Monthly Archives: March 2017

Hot Takes on CHL Teams (2017 Edition – Part 1)

Regina Pats Big Heads

We’re a week into the Canadian Hockey League playoffs as I post this and not only have we seen some great games, but we’re also saying farewell to several teams that were swept aside in the first round.

I didn’t end up doing a season preview post this year so I can’t make fun of my picks for this year’s run to the Memorial Cup, but I have decided to do a multi-part series where I look ahead at what we can expect from teams as they gear up for the 2017-18 season.

So, without further delay, let’s get started in the Ontario Hockey League.

Anthony Stefano

Barrie Colts – 17-44-6-1 – 5th in Central Division – 10th in Eastern Conference

The Colts are missing the playoffs for only the second time in franchise history, with their previous experiencing of not taking part in the post-season dancing taking place back in 2011.

A league-worst finish back then turned into a massive positive for the Colts as they were able to draft Aaron Ekblad with the first overall pick in the draft. Fast-forward six years and they have a chance to do it again.

If they take the best player on the board in both the OHL Draft and CHL Import Draft, they will more than likely end up taking high-impact forwards Jack Hughes and Andrei Svechnikov, who will both improve the Colts big time. However, seeing that the team has had a few top picks not come to Barrie in recent years, what happens with those picks could be a big story line come draft day.

With all that said, the Colts do have an interesting core coming back. They will be returning a lot of younger guys on the defence, and the forwards aren’t bad with Lucas Chiodo returning as the leading scorer with 53 points. I think they stand a good chance to make a return to the playoffs next season, especially since they are in the Eastern Conference.

Ryan Merkley of the Guelph Storm. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL  Images.

Guelph Storm – 21-40-5-2 – 5th in Midwest Division – 10th in Western Conference

After making the playoffs for 23 straight season, the Storm have now missed out on the post-season for the last two years and only had a slight improvement over what they accomplished last season.

A new general manager will be taking over the Storm when Mike Kelly steps down in May, but the pieces are here for the Storm to rebound in short order, especially with a high-end forward coming with the second pick in the OHL Draft and dynamite blueliner Ryan Merkley, who should probably end up being named the league’s rookie of the year in a few weeks.

With guys like Givani Smith, Isaac Ratcliffe, Nathan Schnarr and Liam Hawel, the forward depth for the Storm isn’t too bad. What happens on the back-end will be the key to any run at a playoff spot, especially on defence with a number of their prospects having gone to the NCAA route as of late.

Brett McKenzie

North Bay Battalion – 24-38-4-2 – 4th in Central Division – 9th in Eastern Conference

Injuries played a key role in the Battalion missing out on the playoffs for not only the first time since they moved to North Bay in 2013 but since the franchise was in Brampton in 2002.

At the moment, this looks like a team that’s in the middle of the road when it comes to the league standings. If he doesn’t turn pro with the Vancouver Canucks, Brett McKenzie would be a nice addition as an overager to a forward group that that doesn’t have anyone returning that had over 40 points last season, although Adam McMaster could have a nice sophomore season.

If Cam Dineen is healthy, he’ll be a huge part of a defence that also features Adam Thilander and Brady Lyle, but the biggest hole is in goal as it remains to be seen who the Battalion will have as their starter come September.

Hayden Hodgson

Saginaw Spirit – 27-32-7-2 – 5th in West Division – 9th in Western Conference

This is the first time since 2005 that the Spirit have missed the playoffs and this appears to be a franchise in a bit of a crossroads stage, especially after trading guys like Mitchell Stephens and Tye Felhaber this season.

If NHL-drafted blueliners Keaton Middleton and Markus Niemelainen bounce back from disappointing campaigns and the younger talent, which is led by forward Brady Gilmour, continues to improve, there’s a good chance the Spirit will be back in the playoffs in the always strong Western Conference.

However, the team might need to do a better job of getting their higher-end picks to report, especially when they have yet to bring in highly-touted American prospects Blade Jenkins and Bode Wilde away from their commitments to Michigan and Harvard respectively.

Next up is the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, which featured the worst team in the entire Canadian Hockey League this season.

Jeremy McKenna

Moncton Wildcats – 14-51-2-1 – 6th in Maritime Division – 18th in League

Simply put, this was a bad team, especially after they traded away anything that could move and went on a near-league record 25-game losing streak after the trade deadline. At some point, the Wildcats were going to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008, the drop-off after making back-to-back semifinal appearances was staggering.

