By Brett Punkari (With Cameos by Lucas Punkari)
So far this year’s provincials have gone pretty much status quo, though there have been a couple of exceptions (I’m looking at you British Columbia)
Anyways, we’re going to finish off the Scotties playdowns in the third part of the provincial previews, as will have a few Brier predictions coming up tomorrow in Part 4.
As Brett mentioned, we missed the boat big time in BC as Karla Thompson missed the playoffs and Marla Mallett won for the first time since 2009. He also got Northern Ontario right with Krista McCarville while I went with Tracy Fleury.
We did get both playdowns right in PEI though as Robyn MacPhee and Eddie MacKenzie both won. More importantly though, Jamie Koe is heading to the Brier again so we all win.
Saskatchewan (January 24-29)
Last Year’s Scotties Finish – Tied for 5th (6-5)
The Field (Skip to Lead)
Sherry Anderson, Jessica Hanson, Krista Fesser, Brie Spilchen
Penny Barker, Deanna Doig, Lorraine Schnieder, Danielle Sicniski
Stefanie Lawton, Beth Iskiw, Sherri Singler, Jessica llles
Mandy Selzer, Erin Selzer, Megan Selzer, Sarah Slywka
Robyn Silvernagle, Dayna Demers, Cristina Goertzen, Kara Thevenot
Kim Schneider, Shalon Flemming, Natalie Bloomfield, Kristy Johnson
Nancy Martin, Ashley Quick, Megan Firechs, Teresa Waterfield
Chantele Eberle, Kristie Moore, Larissa Murray, Debbie Lozinzci
Brett Barber, Sherry Just, Colleen Ackerman, Rachel Frizler
Pop quiz, who is missing from this years field?
Time’s up. The answer is Jolene Campbell, as the defending champion failed to qualify for this year’s provincial and gives us a more open field than in recent years.
Now we do see Stefanie Lawton in the field once again and she’s once again switched up the lineup with Beth Iskiw at vice and new lead Jessica Illes. They haven’t had the best of seasons though, including an 0-4 record at the Grand Slam of Curling’s Tier II Challenge.
So could there be a different champion? Well other contenders include Sherry Anderson, Robyn Silvernagle and possibly Chantelle Eberle, but Lawton does have so much experience over the year’s that it’s hard to pick against her. However, I would take that pick with a grain of salt.
Like Brett said, no Jolene Campbell makes this event pretty wide open. Given how she played at last year’s provincials, I wouldn’t be surprised if Silvernagle captured the title, and that would be really cool since she curls out of North Battleford where I’m working these days.
However, if you look at Lawton’s record at the provincials since she won her first title in 2005, she’s only missed the finals twice (2006 and 2010). Given her track record, it’s hard to bet against the four-time provincial champion.
Newfoundland and Labrador Scotties (January 24-29)
Last Year’s Scotties Finish – 10th (3-8)
Stacie Curtis, Erin Porter, Julie Devereaux, Erica Trickett
Beth Hamilton, Adrianne Mercer, Ashley Rumboldt, Heidi Trickett
Shelly Hardy, Michelle Jewer, Kelli Turpin, Rhonda Whelan
Cindy Miller, Jessica Cunningham, Noelle-Thomas Kennell, Courtney Barnhill
Heather Strong, Stephanie Guzwell, Sarah Day, Kathryn Cooper
This year’s Newfoundland and Labrador Scotties has five teams compared to three from a year ago, which is an improvement. However, it’s really down to the same three contenders though in Curtis, Hardy and Strong.
All three rinks haven’t done much on the WCT scene, so it’s kind of tough pick a clear winner. However, I think Strong’s experience will pull her through, even if she has a slightly different lineup.
I’m on the same page with Brett here again, as this is going to be a pretty tough battle all week. Strong’s lineup is different but she’s got some good players on the team and should make it back to the Scotties, where she could be in the mix for a mid-table finish.
