The NWSL, USA Curling and the dangers of inadequate investigations

The accusations of abuse in the NWSL deserved a professional, thorough investigation.

They got that. It’s the Yates Report.

A second report, commissioned by the NWSL and the NWSL Players Association, has some utility. It is, however, flawed in multiple places. 

In some cases, dangerously flawed.

As usual, the media reporting on the situation doesn’t help. Everyone from accused sexual predators to coaches who apparently yelled at players are lumped together under the heading “abuse.” 

The nuances are important here, and to the investigators’ credit, they ask the powers that be to consider what’s acceptable and what’s unacceptable moving forward. The NWSL doesn’t want any Bobby Knights, nor should it. Players and staff will have to decide if they would abide by a Mike Krzyzewski or even an Anson Dorrance. (“Lost control of her bowels” is a disturbing phrase to describe a fitness test, and “mess with us mentally to pick out who were the weaklings” is a phrase that might have raised a yellow or red flag for the investigators.) 

That discussion is all well and good. It’s clear from the report that players have different levels of what they consider “abuse,” and it’s something they should be able to talk through. Absolutely.

Unfortunately, in other areas, the bad guys are predetermined, and the conclusions aren’t always justified.

Consider this bewildering passage concerning Rory Dames. To be sure, there’s no defending his behavior as described here and in the Yates Report unless everyone else involved is lying. But then we get to things like this: “Dames told the investigator that he revoked the media credentials of a player’s boyfriend because he concluded that the boyfriend’s presence was “not positive” based on a conversation with a USWNT coach.” 

This point is raised because the NWSL/NWSLPA investigators want to take a US Soccer investigator down a notch for failing to follow up on this “explanation as to the treatment of this player.”

The NWSL/NWSLPA investigators do not, however, take issue with the fact that a player’s boyfriend has a media credential.

Note to journalists: If you start dating a player on a sports team, stop covering that team.

The “guilty until proven innocent — and even then, still guilty” approach isn’t surprising in a sport that holds strict adherence to The Narrative. Players are always right. The lawyers they hired are always right, which is why they get millions of dollars after losing in court. Coaches who cross them — whether they’re perceived as abusive or whether they pull a Tom Sermanni and start tinkering with the lineup — are always wrong. Referees are always wrong. Everyone who has ever worked for the league is wrong. Everyone who was interested in women’s soccer before everyone else got interested in women’s soccer from 2011 onward is wrong.

What’s more disturbing is that the investigators have some fundamental misunderstandings of how to fight abuse. We’ll get to that.

But first, let’s see how someone’s career has been shredded over flimsy, out-of-context conclusions and months waiting in limbo.

James Clarkson

Here are some of the complaints against former Houston Dash coach James Clarkson, who was temporarily suspended for what turned out to be an entire season and will not have his contract renewed.

  • “(A)nother said she felt under the microscope based on the position she played and feared she would be cut from the team.” Well, yeah. It’s professional sports. Ask NFL players about their job security.
  • The coach thought some players had been drinking the night before a preseason game and that they were hung over. Players deny it. They didn’t deny being out at dinner with a player from the other team until midnight when they had a 6 a.m. wake-up call, or that one of those players became ill.
  • A player told a member of the coaching staff but not Clarkson that an injury was bothering her, but she decided to dress because she figured she wouldn’t play. Clarkson, figuring she was fit, put her in the game. She went in and then asked to come out. Clarkson got mad about this, and reports differ on whether he dropped an f-bomb. This is all somehow Clarkson’s fault. (A player who witnessed the incident also said Clarkson later admitted he could’ve handled the situation differently.)

Another note about the last one. On page 71, the report says, “Accounts differ about what happened next.” A player says she doesn’t recall the specific words. On page 104, things are suddenly more certain: “Clarkson denied making this comment, but witnesses corroborated that Clarkson was visibly upset and frustrated at the player, and that the player was upset.”

There’s another passage that paints Clarkson as being a tad racist even though the evidence within that paragraph offers an alternate explanation. Dash player Sarah Gorden, who is Black, said her boyfriend was followed closely by stadium security and told he’d be arrested if he got too close to the team, while white players had freedom to talk with their families. (That’s pretty bad, and we have to hope the team addressed it.) Clarkson asked players to write apologies to stadium security. But upon further investigation, it turns out Clarkson sought those apologies not because Gorden criticized security but because the team had violated COVID-19 protocols. 

“But some players and club staff described that Clarkson seemed to defend stadium security, and players and club staff expressed disappointment at Clarkson’s and the club’s failure to attempt to understand the Black players’ perspective. On the other hand, some thought Clarkson handled the situation well and reported that he later expressed his support and apologized if he had appeared insensitive.” 

So are the players who reported Clarkson’s support … lying? And the others aren’t? Or, as seems most likely and supported by the evidence, players and staff were disappointed at first but talked through it to clear up any misunderstanding and got assurance of his support?

This incident is lumped together under “Offensive and Insensitive Behavior Related to Race and Ethnicity,” along with accusations that former Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke used the N-word, asked if he should sing the “Black version” or “white version” of Happy Birthday, and compared the team’s poor play to the Holocaust, for which his defense was that he didn’t know there were Jewish players on the team.

Overall, the Joint Investigative Team found that Clarkson committed emotional misconduct.

That’s despite this line: “A majority of players expressed the view that Clarkson’s treatment of players did not rise to the level of abuse or misconduct.”

That’s despite, as the report notes, Clarkson asking for a mental health program to support his players.

That’s despite, as the report notes, Clarkson agreeing that the head coach and general manager should not be the same person.

If you want to fire Clarkson, fire him. Coaches sometimes aren’t that right fit. That’s fine.

But now Clarkson’s name sits alongside that of accused sexual predators and people who don’t seem to care that they use actual racial epithets. His chances of getting another job at this level are surely diminished.

Little wonder he’s fighting back.

It would’ve been far fairer to Clarkson to have fired him months ago. Instead, he was left to twist in the wind for months, only to have his name smeared by trumped-up claims of abuse.

SafeSport and reporting

At the end of a long report detailing how the NWSL and US Soccer failed to investigate NWSL abuse issues, the investigators come up with several recommendations that the NWSL and US Soccer should continue to investigate NWSL abuse issues. 