While there are some interesting pieces the team can build around, especially in forward Jeremy McKenna, this is still a super young team that will need to do well in the draft with the number of picks they have picked up to move back into the playoff discussion.

That could all change rapidly however if they win the QMJHL Draft Lottery in the coming weeks and have the first overall pick, which more than likely turn out to be forward Alexis Lafreniere, who destroyed the midget ranks for St-Eustache this past season.

Thomas Gregoire

Sherbrooke Phoenix – 26-38-1-3 – 6th in West Division – 17th In League

The Phoenix have yet to win a playoff series since joining the league in 2012 and now they have to deal with missing out on the post-season for the first time in three years.

There are some nice pieces to build around towards achieving that first ever trip to the quarter-final next year, especially with forwards Yaroslav Alexeyev and Anderson MacDonald, along with blueliners Thomas Gregoire and Luke Green.

The biggest question mark for me though is what happens with St. Louis Blues draft pick Evan Fitzpatrick, who might be in contention for a role with Canada’s World Junior team next winter in Buffalo. If the Phoenix get off to a bad start next season, I could see him being dealt to one of the top teams in the league that’s looking for a starting goalie.

Rounding things out is the Western Hockey League, where we begin with a club that may finally know where they will play for the next little while.

Colton Kroeker

Kootenay Ice – 14-46-10-2 – 6th in Central Division – 12th in Eastern Conference

After a referendum on using public funds for a new arena in Nanaimo that could have seen the Ice move there was voted town, the Ice will be staying put in Cranbrook for the foreseeable future after a new ownership group bought the team earlier this week.

With that cloud seemingly moving on, the major focus will be on improving a team that’s finished last in the league for two straight years and only improved by two wins this season.

There is a huge light at the end of the tunnel though in highly-touted forward Peyton Krebs who will enter the league this fall. Perhaps Klim Kostin or Griffin Mendel will join him, but that might be asking for too much if you’re an Ice fan.

While Krebs’ arrival is a massive boon for the Ice, there’s still a long way to go when it comes to getting back into the playoffs. There’s some nice pieces with guys like Cale Fleury and Brett Davis, but there’s still a lot of holes on this roster that need to be filled, especially in goal as I haven’t a clue who the starter will be at this point.

Ty Ronning

Vancouver Giants – 20-46-3-3 – 5th in BC Division – 10th in Western Conference

The Giants have missed the playoffs for three straight years and in four of the last five seasons, but they are keeping coach Jason McKee around for a second campaign so that’s a good sign.

The sophomore campaign in Langley for the Giants will be an interesting one, especially if leading scorer Ty Ronning ends up turning pro as a member of the New York Rangers. James Malm and Tyler Popowich will be expect to lead the way on offence, while the defence will get a shot in the arm in top prospect Bowen Byram. The goaltending shouldn’t be too shabby as well with Ryan Kubic coming back as the starter and rookie Trent Miner possibly contending for the backup role.

With all of that said, all eyes will again be on Tyler Benson and if he can stay healthy for a full campaign. If the Giants are stuck in the same spot yet again, the Edmonton Oilers prospect could be the biggest piece on the market at next year’s trade deadline.

Simon Stransky

Prince Albert Raiders – 21-44-5-2 – 6th in East Division – 11th in Eastern Conference

After their surprising second place finish in the East Division a year ago, this was a team that was expect to be in the mix for the playoffs once again.

However, things went sideways for the Raiders early on, especially when overage forward Reid Gardiner joined the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL. The first half sell-off soon began with Brendan Guhle, Rylan Parenteau and eventually Gardiner (after he returned from the AHL) were all dealt elsewhere.

With all that said, the second half performance from the younger players on the team bodes well for the Raiders as they look to end the longest streak in the CHL (11 years) without a playoff series win. Forwards Parker Kelly and Cole Fonstad should have strong campaigns, along with defenceman Max Martin and draft-eligible netminder Ian Scott.

Plus, the Raiders won the rights to the top pick in the WHL Bantam Draft next month, where Brendan Guhle’s younger brother is the considered to be the best player on the board. However, he won’t be joining the league until the 2018-19 season.

Davis Koch

Edmonton Oil Kings – 23-43-5-1 – 5th in Central Division – 10th in Eastern Conference

The rebuild if officially on in Edmonton for a hockey team other than the Oilers, as the Oil Kings sold off their veterans at the trade deadline and only won a handful of games on their way to missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

With Davis Koch (who quietly put together a nice 70-point season) and Trey Fix-Wolansky up front, the Oil Kings have a couple of nice weapons on offence, but their defence might be the backbone of the side next year with guys like Conner McDonald, Will Warm, Brayden Gorda and Ethan Cap being a solid base to build around.

The most intriguing part of next year’s team might be in goal. Patrick Dea can come back as an overager, but they also have Liam Hughes returning from an injury and a pair of top prospects in Lance Alm and Boston Bilous waiting in the wings.

Braylon Shmyr

Saskatoon Blades – 28-35-7-2 – 5th in East Division – 9th in Eastern Conference

If it hadn’t been for a bevy of injuries, especially with forward Cameron Hebig missing the entire season, the Blades probably would have been in the playoffs for the first time since they hosted the 2013 Memorial Cup.

While it remains to be seen where they stand in what could be a very good East Division next year, the Blades should be in the mix once again for a wild card spot at worse and possibly end the longest playoff drought in the CHL.

The amount of young talent that the Blades have should certainly help with that, especially with Kirby Dach who had 10 points in 19 games as underage forward this year. Joining him in that group are guys like Josh Paterson, Michael Farren and Chase Wouters up front, while Libor Hajek (who granted isn’t a youngster by any means) should move out from being an under the radar player into one of the favourites for the top defenceman in the league.

It will be interesting to see what happens with the Blades overage situation, especially if Hebig is healthy, as fellow forwards Braylon Shmyr and Mason McCarty, blueliner Evan Fiala and goaltenders Logan Flodell and Brock Hamm can all come back.

If Flodell returns, the battle for the backup role is also going to be fun. Joel Grzybowski has had a great year with the SJHL’s Battlefords North Stars, but the team also has the rights to prospect Nolan Maier, who was taken in the second round of last year’s draft.

Kailer Yamamoto

Spokane Chiefs – 27-33-8-4 – 5th in US Division – 9th in Western Conference

I’m always a sucker for young talent and I was probably a year early on having this team as the best in the US Division as they ended up missing the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

Even if Hudson Elynuik ends up becoming a part of the Carolina Hurricanes organization next fall, the young core of this team is going to be a lot of fun. Kailer Yamamoto and Jared Anderson-Dolan are going to be two of the most dangerous players in the WHL on offence, while defenceman Ty Smith should continue to get better and live up to his billing as the top pick in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft.

The goaltending side of things should be interesting when it comes to what direction the Chiefs ends up going in. At the moment, Dawson Weatherill is the only guy in the system with any WHL experience, so I’m curious as to if an older netminder will be brought in to help him out or if they will let him shoulder the load and become the main guy.

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The Punkari Brothers 2017 Brier Preview

2017-brierWritten by Brett Punkari (With Cameos by Lucas Punkari)

It’s time once again for the Tim Hortons Brier, and this year were heading far east to St.John’s, Newfoundland, where the atmosphere will likely be through the roof. In terms of the field this year is an interesting mix of veterans and a few first timers as well, as it’s not quite as stacked as we’ve seen over the last two years of the event.

Well I think it’s still a darn good lineup, maybe except for a couple of teams, but it should be a better week than last year in Ottawa. Granted, it was never going to match the insanity that was the 2015 event in Calgary, but being in Newfoundland for the first time since 1972 should make this a week to remember.

1) Newfoundland and Labrador – Bally Haly Golf & Curling Club

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

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

It’s been an interesting year thus far for Team Gushue as Mark Nichols had to play skip for almost the entire first half of the season as Gushue recovered from hip and groin injuries. However their performance did not fall off that much, as the team made the playoffs in every event and won the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard. Gushue returned at the Boost National where he made it to the semis, and then followed that up with a victory at the Canadian Open.

We all know the story by now of Gushue coming so close to getting that elusive Brier title. This could be perhaps his best shot yet as they have been the most consistent team on tour this year. With the Brier at home, it would seem fitting to finally win it all this year, and I’m going on record and predicting there will be a riot no matter what happens with them in the final.

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1) Newfoundland & Labrador (Brad Gushue)

I feel like I’ve said this the last three years, but it does seem like there’s no better chance for Gushue to finally win the Brier title than this year. The team has been strong no matter the lineup all season long and they are going to have a ton of support all week long. It’s hard to bet against them.