New Brunswick (January 25-29)
Last Year’s Scotties Finish – Tied for 11th (2-9 – Relegated)
Melissa Adams, Jennifer Armstrong, Cathlia Ward, Katie Forward
Justine Comeau, Emma Le Blanc, Brigitte Comeau, Keira McLaughlin
Shelly Graham, Sharon Levesque, Connie Nichol, Jane McGinn
Sarah Mallais, Carol Whitaker, Leah Thompson, Jane Boyle
Shaelyn Park, Julia Goodin, Molli Ward, Lauren Whitewayy
Sylvie Robichaud, Jessica Ronalds, Nicole Bishop, Michelle Majeau
Shannon Tatlock, Sandy Comeau, Emily MacRae, Shelby Wilson
Whoever happens to win this provincial will have to fight their way through the relegation round after New Brunswick finished 12th at last year’s Scotties. There was a big change in the province as defending champion Sylvie Robichaud has a brand new lineup this year, while last year’s team, now skipped by Rebecca Atkinson, failed to qualify for provincials.
Robichaud is among the favorites along with many time runner up Melissa Adams. However, last year’s Canadian Junior bronze medalist Justine Comeau is making her debut, and there’s a good chance she could pull off the upset. In fact, I believe it’s going to happen and I’m picking Comeau to win it all. However, I don’t know if she’ll make it out of the relegation round, especially with Kerry Galusha and Sarah Koltun in the mix.
By all rights, I should be picking Adams or Robichaud. But like the Mary Fay rink, to an extent at least, Comeau is part of a new wave of young curlers that may become strong forces for the Maritime region in the coming years. I’m also picking her to win the province, but I can’t see her getting into the main field with Galusha and Koltun both there.
Nova Scotia (January 23-29)
Last Year’s Scotties Finish – Tied for 5th (6-5)
Mary-Anne Arsenault, Christina Black, Jennifer Crouse, Jennifer Baxter
Theresa Breen, Tayna Hillard, Jocelyn Adams, Amanda Simpson
Jill Brothers, Erin Carmody, Blisse Joyce, Jenn Brine
Christie Gamble, Brigitte MacPhail, Kaitlyn Veitch, Michelle Lang
Kristen Macdarmid, Kelly Bachman, Liz Woodworth, Julia Williams
Mary Mattall, Andrea Saulner, Jill Holland-Alco, Margaret Cutliffee
Nancy McConnery, Jocelyn Nix, Mackenzie Proctor, Shelly Barker
Julie McEvoy, Sheena Moore, Jill Thomas, Caeleigh MacLean
This is mostly a two horse race, with Mary-Anne Arsenault and defending champion Jill Brothers. Both teams are having good seasons, with Brothers having a win at an event Moncton and holding a 1-0 advantage over Arsenault this season.
Brothers has also brought in Erin Carmody, who was a major part of PEI’s runner-up finish at the 2010 Scotties. That addition should allow her to repeat, but it’s hard to tell yet if she’ll be a playoff contender.
The addition of Carmody, who hasn’t been back to the Scotties since almost winning it all in the Soo, puts Brothers as the clear-cut favourite for me in Nova Scotia. They might get into the playoff picture as well this year, but it will all depend on the rest of the field in St. Catherines.
Alberta (January 25-29)
Last Year’s Scotties Finish – 1st (9-2 – 1st in round-robin)
Holly Baird, Pam Appelman, Leslie Rogers, Chana Martineau
Nadine Chyz, Heather Jensen, Rebbeca Konschuh, Heather Rogers
Delia DeJong, Teryn Hamliton, Amy Janko, Megan Watchorn
Karynn Flory, Richelle Nanninga, Sydney Lewko, Sarah Brown
Trisha James, Michelle Gnam, Raeleigh Milner, Chelsey Whitney
Shannon Kleibrink*, Lisa Eyamie, Sarah Wilkes, Alison Thiessen
Jodi Marthaller, Tessa Ruetz, Nicole Larson, Valerie Ekelund
Geri-Lynn Ramsay, Jody McNabb, Brittany Tran, Claire Tully
Valerie Sweeting, Lori Olson-Johns, Dana Ferguson, Rachelle Brown
Casey Scheidegger, Cary-Anne McTaggart, Jessie Scheidegger, Stephanie Enright
Holly Scott, Megan Anderson, Tara Lamoureux, Trina Ball
Kalynn Virtue, Shana Snell,Amanda Craigie, Kaitlin Stubbs
Note: Shannon Kleibrink suffered a back injury prior to the provincials, with 2012 champion Heather Nedohin filling in for at least the start of the week
For most of the season, it looked like Alberta was going to be the Val Sweeting show, since Chelsea Carey is already returning as Team Canada and Kelsey Rocque is not at the provincials this year as she is competing at the World University Games.
