Monthly Archives: January 2015

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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A Check-In On My Mental State

“Well, once there was only dark. If you ask me, the light’s winning.”

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Boy look at that smiling fool standing with The Rachel Homan Killing Machine. What do you mean he has a mental illness?

For those of you that may be aware or  may not be aware, I’ve been dealing with depression for a little over a decade now. In fact, few people knew about it other than some very close friends and family members until I wrote a column about it for the Airdrie City View back in February.

So how are things now you may ask? Well much to my surprise, I’m the happiest that I’ve been in quite a long time.

It’s strange in a sense for me to be like this. As my closest confidants will tell you, I’ve had times where I’m feeling good for quite awhile and then I end up fighting off the demons in my head once again for a long period of time.

I think there’s a couple of reasons for the recent uptick in my head. One is a motto I’ve had as of late of  to accentuate the positives and hide the negatives. Okay I stole that from what Paul Heyman said on The Rise and Fall of ECW DVD but it fits in to what I’m doing. Whether that’s not  reading articles that just tick me off or following negative people that bring me down on social media, it helps out quite a lot.

Plus, I’ve have the chance to do a ton of cool stuff in the last 12 months. I got to cover the CHL Top Prospects game, met Kyle Dubas and Sheldon Keefe by pure dumb luck (plus Team Homan), went to a bevy of concerts, and achieved my goal of working for a daily paper in a major junior hockey market in Moose Jaw. The highs have certainly surpassed any lows.

Sure everything mentally could change and I may end up in a funk at some point. But I have way too much too look forward (such as the Scotties here in two weeks in Moose Jaw and going back home in the summer) to be worried about that.

Now while my mental state is in a good space, that’s not to say that my approach is the clear-cut answer to everyone’s issues.

Those who are dealing with any mental illness are battling different issues in different ways, and harming themselves sadly becomes the case more often than not.

As ever, all I can say to people is to reach out, be it to a friend, family member, or just a random passerby. Someone out there cares.


2015 Curling Provincial Preview Blowout Spectacular (Part 2)

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Written by Brett Punkari (with cameos by his brother Lucas)

So what have we learned so far? Well the provincials to date have pretty much gone to according to plan. Unless you count Glenn Howard failing to make the Ontario men’s playdowns, but that’s another story.

All but New Brunswick will have their Scotties representative decided as of Sunday, so let’s get this show on the road. 

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Ontario Women’s – Jan 19-25 (Last Year’s Scotties Finish Tied for 9th)

The Field (Skip to Lead)

Megan Balsdon, Jessica Corrado, Stephanie Corrado, Laura Hickey

Allison Flaxey, Katie Cottrill, Kristen Foster, Morgan Court

Clancy Grandy, Janet Murphy, Melissa Foster, Nicole Westlund

Jacqueline Harrison, Susan Froud, Katelyn Wasylkiw, Jordan Ariss

Julie Hastings, Christy Trombley, Stacey Smith, Katrina Collins

Danielle Inglis, Shannon Harrington, Cassandra de Groot, Kiri Campbell

Shannon Kee, Pam Feldkamp, Margot Flemming, Halyna Tepylo

Sherry Middaugh, Jo-Ann Rizzo, Lee Merklinger, Leigh Armstrong

Caitlin Romain, Kendall Haymes, Kerilyn Mathers, Cheryl Kreviazuk

Rhonda Varnes, Melissa Gannon, Melissa McAuley, Rebecca Wichers Schreur

Last year Allison Flaxey pulled a shocker by upsetting teams like Sherry Middaugh and Tracy Horgan to secure her first Scotties Birth. Although she struggled, this year has been a lot better as she’s played more on arena ice (including her appearance at the Canada Cup) and games against Middaugh have been very close.

I expect these two teams to play in the finals and I see Flaxey making her second trip to the Scotties. However, don’t count out last year’s provincial runner-up Julie Hastings, as she has played in a couple of grand slams this year as well.

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I’ll probably end up being proved wrong but I think this year will finally see Sherry Middaugh win the Ontario title. Sure she usually struggles as the provincial but I think the law of averages will finally turn in her favour. That and no Rachel Homan in the field will help with that. 

