Monthly Archives: December 2017

The Punkari Brothers Preview the 2017 Roar of the Rings

Written by Brett Punkari (With Cameos by Lucas Punkari)

With the conclusion of the Road To The Roar a couple of weeks ago (and some bad predictions on our part) the field is set for the 2017 edition of the Roar Of The Rings. Nine days of big crowd, crazy shot making, broom smashing and probably the most intense event in all of curling.

Like our preview four years ago, this preview will go super in depth as we look at how each team has done over the last three and a half seasons, their potential strengths and weaknesses, a key player for each rink and any lineup changes that happened along the way.

We’ll start things off with the Women’s event, where although it can be unpredictable at times, there appears to be a clear favourite in the field based upon how this season has gone so far.

Of note the teams are listed in the order that they clinched their spot in the Trials.

Women’s Event

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

(Left to Right Skip – Rachel Homan “Destroyer”, Vice – “A Miscue By” Emma Miskew, Second – Joanne “Frizz” Courtney, Lead – Lisa “Da” Weagle)

How They Qualified: Won the 2015 Canada Cup

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: Brought in Joanne Courtney from Val Sweeting’s rink to replace the departing Alison Kreviazuk, Competed in eight World Curling Tour events, Won two events (the Stockholm Ladies Cup over Margretha Sigfridsson and the Pomeroy Inn & Suites Prairie Showdown over Silvana Tirinzoni), Had one DNQ (Red Deer Curling Classic), Lost the Canada Cup final to Val Sweeting, Won the Bronze Medal as Team Canada at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts over Stefanie Lawton

2015/2016: Competed in 10 WCT events, Won five events (Stu Sells Oakville Tankard over Alina Paetz, Stockholm Ladies Cup over Eve Muirhead, Autumn Gold Curling Classic over Chelsea Carey, Masters of Curling over Val Sweeting and The National over Tracy Fleury), Had one DNQ (Elite 10 where they competed against men), Won the Canada Cup over Val Sweeting, Lost the Ontario Scotties final to Jenn Hanna

2016/17: Hired Adam Kingsbury as Coach, Competed in eight WCT events, Won three events (Shorty Jenkins Classic over Allison Flaxey, Canad Inns Women’s Classic over Chiaki Matsumura and the Humpty’s Champions Cup over Anna Hasselborg), Had one DNQ (Meridian Canadian Open), Lost Canada Cup final to Jennifer Jones, Won Ontario Scotties title over Jacquelin Harrison, Won the Scotties Tournament of Hearts over Michelle Englot (Third title for Homan, Miskew and Weagle – First for Courtney), Won World Women’s Curling Championship over Anna Sidorova (First World Title for all four curlers – Went 13-0 and first Canadian rink to win the Women’s title since Jennifer Jones in 2008)

2017/18: Competed in five WCT events, Won two events (Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic over Un-Chi Gim and the Autumn Gold Curling Classic over Nina Roth), Had two DNQ’s (Tier I Tour Challenge and Masters of Curling)

Strengths: Great hitting ability, Joanne Courtney’s sweeping, The Weagle tick shot

Weaknesses: Homan’s potential for tire fires, Draw weight issues, Not using The Weagle tick shot as much as they used to

Key Player: Rachel Homan

Coming off a dominating performance at the 2014 Scotties and a silver medal at the Worlds, there was a change in the Homan rink as Allison Krevaziuk left for Sweden. Joanne Courtney was brought in as the new second and there’s a bit of a feeling out process in their first year together.

Then they were absolutely dominant for the 2015-16 campaign as they destroyed everything in their path, until they were stunned in the Ontario provincial final in a shocking upset by Jenn Hanna. Since then, this rink has transformed into trying to become a more complete squad, and to be honest I don’t they have been nowhere near as dominant as they were two years ago.

We know the credentials that Homan and the rest of the team have, specially after winning the Scotties and the Worlds last year, but I don’t think they are playing up to their strengths. Firstly, the tradition of having Lisa Weagle throw the tick shot in every single end has vanished, which was one of their biggest weapons. Also, Homan herself can’t draw worth a lick these days but she can still make a ton of hits as that’s always been her strength.

This rink is still one of the favourites to win, but if it had not been for that provincial final loss in 2016, I would probably have had them as a shoe-in to head to the Olympics.

As a diehard Rachel Homan supporter, I have no idea what to expect from her heading into the Olympic Trials. Yes, she’s coming off a great 2016-17 season where she won the Scotties and the Worlds, but the rest of the campaign was all over the place. This year hasn’t been great shakes either, as their three Grand Slam events have left a lot to be desired.

A lot of how they’ll do this week depends on how Homan plays, though the showings of Miskew and Courtney will be big factors as well. If Homan is on the form she was at the end of last year’s Scotties, she’ll win it all in her hometown. However, if she’s off in anyway, the chance for tire fires are huge. There’s no in between here.

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

(Left To Right Skip – Jennifer Jones, Vice – Kaitlyn Lawes, Second – “Jilly” Jill Officer, Lead – Dawn “The Mongoose” McEwen)

How They Qualified: First team on the 2015-16 CTRS (Canadian Team Ranking System) rankings not already qualified for the Trials (This was due to Chelsea Carey failing to medal at the 2016 World Championship)

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: Brought in Wendy Morgan as Coach, Competed in eight WCT events, Won four events (Stockholm Ladies Cup over Silvana Tirinzoni, Autumn Gold Curling Classic over Rachel Homan, Canad Inns Women’s Classic over Jill Thurston and the Karuizawa International over Eun Jung Kim), Had one DNQ (Players Championship), Went 3-3 at Canada Cup to finish tied for fourth place and missed the playoffs, Won Manitoba Scotties over Kerri Einarson, Won the Scotties Tournament Of Hearts over Val Sweeting (Fifth title for Jones and Officer, Fourth title for McEwen and First title for Lawes), Finished Runner-up at the World Women’s Curling Championships to Alina Paetz

2015/2016: Competed in 11 WCT Events, Won two events (Dekalb Superspiel over Erika Brown and the Humpty’s Champions Cup over Rachel Homan), Had two DNQ’s (Autumn Gold Curling Classic – Also lost a tiebreaker game to Eve Muirhead at the Tier I Tour Challenge), Lost Canada Cup semifinal to Val Sweeting, Won Bronze as Team Canada at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts over Kerri Einarson

2016/17: Competed in 11 WCT events, Won two events (Dekalb Superspiel over Michelle Englot and Westjet Players Championship over Val Sweeting), Had one DNQ (Tiebreaker loss to Chelsea Carey at Boost National), Won Canada Cup over Rachel Homan, Lost in the semifinal at the Manitoba Scotties to Darcy Robertson.

2017/18: Competed in 7 WCT Events, Won two events (Masters of Curling over Kerri Einarson and Boost National over Casey Scheidegger), Has made the playoffs at every event this year and is on a 14-game winning streak heading into the Trials

Strengths: Aggressive offensive strategy that usually leads to a lot of high scores, Consistent at nearly event they compete in, Dawn McEwen never has a bad tournament at lead

Weakness: Not very good at defending leads, Jennifer Jones isn’t quite great at throwing big weight hits, Offensively minded strategy can come back to bite them if they aren’t making shots

Key Player: Jennifer Jones

The defending Olympic champions seem to be hitting their stride at the perfect time this season as they have become the clear favourites based upon their level of play at the recent Grand Slam of Curling events. Personally, I thought that the devastating loss to Darcy Robertson at last year’s Manitoba provincials would affect them a little bit, but that hasn’t been the case.

We all know how strong this has been with their offensively minded play, and when they get that going it’s tough to try and stop them. However, there are some ways that teams can work around that, as Jennifer Jones can sometimes miss the big weight hits and forcing Kaitlyn Lawes into tough shots can sometimes lead to some inconsistent play that puts Jones into tougher situations.

With that said, the Jones rink seems to be back on track yet again and that’s not good news for the rest of the field.

Although they’ve had a few strange losses over the last couple of years that probably wouldn’t have happened a couple of years ago (see the 2016 Scotties semifinal against Krista McCarville and the 2017 Manitoba Scotties semifinal against Darcy Robertson), there’s no doubting that Jones is once again the favourite heading into this week. Anyone that tells you otherwise is foolish.