The investigators urge the league to follow through on its 2022 Anti-Harassment Policy to make sure each club has two people, one of which is neither the Board of Governors representative nor the head coach, whose job is to receive reports of potential violations. 

Those people are then responsible for reporting these issues to the NWSL. 

Ever work in an office in which someone’s sole job is to sit in a swivel chair and relay things from a lower rung of the org chart to a higher rung? 

That part is kind of funny. The next part isn’t. 

The investigators charge the NWSL with sufficiently staffing its HR and Legal departments to investigate “all complaints of misconduct.”

This is, at best, a bad idea. At worst, it’s illegal.

The US Center for SafeSport, established by federal law (what, you haven’t memorized the Ted Stevens Act yet?), has a SafeSport Code that lists the allegations for which the Center has exclusive jurisdiction (all sexual misconduct, criminal charges of child abuse, various failures to report, etc.) or discretionary jurisdiction (non-sexual child abuse, emotional and physical misconduct, criminal charges not involving sexual misconduct or child abuse, other failures to abide by the Code). 

From that Code: “When the relevant organization has reason to believe that the allegations presented fall within the Center’s exclusive jurisdiction, the organization—while able to impose measures—may not investigate or resolve those allegations.”

Continuing: “When the allegations presented fall within the Center’s discretionary jurisdiction, the organization may investigate and resolve the matter, unless and until such time as the Center expressly exercises jurisdiction over the particular allegations.”

Back to the NWSL/NWSLPA report: There’s a claim that “SafeSport only has jurisdiction over reports concerning NWSL coaches or staff who hold U.S. Soccer coaching licenses.” I wonder if that would hold up under scrutiny. 

And in that same paragraph: “Many players who spoke with the Joint Investigative Team were not aware that they could report concerns about misconduct to SafeSport. Some within the NWSL held the misconception that SafeSport deals with misconduct against youth athletes and does not investigate misconduct against professional athletes.”

That sounds like a misconception that should be changed. And it may be difficult to do so when we have a report commissioned by the NWSL and NWSLPA that urges the NWSL and its clubs to take the lead.

The Center has had a wobbly start. But it’s just that — a start. The Center is supposed to be like the US Anti-Doping Agency, taking leagues and NGBs out of the business of policing themselves when it comes to drugs. Between the NWSL cases and the horrors of USA Gymnastics, we’ve surely seen enough to know that we need something similar in the realm of abuse as well.

And at the very least, any allegations like the ones against Paul Riley should go to SafeSport. Not someone on the small staff of a professional women’s soccer club.

Finally, let’s consider a recent test case in which the Joint Investigative Team of this NWSL/NWSLPA report investigated something new:  

From the report: “In October 2022, the Joint Investigative Team received a report that then-Thorns Head Coach Rhian Wilkinson had disclosed to the Thorns’s HR director potentially inappropriate interactions with a player with whom she had formed a friendship. The Joint Investigative Team promptly conducted a thorough investigation and, based on the evidence, found that Wilkinson did not engage in wrongdoing or violate the Anti-Harassment Policy. On November 4, 2022, these findings were conveyed to the NWSL, NWSLPA, Thorns, Wilkinson, and the player involved. Out of respect for player privacy, this Report does not provide a detailed account of the evidence or findings in this and other instances where the Joint Investigative Team determined no misconduct occurred.” 

A few pages later: “The NWSL’s Non-Fraternization Policy, adopted in 2018, states: “No person in management or a supervisory position with a Team or the League shall have a romantic or dating relationship with a League or team employee whom he or she directly supervises or whose terms or conditions of employment he or she may influence.” The Joint Investigative Team found multiple instances of romantic relationships between players and staff members in violation of this policy.” 

In her resignation letter, Wilkinson said she and the player had expressed their feelings to each other but stopped it there and went to HR. But other players on the team took issue with the Joint Investigative Team’s work and expressed some misgivings about the whole chain of command:

That letter isn’t mentioned in the report, even though it’s dated November 20, and the report references at least one event from as recently as December 1. Maybe the league didn’t hand it over to the Team?

All of the people involved here are human. NWSL players are human. Lawyers are human. Investigators are human. Coaches are human. We all make mistakes. 

What we need is a system that minimizes those mistakes and operates with a clear-headed passion to find the truth while treating everyone — accusers, accused, and those around them — as humans.

Jeff Plush

For my fellow curlers, here’s a quick summary of our former CEO’s appearances in various investigations:

The Yates Report, with which Plush did not cooperate, shows that Plush did a bit to hinder Paul Riley’s future employment within the NWSL after allegations of sexual misconduct were reported. See previous post.

The NWSL/NWSLPA report shows that Plush did a bit more than was reported in the Yates Report, and it says the league failed to act despite Plush’s warnings. However, the NWSL/NWSLPA report relies mostly on one source — Plush, who did cooperate with this one.

Still, the report raises one red flag, and it seems well-substantiated: “Plush told the Joint Investigative Team that the Flash had been considering Riley since October 2015, and Plush warned Lines in October 2015 that the Flash should not hire Riley but should follow up with the Thorns as to why Riley was “no longer coaching there.” Plush wrote that he was “very careful in describing the situation” with Riley because he had been informed by counsel to U.S. Soccer that he could not share the Thorns’s investigative report or its details. However, this position appears inconsistent with the email from the Thorns’s counsel transmitting the Riley report to the League, which Plush received and which did not place any restrictions on the League.”

But the main verdict on Plush is rendered on page 111, and it’s complicated. Plush says he was limited in what he could say about Riley on advice of counsel. The investigators say that’s inconsistent with email from the Thorns counsel and the fact that Plush shared some information with Sky Blue, the New Jersey team that backed away from pursuing Riley. Was it “inconsistent,” or did the advice from counsel come into play after the Thorns email and the Sky Blue conversation?

The bottom line may be how you interpret this final line in his entry on page 111: “By allowing Riley to continue coaching in the NWSL, the League conveyed its continuing implicit approval of him, despite the information Plush received and the concerns that he expressed to others.” 

Some people with whom I’ve talked are interpreting “the League” as “Plush.” I don’t think that’s the case, in part because of the “despite” clause and in part because so many other people wielded at least as much power as Plush did. And Riley continued to coach long after Plush was gone. 