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Nova Scotia Women’s – Jan 20-25 (Last Year’s Scotties Finish Tied for 7th)  

The Field (Skip to Lead)

Mary-Anne Arsenault, Christina Black, Jane Snyder, Jennifer Baxter

Theresa Breen, Tanya Hilliard, Jocelyn Adams, Amanda Simpson

Margaret Cutcliffe, Sara Jane Arason, Courtney Smith, Virginia Jackson

Kelly MacIntosh, Kristen MacDiarmid, Jennifer Crouse, Karlee Jones

Nancy McConnery, Sara Spafford, Mackenzie Proctor, Julia Williams

Jocelyn Nix, Julie McEvoy, Sheena Moore, Shelley Barker

Danielle Parsons, Amanda Colter, Katrina MacKinnon, Laura Kennedy

Sarah Rhyno, Mary Mattatall, Elizabeth Woodworth, Jennifer Brine

Without defending champion Heather Smith, the Nova Scotia field is fairly wide open with former Scotties participants Arsenault and McConnery in the mix along with Danielle Parsons. So it’s a bit of a tough call but I think Arsenault will come through again and perhaps fight for a playoff spot. However it depends on the field in Moose Jaw.

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I think this is Arsenault’s to lose but I really don’t see here as a playoff threat. That’s not to say their a bad team, but given the field that may be in Moose Jaw, I doubt she will be anything better than mid-pack. 

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Alberta Women’s – Jan 21-25 (Last Year’s Scotties Finish 2nd)

The Field (Skip to lead)

Chelsea Carey, Laura Crocker, Taylor McDonald, Jen Gates

Delia DeJong, Amy Janko, Brittany Zelmer, Janais DeJong

Karynn Flory, Richelle Baer, Amanda Moizis, Katie Roskewich

Tiffany Game, Vanessa Pouliot, Jennifer Van Wieren, Melissa Pierce

Teryn Hamilton, Kalynn Park, Sandi Weber, Alanna Blackwell

Nicky Kaufman, Holly Whyte, Deena Benoit, Pam Appleman

Shannon Kleibrink, Lisa Eyamie, Nikki Smith, Darah Blandford

Heather Nedohin, Amy Nixon, Jessica Mair, Laine Peters

Deanne Nicol, Dawn Corbeil, Sandra Sharp, Michelle Pashniak

Casey Scheidegger, Cary-Anne McTaggart, Jessie Sheidegger, Brittany Tran

Val Sweeting, Lori Olson-Johns, Dana Ferguson, Rachelle Brown

Crystal Webster, Jessie Kaufman, Geri-Lynn Ramsay, Rebecca Konschuh

This is the toughest province to get out of as many as four teams (Webster, Carey, Nedohin and Sweeting) have a legit case of winning Alberta. Although Webster has not done a lot this year, the other three teams have been on the Grand Slam circuit. Since Carey has struggled a bit with a new team and switching provinces from Manitoba to Alberta, that leaves Nedohin and Sweeting.

Thus far Val has had a better season as she won her first grand slam and also won the Canada Cup. I expect them to win once again at the provincials, but it’s going to be very close.

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Like Brett said, there’s four teams who you can seriously see winning the Alberta crown, and you have a fifth squad if you include Shannon Kleibrink. Val’s probably the favourite given her season but I’m going with Nedohin, mainly because of the fact that Amy Nixon is on the team.

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Saskatchewan Women’s – Jan 21-25 (Last Year Scotties Finish 4th)

The Field (Skip to Lead)

Brett Barber, Samamtha Yachiw, Meaghan Frerichs, Kaetlyn Bowman

Penny Barker, Deanna Doig, Amanda Craigie, Danielle Sicinski

Chantelle Eberle, Cindy Ricci, Larisa Murray, Debbie Lozinski

Michelle Englot, Candace Chisholm, Ashley Howard, Kristy Johnson

Shalon Fleming, Ashley Green, Marsha Munro, Ashley Desjardins

Brenda Goertzen, Robyn Silvernagle, Cristina Goertzen, Anita Silvernagle

Jessica Hanson, Kourtney Fesser, Krista Fesser, Brie Spilchen

Stefanie Lawton, Sherry Anderson, Sherri Singler, Marliese Kasner

Trish Paulsen, Jenna Loder, Kari Johanson, Kari Paulsen

Mandy Selzer, Erin Selzer, Kristen Sauter, Sarah Slywka

Wendy Thienes, Shelley Rhodes, Della Moffat, Sandra McKellar

Lana Vey, Alexandra Williamson, Natalie Bloomfield, Ashley Williamson

Last year Stefanie Lawton got the monkey off her back and made it back to the Scotties for the first time since 2008. Although Sherry Anderson has been skipping the team for the first half of the season due to Lawton having a child, that should not affect their performance that much and they should be primed for another Scotties run. Other contenders that could win Saskatchewan are Michelle Englot and Trish Paulsen, if Lawton happens to struggle.

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Barring a shock run-in by Amber Holland, this is Lawton’s to lose. With that said, she did lose the provincial final in surprising fashion for a number of years so I wouldn’t be surprised if a new face (hello Trish Paulsen) steals the title. Since the Scotties will be in Moose Jaw, I think you will see everyone on their game this week to be the home team.