With a 14-game winning streak in their back pocket, plus the fact that they won this event in Winnipeg four years ago, the top women’s player of her generation has a chance to become the first skip ever to win back to back Olympic Trials on the women’s side. At this point, it’s hard to be against her.

Team Allison Flaxey from The Granite Club in Toronto, Ontario

(Left to Right Skip – Allison Flaxey, Vice – Clancy Grandy, Second – Lynn Kreviazuk, Lead – Morgan Court)

How they Qualified: Highest team on the 2016-2017 CTRS rankings not already qualified for the Olympic Trials (This was due to Jennifer Jones winning the 2016 Canada Cup)

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: The consisted of Flaxey, Katie Cottrill, Kristen Foster and Court, Competed in seven WCT events, Best result was a tiebreaker loss to Silvana Tirinzoni at the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard, Went 1-5 at the Canada Cup and finished in a tie for sixth place, Went 4-5 at the Ontario Scotties and finished in a tie for fifth place

2015/16: Clancy Grandy joined the rink at vice and Lynn Kreviazuk returned at second, Competed in 13 WCT events, Won two events (the KW Fall Classic over Erika Brown and the Uiseong Masters over Eun Jung Kim), Had five DNQ’s (Stu Sells Oakville Tankard, Stu Sells Toronto Tankard, US Open of Curling, Perth Ladies International and Humpty’s Champions Cup), Went 3-6 at the Ontario Scotties and finished in a tie for seventh place

2016/17: Competed in 14 WCT Events, Won two events (the WFG Masters over Rachel Homan and Perth Ladies International over Silvana Tirinzoni), Had four DNQ’s (Boost National, Bernese Ladies Cup and Humpty’s Champions Cup – Lost a tiebreaker to Anna Hasselborg at the Westjet Players Championship), Went 4-3 at the Ontario Scotties and lost a tiebreaker game to Cathy Auld

2017/18: Competed in seven WCT events, Made playoffs at one event (Lost in the semifinal to Shannon Birchard at the Colonial Square Ladies Classic)

Strengths: Lynn Kreviazuk’s shooting ability

Weaknesses: The team can be hot and cold over the course of the year

Key Player: Lynn Kreviazuk

After making her first Scotties in 2014, Allison Flaxey has been all over the place when it comes to how’s she fared at events. However, things became a little bit more consistent over the last couple of years with the addition of Clancy Grandy and the return of Lynn Kreviazuk, as the rink has moved back up the rankings to be considered the second-best team in Ontario.

Last season was Flaxey’s best to date as she won her first Grand Slam title, but we haven’t gotten a real clear grasp of they will fare in Ottawa with their level of play as of late. As a result of that, Flaxey is one of the biggest wildcards in this field.

If the Trials had taken place at this time last year, Flaxey would easily be considered a playoff contender given how well her rink was doing on the cashspiel circuit. Since then though, she hasn’t really had that great of a run of form, especially with only one playoff trip so far in this campaign. I suspect she’ll be much more consistent this week in Ottawa, but I don’t know if it’s enough to crack into the top three.

Team Val Sweeting from the Saville Community Sports Center in Edmonton, Alberta

(Left to Right Skip – Val Sweeting, Vice – Lori Olson-Johns, Second – Dana Ferguson “Fergielicious”, Lead – Rachelle “Sugar” Brown

How They Qualified: Highest team on 2016-2017 CTRS standings not already qualified (This was due to Rachel Homan winning the 2017 Scotties)

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: Brought in Andrea Crawford to replace the departing Joanne Courtney, Crawford left the team early in the season and was replaced by Lori Olson-Johns, Competed in nine WCT events, Won one event (Masters of Curling over Margaretha Sigfridsson), Had two DNQ’s (Autumn Gold Curling Classic and Canad Inns Women’s Classic), Won the Canada Cup over Rachel Homan, Won the Alberta Scotties over Chelsea Carey, Finished runner-up at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts to Jennifer Jones (Sweeting’s rink had lost the final the previous year to Rachel Homan)

2015/2016: Competed in 12 WCT Events, Won one event (HFC Insurance Shootout over Stefanie Lawton), Had one DNQ (Tier I Tour Challenge), Lost the Canada Cup final to Rachel Homan, Lost the Alberta Scotties final to Chelsea Carey

2016/2017: Competed in 11 WCT events, Won one event (Tier I Tour Challenge over Michelle Englot), Had three DNQ’s (Colonial Square Ladies Classic, WFG Masters and Karuizawa International), Went 3-3 at the Canada Cup and lost to Kerri Einarson in a tiebreaker, Lost the Alberta Scotties Final to Shannon Kleibrink

2017/18: Competed in six WCT events, Won one event (Tier I Tour Challenge over Anna Hasselborg), Had two DNQ’s (Autumn Gold Curling Classic and Masters of Curling)

Strengths: The play of Lori Olson-Johns, Pooks and Fergie’s Dance Parties (No?)

Weaknesses: Dana Ferguson’s hitting ability, Inconsistent play of Val Sweeting

Key Player: Lori Olson-Johns

When you look back at everything leading up to the Olympic Trials, the Sweeting rink did an excellent job of dealing with Andrea Crawford leaving the rink early in the 2014/15 season and having Lori Olson-Johns help stabilize things on their way to a Canada Cup title and a second straight trip to the Scotties finals. Since then, Sweeting and her team have always been in the mix but have only tasted success on occasions, especially when it comes to the provincial stage as they’ve lost back-to-back finals.

There are a couple of holes for this rink, which is a pretty solid one all things considered. Dana Ferguson seems to have a tough time making hits or peels without something going wrong, so if Rachelle Brown misses her shots you have some problems. Both Lori and Val can help bail Dana out, but there have been games where Sweeting can look really bad out there. An example of this came earlier this year in the Tier I Tour Challenge final, when she had an off performance against Anna Hasselborg but was able to steal the win.

As a whole, this team should be in the mix to be a legit contender in Ottawa, even though they may have been even better if Joanne Courtney had hung around and not joined Team Homan a few years ago. With all that said, do we really need a Pooks and Fergie dance party at the Olympics though?

Yes Brett, the world does need more Pooks and Fergie at major sporting events. This event also needed more Amanda Gates, but I digress.

In regards to the Sweeting rink, they’ve been a threat at almost every event they’ve played in during this Olympic cycle, but they haven’t parlayed their round-robin success into strong playoff showings on a regular basis. That will need to change if they want a chance to win at the majors, and what better way to shove that narrative aside than with a win in Ottawa.

Team Chelsea Carey from The Glencoe Club in Calgary, Alberta

(Skip – Chelsea Carey (Front), Vice – Cathy Overton-Clapham (Left), Second – Jocelyn Peterman (Right), Lead – Laine Peters (Back)

How They Qualified: Highest team on the 2015-17 CTRS rankings not already qualified (This was due to Rachel Homan being the leader over the two-year span)

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: Chelsea Carey moves to Alberta from Manitoba to skip a team with Laura Crocker, Taylor McDonald and Jen Gates, Competed in eight WCT events, Won two events (the Boundary Ford Curling Classic over Jolene Campbell and the HDF Insurance Shootout over Val Sweeting), Had four DNQ’s (Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic, Autumn Gold Curling Classic, Masters of Curling and Canad Inns Women’s Classic, Lost the Alberta Scotties Final to Val Sweeting.

