Fixing the curling calendar

What was the big curling event of the past weekend?

Was it the third leg of the Curling World Cup? How about the provincial qualifiers for the Scotties and the Brier? Maybe the made-for-TV Skins Game?

If you’re curling in Canada, the Scotties and the Brier take top priority. To explain this to an American audience — this is the equivalent of the U.S. Open Cup or FA Cup in the sense that it’s a national championship in which unheralded entries can beat the big names. Qualification for the national event, which is broadcast on TSN (and therefore to a U.S. audience on ESPN), is a tournament in each of Canada’s provinces. Qualifying for those events tends to be based on subregional qualifiers and the handy Canadian Team Ranking System — basically, the year-to-date Order of Merit.

This looks like one of those shorts Mystery Science Theater 3000 plays before a feature.

It’s really wonderful. Check out the ESPN3 streams starting Feb. 16.

So the Skins Game proceeded this past weekend without any of the teams that were occupied with various qualifiers. Top-ranked Kevin Koe doesn’t have his Alberta qualifier until this week, so he was able to play in the Skins. Brad Jacobs, ranked second, had to take care of Brier business in Northern Ontario. Three top-eight teams were busy in Ontario, so No. 9 Reid Carruthers got the call. The women’s competition had four of the top six in Canada but not top-ranked Rachel Homan.

The World Cup? Canada sent seventh-ranked Matt Dunstone, who beat Sweden’s Niklas Edin to win the men’s event, and eighth-ranked Darcy Robertson, who duly lost all six of her games.

The Curling News is full of suggestions to revamp the calendar as well as the Scotties and the Brier. The jewels of Canadian curling have expanded to 16 teams each, incorporating all three of the sparsely populated northern provinces as well as a “wildcard” entry.

Sure, but after a few more years of climate change, Nunavut might have to build a wall to keep the rest of us out.

It’s a bit controversial because, as vast as those territories are, they’re rather sparsely populated. One survey of the population of Nunavut reports of population density of 0.0 per square kilometer.

The reason is pretty obvious. It’s cold. Really cold. Permanent polar vortex cold. From Nunavut Tourism: “The average temperature in Kugluktuk is the warmest in Nunavut, sometimes rising to 30°C in the summer and ranging from -15°C to -40°C in the winter.” The high end of that winter range is 5 degrees Fahrenheit. The low end, oddly enough, is -40 Fahrenheit. It’s the point at which they converge. It’s not better one province over. The average high temperature in January in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, is -6 degrees. Yes, Fahrenheit. The average low is -23. Regina, Saskatchewan, is downright tropical by comparison.

So this open national championship, along with its requisite qualifiers, is competing for space on the crowded curling calendar. The Scotties and Brier are part of the “Season of Champions” umbrella along with the “North America vs. the World” Continental Cup and the Canada Cup, for which the teams are determined entirely by rankings.

AND we have the Grand Slam of Curling, which has seven events of its own — one per month from September to January, then a Players’ Championship and Champions Cup right after the World Championships.

AND now we have the World Cup, a complicated four-event series in which teams represent their countries, sort of.

Naturally, I’ll have to add my own pet solution on top of the suggestions The Curling News and the Rocks Across the Pond podcast have made. I promise I’ll get to the power ranking update after that.

WORLD TEAMS

World Cup: Every four years. Obviously not the same year as the Olympics. Make it a Davis Cup/Ryder Cup/World Team Tennis sort of thing — country vs. country matchups in which men, women and mixed doubles teams face off.

Continental Cup: Odd years only. This already has a Ryder Cup vibe to it — North America vs. Europe.

CANADIAN CHAMPIONSHIPS

It’s good to be inclusive, and part of the charm here is seeing teams repping their provinces. It’s less good to spend the first five days watching Rachel Homan, Kevin Koe, Jennifer Jones and company routing Nunavut.

For a couple of years, the Scotties and Brier had a play-in round for the lowest-ranked provinces based on previous years’ results. Bring it back. And cut back the number of teams by doing away with the Ontario/Northern Ontario split and the wildcard team.

(Alternate idea: Have one representative from the northern provinces and two from the Maritimes/Newfoundland and Labrador. Add in the defending champions and the six other provinces, and you’ve got 10 teams.)