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British Columbia Women’s – Jan 21-25 (Last Year Scotties Finish Tied for Fifth T-5th)

The Field (Skip to Lead)

Diane Gushulak, Grace MacInnes, Lorelle Weiss, Sandra Comadina

Patti Knezevic, Kristen Fewster, Jen Rusnell, Rhonda Camozzi

Kristy Lewis, Jody Maskiewich, Barb Zbeetnoff, Jenn Howard

Amanda Russett, Crista Sanbrooks, Ashley Nordin, Courtney Karwandy

Kelly Scott, Shannon Aleksic, Karla Thompson, Sarah Pyke

Dailene Sivertson, Stephanie Baier, Jessie Sanderson, Carley St. Blaze

Kesa Van Osch, Kalia Van Osch, Trysta Vandale, Kelsey Steiger

Sarah Wark, Simone Brosseau, Michelle Allen, Rachelle Kallechy

British Columbia is a bit of an interesting province this year, especially after Kelly Scott’s shocking loss last year to Kesa Van Osch. This year, Scott has had a bit of a lineup change while Van Osch brings up her sister Kalia who won a silver medal at last year’s Canadian Juniors.  It’s going to be a tough call but I don’t think lightning will strike twice as I see Kelly Scott making a return to the Scotties and being a podium threat.

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Other than then Glenn Howard’s loss to Greg Balsdon last winter or Rachel Homan’s collapse against Tracy Horgan in 2012, Scott’s loss at last year’s provincials is easily the biggest stunner in the last five years. Her lineup isn’t quite as strong this time around, and Van Osch did pick up her sister for this year’s squad, but I expect Scott to get a measure of revenge in the provincial finals. Whether she’s a legit threat for a medal though remains to be seen.

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Prince Edward Island Women’s – Jan 23-27 (Last Year’s Scotties Finish Tied for Ninth)

 The Field (Skip to Lead)

Kathy O’Rourke, Robyn Green, Meaghan Hughes, Tricia Affleck

Kim Dolan, Michala Robinson, Jackie Reid, Sinead Dolan

Lisa Jackson, Jodi Murphy, Melissa Morrow, Carolyn Coulson

Suzanne Birt, Shelly Bradley, Michelle McQuaid, Susan McInnis

Five years ago Kathy O’Rourke nearly pulled off the Cinderella run of the century and almost won PEI’s first ever Scotties crown. Times have changed since then and things have not gone well for the province. This year, the winner will have to probably fight off relegation, but I can see O’Roruke breaking through and giving the province a chance of doing just that. Could the same magical run happen again? It’s hard to tell.

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Seeing that both Erin Carmody and Geri-Lynn Ramsey aren’t walking through the door, I’m expecting Birt to make a return to the Scotties. Maybe she will one day return to the form that saw her nearly go perfect in her first trip to the event in 2003, but I’m not holding my breath.

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Manitoba Women’s – Jan 21-25 (Last Year’s Scotties Finish Third)

The Field (Skip to Lead)

Kelly Wiwcharuk, Jenna Wiwcharuk-Roy, Janelle Grant, Toni Butt

Tiffany McLean, Heather Bruederlin, Blaire Rempel, Cassandra Lesiuk

Tina Kozak, Janelle Schwindt, Quinn Roberts, Caryn Edwards

Stacey Fordyce, Kelsey Russill, Kristy Howard, Roz Ripleu

Kaileigh Strath, Sabrina Neufeld, Calleen Friesen, D’Arcy Maywood

Colleen Kilgallen, Susan Baleja, Janice Blair, Kendra Georges

Kerri Einarson, Selena Kaatz, Liz Fyfe, Kristin MacCuish

Darcy Robertson, Tracey Lavery, Vanessa Foster, Michelle Kruk

Joelle Brown, Alyssa Vandepoele, Heather Maxted, Kelsey Hinds

Michelle Montford, Lisa Deriviere, Sara Van Walleghem, Sarah Neufeld

Barb Spencer, Katie Spencer, Holly Spencer, Sydney Arnal

Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer, Dawn McEwen

Jill Thurston, Brette Richards, Briane Meilleur, Krysten Karwacki

Kristy McDonald, Kate Cameron, Leslie Wilson, Raunora Westcott

Janet Harvey, Cherie-Ann Sheppard, Kristin Napier, Carey Kirby

Terry Ursel, Wanda Rainka, Lisa Davie, Darla Hanke

Now that you’ve digested this big field, it’s pretty much clear that the favourite is Jennifer Jones. It will be an  easier road for her this year without Chelsea Carey in the province. If there were to be any challengers it would either be Jill Thurston, Barb Spencer or McDonald. However Team Jones is a league about everyone else so expect an easy win for as they try to give Kaitlyn Lawes her first Scotties crown.