On the whole, Plush comes across as someone who is too happy to take bad legal advice. That comes up again in the two investigations USA Curling released today. Feel free to ignore the first one, which is only two pages and is essentially a record of the investigator’s inability to get a word with anyone from US Soccer or the NWSL except for one anonymous comment: “Jeff did absolutely nothing wrong in how it was handled.”

The second investigation isn’t much better. It has four interviews — Plush, USA Curling CFO and former USSF/NWSL CFO Eric Gleason, an NWSL team owner, and someone who was a US Soccer official in 2015. 

Plush confirms that he didn’t cooperate with the Yates Report on the advice of counsel, and he now recognizes that maybe he should’ve done it anyway. That raises the question of why the Yates Report doesn’t mention him at least saying he had been advised not to cooperate, and it raises the question of why he went along with the NWSL/NWSLPA investigation.

The rest of the USAC investigation casts Plush as a mostly powerless figure, beholden to lawyers and USSF officials, who did what little he could to stop Riley from being hired at an NWSL team. I covered women’s soccer during that time (and many years before and after), and I know there’s a lot of truth in this depiction. But at best, Plush is following various lawyers over a cliff. A good leader should know better.

Other than that, the investigation is flimsy. The only interviews are with Plush and people sympathetic to him. 

To recap what’s happened since then: Plush resigned, as did the board chair and two other board members.

And the new management isn’t pleased with these investigations:

“It was important to engage a third-party to do this work, but the quality of these reports does not rise to the level that the Board and the curling community deserved,” noted USA Curling Board Chair Bret Jackson. “As a result, we will conduct an audit of our internal process, and learn how we can be better in the future.”

So what does this mean for USA Curling moving forward? 

In social media, a few people want to see the rest of the board resign as well. I’ll disagree for two reasons: 

First, the decision to keep Plush (before he resigned) doesn’t appear to be unanimous. Three days after the board announced he was sticking around, the Athletes Advisory Council issued a carefully worded statement that left the door open for further consideration. Plush resigned 12 days later, closely followed by the board chair and independent directors. It’s fair to say they didn’t just find a burning bush that told them to change their ways. Someone gave them a push behind the scenes.

Second, it’s easy to see how board members could have been misled into thinking Plush did nothing wrong. When an investigator hands over interviews with top soccer people defending him, it’s all too tempting to take that as face value. Failing to see beyond the investigator’s report is a mistake, not an act of malice. And in a sense, the investigator and the interviewees were right. He did “nothing wrong.” It’s just that, after a certain point in the timeline, he did nothing at all. It takes a bit more digging to realize his inaction was based on an unwillingness to stand up to people giving him bad advice. 

So the top officials at USA Curling are gone. The new board chair and interim CEO have thrown open the discussion to see how USAC could do things better.

A National Governing Body (NGB) is vital to the success of any Olympic sport. In my next post, I’ll explain why that’s the case and why I’ll continue to be a USAC member even though I’m hardly national championship material.

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USA Curling flings one through the house

If you’ve read a lot of my writing over the years, you know that I’m the opposite of a knee-jerk institution-basher. I’ve never had a lot of patience for lazy opinion writing that follows this pattern:

  1. Something is wrong.
  2. The (organization/government/referee) needs to fix it.
  3. Time for lunch.

Call it “The Narrative.” The Institution is always oppressing The Insurgent. It’s often valid, and the best journalism exposes the abuses that stem from power imbalances.

In sports, The Narrative has gone off the rails. In a typical conflict of labor vs. management, most people avoid “punching down,” siding instead with labor. In soccer, especially women’s soccer players in the “equal pay” dispute, The Narrative is that players are always right and everyone else is wrong. The purveyors of this narrative don’t grasp the nuance or think about which direction is “punching down.” They don’t realize the US national teams — men as well as women — are actually siphoning resources that would be better spent building up the next generations, lest the men fall further behind and the decline in women’s youth teams turns into a championship drought that stops a star-making machine in its tracks. They also side with players who mock and flip off referees, who aren’t exactly wealthy fat cats oppressing the poor players.

But when it comes to the abuse issues detailed in the Yates Report, there’s no question that the players deserve sympathy — and a whole lot more. Like all too many sports (see swimming’s “what do you mean we can’t date the swimmers we coach?” attitude if you want to shake your head; see what happened in gymnastics if you want to be sick to your stomach), soccer needs institutional and cultural changes.

And that leads us to Jeff Plush, former National Women’s Soccer League commissioner and current (as of this writing) CEO of USA Curling.

If you’ve gone beyond the superficial reporting and opinion pieces in the media and read the full text of the Yates Report on sexual misconduct in the NWSL, you’ve noticed that Plush comes across a bit better than some of the people around him. If you’ve followed the NWSL, you know that Plush was part of a league office that operated on a shoestring budget.

So Plush could make plausible excuses for the fact that Paul Riley was able to gain other employment after being terminated by the Portland Thorns. The Thorns, the best-supported team in the league for years, did their own investigation that led to Riley being pushed out but may not have justified any other punishment. Plush’s underfunded league didn’t have a lot of resources to go any further. Plush still sounded the alarm a few times while Riley was seeking other employment with other NWSL clubs, and he and general counsel Lisa Levine shared some details with another club that then decided not to hire Riley.

But then what happened? In the Yates Report, Plush’s emails of concern fade from the story at this point, and Riley wound up employed again.

Again, Plush might have a plausible answer for this. Did the risk-averse lawyers at US Soccer and the NWSL (neither of them still in their jobs) advise him that he couldn’t torpedo Riley’s career any more than he already had?

We’ll never know.

Why?

Because he didn’t cooperate with the investigation.

You would think this refusal would be of grave concern to USA Curling, where Plush is still a relatively new CEO, especially given the fact that much of his tenure has taken place in the shadow of a pandemic.

Instead … well, consider an analogy. Remember when allegedly moderate Republican senator Susan Collins defended her vote in Donald Trump’s first impeachment by saying the then-president had learned his lesson and surely wouldn’t repeat those mistakes? That’s basically what USA Curling’s board did.

Like Collins, USA Curling’s board thinks Plush has learned his lesson.