However, Val has a really tough opponent awaiting her in Casey Scheidegger, who has won four of six events this and capture the Canadian Open title in her first ever Grand Slam of Curling event. Plus, Scheidegger is 2-0 against Sweeting this year.
Compared to last year, Sweeting has had a much improved season, including a win at the Tour Challenge event. It will likely come down to those two again, and while Scheidegger has had her number this year, Sweeting’s provincial experience should be the difference. Besides, who doesn’t want to see what madness Ferguson and Brown can cause at the Scotties.
Schiedegger’s sudden emergence this year makes this provincial a lot more interesting than it first appeared. However, Val’s been in this situation before and I think she should be able to come away with the win and being among the favourites for the Scotties title. With that said, a Heather Nedohin win would be beyond amazing.
Manitoba Scotties (January 25-29)
Last Year’s Scotties Finish – 4th (7-4 – Tied for 3rd in round-robin)
Jennifer Briscoe, Sheri Horning, Courtney Reeves, Lorelle Weiss
Lisa Menard, Lisa Deriviere, Leslie Cafferty, Laurie MacDonnell
Cheryl Reed, Sam Murata, Pam Robins, Roz Taylor
Tiffany McLean, Mallory Black, Danielle Robinson, Cassandra Lesiuk
Colleen Kilgallen, Kim Link, Renee Fletcher, Karen Fallis
Joelle Brown, Alyssa Calvert, Erika Sigurdson, Lindsay Baldock
Christine MacKay, Gaetanne Gauthier, Taylor Madia, Katrina Theissen
Cathy Overton-Clapham, Jenna Loder, Katherine Doerksen, Sarah Pyke
Beth Peterson, Robyn Njegovan, Mellisa Gordon, Breanne Yozenko
Meghan Armit, Nikki Hawrylyshen, Laura Budowski, Taryn Dreger
Brianne Meilleur, Rhonda Varnes, Janelle Vachon, Sarah Neufeld
Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer, Dawn McEwen
Michelle Englot, Kate Cameron, Leslie Wilson, Raunora Westcott
Darcy Robertson, Karen Klein, Vanessa Foster, Michelle Madden
Shannon Birchard, Nicole Sigvaldason, Sheyna Andreis, Mariah Mondor
Kerri Einarson, Selene Kaatz, Liz Fyfe, Kristin MacCuish
Like always, Manitoba has one of the biggest fields and there are as many as five teams that can win the title. With that said, it’s realistically going to come down to Jennifer Jones and Kerri Einarson.
Einarson, of course, is the defending champion and she has come a long way since she last faced Jones at the provincials in 2015 and 2013. She’s had an alright year on the tour, which was highlighted by her first ever Grand Slam of Curling event win at the Boost National.
Jones is again having a solid year, which included a convincing win in the Canada Cup final that we will be touching on in a little bit. She’s also 2-0 against Einarson this year and other than her trip to the Olympics in 2014, Jones has been to every single Scotties since 2004.
While I think Einarson will give her a scare, I think Jones will keep her streak going.
Although she’s had some strange losses this year, including a bizarre last three ends that led to a quarter-final loss to Casey Scheidegger at the Canadian Open, it’s crazy to bet against Jones when we get to this time of the year. With that said, Einarson and Englot will give her a tough challenge if they meet in the playoffs.