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Can I just talk about Eve Muirhead instead? Yeah this is pretty much Jones’ to lose and barring a bird flu epidemic that’s not going to happen. Unless Jones’ rink pulls off a Mike McEwen and implodes in the playoffs, she seems on a collision course to play Rachel Homan in the Scotties final in Moose Jaw at the end of February.


2015 Curling Provincial Preview Blowout Spectacular (Part 1)

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Written by Brett Punkari (featuring cameos by his brother Lucas)

So a brief heads-up before this series begins. I’m posting this somewhat late in the proceedings because of work and what not here in Moose Jaw, but it will still be up in time before the events end this weekend.

Also, there are five spots that have already been decided for the national curling championships. At the Scotties, Sarah Koltun (Yukon) and Kerry Galusha (Northwest Territories) will battle it out in the relegation pool to take on Team Canada (Rachel Homan) in the round-robin. On the Brier front John Morris will skip Team Canada and will be joined by the Yukon’s Robert Smallwood (who has junior hero Thomas Scoffin’s dad at vice). Smallwood will be in the relegation games as well.

Anyways, here’s Brett with some predictions, starting off with the Quebec men’s Brier playdowns.

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Quebec Men’s – Jan 12-18  (Last Year’s Brier Finish 4th)

 The Field (Skip to Lead)

Mike Fouriner, Francois Gionest, Yannick Martel, Jean-Francois Charest

Robert Desjardins, Louis Biron, Frederic Lawton, Maurice Cayouette

Steven Munroe, Philippe Brossard, Christian Bouchard, Thierry Fournier

Ghyslain Richard, Maxime Elmaleh, William Dion, Miguel Bernard

Martin Ferland, Philippe Lemay, Mathieu Beufort, Erik Lachance

Denis Laflamme, Bernard Gingras, Steve Tremblay, Alain Lapierre

Simon Benoit (Rest of rink unknown – I will assume it’s Guy Hemmings)

Maxime Dufrense, Marc-Andre Chartrand, Gabriel Saindon, Maurice Cayouette

Steeve Gagnon, Martin Roy, Mike Coolidge, Olivier Beaulieu

Jean-Michel Menard, Martin Crete, Eric Sylvain, Philippe Menard

Over the previous years Quebec has had a reputation of producing good but not great teams. However in the last two years Jean-Michel Menard has rekindled some of his glory from the 2006 Brier championship season. So don’t be surprised if Menard breezes through this provincial. With that said, don’t count out former Quebec champion Robert Desjardins.

Jean-Michel Menard

I have had a feeling that Martin Ferland will eventually get a chance to play at the Brier over the last few years. However, with Menard playing as well as he has it should be an easy romp to another Brier for him, unless Ferland stands on his head in the playoffs.

Over to the women’s side now, where I have been informed that the field this year is not that great.

Quebec Women’s – Jan 12-18 (Last Year’s Scotties Finish Tied for 11th)

 The Field (Skip to Lead)

Lauren Mann, Amelie Blais, Brittany O’Rourke, Anne-Marie Filteau

Roxanne Perron, Marie-Josee Fortier, Miriam Perron, Sonia Deliese

Lisa Davies, Alanna Routledge, Alison Davies, Joelle St-Hillaire

Nathalie Gagnon, Lana Gosselin, Nathalie Gagne, Ann-Sophie Guerin

Kimberly Mastine, Nathalie Audet, Audree Dufresne, Saskia Hollands

Helene Pelchat (Rest of rink unknown – I will assume it’s just Marie-France’s old squad).

Without Allison Ross defending her title and the team basically split up, this province looks really wide open. There are four teams that have played in at least one WCT event. Lisa Davies played one WCT event and made to the semi finals. Lauren Mann has played in three events this season,  including a 4-1 record at the AMJ Campbell Shorty Jenkins Classic where she beat the likes of Sherry Middaugh.

Although the field is pretty even I can see Lauren Mann making her first ever Scotties appearance. Plus, having former Allison Ross team member Brittany O’Rourke has to help in some degree.

The 2012 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, February 18-26, Red Deer The 2012 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, February 18-26, Red Deer, Alberta.

Seeing that Marie-France Larouche’s career is over, I’m not expecting much from the Quebec champion. I expect Mann to win this pretty easily given her track record, but it’s hard seeing Quebec being a major threat in Moose Jaw. They should do way better than Ross did last year though.