2015/2016: Carey leaves her previous rink to take over as skip for Heather Nedohin (who lost to Carey in the Alberta semis a year earlier) and acquired Jocelyn Peterman to replace Jessica Mair at second (Amy Nixon remains at third and Laine Peters is still at lead), Competed in 13 WCT events, Had two runner-up finishes (the Autumn Gold Curling Classic to Rachel Homan and the Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic to Stefanie Lawton), Had six DNQ’s (Stu Sells Oakville Tankard, Colonial Square Ladies Classic, The National, The Players Championship and the Humpty’s Champions Cup – Also lost a tiebreaker game at the Tier I Tour Challenge to Tracy Fleury), Won the Alberta Scotties over Val Sweeting, Won the Scotties Tournament Of Hearts over Krista McCarville (First Scotties title for all four team members), Finished fourth at the Women’s Worlds after a loss in the bronze medal game to Anna Sidorova (Carey loses her automatic Trials spot from winning the Scotties as she failed to make the podium at the Worlds)

2016/2017: Competed in 10 WCT events, Won one event (Hokkaido Bank Curling Classic over Un-Chi Gim), Had four DNQ’s (Autumn Gold Curling Classic, Tier I Tour Challenge, Meridian Canadian Open and Perth Ladies International), Went 2-4 at the Canada Cup and finished tied for fifth, Won a bronze medal as Team Canada at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts over Krista McCarville

2017/18: Cathy Overton-Clapham brought in to replace the retired Amy Nixon at third, Competed in six WCT Events, Best finish was a runner-up (Lost to Kerri Einarson at the Tier II Tour Challenge), Have made the playoffs at every event this season

Strengths: A veteran lineup with tons of experience at big events, Have played well at CAA events in recent years, Consistent all season

Weaknesses: Have been all over the map with results in the past couple of years at events that weren’t the Scotties

Key Player: Cathy Overton-Clapham

After making her first Scotties in 2014 with Manitoba, Chelsea Carey headed off to Alberta to join up with a younger rink, however that only lasted one year as Carey then jumped ship to take over skipping duties for the Heather Nedohin squad.

That move worked out in a huge way as she won her first Scotties title in 2016, though her trip to the Worlds in Swift Current didn’t go as planned as Canada missed out on the podium for the first time since 2009. Since then, Carey’s been okay at best as she hasn’t really had the overall success of some of the major contenders on the World Curling Tour circuit.

This year, Carey brought in Cathy Overton-Clapham to replace the retired Amy Nixon at third, and we know what she’s been capable of as a Super Sub over the last couple of years. At this point, I have this rink penciled in for the middle of the pack, but who knows what could happen if Overton-Clapham and Carey are on their games.

While Homan and Jones are considered the two teams to beat this week, the other Scotties champion from the last three years is sliding in completely under the radar. Maybe it’s because she hasn’t done a heck of a lot over the last year or so, but her play is second only to Jones when it comes to overall performance this year. With the addition of Overton-Clapham, this is a sleeper pick that’s well worth watching.

Team Casey Scheidegger from the Lethbridge Curling Club in Lethbridge, Alberta

(Left to Right Skip – Casey “Scheidiggitydog” Scheidegger, Vice – Cary-Anne McTaggart, Second – Jessie Scheidegger, Lead – Kristie Moore)

How They Qualified: Highest team in the 2016/17 CTRS standings not already qualified (This was due to Rachel Homan being the CTRS leader in 2016/17)

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: Competed in six WCT events, Won one event (Medicine Hat Charity Classic over Brett Barber), Had two DNQ’s (Autumn Gold Curling Classic and Pomery Inn & Suites Prairie Showdown), Lost the Alberta Scotties 3 vs. 4 Page Playoff game to Chelsea Carey

2015/2016: Stephanie Enright replaces Brittany Tran at lead, Competed in six WCT events, Won one event (Boundary Ford Curling Classic over Brett Barber), Had two DNQ’s (Autumn Gold Curling Classic and Crestwood Ladies Fall Classic), Lost in the Alberta Scotties C Event final to Jessie Hunkin

2016/2017: Competed in eight WCT events, Won four events (HDF Insurance Shootout over Eve Muirhead, Autumn Gold Curling Classic over Jennifer Jones, Medicine Hat Charity Classic over Nadine Scotland and the Meridian Canadian Open over Silvana Tirinzoni), Had one DNQ (Humpty’s Champions Cup), Lost the Alberta Scotties semifinal to Val Sweeting

2017/2018: Kristie Moore replaces Stephanie Enright at lead, Competed in five events, Best finish was a runner-up at the Boost National to Jennifer Jones, Had two DNQ’s (Tier 1 Tour Challenge and the Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic)

Strengths: Have shown no fear in going against teams as an underdog

Weaknesses: Although they won their first ever Grand Slam of Curling event in their first attempt in North Battleford last year, this is their first time competing at a Curling Canada competition

Key Player: Casey Scheidegger

This is a case where one breakout season catapults a team into the spotlight. After being in the mix on the Alberta scene for the last couple of years, Casey Scheidegger jumped onto the national scene last year with a breakout performance on the World Curling Tour and a massive upset win in her first ever Grand Slam of Curling competition at the Canadian Open.

It’s one thing to play well at the Grand Slam events in front of smaller crowds, but competition at a massive event such as the Olympic Trials in what should be a great atmosphere with larger crowds is a whole different experience. There will certainly be some nerves, but this is a solid team that should be in the mix for a playoff spot if everything goes well.

Following last year’s breakout campaign, Scheidigger and her rink from Lethbridge have quickly become a tough opponent for anyone to go up against on the World Curling Tour. Granted, how they’ll fair this week is tough to say, but they should be battling to get into the playoffs when the round-robin ends and a strong showing in Ottawa could set this squad up for a possible first trip to the Scotties in February.      

Team Michelle Englot from The Granite Curling Club in Winnipeg, Manitoba

(Left to Right Skip – Michelle Englot, Vice – Kate “Straight Edge” Cameron, Second – Leslie Wilson-Wescott, Lead – Raunora Westcott)

How They Qualified: Highest team on the 2016-17 CTRS rankings not already qualified (This was due to Jennifer Jones being the runner-up on the 2016-17 CTRS rankings)

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: Team skipped by Kristy McDonald, Competed in 10 WCT events, Won two events (Mother Club Fall Curling Classic over Colleen Kilgallen and the Granite Ladies Cash Spiel over Kerri Einarson), Had three DNQ’s (Canadian Open and The Players Championship – Also lost a tiebreaker to Silvana Tirinzoni at the Masters of Curling), Lost the 3 vs. 4 Page Playoff game at the Manitoba Scotties to Barb Spencer (Englot was skipping a rink in Saskatchewan with Candace Chisholm, Ashley Howard and Kirsty Johnson that lost to Stefanie Lawton in the provincial final)

2015/2016: Rink still skipped by Kristy McDonald, Competed in eight WCT events, Best finish was a semifinal appearance at the Masters of Curling where they lost to Rachel Homan, Had two DNQ’s (Dekalb Superspiel and Meridian Canadian Open), Went 1-5 at the Canada Cup and finished in a tie for sixth place, Lost the Manitoba Scotties final to Kerri Einarson (Englot was still in Saskatchewan skipping a rink with Chisholm but was now joined by Stephanie Schmidt and Brooklyn Lemon – They lost to Jolene Campbell in the 3 vs. 4 Page Playoff game at the provincial playdowns)

2016/2017: Englot takes over as skip as McDonald leaves, Competed in 10 WCT events, Won one event (the Mother Club Fall Curling Classic over Joelle Brown), Had five DNQ’s (Colonial Square Ladies Classic, Autumn Gold Curling Classic, Canad Inns Women’s Classic, Meridian Canadian Open and the Westjet Players Championship), Won the Manitoba Scotties title over Darcy Robertson, Finished runner-up at the Scotties after losing to Rachel Homan in the final

2017/2018: Compete in eight WCT events, Had one win (the Mother Club Fall Curling Classic over Kerri Einarson), Had three DNQ’s (Canad Inns Women’s Classic, Masters of Curling and the Boost National)

Strengths: Michelle Englot’s touch on soft shots, the play of Kate Cameron at third

Weaknesses: Michelle Englot’s hitting ability

Key Player: Kate Cameron

While Scheidigger had a breakout year to move into the spotlight, the Englot rink utilized one big event to move into the big time. After being on the fringes of breaking out in Manitoba but running into Kerri Einarson and Jennifer Jones in the provincial playdowns, the addition of Michelle Englot to the Kristy McDonald rink and the breakout performance of Kate Cameron propelled them to lofty heights and a near win at the Scotties.

There’s two things that standout with the team itself. Englot is someone who likes to have rocks in play and be more of a finesse player, which makes her me really good at soft shots. The other thing is Kate Cameron’s consistency and her deadly hitting ability. It’s just a question of seeing if the team can put everything together and have a good showing.