THIS YEAR’S EVENTS

The Scotties’ field is powerful. The seven top teams in the rankings are going, though two of them (No. 2 Kerri Einarson and No. 5 Casey Scheidegger) will face off in the wildcard game. The top-ranked teams won in Ontario (Rachel Homan), Alberta (Chelsea Carey), Saskatchewan (Robyn Silvernagle), Northern Ontario (Krista McCarville), Prince Edward Island (Suzanne Birt) and Northwest Territories (Kerry Galusha). Manitoba had a minor upset, with No. 6 Tracy Fleury beating Einarson. The second-ranked team also won in British Columbia (Sarah Wark), New Brunswick (Andrea Crawford) and Newfoundland/Labrador (Kelli Turpin). No one from Nunavut or Yukon is ranked.

The only mild surprises were in Nova Scotia, where Scotties veteran Jill Brothers turned back the clock a few minutes, and Quebec, where Gabrielle Lavois was the best of a low-ranked field.

The men’s qualifiers aren’t done yet, with the brutally competitive Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan provinces playing down this week. Perennial Northern Ontario representative Brad Jacobs is back, but Ontario had a bit of a surprise with Scott McDonald getting past the usually dominant John Epping and Glenn Howard teams. Brier veteran Jim Cotter beat two higher-ranked teams to win in British Columbia. Stuart Thompson edged similarly ranked Jamie Murphy in Nova Scotia. Martin Crete sprang a mild upset in Quebec. In Newfoundland and Labrador, Andrew Symonds won the battle of teams not skipped by Brad Gushue, who has the automatic bid as defending champion.

Power rankings

WOMEN

  1. Rachel Homan (CAN) – won Ontario provincials (up 1)
  2. Anna Hasselborg (SWE) – lost World Cup Jonkoping final to South Korea’s Min Ji Kim. (down 1)
  3. Jennifer Jones (CAN) – won the Skins Game, beating Fleury in the final (up 1)
  4. Chelsea Carey (CAN) – won Alberta provincials (up 3)
  5. Tracy Fleury (CAN) – won Manitoba final and reached Skins Game final (up 5)
  6. Silvana Tirinzoni (SUI) – idle (down 1)
  7. Satsuki Fujisawa (JPN) – idle (down 1)
  8. Kerri Einarson (CAN) – lost to Fleury in Manitoba final and Skins Game semi (down 5)
  9. Casey Scheidegger (CAN) – lost Skins Game semi to Jones (down 1)
  10. Sayaka Yoshimura (JPN) – idle (no change)
  11. Robyn Silvernagle (CAN) – won Saskatchewan provincials (new to top 12)
  12. Darcy Robertson (CAN) – third in Manitoba (down 1)

Dropping out: Anna Sidorova (RUS) – missed final four in Glynhill Ladies Invitational, second in group in World Cup Jonkoping

One U.S. women’s team in action — Cory Christensen was second to Kim in her World Cup group.

MEN

  1. Brad Jacobs (CAN) – won Northern Ontario provincials (no change)
  2. Niklas Edin (SWE) – lost to Matt Dunstone in World Cup Jonkoping final (no change)
  3. Kevin Koe (CAN) – runner-up to Bottcher in the Skins Game (no change)
  4. Brendan Bottcher (CAN) – Skins Game winner (up 3)
  5. Bruce Mouat (SCO) – idle (down 1)
  6. John Epping (CAN) – runner-up to McDonald in Ontario (down 1)
  7. Ross Paterson (SCO) – third behind Dunstone and Edin in Jonkoping (down 1)
  8. Brad Gushue (CAN) – lost to Bottcher in Skins Game semi (no change)
  9. Peter de Cruz (SUI) – idle (no change)
  10. Reid Carruthers (CAN) – won Ed Werenich Golden Wrench Classic in Arizona, lost to Koe in Skins Game semi (up 2)
  11. Matt Dunstone (CAN) – beat Edin to win in Jonkoping (new to top 12)
  12. Scott McDonald (CAN) – won handily in Ontario (new to top 12)

Dropped out: Glenn Howard (CAN) was third in Ontario. John Shuster (USA) has been idle for a while.

A few U.S. teams played in the Werenich Wrench Classic (not sure people call it that, but they should). Rich Ruohonen lost to Carruthers in the semis. Pete Fenson, the 2006 Olympic medalist who doesn’t play much any more, put together a young team — Mark Fenner and two more Fensons — and reached the quarterfinals. Todd Birr was 1-3 in group play. And Jared Allen’s NFL team was 0-4.

Fenner went back to skipping the next week in Jonkoping, finishing fifth.

This week, the big-time Canadian men’s provincials run through the weekend, and the U.S. Championships start Saturday.

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