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Northern Ontario Women’s – Jan 14-18 (First Ever Scotties Appearance)

The Field (Skip to Lead)

Tracy Horgan, Jennifer Horgan, Jenna Enge, Amanda Gates

Kendra Lilly, Sarah Potts, Oye-Sem Won Briand, Tirzah Keffer

Jessica Williams, Carly Angers, JoAnne Come-Forget, Megan Westlund

Liane Fossum, Megan St. Amand, Kim Zsaski, Victoria Anderson

Laura Payne, Stephanie Brown, Laura Forget, Amanda Corkal

For the first time, Northern Ontario will get their own Scotties representative, although whoever comes out of this province will have to fight their way through the relegation qualification games.

In terms of the field there are two teams that stand out from the rest. Former Canadian Junior Bronze Medalist Kendra Lilly takes over skipping duties of the old Krista McCarville team, which also includes former Canadian Junior representative Trizah Keffer.

However there is one team that is head and shoulders above the rest and that is former Ontario Scotties champion Tracy Horgan. This year they have had two WCT wins, including a Dekalb Superspiel victory over Jennifer Jones. So based upon their experience I think Horgan will become the first Northern Ontario representative and will probably get out of the relegation games.

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I’m a little disappointed that there’s only five teams playing at the provincials, but that will change in due time. As for this year’s event, its pretty much Horgan’s to lose. Lilly’s a good player who will get to the Scotties one day, but she’s not on Horgan’s level yet. The Sudbury rink should advance into the main tournament, but will be a heck of a battle between the Kolton and Galusha foursomes. 

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Newfoundland & Labrador – Jan 13-18 (Last Year’s Scotties Finish Tied for Seventh)

 

The Field (Skip to Lead)

Heather Strong, Stephanie Korab, Jessica Cunningham, Kathryn Cooper

Stephanie Guzzwell, Sarah Paul, Carrie Vautour, Cindy Miller

Stacie Curtis, Carolyn Suley, Julie Devereaux, Nicole Noseworthy

Kelli Turpin, Michelle Jewer, Beth Hamilton, Rhonda Whelan

Marie Christianson, Erin Porter, Lauren Wasylkiw, Erica Trickett

Based upon the field, and especially with the absence of Shelley Nichols, it looks like a pretty easy road for Heather Strong to make another return to the Scotties. She will hopefully have a better showing than the 4-7 record last year, but you still never know with provincial curling so she can’t look to far ahead.

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Stacie Devereaux is there under her new married name, but given her showings in the past at the Scotties this looks like Strong’s all the way. I’m bummed out that we don’t have the chance of Shelley Nichols at the Scotties, but we may get some heroic Jamie Korab cameos.


2015 World Juniors Review

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So that was a pretty fun couple of weeks wasn’t it? Not only did Canada win the gold medal at the World Juniors for the first time since 2009, but we also some amazing runs by Slovakia and Denmark, in addition to a few classic games that was capped off by the wild gold medal thriller between Canada and Russia.

As a follow-up from my preview that went up on Boxing Day, here’s my recap of the 10 teams that took part in this year’s tournament in Toronto and Montreal and what I got right and wrong.

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Gold Medalists: Canada

What I Predicted: They will lose to the United States in the round-robin, but their overall depth will be too much for the field to overcome when the playoffs come around.

What Actually Happened: Not only did they beat the States, but they weren’t even challenged until the Russians almost pulled off a miracle comeback in the finals. They might not have been as good as the much celebrated 2005 squad were, but this year’s team will go down as one of the best Canada has ever brought to the tournament.

What Lies Ahead: With Connor McDavid heading to the NHL next year, four forwards (Lawson Crouse, Jake Virtanen, Brayden Point and Robby Fabbri) and one defenceman (Joe Hicketts) will be eligible to return in 2016. The goaltending looks to be a slight issue right now, but the forward core will put them in the gold medal discussion yet again.

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Silver Medalists: Russia

What I Predicted: I probably have a Russian bias, but I think this team can win its group thanks to an amazing forward core.

What Actually Happened: The forwards were awesome and some strong goaltending helped the Russians overcome some rough games in the round-robin (especially against the Czechs) that left them in third place. In the playoffs they upset the United States and Sweden and just about pulled off another massive comeback against Canada like they did in 2011. Imagine what may have happened if Igor Shestyorkin didn’t get off to a poor start in goal.

What Lies Ahead: Only three players (defender Ivan Provorov and forwards Alexander Dergachyov and Vladislav Kaemenev) are eligible to come back so this will be quite a different looking team. However, it’s the Russians and it would be foolish to bet against them.

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Bronze Medalists: Slovakia

What I Predicted: There are some interesting pieces in Martin Reway and Matej Paulovic but this team seems destined for an early exit.