If it wasn’t for Rachel Homan returning to form at the end of the Scotties, there’s a very good possibility that the Englot rink would be entering this week as the reigning national champions. Like Brett said, the overall play of Englot and Cameron will be the key to any success this squad has this week, as an off performance will leave them on the outside looking in.

Team Krista McCarville from the Fort William Curling Club in Thunder Bay, Ontario

(Left to Right, Skip – Krista McCarville, Vice – Kendra Lilly, Second – Ashley Sippala, Lead – Sarah Potts)

How They Qualified: Won the ‘A’ final at the Road to the Roar

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: McCarville and Sippala did not play while Lilly and Potts led a team that included Oye-Sem Won Briand and Tirzah Keffer, Competed in three WCT events, Had a runner-up finish at the Molson Cash Spiel where they lost to Cory Christensen, Had two DNQ’s (Curl Mesabi Classic and the Canad Inns Women’s Classic), Lost the Northern Ontario Scotties final to Tracy Fleury

2015/2016: McCarville and Sippala returned to the lineup, Competed in six WCT events, Won (the Colonial Square Ladies Classic over Sherry Anderson, Molson Cash Spiel over Nina Roth, the Curl Mesabi Classic over Cory Christensen and the US Open of Curling over Sijia Liu), Had two DNQ’s (Canad Inns Women’s Classic and Humpty’s Champions Cup), Won the Northern Ontario Scotties over Tracy Fleury, Finished runner-up at the Scotties after losing the final to Chelsea Carey

2016/2017: Competed in five WCT events, Best finish was a runner-up at the Tier II Tour Challenge where she lost to Jacqueline Harrison, Had one DNQ (Canada Inns Women’s Classic), Won the Northern Ontario Scotties over Tracy Fleury, Finished fourth at the Scotties after losing to Chelsea Carey in the bronze medal game

2017/2018: Competed in three WCT events, Best finish was a runner-up at the Shorty Jenkins Classic where she lost to Jamie Sinclair, Had one DNQ (Canada Inns Women’s Classic), Defeated Briane Meilleur in the ‘A’ final at the Road to the Roar

Strengths: The strong play of Krista McCarville

Weaknesses: Inconsistent play from Ashley Sippala and Sarah Potts

Key Player: Krista McCarville

Everything old is new again for Krista McCarville as she makes her second trials appearance and her first since 2009. Ever since she’s returned to the game and taken over skipping duties from Kendra Lilly, this rink has rocketed up the rankings in Canada, which is very impressing seeing that they don’t play that much on the World Curling Tour compared to everyone else.

Over the last couple of years, McCarville has had to take things over herself on several occasions and help the team out, especially if they struggle at the start of a game. Despite that, this is a very solid squad and a huge under the radar threat to perhaps win it all.

Other than the big three of Homan, Jones and Sweeting, McCarville is easily the best bet from the rest of the field to come away with an Olympic Trials spot. Although she doesn’t play a lot on the World Curling Tour and had to come through the pre-trials as a result of, she’s always a threat at the Scotties and she should be in the mix in Ottawa. A trip to the finals isn’t that far-fetched.

Team Julie Tippin from the Woodstock Curling Club in Woodstock, Ontario

(Left to Right Skip – Julie Tippin, Vice – Chantal Duhaime, Second – Rachelle Vink, Lead – Tess Bobbie)

How They Qualified: Won the ‘B’ final at the Road to the Roar

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: Duhaime was the skip for the rink with Ginger Van Ymeren at vice, Competed at two WCT Events, Had two DNQ’s (Challenge Chateau Cartier de Gatineau and Mount Lawn Gord Carroll Classic), Did not qualify for the Ontario Scotties (Tippin was the third on Cathy Auld’s rink in Ontario that also included Holly Donaldson and Carty Howard but failed to qualify for the Ontario Scotties)

2015/2016: Tippin joins the rink and becomes skip with Duhaime moving to vice, Competed in six WCT events, Had three wins (Stroud Sleeman Cash Spiel over Allison Flaxey, the Cookstown Cashspiel over Anna Hasselborg and the Listowel Libro Women’s Classic over Megan Balsdon), Had one DNQ (Oakville OCT Fall Classic), Lost the 3 vs. 4 Page Playoff game at the Ontario Scotties to Jenn Hanna

2016/2017: Competed in 10 WCT events, Won one event (Stroud Sleeman Cash Spiel over Megan Baldson), Had three DNQ’s (Stu Sells Oakville Tankard, the Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic and the Tier II Tour Challenge), Went 3-4 at the Ontario Scotties and finished in a tie for fifth place

2017/18: Competed in six events, Won two events (the KW Fall Classic over Susan Froud and the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard over Chrissy Cadorin), Had three DNQ’s (Canad Inns Women’s Classic and the Boost National – Also lost a tiebreaker to Eve Muirhead at the Tier I Tour Challenge), Defeated Briane Meilleur to win the ‘B’ event at the Road to the Roar

Strengths: As a true underdog they have nothing to lose

Weaknesses: Have never competed at an event of this scale before

Key Player: Julie Tippin

Remember when Jason Gunnlaugson made a surprise run to the Olympic Trials in 2009 but finished at the bottom of the standings with a 0-7 record. That’s likely what’s going to happen to Julie Tippin this week as she makes her first Trials appearance.

Yes, she has become a stronger player on the Ontario circuit in the last couple of years and they’ve made a couple of appearances at Grand Slam events lately. However, this week has all the makings of a rough one for them. However, if they do well and pull off a couple of upsets, that might help their stock in Ontario as everyone looks to try and stop Rachel Homan.

How dare you bring my hero Gunner into this Brett. If anything, I think Tippin will be more along the lines of Crystal Webster and Renne Sonnenberg from the last two Trials as a rink that will finish at the bottom of the standings and pull off a couple of upsets. That’s probably the most you can expect out of the Tippin squad, but this might be a rink that could be in the mix for the next Olympic cycle depending on how many changes take place elsewhere.

We now move on to the men’s side, where it will probably be an all-out war with all of the broom smashing, cussing, emotional celebrations and insane shot make we’ve come to expect in recent years.

Men’s Field

Team Kevin Koe from The Glencoe Club in Calgary, Alberta

 (Left to Right Skip – Kevin Koe, Vice – Marc Kennedy, Second – Brent Laing “Lainger”, Lead – “Benny Heebz” Ben Hebert)

How They Qualified: Won 2015 Canada Cup

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: Competed in 10 WCT events, Won two events (Direct Horizontal Drilling Fall Classic over Steve Laycock and the Karuizawa International over Se Hyeon Seong), Had one DNQ (The National), Finished tied for fourth at the Canada Cup with a 3-3 record, Won the Alberta men’s title over Brendan Bottcher, Finished tied for fifth at the Tim Hortons Brier with a 6-5 record

2015/2016: Competed in 11 WCT Events, Won three events (Tier I Tour Challenge over Brad Gushue, Direct Horizontal Drilling Fall Classic over Brendan Bottcher and the Perth Masters over Thomas Ulsrud, Made the playoffs at every event, Won the Canada Cup over Mike McEwen, Won the Alberta men’s title over Charley Thomas, Won the Tim Hortons Brier over Brad Gushue (Third Brier title for all three players), Won the World Men’s title over Rasmus Stjerene (Third world title for Laing and second world title for Koe, Kennedy and Hebert – Canada’s first world title on the men’s side since 2012)

2016/2017: Competed in 11 WCT events, Won two events (Shorty Jenkins Classic over Mark Nichols and the Red Deer Curling Classic over Ted Appleman), Had three DNQ’s (WFG Masters, Tier I Tour Challenge and Meridian Canadian Open), Went 2-4 at the Canada Cup of Curling and finished tied for sixth place, Finished second as Team Canada at the Tim Hortons Brier after losing to Brad Gushue in the final

2017/2018: Competed in six WCT events, Won one event (Ashley Home Store Curling Classic over Niklas Edin), Had one DNQ (Tier I Tour Challenge)

Strengths: The hitting abilities of Kevin Koe and Marc Kennedy, the godlike sweeping of Kennedy and Ben Hebert

Weaknesses: Hot and cold shooting performances from Koe in recent years, indecisiveness from Kevin leads to very poor time clock management

Key Player: Kevin Koe

When this lineup was put together in 2014, it felt like the clear cut favourite to win the Olympic Trials as it was incredible looking squad on paper that seemed tough to stop. It seemed that way in 2016 when they won the Brier and then captured the World Men’s title, as they were easily the team to beat that year.