“(T)he Board is encouraged by Jeff’s willingness to fully cooperate in the ongoing NWSL and its Players Association investigation,” according to a USA Curling statement that has landed in the curling community with a thud.

So he didn’t respond to Yates, who was investigating at the behest of US Soccer. But he’ll do it this time?

The statement says the board “called a special session and immediately commissioned an investigation.” It does not say whom they commissioned or how that group digested a lengthy report and conducted a follow-up probe in record time.

Sure, some investigations can drag on too long. To go back to women’s soccer a bit — Houston Dash coach James Clarkson has spent six months in limbo over a supposed investigation over a supposed case of unspecified abuse (a term taken to mean everything from disgusting acts of sexual harassment to temper tantrums), and again, The Narrative of “players good, authority figures bad” dictates that no one can question why glaciers move and melt faster than this investigation has moved.

But one of the lessons from the Yates Report is that complex questions deserve more than a cursory check. And if Plush really did answer the looming questions to the Board’s satisfaction, it would be nice to hear those answers.

Plush was already in trouble because of the conflict with the Grand National Curling Club, a regional affiliate of USA Curling that governs the entire East Coast. In that case, he’s not entirely wrong, and The Narrative strikes again here by positing the GNCC as an oppressed angelic underdog. The situation is nuanced, and Buffalo Springfield put it best: “Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.” But Plush and the USA Curling board/executives have been heavy-handed and opaque.

Curling is the friendliest sport I know. I spent much of my weekend at Potomac Curling Club’s Glitter Bombspiel, which has an LGBTQ+ theme and is so effective at creating a supportive environment that some participants were close to tears.

And the curling community is indeed united.

Against its national governing body.

And for once, I can offer no defense of The Institution. In this case, The Narrative is accurate and apt.

A petition to remove Plush now has the support of more than 500 people, including many high-level athletes. I don’t fully support every point raised — I think SafeSport cases are better discussed with the Center for SafeSport, another flawed institution and one that came along after Plush’s tenure with the NWSL. And as a journalist who still skews toward analysis rather than opinion, I generally don’t take part is this sort of activism. But in this case, well, here’s the letter, and here’s the link to sign.

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.

U.S. men win curling gold — how it happened

If you’re a little tired of curling coverage that tries way too hard to explain the sport without telling you anything that’s actually happening on the ice, this post is for you.

This is what happened. If you don’t know the terminology, figure it out. It’s not that hard. Also, my local curling club has a good glossary.

The teams in order of when they deliver their rocks:

Sweden: Christoffer Sundgren, Rasmus Wranaa, Oskar Eriksson, Niklas Edin.

USA: John Landsteiner, Matt Hamilton, Tyler George, John Shuster.

I’m also going to refer to the shot-by-shot diagrams on the results page, which includes grades for each shot (100%, 75%, 50%, 25%, 0%). Not that they’re accurate. When in doubt, trust NBC analyst Kevin Martin, a Canadian who took silver in 2002 and gold on home ice in 2010.

1st end: Sweden has the hammer. The USA goes straight into the house with its first rocks, setting up a routine string of takeouts. The only tricky shot in such an end is the last one, where Edin needs to hit Shuster’s last rock and roll his own rock out of the house, which means he has to hit it to one side rather than on the nose. Edin does just that, meaning there’s no score and Sweden retains the hammer. Fourteen of the 16 shots are scored at 100%, but it’s all pretty routine. 0-0.

2nd end: USA opts to set up a center guard this time. Sweden sets up another guard. Landsteiner draws around his own guard into the house, and Sundgren counters with a precise shot to bump the USA’s rock to the back of the house.

Hamilton, showing he’s not just a man with a sense of humor and great mustache, follows with a terrific shot to take the Swedish rock out of the house. Then Wranaa tops that with a double takeout, clearing out the U.S. rocks.

So we have a more complicated series of takeouts because everyone has to deal with the two guards in front.

And we finally get an outright miss. After Edin draws his penultimate shot to the top of the four-foot, Shuster tries an ambitious shot that would knock his own guard into the house and take out Edin’s. He hits the guard, but it’s just a little bit off the nose, and his rock sails by Edin’s rock, leaving the top-ranked player in the world an easy draw for two. 2-0 Sweden.

One thing here showing how Shuster has changed. The stereotype of Shuster in the past is the scrunched-up face of anguish. As The Ringer’s Rodger Sherman put it:

Each time, the camera finds Shuster, whose missed stone has turned him stone-faced. His look is not “Crap, I’ve messed up.” It’s “Crap, I’ve messed up again.” He’s probably lamenting the failure, and probably remembering the aftermath of every one of his past failures, and dreading the fact he has to live through it again. Then, the tweets begin to pop up.

This time, Shuster has a wry smile, and he and Hamilton dissect what went wrong. It’s a cool, calm reaction of a man at the height of his game.

3rd end: Sundgren puts Sweden’s first rock in the top of the house. Landsteiner sets up a guard off to the side. Sweden guards its own, and Landsteiner comes around it to bump Sweden’s rock back. Wranaa swiftly removes the U.S. rock in the house to leave Sweden lying two with a guard in place, but Hamilton’s double takeout reduces that to one. Wranaa freezes a Swedish rock to his own, both on one side of the button.

The next shot shows how scoring can be inexact. Was Hamilton trying to draw around his own guard to hit the Swedish rocks? If so, he failed, and it’s 0% — as it was indeed scored. But he managed to bump his own guard out of the way, which will make it easier for George and Shuster to bring the heavy lumber. Also, his shooter has neatly rolled underneath that forgotten corner guard that Landsteiner put in place earlier.

A cool-looking hit-and-roll from Eriksson gives Sweden three clustered rocks near the center of the house. Looks good, right?

3-9

Tyler George changes that. He hits the top rock, which bangs one of the Swedish rocks out of there, and his shooter rolls just ever so slightly so it’s neatly positioned between the two Swedish rocks. Good luck getting that rock out of there, Sweden.

3-10

Again, the scoring is a little odd with the next shot. Eriksson bumps into the cluster of rocks and gets 100%, but the NBC commentators think it’s a slight miss because it leaves George a good double takeout. George responds by getting both red rocks out of there, leaving just one yellow. He gets 100% and applause from Ivanka Trump in the crowd, but he’s grimacing (as he too often does), perhaps because he thinks Edin will make a double takeout of his own. He does.