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

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

Grand Slam Record: 17-8 (Runner-Up, DNQ, Champion, Semi-Finalist)

This has definitely been a much better season compared to last year for Jacobs, where the trend seemed to be to do great in the round robin and then crash and burn in playoffs. They got their second Grand Slam title at home in the Boost National, though they did have to do it the hard way. The consistency has been there this year as well, though they did have one bad stretch from the Tour Challenge to the Canada Cup, where they failed to make the playoffs at both events.

Now a lot of people are probably hoping that we get the Battle of the Brads in this year’s Brier final and I think there is a fairly good chance at that. Believe it or not, the teams are 2-2 against each other this year and they are also dead even in all time meetings at 18-18.

When it comes to this week, I can see each side splitting the round-robin and playoff matchup, but I have Gushue squeaking it out in the final. However, if this intense team have the mojo working in the final, get out of their way.

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2) Northern Ontario (Brad Jacobs)

I’m a little bummed out the beard isn’t back, but Jacobs is again in fine form heading into the Brier. If he’s consistent all week long and they don’t have any bad ends in the playoffs that have cost them the last two years. Northern Ontario has an excellent chance of spoiling the party in St. John’s.

3) British Columbia – Vernon & Kelowna Curling Clubs

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Skip – “Johnny Mo” John Morris, Vice – Jimmmmmmmmmm Cotter (Throws fourth stones), Second – Tyrell Griffith, Lead – Rick Sawatsky

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

John Morris has reunited with Jim Cotter, with whom he finished runner-up at the 2013 Olympic Trials and the 2014 Tim Hortons Brier. It looks this team had not missed a beat and they have had some good performances this year, including a win at the Driving Force Abbotsford Cashspiel.

Jim’s probably glad that Johnny Mo has returned and Cotter himself can be a much better player in that regard. From what we saw a couple of years ago, he can be a terrific shooter when the chips are down, so this could be the most likely team to break up the Brad show.

mike-mcewen

3) Manitoba (Mike McEwen)

Now that he’s been to a Brier, McEwen knows what to expect on the big stage and I think that will play to his advantage. He hasn’t had a dominant performance on the Tour this season like he has in the past, but this feels like a squad that is flying in under the radar and might be the biggest sleeping giant this week.

4) Manitoba – Fort Rouge Curling Club (Winnipeg)

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Skip – “Magic” Mike McEwen, Vice – B.J. Neufeld, Second – Matt Wozniak,  Lead – Denni Neufeld

Grand Slam Record: 11-10 (Quarter-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist, DNQ, Quarter-Finalist)

Statistically this has not been one of McEwen’s best seasons to date. Yes he does have two wins this season on the Tour, but he just seemed a little bit off compared to his usual sharp showings on the Grand Slam circuit.  He did manage to put in some of his best games of the year in the Manitoba provincials and he got the better of hisprovincial rival Reid Carruthers as well.

I would say that Team McEwen is kinda going into this year’s Brier a bit under the radar, but I would still not count out Magic Mike since this is his second Brier appearance so he should be more comfortable in this atmosphere.

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4) British Columbia (John Morris)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, never count out Johnny Mo. During the last couple of months, Morris and Cotter have been playing brilliantly on the Grand Slam circuit and I expect them to continue that run of form once again this week as they return to the playoffs.

5) Team Canada – The Glencoe Club (Calgary)

World Men's Curling Championship 2016, Basel, Switzerland

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

Grand Slam Record: 8-11 (DNQ, DNQ, Quarter-Finalist, DNQ)

Early on this season, it looked like Team Koe were not missing a beat from last year as they went on a 11 game win streak and had a 16-2 record in their first three events.

Then once the slams came around things fell apart and seemed like the Kevin Koe of 2015 was showing up again as he was missing shots he would normally make. Even Marc Kennedy was having a few struggles, but he has bounced back as of late.

At the moment, this team is kind of in the same boat as Chelsea Carey was heading at the Scotties, but they are hoping that their play at the Continental Cup and their win at the TSN Skins Game will turn things around. Would it surprise me though if they went on to repeat? Not at all.

kevin-koe

5) Team Canada (Kevin Koe)

Like Brett said earlier, this has the same vibe that Chelsea Carey was at entering the Scotties last week. If this team is back to it’s normal form, they’ll be in the mix to return to the final. However, if Koe’s struggling with his hits like he has been at a few of the Grand Slams this season, it could be a long week.