Recently, while the talent is still there to win many events, a few things here and there have prevented that from happening. The major problem seems to be Kevin Koe himself, as his shooting has been rather suspect at best recently and he’s missed his fair share of shots, even on some hits that he is usually super deadly at making. Another issue seems to be the fact that he can be really indecisive when it comes to his decision making on shots and that in turn leads to really bad clock management that forces him to rush near the end of the game in order to make shots.

With all that said, Kevin always seems to step up his game in the playoffs if he makes it there at big events. If everything clicks for this lineup this week, the rest of the field will need to watch out as there’s a very good chance this group could be off to the Olympics.

Like Brett, this is lineup that looks really good on paper and they have shown how strong they can be with their impressive 2015/16 campaign. With all that said, Koe’s been all over the map lately with his level of play and Marc Kennedy has been hit or miss on occasions as well after being the best player in the world for a number of years. As a result, I can’t quite make them the favourites for this week but they should make the playoffs.

Team Reid Carruthers from the West St. Paul Curling Club in Winnipeg, Manitoba

(Left to Right Skip – Reid Carruthers, Vice – “Pimp” Braeden Moskowy, Second – Derek Samagalski, Lead – Colin Hodgson)

How they Qualified: Won the 2016 Canada Cup

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: Carruthers returns to skipping and forms a new rink after being the second for Jeff Stoughton in the last Olympic cycle, Competed in 12 WCT events, Won one event (Stu Sells Toronto Tankard over Brad Jacobs), Had five DNQ’s (Shorty Jenkins Classic, Point Optical Curling Classic, Canad Inns Men’s Classic, Whites Drug Store Classic and The Players Championship), Won the Manitoba men’s tankard over Mike McEwen, Went 4-7 at the Tim Hortons Brier and finished in 10th place

2015/2016: Competed in 13 WCT events, Won two events (Dekalb Superspiel over Charley Thomas and the Humpty’s Championship Cup over John Epping), Had one DNQ (The Players Championship), Went 2-5 at the Canada Cup and finished tied for seventh place, Lost in the semifinals of the Manitoba men’s tankard to Matt Dunstone

2016/2017: Competed in 13 WCT events, Won one event (Canad Inns Men’s Classic over Charley Thomas), Had four DNQ’s (Shorty Jenkins Classic, College Clean Restoration Curling Classic, Canadian Open and the Humpty’s Champions Cup), Won the Canada Cup over Mark Nichols, Lost the Manitoba men’s tankard final to Mike McEwen

2017/2018: Competed in eight WCT events, Won one event (Canad Inns Men’s Classic over Glenn Howard), Had three DNQ’s (Tier I Tour Challenge, Shorty Jenkins Classic and the College Clean Restoration Curling Classic)

Strengths: A very solid lineup all the way around, the play of Braeden Moskowy, Derek Samagalski’s hitting ability

Weaknesses: Have yet to take that next step into an elite team

Key Player: Braeden Moskowy

Since returning back to skipping following his stint with Jeff Stoughton, Reid Carruthers has put together a lineup that’s pretty good from top to bottom. Carruthers and crew have gotten better over the last few years, but they are starting to remind a bit of Val Sweeting’s team, as they have always been around at events but only occasionally taste success.

No one should sleep on this team though, especially with Braeden Moskowy at third and the hitting ability of Derek Samagalski. They’ve yet to reach the next level, but they might be able to do it here in Ottawa as this will be a tough test for anyone in the field.

While I get where Brett is coming from, I think the more apt comparison for the Carruthers rink right now is Stefanie Lawton, in which they’ve done well on the World Curling Tour and the Canada Cup but have yet to dominate on the national stage. With that said, doubt this solid rink at your own peril, as they should be in the playoff mix all week.

Team Brad Gushue from The Bally Haly Golf and Curling Club & The Re/Max Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador

(Left to Right Skip – Brad Gushue, Vice – Mark “Bam Bam” Nichols, Second – Brett Gallant, Lead – Geoff Walker)

How They Qualified: Won 2017 Tim Hortons Brier (They confirmed this spot by winning a gold medal at the World Men’s Championship later that year)

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: Mark Nichols rejoins the team at vice after playing with Jeff Stoughton and Brett Gallant moves down to second to replace the departing Adam Casey, Competed in 10 WCT events, Won three events (Masters of Curling over Mike McEwen, Canadian Open over Steve Laycock and Perth Masters over Kyle Smith), Had one DNQ (The National), Went 3-3 at the Canada Cup and finished in a tied for fourth place, Won the Newfoundland & Labrador tankard over Gary Wensman (only two rinks competed in the playdowns), Finished fourth at the Tim Hortons Brier after losing to Steve Laycock in the bronze medal game

2015/2016: Acquired Jules Owchar as Coach, Competed in 14 WCT events, Won nine events (Uiseong International over Soo Hyuk Kim, Stu Sells Oakville Tankard over Reid Carruthers, Shorty Jenkins Classic over Glenn Howard, the Swiss Cup Basel over Jaap Van Dorp, the Challenge Chateau Cartier De Gatineau over Mark Bice, The National over Reid Carruthers, The Mayflower Cashspiel over Sven Michel, The Elite 10 over Reid Carruthers and The Players Championship over Brad Jacobs), Made the playoffs at every event, Went 3-4 at the Canada Cup and finished tied for fifth place, Won the Newfoundland & Labrador men’s tankard over Colin Thomas, Finished runner-up at the Tim Hortons Brier after losing to Kevin Koe

2016/17: Competed in 12 WCT events (Gushue was sidelined until the Boost National in December after undergoing surgery to deal with a hip and groin injury and only played in five events – As a result, Nichols skipped the team in the first seven WCT events with Pat Simmons, Adam Spencer and Charley Thomas filling in at vice), Won two events (Stu Sells Toronto Tankard over John Epping and the Meridian Canadian Open over Niklas Edin), Had one DNQ (the Princess Auto Elite 10), Lost the Canada Cup final to Reid Carruthers (Nichols was the skip for that event), Won the Newfoundland & Labrador men’s tankard over Adam Boland, Won the Tim Hortons Brier in St. John’s over Kevin Koe (The first Brier title for all four members of the rink and the first for a Newfoundland & Labrador squad since 1976), Won the World men’s title over Niklas Edin (The first for all four members of the team – Went a perfect 13-0)

2017/2018: Competed in six WCT events, Won (Tier I Tour Challenge over Steffen Walstad, Swiss Cup Basel over Thomas Ulsrud, Stu Sells Toronto Tankard over Codey Mause and the Masters of Curling over Niklas Edin), Had one DNQ (the Shorty Jenkins Classic), Had put together a 23-game win streak over four WCT events before losing to John Morris in the final round-robin game and Mike McEwen in the quarter-finals at the Boost National

Strengths: Easily the top team in the world and the most consistent team at the moment, the hitting ability of Mark Nichols

Weaknesses: Brad Gushue’s hitting ability

Key Player: Mark Nichols

After missing out on the last two Olympic Trials, Gushue has gotten the old magic back from his run to the gold medal in 2006. Since Mark Nichols returned to the rink in 2014, Gushue has not only picked up the elusive Brier crown that was missing from the trophy cabinet, but his squad has become the top team in the world.

This lineup is really solid from front to back and it’s hard to thank of any glaring weaknesses compared to some of the other teams in this field. I would say though that after Gushue underwent surgery on his hip and groin last year, his hitting ability has dropped off a little bit as he doesn’t quite have the same big weight capability that Nichols does.

Either way, the play for Team Gushue over the last 12 months have easily catapulted them to being the favourites for the Roar of the Rings and give Gushue himself an excellent chance of going for an Olympic gold medal 12 years after going on the top of the podium in Italy.

This is a no brainer. If you are picking anyone but Gushue to be the favourite in Ottawa this week, you have lost your mind. The team has been white-hot for the last year and have been really good at every bonspiel during this Olympic run. If Newfoundland’s favourite son doesn’t make it to the final, it would be a huge stunner.