That leaves two red rocks on one side of the house, lined up for a possible double. Shuster can only get one (50%). Edin takes out the rock Shuster just threw and rolls as far as he can across the house. We’re not sure who’s second rock now, which complicates things.

3-15

Shuster can easily take out Sweden’s shot rock and score one, but maybe not two. Does he go for the double takeout to make sure he gets two?

Yes. And he hits it. It’s the best shot of the game so far, and we’re tied. 2-2

4th end: The inverse of the last end at the start. Landsteiner draws to the button. Sundgren sets up a corner guard (remember from the last end — the USA’s corner guard helped them keep a second rock in the house). Landsteiner guards his own, and Sundgren freezes to the rock on the button.

Hamilton’s draw is slightly off (75%). Wranaa also gets 75%, Hamilton gets 50% on his next one, and we have five jumbled rocks in the house. Wranaa makes it six and bumps the yellow U.S. rock off the button — scored at 100%, but the NBC crew thinks it’s heavy, and they’re right.

Shuster and George have a long conversation about the next shot to see how many of these rocks they can get out. And it’s another strange score — 100%, but no one on the U.S. team sounds pleased. Eriksson tries a difficult double takeout and gets one (though he’s also scored at 100% for some reason).

NBC says George wants to bump a Swedish red rock out of the four-foot and roll slightly onto the center line. George bumps a Swedish red rock out of the four-foot and rolls slightly onto the center line. THAT is 100%, and Sweden’s path to score two is more complicated. The chance of scoring three or more is probably out.

But when Eriksson hits and rolls off his own, everything is coming up Sweden. Shuster says no, threading the needle to bump in for shot rock ahead of the Swedes.

4-13

And Edin finally misses. He tries to get past that yellow at the top of the four-foot (pinkish red circle) but just nicks it, sliding off to the side. Shuster has a half-miss (appropriately scored 50%), hitting to the right of that jumble and knocking a red rock off the four-foot, but he leaves a potential double takeout from which Edin can score two. But he doesn’t. He’s a little off to the right. The various caroms leave that best-placed yellow rock on the edge of the four-foot, and we need a measurement to see who scores one. It’s the USA, and it’s a steal of one. 3-2 USA

5th end: The first four shots are virtually identical to those of the fourth end. Wranaa accidentally gives Sweden a rock to the side of the house, bumping into a guard and rolling off to the side. Hamilton jumbles things up a bit more, and Wranaa has a difficult shot to hit and roll into the center.

Tyler George go bang. All the red rocks are out of the eight-foot. The USA lies four. Eriksson draws into the eight-foot, but it’s wide-open.

Another long chat ensues. Lots of U.S. rocks in the house, but that also means a lot of rocks Edin can hit.

George on one option: “We’ll only be sitting three.”

Shutster: “That’s fine. I like that — only be sitting three.”

George’s shot is fine. Eriksson’s is not. He should be able to get a couple of yellow rocks out of there, but he only gets one.

5-12

Shuster guards the middle of the house. Edin manages to draw past it but just a bit heavy, going to the back of the button. (Curling 101: Front is better than back. The idea isn’t just to get there but to stay there.)

But Shuster misses badly. His rock sails through the house. Edin draws for two, and we’re roughly even at the halfway point — Sweden up one, USA with the hammer. 4-3 Sweden

6th end: A little less traffic this time. Landsteiner removes one of Sundgren’s rocks. Wranaa tries to take out both Hamilton’s guard and the lone U.S. rock in the house, but he only gets one. Hamilton gets a harsh 0% on his next rock, which leaves a Swedish rock clinging to the house but leaves the USA lying two.

Eriksson plays a perfect hit-and-roll, given Sweden shot rock under a long center guard. George, who’s on fire, makes that one go away. Eriksson, also playing very well, takes out both U.S. rocks in the house and rolls his own shooter out, leaving just the one Swedish rock in the house. George draws around the Swedish guard and sets up shot stone at the top of the house.

Edin tries one of the curling shots that boggles my mind — the long, long runback, banging a guard into the house and trying to use that to take out the rock in the house. Shuster missed this shot earlier in the game. Edin misses, too.

Shuster draws to the side of the house to give the USA two stones and leave Edin a difficult double takeout. Edin opts against that shot and tries a hit-and-roll that would give him shot stone. It rolls too far, and Shuster draws for two. 5-4 USA 

7th end: Landsteiner plays a nice draw to the top four-foot behind his own center guard. Sundgren comes around and bumps it, giving Sweden shot rock early.

Hamilton isn’t happy with his first delivery. He hits the red rock, but it jams into the yellow rock behind the button. Sweden has one at the back of the four-foot, outcounting a U.S. rock off to the side.

But Wranaa’s attempt to freeze to that U.S. rock is off-target, and Hamilton redeems his end with a perfect double takeout. That’s two U.S. rocks in the house and none for Sweden, thanks very much. The Mustache Man is pumped. And Wranaa counters with a draw that comes up very light, not even reaching the house.

George pounces. He puts a draw right on the button, and with a yellow rock immediately behind it, that’ll be difficult to dislodge. Eriksson clears some traffic. George tries to guard the center, but he leaves enough room for Eriksson to put his own red rock on the button.

7-12

Shuster plays a guard in the eight-foot. He’s content to give up one here and take hammer in the eighth in a tie game. Edin tries to pick off Shuster’s rock and misses everything. (Well, he moved the red rock about an inch when his shot glanced by.) Shuster tosses up another guard to further complicate Edin’s chances of getting two, and Edin has to hit a complex chain reaction up the middle just to get one. 5-5

8th end: And now, the deluge …

Landsteiner tries the most difficult shot a lead ever plays, the “wick” shot to bump a guard out of the way without knocking it all the way out, which isn’t allowed while the leads are playing. (The stone would be replaced.) He misses. But he plays a nice draw with his second shot. In the house: 2 U.S. rocks, 0 for Sweden.

