s, lost 2011 manitoba Scotties final (to Cathy Overton-Clapham), lost 2011 Canada Cup final (to Jennifer Jones).

2011/2012: Competed in ten WCT events, had one win (the Victoria Curling Classic Invitational over Shannon Kleibrink) and seven DNQ’s, lost the 2012 Manitoba Scotties Final (to Jennifer Jones).

2012/2013: Competed in nine WCT events, one win (the Red Deer Curling Classic over Kaitlyn Lawes) and four DNQ’s, lost the 3 vs. 4  game at the 2013 Manitoba Scotties provincials to Barb Spencer.

Strengths: Consistent team that has come very close to making it to the Scotties.

Weaknesses: Unknown (I have not watched much of this team)

Key Player: Chelsea Carey

Chelsea Carey exploded on to the Women’s national stage at the 2011 Canada Cup and has become one the top teams in the province of Manitoba since then. She has also played the most WCT events on the women’s side coming into the Olympic Trials, which has helped her become a tough team to beat on the tour.

The only problem is the fact that they cannot seem to get by Jennifer Jones at the Provincials, but she is always right in the mix. In a few more years, she will be a potential Trials and Scotties threat, but for now that won’t be the case.

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Vintage Dawn McEwen face at this party. As for Carey, I think this might be the sleeper team at the Trials this week. She has always been strong on the tour, and I think she can pull of a couple of upsets against the big teams to put it her in playoff contention.

Like Brett said above, I’m pretty sure that we will be seeing Carey and Homan going head-to-head in the Scotties for years to come.

Team Renée Sonnenberg from the Grande Prairie Curling Club in Grande Prairie, Alberta

(Left to Right: Skip-Renée Sonnenberg, Vice-Lawnie MacDonald, Second-Cary-Anne McTaggert, Lead-Rona Pasika)

How They Qualified: Won the first pre-trials berth at the Road to the Roar over Kelly Scott

Seasons at a Glance

2010/2011: Competed in five WCT events, DNQ in three of them, lost in C final at the 2011 Alberta Scotties to Heather Nedohin.

2011/2012: Competed in seven WCT events, won one event (the Manitoba Lotteries Women’s Curling Classic over Heather Nedohin) and DNQ in two events, lost in C semi-final at the 2012 Alberta Scotties to Crystal Webster.

2012/2013: Competed in nine WCT events, won one event (the Boundary Ford Classic over Casey Sheidegger) and DNQ in five events, lost in finals of the 2013 Alberta Scotties (to Kristie Moore).

Strengths and Weaknesses: Unknown (I have not seen much of this team)

Key Player: Renée Sonnenberg

Renée Sonnenberg had been a relative unknown as a skip in previous years as she competed in Alberta. That all changed in the 2012 season when she won her first WCT event, and then last year she was one end away from going to the Scotties.

They are an up-and-coming team, but no expected them to make it to the Olympic Trials, especially in dominating fashion over clear-cut favourite Kelly Scott. Though they may contend for an upset win or two, expect to see this rink at the bottom of the pack.

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In something I didn’t know until I did some research, Sonnenberg actually skipped the Alberta rink at the Scotties in 1999 and 2001, but missed the playoffs on both occasions. Plus, she also coached the Danish women’s curling team at the Olympics, which featured the much-missed Dupont sisters.

As Brett said, this team isn’t a bad one, but given the strength of this field, I expect them to finish at the bottom of the pack.

Team Valerie Sweeting from the Saville Sports Centre in Edmonton, Alberta

(Left to Right: Skip Valerie Sweeting “Sweetening Sauce”, Vice-Dana Ferguson (throws second), Second- Joanne Courtney (throws third), Lead-Rachelle Pidherny)

How They Qualified: Won the second pre-trials berth at the Road to the Roar over Kelly Scott

Seasons at a Glance

2010/2011: Competed in seven WCT events, DNQ in four events, Eliminated in C event of 2011 Alberta Scotties by to Dana Ferguson.

2011/2012: Competed in seven WCT events, DNQ in three events, lost in 3 vs. 4 game of 2012 Alberta Scotties (to Crystal Webster).

2012/2013: Competed in ten WCT events, DNQ in five events, lost in C final of 2013 Alberta Scotties (to Kristie Moore)

Strengths and Weaknesses: Unknown

Key Player: Valerie Sweeting

In 2010, Valerie Sweeting shocked almost everyone by winning the Alberta Scotties over Olympic Trials runner-up Shannon Kleibrink, and ended up doing alright at the Scotties itself where she finished with a 4-7 record.

Since then Sweeting has gone through some lineup changes and has seen some improvements, which was capped off with a Trials berth. Though they are an experienced team on arena ice due to their one Scotties appearance, it could be a long tourney.

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When I covered the 2010 Scotties in Sault Ste. Marie, I was impressed with Sweeting’s play early in the week, especially in an amazing game against Krista McCarville which was one of the best that I have ever seen in person (until I saw Eve Muirhead play Rachel Homan in Calgary in October).

I do think Sweeting has a chance to do better than many people think at the Trials, but she will probably end up near the bottom of the pack. However, don’t be surprised if she is right in the mix for the next trials in 2017.

The Men’s Field

Though the women’s field is good, the men’s field is pure unadulterated insanity with nearly the entire lineup having a legit shot at winning the Olympic Trials. This could be one of the most intense and insane curling events of all time, so let’s get this started.

See, I told you Brett was excited.

Team Kevin Martin from the Saville Sports Centre in Edmonton, Alberta

(Clockwise from Top Left: Skip-Kevin “The King of Kings” Martin, Vice-David Nedohin, Lead-Ben “Benny Heebz” Hebert, Second-Marc Kennedy)

How they Qualified: Won the 2011 Canada Cup

Seasons at a Glance

2010/2011: Competed in nine WCT events, won five of them (the Westcoast Curling Classic over Kevin Koe, the Cactus Pheasant Classic over Wayne Middaugh, the Whites Drug Store Classic over Darrell McKee, The National over Jeff Stoughton, and The Players Championship over Niklas Edin), lost the 2010 Canada Cup (to Glenn Howard), finished fourth at the Tim Hortons Brier (lost the bronze medal game to Brad Gushue).

2011/2012: Competed in ten WCT events, won three events (the Westcoast Curling Classic over Mike McEwen, the Pomeroy Inn & Suites Prairie Showdown over Liu Riu, and the Victoria Classic Curling Classic over Mike McEwen), DNQ in one event, won the 2011 Canada Cup (over Glenn Howard), lost in semi-finals of 2012 Boston Pizza Cup to Brock Virtue.

2012/2013: Competed in nine WCT events, won one event (Westcoast Curling Classic over Andrew Bilesky), DNQ in one event, finished fifth at the 2013 Tim Hortons Brier

Strengths: Offensive Juggernauts, arguably have the best player in the world in Marc Kennedy, Godlike sweeping abilities of Hebert and Kennedy, Defending Olympic champs.

Weaknesses: Kevin Martin’s shooting accuracy, Hitting Ability of David Nedohin.

Key Player: David Nedohin

After winning Olympic gold at the 2010 games  many people wondered if anyone could stop Team Martin and their dominance, especially since they were destroying teams left, right and centre. It actually did not take long for things to change as the team started to struggle and tension seemed to build between Martin and John Morris. Though they made last year’s Brier after winning an epic war at the provincials over Kevin Koe, they finished a disappointing fifth place.

After last season, a big announcement came when John Morris decided to leave the team, which left almost everyone in shock. The big question was who be the vice, which was soon answered when David Nedohin was brought in, and things have gone quite well this season.

So why  Nedohin is the key player for this event? You see Nedohin has aways been known for his great soft touch on  draws and taps. However,  he is not known for his takeout weight shots like Johnny Mo was, but that should not affect the team that much. They will be a contender for the title, however they are not as strong as they once were.

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Nice hair K-Mart. 

Like many, I expected that John Morris would eventually leave the Martin rink, but I figured it would happen after the Olympic Trials. With Nedohin, this team is still a good one though, as they have won two WCT events this year, as they won The Shoot-Out over Steve Laycock and the Direct Horizontal Drilling Fall Classic over Brock Virtue.

However they are not the feared juggernaut that they were when they won the Trials back in 2009, so I don’t expect this team to be in the finals come Championship Sunday, though I will probably be proven wrong by that in the end.

Team Glenn Howard from the Penetanguishene Curling Club in Penetanguishene, Ontario

(Left to Right: Skip-Glenn Howard, Vice-Wayne “Quickdraw” Middaugh, Second-Brent Laing “Lainger”, Lead-Craig Savill)

How they Qualified: CTRS leader from 2011-2012

Seasons at a Glance

2010/2011: Competed in nine WCT events, won one event (the Victoria Curling Classic over Mike McEwen), DNQ in one event, won the 2011 Canada Cup (over Kevin Martin), lost the 2011 Tim Hortons Brier final to Manitoba (Jeff Stoughton).

2011/2012: Competed in nine WCT events, won two events (the World Cup of Curling over John Epping and The National over Kevin Martin), lost the 2011 Canada Cup final (to Kevin Martin), won the 2012 Tim Hortons Brier (over Kevin Koe), won the 2012 World Men’s Curling Championship (over Tom Brewster).

2012/2013: Competed in eight WCT events, won two events (the Canadian Open over Brad Jacobs and The Players Championship over Mike McEwen) and DNQ in three events, lost the 2012 Canada Cup (to Jeff Stoughton), finished third at the 2013 Tim Hortons Brier (defeated Brad Gushue in the Bronze Medal Game).

Strengths: Most consistent team at every Brier, Glenn Howard’s terrific draw game, Wayne Middaugh’s hitting ability.

Weaknesses: Glenn Howard’s shooting accuracy on hits.

Key Player: Wayne Middaugh

For many years, including the last Olympic trials, Glenn Howard became more known as Mr. Runner Up as he kept losing final after final. Little did we know in  that there would be a glimpse of a change in 2010, as Wayne Middaugh subbed in for Richard Hart at the Canada Cup, which they won over Kevin Martin.

Then after another Brier final loss in 2011 Richard Hart retired and in came Middaugh. Boy did it turn out to be a good move as Howard and company got the monkey off their backs by winning the Brier and the World championship. Though things did not go quite as well last year for the team, many people, including yours truly, see them as one of the big favorites to win it all.

Of the big three teams (Martin, Howard, and Stoughton) they have made every single Brier and have finished no worse than third in those Briers. Add to that the terrific soft weight game of Howard, and Middaugh’s big weight ability, and you got a big 1-2 punch. However, the one key to beating this team is making Glenn Howard throw hits, because he may not always make it.

Even with that, this  is one team that you will more than likely see in the final and maybe finally ending all of those runner-up finishes for good.

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I know that Brett loves Glenn’s current lineup, I would like to point out that my all-time favourite men’s team of Wayne Middaugh, Graeme McCarrel, Ian Tetley, and Scott Bailey could kick Glenn’s butt, any-time, any-place.

As for the Howard’s squad, like Brett said, they are probably the most consistent squad and arguably the odds-on favourite to win the Trials. However, given the strength of this field, it is going to be anything but easy.

Team Jeff Stoughton from the Charleswood Curling Club in Winnipeg, Manitoba

(Left to Right: Skip-Jeff Stoughton “Power”, Vice-Jon Mead, Second-Reid Carruthers, Lead-Mark “Bam Bam” Nichols)

How They Qualified: Won the 2012 Canada Cup

Seasons at a Glance

2010/2011: Competed in seven WCT events, DNQ in one event, won the 2011 Tim Hortons Brier over Ontario (Glenn Howard), won the 2011 World Men’s Curling Championship (over Tom Brewster).

2011/2012: Competed in nine WCT events, DNQ in one event, lost the 3 vs. 4 game at the 2012 Safeway Championship to Rob Fowler.

2012/2013: Competed in 11 WCT events, two event wins (the StuSells Toronto Tankard over Joe Frans and The National over Mike McEwen), Won 2012 Canada Cup (over Glenn Howard), lost the 2013 Tim Hortons Brier final to Brad Jacobs.

Strengths: Deadly runback ability, Jon Mead

Weaknesses: Jeff Stoughton’s draw weight consistency, Reid Carruthers

Key Player: Reid Carruthers

Jeff Stoughton has been down this road before as this is his fourth trials appearance and the team he has built is a good one, especially after bringing back Jon Mead in the 2011 season which catapulted him to a Brier and World championship.

Coming into the Roar of the Rings Stoughton is considered one of the big favorites to win it all, though are two big questions marks on the Stoughton side. The first is Jeff Stoughton’s draw weight, as seem in last year’s Brier, as he can be light or heavy at times. The other question mark is Reid Carruthers. As I wrote in last year’s Brier preview, Carruthers has not been that consistent shooting wise and he’ll have to be on his game for the trials.

Even with these issues we still cannot take away the fact that they have Jon Mead, who can curl lights out and can get bail out Carruthers if he has to, but he may not want to do it too often.

Spinner

Before the Brier final last year, Stoughton was my favourite to win the Trials, but after he laid a giant egg agains Brad Jacobs, my confidence has changed a little bit.

Nevertheless, this is a team to be feared, especially with how awesome Jon Mead can play at times. Plus, given how close Stoughton was to winning it all in 2005, this team will be pulling out all of the stops to make it to the Olympics this time around.

Team Kevin Koe from the Glencoe Curling Club in Edmonton, Alberta

(Left to Right: Skip-Kevin Koe, Vice-Pat Simmons, Second-“Jesus Christ” Carter Rycroft, Lead-Nolan Thiessen)

How they Qualified: CTRS Leader from 2012-2013 season

Seasons at a Glance

2010/2011: Competed in ten WCT events, won three events (the Twin Anchors Invitational over Andrey Drozdov, the Skookum WCT Cash Spiel over Greg McAulay, and the Deklab Superspiel over Mike McEwen), DNQ in one event, lost 2011 Boston Pizza Cup final (to Kevin Martin).

2011/2012: Competed in 11 WCT events, DNQ in three events, Lost the 2012 Tim Hortons Brier final to Ontario (Glenn Howard).

2012/2013: Competed in 12 WCT events, won three events (the Canad Inns Prairie Classic over Kevin Martin, the Cactus Pheasant Classic over Mike McEwen, and The Masters over Jim Cotter), DNQ in two events, lost 2013 Boston Pizza Cup final (to Kevin Martin).

Strengths: Kevin Koe’s vicious hitting ability

Weaknesses: Does not have a very consistent draw game, Carter Rycroft’s shooting accuracy

Key Players: Carter Rycroft and Pat Simmons

After year after winning the Brier in 2010, Kevin Koe needed to make a change after  third Blake MacDonald retired. So for the 2011/2012 season they bring in former Saskatchewan provincial champion Pat Simmons and have produced some good results with their best showing coming in the 2012 Brier with a runner up finish.

The thing is though, how good is this team? It’s hard to tell really because this squad can be inconsistent at times, especially with the setup and draw game shots  at second and third to setup Koe’s big weight shots. That’s why the pressure will fall squarely on both Carter and Pat to make the setup shots and hits, otherwise Koe may have to resort to his hitting ability just to get them out of trouble.

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This is the look of an assassin. 

Unlike Brett, I am really high on this squad. Sure, they have only been to one Brier in the last three years, but Koe’s hitting ability is insane. They might not be in the same household name level of Martin, Howard, and Stoughton, but you should doubt this team at your own peril.

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

(Left to Right: Skip- Mike McEwen, Vice-B.J Neufeld, Second-Matt Wozniak, Lead-Denni Neufeld)

How they Qualified: CTRS leader from 2011-2013

Seasons at a Glance

2010-2011: Competed in 13 WCT events, won six events (the Canad Inns Prairie Classic over Jeff Stoughton, the World Cup of Curling over Jeff Stoughton, the Sun Life Classic over Brad Gushue, the Challenge Casino de Charlevoix over Serge Reid, the Perth Masters over Duncan Fernie, and the Canadian Open by Glenn Howard), DNQ in two events, Lost the 2011 Safeway Championship final to Jeff Stoughton.

2011-2012: Competed in 13 WCT events, won five events (the Point Optical Curling Classic over Kevin Martin, the Canad Inns Prairie Classic over Randy Ferbey, the Cactus Pheasant Classic over Randy Ferbey, the Canadian Open over Jeff Stoughton, and the Perth Masters over Thomas Ulsrud), DNQ in one event, Lost 2012 Safeway Championship final to Rob Fowler.

2012-2013: Competed in 12 WCT events, one win (the Whites Drug Store Classic over Randy Bryden) and one DNQ, lost the 2013 Safeway Championship Semi-Final to Jeff Stoughton.

Strengths: Know how to win eight end games

Weaknesses: Can’t win 10 end games if their lives depended on it, Mike McEwen’s mental stability.

Key Player: Mike McEwen

If you’re looking for a men’s equivalent to Stefanie Lawton, then look no further. Mike McEwen has had opportunity after opportunity to make his first Brier appearance but has not been able to do so. Even though his squad had been a dominant force on the WCT win multiple event titles,  they cannot seem to win many CCA games or events.

The one problem could be the team’s mental stability, as it seems like if they start losing early in games or events, everyone on the team will look deflated and they are not able to recover.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a team with a lot of talent and they will make a Brier very soon. But until then, we can just keep asking ‘When on earth are they gonna make a Brier’.

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This is the look of a skip that has already lost.

Like Brett said, McEwen’s rink is very good and they are going to make a Brier at some point, but they have yet to get the monkey off of their backs for whatever reason.

If everything goes right though, McEwen could be a threat to pull of a big surprise this week in Winnipeg. However, it shouldn’t be that much of a stunner, since Mike Harris and Brad Gushue have already pulled off surprises in this event over the years.

Team John Epping from the Donalda Club in Toronto, Ontario

(Clockwise from top left: Skip-John Epping, Vice-Scott Bailey, Lead-David Mathers, Second-Collin Mitchell)

How they qualified: CTRS Runner-up for 2011-2013

Seasons at a Glance

2010/2011: Competed in six WCT events, DNQ in five events, lost the 3 vs. 4 game at 2011 Dominion Tankard to Greg Balsdon.

2011/2012: Competed in nine WCT events, won two events (the Shorty Jenkins Classic over Chad Allen and The Players Championship over Glenn Howard), DNQ in three events, DNQ for Dominion Tankard.

2012/2013: Competed in ten WCT events, won two events (the Shorty Jenkins Classic over Jeff Stoughton and the Point Optical Curling Classic over Kevin Koe), DNQ in six events, lost in the semi-finals at the 2013 Dominion Tankard to Joe Frans.

Strengths: Scott Bailey’s playing ability from the Middaugh era is still going strong (Your damn right)

Weaknesses: Really slow starts at tournaments, possibly the move of cutting Scott Howard for Collin Mitchell

Key Player: Scott Bailey

John Epping was a known name when he played with Wayne Middaugh and Jon Mead a few years ago, so he has been to the trials before, but this will be his first crack at it as a skip.

In the 2011/2012 season Epping had a great year, except for the DNQ for the Dominion Tankard. He pulled off a shocking upset in winning the Players Championship over Glenn Howard, after finishing runner up to him at the World Cup of Curling, with those showings and a couple of other WCT events wins allowing him to just squeak into the trials.

However it may be a long tourney, because the team had been inconsistent over the last little while, which led to the team cutting Scott Howard and replacing him with veteran Collin Mitchell. Though to be honest, I think that might be seen as a setback.

If they are gonna have any success, they can’t afford slow starts and they need to play good around Scott Bailey, as he can make almost anything. If they struggle, however, don’t expect them to be anywhere but the bottom.

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Now technically, I should be rooting for Epping, since he has Scott ‘Beatle’ Bailey from the great Wayne Middaugh team of the 1990’s, but I wasn’t pleased by the fact that he got the last automatic trials spot over Brad Jacobs because of the silly CTRS system.

Also, like Brett, I’m not convinced that replacing Scott Howard with Collin Mitchell (who hasn’t done much since winning a silver with Mike Harris at the 1998  Olympics) was a great move. Given the strength of this field in Winnipeg, this team will probably have a rough time.

Team John Morris from the Vernon & Kelowna Curling Clubs in British Columbia

John Morris, Jim Cotter (throws fourth stones) Tyler Griffith, Rick Sawatsky

(Left to Right: Skip-“Johnny Mo” John Morris (throws third), Vice-Jimmmmmm Cotter (throws fourth), Second-Tyrel Griffith, Lead-Rick Sawatsky)

How they Qualified: Won the first pre-trials berth at the Road to the Roar over Brad Jacobs

Seasons at a Glance (All with Cotter as Skip)

2010/2011: Competed in seven WCT events, Won one event (the Labatt Crown of Curling over Steve Petryk), DNQ in three events, finished 4-7 at 2011 Tim Hortons Brier.

2011/2012: Competed in seven WCT events, DNQ in two events, finished 4-7 at 2012 Tim Hortons Brier.

2012/2013: Competed in 11 WCT events, won one event (the Prestige Hotels and Resorts Curling Classic over Jamie King), DNQ in five events, lost in C semi final at the 2013 BC men’s playdowns to Tom Buchy.

Strength: Morris’ hitting ability

Weaknesses: Cotter’s draw game, a brand-new team

Key Player: John Morris

So if you’re wondering where John Morris ended up after the Kevin Martin saga, he decided to become a skip again. However, it’s not in a province where anyone figured he would end up, as he took over skipping duties on the Jim Cotter team.

Now Cotter himself is a pretty decent curler, and this is the best team in British Columbia. With Morris in the picture you can say things are on the up and up, and things have gone well so far. However this is their first year together, and Cotter’s first year not being a skip since he threw fourth stones for Bob Ursel, so there may be some growing pains.

They may not do so great at the Olympic trials, especially with the field there, but they will contend for an upset or two so I would not sleep on this team.

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What Brett forgot to tell you is that cult hero Jason Gunnlaugson is the fifth on this team, so I have a soft spot for this rink already.

With Morris on board, the Cotter rink is the true wild-card of this field. They can be a sleeper for the playoffs, or they could struggle, but they will be a tough test for everyone.

Team Brad Jacobs from the Soo Curlers Association in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

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(Left to Right: Skip-Brad Jacobs, Vice-Ryan “medium size” Fry “79”, Second-E.J Harnden, Lead-Ryan Harnden)

How they Qualified: Won the second pre-trials berth at the Roar of the Rings over Brad Gushue

Seasons at a Glance

2010/2011: Competed in five WCT events, DNQ in two of them, finished 7-4 at 2011 Tim Hortons Brier

2011/2012: Competed in six WCT events, DNQ in two events, finished 5-6 at the 2012 Tim Hortons Brier

2012/2013: Competed in eight WCT events, won 2013 Tim Hortons Brier over Manitoba (Jeff Stoughton), lost the 2013 World Men’s Curling Championship final to Sweden (Niklas Edin).

Strengths: Vicious hitting game, Ryan Fry, Sweeping ability of Ryan and E.J Harnden

Weaknesses: Draw weight after hits, emotional control, mid-week slump, have to do things the hard way

Key Player: Ryan Fry

As I have mentioned before, adding Ryan Fry to Team Jacobs has rocketed them to the top of the ranks in Canada, and we all know how good their hitting ability is. Their play may have gotten even better,  they won the first two WCT events (and the first two ever for Jacobs and the Harnden’s) at the start of season with unbeaten records (the StuSells Oakville Tankard over Kevin Koe and the Shorty Jenkins Classic over Jeff Stoughton).

However when it comes to CCA events, there is a big issue. At the Brier and the World’s, Team Jacobs started losing a couple of games in a row, forcing them to win out just to make playoffs. They are the dark-horse to win, but in this field they cannot afford a mid-week slump, or they will be in trouble.

No matter what happens this week, keep an eye on this team as they will contend for Briers in the next four years, and they will be a big favorite at the next Olympic Trials.

curl

Here’s a cameo by Brett’s boy Niklas Edin, which you will hear all about in our Olympic preview.

While I’m still wrapping my head around the fact that the defending Brier champions come from my hometown, Jacobs is the dark-horse in this field. If they don’t have a mid-week slump, and Ryan Fry continues to play out of his mind, it’s not hard to see this rink being in the mix come playoff time.

Though if a team from the Sault makes it the Olympics, my head might explode in excitement.

Prediction Time

It’s time to put our money where our mouth is, as we will attempt to predict the final standings for this year’s Roar of the Rings. Also, keep an eye for our comedy picks to win, which will be shown by the player pictures we have selected for this blog post.

Brett’s Picks

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Women’s Standings

1) Jennifer Jones (The benchmark of curling will finally get the playoff monkey off their backs and prove why they have been the most consistent Scotties team in the last couple years.)

2) Rachel Homan (Also a big favourite with their deadly hitting and “Da Weagle” on their side. Expect them to be the massive favorites at the next trials.)

3) Stefanie Lawton (With the trials being early in the season they will show their potential in the round-robin, but they’ll fade when the playoffs come around.)

4) Heather Nedohin (They’ll be in the hunt to make the playoffs, but they could lose to one of the bottom teams late in the tourney.)

5) Sherry Middaugh (Their experience will net them a couple of wins, but the other teams ahead of them are that much better.)

6) Chelsea Carey (They have not been very consistent this year in WCT events, especially in the Grand Slams, so don’t expect much this year. But keep an eye on this team at the next Trials.)

7) Valerie Sweeting (The experience on arena ice may help, but they’ll struggle with this stacked line up.)

8) Renée Sonnenberg (Well at least you made it to the Olympic Trials.)

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Men’s Standings

1) Glenn Howard (The most consistent team over the last four years will remain that way through these trials.)

2) Jeff Stoughton (Will be a major player, especially with Jon Mead’s play,  but all of the pressure will be on Reid Carruthers.)

3) Kevin Koe (Koe’s hitting ability is unmatched but will he have the setup shots to do it?)

4) Kevin Martin (Though this team has done pretty good this season, Martin’s possible final Trials appearance will end with a whimper.)

5) Brad Jacobs (They are the dark-horse to make the playoffs, but they can’t afford a slump.)

6) Mike McEwen (Will struggle to win 10-end games, but watch for them in four years.)

7) John Morris (New team blues may hurt them a little, but the will contend for some upset wins.)

8) John Epping (We will see this team in a Brier when Howard retires, but for now, nice knowing you.)

Lucas’s Picks

Connie Laliberte-Debbie Jones-Walker-Janet Arnott

Women’s Standings

1) Jennifer Jones (This team was built with this event in mind when Kaitlyn Lawes was brought in following the 2010 season, so if they don’t win here, it will be a stunner.)

2) Rachel Homan (Naturally, this is who I actually want to win the whole thing. Rachel usually loses a major event before she wins it though, so I can see that happening again here.)

3) Heather Nedohin (Personally speaking, I think the top two teams have a legit shot of winning the whole thing. However, I can see this rink being the wild card.)

4) Stefanie Lawton (Knowing Lawton’s form, she will probably blow at least two games during the week that she will be leading.)

5) Chelsea Carey (A good young team, but they aren’t quite at level of the big guns yet.)

6) Sherry Middaugh (For whatever reason, Sherry usually struggles at the big events after doing well on the World Curling Tour. I suspect the same thing happens here.)

7) Valerie Sweeting (I was impressed with her while watching the 2010 Scotties in the Soo, and she is a good shot-maker. I don’t think she will make the playoffs, but she might finish higher than seventh.)

8) Renée Sonnenberg (She made it to the Alberta provincial finals last year, and she’s decent on the tour. But in this field? Good luck.)

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Men’s Standings

1) Kevin Koe (This is more of a hunch if anything, but I really like their chances. Koe’s hitting ability is out of this world, and I really believe that he is coming in under the radar.)

2) Glenn Howard (Out of the big teams, this rink is probably the best right now on current form.)

3) Jeff Stoughton (Again, this is more of a hunch if anything. He was my favourite for quite awhile, though I have changed my mind with my Koe pick over the last couple of months.)

4) Kevin Martin (David Nedohin’s no Johnny Mo, but he is still pretty solid. After winning the gold medal in 2010, however, it’s hard to see this rink being as motivated.)

5) Brad Jacobs (Obviously who I want to win, but I’m not sure how he’ll do against such a stacked field. A fourth place showing wouldn’t surprise me.)

6) John Morris (Their strong form at the Roar of the Rings should continue here, though the results might not show it. They really should have switched the schedule around though so that the Morris/Martin contest would have been in the first draw and not the last.)

7) Mike McEwen (He has to play ten-end games instead of the eight-end games that he dominates in on the WCT? Well he’s done.)

8) John Epping (I’m a little bit ticked that he got the guaranteed spot, though not as much since Jacobs got in once everything finished up. However, with Scott Howard no longer on the squad, and with the field being stacked, this might be a long week.)

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