Team Brad Jacobs from The Community First Curling Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

(Left to Right Skip – Brad Jacobs “Cups”, Vice – Ryan “Medium Size” Fry, Second – E.J. Harnden, Lead – Ryan “Pete” Harnden)

How they Qualified: Highest team on the 2016/2017 CTRS rankings not yet qualified (This was due to Brad Gushue winning the 2017 Tim Hortons Brier)

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: Competed in nine WCT events, Won two events (Shorty Jenkins Classic over Adam Casey and The Players Championship over Mike McEwen), Had one DNQ (Canad Inns Men’s Classic), Lost the Canada Cup final to Mike McEwen, Won the Northern Ontario men’s tankard over Al Hackner, Finished second at the Tim Hortons Brier after losing to Pat Simmons in the final

2015/2016: Caleb Flaxey takes over as coach after Tom Coulterman retired, Competed in nine WCT events, Best finish was a runner-up at The Players Championship to Brad Gushue, Went 3-4 at the Canada Cup and finished in a tie for fifth place, Won the Northern Ontario men’s tankard over Jordan Chandler, Won a bronze medal at the Tim Hortons Brier over Mike McEwen

2016/2017: Competed in 11 WCT events, Won three events (College Clean Restoration Curling Classic over Thomas Ulsrud, Boost National over Reid Carruthers and the Humpty’s Champions Cup over Kevin Koe), Had one DNQ (Lost a tiebreaker to Niklas Edin at the Tier I Tour Challenge), Lost a tiebreaker to Steve Laycock at the Canada Cup, Won the Northern Ontario men’s tankard over Dylan Johnston, Finished fourth at the Tim Hortons Brier after losing the bronze medal game to Mike McEwen

2017/2018: Competed in five events, Won one event (the Shorty Jenkins Classic over Mike McEwen), Had one DNQ (Lost a tiebreaker to Bruce Mouat at the Boost National)

Strengths: Very deadly hitting ability, the sweeping of the Brush Brothers

Weaknesses: Draw and soft shot game isn’t the greatest, the ability to control their emotions, inconsistent play from Ryan Fry as of late

Key Player: Ryan Fry

The defending Olympic champions are back in the mix once again, even though they aren’t quite as deadly as they were four years ago when they won the Brier, the Olympic Trials spot and the Olympic gold medal in a 12-month span. Although the lineup is intact and the hitting ability is still great, I feel like this team has lost something over the last couple of years.

One problem seems to be that Ryan Fry isn’t quite as sharp as he was a few years back and it feels like that their soft game isn’t as strong as some of the other sides in Ottawa, which might present issues if those factors become big issues. However, this is still a rink that rides off of their emotions and if someone make a big shot that gets them fired up, this team will become a monster that’s really tough to stop.

When the Northern Ontario kingpins are on their game, they are easily one of the best sides in the world. However, if something goes wrong, they quickly become rattled mentally and it’s tough for them to bounce back. A strong start this week will be imperative for the defending Olympic champions to succeed, otherwise it will be tough to come back in the standings with such a deep field.

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

(Left to Right Skip – “Magic” Mike McEwen, Vice – B.J. Neufeld, Second – Matt Wozniak, Lead – Denni Neufeld)

How They Qualified: Highest ranked team in the 2015-2017 CTRS standings not already qualified (This was due to Brad Gushue having the best total over a two-year span)

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: Competed in 10 WCT events, Won seven events (Stu Sells Oakville Tankard over John Epping, Point Optical Curling Classic over John Epping, the Canad Inns Men’s Classic over Kevin Koe, the Challenge Chateau Cartier De Gatineau over Jean-Michel Menard, The National over Brad Jacobs, the Pomeroy Inn & Suites Prairie Showdown over Niklas Edin and the Elite 10 over Niklas Edin), Made the finals at all but one event (Lost the Masters of Curling to Brad Gushue and The Players Championship to Brad Jacobs – Lost the Canadian Open quarter-final to Brendan Bottcher), Won the Canada Cup over Brad Jacobs, Lost the Manitoba men’s tankard final to Reid Carruthers

2015/2016: Competed in 12 WCT events, Won three events (Point Optical Curling Classic over Reid Carruthers, the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard over Glenn Howard and the Masters of Curling over Jim Cotter), Had three DNQ’s (Canad Inns Men’s Classic, The National and the Meridian Canadian Open), Lost the Canada Cup final to Kevin Koe, Won the Manitoba men’s tankard over Matt Dunstone, Finished fourth at the Tim Hortons Brier after losing to Brad Jacobs in the bronze medal game

2016/2017: Competed in 13 WCT events, Won two events (Dekalb Superspiel over William Lyburn and the Ed Werenich Golden Wrench Classic over Adam Casey), Had four DNQ’s (College Clean Restoration Curling Classic, Stu Sells Toronto Tankard and the Canad Inn Men’s Classic – Lost a tiebreaker at the Boost National to John Epping), Went 2-4 at the Canada Cup and finished tied for sixth place, Won the Manitoba Men’s tankard over Reid Carruthers, Won a bronze medal at the Tim Hortons Brier over Brad Jacobs

2017/2018: Competed in six WCT events, Best finish was a runner-up to Brad Jacobs at the Shorty Jenkins Classic, Had one DNQ (College Clean Restoration Curling Classic)

Strengths: A solid squad from top to bottom, Have finally gotten over the hump of winning a Manitoba provincial title

Weaknesses: Mike McEwen’s mental stability, B.J. Neufeld’s inconsistent play

Key Player: Mike McEwen

With McEwen earning a couple of provincial titles and making the playoffs at the Brier the last two years, that’s a huge confidence booster to this rink as they are already used to the loud crowds and crazy atmosphere you can see at an Olympic Trials.

There isn’t a lot say about McEwen’s team that hasn’t already been talked about as they are one of the best in the business. However, one thing I’ve noticed lately is that B.J. Neufeld can be a little off at times compared to his teammates, which is something I’ve seen first hand at the Grand Slam of Curling events in the Soo.

The biggest thing though, and it’s something we’ve noticed for a long time, is Mike’s mental stability. If he’s in control of a game, everything is fine, but if a bad shot happens or if the team falls behind, Mike gets down on himself and it can be tough to recover.

Although they aren’t the juggernaut on the tour that they were a few years back, this is a team that’s always in the hunt and a playoff run wouldn’t shock me at all.

If there’s a sleeping giant on the men’s curling scene, the former Manitoba provincial championship bridesmaid has to be it. They’ve always been good on the World Curling Tour, but they’ve yet to capture a major event crown. If the team’s on their game and McEwen doesn’t get down in the dumps over a bad shot or two, the massive breakthrough we’ve been waiting for with this rink might come to pass.

Team John Epping from The Lakeside Curling Club in Toronto, Ontario

(Left to Right Skip – “Big” John Epping, Vice – Matt Camm, Second – Patrick Janssen, Lead – Tim March)

How They Qualified: Highest ranked team in the 2016/2017 CTRS standings not already qualified (This was due to Brad Gushue being the CTRS leader for the 2016/2017 campaign)

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: Competed in 14 WCT events, Won one event (the Gord Carroll Curling Classic over Chris Gardner), Had seven DNQ’s (Stu Sells Toronto Tankard, Canad Inns Men’s Classic, Challenge Chateau Cartier De Gatineau, The National, Canadian Open, US Open of Curling and the Elite 10), Lost the Ontario men’s tankard final to Mark Kean

2015/2016: Brought in Matt Camm from the Mark Kean rink to replace Travis Fanset at third, Competed in 14 WCT events, Won two events (Meridian Canadian Open over Brad Gushue and the US Open of Curling over Craig Brown), Had six DNQ’s (Stu Sells Oakville Tankard, Tier I Tour Challenge, Point Optical Curling Classic, Stu Sells Toronto Tankard, Masters of Curling and The Players Championship), Lost to Kevin Koe in the semifinal of the Canada Cup, Lost the Ontario men’s tankard final to Glenn Howard

2016/2017: Competed in 14 WCT events, Won two events (Cookstown Cashspiel over Peter De Cruz and Challenge De Curling De Gatineau over Matt Dunstone), Had six DNQ’s (Oakville OCT Fall Classic, Stu Sells Oakville Tankard, Tier I Tour Challenge, Meridian Canadian Open, Princess Auto Elite 10 and The Westjet Players Championship), Lost to Reid Carruthers in the semifinal of the Canada Cup, Lost the Ontario men’s tankard semifinal to Wayne Tuck Jr.

