If you haven't been able to pick up the assertion by now that I'm a curling "super fan" if you will, maybe not quite rivalling the legend that is the great Thomas Arbuckle but any reader will understand that I spend more time than most focusing on the great sport on ice, then it's clear you haven't spent the appropriate time divulging through my entries. Having curled essentially my entire life, I've picked up a few things here and there pertaining to the Saskatchewan curling scene and intend to 'live blog' the games on CurlSask that I'm able to tune into. Before the 2016 edition consummates on Wednesday, I will share my thoughts on each team and how I perceive their chances heading into the event. Will begin in descending order. Enjoy!
16.Darren Camm-Props for qualifying out of the "B" event at the open Northern Championships. The key of to any thoughts of success for the Camm foursome will be the reliance of leadership from team second Mark Steckler.Steckler, along with being part of the 2010 Saskatchewan Travellers curling championship winning team he also can embark upon valuable accolades from being a 2002 Tankard finalist playing alongside John Carlos. The game has transitioned leaps and bounds from 2002 thus Steckler and company will be in tough to win a game at this year's event.
15.Randy Bryden-You're probably asking yourselves, why would a team who has received such a high seed for the event be ranked so low in my rankings? Well, it's quite simple and that reason is it's their lack of competitive playing schedule throughout the tour season. All four individuals are quality curlers and given a better tuned lead-up to the event, their's no way I would ever consider providing such a negative ranking but the lack of scheduling doesn't lie. Ranked too high and opponents will salivate at the chance of playing this rink.
14.Dean Kleiter- Dean no longer has Bruce Korte to bail them out which could and will become problematic. Shwaga, the lead doesn't really have much mens experience to lean upon. Some may scribe that this is a transition period for Kleiter as when his son, hot shot junior Rylan enters the men's ranks, Dean and Rylan will team up and reinvigorate the exuberance needed to compete at a high level.
13.Shawn Joyce-Not me that's come to this conclusion but from the amount of reading I do, its no secret that Shawn Joyce is not the most well liked skip amongst the Saskatchewan competitive scene. Personality issues or not, that's not what amounts to stockpiling the 'W' column. I actually am of the opinion that the team Joyce has compiled behind him is very solid and will provide fits for some teams. The fact of the matter is that third Michael Carss has himself led a team to the Tankard on a couple of occasions and just a premonition, even though conventional wisdom would say a winless record is probable, a win or two wouldn't surprise me.
12.Brent Gedak-Not to pump my own muscles but the lead of Brent Gedak would be the one participant in the event that I've actually beat, granted in junior and granted in a meaningless game but like the old adage goes, "it's only the win that counts". To stray away from recollecting useless tidbits from my past I'm just not convinced that this foursome has enough to make a run. The loss of Catlin Schneider to the Meacheam rink can't be overstated as that's a ginormous blow to a team that was already on the peripheral of being a fringe competitive team.
11.Jason Ackerman-This was a tough one to prognosticate. Jason Ackerman is unquestionably considered one of the best hitters in this province but aside from his prowess in a recent mixed provincial championships, what has he done at the men's level to be given higher praise? Lead Mike Armstrong has been to a Brier, 2012 to be exact but the others on this squad have never ran deep in an event of this magnitude. One of those teams due to the pristine hitting abilities that qualifying for the playoffs wouldn't surprise me but neither would accumulating a 1-3 record.
10. William Coutts-Coutts as the sixteen seed and faced with the ineviable task of battling Steve Laycock in the opener is pure and utter hogwash. Do the voters, that being the fellow curlers forget that it was the Coutts brothers who not only together triumphed to a Saskatchewan Junior title but also had reaps of success playing with Al Schick? The automatic loss in the opener won't be assisting their cause any but in order to contend with the so called top teams, a strategical tactic Coutts has employed essentially his entire skipping career of playing very conservatively must be scrapped. Thenmore you muck it up, the better chance the underdog has.
9.Brad Heidt-Team Grumpy(oops did I say that out loud?) is the prime definition of a middle of the pack team. Truthfully, having never met the man I have no idea whether the adjective of grumpy aptly fits Brad but it's the perception he gives off on some of the webcasts has me thinking this way. A family rink, as sons Mitch and Drew are on board will have the casual observer rooting for the Kerrobert bunch but as I discussed earlier, this isn't a bad team nor an overly great team. They'll win two to three games, a penchant that has been attached to Brad the last few tankards.