Wranaa draws into the four-foot for shot rock. Hamilton, whose numbers in this game aren’t great, removes a guard. Wranaa replaces it, and Hamilton bumps it out of the way again. The Swedish guard only moves partway out of the way, but Hamilton’s shooter rolls (spins, in fact) to the edge of the house, which will be important later.

Eriksson puts up yet another guard. George tries to pick the red rock out of the house but isn’t really successful (a legit 50%). Eriksson draws to the four-foot but leaves it open for George, who knocks it away.

Edin’s first rock is a draw almost to the same spot as Eriksson’s. But it’s not quite buried behind all the guards.

So we have one of those complicated ends in which a lot of rocks are in play. It could be a big end for the USA or a steal for Sweden, the latter outcome possible if Edin can get a rock in there that Shuster can’t get out.

8-14

Edin calls timeout. Kevin Martin thinks Edin can hold this end to no more than two, which would certainly leave Sweden in contention.

8-15

That 75% is so deceiving. Edin left Shuster a double takeout.

After all that John Shuster has been through — all the disappointment, all the ridicule — he has this shot to virtually clinch a gold medal.

Need you even ask?

10-5 USA

9th end: This is nearly academic now. Edin has to swing for the fences and get a ton of points here just to make the 10th end worth playing.

Landsteiner tosses a shot through the house. No need to leave any traffic. Hamilton takes out a guard. Wranaa replaces it. Hamilton clears it again. Wranaa draws deep into the house, partially buried behind the lone remaining guard, but George takes it out.

Then Eriksson errs. His draw goes all the way through the house. George has a bit of a miss, too, knocking out the lone guard but leaving his own rock in play. Eriksson draws behind that.

Shuster takes out the guard. He’s willing to give up two here. Edin barely gets a draw to the top of the house. Shuster removes it, leaving Edin the whole house to draw for two. 10-7 USA 

10th end: Sweden needs to steal three. Good luck with that.

A mistake from Landsteiner as he tries to hit the “wick” — he knocks the Swedish guard all the way out, so it’s replaced. Sundgren puts up another guard. Landsteiner flings his rock through the house. Again, just trying to avoid a lot of traffic here. Completely different situation than trying to score two.

Wranaa draws behind the two guards. Wait, what two guards? Hamilton bangs them away and leaves nothing in front of the house. Big fist pump time. Sweden’s got very little to play with here.

Wranaa guards again. Only one? Hamilton gets rid of that one, finishing his lonnnnnng Olympics (about 40 hours on the ice between mixed doubles and men’s) on a high.

Eriksson guards. George removes it. Rinse, repeat.

 

Edin does a spin move on his last shot, then shakes hands. It’s over.

 

 

 

 

Curling: Huge win for U.S. Olympic hopeful

Yes, it’s already curling season. In fact, we’re less than two months away from the Olympic Trials, set for Nov. 11-18.

Curling isn’t the most predictable sport in the world, but the four-team (or five, pending an appeal by Todd Birr) men’s competition has a clear favorite. John Shuster has been the skip in the last two Olympics after taking bronze on Pete Fenson’s team in 2006. His current team — Tyler George, Matt Hamilton and John Landsteiner — has qualified for the World Championships three straight years and done no worse than fifth, making the playoffs each of the last two years and the tiebreaker the year before that. They sometimes have wayward results in World Curling Tour events, and Shuster has a slim lead over Heath McCormick in the Order of Merit, but they tend to put it together when needed.

The women’s competition has only three skips competing, but a good case could be made for all three. All are young-ish and relatively inexperienced in major championships. Cory Christensen is the youngest skip, finishing second in the 2016 World Juniors. Nina Roth got the ticket to last year’s Worlds and took a respectable fifth.

But maybe we have a favorite now?

Jamie Sinclair won the Shorty Jenkins Classic this weekend, defeating all six Canadian teams she faced, including seventh-ranked Allison Flaxey and perennial contender Krista McCarville. That win was worth 41.791 Order of Merit points (no, I don’t understand the math involved, either), the biggest one-event total I could find for a U.S. curler over the past 14 months.

Curling is erratically streamed — ESPN3 picks up TSN’s Canadian coverage on occasion — but Team Sinclair is trying to get its games out live this season.

 

 

Curling crowd getting too loud

The easy joke here would be that having more crowd noise would be infinitely preferable to hearing “HARRRRRRRDDDD!!!!” all the time. (Seriously — broadcasters should consider putting a decibel limit on their on-ice microphones, or just mute them when they’re not talking strategy. Some of us are listening on headphones to avoid irritating the rest of the house, and we’d rather not go deaf.)

But I had started to wonder if the crowd was getting a little out of hand. The Brier (Canada’s men’s championship) is in Newfoundland/Labrador this year — specifically, the beautiful town of St. John’s — and they’re quite excited to see hometown hero Brad Gushue, the 2006 Olympic champion. Gushue is first in the worldwide Order of Merit rankings. (See spreadsheet below.) The next person from the province is 345th.

During last night’s showdown with defending champion Kevin Koe, the crowd wasn’t just cheering the great shots from Gushue and his team. A roar went up when Koe’s team had a rare miss.

(This was a spectacular game, well worth going back and checking out the replay on ESPN3 or seeing it when Curling Canada posts it. If you don’t have three hours to spare, just skip ahead to the 11th end. Yes, 11th. Overtime, basically. And if you don’t understand curling, watch the following …)

So I wondered if it was just me. Nope. Here’s Glenn Howard, for whom “veteran” is an understatement (four world championships and this ridiculous shot): “I’ve never actually seen a crowd cheering as loudly for misses, and I’ve been to 17 of these. This is the loudest I’ve ever seen in my career, for an opposition missing. I’ve never actually witnessed that before so this is new to me.”

Source: Is the Brier crowd getting out of hand? – CBC Sports – Curling

The last round of round-robin play is this morning. This afternoon, they’ll play any necessary tiebreakers to determine the four playoff teams. Then it’s the great Page playoffs:

  • 1 vs. 2: Winner to final, loser to semifinal
  • 3 vs. 4: Winner to semifinal, loser out
  • Semifinal: 1-2 loser vs. 3-4 winner – winner to final, loser out
  • Final: The two remaining teams

Here’s the situation:

Newfoundland/Labrador (Brad Gushue) is guaranteed a spot in the 1-2 matchup. They’re playing Nova Scotia (Jamie Murphy), which can’t advance.