2017/2018: Competed in eight WCT Events, Made two trips to the semifinals (Lost at the College Clean Restoration Curling Classic to Colton Flasch and at the Boost National to Chang-Min Kim), Had three DNQ’s (Shorty Jenkins Classic, Canad Inns Men’s Classic and Masters of Curling)

Strengths: John Epping’s ability to make crazy angle runbacks

Weaknesses: No real consistency with their game, they can be really on or really off

Key Player: John Epping

Like Mike McEwen for most of this decade, John Epping is on the verge of breaking through the door and getting into the Brier, but he just can’t seem to get it together. After squeaking into the Trials in the last go-around, Epping has had a couple of lineup changes and has put together a pretty good squad, especially with the addition of Matt Camm at third.

The way this team plays though, it seems like they are either on their game or they are way off the mark. That’s especially true for Epping, has often has to do his trademark crazy runbacks in order to bail his team out, though everyone has the ability to make shots.

There’s a chance they make the playoffs this week if everyone is consistent, though if I was Epping I’d worry more about making a Brier and finally beating that Glenn Howard guy.

Another possible sleeper in this field, especially with his play at the Canada Cup, Epping has the ability to pull something out of nothing with his great hitting ability. However, if they are to make a surprising run to South Korea, everyone will need to be on their game from start to finish.

Team Steve Laycock from the Nutana Curling Club in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

(Left to Right Skip – Steve Laycock, Third – Kirk Muyres, Vice – Matt Dunstone (throws second stones), Lead – Dallan Muyres

How they Qualified: Highest team in the 2016/2017 CTRS rankings not already qualified (This was due to Reid Carruthers being the runner-up in the 2016/2017 CTRS rankings)

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: Competed in 12 WCT events, Won two events (Weatherford Curling Classic over Brent Pierce and the US Open of Curling over Reid Carruthers), Had four DNQ’s (Baden Masters, Point Optical Curling Classic, Elite 10 and The Players Championship), Won the Saskatchewan men’s tankard over Jason Jacobson, Won the bronze medal at the Tim Hortons Brier over Brad Gushue

2015/2016: Competed in 12 events, Won one event (the Canad Inns Men’s Classic over Kevin Koe), Had two DNQ’s (Tier I Tour Challenge and The National), Went 2-5 at the Canada Cup and finished in a tie for seventh place, Won the Saskatchewan men’s tankard over Shaun Meachem, Finished sixth at the Tim Hortons Brier with a 5-6 record

2016/2017: Competed in 12 WCT events, Won one event (Direct Horizontal Drilling Fall Classic over Reid Carruthers), Had six DNQ’s (Stu Sells Oakville Tankard, Shorty Jenkins Classic, Boost National, Elite 10, The Players Championship – Lost a tiebreaker at the Humpty’s Champions Cup to Niklas Edin), Lost to John Epping in a tiebreaker at the Canada Cup, Lost the Saskatchewan men’s tankard final to Adam Casey, Colton Flasch left the rink after the provincials with Matt Dunstone joining the squad and playing at the last three Grand Slams of the year

2017/2018: Competed in six WCT events, Made two trips to the quarterfinals (Lost to Brad Gushue at the Tier I Tour Challenge and to Pat Simmons at the Direct Horizontal Drilling Fall Classic), DNQ (College Clean Restoration Curling Classic, Canad Inns Men’s Classic and the Masters of Curling – Lost a tiebreaker to Sean Geall at the Ashley Home Store Curling Classic)

Strengths: The addition of Matt Dunstone to the lineup

Weakness: Have been nowhere near the level of play they showed during the 2015 Brier

Key Player: Steve Laycock

Talk about a team that has fallen on hard times in recent years. After putting together his best ever Brier run in 2015, the wheels have come off of Steve Laycock’s wagon as of late.

After an okay showing in the 2016 Brier, Laycock got steamrolled in the 2017 provincial final by Adam Casey, which soon led to Colton Flasch leaving the rink and forming his own team. At the moment, it feels like Laycock’s become fairly mediocre and has almost regressed to what he was like when he first started skipping. It could be a tough week for this rink, even with the talented Matt Dunstone now joining them.

While I love the addition of Matt Dunstone to this lineup, I don’t think it’s enough to get them in the playoff discussion. They’ve been all over the map as of late, despite a good showing at the Canada Cup last year in Brandon, and I have to think that the huge loss they suffered to Adam Casey in last year’s Saskatchewan provincial final is still in the back of their minds.

Team John Morris from the Vernon Curling Club in Vernon, British Columbia

(Left to Right Skip – John Morris “Johnny Mo”, Vice – Jim “Jimmmmmmmmm” Cotter, Second – Catlin Schneider, Lead – Tyrell Griffith)

How They Qualified: Won the ‘A’ final at the Road to the Roar

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: John Morris leaves the rink with Jim Cotter returning to skipping and duties and Ryan Kuhn being brought in as the vice, Competed in four WCT events, Made one semifinal appearance (Lost to Brent Pierce at the Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic), Had two DNQ’s (Hub International Crown of Curling and the Masters of Curling), Went 2-4 at the Canada Cup and finished in sixth place, Won the British Columbia men’s tankard over Dean Joanisse, Went 5-6 at the Tim Hortons Brier and finished tied for seventh place (Morris started the year as the skip for an Alberta based rink that featured Pat Simmons, Carter Rycroft and Nolan Thiessen – Halfway through the Brier as Team Canada, Morris and Simmons switched spots before going on an improbable run to win the Brier title over Brad Jacobs – It was the third Brier title for Morris, Rycroft and Thiessen, while Simmons won his second title and his first as a skip – The rink went to win the bronze medal at the World Men’s championship over Aku Kauste)

2015/2016: Competed in seven WCT events, Won one event (Tier II Tour Challenge over Mark Kean), Had one DNQ (the Meridian Canadian Open), Won the British Columbia men’s tankard over Sean Geall, Went 3-8 at the Tim Hortons Brier and finished tied for ninth place (Morris was the third for Team Canada, which was still skipped by Simmons – They finished fifth at the Tim Hortons Brier with a 6-5 record and split soon afterwards)

2016/2017: Morris returns to the team to replace Khun with Cotter moving back to his role as vice and fourth stone thrower, Competed in 14 WCT events, Won two events (the Driving Force Abbotsford Cashspiel over Ken McArdle and the Princess Auto Elite 10 over Brad Jacobs), Had three DNQ’s (the WFG Masters – Lost a tiebreaker to Craig Brown at the Ed Werenich Golden Wrench Classic and to Reid Carruthers at the Westjet Players Championship), Catlin Schneider joined the team at second for the last two events of the year after playing at the Brier with Adam Casey, Tyrel Griffith moved down to lead and Rick Sawatszky became the team’s alternate

2017/2018: Competed in five WCT events, Made two quarterfinals appearances (Lost to Chang-Min Kim at the College Clean Restoration Curling Classic and lost to Kevin Koe at the Direct Horizotanl Drilling Fall Classic), Had three DNQ’s (Tier I Tour Challenge, Masters of Curling and the Boost National), Defeated Brendan Bottcher in the ‘A’ final at the Road to the Roar, Lost their first 11 games on the Grand Slam of Curling circuit before beating Brad Gushue in their last game of the round-robin at the Boost National

Strengths: The hitting ability of John Morris, Jim Cotter’s draw game

Weaknesses: Morris can sometimes be way off when it comes to big weight hits

Key Player: John Morris

During our Road to the Roar preview, we mentioned about Morris coming back to play with Cotter and the addition of Catlin Schneider to the team, but there’s a couple of notes to add. During that tournament, the rink made another lineup change as Morris is now throwing skip rocks and Cotter’s throwing third stones. That seemed to turn things around as they got the berth to Ottawa and they could do some damage this week, though probably not on the same level as they were four years ago.

Sure, their play on the Grand Slam of Curling circuit hasn’t been very good this year, but this is Morris and Cotter. You’d be silly to think that they are going to struggle at this event. Like Brett said, I don’t think they’ll match their shocking run to the final in 2013, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were in the playoff discussion near the end of the week.

Team Brendan Bottcher from The Saville Community Sports Centre in Edmonton, Alberta

(Left to Right Skip – Brendan Bottcher, Vice – Darren Moulding, Second – Brad Thiessen, Lead – Karrick “The Jackhammer” Martin)

How They Qualified: Won the ‘B’ final at the Roar to the Roar

Seasons at a Glance

2014/2015: Competed in 11 WCT events, Won two events (HDF Insurance Shootout over Steve Laycock and the German Masters over Sven Michel), Had one DNQ (the Point Optical Curling Classic), Lost the Alberta men’s tankard final to Kevin Koe

2015/2016: Competed in 10 WCT events, Had two runner-up finishes (Lost to Shaun Meachem at the HDF Insurance Shootout and to Kevin Koe at the Direct Horizontal Drilling Fall Classic), Had three DNQ’s (Masters of Curling, The National and the Elite 10), Lost in Alberta men’s tankard semifinal to Kevin Koe

2016/2017: Vice Tom Appleman left the team and was replaced by Pat Simmons, Simmons left the rink halfway through the campaign and was replaced by Darren Moulding, Competed in 11 WCT Events, Made three semifinal appearances (Lost to John Morris at the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard, Thomas Ulsrud at the College Clean Restoration Curling Classic and Ted Appleman at the Red Deer Curling Classic), Had six DNQ’s (Canad Inns Men’s Classic, WFG Masters, Tier I Tour Challenge, the German Masters and the Westjet Players Championship – Lost a tiebreaker to Charley Thomas at the Boost National), Won the Alberta men’s tankard title over Ted Appleman, Finished 10th at the Tim Hortons Brier with a 3-8 record

2017/2018: Competed in five WCT events, Had two wins (the Medicine Hat Charity Classic over Jamie King and the Red Deer Curling Classic over Ted Appelman), Had one DNQ (the Direct Horizontal Drilling Fall Classic), Defeated Glenn Howard to win the ‘B’ final at the Road to the Roar

Strengths: The sweeping ability of Karrick Martin

Weaknesses: Their shooting percentages aren’t quite as good as some of their rivals, which we saw at last year’s Brier

Key Player: Darren Moulding

This is going to be a great audition on a national stage for the former World Junior curling champion as Bottcher looks to kickstart his run at the 2022 Olympics. He’s been through a couple of lineup changes over the last few years, but the addition of Moulding last season brought a nice edge to the squad. Bottcher is a consistent player in his own right and he could give the bigger teams a run for their money this week if they aren’t careful.

While we all wait to see the madness that is going to happen when everyone switches rinks in a few months, Bottcher is probably in really good shape to his roster stay mostly intact ahead of the 2022 Olympic cycle. This week’s going to be another learning experience for the young Alberta skip, but don’t be surprised if he pulls off an upset or two. Plus, they have my boy Jason Gunnlaugson as their alternate and coach, so that might lead to some great comedy.

With all that said, it’s now time to give our predictions for this year’s Roar of the Rings, which of course means we will be jinxing our picks to win the whole thing.

Brett’s Predictions

Women’s Event

  1. Jennifer Jones (The defending champions are on form once again and I feel more confident in their play than everyone else in the field)
  2. Rachel Homan (As I mentioned earlier, I would have easily picked them to win it all if it wasn’t for their loss to Jenn Hanna at the 2016 Ontario Scotties and everything that’s happened since. They are the defending World Champions, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they do win it all, but I’m predicting at least two tire fires this week.)
  3. Val Sweeting (They have the potential to win it all, but they just need to put it all together. Or we can just watch Pooks and Fergie dance instead.)
  4. Krista McCarville (This is my dark horse pick and a team that I think no one is really talking about all that much. Remember that run they had at the 2016 Scotties? That could happen again here in Ottawa. The biggest question though is if Krista has to channel her ‘McCarville the Magician’ persona again to get the team out of trouble.)
  5. Chelsea Carey (With this squad having lots of experience, especially with Cathy O joining the team, I think Carey will have a better showing than she did in 2013.)
  6. Casey Scheidegger (I’m sure they will have some nerves competing on the biggest stage of their careers, but I can see this rink given the other squad fits all week.)
  7. Michelle Englot (I feel a bit bad putting Englot this low, but the fourth to eighth range in the standings can really go either way. If Kate Cameron stands on her head again like she did at the Scotties, they might have a chance of sneaking into the playoffs.)
  8. Allison Flaxey (This was another team that was hard to place in the standings, but I just don’t think they have what it takes to fight for a playoff spot this time around.)
  9. Julie Tippin (You might be able to win a game, but thanks for coming either way.)

Men’s Event

  1. Brad Gushue (The top team in the World has been rolling along so far this year. It will be tough to stop them.)
  2. Kevin Koe (This probably the team with the best chance of stopping Gushue, as they have had some wars with him over the past two years. If Kevin’s shooting is on form, look out.)
  3. Brad Jacobs (The defending Olympic champions are among the favourites, but they’ll need to have Ryan Fry return to his 2013 form, be better on the soft shots and find that emotional spark that makes them tough to beat.)
  4. Mike McEwen (A real solid team all around and having those two Brier appearances will help them out a lot. This is probably Mike’s best shot with the current squad that he has.)
  5. Reid Carruthers (This another team that I probably would have had higher had they not lost the provincial final to McEwen last year. This is another strong team, so the playoffs aren’t out of the question if they play well all week.)
  6. John Morris (The lineup change between Cotter and Morris at the Road to the Roar seems to have been the right move. However, the same magic from 2013 might not happen once again.)
  7. John Epping (Epping will probably make of his crazy runbacks at some point this week, but the rest of the rink needs to be solid in order to have a shot at the playoffs.)
  8. Brendan Bottcher (More than likely one of the major contenders at the next Trials, he’s going to be a tough opponent all week long as he won’t have as much pressure on him.)
  9. Steve Laycock (Did I mention that this team has fallen off a cliff yet?)

Lucas’s Predictions

Women’s Event

  1. Jennifer Jones (The defending Olympic champions are peaking at the right time and look to be on the verge of an historic Trials repeat.)
  2. Rachel Homan (If they are on form, they’ll take home the title. If not, tire fires await.)
  3. Val Sweeting (Always good in the round-robin, but the playoffs are a question mark.)
  4. Krista McCarville (They are always solid and should never be counted out.)
  5. Casey Scheidegger (My sleeper pick for this week. They never seem to get rattled out there.)
  6. Chelsea Carey (They aren’t great on the cash circuit but always seem to fair well at major Curling Canada events.)
  7. Michelle Englot (A good team, but it’s hard to see them in the playoff mix.)
  8. Allison Flaxey (They were great to start off last season and have been nowhere near that form since.)
  9. Julie Tippin (A rough week awaits.)

Men’s Event

  1. Brad Gushue (As the best team in Canada over the last year, it’s hard to bet against him.)
  2. Kevin Koe (If Koe himself is off his game, this might become a mess.)
  3. Brad Jacobs (This rink can’t afford a bad start or else they’ll probably become rattled)
  4. Reid Carruthers (Given how solid they’ve been over the last couple of years, I feel like their flying under the radar heading into this week.)
  5. Mike McEwen (They’ve made it to the Brier, but they are still looking for that breakthrough performance on the big stage. It might happen here if everything goes well.)
  6. John Morris (They probably won’t make it back to the finals, but this is a tough team to face no matter where they are in the standings.)
  7. John Epping (Epping’s one of the best shooters in the business and will probably pull off a Shot of the Week contender at some point.)
  8. Steve Laycock (Don’t be surprised if Matt Dunstone has a strong week and makes himself known to a national audience.)
  9. Brendan Bottcher (With a Brier and a Trials appearance now under his belt, the learning experience he’s gained over the last year will help him out massively as the run to the 2022 Olympics begins.)
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