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

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

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

Once again Jean-Michel Menard is here to destroy your TV speakers. The road back to the Brier was not an easy one for Menard though, as he barely qualified for the provincial playoffs but he kicked it into gear and won the event.

The past couple of showing for Menard at the Brier have been somewhat disappointing, but those fields were absolutely stacked. This year, however, I could see Menard giving the front runners fits.

jean-michel-menard

6) Quebec (Jean-Michel Menard)

Like Krista McCarville, Menard doesn’t play much on the tour but he’s always a threat at the nationals. A mid-pack finish seems most likely, but a possible tiebreaker berth isn’t that far fetched.

7) Alberta – Saville Sports Centre (Edmonton)

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Skip – Brendan Bottcher, Vice – Darren Moulding, Second – Bradley Thiessen, Lead – Karrick “Jackhammer” Martin

Grand Slam Record: 7-12 (DNQ, DNQ, DNQ, Quarter-Finalist)

As mentioned before in our provincial preview this year was a golden opportunity for Brendan Bottcher to make his Brier debut and he made the most of it. He’s a Canadian and World Junior champion and he’s already played in big arenas on the Grand Slam circuit.

We’ve already talked about the lineup change with Darren Moulding replacing Pat Simmons after Christmas, but Bottcher’s coach is the Old Bear himself Kevin Martin, so he has to help this team big time in terms of getting used to the Brier. They may finish higher than where I’m predicting them but some first time jitters may prevent that from happening.

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7) Alberta (Brendan Bottcher)

You always have to get a Brier under your belt before you become a legit threat, so this will be a great learning week for the Alberta squad. With that said, this group has the talent to possibly get in the playoff discussion if they get off to a strong start.

8) Ontario – St. George’s Golf & Country Club (Etobicoke)

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Skip – Glenn Howard, Vice – Richard Hart “Surgeon”, Second – David Mathers, Lead – Scott Howard

Grand Slam Record: 6-5 (Competed in two events – DNQ, Runner-Up)

Glenn Howard is once again back for his 17th Brier appearance and this year he has brought in David Mathers to have a mix of youth and experience. We have not heard much from him on the Grand Slam scene, but Howard was the runner-up at the Tier 2 Tour Challenge event to Greg Balsdon.

It’s kind hard to tell where Glenn could be in final standings, and while I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulled off a few upsets, he’s nowhere near his dominant form of a few years ago.

glenn-howard

8) Ontario (Glenn Howard)

Another year and another appearance at the Brier for Glenn Howard, as John Epping can’t seem to get out of Ontario yet. Given the strength of the field, a mid-table result seems fair for Howard, but he might be able to turn back the clock and have a strong week.

9) Saskatchewan – Highland Curling Club (Regina)

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Skip – Adam Casey, Vice – Catlin Schneider, Second – Shaun Meachem, Lead – Dustin Kidby

Grand Slam Record: N/A

After having a dismal performance at last year’s Brier as the skip for Prince Edward Island,  Adam Casey made the move to the land of the Green Riders and took over skipping duties for Shawn Meachem, who was the runner-up at last year’s provincials.

That move paid off as they obliterated Steve Laycock in the provincial final this year. Casey’s experience at the last couple of Briers should help this rink out, but this is the true Wild Card of this year’s field.

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9) Northwest Territories (Jamie Koe)

The living legend has returned to run wild at the #Patch and curl along the way. With no pre-qualifying game to worry about this, I think Jamie should have a pretty solid week. Plus, I’m sure he wants to have just as good a result as his sister Kerry did at the Scotties.

10) Northwest Territories – Yellowknife Curling Club

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

Grand Slam Record: N/A

“So I won the game “WHAT” I took the team out “WHAT” Went to the patch “WHAT” Sat down and chatted with friends “WHAT”, Had a beer “WHAT” Two Beers “WHAT” Three Beers “WHAT” a shot of whiskey “WHAT” a margarita “WHAT” and a bloody mary”

Ahem…. Anyway, the king of  the patch has returned and he will probably raise hell over there. Besides the usual chaos over there, he might be in contention for a few more wins at this year’s Brier since he does not have to worry about the relegation round anymore. Since this year’s field isn’t as crazy strong as the last couple of years, he should have a better showing at the end of the week.

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10) Saskatchewan (Adam Casey)

As Brett mentioned earlier, this is a team that can finish anywhere in the final standings. Casey’s a talented shooter, but it’s always tough for a team that doesn’t play a ton on the World Curling Tour to make adjustments to playing at the Brier. Just look at what happened to Saskatchewan women’s champion Penny Barker last week.

11) Nova Scotia – Halifax Curling Club

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

Grand Slam Record: N/A

Last year Jamie Murphy suffered a heartbreaking final shot loss in the pre-qualifying final to Jamie Koe. So Murphy is back in the pre-qualification round once again and it’s basically a two horse race with him and Prince Edward Island. I think he should be able to qualify for the main field and also have a chance to end an 11 game losing streak in the round-robin.

jamie-murphy

11) Nova Scotia (Jamie Murphy)

With no Jamie Koe in the mix, Murphy should be able to get through with ease. I’m not sure if he’ll surprise in the main field, but he should be able to get Nova Scotia’s first round-robin win in quite some time.

12) New Brunswick – Capital Winter Club (Fredericton)

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

Grand Slam Record: N/A

To be honest I feel bad picking New Brunswick in this spot again, as Mike Kennedy was our biggest surprise at last year’s Brier. This is a team that can make a lot of shots, and they should play well all week long, so they can be a team that surprise once again.

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

12) New Brunswick (Mike Kennedy)

This veteran squad will play well all week, especially since they are already locked in the main draw, but it’s hard to see them anywhere else but the bottom of the pack with how strong this year’s field is once again.

13) Prince Edward Island – Charlottetown Curling Complex

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Skip – Eddie Mackenzie, Vice – Sean Ledgerwood, Second – Matt Nabuurs, Lead – Robbie Doherty

Grand Slam Record: N/A

After Adam Casey left Prince Edward Island, it’s up to Eddie Mackenzie to get them back out of the relegation zone. In his last appearance at a Brier in 2014, he had his best showing with a 4-7 record so he does have experience going for him. If he does manage to make the field I can only see him being in the 10th to 12th place range.

Kamloops B.C.Mar2_2014.Tim Hortons Brier.P.E.I,skip Eddie MacKenzie,third Anson Carmody.second Tyler Mackenzie.CCA/michael burns photo

13) Prince Edward Island (Eddie Mackenzie)

The battle between Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island will be a big one as they try to get a third team from the East Coast into this year’s field. They’ll give Murphy all they can handle, but it’s hard to see them doing well in the main field.

14) Yukon – Whitehorse Curling Club

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Skip – Craig Kochan, Vice – Jon Solberg (Throws 4th Stones), Second – Ray Mikkelsen, Lead – Darrin Frederickson

Grand Slam Record: N/A

This year we have a brand new representative for the Yukon and its Craig Kochan. Kochan himself is a multi-time Northern Ontario Junior Champion and has competed in Canadian Mixed championships as a skip for Northern Ontario. It’s still difficult to tell how this rink will perform since they don’t play on tour much at all though, they could maybe give Nova Scotia and PEI a bit of a scare.

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14) Yukon (Craig Kochan)

Nothing like another Northern Ontario connection in the field. The Yukon will be another pesky team, though maybe not on the same level as the women’s side with Sarah Koltun in the coming years, but I’m not sure if they’ll be able to make it in the main field.

15) Nunavut – Iqaluit Curling Club

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Skip – Jim Nix, Vice – Edmund MacDonald, Second – Greg Howard, Lead – Darryl McGrath

Grand Slam Record: N/A

We also have a new representative this year for Nunavut in Jim Nix. We don’t know much at all about the Nunavut squad this year but the same thing applies as before. If they can keep things close then it would be good for the future especially since they will be in the main field next year with the new pool format.

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15) Nunavut (Jim Nix)

As we’ve said before, this is all about experience for Nunavut. Hopefully the province can get some decent showings in the junior ranks in the coming years as they get thrown to the wolves on the men’s side.


The Punkari Brothers 2017 Scotties Review

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Written By Brett Punkari (With Cameos by Lucas Punkari)

Coming into this year’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts the women’s curling scene was a tough one to predict. especially with a lot of upsets in the provincials. At the end of the week in St. Catharines, however, we saw some career best performances and a championship final that is the curling game of the year as of right now.

Champions – Ontario (Rachel Homan)

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Well I guess we can stop debating Rachel’s performance now. All week it felt like Team Homan were a bit different from what we’ve seen in their past Scotties. They may not have been destroying the field, but they started off with a 10-0 record and ended up with their second best overall team percentage in their five trips to the Scotties.

After losing two straight games to Manitoba, you almost had the feeling that things could turn out like it did for Homan at the 2014 Worlds when she beat everyone but Switzerland. But a great start in a very dramatic final helped the rink win their third Scotties title, and the first for second Joanne Courtney.

I still can’t quite figure them out though as they try to be a more complete team, and I’ll have to see how things go at the Worlds before I can decided where exactly this rink will stand coming to the Olympic Trials.

Of the three titles that Rachel has won, this one was easily the toughest to come by given her battles with Michelle Englot. There were some head-scratching moments at times from the team, but when they were on their game they were tough to stop. If they play like they did in the semifinals and the finals at the Worlds in China, Homan should finally win a world title. If they struggle against what looks to be a tough field, it could be a tough week.

At any rate, Rachel’s officially among the greats now with three national titles in five years and becoming the youngest skip to win a Scotties trifecta. Also, I’m super please to see Joanne Courtney win a title, as I thought she played well all week.

Round-Robin Stats

Lead – Lisa Weagle – 86% – Tied for 1st

Second – Joanne Courtney -85% – 1st

Vice – Emma Miskew -84% – 1st

Skip – Rachel Homan – 84% – 1st

Team – Ontario -85% – 1st

Runner-Up – Manitoba (Michelle Englot)

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It’s amazing how things can come together at just the right time. In Michelle Englot’s first season in Manitoba she makes it to her first ever final and gave Team Homan all they could handle, including a pair of wins over the eventual champions.

All week long, she would come after teams by putting rocks in play early and that proved to be the key to her success. With a strong performance at the Scotties, and the brilliant play of third Kate Cameron, this is a team to keep an eye on next year as they look to play their way into the Olympic Trials.

Out of all the teams at the Scotties, this was probably the most consistent one. Englot’s strategy was great all week, especially in her three games against Homan, and Cameron was easily the breakout performer from the event. I’m excited to see how this rink does next year, and they might be back at the Scotties as Team Canada if Homan happens to win the Olympic Trials in Ottawa.

Round-Robin Stats

Lead – Raunora Wescott – 84% – Tied for 4th

Second – Leslie Wilson – 80% – Tied for 6th

Vice – Kate Cameron – 81% – Tied for 3rd

Skip – Michelle Englot – 80% – 4th

Team – Manitoba – 81% – Tied for 4th

Bronze Medalist – Team Canada (Chelsea Carey)

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For the defending champions, the season had not been the greatest for them but they seemed to turn things around at the Scotties. Even though they had a tough loss to start the week off against Ontario, they gave Manitoba their only round-robin defeat on their way to a 9-2 record.

However, things went South big time in the 3 vs. 4 game, where Carey’s draw weight was basically non-existent. They turned things around to win the bronze medal game, but the big story came afterwards as Amy Nixon announced that she would be leaving the team at year’s end. Team Carey’s looking for someone new to fill that vice slot, and that’s something to keep an eye on during the off-season.

Had Carey’s draw weight hadn’t vanished against Northern Ontario, she might have had a legit shot of playing in the final. Given the not so great run-up to the Scotties, the way they played all week bodes well for the future. Seeing Amy Nixon leave the sport is a bummer though, and I’m curious as to who they bring in for the Olympic run. Fingers crossed it’s Heather Nedohin, but I doubt it’s her.

Round-Robin Stats

Lead – Laine Peters – 86% – Tied for 1st

Second – Jocelyn Peterman – 83% – 3rd

Vice – Amy Nixon – 81% – Tied for 3rd

Skip – Chelsea Carey – 83% – 2nd

Team – Canada – 83% – 2nd

Fourth Place – Northern Ontario (Krista McCarville)

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Throughout the week, it just seemed like Northern Ontario was off just a little bit and they weren’t quite as sharp as we had expected, even though everyone was in the top five when it came to their stats. When the playoff rolled around though, it seemed like they found another gear with their win over Team Canada and if it wasn’t for one bad early end, they could haven beaten Ontario as everyone on the team played well.

Looking towards the future, it will be interesting to see where Team McCarville ends up in terms of making it straight to the Olympic Trials or having to go through the pre-trial route next year, especially with how they’ve preformed at the last two Scotties.

Brett already touched on McCarville’s playoff run, but her round-robin losses were interesting as well. She got blown out by Alberta, coughed up a big lead to Manitoba and had a back-and-forth battle with Ontario, which may have put her in better standing by the end of the week if she won any of those games. While she didn’t quite match up to our expectations of winning the whole event, it was still another good week for a Thunder Bay rink that is no longer a sleeper on the national stage.

Round-Robin Stats

Lead – Sarah Potts – 84% – Tied for 3rd

Second – Ashley Sippala – 81% – Tied for 4th

Vice – Kendra Lilly – 80% – 5th

Skip – Krista McCarville – 81% – 3rd

Team – Northern Ontario – 82% – 3rd

Biggest Surprise – Northwest Territories (Kerry Galusha)

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I was torn as too what my biggest surprise team would be prior to going with Kerry Galusha, as you could also make a case for Quebec’s Eve Belisle or Stacie Curtis of Newfoundland & Labrador.

After finally getting out of the relegation round Galusha made the most of her return to the main stage as she had her best ever performance with a record of 5-6. In fact she was in the playoff mix until Thursday afternoon and gave a lot of tough challenges to the top teams in the field. After missing out the last two years on getting into the main draw, this performance was something special for Galusha as she almost led the Northwest Territories into their first trip to the playoffs.

Round-Robin Stats

Lead – Sharon Cormier – 75% – 12th

Second – Danielle Derry – 78% – 8th

Vice – Megan Koehler – 73% – 10th

Skip – Kerry Galusha – 74% – 6th

Team – Northwest Territories – 75% – Tied for 9th

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While Galusha’s run was awesome, my biggest surprise was Quebec’s Eve Belisle. While her stats weren’t super fantastic, she played well all week and almost got her way into a tiebreaker. If she can build off of this showing next year, Quebec might be a possible sleeper team in Penticton

Round-Robin Stats

Lead – Brittany O’Rourke – 79% – Tied for 8th

Second – Trish Hill – 80% – Tied for 6th

Vice – Lauren Mann – 76% – 8th

Skip – Eve Belisle – 74% – 6th

Team – Quebec – 77% – Tied for 7th

Biggest Disappointment – British Columbia (Marla Mallett)

2017 Scotties Tournament of Hearts

Boy this is one you’d want to scratch your head over. How did things go so horribly wrong for Marla Mallet and team, especially when two players ended up on All-Star teams. It seemed like nothing went right after losing a close game in the opening draw to Nova Scotia, especially with Marla herself did not throw well and seemed to struggle with the ice. It’s been a couple of years in a row now that BC has finished near the bottom and that has to be a worry going forward.

While I still think British Columbia will be in okay shape in the future, especially if Corryn Brown plays as well as she has in Juniors, this was a really bad week for the Mallett rink. Unlike Penny Barker’s Saskatchewan rink, who were getting their feet wet on a national stage, this was a team that was playing well in two positions and struggled in the other roles. Had Mallett and Richards been just average, British Columbia could have been in the same spot as Quebec at the end of the week.

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Also, there was a severe lack of Heather ‘Shitballs’ Nedohin coverage, but that’s another story.

Round-Robin Stats

Lead – Blaine De Jager – 86% – Tied for 1st

Second – Brette Richards – 76% – Tied for 10th

Vice – Shannon Aleksic – 82% – 2nd

Skip – Marla Mallet – 69% – 12th

Team – British Columbia – 78% – 6th

Award Winners

First Team All Stars

2017 Scotties Tournament of Hearts

Skip – Rachel Homan – Ontario

Vice – Emma Miskew – Ontario

Second – Joanne Courtney – Ontario

Lead – Blaine De Jager – British Columbia

Second Team All-Stars

2017 Scotties Tournament of Hearts

Lead – Lisa Weagle – Ontario

Second – Sarah Wilkes – Alberta

Vice – Shannon Aleksic – British Columbia

Skip – Chelsea Carey – Team Canada

Marj Mitchell Award

2017 Scotties Tournament of Hearts

Kerry Galusha – Northwest Territories

Sandra Schmirler MVP Award

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Rachel Homan – Ontario

Punkari Brothers Shot Of The Week

Rachel Homan – Double Runback Takeout against Northern Ontario in the Semifinal