Ontario Scotties (January 29-February 5)
Last Year’s Scotties Finish – Tied for 5th (6-5)
Cathy Auld, Lori Eddy, Karen Rowsell, Jenna Bonner
Megan Balsdon, Jessica Corrado, Stephanie Corrado, Laura Hickey
Allison Flaxey, Clancy Grandy, Lynn Kreviazuk, Morgan Court
Jacqueline Harrison, Janet Murphy, Stephanie Matheson, Melissa Foster
Heather Heggestad, Ginger Coyle, Michelle Smith, Lauren Harrison
Rachel Homan, Emma Miskew, Joanne Courtney, Lisa Weagle
Sherry Middaugh, Jo-Ann Rizzo, Lee Merklinger, Leigh Armstrong
Julie Tippin, Chantal Duhaime, Rachelle Vink, Tess Bobbie
Welp, we might as well have save the best (or worst, depending on your point of view) for last.
After the absolute shocking upset by Jenn Hanna last year in the provincial final, many people were wondering how Rachel Homan and crew would recover. They still had a great year after that loss and early on this season things were looking good, as they had a 23-4 record and won two events. Granted, part of that run was overshadowed by losing the Masters final to Allison Flaxey and being upset by Michelle Englot in the quarter-final of the Tier 1 Challenge, but you’d expect her to bounce back.
Then things went sideways. She was routed by Jennifer Jones in the Canada Cup final (highlighted by a tire fire of a third end where she gave up a steal of four), had a bad performance in the quarter-finals of the National and was knocked out by Krista McCarville after a strong round-robin (though she did give up three points in the last end to lose to Tracy Fleury in her last game before the playoffs) and had a dreadful week at the Canadian Open that brought an end to her streak of 18 straight playoff appearances.
Now, am I being too harsh? Perhaps, but Rachel’s play is easily the biggest story of the curling season for me coming into the provincials. Also, with the fact that they are trying to be a more “complete” team and not playing to their strengths of a dominant hitting game and utilizing “The Weagle” shot (seriously, where the heck did that go?), that has to play into their struggles as of late.
Despite all of that, Homan remains one of the favourites in Ontario, but the one rink I think can take her down for sure is Allison Flaxey. The 2014 provincial champion is having a career year, which included her first Grand Slam event win over Homan. Now granted, her performance has fallen off slightly as of late, but I expect her to bounce back, especially with Lynn Kreviazuk on her team. The other team that may be in mix is Jacqueline Harrison, who won the Tier 2 Tour Challenge and beat Homan twice at the Canadian Open.
If Homan gets back into the form that she was at a year ago leading into the provincials, she makes it back to the Scotties no problem. However, if she pulls another one of those tire fire performances, you can expect Harrison or Flaxey to pounce. Based upon what I’ve seen this year, I think another tire fire will happen and Flaxey will defeat Homan (who is somehow still the top team in the world, which makes no sense to me) in the final.
So let’s get to Rachel Homan first. As you all probably know right now, she’s right up there with Eve Muirhead as my favourite curler on the planet and when she’s on her game, her rink is hard to stop.
With all of that said, there’s no way I can pick her to win the Ontario Scotties.
Simply put, I can’t trust her at the moment. The destruction tour that was the first half of her 2015-16 season went out the window when she lost to Jenn Hanna at the provincials, as the invincibility factor is gone. I mean losing to Jennifer Jones is one thing, but when your other major losses at big events come to Allison Flaxey, Michelle Englot, Krista McCarville, Jacqueline Harrison (twice) and Casey Scheidegger, it starts to become harder and harder to take that number one team in the world ranking seriously.
Having seen the rink in person at the Canadian Open in North Battleford, something is indeed up as they were well and truly off their level of play from the last couple of years when I’ve seen them in person. Now everyone has a bad week of course, but given the rink’s last 12 months, it makes it impossible for me to automatically pick them as Ontario champions.
As such, I’m picking Allison Flaxey to win it all. She’s won a Grand Slam title this year, she’s been competitive at almost every event she’s been in and you can make a case (along with Jennifer Jones and Anna Hasselborg) that she’s had the best season out of anyone in a campaign where no one has yet to step out from the back on the women’s scene. Jacqueline Harrison and Sherry Middaugh could be in the mix as well, but it’s hard to bet against a former provincial champion that has a well-balanced rink.
With all that said, watch for Homan to either run through the table and win the title or have a monumental tire fire. There’s no in between here.