Manitoba (Mike McEwen) will make the 1-2 matchup if they beat Quebec (Jean-Michel Menard). Quebec is playing for their playoff lives — a win would at least get them in a tiebreaker, a loss means they’re out unless Canada (Kevin Koe) also loses.

Canada (Koe), so named because they’re the defending champions and didn’t have to play in the provincial tournament to get here, is playing New Brunswick (Mike Kennedy) and can reach the 1-2 matchup with a win and some help.

Northern Ontario (Brad Jacobs) has finished round-robin play and will at least make the tiebreaker. If Canada or Quebec loses this morning, they’re in the playoff.

British Columbia (John Morris) is also idle and needs Canada AND Quebec to lose to force a three-team tiebreaker.

Northwest Territories (Jamie Koe, Kevin’s brother) and Ontario (Glenn Howard, see above) are playing each other and cannot advance.

Already done: Saskatchewan (Adam Casey), Alberta (Brendan Bottcher).

It all makes more sense if you see the standings. In short:

  • Newf/Lab: 8-2
  • Manitoba: 8-2
  • N. Ontario: 8-3 (done)
  • Canada: 7-3
  • Quebec: 7-3
  • Br. Columbia: 7-4

Meet all the Brier participants, along with the top Canadians who did qualify, below. They’re ranked by Order of Merit standings, which can be a little deceiving because some curlers have other priorities besides chasing points. OOM is computed over multiple years; “YTD” is year-to-date.

 

Belated U.S. Curling championship preview

The U.S. Curling Championships are underway, and though I neglected to do a preview (in part because I was curling myself on Saturday — literally, in one case I think I threw myself farther down the ice than the rock), it’s actually a good time to look at the stats coming into the tournament and see how the curlers’ form is holding up.

On the men’s side, we’ve had a couple of surprises. Heath McCormick, by pretty much any metric, has had the best season of any U.S. skip aside from the occasional inexplicable loss. Then it’s a tough call between the other two teams in the USA’s High Performance Program, Craig Brown and World Championship medalist John Shuster, with defending champion Brady Clark lurking.

Todd Birr is close behind, and then it’s a bit of a drop to 2006 Olympic medalist Pete Fenson. The next tier has Stephen Dropkin and promising junior (representing the DMV!) Hunter Clawson. Then there’s Darryl Sobering and Alex Leichter, who have played in a lot of top events this season.

Results so far? Shuster is 4-0, including a tight win over McCormick. Birr, Brown and Clark are 3-1, contesting for the four playoff spots as expected. The surprise is McCormick, who opened with 10-2 loss to Birr and has also dropped games to Brown and Shuster. He’s played three of the top five, so perhaps he can make a run in the last five round-robin games, but that’s still not the start we expected.

Clawson also had a tough early draw, facing Shuster, Clark and Brown, but he pulled out a win against Brown to stand at 2-2, very much in the thick of things.

In the women’s competition, Nina Roth is the favorite, but she dropped her first game to fellow High Performance skip Cory Christensen. The other High Performance skip, Jamie Sinclair, is unbeaten but has not yet faced Roth, Christensen or …

… the surprise team, Cassie Potter. You may remember her as Cassie Johnson from the 2006 Olympics, where she and her teammates crashed a lot of web servers. Potter hasn’t been fully active in competition in recent years, but she came back this year and crept up to rank a solid fourth in my stats-based-but-ultimately-subjective rankings.

Next up in the rankings is Potter’s 2006 teammate Jessica Schultz, whose team includes 2006 alternate Courtney George. They’ve had the misfortune of facing Potter, Sinclair and Roth in their first three games. So being 0-3 isn’t surprising, but their stats also haven’t been particularly good.

The World Junior Championships account for a few notable absences here. Annmarie Dubberstein is going to World Juniors, and she took Madison Bear as her alternate. “Team Bear” is still competing in nationals and has a win over Cristin Clark. (On the men’s side, Andrew Stopera upset Clawson to take the World Juniors berth.)

No senior teams entered, nor did any other juniors, so the eighth spot in the women’s field went to Becca Wood, who has been outscored 36-6 in her first three games. But she managed five against Clark, so perhaps she can pull off a good result by the time things are done.

Current standings, along with my rankings:

MEN

#3 Shuster: 4-0 (beat McCormick)
#5 Birr: 3-1 (beat McCormick)
#2 Brown: 3-1 (beat Clark, McCormick)
#4 Clark: 3-1
#8 Clawson: 2-2 (beat Brown)
#6 Fenson: 2-2 (beat Birr)
#11 Leichter: 1-3 (beat Fenson)
#1 McCormick: 1-3 (beat Leichter)
#10 Sobering: 1-3 (beat Dropkin)
#7 Dropkin: 0-4

WOMEN

#4 Potter: 3-0  (beat Christensen)
#3 Sinclair: 3-0
#2 Christensen: 2-1 (beat Roth)
#1 Roth: 2-1
#8 Clark: 1-2 (beat Wood)
#7 Bear: 1-2 (beat Clark)
#5 Schultz: 0-3
#23 Wood: 0-3

And YES — you can watch all this.

 

 

Curling update: Manitoba showdown, Week 2

Craig Brown and John Shuster each picked up three wins to break even at the triple-elimination Canad Inns Men’s Classic in Manitoba. Brown beat Shuster head-to-head, while Shuster picked up a big win over third-ranked Mike McEwen.

Pete Fenson and the half-his-age team snagged one win. Arizona’s Mike Siggins was shut out.

Brown still slipped one place in my rankings behind Brady Clark (see below). The women’s rankings are unchanged.

Elsewhere:

Atkins Curling Supplies Classic, Manitoba: Jamie Sinclair and Cassie Potter each posted a 2-2 record in group play, but only Sinclair advanced to the quarterfinals, where she lost in an extra end. Potter, the 2006 Olympic skip, had a 7-4 win over Manitoba’s Joelle Brown, ranked 31st in the Order of Merit. Lysa Johnson also skipped a U.S. team, going 0-4.