8.Ryan Deis-If you tuned into the Canadian Juniors on TSN this past weekend, you'll have noticed Manitoba employing Kyle Doering at second. This is noteworthy because as a skip he led his group to a bronze medal finish at the 2012 Canadian Juniors. The knock on your pride agreeing to demote to second stones after having so much success as a skipper is unmeasurable. Not quite to the same degree but third Scott Manners after skipping the 2012 Saskatchewan entry at the Brier which included Deis and the aforementioned Armstrong has now dropped to third. It's hard to say why the change was made as you can't top what they accomplished but credit to Scott for putting the needs of the team ahead of his own.
7.Bruce Korte-I'm not necessarily sold on the chances of this rink, but results speak for themselves that and Bruce is backed by a much better team than he's had in recent years. Out is Dean Kleiter and brother Roger, in is Matt Lang and the Marsh brothers. A comfortable opponent in the first draw should increase the confidence level of these four going forward but color me surprised if by the end of Saturday this rink has a game to look forward to.
6.Scott Bitz-A small change was put in motion this off-season, replacing long time lead Dean Hicke with Derek Ryan. They torched through the Open Southern qualifier held in Speedy Creek(Swift Current) and are riding red hot coming into Klipper land. Loud......obnoxious....whatever adjective you want to use when describing third Jeff Sharp is your own prerogative but it can't be denied he is a sharp shooter(forgive the pun) and is the backbone in determining the chances of the Scot Bitz which I happen to think are quite good.
5.Jeff Hartung-Similarily to Brad Heidt, this foursome prides itself in keeping it close to home. Son Kody, who fires last bricks and other son Tyler along with Jeff make this 3/4 full of Hartungs. To be honest, my expectations were extremely low prior to what I saw at the 2014 tankard. During the event I was proved wrong in a massive way as Kody showed poise and perserverance well beyond his years. They even had the all mighty Steve Laycock at the ropes before faltering late in the game. We can chalk it up to a learning experience and lessons like this build character and better the chances of a deep run here in Kindersley. This rink will surprise, count on it.
4.Josh Heidt-Matt Ryback,a remnant of the former Kevin Marsh rink was brought in to play second for the youngest Heidt(too good for Dad?) and drastically improves the sweeping facet as Ryback is notoriously good sweeper, combining that with the excellent shot making escapades of Josh,not many will have them as high as I do but I'm firmly entrenched in the belief that we could be looking at Steve Laycock's finalist. That is if Josh Heidt doesn't go all Matt Dunstone on us and consistently look for the hero shot, a reputation he has built up.
3.Jason Jacobson-It's the story of Jason Jacobson that really, for me anyway puts the game of curling in perspective. The man fought and defeated cancer and is back out on the pebble competing at an even higher level. The 2015 Tankard finalist added Carl DeConick Smith, someone from my perspesctive was probably a top three curler in Saskatchewan when he had his own team but never had a team around him. No longer can that excuse be used because with the back-end of Jacobson and Kalthoff having a great season on tour, anything but a semi-final appearance could be construed as a failure.
2.Shaun Meachem-As a wise man who's far more connected to the curling circles then I am once told me, "The Meachem rink is far and away the second best team in this province" and well....I tend to agree. The recipe for success is a tasty one as in each position they have elite shot makers. Aaron Shutra who was the long time lead for Marsh I would classify as top three in this event, same goes for second stones when assessing the plight of two time Saskatchewan junior champion Brady Scharback and then a back-end who maybe lacks the notoriety of the front end but like most back ends, will be quintessential in the prospects of their chances. Can Catlin Schneider and Shaun Meachem hang with the big boys? Absolutely, but what happens when they need to stand side by side with Giants,ie Laycock....scary proposition.
1.Steve Laycock-To put it mildly, I give the Philadelphia 76'ers of the NBA a better chance of righting the ship and coming back to win the championship then I do of Steve Laycock not winning the tankard. Might as well have already booked the flights to Ottawa as they more than hold their own on the World Curling tour and nobody else in this province comes to close to the calibre they're privy to on a monthly basis. Lock it in, Laycock wins.