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:

2016-17 curling preview and power rankings

My vacation is over (great, thanks), just in time for the new curling season.

I’m going to track U.S. curlers on a couple of shared spreadsheets this season. But first, a quick offseason roundup:

Men’s High Performance shuffling: The High Performance program, which brings together some of the nation’s top curlers to train with national coaches, has expanded to five teams per gender (three full, two junior).

The men’s side returns two teams mostly intact. John Shuster took bronze at the World Championships with Tyler George, Matt Hamilton and John Landsteiner. The only change on that team is the addition of alternate Joe Polo. A second skip, Craig Brown, still has Kroy Nernberger and Sean Beighton, but Jason Smith replaces Jared Zezel, and Quinn Evenson has been added as alternate.

The third men’s team is a Frankenstein. Heath McCormick returns to the HP program as skip, with occasional skip Chris Plys as vice. Then add Korey Dropkin, who skipped an HP junior team last year, with fellow graduating junior Tom Howell.

One of the men’s junior teams, skipped by Hunter Clawson, has moved intact from Maryland after making a solid run at the U.S. Championships last year. The other junior team is new and far-flung, with New Yorker Andrew Stopera as skip with a couple of teammates from Washington (not D.C.) and Minnesota.

Women’s retirements and High Performance reassembly: The top U.S. team was NOT a High Performance team. Veteran Erika Brown assembled an all-star team with Allison Pottinger, Nicole Joraanstad and Natalie Nicholson. Brown retired in June; Joraanstad soon followed.

Meanwhile, the HP teams got a heavy-duty changeover, especially with promising skip Cory Christensen and several teammates graduating from the junior ranks.

Jamie Sinclair and Nina Roth are still HP skips, but their teams are almost totally different. Sinclair still has alternate Tara Peterson and adds Alex Carlson, who skipped her own team last season, and former Roth players Vicky Persinger and Monica Walker. The only returning player on the Roth team, Aileen Sormunen, is now Aileen Geving. Roth also gets Tabitha Peterson and Becca Hamilton from Sinclair’s team.

Christensen moves up from juniors with two of her teammates, Sarah and Taylor Anderson. Her new lead is Jenna Haag, who played with Sinclair last year.

Madison Bear, the other member of Christensen’s 2015-16 team, is still a junior, and she’ll skip one of the HP junior teams. AnnMarie Dubberstein skips the other one.

Got it? Good. Now prepare for more confusion …

They’re back: Remember the “Curl Girls” of the 2006 Olympics? Cassie and Jamie Johnson led the popular team of young, enthusiastic players along with Jessica Schultz, Maureen Brunt and alternate Courtney George.

Cassie Johnson is now Cassie Potter, and she hasn’t played much in recent years, though she has been active as an athlete representative within USA Curling. She’s back with a new crew this year.

Schultz never really took time off — she returned to the Olympics with Brown in 2014 and has played in four World Championships. Still only 31, she played mostly mixed doubles last year but returns this year as a skip with Courtney George, who had been plugging away as a skip in her own right, as vice.

Also still around — 2006 medalist Pete Fenson, who picks up former HP player Zezel and two recent juniors, including Alex Fenson.

Who’s playing? There’s still time, but so far on the World Curling Tour team list, I only count three of the seven skips who played in last year’s U.S. Women’s Championships: Sinclair, Roth and Christensen. Brown retired, Emily Anderson has moved to vice with skip Cristin Clark’s Seattle-based team, and I don’t see any listings for Abigayle Lindgren or Joyance Meechai. U.S. senior champion Norma O’Leary also isn’t listed, though she didn’t play many WCT events last year. I’m also not sure of veteran Patti Lank’s status.

The calendar: In addition to the weekly World Curling Tour events, the top curlers will have a gauntlet of national and international championships:

  • Jan. 4-8: Challenge Rounds, where teams try to qualify for nationals. Men will be in Blaine, Minn. Women will be in Waupaca, Wis.
  • Jan. 12-15: Continental Cup, Las Vegas. This is a made-for-TV event that uses a couple of different formats, a bit like the Ryder Cup. Team World has been named, and it’s very, very good.
  • Jan. 27-29: USA vs. Brazil, World Championship qualifier. The USA has been going to the World Championships in most years by default, but this time, Brazil decided to challenge, and it has thrown the calendar into chaos, mostly because several players likely to be involved are also chasing Olympic berths in the new discipline of mixed doubles.
  • Feb. 11-18: U.S. Championships, Everett, Wash.
  • Feb. 16-26: World Junior Championships, PyeongChang, South Korea. This might take a top team out of each gender’s national championships. Juniors did well last year and have been revved up this year.
  • March 1-5: U.S. Mixed Doubles Championships, Blaine, Minn.
  • March 18-26: Women’s World Championships, Beijing. Get ready for 2022!
  • April 1-9: Men’s World Championships, Edmonton.
  • April 22-29: World Mixed Doubles Championships, Lethbridge, Alberta.

Olympic chase (traditional four-player teams): If you enjoy reading official federation selection criteria, go for it. Here’s the short version and why we’re talking about it now …

The Olympic trials will be in Omaha Nov. 12-19, 2017. Each competition (men’s, women’s) will have 3-5 teams. There are three ways a team can automatically qualify:

  • Finish in the top five in the World Championships. (THIS year, so John Shuster’s bronze medal last year doesn’t count.)
  • Be ranked in the top 15 of the Order of Merit (men’s | women’s) at the end of the season. Shuster is currently 10th. Brown was 19th before retiring. In the unlikely event that two teams would qualify this way, only the higher-ranked team qualifies (but the other would surely be a discretionary pick).
  • Be ranked in the top 15 of the Year-to-Date Order of Merit (same links, same one-team limit).

Olympic chase (mixed doubles): Trials will be in late December 2017, site and date tba. We don’t yet know the criteria, and there aren’t many mixed doubles competitions aside from the U.S. and World Championships.

THE POWER RANKING SPREADSHEETS

Here’s how this works:

  • “Rank” is subjective. I won’t deviate too far from the Order of Merit rankings, but I’m also taking last year’s U.S. Championships into consideration, and I’m ranking McCormick’s new team as the sum of its parts. (They did very well in their first competition this season, too.)
  • “Base” is the home state as listed at the WCT for some teams. High Performance teams are either “HighPer” or “HPJr.”
  • “Wk3” gives a rounded Order of Merit score for whatever tournament that team played that week. Beneath the ranking, I’ll list tournaments and give some details on the performances. For example, McCormick picked up 30.7 OOM points for reaching the final of the Oakville Fall Classic, while U.S. champion Brady Clark picked up 0.8 after going 1-3.
  • As the season goes on, I may add more teams to the listing. I’m especially curious to see if Alex Leichter returns, and Bill Stopera has entered without former skip McCormick (but not a full team). I did count four more women’s teams and more than 10 additional men’s teams, and I’ll add them if they post at least one solid WCT performance OR qualify for the U.S. Championships.

Enjoy:

 

Olympic sports writing: 2004-2015

Selected features and interviews, plus coverage from several Olympics:

Features

Sochi 2014

London 2012 (all Bleacher Report unless noted)

Vancouver 2010: Nordic sports and biathlon (all USA TODAY)

Beijing 2008: Everything, especially soccer (all USA TODAY)

Torino 2006 (USA TODAY)

Athlete interviews (all USA TODAY)