What Actually Happened: After an 8-0 loss to Canada on Boxing Day, the Slovaks pulled off one of the greatest runs of all time, thanks in large part to Reway and cult icon Denis Godla in goal. They upset Finland a day after the Canada loss, stunned the Czechs in the quarters and took care of Sweden in an awesome bronze medal game. Plus they pretty much won over Toronto, which is always a bonus.

What Lies Ahead: Reway and Godla are leaving the junior ranks, but all-star defender Christian Jaros will be back (along with fellow blueliner Erik Cernak plus forwards Radovan Bondra and Matus Sukel). I doubt they will make another semi-final round in Helsinki next year, but they should be able to make it to the quarters with ease. Keep an eye out for another goaltending hero in Matej Tomek, who is killing it for Topeka in the NAHL and just committed to North Dakota.

Alexander Sharov; Sebastian Aho

Fourth Place: Sweden

What I Predicted: It’s foolish as heck to pick against Sweden, but I’m concerned about the goaltending and the mental mindset after two straight losses in the finals.

What Actually Happened: Linus Soderstrom proved to be steady in goal and Sweden seemed to be the closest thing to a threat to Canada. However, they finished off the tournament with two sub-par outings and will head back home without a medal for the first time since 2011.

What Lies Ahead: In my opinion this is the favourite for the 2016 tournament. Sodestrom is back along with leading defensive scorer Gustav Forsling and fellow blueliners William Lagesson, Sebastian Aho and Andreas Englund. William Nylander is a question mark as he tries to make it on the Maple Leafs roster, but Jens Looke, Adrian Kempe, Oskar Lindbolm, Anton Karlsson, Axel Holmstrom and Christoffer Ehn can all return. After this year’s performance, they will be eager to make amends.

Ivan Barbashyov,  Thatcher Demko,  Vyacheslav Leshenko

Fifth Place: United States

What I Predicted: Despite some question marks on defence and in goal, this is the strongest team the United States has brought to the tournament in a long time, and they will be tough to beat.

What Actually Happened: Well they looked good until the Canada game where they couldn’t really match their arch rivals overall depth. That set them up for a date against the Russians where they were ousted in the quarters for a second straight year. The youth on this team showed at times (especially on the back end) but Thatcher Demko proved up to the task in goal.

What Lies Ahead: Other than Jack Eichel of course, the Americans have a lot coming back. From this year’s lineup, two goalies (Brandon Halverson and Alex Nedeljkovic), four defencemen (Ryan Collins, Brandon Carlo, Noah Hanifin and Zach Werenski) and five forwards (Nick Schmaltz, Alex Tuch, Sonny Milano, Dylan Larkin and Auston Matthews) can all return. They are in the same group as Sweden and Canada though, which may be a slight issue.

Team Denmark v Team Czech Republic

Sixth Place: Czech Republic

What I Predicted: The Czechs are the sexy pick to make some noise at this year’s tourney, but I’m not high on the goaltending and I think they are in for a tough draw.

What Actually Happened: At times the Czechs looked like a team that would make it to the semis and at other times they looked sub-par. They lost easily to the Swedes and Swiss, and narrowly avoided being put into the relegation pool with a overtime win over the Danes. They got second in Pool B with a convincing win over Russia on New Year’s Eve, but followed that up with a lacklustre loss to their rivals Slovakia in the quarters. All in all, it was a week to forget for the pre-tournament dark horses.

What Lies Ahead: Maybe we were year early on the Czechs as they can return a number of guys next season. The one question mark is Boston prospect David Pastrnak, but two goalies (Daniel Vladar and Vitek Vanceck), two defencemen (Jan Scotka and Dominik Masin) and five forwards (Michael Spacek, Pavel Zacha, David Kase, Jakub Vrana and Daniel Vozenilek) may be making a trip to Finland next winter.  Plus being in an easier group helps as they will avoid the three-headed Canada, Sweden and United States monster in the round-robin.

Team Sweden v Team Finland

Seventh Place: Finland

What I Predicted: They aren’t as good as they were a year ago and this looks more like a team that is being built for a run in 2016.

What Actually Happened: Well I wasn’t expecting a second straight gold for the motherland, but I sure as heck didn’t think they would need to win the finale over Germany just to be in the playoffs. A horrific power-play pretty much told the tale for the mighty Suomi, as they never seemed to get out of first gear on offence. Shockingly, the goaltending was again sort of decent. It’s as if Finland is good at that.

What Lies Ahead: The Finns will play host to the tournament next year and should fare much better. Granted only the third string goalie (Kaapo Kahkonen) and one defenceman (Sami Niku) will be back but they do have a number of forwards who are eligible once again. Sebastian Aho, Roope Hintz, Antti Kalapudas, Kasperi Kapanen (if he doesn’t make the Pittsburgh Penguins) and Mikko Rantanen can all return, along with 16-year-old Jesse Puljujarvi who was a one-man dynamo at times in his first ever World Juniors. He will be a name to keep an eye on for the 2016 NHL Draft along with Auston Matthews.

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Eighth Place: Denmark

What I Predicted: They don’t have the depth to advance much further than the round-robin, but they should hold their own with game breakers like Nikolaj Ehlers and Oliver Bjorkstrand.

What Actually Happened: Not only did they hold their own, but they almost upset the Russians and the Czechs before winning their first ever WJC game against Switzerland to make the playoffs. Sure they got blown out by Canada in the quarters, but they achieved their goals of survival with ease.

What Lies Ahead: Bjorkstrand and goalie George Sorensen will be moving on and Ehlers’ status will be up in the air depending on if he makes the Winnipeg Jets or not. They will return some players (goalie Thomas Lillie, defencemen Anders Krogsgaard, Jeppe Holmberg and Matias Lassen, and forwards Alexander True, Soren Nielsen and Kristian Jensen) next year but they will probably be battling it out with newcomers Belarus to avoid relegation.

Switzerland V Germany - 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship

Ninth Place: Switzerland

What I Predicted: This is another solid Swiss squad with some high end talent in Kevin Fiala and Mirco Mueller but I don’t see them going very far in the playoffs.

What Actually Happened: After a win over the Czechs to start off the tournament, the Swiss looked set to make it into the playoffs and maybe sneak into the third spot in the Pool B standings. Instead, they got blown out by the Russians, lost a thriller to the Danes and were shoved aside by the Swedes to finish at the bottom of the pool. A lacklustre German team proved to be an easy opponent in the relegation series as they finished the event on a winning note.

What Lies Ahead: They are in the same group as Sweden, Canada and the United States but they should make the playoffs in 2016. Not only will all three goalies (Ludovic Waeber, Gauthier Descloux and Gilles Senn) return, but they wil also have three defenders (Jonas Siegenthaler, Simon Kindschi and Edson Harlacher) and seven forwards (Denis Malgin, Kay Schweri, Timo Meier, Kevin Fiala, Kris Schmidli, Noah Rod and Pius Suter) coming back. They might even have a shock result in the quarters, but only if Benjamin Conz can somehow become eligible again.

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Tenth Place: Germany

What I Predicted: If Leon Draisaitl wasn’t trapped in the Edmonton Oilers Tire Fire, I may be tempted to put Germany in fourth place in Pool A. However, that didn’t happen and it will probably be another tough go-around for this team.

What Actually Happened: A lot was made about Draisaitl not being at the tournament, especially with the third overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft being returned to the WHL, but I’m not sure he would have helped. The Germans struggled all week and rounded out the event with a 0-7 record.

What Lies Ahead: As Germany returns to the Division I A ranks to battle it out with Norway and Latvia, Belarus will take their place in 2016. Since the newcomers only have four players (forwards Dmitri Buinitsky and Vladislav Misnikov plus defencemen Stepan Falkovsky and Daniil Bokun) coming back, I think that the Germans might be returning to Toronto and Montreal in two years time.

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Before I get to my ten favourite players of the tournament from the 2015 tournament, I’ll take a moment to mention my three top games from the last 11 days, as there were once again some instant classics that will be remembered for years to come.

Sam Reinhart Ilya Sorokin Vladislav Gavrikov

1. Canada 5 Russia 4 (January 5th – Gold Medal Game): While I’m not sure this was the best finale I’ve ever seen (the 6-5 overtime thriller between the States and Canada from 2010 probably holds that honour) this one is right up there. Wild momentum swings and a crazy pace to the third period made this game one to remember. The only thing missing was an overtime period, but that might have killed everyone in the audience at the Air Canada Centre.

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2. Sweden 3 Russia 2 (December 29th – Pool B): My favourite rivalry of the last five years at the World Juniors lived up to my expectations once again with a wonderful back and forth affair. The semi-final rematch was a big letdown, so here’s hoping these two will cross paths again in the medal round in Helsinki.

Switzerland plays Denmark in the round robin of the IIHF World Junior Hockey Tournament

3. Denmark 4 Switzerland 3 (Shootout – December 30th – Pool B): Like I was going to pick anything else. Not only did both teams trade chances as soon as the puck was dropped, but we also got an amazing moment as Denmark won their first ever game at the World Juniors. If you weren’t smiling after this one, you don’t have a soul.

Curtis Lazar

Well seeing that smiling Curtis Lazar is hoisting up the trophy, I guess I should start doing my countdown of my ten favourite players from this year’s tournament.

An honourable mention firstly for five guys that just missed out on getting into the mix. So with apologies to Sam Reinhart (Canada), Dylan Larkin (United States), Pavel Buchnevich (Russia), George Sorensen (Denmark) and David Pastrnak (Czech Republic), let us begin.

Germany v United States - 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship

10. Jack Eichel (United States)

Okay so the States didn’t play for a medal and Eichel didn’t steal the show like many thought he would. However, I implore you to watch his outing against Finland, as it was far and away the most impressive single game performance I saw during the tournament. I need to watch more of his games at Boston University, unless these QMJHL rumours that Jeff Marek is Tweeting about are actually true.

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9. Connor McDavid (Canada)

Unlike Eichel, McDavid wasn’t the guy that his team had to lean on thanks to Canada’s awesome depth. Not that it mattered though, as the Erie Otters star got better and better as the event went on. Plus, this was his first action in over a month after breaking his hand in a fight. There’s no debate anymore, he’s going first overall in June and it’s not even close.

Oliver Bjorkstrand, Gauthier Descloux

8. Oliver Bjorkstrand (Denmark)

One half of Denmark’s Dynamic Duo, Bjorkstrand showed throughout the round-robin why he’s one of the most skilled players in the Western Hockey League. Plus, his shootout winner against the Swiss may have been the best goal of the entire tournament.

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7. William Nylander (Sweden)

This was the first time that I’ve actually got a chance to watch Nylander in something other than YouTube clips and I was mighty impressed. Sure the last two games weren’t that stellar, but he was easily the most electrifying player on the ice for Sweden during the tournament. I’ll be stunned if he’s not in a Maple Leafs uniform at the start of the 2015/16 NHL season.

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6. Sergey Tolchinsky (Russia)

Ever since he joined my hometown Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in 2012 I’ve been waiting for the human highlight reel from Russia to show his skills to the rest of Canada. He finally got the chance and it was well worth the wait for me. Okay he didn’t score any jaw dropping goals but he was a threat in every single game on offence. Sergey will probably end up being one of my all-time favourite junior players as he finishes up his time in the OHL this spring, and his showing with Russia further cemented that belief.

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5. Max Domi (Canada)

When I denounced Canada last year and cheered fully for Finland, one of the reasons was the fact that Domi didn’t even get an invite to the main camp. I’m pretty sure he showed everyone why that was a mistake this year as he was a dominant force every night with Anthony Dulcair and Sam Reinhart. Now I have to prepare myself to get riled up next winter when Hockey Canada snubs Josh Ho-Sang.

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4. Nikolaj Ehlers (Denmark)

I got the chance to cover the CHL Top Prospects Game in Calgary last winter and was taken aback immediately by the speed Ehlers had when I saw him in person. That quickness caused trouble for everyone all tournament long, and it was one of the reasons why Denmark made it to the playoffs. Here’s hoping he will make another trip to the event next year.

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3. Martin Reway (Slovakia)

I’m quite convinced that the Slovakian captain never actually went off of the ice during the playoff rounds. In his third trip to the World Juniors, the Montreal Canadiens draft pick was a one man dynamo on offence for Slovakia and played a huge part in their bronze medal run. Here’s hoping that we will get to see him in the NHL in the future.

Nikolaj Ehlers;  Darnell Nurse

2. Darnell Nurse (Canada)

Like Max Domi, I was flabbergasted that Nurse didn’t get a main camp invite in 2013. The Oilers draft pick and Greyhounds captain was fantastic during the entire tournament and was immense in the finals against Russia. As I watched the gold medal contest in Moose Jaw, I gave him a standing ovation as he received the player of the game award. He was that good.

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1. Denis Godla (Slovakia)

Oh come on, it can’t be anybody else. After losing 8-0 to Canada, Godla turned into a combination of Andrei Vasilevski and John Gibson as he carried Slovakia on his back on their way to the country’s first medal since 1999. Here’s hoping that he isn’t snubbed in the draft like Benjamin Conz was in 2010.

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In conclusion, this year’s World Juniors was another awesome tournament. Sure a lot was made of the fact that the tickets were super expensive and that the arenas weren’t sell-outs all of the time in Toronto and Montreal. In the end though, it’s the actual product on the ice that matters the most and it delivered once again.

Until the 2016 tournament begins in Helsinki on Boxing Day, go check out your local junior and college hockey team if you don’t already do so. It’s not international level, but it’s just as crazy and fun as this holiday tradition is.