Hub International Crown of Curling, Kamloops, B.C.: Short trip for Brady Clark and Cristin Clark from Washington state. Brady racked up five wins, including three in a row to stave off elimination and reach the semifinals. Cristin alternated wins and losses in the women’s event, finishing 2-3.

Rochester’s Brandon Corbett was in action at the Stroud Sleeman Cash Spiel in Ontario, going 2-2 but not advancing to the playoffs.

And Kalamazoo Curling Club hosted a tournament, with Pennsylvania’s Sean Murray defeating Colorado’s Darryl Sobering in the final.

Next week:

Canad Inns Women’s Classic, Manitoba: The three HP teams — Christensen, Sinclair and Roth — face a field that has about half of the world’s top 30 in the women’s edition of last week’s top men’s tournament.

Medicine Hat Charity Classic, Alberta: Jessica Schultz heads northward.

Challenge de Curling de Gatineau, Quebec: Heath McCormick and Alex Leichter test their language skills.

Imperial Slam: Several U.S. juniors will compete in the next stage of the juniors series.

Curling update: McCormick on the move

Most top U.S. curling teams descended on Minnesota over the weekend for the mostly American St. Paul Cash Spiel, giving us a good opportunity to see how the teams stack up face to face.

The answer? Heath McCormick’s new High Performance team is No. 1. McCormick — with HP veteran Chris Plys and recent juniors Corey Dropkin and Thomas Howell — made a great start to the season, taking second in the Oakville Fall Classic for 30.7 Order of Merit points, the top U.S. men’s performance of the season so far.

This week, McCormick rolled rather convincingly through St. Paul, winning all seven games by at least three points.

Second place went to a High Performance team missing its skip — Kroy Nernberger led the team in place of Craig Brown and knocked out John Shuster in the quarterfinals. That’s their second strong showing of the season, and that’s enough to move them past previous No. 1 Shuster in my generally subjective rankings.

Todd Birr, still kicking at age 48, upset Brady Clark in the quarterfinals.

The biggest surprise the other direction: Pete Fenson struggled and didn’t make the quarterfinals. And the lone North Carolina team got more wins (1) than both Arizona teams (0) in the 20-team field (17 U.S., 3 Canadian).

So the rankings show McCormick moving up to No. 1, followed by Brown (Nernberger), Clark, Shuster and Birr. Also moving up: St. Paul quarterfinalists Stephen Dropkin and Bill Stopera, though they’re still behind Fenson (who has to put it together at some point) and Hunter Clawson, who has been concentrating on junior tournaments with no Order of Merit points so far.

Also this weekend, Alex Leichter played in an event in Ottawa in which he was 2-1 in pool play but didn’t make the quarterfinals for reasons not quite clear from the site.

Women: Most American teams were also in St. Paul, where Cory Christensen won for the second straight year. The 21-year-old skip shook off a group-stage loss to Jessica Schultz and beat Jamie Sinclair in the semis and Nina Roth 7-6 in the final. Schultz won a tiebreaker for the other semifinal slot, while her 2006 teammate Cassie Potter was 2-2 in group play. High Performance juniors Madison Bear and AnnMarie Dubberstein won one each.

So Christensen is now No. 1 in the rankings, closely followed by Roth, Sinclair and Schultz.

Week ahead: 

Brown, Fenson, Shuster and Mike Siggins (Arizona) are heading to the Canad Inns Men’s Classic in Manitoba.

Jamie Sinclair and Cassie Potter are also Manitoba-bound for the Atkins Curling Supplies Classic.

Brady Clark and Cristin Clark will travel from their Washington homes to the Hub International Crown of Curling in Kamloops, B.C.

Brandon Corbett is in action at the Stroud Sleeman Cash Spiel in Ontario.

The only webcast I’ve found so far — TESN will be at the Atkins Curling Supplies Classic.

Desk Potato Sports: Live streams for Sept. 28-Oct. 5

The USOC Sports Scene is finally back after an Olympic/Paralympic break. Highlights from the prior week’s action include Brady Ellison’s fourth Archery World Cup Final victory. Consistency.

They don’t have much to offer by way of webcasts this week, though. They’ll have the men’s softball slow-pitch nationals, which is softball but is neither women’s nor fast-pitch and therefore not quite an Olympic sport.

What else is on? Frankly, not much. Silly me, launching this feature in the lull between the Summer Olympics and winter sports. But we did get some good news this week: beINSports has re-launched its apps — that’s particularly good news if you want to watch a ton of La Liga, Ligue 1 and Serie A.

All weekend

Curling: Yes, curling! Just in time for a couple of changes in the U.S. curling power rankings for men and women. The Stockholm Ladies Cup has no U.S. entries, but you can see Russia’s Anna Sidorova, Scotland’s Eve Muirhead, Canada’s Kaitlyn Lawes and a few good European and Asian teams. Check CurlingZone for the latest scheduleYouTube

Badminton: The Victor Korea Open has a few 2016 Olympic medalists and other top-10 players in the mix. Olympic Channel

Friday, Sept. 30

Soccer: Huge ACC men’s showdown between North Carolina and Syracuse. 7 p.m, ACC Digital (ESPN)

Saturday, Oct. 1

Soccer: Miss Newcastle United? Check them out in Championship play against Rotherham. 9:45 a.m., beINSports 4

Rugby: Watch New Zealand officially clinch The Rugby Championship, the Southern Hemisphere showdown for national teams. Again.

  • Australia at South Africa, 11:05 a.m., ESPN3
  • New Zealand at Argentina, 6:10 p.m., ESPN3

Ultimate: USA Ultimate semifinals. Go Truck Stop! All day, ESPN3 and USA Ultimate — event page has schedule (note Central Time)

Handball: In case you can’t get enough Barcelona, check out their handball team against THW Kiel in Champions League men’s play. Barca includes a couple of players from the Olympic silver medalist French national team. 1:30 p.m., beINSports 7

Sunday, Oct. 2

Ultimate: USA Ultimate finals.

  • Women’s championship, 1:30 p.m., ESPN3
  • Men’s championship, 4 p.m., ESPN3
  • Mixed championship, 11 p.m., ESPN3

Monday, Oct. 3

Tennis: WTA China Open, 2:30 a.m., ESPN3 (and other weekdays ahead)

And your sources for complete listings: